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You Can Do It.

Source: Tenor

There are two things happening in the art world that are completely unconnected but, being me, I can’t help connecting them—at least in terms of what they mean. The first is that some art historians and critics are using the fact that 2023 is the fiftieth anniversary of Picasso’s death as a reason to examine his legacy. Again. As if Picasso’s legacy doesn’t get examined every single time someone walks into an art class. And you know you’ve reached a special level of fame when people celebrate the year you died.

The other thing that’s happening is Bob Ross’s first painting that he made on his PBS show is going on sale for nearly $10 million—about the same price many Picasso paintings go for, if you can find them for sale. There are probably Picasso drawings—sketches even—that’ll go for that much.

There’s a really strong contrast between Picasso and Ross. Picasso was, to be blunt, a monster. Art historians consider his work, primarily cubism, to be the major break between old figurative traditions and the many -isms of the 20th century that followed, but he was a horrible person who destroyed lives. His mural Guernica remains a powerful statement on the horrors of war and yet he was a rapist.

Bob Ross, on the other hand, developed his famously calm and quiet demeanor because his time as a master sergeant in the Air Force left him never wanting to yell at anyone ever again. He may not have broken any major ground in an artistic sense—although that’s very subjective—but he was patient and kind. He was an all-around good guy whose philosophy about “happy little accidents” applies just as much to life as it does to art. The only negative thing I know he ever said is that he hated his perm, which he originally got to save money on haircuts, but he kept it because it was his trademark look. I’ll be honest: I don’t really like Bob Ross paintings, but I feel like that’s a problem with me. If I didn’t know so much about art maybe I’d like them more, and I really wish I did. Picasso’s legacy has clouded his work. Ross’s legacy should brighten his. Anyway it’s all subjective and it’s okay to like whatever you like.

Picasso saw himself as competing with other artists, even, in his later years, using his influence to make sure galleries shut out artists he didn’t like. Bob Ross believed everyone could paint, and encouraged everyone to paint if they wanted to, sharing techniques. I loved watching Bob Ross’s show when I was a kid. I didn’t appreciate his personality at the time but I was fascinated by how just a few strokes with a specially shaped brush could add snow, and depth, to a painted pine tree, or how a few swipes with a palette blade could become a mountain.

I know people looked at, and still look at, Picasso’s paintings and say, “I could do that.” He never cared about inspiring others but he does. And Bob Ross made paintings and said, “You can do this.” One was selfish, one was generous, but the one thing they have in common is they both encouraged people to make art.  

Have Bag, Will Travel.

Source: The Verge

A friend sent me an article about, well, the headline says it all: “Honda’s Motocompacto scooter will satisfy your secret desire to ride an electric suitcase to work” and it made me strangely angry even before I read the article. I should know better. I’m pretty sure I’ve known the slang acronym RTFA–the polite version is “Read The Freakin’ Article”–for as long as there have been comments sections where people offer hot takes without really knowing what they’re talking about. I got angry before I realized it’s not really a suitcase. That is, it has no storage space. It’s just the least cool-looking version of a scooter ever. It’s not road-safe and would be a menace on sidewalks so I’m not sure where you’d ride it. And it doesn’t have any storage space because any added weight would just reduce its already ridiculous maximum range of twelve miles.

The ”electric suitcase” description set me off because I used to carry a lot of stuff to and from work. I still have a messenger bag, although I haven’t used it in years, that I would use for carrying writing materials, books, tablet, and assorted items back and forth. I tried to take everything that I thought I might want on the bus ride home, which is an important point. I could carry all that stuff because someone else was doing the driving. I could read, write, listen to podcasts, even watch videos occasionally if the bus’s wifi were actually working—all things I would not want to do while driving.

And let me go even further about the “electric suitcase” description because there really is such a thing which, in spite of my knee-jerk reaction to the Motocompacto, is a great idea. People with mobility issues need to be able to carry their stuff too. It might not be great for getting to and from work but it does seem like the ideal thing for getting around airports.

What I, personally, really want is a better carry-on. I don’t travel much but when I do I stuff as much as I can into a bag that will fit in an overhead bin. Checking luggage always makes me nervous because I don’t want to worry about my stuff ending up on another plane or maybe being dropped on the tarmac somewhere. Most of the time, if I can’t fit it in my three-foot-by-eighteen inch rolling case it stays at home.

In spite of traveling light anytime I show up somewhere with my carry-on I can’t resist saying, “I know I’ve got a lot of baggage but it’s okay. I’m seeing a therapist.”

Good Advice.

Usually when I see graffiti there’s some weird part of my brain that kicks up all the art history and criticism I’ve ever read and automatically tries to place it in some kind of meaningful context. I ask myself some of the standard questions a museum curator, gallery owner, critic, or art historian might ask, like, What does this mean? What was the artist trying to say? How does this fit into the culture in which it was created? I guess the one question I don’t have to ask that a museum curator probably thinks about is, How much does this cost? The gallery owner probably thinks, How much can I get for this? And if it’s a collector and not the artist selling it they’re thinking, Let’s claim this is worth a completely ridiculous amount, because, you know, those absurd art prices for junk we’ve all heard about are really a scam pulled by rich people to have a big tax write-off, but that’s another story.

Sometimes, though, none of that happens. Sometimes I just see some graffiti, laugh, and go on, and that’s all there is.

Put A Paper Umbrella In It.

Left Hand Brewing Company pint glass.

I’ve never been much of a cocktail drinker—I usually go for a craft beer when dining out—although on a couple of special occasions I’ve ordered a martini or a Manhattan. I remember being really disappointed once when a waiter brought me a martini in a short glass with a thick base—the kind of glass that should be used for an Old Fashioned or straight whiskey on the rocks. I wanted one of those long-stemmed glasses because they look cool. And supposedly there’s a logic in them too: the design is to keep the liquid cool longer. There’s a reason a brandy snifter is designed to be cupped, allowing your hand to warm it and also swirl it. Even different styles of beer have their own distinct glasses—I only have a few standard pint glasses in the cupboard so apparently I’ve been drinking stouts and IPAs all wrong, though they taste just fine to me.

What got me thinking about this is that with the rise of cocktail culture there are some men who have a problem with their fancy drinks being served in fancy glasses or with fancy garnishes. According to a Business Times article it’s mostly guys in their thirties who are afraid stemware or other distinctive glasses don’t look “manly”. Some bars even put pictures of what their cocktails will look like in their natural state in case these guys are afraid having a Singapore sling will make them look weak so they ask the mixologist to dump it in a Solo cup. With ice.

I have a couple of thoughts about this. The first is, even if the glassware design doesn’t really enhance the flavor or experience of a drink, even if it’s all psychological, the mental approach matters. A finely crafted cocktail deserves to be savored, slowly. I really like the trend of non-alcoholic cocktails. People who don’t drink alcohol should still be able to go to a nice venue and have a distinctive beverage.

The second thought is, guys, grow up. Pick a drink based on what you like, not how you think it’ll make you look.

Source: Tenor



Pick Up.

Last week when I was in the office I signed for the UPS packages and it’s the greatest thing that’s happened to me at work in a long time. My first library job was in the mailroom. I signed for packages, sorted mail, opened boxes, shelved books, and, like Westley in The Princess Bride, I learned anything anyone was willing to teach me, although I’m still a long way from being The Dread Pirate Roberts.

My friend Chip who worked for the campus messenger service described the mailroom as “the asshole of the universe”. I thought it was more of a vomitorium: everything passes through the mailroom but a lot of it goes in at least two directions. And it was great because I got to touch all the new books, and even a lot of old books, and magazines and academic journals. I liked talking to the delivery people too. Most of the time we spent less than five minutes together while they unloaded boxes from their cart and I signed their pad. Sometimes if they had a really big delivery and had to make a second trip I’d go down to their truck with them and help them out. I did have some bad interactions, like the FedEx guy who wanted me to sign for a package that was supposed to be delivered somewhere else. He had to get it delivered by a certain time and he thought if I signed for it, and then delivered it for him, that would save his bacon. I knew if I signed for it and anything happened to it I’d be the one in trouble. Besides I didn’t even know where the place was.

I never saw him again. But the really nice delivery people, who always managed to get everything right, I saw almost every day, and those few minutes of chitchat added up. It’s one of the things I miss about the mailroom, about being in the office. I spend a lot of my days talking to other people but it’s through a screen and I don’t feel like I really know anybody. And the mailroom itself, which used to need a full-time person to handle all the incoming stuff, is now empty most of the time. The library still gets mail and packages, but usually someone will take a break from whatever they’re doing to go in for a few minutes, maybe half an hour, and sort and open it.

Anyway the woman who dropped off our UPS packages told me I didn’t really need to sign for them but she said, “It’s nice to see somebody in here for a change.”

Maybe I’ll see her again.


I saw this graffiti on my way to work and I stopped and took a picture of it even though it didn’t seem all that interesting. It’s pretty well done–I’ll admit that. The letters look very solid, the lines are clean, and I like the use of different shades of blue as well as the yellow clouds and red dots. I had to step back a bit to see that it spells SNARE and I thought, oh, cute, you caught me. But I can scroll through Instagram for pictures of Nashville graffiti, or even go farther afield–around the United States, even around the world–and see graffiti that uses the same style of lettering. Along with bubble letters this more, well, I don’t know how to describe it, but it seems more chiseled than bubble letters, with contrasting curves and sharp points, seems to be pretty standard. It’s a style a lot of artists use.

But then I thought, well, that’s okay. I don’t remember who it was that said “Originality is overrated.” Maybe it was several different people–some of the same ones who said “Great minds think alike.” I focused on this detail and thought, as many different artists paint and draw inspiration from each other, there’s bound to be overlap. Especially if they’re…


Perchance To Dream…

It feels like summer’s fever has finally broken. The weather is just a little bit cooler, even if only by a few degrees, and this morning when I first stepped outside there was a cool breeze that definitely said, “Winter is coming.” Then it added, “Oh, it’ll be a couple of months at least before you have to turn on the heat or even get out blankets, and right now we’ve got a large low pressure system moving in an easterly direction,” but I went inside before the breeze could pull down a large complicated chart with the names of towns I only hear about when tornadoes hit.

With the change in the weather I feel like my dreams have gotten more vivid, or maybe the cold is waking me up out of them right in the middle of a REM cycle so they don’t fade away, although I have yet to sit up in bed asking, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” George Carlin said, “There’s nothing more boring than listening to someone describe a dream.” That’s a sweeping generalization and I have to disagree—for one thing I think it depends on the dream, and for another George Carlin had obviously never taken an economics class in college. Granted most of the time when movies or TV shows have dream sequences they do seem pretty boring. Even if you can’t tell right away that it’s a dream sequence—even if the main character walking alone down a dark hallway or empty street in broad daylight, or the unusual camera angles, or everyone around them speaking really slowly, isn’t an immediate giveaway usually they’ll be stabbed or die in some way, or something so far out of the story’s parameters will happen that it won’t come as any surprise to us in the audience when the main character sits up in bed and says, “Oh, the scriptwriter needed something to pad out the runtime!”

Like I said, though, there are exceptions—times in movies or TV shows where dream sequences can move the plot forward or just provide insight into the characters, like that haunting M*A*S*H episode from the eighth season where Houlihan, Hunnicutt, Colonel Potter, Winchester, Father Mulcahy, Klinger, and Hawkeye, catching brief naps during a surgical marathon, all have disquieting or outright terrifying dreams that reveal some of their deepest fears. I just looked up that episode. It was titled “Dreams” and was supposed to end with a cut scene where Hawkeye sits up in his cot and says, “You’d think the scriptwriter could have come up with a more original title!”

I still remember a dream from when I was just four years old. I was outside our house under the naked yellow bulb over the garage door, which was locked. I couldn’t get in. I went into the backyard. It seemed like night but I could see the outline of the round sun surrounded by triangular arms, a slightly lighter shade of blue against the dark sky, as though it had been painted over. I went to the front of the house. We had a long front yard that sloped down to the street. I wasn’t allowed to cross the street but in the dream I knew it was safe. I looked up over the house across the street and could see the moon and all the cars in the world driving around it.

It was late summer when I had that dream. The next day I told my friend Paul, who lived next door about it. He said, “Oh yeah? I had a dream too that there were tigers and polar bears in my room. They were biting me!”

Paul’s dream sounded pretty boring, especially compared to mine. For a long time I thought maybe it meant I was more imaginative, maybe even smarter than he was, but in the cold morning breeze I don’t think so. We each have our own dreams and mine might have sounded boring to him too.   

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