Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Wednesday Post

Greetings from Dayton!!
The Avatar has missed you.

The wiki lists Daytons in 23 U.S. states, some of which in fact have multiple Daytons, and one each in Canada and Australia. We're talking about Dayton, Washington.

Since my running Avatar last wrote two months back, he has plowed up nearly two hundred miles of the Evergreen State. After dozens of miles on the north bank of the Columbia, he headed inland, crossed through two of the Tri-Cities, and headed eastward into the Palouse up the valley of the Touchet River.  This last part is a very scenic rural area -- I know, I've been there myself.

Last Sunday morning, while the blog Shakespearean and I were running the LaCamas Lake Half Marathon in Camas, Washington... and thus getting a fifth state in my 2013 pie chart... let's get a visual on that, actually...

...anyway, while we were doing that, the Avatar hoofed it into downtown Dayton!

Anyway, I think that regardless of our political, cultural, economic, or dominant-hand differences, we can all agree that the Avatar has really chewed up a lot of ground in this stage of his grand adventure, the leg from Portland, Oregon to Moscow, Idaho. 

He hasn't done much cultural consumption in a while -- the art museum scene in the Tri-Cities seemed, alas, a little thin, and I frankly just kind of assumed that a small town like Dayton doesn't have a stash of Vermeers squirreled away.  So this is why he will be heading north and east for a while, heading up towards a very specific arts mecca -- the town of Colfax, Washington.  And he'll get there as fast as my legs can carry him.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Friedrich v. Gabo!

Caspar David Friedrich
1774 - 1840

Wrecked Dame Elisabeth Frink's hopes in Round 1.

Naum Gabo
1890 - 1977

Thumped on 15th century French guy Nicolas Froment in Round 1.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Free Box Tapes

I don't know if I've talked about it much here, but I've really been moving away from downloaded music.  It's probably just idiosyncratic, but recorded music doesn't seem to really work for me if it doesn't have some kind of physical form.  So I've cancelled my subscription to my old online music service and scrapped some of my files.

The new beat around here for the last year or so has been 33 1/3 vinyl records.  You can get a huge variety of recordings at prices from 25 cents to two dollars (or more, of course, by why?), and with a little patience and by trusting to serendipity I've built a fun little library without any particular effort.  With such a low per-item cost, you can take gambles on oddball recordings that usually turn out to be dreadful, but occasionally turn out to be real gems.

Fast forward to yesterday.  As I was setting out on a voyage of adventure, I noticed that the people down at the corner had left out a fairly substantial Free Box with a bunch of gently-used binders.  That got my attention, because for professional reasons I'm all about looking for ways to defray school expenses for refugee youth.  So I jump out and pillage the binders, and underneath them I find this:

It's a well-constructed case for an eclectic, respectable music collection spanning pop, classical, and jazz.  And it's all on cassette, on the second-lamest medium in which music was e'er marketed!  But at least it's a physical medium, right?

Well, talk about building a fun little music library without any particular effort!  Me being me, it was instantaneously obvious what I must do, and that is: listen to one of these tapes every week or so, according to some random system, and then write a short post regarding its merits or lack thereof in this blog, probably late Sunday where it won't get in the way.  Won't that be fun?

That's the plan, anyway.  We'll see about the follow-through, but I'm usually pretty good at that.  Mrs.5000, it's on my sewing table if you want to take a look.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Gontcharova v. Gorky!

Natalia Gontcharova
Russian; worked in France


Arshile Gorky
1904 - 1948
Armenian; worked in the United States.


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Songs of the Fifty States: Arkanasas

(What is "The Songs of the Fifty States"?)

Arkansas has not been overburdened with ties to well-known artists.  Thanks to IAT Shakespearean Jennifer for helping me
track down these two fine albeit not especially landscapy works by Arkansas painter Jenny Eakin Delony Rice (1885-1949).


Size: 137,733 km2 (29th)

2012 Population: 2,949,131 (32nd)

Statehood: 1836 (25th)

American Human Development Index: 3.87 (49th)

Art Meccas: There is a great deal of splash and fanfare about the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, an museum that sprang fully-formed in 2011 from the head of one of the Walmart heirs.  It is of course in Bentonville, and has a robust collection (deep pockets) without many well-known works (late start).  

If I had one day in Arkansas, though, I would probably break for Little Rock's Arkansas Art Center, also a relatively new institution (50 years old last year) but with a solid collection of American and European paintings and a special focus on drawings.  Crystal Springs' focus on the United States makes it a specialist institution; the AAC represents a broader tradition and has a better representation of the post-WWII era.

Michael 5000's Arkansas

First Visited: ~April 1, 1992 (13th)
Most Recently Visited: May 16, 2003 (40th)

First Run In: n/a
Best Run: n/a

Have Slept Overnight In: Yes.

Have Admired the Visual Arts In: No.

Counties Visited: 20/75 (20th)
% Complete: 26.7% (32nd)

Mrs. 5000's Counties Visited: 15/75 (37th)
% Complete: 20% (37th)

Atlas of All Roads Travelled

Plans and Aspirations

I have vague plans for a Southeast/Central trip that might happen one of these years.  If it did, I would definitely want to run in Arkansas.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Fragonard v. Frankenthaler!

Jean-Honoré Fragonard
1732 - 1806

Beat American Sam Francis without too much trouble in Round 1.

Helen Frankenthaler
1928 - 2011

Defeated Lucian Freud easily in Round 1.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Wednesday Post

I Don't Really Want to Stop the Show, but I Thought You Might Like to Know
Arp, Bourgeois, and Blake make their philatelic farewells to the Infinite Art Tournament

Jean Arp had a French mom and a German dad, and grew up in Alsace-Lorraine under the German occupation. He studied in Strasbourg, Weimar, and Paris, and would eventually live for an extended period in Zurich. He called himself Jean when speaking French, and Hans when speaking German. If he was hitting his stride today, he would likely be interrogating the nature of national identity.

But! As far as I can tell, only France has got around to claiming him on a postage stamp.

Arp went 0-2 in the Infinite Art Tournament, leaving us back on May 11.

Louise Bourgeois moved from France to the United States after World War II. She is described sometimes as the founder of "confessional art," which seems to involve abstractions which invoke the human form in part or whole and which suggest, shall we say, an anxious outlook on human interaction. It appears to involve brooding.

The big spider sculptures that she created late in life turned out to be wildly popular and quite lucrative; one of them set a record for the highest price ever paid at auction for the work of a female artist. Bourgeois conceived them as an homage to her mother, a weaver, and noted that "spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother."

Boudin had a very respectable 1-2-1 record in the Tournament.  When she exited the tournament last weekend, she was only the second artist to leave having compiled more votes for than votes against..

Sir Peter Blake was a yachtsman from New Zealand who... no, wait, wrong Sir Peter Blake. He has stamps too, though.

OUR Sir Peter Blake is, let's just come right out and admit it, a successful and widely-recognized artist who is nevertheless mostly known for a single high-profile piece of commercial work done in the 1960s. Here it is as commemorated by the British postal service a few years back.

Sir Peter accumulated a 1-2-1 record in the Tournament before he left us on July 11.  At the time, he had logged more positive votes than any other artist to have exited the tournament, but he was overtaken just a week later by Bourgeois.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Infinite Art Tournament Second-Round Elimination: Bellows v. Boucher!

George Bellows made it past Louise Bougeois in tiebreak action, jumping down to fill what would have been her spot in the brackets.  He'll face fresh competition against Boucher; unlike the artists in most Left Bracket Second Round Elimination contests, these two have not faced any of the same opponents.  

Boucher beat Dieric Bouts to get where he is today; Bouts was counted out some time ago with a record of 1-2 (14 cumulative votes for, 19 against), and has already had his post-competition shout-out.  Ms. Bourgeois put up a respectable run of 1-2-1 (29-26) and may, or may not, have cast the Curse of the Spider-Woman on Bellows for knocking her out of play.

George Bellows
1882 - 1925

François Boucher
1703 - 1770
  • Defeated impressionist Eugène Boudin by two votes in Round 1. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Crushed by Botticelli -- although where's the shame in that? -- in Round 2.
  • Beat Dieric Bouts in the Left Bracket Second Round.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Element of the Month: Iron!

July's Element of the Month:
The Eiffel Tower, one of the last structures built primarily from Iron. Also,
probably the largest.
George Seurat, 1859-1891. Anticipated Tournament debut early 2016.


Atomic Mass: 55.845 amu
Melting Point: 1538 °C
Boiling Point: 2862 °C

Iron, Element #26, is the sixth most common element in the universe. It's a good 5% of the admittedly marginal 2% of all matter that isn't Hydrogen and Helium.  You might be saying to yourself "But why? How did such a relatively large, complex element get to be so darn relatively common?"

Well, it's an excellent question, even though you used the word "relatively" twice in the same sentence.

You probably have something between a vague sense and a solid understanding that "the sun is a mass of incandescent [plasma], an enormous nuclear furnace where Hydrogen is burned into Helium at a temperature of millions of degrees." If you are like me, you probably visualize this as a zillion atomic bombs going off simultaneously all the time; however, I read recently that the production of energy per cubic meter in the sun is roughly equivalent to that of a really good compost pile. However, the sun is really, really, really big, and all of that energy really adds up. The outward pressure from the furnace overcomes the force of gravity, the sun retains its volume and density, and we here on earth bask in the sunshine.

But eventually, any given star is going to run out of hydrogen. What happens then is that the furnace stops producing energy and outward pressure.  Gravity starts to compact its mass, which is now mostly Helium. As the star compacts in on itself, the density eventually becomes so great that fusion kicks in again, and for a while the sun will be "an enormous nuclear furnace where Helium is burned into Carbon and Oxygen at a temperature of millions of degrees." Carbon and Oxygen, incidently, are the fourth and third most common elements in the universe.

After that, it kind of varies depending on the size of the star. If it's a big 'un, Carbon and Oxygen can fuse into Neon, Sodium, Magnesium, Sulfur and Silicon. From there, in one last spasm, a really big star -- now a small but incredibly dense star -- can for a brief time fuse these elements into Calcium, Iron, Nickel, Chromium, and Copper -- with Iron, as you may have guessed, being a major player. And since it's the biggest stars that generate Iron in their end-game, naturally they generate a lot of Iron. (They also pump out 56Ni, a radioactive isotope of Nickel that decays into Iron in a few weeks.) So that's why there's so much Iron in the universe, and in general why the common elements are common.

Now then.  Closer to home, Iron is the MOST common Element on the planet Earth. Now, before you go all "nuh uh!" remember that your daily experience occurs entirely on and above the CRUST of the Earth, which is not representative of the whole. Dig down deep enough (this will take special equipment) and you will eventually get to a point where it's almost ALL iron. Oxygen takes a close second to Iron in the Earth's composition, and is very prevalent in the crust, where pretty much every rock or mineral you've ever seen is some kind of oxide. Everything other than Iron and Oxygen put together only makes up about 1/3 of the Earth. So yes, essentially you live on a great big rustball.

The Centerfold!

Iron was discovered by Joseph Priestly in... no, no, I jest. Iron has been known and worked since at least Biblical times. You've heard of the Iron Age. It came after the Bronze Age in theory, although in reality it took Iron many, many centuries to surpass Bronze in human use. Iron is tricky to get right, and unless you really know what you are doing it you will make it too soft or too brittle to be much use. Also, there's the rust issue. In most metals, a patina of oxide will protect the interior of the metal, but iron expands when it oxidizes, which means that rust flakes off and exposes the interior to more corrosion. For those of us born well on in the Industrial Revolution, Iron is mostly the main ingredient of steel, which was also known in antiquity but didn't really hit its stride until Henry Bessemer came up with the "Bessemer Process" for cheap, efficient steel production in 1858.

I have read it speculated that if we humans ever let our tech level slip too far again (like after the Fall of Rome, say), that we would be permanently screwed, because all of the easily mined sources of Iron are tapped out, and there would be no way to produce the Iron and steel needed for the major tech revolutions. That's not true, though -- Iron would actually be very easy to mine and scavenge from among the ruins. It's easily mined sources of ENERGY that would git us, as we've made quite a dent in the more accessible layers of coal. Just another reason to do your part to keep our human civilization kicking sustainably along, if you needed one.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: van der Goes v. van Gogh!

Hugo van der Goes
1440 - 1482


Vincent van Gogh
1853 - 1890
Dutch; worked in France


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare at the Movies: Coriolanus (Fiennes, 2011)

The Play: Coriolanus.
Directed by: Ralph Fiennes, 2011.

Ebert: 3 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

Previous Coriolanus on Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare:
Genre & Setting: Shakespeare’s political/military drama is played as a, well, a political/military drama. Locations in Serbia and in Montenegro gave this adaptation an extra dose of gritty sobriety.

If you want a taste of the look and feel of the thing, check out this trailer -- which obscures the fact that the movie is a Shakespeare adaptation, and might have bits that you would have to work at understanding, with hilarious thoroughness.

The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: As discussed a few weeks back, Coriolanus is the one about the Roman general who is unbeatable on the battlefield but an abject failure in politics due to his complete inability to court the commoners. Lured into fiasco by his political opponents, he joins with Rome’s enemies and leads an army against the city. Finally, he allows himself to fall into the most abject fate a man could possibly face: being yelled at by his mom in front of the guys.

The Adaptation: This is a modern-dress production of Coriolanus, and by “modern-dress” I don’t mean the sort of thing where the actors dress up like Hapsburgs. No, this is modern in the sense of RIGHT NOW, with up-to-the-decade technology, semiotics of wardrobe and hairstyle, and tactics of urban warfare. I will admit – I think this counts as an admission – that I’m always a little skeptical of attempts to weld Shakespearean language onto present-day scenery. And this is not just because of the fact that, as my brother has observed, with Shakespeare you sometimes just want to see some awesome ruffs, although this is certainly true. Rather, I think I’m afraid that the juxtaposition of 1610s language and 2010s props will come off as unnatural.

In his adaptation of Coriolanus, famous actor but first-time director Ralph Fiennes does a pretty credible job with the modern-dress approach. Indeed, this is a thoughtful adaptation that integrates setting and script to draw out particular themes from the Shakespearean text, and perhaps to smuggle a few new ones in. It’s downright intellectual! Who knew such a movie could still be made?

Here’s a for instance of what I’m talking about. When they see a celebrity or an event that might count as news, the Roman plebeians of Fiennes’ Coriolanus do like us and start taking video with their cell phones. The first time this happened, I thought “How cute, they’re acting all modern.” But as I thought about it some more, it struck me that Coriolanus is in large part about what it is acceptable to say in public, and what it is not. In our day, of course, pretty much any event where two or more are gathered together is “in public,” and the rash, ill-tempered remark that slips out of your mouth at your worst moment is, like Coriolanus’ gaffes, liable to be exposed to the scrutiny and contempt of the masses. Like, on YouTube.

The contemporary setting also allows some innovative solutions to what would otherwise be tricky staging problems. A lot of the dialog in the Coriolanus text is pure exposition, as various citizens and messengers gab about the political and military context in order to bring us up to speed. I confess that when I read the play a few weeks back, I imagined all of these conversations taking place between guys in togas standing among columns, which would not exactly be riveting theater. Fiennes moves a lot of this stuff to a Roman version of CNN, which works great. After all, isn’t a continuous stream of exposition what the pundits and talking heads of news television offer in real life? Some of the Shakespearean dialog works wondrous well as bad TV; of course there’s good acting at work here, plus my home-court advantage of having read the script a few days before, but still.

Another advantage Fiennes grabs from his contemporary setting is the use of very precisely situated stock characters. The plebeians distinguished by Shakespeare as “First Citizen” through “Seventh Citizen” are, in this film, exactly drawn social types who will be instantly recognizable to, to… well, to the kind of people who watch film adaptations of obscure Shakespeare plays. First Citizen and Second Citizen, for instance, are intellectual Marxists, the first male, professorial, world-weary; the second female, combative, carelessly stylish. You will feel you know them immediately, not from life but from a lifetime of movies. The two tribunes who are Coriolanus’ bane are the very image of successful opposition politicos, enjoying the game and the exercise of power, glorying in their ability to manipulate and bend the will of the people, slick with professional charisma but very probably hiding, in their hearts of hearts, a core of real conviction. You know them well as soon as you see them, because they are creatures of our times; whether such people really exist is beside the point.

The very-possibly-historical Coriolanus merits a panel in
Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe. 
The biggest puzzle in staging an adaptation of Coriolanus, I decided when I read it, would be “What do we make of the hero?” Is he a monster, or is he just deeply flawed? An interpretation I hadn’t considered was to make him post-traumatic. Fiennes’ Coriolanus, a soldier who can only escape his torments of fear and anger by returning to the violence of combat from whence they come, is probably not a Coriolanus that Shakespeare would recognize. But that’s all right. It is a psychology for the protagonist that is perfectly compatible with the text. Fiennes tells Shakespeare’s story with reasonable faithfulness – the lines are read, the plot is followed – but he also uses Shakespeare to tell a story of his own, one about the corrosive power of violence on the lives of the soldiers responsible for carrying it out. It’s a little didactic, perhaps, but then the best literature so often is.

Clocks in at: 123 minutes.

Pros: A profusion of talent and clever use of resources conjure a viable, entertaining art film from a budget of peanuts and one of Shakespeare’s less well-known plays. Intelligent reframing in contemporary setting.

Cons: No ruffs. A few scenes that I liked on the page were cut from the screenplay, and the final scene is – heh – violently truncated. …dumbed down? …rendered more emotionally taut? You make the call! Mrs.5000: “Not a great first-date movie.”

Prognosis: Next time you’re in the mood for a pessimistic but stylish political drama with dialog in an archaic form of the language, this film adaptation of Coriolanus is a good choice for you!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Infinite Art Tournament Second-Round Elimination: GRUDGE MATCH: Bierstadt v. Bingham!

Today's scheduled match was supposed to be between the winners of Böcklin/Buren and J. Breugal/Bronzino in Left Bracket Second Round Elimination, but that ain't gonna happen: Böcklin and Buren are locked in a tie.  The next match in queue, as it happens, is a "L2e" faceoff that has been waiting on the resolution of an earlier tie. In a tiebreak match that kicked off back in April, George Caleb Bingham has decisively beaten Fernando Botero, taking him out of the tournament (1-2-1; 21 cumulative votes for, 30 against) and now advances to take on Albert Bierstadt.

Voters with exceptional memories might recall that Bingham and Bierstadt faced each other in the First Round, all the way back in February 2012. What this means is that we've got us:

The First Ever IAT Grudge Match!! 

Bierstadt won the first time, but we've all been appreciating art for a year and a half in the meantime.  Maybe our collective tastes and sensibilities have evolved!  We will just have to find out.

This is a truly apt time to introduce the Grudge Match Rule: grudge matches may not result in a tie. If the artists end up with the same number of votes, then the winner of the earlier match will be considered the winner.  Example: If Bingham and Bierstadt both get 7 votes in this match, Bierstadt will advance by virtue of his earlier victory.  

Albert Bierstadt
1830 - 1902
German-born American
  • Defeated fellow 19th Century American George Caleb Bingham in a powerhouse Round 1 match-up.
  • Lost to 17th century sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini in Round 2.
  • Thumped Bernardo Bellotto in the Left Bracket Second Round.

George Caleb Bingham
1811 - 1879

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.