Weekly musings on the arts and current events.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Contemplating the end of days, which may come a billion years from now or perhaps sometime next week, I'm incredulous. It's not that I can't believe life on earth will cease, but that all our proudest accomplishments will disappear. Our great works of art, some of which I've written about here, Shakespeare and the King James Bible, the Updike novel I'm going to finish later today, the sound of Mozart, Marilyn's white dress, Judy's ruby slippers, in fact all of our icons will be gone. I don't expect our architecture to last to the end. Allowing ruins to stand on precious real estate, like the Forum in Rome, is an anomalous indulgence. But the memory of our designs and the evolution of our thinking will not abide. Even if we were to launch Earth's essential data and photo files into space, their context would be gone. Comprehensible or not, our ideas would lack all vitality and be gibberish to minds that had never watched a sunset.
Photo of the Upper Geyser Basin region in Yellowstone National Park. Scientists believe the earth will come to look like this as the aging sun grows hotter and the earth's carbon dioxide is depleted, ironic as both those conditions may sound. Click on the picture for a closer look or on the link for a brief article.: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2352717/The-end-world-nigh-Scientists-predict-life-wiped-planet-billion-years.html#ixzz2Y0FoMnCA
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Sometimes I think I'm overly fond of the format of Ars Brevis. A reader sent me a book of his poetry this week in the hope that I'd review it here, but I've never posted book reviews before and don't know how I'd make one fit. Perhaps when I return, I'll have some new ideas about form and content.
More people read this blog than I realized. Google provided me with some figures and I was surprised, especially since very few visitors leave comments. I suppose if I'm to resume this effort later in the year, I should do something to promote readership and stimulate discussion.
My first trip is to work as a volunteer teacher in Costa Rica. I was there once before about twenty years ago and am anxious to see how it's changed. I hope when I return that I'll have some tales to share. If you'll send me your email, I'll let you know when I get back. My address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you haven't already, please friend me on Facebook.
In the meantime, let me wish you a very happy and healthy 2012.
Portrait of a Young Man by Antonello da Messina; circa 1470. This Sicilian artist's work shows the influence of both Italian painting in its simplicity and Flemish painting in its attention to detail. This portrait, like the Mona Lisa, makes me wonder what put such a wry smile upon this face over five hundred years ago. It is the wonder of art that from the vantage of our century we can share a moment of mirth with our predecessors of auld lang syne. Click on the picture for a closer look.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Santa is shown handing out gifts to Union Soldiers and children at a time in the war when the south was blockaded and suffering severe deprivation. There was no question of Confederate children receiving presents that year. Notice the soldier on the left finding a pair of socks in his package--a precious gift indeed for an infantryman. Santa's raiment displays stars and stripes to show where his loyalty lies. He is holding a puppet which is thought to be the effigy of Jefferson Davis with a noose around his neck.
Is it me, or has the Christmas spirit diminished in our time? I can easily list all the distractions we face: the economy, the war, disasters, and our especially vituperative political scene. But something else is missing, and it's not just that there's no hot toy this season or that the Christmas release movies haven't caught on. As a Jew, it's probably not appropriate for me to criticize, but I feel it nonetheless: an absence of hope and purpose, a feeling that all we're doing is hanging onto what we've got and defending it against those who are envious.
2011 has been a difficult and dispiriting year. My personal vow is to be of greater service in 2012 and this may impinge upon my ability to maintain this blog's weekly schedule. Meanwhile, I wish everyone who drops by the happiest of holidays and a new year of restored, if not fulfilled, hope.
Santa Claus by Thomas Nast, 1863. Nast also created Uncle Sam. Click on the picture for a closer look.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Christopher Hitchens, illustration by Edward Sorel. The artist, a prolific caricaturist, has been honored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Click on the picture for a closer look.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
As a teacher, I rarely got to go to elaborate office parties. Ours tended to be homely on-campus affairs catered by a low bid Mexican restaurant whose tamales and enchiladas were crunchy at the bottom but ominously cool in the middle. There was, of course, no alcohol served, which made the principal's long iteration of thanks to those who helped deck the cafeteria all the more insufferable. My friend, the music director, was always shamed into performing gratis, and each year it burned him when his students had to sing over loud conversations. Once they changed the celebrations from a luncheon to a pre-school breakfast, I stopped going.
Nothing like the lavish party by a dot.com company that I attended before the tech bubble burst. It was held at a yacht club, and a large cabin cruiser took us in groups of thirty for rides around Marina Del Rey. The food was sumptuous and the liquor flowed. The fun of the evening, for me, was to watch geeky engineers get tipsy and apply their considerable intellects to making merry. Unfortunately, within a year, nearly all of them had lost their jobs.
Christmas parties haven't always enjoyed a good reputation. We recall their raucity when we sing about winter wassailing:
Wassail, wassail, all over the town.
The cup, it is white and the ale, it is brown.
The cup, it is made of the good ashen tree
And so is the malt of the finest barley.
There was often brawling and mischief, and by Christmas morning, the jails were filled. It was not commercialism that first profaned the season's sanctity.
What to make of this antic 18th Century painting? Thirteen women, the same number as attended the Last Supper, are seen in various states of inebriation. Two are fighting, several are toasting and guzzling, and one appears to have descended into lascivious reverie. The woman with the crucifix around her neck vomits on the one who has passed out on the floor. The two in the center have a more serious mien, perhaps engaging in earnest character assassination while they continue to dip into the bowl. Like Christmas wassails, there is something ironic in the revelers' depravity. After all, they're well dressed, the setting is luxurious, with a male servant peeking in at the door, and whatever the holiday or occasion it might be, we doubt they intended for it to get this way.
A Midnight Modern Conversation, an anonymous 18th Century oil painting in the style of William Hogarth. Click on the picture for a closer look.