October 2008 Archives

via Kottke

My wife and I stole an hour at the Phillips Collection in Washington the other night. It was a visit of a perfect length. After 45 minutes, to get my marginal minute, the art has to be really good. Art is like guitar practice. One long session does nothing. A half hour regularly is what's called for.

Had I been at the museum on vacation-- where I felt compelled to spend two hours, I probably would not have stopped to only seriously consider a few pieces. I would have rushed to see everything and in doing so would have seen nothing at all.

In this appetizer-sized visit I finally got Rothko. There's a delightful little room of four of his works. It's almost like a chapel (Yes, there's one in Houston). It's delicately lit and when we went in, it was empty. The room can't fit more than eight. Two should be the limit.


I can't explain why this time was different but the color choices and the weight he gave to each seemed absolutely perfect.

I was also captured by two works by Pierre Bonnard. One from his youth ("Narrow Street in Paris") and another from much later ("The Open Window").


They were both gorgeous in their own way. I know little about art, and I'm almost certainly going to get this wrong but the Paris street seemed younger to me: it was a hard, cold image of city life. The light was perfectly captured and the scene was one of activity--not heroic or special activity (which can, in its own way be heroic, of course).

The second one, "The Open Window" was relaxed, colorful, at ease. It felt older. Perhaps it's as simple as interior v. exterior. The Paris street is all about exterior. Though the window shows an inviting world outside, it's an inward-feeling scene.

"The important thing is to remember what most impressed you and to put it on canvas as fast as possible. Then, using only one color as a basis, you structure the entire painting around it. Color represents a logic that is just as unrelenting as the logic of form. One must never let go before having managed to set down one's first impressions."
Pierre Bonnard, 1937


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We saw them again last night. I think that makes four times. It was great, as usual. They played "I Know Where You Are," which is one of my favorites. It requires playing a nutty bar chord that requires a 6 foot long pinky finger as far as I can tell.

You can find other clips here.

A great piece on the different kinds of genius and the way we value the young genius over the old master. What's not addressed is the Bob Dylan kind of genius. There are some who believe that it would have been better if Dylan had never produced a song after Highway 61. That would have been a shame. Certainly though there's a doughnut hole in his career between his greatest work. He's now an old master though. So what other cultural geniuses have been both prodigies and old masters?

The piece also gave me a new appreciation for Cezanne, an Old Master. I like the idea of a plodding artist because I am quite plodding. One more level: do those who learn by plodding an experimentation prefer artists who produce their work in the same way?

more Cezanne here

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The entire collection can be found here.

(via Kottke)

With no time to do anything, I can't listen to the new Dylan Bootleg CD Tell Tale Signs (Or Ani DiFranco's new CD Red Letter Year either) but I did sneak a listen to the early version of "Most of the Time." (You can listen to the version that made it on the album here. Ani did a version with a banjo too--when she opened for Dylan in 1997 actually-- but it's only available as a bootleg).

I've always liked "Most of the Time" because it's the song of a narrator kidding himself. It's a plea screaming out from behind an attempted act of defiance. The narrator is trying to say he's stopped thinking about this woman but all you can hear through the song is "I can't stop thinking about this woman." He has forgotten her so completely he's written a song about her. It's half hidden and yet not hidden at all.

I've also always liked the song because it reminds me of "If you See Her Say Her Say Hello," which touches on the same themes, though in that song the narrator is more open about his longing. Maybe one is chapter one and the other is chapter two.

If you look at the lyrics of the two versions you can hear the clear influence of the producer Daniel Lanois who helped out on the album Oh Mercy. The bootleg version is old-style Dylan: Just him and his guitar. It's fast, which doesn't really suit the song. The final tempo of the album version is just right for the material. (Unfortunately it's a little too produced for me. Very 80s feeling. I feel like there's a fog machine in the background somewhere. (I prefer this version better)

I love this bootleg, as I do all bootlegs, because we get to see and hear the choices the artist makes those fine little refinements made in the later stages. It's where we see hard work and hard thinking. It's not creativity that comes from just "inspiration." (Sometimes the revisions are better, and sometimes I prefer the original and sometimes the two are totally different songs that are both viable like the two versions of  "Went to See the Gypsy" or "Forever Young" on Planet Waves).

Most of the time
My head is on straight,
Most of the time
I'm strong enough not to hate.
I got enough faith and I got enough strength
Keep it all away way beyond arm's length.

I don't build up illusion 'till it makes me sick,
I ain't afraid of confusion no matter how thick

I can smile in the face of mankind.
Don't even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time.

The final lines are much more vivid, particularly the replacement of the faith and strength line. Those are generic, boring ideas. The new line is much more in keeping with the narrator's illusions and the song's message. The point is that yes, in fact, he does build up illusion and it makes him sick. This is not a song of whimsy. The guy's working out a considerable problem in his life. The second line isn't as strong but at least he's shed the arm's length cliché.

(Okay, I lied about the Ani disk, I've been listening to it while I was writing this. It's good, at least the first part I've been listening to).