American Graffiti.

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

Keep On Creepin’ On.

It’s that time of year again—specifically Monster Cereal time, when I binge on Count Chocula, Franken Berry, Boo Berry, and, on those wonderful, rare, special occasions when they bring it back, my personal favorite, Frute Brute. Also Yummy Mummy, which knocked Frute Brute out of the lineup back in 1988, and which also only rarely makes a comeback. And this year, for the first time in thirty-five years, the first female mascot has joined the Monster Cereals team: Carmella Creeper, who seems to be a zombie. She’s also Franken Berry’s “long lost cousin”.

I would seriously love to know the Berry/Creeper family tree but General Mills hasn’t been forthcoming with more information, although one of those genealogical websites should be able to handle reanimated corpses.

Carmella is, as you might guess from her headphones, a DJ—presumably being in that booth prevents her from attacking and devouring unsuspecting dancers—and obviously shops at Hot Topic. I don’t think of Radiohead as being very bass-heavy but then I don’t know what kind of mixes Carmella spins. Still, come on, “Creep” has got to be her favorite song, right?

The story of her reunion with ol’ cousin Frankie is pretty fun. I did wonder why Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy weren’t invited to play video games with the other three—aside from Frutie being killer at Skyrim—but if you squint at the bottom panel you can see they were well ahead of the rest of the gang in bumpin’ to Carmella’s phat beats.

And, finally, there’s that cereal which is supposed to be “caramel apple” flavor. The fluorescent color had me worried that they were trying for “green apple”—a notoriously difficult flavor because you don’t want to go too sour, but instead they went for a mild sweet flavor with a caramel aftertaste. It’s not bad but I think the Monster Cereal squad’s first female deserves something better. Clever design and a funny backstory are great but with breakfast cereal it’s what’s inside that counts.

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.  

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

 

 

Overlap.

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…

 

Rabbiting On.

I grew up reading Beatrix Potter stories. Well, first my mother read them to me and then after I learned to read I kept going back to them. Of course my introduction was Peter Rabbit but I liked her lesser-known stories better. The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse is so very polite and English, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin is weird and dark, and The Tale of Jeremy Fisher is just bonkers. So seeing an exhibit of original drawings and handwritten notes as well as personal items from throughout her life was…pretty disappointing. It’s a traveling exhibit that’s currently at the Frist Museum in Nashville and it looks like it’s going to the High Museum in Atlanta next.

What the exhibit had was interesting. There was a handwritten journal from when Potter was young that she wrote in a code she invented herself, and a painting of water lilies she did when she was a teenager. And while I wasn’t surprised to learn she and her brother kept lots of different animals as pets I was surprised that when most of their pets died they dissected and stuffed a lot of them. That’s one of those things that, when I thought about it, though, made sense. She anthropomorphized animals in her stories but she wasn’t sentimental. The Tale Of Ginger And Pickles ends with the title characters, a dog and a cat, quitting their jobs as shopkeepers to become a gamekeeper and a poacher, and while we never see it it’s implied that they go after the animals they used to work for. And in The Tale Of Two Bad Mice Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, named after two of Potter’s own pet mice, tear up a dollhouse—modeled on an actual dollhouse Potter herself had. They write an apology but, come on, they get away with it. Getting away with it is a common theme in her stories.

The problem with the exhibit is, at least at the Frist Museum, it’s just stretched too thin. It’s spread out over four rooms more or less representing four stages of her life: her childhood and adolescence, the publication of her first books, success as an author, and her later life as a farmer and conservationist, helping to preserve large sections of England’s Lake Country. I wish there’d been more about her brief but tragic engagement to her editor Norman Warne, which was the subject of the film Miss Potter, and which is pretty good. It’s a lot better than those recent Peter Rabbit movies.

There’s some fun stuff for kids, too, like giant flower pots, including one you can hide in, and copies of her books, and in another room giant spools of thread and more copies of her books, and a recording of different voice actors reading her books. This was on a constant loop, though, and random—why couldn’t they invest in something that would let us choose what we wanted to hear? And also most of the pictures were placed at adult heights which doesn’t seem right. I wouldn’t have minded bending down if it meant it would be easier for “little rabbits” to see her drawings.

The final room had some of the merchandise Potter herself licensed, like board games and stuffed animals, and a large screen with drone footage of the Lake Country. It’s wild to think she died in 1943, in the middle of World War II, when her stories seem so much older, but also timeless.

Potter would invite groups of Girl Guides—the British equivalent of the Girl Scouts—to her farm and sit with them and tell them she wished she’d had a group like them when she was young. Still she managed to be independent, to carve her own way. Maybe in other places the exhibit will be more compressed, maybe even more kid-friendly, but there was so much that was left out and I think that’s why I came out of the exhibit thinking she deserved something better.

Round And Round.

The writing group I’m part of decided it would be fun to try a round-robin writing exercise with everyone who wanted to join adding part of a story. And that got me wondering why it’s called a “round-robin” so I went to the Oxford English Dictionary and found that a round robin is, among other things, a small pancake, a sunfish, a hedge plant, a protective plate for a carriage axle, and, most interestingly, a letter signed by several people with all the signatures arranged in a circle so the recipient wouldn’t know who signed first. This was mainly used by sailors when presenting grievances to their captain, specifically something like, “If you don’t give us shore leave we’re all going to jump ship.” I’m not sure why who signed first mattered but maybe it was their way of showing there was no peer pressure.

Anyway it eventually got around to meaning “A group activity consisting of successive participation from each member of the group” which is what the writing group is doing. The group doesn’t really have a leader but it does have two co-organizers, and they’re generally okay with giving us shore leave whenever we want.

The guy who was supposed to be in charge of the round-robin exercise had to drop out, though, because he’s really busy and he asked if I’d take over. I said sure. I was already planning to join in, although I’d missed the initial discussion meeting, and I didn’t think there’d be that much difference between taking part and starting it off. Except starting it was a bit of a challenge. I had to come up with an interesting opening, a perfect setup that would draw everyone else in while also giving them plenty to work with. I’ve never been part of something like this and the only example I could think of was Naked Came The Stranger which, for obvious reasons, didn’t sound like the best model, although Naked Came The Manatee is a little better. And as a collective project I wanted it to be fun for everyone.

It also got me thinking about how all stories are, in some sense, collective. We all draw inspiration from what we’ve read, what we’ve experienced, and we build stories around a shared language. That led to an epiphany: the closed circle of suspects subgenre of mystery. Think Clue, the movie, not the game, or Knives Out or, for more literary examples, Murder On The Orient Express.

It seemed like the perfect setup. It wouldn’t have to involve murder but I thought trapped people having to work together or turn on each other would, metaphorically and practically, be a great way to keep it interesting and keep it from getting too far out of hand. I wrote about five hundred words about a woman driving to a large, isolated house in a rainstorm. Just after her car passes over the bridge she sees it washed away in her rearview mirror. When she reaches the house and goes in she finds her brother and several strangers all gathered for the reading of her eccentric mother’s will. She tells everyone that the bridge has washed away and a voice from the darkness says, “Oh, we’ve got bigger problems than that!”

I sent it off to the group organizers and got a reply back that, since I’d missed the initial meeting, I missed that they already had a plan drawn up and I’d just be stepping in to lead what they’d started.

Fine. Okay then. Hey, this is a collective project and I’m willing to go with the group.

But they’d better not ask for shore leave.  

On The Shoulders Of Giants.

There’s a place I know that’s covered with graffiti. Years and years of paint have accumulated on a stretch of wall next to a creek. It was really interesting to me that a piece fell off, exposing a little of what was underneath, and that it was solid enough that I could pick it up. There’s so much I could say about the metaphorical implications of that but maybe it’s just better to let the layers speak for themselves.