Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Against Elitism In Art

A while back, I participated in an online discussion about the relative importance of high culture versus popular culture. In the discussion, there were some arguing that high art has a special place above mere "popular" art. I made the point that much of what we consider today to be "high art" was made by craftsmen working to please a patron for a payday, and that renders the distinction between the two less clear than it may seem.

As strange as it sounds, a production artist on a movie or in an advertising house works under virtually the same constraints as Michelangelo: he is paid to deliver a certain piece in a certain medium by a date specified by someone else. And once one understands that "high art" and "popular art" in western culture have almost always shared a commercial motivation, enforcing boundaries between the two categories become more difficult.

I paint at an art school that teaches traditional and Renaissance drawing and painting methods; Bistre & Verdaccio underpainting as well as direct painting. But the school also teaches manga, superhero comics, illustration, origami, and has even given classes on miniatures painting. The director of the school told me that a student once complained to him that someone was painting a cowboy in one of the Renaissance painting classes. "Why is he painting that in this class?" His reply: "he just likes cowboys."

Here is a person who has every reason to look down at pop art, a person who has spent his whole life immersed in classical Western tradition and has forgotten more about Renaissance painting than most anyone will ever know, waxing enthusiastic about cowboys and "mere" comic book artists. It changes one's perspective.

I am in favor of standards, just not standards that depend on the age of a piece or an arbitrarily determined list of classics. Sure, Michaelangelo is great: but not because he's old; it's because he spent a lifetime honing and mastering a craft, and his work shows that. So does the work of Bernie Wrightson.

Right now is truly a unique time to be alive -- the luxury of leisure time has allowed large numbers of people an opportunity to both consume and even produce art in incredible quantities -- far more than a single person could ever absorb in an entire lifetime. Let's celebrate the skill and passion, and not worry so much about creating a canon.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Purpose of Travel

"There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign."
--Robert Louis Stevenson 

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."
--Henry Miller.

 "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home."
--James Michener

" The traveler is active; he goes strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes 'sight-seeing.'"
--Daniel J. Boorstin

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
--Mark Twain

Monday, December 17, 2018

What I Hate About Being An Adult Today: An Ongoing And Neverending Series

Random observations of grown-up life in the last week -- 
  • there is water damage in the ceiling of my home office again 
  • that means the second floor toilet is almost certainly leaking again
  • I got pink eye from my kid 
  • the house and car insurance payments are due and they've jacked the rates again
  • I need to shop for fucking insurance again 
  • speaking of insurance, my company changed health insurance providers
  • have I mentioned that I really hate researching insurance providers and policies? 
  • it will be time to do taxes soon 
  • my retirement savings are in the toilet
  • that kind of brings it full circle 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Nerd Power

For the 1d4-1 people who may be wondering why I haven't been posting to my blog in so long, well, it's because all of my spare time and energy has been poured into my Dungeons & Dragons campaign website:

The Adventures of the Sword Coast Drifters

Since last fall, I've been playing the fifth edition of the venerable role-playing game, and it has rekindled my passion for all things D&D.

I haven't really acted as a Dungeon Master in more than ten years. So my group started with the introductory adventure that comes with the D&D 5e Basic Set. It turned out to be a modern classic! We just transitioned into Storm King's Thunder, and it looks to be another terrific adventure.

Being the game's referee can be a big time commitment all by itself, but I've added a whole new dimension to the DM's chore: after each session, I write the story of what happened. I've tried to write these like episodes of a show or chapters in novella, rather than merely mechanical summaries of the game. It's a time-consuming challenge, but I've been enjoying it immensely! A worthy respite from the horrible things that are happening in the world. Check it out if you have time to kill. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


"I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt about it either. ... But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides."

Monday, November 20, 2017

Dear Senator Franken

I voted for you twice. I have been an ardent supporter, and I was proud of the way in which you worked to oppose President Trump's nominations, particularly Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions. I also lauded your efforts to push for thorough investigations of Russian election tampering, and to fight the Republican legislative agenda. I have called your office to thank you for all of these things.

So when Leeann Tweeden wrote her essay last week, as a constituent and genuine admirer, I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt -- you have worked hard for Minnesota, and you have championed many of the issues that are personally important to me.

I cannot, however, ignore the second set of allegations against you that were published this morning in the StarTribune. For the good of Minnesota, I think it is time for you to make arrangements to end your career in the senate.

I did not weigh in publicly before now, because I was trying to be patient, and I was experiencing so many conflicting feelings. After your eloquent and personal apology to Leeann Tweeden and her acceptance of it, I breathed a sigh of relief and I was prepared to move on. From my remote vantage point, it seemed as though Tweeden was at least open to the idea that whatever happened between the two of you was a misunderstanding.

This second story recasts all of that. The incident occurred at the State Fair - the quintessentially Minnesotan family-oriented event. It was openly discussed by the accuser at the time, and it happened when you were our sitting senator. Even though what is alleged by the second woman is not as bad as what Tweeden said happened to her, it is still terrible, and perhaps worse in its own way: it happened in a context where your conduct should have been far beyond reproach.

I am not saying this out of fear of the narrative that will be spun in some circles -- people often tell tales regardless of truth. My concern is the actual harm that you did to these women. For that, you should step down. Minnesota needs a senator who better represents the values of the progressive movement.

This is not an easy letter to write, and it is not a knee-jerk reaction -- this is my considered opinion as a voter in Minnesota. I have spent a great deal of the last four days thinking and listening to people -- especially women -- and now that I have heard a second accuser step forward, I have come to a realization: you can no longer effectively serve us, your constituents. This story will follow you wherever you go, and it will render you irrelevant at best. I shudder to contemplate the worst-case scenario.

I would rather not take a chance on a special election. But these allegations are not going to go away.

Please do the right and honorable thing. Make us proud one more time.