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Art, contd
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come_to_think
At http://come-to-think.livejournal.com/24283.html I recorded my peculiar anesthesia to art.  What seems to be missing is its link with emotion that most people take for granted.  As a result, most writing about art is baffling to me---the more so in that a great deal of such writing is open to a legitimate suspicion of bluffing, which I am badly equipped to evaluate.

Here, for example, is an aside in an essay I greatly admire---Mencken's obituary of Valentino:


Was the fame of Beethoven any more caressing and splendid than the fame of Valentino?  To you and me, of course, the question seems to answer itself.  But what of Beethoven?  He was heard upon the subject, viva voce, while he lived, and his answer survives, in all the freshness of its profane eloquence, in his music.  Beethoven, too, knew what it meant to be applauded.  Walking with Goethe, he heard something that was not unlike the murmur that reached Valentino through his hospital window.  Beethoven walked away briskly....

Now, I can well imagine that walking away briskly, in context, might express the emotion of contempt for fame.  But how the devil can music (I mean, as I suppose Mencken did, music without words) do that?  When I listen to instrumental music, the chief emotion I feel is sympathy with the fun the composer & the performers must have had in making it come out right.  That is no doubt amiable, but clearly it is not, primarily, what Beethoven had in mind.  Maybe he really did have contempt for fame in mind.  It would be absurd to discount this kind of talk, which is common among people I respect.  Evidently I am missing something big.

However, I have to draw a line somewhere.  Here is a quotation, in the New York Review, from somebody named Robert Hughes about some pictures by somebody named Roy Lichtenstein:


They are the closest thing to the only kind of life drawing one can imagine Lichtenstein doing, an image of a blank white page.  They acquire poignancy from the fact that they are empty.  One gazes at them frontally, as at a real mirror, but nothing shows up in their superficial depths.  The spectator is a phantom.  These icy, imperturbable tondos and ovals may say more about the nature of Lichtenstein's imagination than anything he has painted since.

Poseur Alert, as Mr Andrew Sullivan would say.  Superficial depths!  Surely I am missing nothing by ignoring such stuff.  I have not even bothered to look up "tondos".

In painting & music, at least, such pretensions are confined to places where their admirers can pretend to admire them.  In architecture, on the contrary, they get to sock every passer-by in the eye.  Here is an appreciation, from the Boston Globe, of an ugly, expensive-looking building at MIT called the Stata Center, which opened in 2004:


The Stata is always going to look unfinished. It also looks as if it's about to collapse. Columns tilt at scary angles. Walls teeter, swerve, and collide in random curves and angles. Materials change wherever you look: brick, mirror-surface steel, brushed aluminum, brightly colored paint, corrugated metal. Everything looks improvised, as if thrown up at the last moment. That's the point. The Stata's appearance is a metaphor for the freedom, daring, and creativity of the research that's supposed to occur inside it.

Needless to say, it won prizes, and the roof leaks.

In contrast, there is a pair of soothing buildings (62 & 64) that were built in 1925 and are used as student residences.  I pass by one of them once a month on Ames St. on my way to the sailing pavilion for the chantey sing.  They are rectangular with some rhythmic excursions.  The only ugly thing about them is the air conditioners in the windows, but those seem to be disappearing, so perhaps central AC has been installed.  If I had been given the Stata job (God forbid!), I would have scaled them up.


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I imagine that Beethoven did not start with contempt for fame, but that he developed it after he had already had some of it.

A lot of modern criticism does seem to spark the poseur alert, and modern art, music, etc. too. I suppose that in a Borgesian sense, they are reviewing according to some perceived context rather than what is actually there on the canvas. What is the difference between Lichtenstein's supposed blank canvas and a fresh, unused one? The idea that Lichtenstein did it on purpose, submitted a completely blank canvas to make an artistic point.

I personally rather like the Stata building, but I'm not going to say it's any natural law, or that you must too. These things are like fashion; you know what you like, but there aren't really objective standards. When I was an undergrad, the students hated the new Louise Nevelson statue outside Building 66; I still pretty much hate it. But the leaking of the Stata was a bad job and shouldn't have happened.

That reminds me; one day I could hardly get to an event I wanted to, because so many people were there to see Frank Gehry, the architect of the Stata. At that time, I had never heard of him. Although I like the Stata, I would not say that I like every building of his, nor have I sought them out.

As for East Campus, I guess it never made much impression on me one way or the other. I rather like the Finnish stuff; the Alvar Aalto which is my old dorm, Baker House, and the Saarinens. And I do think that so many I.M. Pei's are kind of deadening.

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