American Graffiti.

Some people call it ugly. Some people call it art. I call it urban enhancement.

The Art Of Nature.

Source: Astronomy Picture Of The Day. Hit the link for a more detailed description of what makes this particular sun pillar unusual.

“I also think it’s pointless for a human to paint scenes of nature when they could just go outside and stand in it.”–Ron Swanson

One of my lifelong obsessions is coming up with a simple, clear definition of “art”. And yet every time I think I have it nailed down something comes along and challenges some or all of whatever definition I’ve come up with. Something that’s made to last? Not necessarily. Dance is an art form and unless it’s captured on video—or maybe even if it’s captured on video—it’s fleeting. A shared experience? Again not necessarily. A well-crafted cocktail is an art form that might only be for one person—and again not meant to be lasting.

Source: Also APOD

The one thing that’s consistent, I guess, is that all art is something made by a person or persons. I once went to an exhibit where an artist had put some pieces of a tree that had been cut down around the floor of the gallery. He said he was trying to make a statement about how, contrary to the idea of art holding up a mirror to nature, nature itself—untouched—can be seen as art. Nice, I thought, but someone still cut the tree down, the artist selected pieces, and put them in a gallery which kind of undermined the point he was trying to make.

As for the point I’m trying to make the pictures I’m sharing here are from Astronomy Picture Of The Day. The first one captures a rare sun pillar, a phenomenon that happens when sunlight is refracted through hexagonal ice disks falling through the atmosphere. The others are light pillars that appear when a ground source of light is reflected by ice crystals in the atmosphere.

These aren’t made. They just happen. Several people might see them or they might happen when no one is around to see them. Although I guess it’s only when they’re seen that they could be defined as art.

Leaving A Mark.

Source: BBC

I used to think a work of art had to be made to be lasting to really qualify as a work of art. Isn’t the point of art, or at least one of them, to be around after the artist is gone? And if it’s not made to last it’s unlikely to reach a wide audience which, I thought, would also be one of the reasons for creating a work of art. Art is meant to express something universal and eternal so it should aspire to be both of those things.

And then I look at the snow art twelve people in Finland created and, well, how could that be anything but a work of art?

Sure, it’s not made to last, but that’s okay. That may even be part of the point: enjoy it while it’s here because tomorrow it’ll be gone, and that in itself is a universal message.

Source: BBC

And it is reaching a wide audience because it’s being shared through pictures. Also we’re talking about Finland which I’m pretty sure has snow on the ground ten months out of the year so it’s also a lasting work.



Sweet To The Heart.

Source: Instagram

Almost every year in February somebody—maybe several somebodies—would bring a bunch of candy Sweethearts to the office. There’d be a bowl at the front desk near the door, and usually another one in the back by the photocopier, and maybe another in the kitchen. By the time Valentine’s Day had passed they’d be gone and it would mostly be my fault because I couldn’t pass by without grabbing a handful, and for some reason I may have had to make a lot more copies than usual from early to mid-February.  

I was worried a few years ago when Necco, the company that originally invented Sweethearts candies back in 1901, went bankrupt, probably because most of their candies are basically just sugary chalk, but I happen to like sugary chalk. I love the sugar rush I get from sitting at my desk eating a handful or two of Sweethearts, and while most of them are crunchy it’s fun to find that one that’s inexplicably soft and chewy.

Most of the messages baffle me, though, just like they did when I was a kid. I get the meanings. I’m just not sure how they’re meant to be used. If, by some chance, you find one that says exactly what you want to say to another person, what if they’re not around? And what kind of a romantic gesture is a tiny little candy anyway? Again, I like Sweetheart candies, but I think a big box of chocolate would be better for making a statement, as long as the person you’re wooing isn’t allergic to chocolate, and if they are I think a big box of Sweethearts is going to be full of mixed messages.


And then there are Tommy Siegel’s Candyhearts which crack me up and which I meant to talk about, especially since he has a whole book of ‘em, but I’m kind of hopped up on sugar right now.


Get Lucky.

Me with Ozzie, the mascot of the Nashville Sounds, and a couple of the players. Not gonna lie. Ozzie was the best part.

So there’s a big sporting event coming up this weekend which I keep forgetting about. It’s not that I don’t love sports. It’s just that I don’t love sports. Sure, I do enjoy watching baseball, and also I really love billiards, and billiards matches have been shown on ESPN so that officially makes it a sport. Then again hemorrhoids commercials have also been on ESPN and I don’t think those qualify as a sport, but, hey, if you enjoy it go for it. I’m also the leader in my local fantasy croquet league, but that’s another story.

This did get me thinking about my favorite part of any sporting event: the mascot. Actually most major events—football, whether American or what the rest of the world calls football—basketball, even golf don’t have mascots, and you can’t tell me golf wouldn’t be greatly improved by an oversized character dancing around the links. It also got me wondering about the origins of mascots generally. The term originally meant “A person or thing that is supposed to bring good luck” and  apparently comes from a French operetta, La Mascotte, about a young woman who is “la Mascotte”, a person with the magical power to grant luck as long as she remains a virgin—so she’s the only one who can’t get lucky.

Most early sports mascots were animals, a tradition that continues in the names of many sports teams from the Seattle Seahawks to the Tampa Bay Rays, although the Rays’ mascot is inexplicably a big purple hairy thing named Raymond when they could potentially have the coolest mascot ever in the form of a stingray. Several years ago I went to a Rays game with my parents and had a great time—the Rays won—and I thought it was a great thing that Tropicana Field not only has a stingray tank but the stingrays have the best view of the field.

Fortunately the rays also have a net to protect them from foul balls hit by the Rays.

There was also Ozzie, the cougar mascot for the Nashville Sounds, who followed the giant baseball headed Homer Horsehide and who was followed by Booster, a rooster mascot.

And then there’s Gritty, mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers, who’s been described as frightening and an “acid trip of a mascot” which is my favorite description ever.

Source: The Philly Voice

All this just makes me think how much I’d like to be a mascot, to don an oversized costume and get up to some antics. Mascots are fun and add to the entertainment of any game and maybe they even really do bring some luck, and who doesn’t love that?

Coffee Talk.

Source: Reddit

According to the Mug Alignment chart I’m Chaotic Neutral, not because of my personality or anything, but because I’m left-handed. And that’s more important than anything else when it comes to how you hold your mug even though most mug designers don’t think about. I know most people aren’t southpaws but, hey, nobody’s perfect. The problem with coffee mug design was something I first noticed when I was a kid and got a coffee cup that said “I Love My Springer Spaniel”. At the time I didn’t drink coffee but I did have a Springer Spaniel named Friskie and I loved her—in fact I still have that coffee cup, but I keep it at work because it might offend our Dalmatians, but that’s another story.

When I did start drinking coffee in college I’d sometimes use that cup and because I’d hold the handle with my left hand the part with “I Love My Springer Spaniel” faced outward. Some people told me I was holding my coffee cup “the wrong way,” although those were the same kinds of people who, when I was young, would tell me I was holding my pencil in the wrong hand. Hey, you do you, but my brain is wired so left is right. And I thought it made sense that the picture should be facing out. I knew I loved my Springer Spaniel, but other people didn’t. It was meant to be a conversation starter. If you’re drinking coffee in a public place or even a semi-public place like a dining hall or breakroom wouldn’t you want a funny message or picture to be facing out so other people would see it? Sure, some people are introverts and aren’t looking to start conversations but those people are unlikely to be drinking their coffee in public or semi-public places anyway.

Here’s another example—a coffee mug from the now defunct JJ’s Coffee Shop that I got back when it was still funct, and their excellent brews were a real trip to Functy Town. Here’s the obverse side:

And here’s the reverse:

The ICC stands for “Integrity, Confidence, Consistency”, the motto of the owner of JJ’s, which is also printed along the bottom of the mug—although I got it for free because the guy who made it accidentally printed “Itegrity” on it because I’m pretty confident he wasn’t consistent about his spelling. Anyway it bugs me that when I hold it the JJ’s logo faces me, although I usually don’t carry it out in public or even semi-public so I’m not starting any conversations.

What I’m really getting at is that most coffee cups are designed for right-handers but they shouldn’t be. Ideally coffee cups should be made with reversible handles. Obviously this isn’t easy and will require a great deal of engineering skill and thought—otherwise someone would have done it already.

Or, you know, they could just put the picture or message or whatever on both sides.


All About Meme.

Sometimes art critics have to clarify and even defend the importance of a work of art, to explain its cultural relevance. Not every work of art is understood or appreciated in its time but most had at least one defender who wasn’t the artist who tried to get the work the attention it deserved. And sometimes they just have to say, HEY, NOT MUCH I CAN SAY BUT THIS THING IS AWESOME AND YOU REALLY SHOULD LOOK AT IT.

So anyway here are some memes created by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission and archived by the Library of Congress and you really should look at them because they’re awesome and also your safety might depend on it.

And you may notice the Library of Congress website has regular technical difficulties which would normally be annoying but somehow they managed to make that funny too.

We’ve Been Here A Long Time.

Source: Griffith University News

I’ve always been fascinated by prehistoric cave paintings. Among other things they’re proof that the artistic impulse is a core part of our humanity. People have always decorated things, always made things. Toolmaking isn’t unique to humans but paintings and other forms of decoration aren’t tools. They serve a deeper, more opaque function. And the record for the oldest work of art just keeps getting broken. Two years ago archaeologists in Indonesia found cave paintings dating back about 40,000 years. Now, also in Indonesia, they’ve found a painting of a warty pig that dates back about 45,000 years, and the stylized nature of the painting suggest the artist might have been practicing and refining a style for some time, or had learned techniques from older artists.

And keep in mind that Homo sapiens had been around a while—we first appeared less than 200,000 years ago and current thinking is that we only reached Indonesia 73,000 years ago, and humans had probably been creating art for a long time before that.

The discovery reminded me of a review I read of the book KINDRED: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes. We don’t really know why the Neanderthals went extinct–although humans may have had something to do with it, but the evidence suggests groups of Neanderthals didn’t work well together while groups of humans, referred to as Sapiens, did.

There is much more evidence for long-distance trade among Sapiens, and spectacular burials like the 32,000-year-old Sunghir graves clearly reflect the combined effort of more than one band…While individual Neanderthals were perhaps as inquisitive, imaginative and creative as individual Sapiens, superior networking enabled Sapiens to swiftly outcompete Neanderthals.

The reviewer admits that this is just speculation, but it is something to consider, especially now. I’m not saying we should just let go of things in the spirit of cooperation, as much as some who are responsible for inciting violence would like that since it would absolve them of responsibility. It’s because cooperation is so important to our survival that trying to undermine society, especially a democratic society, is treated as a serious crime. Cooperation is something that’s part of the past, present, and the only way there can be a future.

A New Leaf.

So I’d been kicking myself for not thinking to start the new year with something about O’Henry’s story The Last Leaf. Then violence broke out, encouraged by a group of idiots including both senators from Tennessee, and somehow it seems even more fitting for the moment because it’s a story about kindness and sacrifice and it just happens to be set in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s also about the healing power of art.

O’Henry is best known for his Christmas story The Gift Of The Magi which many of us had to read in school, usually in late December, and then we had to watch one of the three million or so film adaptations of it because our teachers were trying to kill time and probably using the darkened classroom to hide the fact that they were starting their holiday drinking early. It’s not really his best story, though. Yes, it’s a nice Christmas tale and has the ironic twist at the end that O’Henry’s famous for, but Della’s hair will grow back while Jim’s pocket watch is pawned forever. And since it’s the first and in many cases only introduction kids will get to O’Henry they’ll miss out on how funny some of his other stories are. He’s almost as well known for The Ransom Of Red Chief, about a boy who’s so terrible his kidnappers pay his parents to take him back—something his parents have turned into a lucrative business and, oh yeah, I think I just figured out why my teachers didn’t want me reading that one, but that’s another story.

And then there’s The Last Leaf which, although a sad tale, still gets in a little humor, right at the very beginning in his description of why artists flocked to Greenwich Village:

One Street crosses itself a time or two. An artist once discovered a valuable possibility in this street. Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and canvas should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself coming back, without a cent having been paid on account!

There have been a few film adaptations, but I think the best one is in O’Henry’s Full House, a 1952 anthology film with John Steinbeck introducing five O’Henry stories.

And maybe it’s just what we need right now.

We’re All Part Of It.

About halfway through December I went to drop off some glass bottles and jars at the recycling center. It still feels like it was a year ago because even though we’ve started a new year there’s always an adjustment period. Every year when I go back to work after the holidays and I have to initial and date things it takes a few days or even a few weeks before I remember that it’s a new year and by the time I get it down there are only about 350 days left in the year which sounds like a lot because it is.

Anyway I noticed that someone had tagged one of the big glass bins, which isn’t unusual—there always seems to be at least one tag on one of the bins at the recycling center. Most of them are sloppy and not very creative or interesting but this one caught my attention because it seemed so fitting.

I can’t say whether Ecology is a regular tag around town. I haven’t been out collecting graffiti as much as I usually do and the tag hasn’t shown up in my Nashville Graffiti Instagram feed. Maybe it was someone making a statement about why those of us who were there recycling were doing it in the first place. It reminded me of when I was in fourth grade and once a week we’d watch a news show aimed at kids. At the end of each show they’d read letters from kids about various current events and the teacher, who was really cool, encouraged us to write letters. One week the show had a segment on recycling. Most weeks I just waited for the news to be over so we could get to Book Bird, but at the end of the segment the anchor asked, “Do you think recycling is important?” That really fired me up and I wrote a letter about how the Earth’s resources are finite and that we’re ultimately dependent on recycling. It was heady stuff for a fourth grader and I don’t think I was especially eloquent, but the teacher really liked my letter and she mailed it for me.

It never got read on the air but, hey, at least I’m sharing it or at least the gist of it here.

On a similarly ecological theme here’s a picture of Crawling Lady Hare by the artist Sophie Ryder that I took one night at Cheekwood. It’s a large, haunting work during the day but even more striking at night when it seems even more alive and you don’t see it until you’re right next to it. I thought I’d shared it before and I probably will again because I’m all about recycling.

It’s All Connected.

Source: Wikipedia

So a bomb blew up in downtown Nashville early on Christmas morning, near the AT&T building that’s also known as “The Batman Building” because, well, if you see it you’ll understand. It’s a feature of the Nashville skyline and although I can’t see it from where the building where I work–or rather where I worked until last March when everything shut down, and where I’ll eventually go back to work sometime in the coming year–I could go to the roof of the parking garage next door to where I work and see The Batman Building from there. For all that Nashville has grown and is still growing it’s still got a fairly compact downtown area, easy to get to and, in normal times, easy to walk around in if you don’t mind the crowds. Needless to say these aren’t normal times and when the bomb went off a lot of people just sighed resignedly and said, “Thanks for one more thing, 2020.”
Although why the bomb in an RV was sent off downtown is still a mystery at least it went off early on Christmas morning when not many people were out and about–and it even made an announcement that it was a bomb and that people should get out of the area. For all the damage it did to the surrounding businesses, and as much as it would have been better if it hadn’t gone off at all, at least there’s a bright side.
It’s also interesting to me that Nashville made it to the front of The New York Times, which we still get in actual print, delivered to our driveway, on the weekends, the day after Christmas because of the bombing and also on Christmas Day because photographer Ruth Fremson made a trip across the United States to document the way various cities around the country were celebrating the season in these not so normal times.

The New York Times, December 25th, 2020. Nashville is the city with the Grinch.

The New York Times, December 26th, 2020. Below the fold but still on the front page.

That reminded me of when I was a kid and I’d been with my parents to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center downtown to see, of all things, CATS. As we were coming out we heard a woman say, “You know, this town reminds me of New York thirty years ago.” My mother groaned and said, “Oh please no,” and about twenty-five years later when my father retired my parents moved to Florida which is the most New York thing they could possibly do, but that’s another story.
One of the down sides of the bombing is because it affected the AT&T building it’s left a lot of people not just in Nashville but even in Tennessee and Kentucky without internet access. It’s left a lot of people, in other words, disconnected at a time when they want and need to be connected. It’s only temporary but here’s hoping it can all be restored before the end of the month–here’s hoping people will have a chance to say, thanks for bringing us back together, 2020.

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