Recently in Visual Art Category

Thanks to the friend who sent me a link to the work of Chris Jordan, an artist whose photography uses garbage, toxins, pollutants and major sources of all the above so that we can see how much of this stuff there is mucking up our planet. I suggest you click on the links to Intolerable Beauty, which is photos of things like crushed cars, discarded cell phones and obsolete circuit boards, as well as the raw materials we need to build our homes and pave our streets, etc; and Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait (love that title!), which includes statistics to help the viewer understand just how much we throw away, how many children don't have health care, how many people die of smoking-related illnesses each year, etc.

It's very disturbing, the fact that we are able to think of garbage in terms of the few plastic bags we take home from the grocery store every few days and don't recycle, or the single broken dvd player we throw out and replace after a few years, because we don't think about how many other people are doing the exact same thing at the exact same intervals. Jordan's work makes it much harder to think in those narrow terms. After seeing these photographs, I will do my best from here on out to never again drink a beverage sold in a plastic bottle.

On Bill Moyer's Journal you can also watch a video (it's actually a series of stills with accompanying narration, but we call that a video, don't we?) about the photographs Jordan took after the waters receded from New Orleans, which have been collected in the book In Katrina's Wake.

The 47th Carnival of Feminists is up at Ornamenting Away from dizzybuzzkill. I got up this morning, started coffee, sat down to read. I heard the coffee maker produce this click it makes when it needs to cool down because it's been on for too long, looked up at the clock, and realize I'd been sitting for an hour without coffee, because the posts were too interesting to get up from. (The coffee is just decaf--I don't need any stimulants at all--but it's nice in the morning to have a cup of slightly sweet, fairly milky warm liquid, which is how I like my coffee.)

There is something to intrigue, inspire and inform every feminist. I'm not done reading, but so far my favorite post (and new blog) is on "the modern cad" from Feminist Fire.

When you're done reading all the posts, please scroll down past dizzy's blog roll and click on the link to her banner art, which takes you to the collages of Blondstrawberry, a totally awesome collage artist. I am lucky enough to own a collage by Blondstrawberry--if you click on the gallery page and get gallery one, you'll see two columns of thumbnail images, the top right of which is a woman looking down at something. Click on that if you want to see the collage I bought.... It's called "Sober Beacon" and it hangs in my living room. It's not huge--only 4"x6"--but it's very cool. I got it when Blondstrawberry was just starting to sell her stuff and it wasn't pricey--it cost more to have framed and matted than to buy it in the first place--but I think she's seen some significant success and realized what her stuff is actually worth, so you can't get it for next to nothing anymore. But if you like her stuff, I would definitely contact her about acquiring some.

Naked Guys at the Johnson Museum

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A couple weeks ago I took my last trip of the summer: I went to Ithaca, NY, to visit dear friends.

Ithaca, in case you didn't know, is in a singularly beautiful part of the world. It's part of the finger lakes region of New York and has both rolling hills and steep valleys. At the Wegman's in Ithaca you can buy t-shirts proclaiming that it's "gorges." It's worth going just to survey the scenery, but there's also stuff to do. There are state parks, for hiking and swimming and boating. It's the home of the Moosewood Restaurant. The downtown is decent for hanging out. There's also the art gallery at Cornell university: the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

Admission is free, and the top floor of the museum (which houses a decent collection of Asian art) is a great place to get a panoramic view of the entire city, including Ithaca's own personal lake (the name of which I forget). But what will really stick with me are the statues of two naked guys that are the first piece of art you encounter when you walk in the door.

They're these life-sized bronze figures arranged to illustrate the name of the sculpture, which is "Conflict." To be frank, it's not an especially remarkable piece of art, but for some (OK, well, a fairly obvious) reason it has become the mascot of the museum, and the coffee cart and pastry case in the lobby of the museum have been dignified by the name of "2 Naked Guys Cafe," because they're only feet away from the naked guys.

The museum sells t-shirts for the cafe, and of course I bought one--I owed a birthday present to a gay man, and what gay man wouldn't want to walk around West Hollywood in a t-shirt like this?


A Necessary Ingredient for Enjoying Art

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I love Grendel by John Gardner so much I wish I'd written it.

It is, of course, a retelling of the Beowulf saga from the point of view of the monster who wrecks Hrothgar's meadhall and feasts on his men.

I love it because it's a fiercely intellectual book, concerned with truth and ultimate meaning. I love it because it has so many fabulous lines. I love it because the dragon Grendel visits is one of the best characters ever created in all of literature.

I love it because plot is never the point: if you've read Beowulf, you know how Grendel ends: Beowulf rips Grendel's arm off, and Grendel goes off to bleed to death in the woods. So you don't read it for what happens, you read it for how it happens, and why what happens matters.

I get annoyed when people refuse to know anything beyond the initial set-up of a book they want to read or a movie they want to watch. "Don't tell me! Don't ruin the end for me!" they shout, covering their ears, as if ignorance is a necessary ingredient for enjoying art. If I feel I'm getting too caught up in wondering what will happen next to appreciate things in a text like musicality of language and construction of scene, I'll read the end so I can just dispense with the suspense and concentrate on enjoying the pages before the end, rather than racing through to the end.

Self-Portrait Series

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I love self-portraits, partly because in grad school I read this fabulous essay by Philippe Lejeune called "Looking at a Self-Portrait." Lejeune is a literary critic whose primary interest is autobiography, verbal and visual. He asks, "What is it that makes a self-portrait recognizable as such? What special interest can their be in looking at a self-portrait?"

Of course there is nothing in a painting that marks it as a self-portrait for anyone who does not know what the painter looks like, hence the existence of titles like Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, by Parmigianino (which John Ashbery borrowed for the title of one of his books). Painting, Lejeune points out, has no obvious first person, whereas "For the first person, writing is invincible."

Not long after reading that I started writing self-portraits: "Self-Portrait as Hungry Nude." "Self-Portrait as Burnt Offering." "Self-Portrait as Someone Who Looks Exactly Like Me."


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