Saturday, March 31, 2007

Friday Photo (12)

Car Wash, 2007

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jules Laforgue: Pierrots (One Has Principles)

She said in her typically vain way,
“I love you for yourself”--oh, right, a likely story;
yes, like art! Settle down, oh dream of gold,
you're only fool's gold.

She went on: “I’m waiting… here I am… I don’t know”
Her look was as fake as the moon--
come on!-- could we have learned so little
from her down here?

Then one lovely but ill-fated evening,
she died--Great! change the subject!
We know you’re to be reborn on the third
day, if not in person, at least

in the fragrance, lushness, and flowing brooks
of summer months;
and, picking up more fools, you will go
to the veil of Gioconda, to her skirt.
I may even be one of them.

Friday Photo (11)

Untitled, 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sunday, March 18, 2007

George Herbert: Love

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

NYPL Exhibit: From Revolution to Republic

In 1800 Mason Locke Weems, author of the first popular biography of George Washington and creator of the story of Washington and the cherry tree, wrote to Philadelphia publisher Mathew Carey, urging him to “put to press” an edition of Weems’s Life of Washington with a better portrait than the one his first publisher had printed. Weems included in his letter an engraving of the Revolutionary general Hugh Mercer, suggesting that Carey make it a suitable portrait of Washington. To us, who live in an age putatively concerned with truthfulness, authorship, and the rights of artists, Weems’s suggestion seems a bit crazy. But in 1800, using the work of someone else was common, and attributing the portrait of one hero to another was not unusual. The point for Weems was to have a frontispiece that appealed to his potential readers, most of whom had not seen any Washington portrait. The frontispiece had to more refined than the crude one that opened the biography’s first edition; its likeness to Washington was irrelevant in 1800. When demand for and distribution of Washington portraits dramatically increased during the next ten years, using portraits of men such as Benjamin Franklin to represent Washington became both undesirable and unnecessary.

While fictitious portraits of Washington compose part of the current New York Public Library exhibition “From Revolution to Republic in Prints and Drawings,” the exhibit's focus is “firsthand visual accounts of the major battles and scenes of the early Revolutionary period,” the library’s print specialist, Nicole Simpson, writes. “A number of them are by British and American soldiers who participated in the incidents they depicted, and they are often the most accurate, or only, contemporary depictions of these events.” Unfortunately, illustrations of most of these firsthand accounts are missing from the exhibit’s online version. Fragility of the pieces preventing reproduction, copyright problems? If only we could see Archibald Robertson’s sketchbooks. Even so, the available visuals with Simpson’s illuminating commentaries are well worth an online visit.

Cans: Two Buds

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Friday Photo (10)

Provincetown Fireworks (2004/2007)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Where Writers Live

“In Baltimore! We were lost. In Baltimore!” He paused to let Baltimore sink in. “Can you believe it?”

I could. He and a friend had wanted to see Edgar Allan Poe’s house. A spur of the moment decision, it lacked prudent preparation such as buying a city map or knowing the hours the house was open for visitors. As the question of belief required no answer, I waited for him to go on.

“It was raining. A helluva night, man. We found the house, though, after wandering around like mice in a maze. Jeezus. We walked up and pounded on the door.” He laughed, rubbing his balding head. An elderly woman answered the knock, he told me. “The place was open only by appointment, but she let us in. It was fantastic! Poe’s house! Poe!”

Lost in mid-sixties Baltimore. A rainy night. Rapping at the door. His Poesque tale rid me of the little desire I had to see Poe’s house for myself. What could the house offer that my friend’s story didn’t? Later, after I came to love Poe’s tales, the idea of seeing the writer’s artifacts struck me as a bizarre notion, as if visiting Cezanne’s studio would deepen my admiration of his Mont Saint-Victoire paintings.

Several years ago, when my wife and I had finished wandering through the historical museum of Wellfleet I asked our pleasant docent where I might find Edmund Wilson’s house. “Why, isn’t it a coincidence. You’re the second person this week to ask me that question.” You’d be wrong to think I was testing her. I listened carefully to the directions she gave us.

The sun shone, the late summer air was warm, and the beach crowd free. In the end, we didn’t bother with Wilson’s house. His journals would be within reach when we returned home from vacation. Browsing through them, I came across this entry about visiting Robert Lowell during one of his manic phases. Lowell

began telephoning in all directions and inviting people for dinner and for after dinner. Elizabeth [Hardwick] had counted on only four people. He invited his little mistress, and other young people—I suppose to cover her up…. It was already impossible for him to talk to everybody without flying off into a “free association.” I had told him I didn’t much believe in Frost’s poetry—in fact, that I thought him “a dreadful old fake” [Randall Jarrell writes that this was Wilson’s worst error of critical judgment]; but—or perhaps, in consequence—he called up the Frost’s and invited them to dinner. He told Mrs. Frost over the phone that I was a great admirer of Frost’s, and Mrs. Frost said that her husband would be so glad to hear it because he thought I wasn’t.

At dinner Lowell told Frost that Wilson wanted to ask why his reputation was “so greatly exaggerated.” Frost apparently took this in stride, discussing with Wilson various New England poets to Wilson’s satisfaction. The evening turned Wilson around, at least in his estimation of Frost’s intellect.

When a writer and his friends live in your library, why visit his empty house?

But I’ve no interest in arguing for my preferences. If Julian Barnes needed to make a pilgrimage to Rouen to visit Flaubert’s haunts, I’m happy for it; Flaubert’s Parrot is a terrific novel. Seeing a painting in Emily Dickinson’s house helped Barton Levi St. Armand solve the mystery of one of her images. Perhaps visiting a favorite writer’s home could offer a surprise or open an unexpected vista. Perhaps it could.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Poetry Wars

Dana Goodyear's long, strange article about The Poetry Foundation receives a reply from David Orr, poetry editor of The New York Times Book Review. The good news: poetry is worth fighting about. The bad news? I'll leave that to your judgement.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Friday Photo (9)

Untitled, 2007

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Photography and Contingency

I recently bought a camera with impressive features and capabilities. To master it, I’ll first need to absorb the camera’s thick manual. Then, shoot lots of photographs. Because failure is a daily part of creating art, I’ll have many failures ahead of me, if I set myself the goal of using the camera to create art.

Camera technology today makes picture taking nearly foolproof. Point and shoot. No need to have a complicated camera; today’s disposables do a fine job. It’s easy to take a good photograph. Taking an interesting photograph is another matter. Just as the best cookware is a pleasure to use, but unfortunately wholly ancillary to creating a great meal, using a professional camera is satisfying though it in no way ensures an interesting photograph. It’s not the tool. Amateurs using cheap cameras sometimes take interesting, even great, photographs. Thomas Walther’s Other Pictures is a fascinating collection of such photographs. However, snapshooters usually create work of interest by chance.

Most photographers like to minimize chance. They want to achieve a predetermined look—the look of advertising or fashion or the family photo album or a tableau . Unexpected results are unwelcome. The art director expects to get what she ordered. The family wants to relive the birthday or vacation. Both the commercial photographer and the snapshooter know a style—the conventions of photography—and adhere to them. When conventions are broken, surprising things may happen, but they are still failures

I welcome chance—the chance encounter and the unpredictable registration of something on film or the digital sensor. Part of my attraction to chance is psychological. By submitting to chance, I feel I relinquish control, and so am not responsible for failure. This is not true, of course; I control most of what I create. And only I decide whether or not my creations are of interest to me (or possibly you).

But what about the more important, deeper implications of chance? What is the relationship between the philosophy of chance and the aesthetics of chance? These questions came to mind as I thumbed through my copy of Richard Rorty’s Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. No philosopher, I enjoy reading philosophy occasionally. Its extended arguments give me pleasure, and nearly always raise interesting questions. Some are worth unpacking, even by armchair readers of philosophy.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Cans: Diet Pepsi

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Mower Against Gardens

Luxurious man, to bring his vice in use,

Did after him the world seduce,

And from the fields the flowers and plants allure,

Where nature was most plain and pure.

He first enclosed within the gardens square

A dead and standing pool of air,

And a more luscious earth for them did knead,

Which stupified them while it fed.

The pink grew then as double as his mind;

The nutriment did change the kind.

With strange perfumes he did the roses taint,

And flowers themselves were taught to paint.

The tulip, white, did for complexion seek,

And learned to interline its cheek:

Its onion root they then so high did hold,

That one was for a meadow sold.

Another world was searched, through oceans new,

To find the Marvel of Peru.

And yet these rarities might be allowed

To man, that sovereign thing and proud,

Had he not dealt between the bark and tree,

Forbidden mixtures there to see.

No plant now knew the stock from which it came;

He grafts upon the wild the tame:

That th’ uncertain and adulterate fruit

Might put the palate in dispute.

His green seraglio has its eunuchs too,

Lest any tyrant him outdo.

And in the cherry he does nature vex,

To procreate without a sex.

’Tis all enforced, the fountain and the grot,

While the sweet fields do lie forgot:

Where willing nature does to all dispense

A wild and fragrant innocence:

And fauns and fairies do the meadows till,

More by their presence than their skill.

Their statues, polished by some ancient hand,

May to adorn the gardens stand:

But howsoe’er the figures do excel,

The gods themselves with us do dwell.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Friday Photo (8)

Red Lips (Mall Series), 2006

Marie Watt's Blankets

Visiting Boston several years ago, my wife and I happened upon a Newbury Street gallery exhibiting contemporary works constructed with fabric. Among them were Marie Watt’s small blanket pieces, the first of her blanket constructions that I had seen. I hungered for more.

The announcement of Marie Watt’s new show at PDX Contemporary Art in Portland, Oregon, arrived in my mail this week. I wish I could travel to Portland for the show. Instead, I’ll pour over images of Watt’s work on the gallery website.

Watt, a Portland-based Seneca artist, draws on Native American traditions and materials. “I am interested in human stories and rituals implicit in everyday objects,” she has written. “I find myself attracted to the blanket’s two- and three-dimensional qualities. On a wall, a blanket functions as a tapestry, but on a body it functions as a robe and living art object.” Her interest in everyday objects and the varied dimensionality of the medium bring to mind Jasper Johns, especially his groundbreaking flag and target paintings of the 1950s. Like Johns, Watt’s blankets play off oppositions: formal/informal and public/private. And like Johns, the blankets carry with them communal meanings associated with Native American traditions. Unlike Johns’ use of communal, depersonalized symbols (the American flag, the bull’s eye), Watt’s blankets also evoke associations with our most intimate and vulnerable activities. Tension created between these evocations and the rigorous formalism of Watt's constructions give her work extraordinary power.