Jan 11

The faded-sky poem My November Guest

Whenever I find myself within a cold, faded, white-skied day, I think of Robert Frost’s extraordinary 1915 poem My November Guest.

It’s not November, but here’s my day:

And here’s Frost:

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

Dec 2

Abstraction is a type of decadence

A few years ago, I was visiting the apartment of a dear friend and I saw this photo on his wall:

Jenny Holzer Abuse Of Power Comes As No Surprise Shirt

I was so thrilled by the photo that my friend made me a knockoff of the shirt, which was originally created in the 1980s by the artist Jenny Holzer. Then I got so excited about my knockoff shirt that my friend made me another shirt. The new shirt features two more Holzer slogans:

ABSTRACTION IS A TYPE OF DECADENCE (front)

ELABORATION IS A FORM OF POLLUTION (back)

I love these shirts, and I often have interesting conversations with passerby when I wear them. Sometimes, at art events, people recognize the Holzer reference, and we enthuse together.

Jenny Holzer may be best known for her list of Truisms. These have not merely appeared on t-shirts, but have been projected on huge public walls and posted on billboards.

I certainly don’t agree with all the Truisms — and I suspect that Holzer doesn’t either — but they’re really fun to read. Part of the maxims’ awesomeness is their uncompromising directness. Here are a few more that I like to think about:

GUILT AND SELF-LACERATION ARE INDULGENCES

SELF-AWARENESS CAN BE CRIPPLING

SYMBOLS ARE MORE MEANINGFUL THAN THINGS THEMSELVES

TECHNOLOGY WILL MAKE OR BREAK US

Addendum: If you are really in love with Holzer’s work, then I also recommend the Twitter feed Jenny Holzer, Mom. It’s a mashup of Holzer-style maxims + the sensibility of a Midwestern mom. Examples:

GENDER IS A INVENTED CONCEPT FOR DIVISION BUT YOU STILL CAN’T HAVE A BOY-GIRL SLEEPOVER PARTY

A LITTLE BIT OF BRAINWASHING COULD BE WORTH IT IF IT GETS YOU INTO A GOOD COLLEGE

IT IS POSSIBLE YOU WERE LIED TO WHEN YOU WERE TOLD YOU’D UNDERSTAND WHEN YOU GOT OLDER

Nov 29

Cities and the sky

I don’t draw much these days, but when I do, I feel mighty relaxed.

Step 1

Step 2

Maybe someday soon I’ll get the chance to finish this. Or not! Some of my favorite old pieces, I started to color and then stopped.

Oct 17

Disguise an object to look like another object

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is now distributing free high school lesson plans created by leading contemporary artists. I particularly enjoyed this list of activities by John Baldessari.

My favorites:

Assignment #6
Disguise an object to look like another object.

Assignment #7
Make up list of distractions that often occur to you. Recreate on video tape.

Assignment #9
By using movie camera to follow actions and by your observations into cassette recorder, document the movements of someone secretly for an entire day. Or have someone follow you.

Assignment #11
Describe the visual verbally and the verbal visually.

Sep 21

Disturbed by her song

From Tanith Lee’s book Disturbed By Her Song:

Once upon a time there was a princess, outside whose high bedroom window a nightingale sang every night from a pomegranate tree.

While the nightingale sang, the princess slept deeply and well, dreaming of wondrous and beautiful things. However there came a night when the nightingale, for reasons of her own, did not sing but flew far away.

In the morning the princess summoned a gardener and told him to cut down the pomegranate tree. The man protested; the tree was a fine one, young, healthy and fruitful. But the princess would not relent. For as she said, all that one previous night a nightingale had perched in the branches, and the princess’s sleep had been very much disturbed by her song.

Jul 23

The endless world-changers

An evening’s tale:

* * *

We were hand-chosen for an elite crew that skipped through millennia examining strife. We believed that with enough effort and data-gathering, we would find the solution for human conflict and bring it home to our original time.

We were invulnerable: swift healers, nearly ageless. We had worked hard to get into the program, worked hard to earn our rare and flawless artificial biology, but we didn’t feel privileged. We merely believed in the mission with all our hearts.

We slept through interstitial periods between the frenetic times we examined. Through those dark ages, we lay locked in underground cocoons.

This was the only sleep we received; otherwise we needed none. Our hibernation dreams were so slow and abstract that they melted completely when daylight arrived.

Throughout each mission, you and I made slow orbits around each other. I saw you rarely, a former lover from a time when my life was different. We’d been recruited separately after we broke up.

Now we saw each other at crises, exchanged hugs and whispered encouragement as the centuries wore on. That was all. Our mission was all-consuming.

* * *

We arrived in a time of desperate strife. Shortages led to starvation, fighting in the streets, and numberless atrocities that we’d all seen before. Once again, we had high hopes for our latest theory, but hope dissolved as we tested and iterated.

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Jun 26

My favorite Leonardo da Vinci quote

“Life is pretty simple. You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do some more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else.

“The trick is the doing something else.”

Jun 4

The postman’s fairy palace

During a long-ago class, I learned about the Facteur Cheval, an 1800s postman who randomly built a fairy palace. Here’s an excerpt from my old art history textbook, The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes:

The other naif [besides Henri Rousseau] whom Surrealism especially admired was not a painter but a builder who, in the obscurity of his own country garden, created what was perhaps the most elaborate, beautiful, and mysterious “unofficial” work of art made by any nineteenth-century artist. He was Ferdinand Cheval, a postman or facteur in the village of Hauterives, about forty miles from Lyon. The Facteur Cheval (as he is usually called) had done nothing remarkable for forty-three years of his life. But one day in 1879, on his delivery round, he picked up a pebble. It was a piece of the local greyish-white molasse or tufa, gnarled and lumpy, about four inches long — his “stone of escape,” as he later called it. He put it in his pocket and, from then on, began first to collect more odd-looking stones, then tiles, oyster-shells, bits of glass, wire, iron, and other junk. Back in his garden, he began to lay foundations and build walls. He was, by his own account, bored of “walking forever in the same decor,” and so:

… to distract my thoughts, I constructed in my dreams a faëry palace, surpassing all imagination, everything the genius of a humble man could imagine (with grottoes, gardens, towers, castles, museums and sculptures), trying to bring to a new birth all the ancient architectures of primitive times; the whole thing so beautiful and picturesque that the images of it remained alive in my brain for ten years at least … but the distance from dream to reality is great; I had never touched a mason’s trowel … and I was totally ignorant of the rules of architecture.

Facteur Cheval fairy palace

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