Ohad Naharin, Mr. Gaga

Posted in art, ideas on June 17th, 2017 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Ohad Naharin, Mr. Gaga

The documentary Mr. Gaga is now on Netflix. It is about the Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. Naharin comes out of a physical culture – Feldenkreis therapy and psychodrama psychology / acting via mom and dad respectively.

His language of dance is called Gaga. He wants dancers to express from the inside, to fulfill metaphors then manifested in their movements. The dancers don’t watch themselves in mirrors – they don’t objectify themselves. They are instead vessels of feeling expressed physically.

“The descriptions that are used to guide the dancers through the improvisation are intended to help the dancer initiate and express movement in unique ways from parts of the body that tend to be ignored in other dance techniques.”

As it presents Gaga fits somewhere between Twyla Tharp and Jerome Robbins. Both Tharp and Robbins were Balanchine dancers – they touched colossal genius. The best trained dancers came from the New York City Ballet. The wonderful crew of dancers Naharin has assembled provide a rich palette for this talented man.

If Tharp invokes rag-dolls, with the ironic humor and hard won looseness that implies, Naharin’s punctuated epileptic fits, robo-moves and sinuous expressiveness are an impressive addition to the language of dance. The great and primary form of dance.

The Examined Life

Posted in ideas, writers-poetry on January 31st, 2016 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on The Examined Life

If the unexamined life is not worth living then Stephen Grosz’s “The Examined Life” might imply a template.

Grosz is a psychiatrist whose book received acclaim and awards. He presents case study / fables with a coda worthy of a fable. That is, they are neat rather than nuanced. The stories themselves are gnomic and remind me of John Cage’s one paragraph journal entries about the  circumstances of living; except Cage was writing about the randomness of events with an irony that was entertaining and amusing, pointing out the amazing quality of human experience and consciousness.

Grosz doesn’t offer analysis nor insight – other  than the codas – nor any depth. These are just stories taken from people’s lives; people who trusted him, now with their stories in the public  domain. Grosz no doubt checked with them first, at least I hope so, but still, it seems an exploitation to me, even if pseudonyms are used. Their brevity might suggest to Grosz the Checkhov he admires, but they have none of the resonance of true art.

I like books whose center is analysis and psychology so I looked forward to the journey. This book doesn’t satisfy in that sense, but Grosz’s general attitude warrants credit. Grosz feels people have stories that are untold – the stories of their lives. From fear or confusion or doubt they don’t piece together their own narrative, for many reasons – overdetermined, as analysis would have it – people don’t embrace or know who they are. Know thyself is the truth expressed – an old truth.

Grosz’s template is that he helps people in constructing their personal story. There were books written in the hippy days like that. “Telling Your Story,” was one excellent example. What Grosz says earlier in the book is probably more pertinent: he says that when he first meets a patient he tries to fully attend to them – so they leave feeling that they have been heard. That’s the crux, isn’t it. The most therapeutic thing, the most moral and decent thing we can do for each other – fully pay attention. I-Thou, not I-It, as Martin Buber would say.

That is the truth about therapy or confession or any human interaction that is beneveloent; the interlocutor feels they have been seen. not condescended to, nor even praised, but simply that their slim existence in the long narrative of our planet, was heard, if only for a brief moment, by a single individual.

Conformism and Free Speech

Posted in ideas on December 29th, 2015 by admin – Comments Off on Conformism and Free Speech

This brief interview with the editor of Spiked is worth a listen. In the current environment of oppressive lynch mobs sanctimoniously attacking those with whom they disagree, Brendan O’Neill says that conformism and cowardice are currently the greatest threat to free speech. He feels the West has abandoned Enlightenment values.

Hearing and seeing things which are troubling is the price of living in a free society. The spirit of the arts is that of freedom.

Philip Roth: Finding Form

Posted in art, ideas on June 1st, 2014 by admin – Comments Off on Philip Roth: Finding Form

Quotes from Philip Roth about finding form and shape:

About the work…

“I am a turner of sentences. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.”

If you paint as opposed to write, you walk around, look away, look out the window, imagine the work from another room. The image simmers, percolates in the background, forming up for you, if you let it.

About objectivity…

“Obviously the facts are never just coming at you but are incorporated by an imagination that is formed by your previous experience. Memories of the past are not memories of facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts.”

We are clouds of energy, on the subatomic level; we derive our self-definition, our ego, from a chaos of experience – we form our chaotic experiences into words and images and adhere them to stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, and others.

Teller’s Friend Is Vermeer

Posted in art, ideas, pop culture on January 30th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Teller’s Friend Is Vermeer

Teller of Penn and Teller was on Tavis Smiley promoting his movie about a geek trying to replicate Vermeer. Teller does not come across well. He doesn’t understand art (his parents were “artists”?!), nor the context of Vermeer’s talent, nor the obsessive self-absorption of their friend who tried to “discover” Vermeer’s talent in technology. Their friend has too much time on his hands.

Vermeer came out of a context of artists with great talent who honed those talents over years. Vermeer’s sensibility, where light became a subject and the world as pearl metaphor realized, was inspired. The simplified presentation in Vermeer’s work is borne of the taste and talent of his age. Like Bach, Vermeer perfected the trends of his age. Vermeer’s work was done by his spirit and mind, not his hand and technology. To Teller Vermeer’s work “looks like a photograph”. But in reality, the many simplifications and decisions made in Vermeer’s imagery has nothing to do with the detailed approximations of reality (as perceived by the mind) in photography.

If Teller, or his friend, really think something has been discovered that leads to creating a Vermeer, well, let’s see them do it. Crude approximations of Vermeer’s genius, derived from Vermeer’s sensibility, yet claiming equivalence, could only exist in a self-absorbed pop culture. I suppose this means if Tavis steps on a basketball court, then gosh, he’s Michael Jordan. We’re all just folks. Anyone could do it. You just have to build a machine to be Vermeer, or play a lot of basketball to be Michael Jordan.

Its been theorized for years that Vermeer used a camera obscura, a device which replicates a room size camera. Of course, Degas used photos. And Sargent was influenced by them. Zorn as well. No doubt The Diner had its origin in Hopper’s exposure to photos. Even the dramatic compositions of  Eisner’s seminal comic, The Spirit, were influenced by Hitchcock-like angle shots.

The goofball leap of saying artists of old were aware and influenced by the technologies of their time, so therefore their work could have been done by anyone, requires a leap of narcissism which would be laughable in a more mature age.

Inadvertently, Smiley said it all, summarizing the impulse: “If Vermeer was a genius then that depresses me because I can’t do that”. So Teller, and a condescending, politically driven agenda of, “we are all just folks,” needs to diminish achievement to make themselves feel better. Yeah, Vermeer didn’t earn it. “Genius is toxic”, and gosh, we’re good enough and smart enough and…

Self-aggrandizing mediocrity masquerading as egalitarianism.

Art Library

Posted in art, ideas on January 29th, 2014 by admin – Comments Off on Art Library

Borrowing art the way people borrow books from the library is not a bad idea. It’s being tried in Germany.

Probably prints provided by the artist would be the way to go, rather than through galleries, which are an unreliable filter anyway. Any “curating” will probably do more harm than good — other than the usual cautions public institutions need to take as to subject matter.

Exposure for the artist a plus. People don’t go to libraries the way they used to, the minus.

German art libraries – “artotheks”

1729, The Taxicab Number

Posted in art, ideas, science on January 1st, 2014 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on 1729, The Taxicab Number

In this video Simon Singh explains the taxicab number (Simpsons), 1729.

The real story is that of Ramanujan, his astonishing genius, his sad and victorious journey as a mathematical genius. Singh has been on PBS explaining this and that – Simon has a real gift for explaining stuff, making the abstract into human stories.

Ramanujan’s genius unites the aesthetic and scientific. Ramanujan had an intuitive sense of the underlying order of the world.

Wiki writes that Ramanujan said, “An equation for me has no meaning, unless it represents a thought of God.”

Nobel For Economics: Herd Mind

Posted in economy, ideas, pop culture on December 13th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Nobel For Economics: Herd Mind

The winner of the Nobel for economics explained his approach in an interview on PBS. He feels data indicates that the markets are driven by emotion, not reason. He noted it was odd that the other winners of the same prize had contradictory philosophies.

It’s also odd that emotion drives action is a revelation. Sometimes it seems academia is an extension of the pop culture, saying the obvious, but using academic guild talk.

The realization that the markets are driven by emotion is something of which we are all aware. The idea has been sanctified now by a prize. But it has seemed to me lately that this insight into reality, that human beings are principally driven by emotion, that they find reasons afterward, has become more and more obvious.

Benjamin Franklin: “The nice thing about being a reasonable creature is that you can find a reason for anything you want to do”.

It has always been assumed the arts are driven by emotion, but the art world to a large extent affects intellect now. It’s conceptual, you know. Certainly from the political to the scientific to the pop culture, it’s all herd mind.

Tocqueville noted this tendency toward consensus in America. Maybe for the center to hold in so diverse a country it’s better if everyone keeps their own counsel and just agrees with…whatever. But if you have the right to have an opinion, why not express it? You know: a right unused is a right that can evaporate.

Aspiring to being logical, intellectual creatures, is more a pipe dream now, with the internet driving the herd more quickly and packing it more tightly, more irrationally, more extremely. What really drives the world now is psychology and the chaos system of group interaction; it’s Id all the time, everytime.

Hasn’t it always been that way though? cf. Shakespeare.

Kafka’s Wish

Posted in art, ideas on November 16th, 2013 by admin – Comments Off on Kafka’s Wish

“I never wish to be easily defined. I’d rather float over other people’s minds as something strictly fluid and non-perceivable; more like a transparent, paradoxically iridescent creature rather than an actual person.”
-Franz Kafka

(via artistsintheclassroom5)

Einstein Speaks

Posted in ideas, science on November 14th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Einstein Speaks

Einstein, in this talk, a reading of his essay, describes the entanglement of language and thinking. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Einstein’s speaking voice before.

The concepts and language of science, conceived…

… In solitude, and yet in cooperative effort as regards the final effect, …created the spiritual tools for the technical revolutions which have transformed the life of mankind in the last centuries. [This] system of concepts has served as a guide in the bewildering chaos of perceptions so that we learned to grasp general truths from particular observations.

I remember hearing a scientist saying one of the greatest mysteries, not only in mathematics, but in all science, is why mathematics, an invention of mankind, so accurately describes the real world.

The arts, the sciences: bridges spanning all human consciousness.

Scholarly Study Of Art: Helen Vendler

Posted in art, ideas, quotes on October 12th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Scholarly Study Of Art: Helen Vendler

Helen Vendler, the great critic and scholar of poetry, gave a talk called the Jefferson Lecture, “… the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.” It is worth taking a look…

In a rare case of justified applause, the government chose wisely in Vendler.

Vendler’s lecture is an attempt to explain the necessity for scholarship in the appreciation of the arts. Vendler is not someone who puts you off with vaunting ego; she is simply saying a necessary part of the arts is scholarly study. Such study in other words is not outside, nor incidental to the arts.

… such studies establish in human beings a sense of cultural patrimony. We in the United States are the heirs of several cultural patrimonies: a world patrimony (of which we are becoming increasingly conscious); a Western patrimony (from which we derive our institutions, civic and aesthetic); and a specifically American patrimony (which, though great and influential, has, bafflingly, yet to be established securely in our schools). In Europe, although the specifically national patrimony was likely to be urged as preeminent–Italian pupils studied Dante, French pupils studied Racine–most nations felt obliged to give their students an idea of the Western inheritance extending beyond native production.

It’s not fashionable to be nationalistic – if you are American, Vendler is shrewdly saying. Other countries grok pride in culture; Americans seem suspicious of culture, at least as far as I can tell. They aren’t sure what to make of it. If you are being sold something, which is what the pop culture is always doing, then Americans trust the accompanying cultural aura – it’s part of the familiar merchandise stream.

She affirms again, in this next quote, the role of the scholar:

If we are prepared to recognize the centrality of artists and their interpreters to every past culture, we might begin to reflect on what our own American culture has produced that will be held dear centuries from now. Which are the paintings, the buildings, the novels, the musical compositions, the poems, through which we will be remembered? What set of representations of life will float above the American soil, rendering each part of it as memorable as Marin’s Maine or Langston Hughes’s Harlem, as Cather’s Nebraska or Lincoln’s Gettysburg? How will the outlines and the expressings and the syllables of American being glow above our vast geography? How will our citizens be made aware of their cultural inheritance; how will they become proud of their patrimony?

This is all beautifully said, and true, but I think she might agree that if all scholarly works about the arts disappeared, a terrible thought really, but if such were the case, new scholars would be spawned by the compelling nature of art itself. Art is the singular song, scholarship the chorus.

She ends her lecture with a a beautiful quote from Wordsworth:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

Vendler attributes half that celestial light to the scholarly search for meanings in art. I’d suggest it is more fully the art which provides the illumination for the scholar.