24 February 2020

the beginning and the end

In the greater middle portion of your life, you like to feel like you're in at least partial control. You may make mistakes but you may have some influence over the next thing to happen or tomorrow. You sometimes seem to have only yourself to blame when things don't go right, whatever that is seen to be. And then there's when you are really young or dead. It all just is. You can holler or struggle or just be still.

I'm reading The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. There are plenty of good sentences but this one on page 16 stood out: "Being on an airplane, even in coach, was the closest an adult could come to the splendid helplessness of infancy." You're just there, for the duration of the flight you cannot move a whole lot, you can't pick from a variety of food and drink and activity. You can prepare but you're mostly helpless beyond a certain point. It's only good if you let the helplessness be splendid. My mom said I'd just happily sit in my playpen when I was an infant, probably running a little car back and forth. Her friends wondered if something was wrong with me, if I were perhaps a little "slow."

On the other end of life, we are often equally as helpless though maybe have too much awareness of our helplessness. There was an article in the New York Times on Thursday (February 20, 2020) entitled "Final moments for all to see" about taking pictures of people who had recently died. The online version of the story is called "The iPhone at the deathbed." The article also talks about the preparation of the body for the picture. There are various terms for the folks who will help you but I think I like "death doula" best. Amy Cunningham, a funeral director in Brooklyn, describes how she was talking to a group of Unitarians in Albany and said that she thought the dead person would want to look their best. A nonagenarian in the back of the room yelled out "You'll get over that!" Her reflection on that experience was that it "got [her] thinking. Wouldn't it be wonderful to die unfettered and free from worrying about how [you] look?" More splendid helplessness, even if you don't know about it.

You do know about how worried you have been all your life about how you looked. Another article in Thursday's paper, entitled "Paramedical tattooos: when ink is the Rx," was about tattoo artists who do healing tattoos like fingernail images on the tips of fingers which have been cut off in an accident. They also might do scar or blemish covering, the point being a subtle blending in with the rest of the person's skin. My nose reconstructions have left me not wishing to have my photograph taken and worried about the misshapen nose. Still I don't feel helpless (most of the time) and I'd rather tell the story about the scars than go through a bunch of operations to smooth it all out, especially since they'd probably not succeed. So the lesson is to do the best you can with what you've got and be patient if you're riding in coach. It will soon be over ... or not.

20 February 2020

what did we use to say?

I was looking at the January 2020 issue of Art in America which is a theme issue on "Generative art: the history and future of creative machines." I wasn't familiar with the term in art and started investigating. The "Generative art" article in Wikipedia is quite mature and traces the history of the term in the arts back to the 1960s. A keyword search in the Library of Congress catalog yielded about 100 hits and about a dozen of them seemed to be relevant, that is, the phrase "generative art" appeared in the title/subtitle. I looked at some of the records and several had the subject heading "Computer art" along with other headings.

The Wikipedia article starts "Generative art refers to art that in whole or in part has been created with the use of an autonomous system. An autonomous system in this context is generally one that is non-human and can independently determine features of an artwork that would otherwise require decisions made directly by the artist." It's a little like social practice with a machine. You give it a situation and it proceeds as it can. Wikipedia also compared it with algorithmic art ("algorithmically determined computer generated work") but generative art doesn't need to be based in an algorithm, I guess.

It definitely seemed like it was time to work on a subject proposal for LCSH. I checked the Art & Architecture Thesaurus and they have a record for generative art. The scope note defines it as "electronic art that incorporates process in the creation of the work. The work itself is usually experienced through time and space, and may include sound, motion, animated graphics, sculptural elements, or any combination of these. Generative art has a performative aspect. For visual art that incorporates algorithms to produce static visual works, use 'algorithmic art.'"

And then the word "generative" started leaping into my life: right, left, and center. Not as part of "generative art" but, for example, to describe the origin of an idea. Sam and I talked around it after an artist talk a couple weeks ago. I was at the College Art conference last week and heard at least a half dozen speakers include the word generative in their paper. I was reading the January 24th New York Times after I got home and this sentence appeared in a review of a book entitled The longing for less by Kyle Chayka: "More generative for him are the examples of artists who became known as Minimalists even as they disavowed the term." What word would have been used a while ago? Not generative, I don't think. Maybe I'm just noticing a word that's been out there all along. Whatever, it's good to have an expanding vocabulary.

09 February 2020

separated at birth: Abidjan and London pyramids

La Pyramide (1973)
Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
Rinaldo Olivieri, architect
photo by Iwan Baan, from Architect magazine website,

Tate Modern extension (2016)
London, England
Herzog & de Meuron, architects
photo by Mara Brandl / Imagebroker / Shutterstock

01 February 2020

Houdon Paul-Louis

I've enjoyed playing here with name mashing, e.g., Olafur di Paolo, Albrecht Gonzalez-Torres, Palermo Springs. Kehinde Wiley likes to do it too. This bronze portrait bust by Wiley is in the recently-opened "Jacques-Louis David meets Kehinde Wiley" exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition is focused on "Bonaparte crossing the Alps" by David and the Wiley painting "Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps" that it inspired. Also on display is this bronze portrait bust by Wiley entitled "Houdon Paul-Louis" after the sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, a contemporary of David. The bust is in the Brooklyn Museum collection.