Thursday, September 30, 2004

A week ago, my car stereo broke. No radio. No CD player. Being sans car stereo makes for an odd driving experience. During this time, I've made a few observations:
  • Without the distractions of music, my driving skills are honed like a ninja wielding a sword. Double lane changes at eighty five miles per hour within a distance of a hundred feet are artfully conducted like an orchestra. Sipped like a fine wine.
  • I talk to myself. Out loud. A lot.
  • The beautiful subtleties of the landscape. How the morning sun illuminates the hillside in golden green tones and gracefully shades the palm tree leaves in yellows.
  • That being without a car stereo really, really, really sucks.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

This is my favorite time of year in San Diego. If San Diego had such a thing as a season, this would be it. The weather cools slightly, adding a chill to the nighttime air. The Santa Ana winds whisper enough to clear out the misty marine layer and lower the humidity, leaving a clear sky. It's a beautiful scene.

This morning I visited one of my favorite places in San Diego, the Mission cafe. It's a small shack located along the Mission Beach boardwalk. My last visit had been far too long ago. So long so that both the color (now green) and name (now Cantina) of the place had changed. During my self-imposed two year sabbatical, I ventured down there every morning to write and draw. It's a great place to people-watch as they stroll, walk, bike, and jog across the boardwalk and descend onto the beach. So as to not disappoint, this morning as I wrote in my journal and drank coffee, a dog wearing a harness with long leash flew past me swiftly as it pulled a man crouched low on his skateboard. It was a Southern California version of the Iditarod.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

I first became aware of art critic Robert Hughes upon watching the documentary Crumb (one of my fave movies). He was interviewed and asked to comment on Robert Crumb's work. I admired Hughes' articulate and knowledgeable critique, flavored with humor.

Due to the subjective nature of music, I frequently find its written criticism to be trite and contrived. I'll read a Rolling Stone album review and cringe when the reviewer includes two lines of lyrics to support his or her view. Two isolated lines prove nothing as a song's power depends heavily on its music, and you completely remove them from their context (the substance of all art).

I argue that painting is even more subjective than music. Consumers and critics can come to a general consensus that some music sucks, but I don't believe that you find this same consensus about art (outside of people that just hate art as a whole). If you encounter a painting style in the everyday world that you hate, there's a good chance that you can find that same style housed on a museum's walls. I remember walking through the Denver Art Museum with my friend Meegan ten years ago, and she commented, "Have you ever wondered why one painting makes it into a museum and another doesn't? What makes a painting museum worthy? If you see two similar paintings, why is one included and the other disregarded?" They were poignant questions, and I try to answer them as I stroll along museum walls. Rarely can I answer them absolutely.

Painting offers a rare quality in the creative fields. Immediacy. It elicits an immediate reaction. A book takes six hours to complete, a movie two, and even a song takes a few minutes to seep in. But standing in front of a painting the image is burned instantly. Of course one acquires additional messages and impact upon absorbing the image through time and study, but it still possesses that initial reaction (or lack thereof). How do you describe it and the cause? Is the painting effective?

My long winded approach is arriving at the fact that I've never really read any art criticism. I questioned if it be worthwhile or is the subjective nature of art too prohibitive. Would I find it as pretentious and contrived as music criticism? Would it resemble the current nature of politics where a person has already taken a stance and simply warps facts to reinforce this idea, or would it consist of a dialogue that evolved into an enlightened view?

I decided to give it a shot and returned to Robert Hughes, best known as the art critic for Time magazine. I bought his book, Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists. I've found it thoroughly engaging and fun. I've seen enough artwork to have developed what I believe to be informed opinions on what I like and dislike, the reasons thereof, and whether a painting is effective. It's been fun to volley my thoughts against his, and try to understand where we concur and differ and why. I've made no veiled declarations that I thoroughly despise the work of Mark Rothko. I enjoyed reading Hughes' essay on Rothko explaining his genius. He validates my reasons for dislike (Rothko can't draw, the paintings have been identical for the last twenty years of his oeuvre and meanings associated with them are dramatically overblown), but Hughes' doesn't see them as a distraction to the paintings' power. The book collects his critiques on art exhibits and books and are based per artist. His ability to articulate his thoughts is amazing, and I enjoy that he gives a context to the art we're seeing (my own creative dogma is that an artwork derives its power from context). A thoroughly engaging read. Highly recommended.

As an aside, I also bought his book, Barcelona, which gives a historical and opinionated view of the city. The city is one of my faves. I'm looking forward to reading the book.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Chuck Klosterman’s essay collection, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. You gotta love a book that spends thirteen pages detailing the social relevance and power of TV’s Saved by the Bell (who didn’t watch this show in between college classes?). His more entertaining essays deal with focused topics like how John Cusack ruined his love life and the sad reason why soccer is the world’s most popular sport. His weaker essays tend to be those where he extrapolates universal laws from popular cultural tidbits.

They boil down to the phrase, “Society believes (this) because of (that).”

Perhaps my criticism is guided by my adverse Pavlovian response to the phrase, “Society thinks….” Upon hearing it I cringe. I heard it frequently repeated during critical thinking classes in college and the phrase always struck me as being pretentious and trite. It’s a concept too ambitious to be uttered by a guy having done keg stands fourteen hours earlier. It’s simply a pet peeve of mine. I have a visceral reaction to the word society. I hate it, and thus never use it in my creative writing.

Arguments involving it always collapse on themselves, where one caveat can turn the carefully balanced structure into sawdust.

Society thinks that this journal entry rocks.