Category Archives: Arts/Literature

#ArtSunday: What’s the Greatest Book You Ever Read?

My buddy Jim Booth put together a quarantine reading list for our little S&R community this week and it got me thinking. So let’s pose a challenge.

What is the greatest work of literature you’ve ever read?

The Rules

It can be a novel, a collection of short fiction, a book of poetry, a play (yes, Shakespeare is eligible), or a work of creative nonfiction.

You may discuss your criteria and thought processes and you may mention your nominees. No dissertations necessary. Keep it as short as you like.

But you must pick ONE book. No ties, no waffling.

I’ll go first.

I sort of instantly leap to Flannery O’Connor’s collected short stories, although that feels like cheating since it’s kind of a greatest hits thing. Still, goddamn, her insight into the South, the way she manages to develop such distinct characters in such a short period of time, and the enthusiastic meanness of her humor surpasses anything I’ve read.

I may have some sort of bias toward short fiction, too, because as great as The Scarlet Letter and Catcher in the Rye are I’ve always found more essential connection to the short stories of Hawthorne and Salinger.

Even though it’s genre, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon hit me squarely where I lived at that moment in time, as I wandered away from Christianity and toward Paganism. So that’s more about personal relevance.

Yeats. Duh. But again, there’s the greatest hits issue.

Othello. Iago is perhaps my favorite character in the history of writing. There’s a library in there about evil and manipulation and how the powerful destroy the pure and good, and so that one seems especially relevant right now.

Grapes-of-Wrath

But if I have to pick one – and I do, because it’s MY rule – I’m going with The Grapes of Wrath. There’s no overstatting the importance of the Dust Bowl/Route 66 to California story in American history, especially now as the descendants of those dirt-poor migrants have transformed the state into its own emerging nation.

I’m not a reviewer. All I can do is think about Steinbeck delivering one body blow on top of another and the unfathomable perseverance of the Joad clan. For me there’s a psychological wonder in it because I’ve always figured there’s a depth below which I cannot sink, and if I get there I end it. But these people kept going because there wasn’t a choice.

I’m unworthy to even talk about these authors, and fortunately history has done better for them than I can. But that’s my humble take.

Your turn.

Teach Me Baroque Art History

I have seven letters after my name, but I often feel as though I’m in desperate need of education.

I can’t look at the news without thinking how much I’d benefit from a good history degree, for instance. More and more when I listen to music I wish I understood the mathematics of tone. And speaking of math, I envy the geniuses who understand our existence in terms of formulas I can’t begin to unravel and I’d give anything to better grasp the code of the universe.

Every moment, it seems, life reminds me how little I know. I study what I can, but no life is long enough to learn everything I wish I understood.

Photography torments me most of all. I know a few things and have learned an immense amount from some of my talented friends, but mostly I’m self-taught. And I’ve always suspected I’d benefit from your basic intro-level course. Photography 101. Composition. Light and shadow. A professional set of eyes looking over my shoulder and pointing out the nuances I’ve missed. That sort of thing.

So I have this little list in my head of courses I want to take someday. And today I added another: History of Baroque Art. Maybe something like this from UDub.

The why is … Okay, occasionally I find something I like, so I investigate. My recent kick has been music of the Baroque, which was inspired by Pachelbel and Vivaldi and my general lack of interest in all the music I normally listen to. One thing led to another and of course I found myself reading about Baroque art.

I’ve seen and admired many of these painters before, but I never had the context of the movement in my head as an organizing principle. But as I explore, things begin making a bit of sense and, most importantly, I feel a kinship.

The work that distinguishes the Baroque period is stylistically complex, even contradictory. In general, however, the desire to evoke emotional states by appealing to the senses, often in dramatic ways, underlies its manifestations. Some of the qualities most frequently associated with the Baroque are grandeur, sensuous richness, drama, vitality, movement, tension, emotional exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinctions between the various arts.

No, this isn’t me exactly, but the drama, the intense shadows and deep colors that typify the masters of the era, it all reminds me of me when I’m interrogating an image.

And the paintings themselves – I don’t have words.

The Calling of Saint Matthew (1599–1600), by Caravaggio

The Calling of Saint Matthew (1599–1600), by Caravaggio

The Garden of Love, by Peter Paul Rubens

The Garden of Love, by Peter Paul Rubens

The Nightwatch, by Rembrandt

The Nightwatch, by Rembrandt

What would I find hidden in my photography if I had space and time to study these artists in detail? My bucket list doesn’t look like most, I suspect.

Here’s my latest. All I can say is that as I composed it and developed it the Baroque masters were on my mind…

Wedding-Song

Ghost in the Shell: a 2-minute review

The 2017 remake of the manga classic is marvelous to behold, but not especially filling emotionally.

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell

Went to see Ghost in the Shell the other day. In IMAX. IMAX 3-D, to be precise. Initial impressions:

1) It’s just fucking gorgeous. The designers have studied the classics, from Blade Runner on down, and they create a world that does justice to the genre. This flick ought to win all the technical Oscars.

2) The story itself works well. Read more

Remembering 2016: the year when everyone died

No, famous people won’t stop dying on January 1. But we lost too many bright lights this year and we hope that 2017 will be better. Here’s a list of noteworthy people who died in 2016.

For the past several months a lot of us have been saying we can’t wait for this damned year to be over.

2016 gave us the worst election season I can remember, and every ten minutes or so another beloved artist would die, it seemed. Any year that gives us Donald Trump and takes Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince in return has done more damage than some decades.

No, people aren’t going to stop dying at the stroke of midnight tomorrow. Read more

New Years Resolutions, pt 2: support is a two-way street

I have always supported independent artists, but that support has not often been reciprocated. This bothers me.

Part 2 of a series

support_independent_artists_invitation-r6303469af3264b2a811939c475b2c50f_zk9yi_324[Caveat: I’ll apologize in advance if this one sounds a little bitchy. That isn’t my intent, but I know people don’t always hear what I think I’m saying.]

Ever since we started this blog in 2007, and really for a good number of years before that via different media, I have done all I could to support the efforts of artists I found worthy, especially the seemingly numberless independent artists out there who are being all kinds of brilliant without much help from mainstream media or the industry institutions that dominate the areas in which they work. Music, visual arts, photography, literature, you name it – if you’re like me you run across a lot of fantastic creative work, and if you’re like me you want everyone else to appreciate it as much as you do. Read more

Nobel Committee gives Bob Dylan the wrong prize

Dylan is one of the greatest artists of his time. But his genius wasn’t about Literature.

Part 1 of a series.

The Nobel Committee today awarded American folk icon Bob Dylan its annual prize for Literature. Not surprisingly, reactions have been mixed.

I’m a bit torn myself. There is no questioning at all the immensity of Dylan’s artistic accomplishments, and there’s perhaps even less argument to be had over the influence he has wielded not only over popular music, but over the larger culture. It is simply impossible to imagine what the US would look like today had he never been born, but we can start by considering his role in the anti-war movement of the ’60s. In truth, you could look at his centrality to the revolts that eventually led to the end of that war and make a case that he deserved the Peace Prize.

And what about the who’s who of musical artists who followed in his steps? A very small catalog of those who owe their souls to Dylan would include these names, and if there’s nobody on here that you love and admire you just don’t like music. Read more

Monorail to the Future: reasserting the American Dream for #HopeTuesday

With the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle asserted itself as the city that invented the future. Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, Key Arena, the Pacific Science Center and other Jetsonesque architectural wonders, gave us a stunning Mid-Century Modern vision of our presumed technotopian future. In 2000 the EMP Museum opened, inserting a postmodern generational overlay in the form of Frank Gehry’s gripping postmodern architectural style. Ever upward, ever forward.

For #HopeTuesday today, I offer you a metaphor. Let’s rekindle our dream of a clean, sustainable, prosperous future with opportunity for all – a true and attainable American dream. I took this shot of the World’s Fair monorail, which connects the EMP and Seattle Center with downtown, in November of 2013. What could possibly be more optimistic, more hopeful, for Americans than a train destined for a technological Utopia?

Monorail, EMP Museum and Seattle Center

Monorail, EMP Museum and Seattle Center

Me, Albee and the Butterfly Effect: Scholars & Rogues Honors

An icon of the American theatre, Edward Albee, died this week. Scholars & Rogues honors him and notes the small ways that the influence of great artists can affect our lives for years to come.

The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, New Theatre Company, The Factory Theatre, Boston, 2/23/12-3/4/12

The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, New Theatre Company, The Factory Theatre, Boston, 2/23/12-3/4/12

We read The Zoo Story in one of my classes at Wake Forest – maybe freshman or sophomore year. I absolutely loved it. I think Jerry spoke to my teenage sense of who I was and what I didn’t want to be, and this dynamic was reinforced by the culture of the university. Wake was conservative and elite. I was conservative, but working class. Many of my fellow students were preparing themselves for sensible, practical, conventional lives. I wanted to be a poet. So while I don’t believe I necessarily understood that tension then the way I do now, I felt an immediacy in Peter and Jerry’s confrontation that, truth be told, still resonates for me today.  Read more

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