Pink Reflections, Bishop’s Pond. Watercolour on paper by David Milne, 1920

So last night, I waited on the phone for about 45 minutes to speak to the good people at Apple so I could order my own iPhone 4S; I’ve been due for an upgrade since last December with my current carrier and my now ancient iPhone 3G threatens to give up on me at any minute. Turns out when they said the phone lines would be open to take orders starting at 12:01 a.m. on the 7th, they meant Pacific Time. So I waited all that time because essentially, the crew manning the phones was telling all the hundreds of thousands of callers who also assumed Eastern time the same thing. Figures.

This afternoon, I have an outing with my new friend, 93-year old L. I was supposed to go see her art show with her, and told her I’d call her last week, but then was too low to talk to anyone. She called me yesterday and I said “so when are we going to your show?” and she told me it was over. These are the kinds of things I feel guilty about for the rest of my days. But apparently she still wants to be my friend, since she did call me after all. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has added a whole new wing which includes a concert hall, and they are having all kinds of events to celebrate the inauguration this month. I had already purchased tickets in the Spring to go see two concerts with my new friend which are coming up a couple of weeks from now (a Beethoven recital and a Balinese dance and music performance). This week they have a bunch of activities exclusively for friends of the museum, so when I got the schedule last week, I reserved two free tickets for a session of 5 short films about Canadian artists. I had planned to invite L and was glad when she took me up on it. If I could go back and choose between her show and the short movies, I’d obviously choose to see my friend’s art. oy. But moving forward, it should be an interesting program, which is as follows:

Quebec in Silence
Gilles Gascon, 1969, 10 min, no dialogue

Canadian Landscapes
Radford Crawley, 1941, 18 min

The World of David Milne
Gerald Budner, 1962, 12 min

J. W. Morrice
Gerald Budner, 1985, 18 min

The Group of Seven – A Northern Shore
Harry Dunsmore, 1990, 28 min

Death of a Visionary

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple died today. He was only 56 years old. He’d been battling pancreatic cancer for a long time. He was a visionary who, as says in the NY Times “helped usher in the era of personal computers and then led a cultural transformation in the way music, movies and mobile communications were experienced in the digital age”. Very sad news indeed.

R.I.P. Steve and thanks for your many contributions.

Playing at a Train Station Near You

I just love these flash mob videos. Here’s a flash mob at Copenhagen Central Station with the Copenhagen Philharmonic playing Ravel’s Bolero on May 2nd 2011. Conductor is Jesper Nordin. Just sent to me from my uncle in Israel. Music never needs a passport to get around. Watch it full screen if you can to get the full effect.

From China with Love

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck ★★★★★

“And what will we do with a pretty woman? We must have a woman who will tend the house and bear children as she works in the fields, and will a pretty woman do these things? She will be forever thinking about clothes to go with her face! No, not a pretty woman in our house. We are farmers. Moreover, who has heard of a pretty slave who was virgin in a wealthy house? All the young lords have had their fill of her. It is better to be first with an ugly woman than the hundredth with a beauty.”

I won an advance reader copy of Anchee Min’s Pearl of China recently, which finally gave me that extra little push I needed to pick up this Pulitzer Prize winner by Nobel Laureate author Pearl S. Buck, who happens to be one of the main characters of Min’s most recent novel. When we meet Wang Lung in the opening pages of The Good Earth, he is a poor farmer taking care of his elderly father. On this day he is preparing for a special event: today is the day he will go get himself a wife, and he looks forward to his new life, when he will no longer have to boil the water for his father to drink in the morning, nor have to prepare food, nor clean house, as there will finally be a woman by his side to take care of all these things. Wang Lung feels in a celebratory mood, so he puts a few tea leaves in his father’s water and goes as far as taking a bath, even as his father objects to such waste and luxury. Indeed, what if the new wife comes to expect these things? All the same, Wang Lung has in mind to have a feast that night and works out that with his few coins, he might be able to afford some meat and even perhaps to get a shave from a barber. Continue reading

Benjamin Lacombe Presents:

Le carnet rouge by Benjamin Lacombe, illustrated by Agata Kawa ★★★★¾
Read for TIOLI: Read a book by a “hot” author & 11 in 11 Category #4: Visual Arts

Who better than Benjamin Lacombe himself to talk about the genesis of this book for which he put aside his paintbrushes and picked up a pen because he wanted to give illustrator Agata Kawa a project to showcase her personal style. He explains this on his blog (in French and English too!)—in his own words:

“I really wanted [this project] to be made for Agata so she could fully express her talent and love of nature, of the Arts & Crafts movement, patterns, etc. The original idea (Agata’s) was to work on the Arts & Crafts movement and its creator, the emblematic William Morris. So I made up a story which is a kind of imaginary (though well-documented) portrait of this pope of modern design.

[...] Indeed, rather than just piling up dates and facts, the point was to focus on what made William Morris an artist: his background, his love of nature and shapes. It’s a book about the mystery of drawing, of creation.”

Click on the images to view them larger (including cover)

All images © Agata Kawa

I should mention that I borrowed this book from the public library, but now see myself in the obligation to obtain my very own copy so I can pore over it at leisure whenever the mood strikes, as I am not only a newly minted fan of Agata Kawa’s thanks to Lacombe (you will have understood by now that I am a HUGE fan of this young man already), but have always held a fascination for the Arts & Crafts (also known as Art Nouveau), the Pre-Raphaëlite, and William Morris in particular.

This post from Lacombe’s blog features a good sampling of Agata Kawa’s range.

Clay Soldiers and Korean BBQ


I had a really nice afternoon/evening with my dad today. I wanted to catch the exhibit of the Chinese Terracotta Army before it folds next week. It’s unbearably hot here this week, so I was glad to have suggested a visit to the fine arts museum; an indoor activity in a cool environment. The show was really interesting of course, though there were just a handful of soldiers and horses on display. I didn’t expect to see hundred of them or anything, and they did have several videos showing the sites were they were found to give an idea of the vastness of the enterprise, but I was hoping that there’d be a good grouping of them to get a notion of what it felt like to be confronted with a whole bunch of these giant figurines (2 meters high, or approx 6’6”). What made the exhibit especially fun for me was that I’d thought to bring a sketchbook & pencil and spent some time doing quick studies of some of the pieces I liked best. I should do that every time from now on. (I’ve quickly scanned some pages from my Moleskine to show here. Click on the thumbnails to view them larger.)

We were both ravenous afterward, so went to Bishop street where there are quite a few casual restaurants and a good selection of world cuisine. We decided to go for Korean BBQ, which neither of us had tried before. Our waitress didn’t speak much French nor English, and we were both a bit confused about what to order and how to eat various dishes and condiments, until a lady at the table next to ours came over and very nicely explained everything to us and suggested some dishes too. The BBQs are built into the tables, and you can order from a selection of meats and seafood and veggies, then grill them yourself to your liking. There were all kinds of interesting side dishes and yummy seasonings and we were both quite happy with our meal. I was glad that my dad liked it, because he usually eats at home and makes everything from scratch, including his own flat bread, and is quite strict about what he will and will not eat, so that was nice.


The Magical Mystical Tour

Want to commune with the great Renaissance Masters? Not planning a visit to Rome and Vatican City anytime soon? Here’s a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel completely free of charge. Just click and zoom in and out to take in the sights and soothing sounds.

Vatican City not really your thing? Still up for a blast from the past? Want a  rockin’ good time with the lads and a far-out soundtrack? Then The Beatles are waiting to take you away on their Magical Mystery Tour, and it’s just one click away!

On the Politics of Literature

“I never quite know what people mean by political. They
may be saying that it’s a brave work. Or they might be saying
the work makes them uncomfortable, that they don’t want
to deal with it.”

“We live in a society that packages things into handy boxes,
and we’re used to being told what to think. But one of the challenging and gratifying things about literature is that it doesn’t tell you what to think. It asks you what you think…. When I write a book and hand it over to my publisher,
I consider it half-finished. The other half of the work happens
in the hearts and minds of the reader. It’s a personal experience and it’s different for everyone.” (Washington Post)

“I think of ‘activism’ as a simple action meant to secure a specific result: for this purpose I go to school board meetings,
I vote, I donate money, and occasionally fire off an op-ed piece. But that’s not what I do for a living. Writing literature is so much more nuanced than these things, it’s like comparing chopping vegetables to neurosurgery. Literature is one of the few kinds of writing in the world that does not tell you what
to buy, want, see, be, or believe. It’s more like conversation, raising new questions and inspiring you to answer them for yourself. …”

“For some reason, people in the U.S. are fond of putting me in a box labeled ‘political,’ which could mean anything…. If it means ‘inclined to change people’s minds,’ that seems ludicrous as
a category because great literature will always do that. Fiction cultivates empathy for a theoretical stranger by putting you inside his head, allowing you to experience life from his point
of view. It can broaden your view of gender, ethnicity, place
and time, power and vulnerability, things that influence social interaction. What could be more political than that?” (

“I think writing a novel is a political act, automatically, because of the way it draws the reader into a carefully constructed world-view and generates empathy for the people who inhabit that world.”

“I never think that anything I’m writing is bluntly political in any way. I’m not going for commentary. And if I worried about controversy in this country I would just shut myself into a room and never come out. Anything one does is likely to be labelled absurdly and that is part of what [The Lacuna] is about.” (Telegraph)

“I think the novelist’s duty, then, is to own up to the power
of the craft, and use it wisely.”(Faber & Faber)

All quotes by Barbara Kingsolver, American author of among others ThePoisonwood Bible and the recent The Lacunathe former of which I’ve read, absolutely loved, and wholeheartedly recommend and the second of which I look forward to reading eventuallyfounder of the Bellwether Prize, an award bestowed every other year on an unpublished work of “socially responsible literature.”

Is Gay Marriage the Way to Go?

The Wedding Couple, after Abbot Handerson Thayer and Richard E. Miller

According the New York Times, Judge Vaughn R. Walker—a California federal district judge—lifted a stay on his decision on same-sex marriage today, though he delayed implementation of the order until Aug. 18. I’m betting August 18th 2010 will be featured in the Guinness World Records as the day with the highest number of gay weddings of all time. [Edit: as it turns out, that prediction was not to come to pass after all...]

Those closest to me know that my deepest darkest secret most cherished dream has always been to get married to the love of my life someday. As a matter of fact, there was a time when I kept Penthouse and Playboy magazines on the coffee table as a testament to my open-mindedness and liberal stance, but hid Martha Stewart Weddings under the bed for fear anyone find out how traditional I actually am. In light of this, I’m thinking maybe I should rethink my whole outlook on romance. I’ve long ago established that I want to marry a man, but then again, my odds would probably be better if I chose to give the gals a chance too. How knows? If the gods of love decide to smile upon me and I get my timing right… I too could be wedded on August 18th! And wouldn’t you know it, I’ve already got my wedding dress picked out (see below)!

Painting: The Wedding Couple, after Abbot Handerson Thayer and Richard E. Miller by Mike Licht,

Can Creativity Save Lives?

If you’ve been reading me, then you must know I’ve been looking through various name listings lately. I’m looking at “old English names” “Author names” “Artist Names”, etc. for the precious bundle of joy due to arrive here in just 4 or 5 days. Imagine my surprise when I saw listed under “H” in artist names a certain Adolph Hitler. I do recall reading somewhere that he had considered studies in art and architecture. I had never delved too much into the personal history of the man because had never considered him as a human being before—just a scary monster who was best left along with the other underbed dwellers—so the following entry in somehow chilled me to the bone:

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:
Hitler described himself as a painter in the Academic tradition. Most everyone else who’s seen his work has described Hitler’s painting style as either “Bad” or “Extremely bad.”

Date and place of birth: April 20, 1889, Braunau am Inn, Austria

Life: Though he became convinced in his youth that he possessed great artistic talent, very few other people (besides his own mother) felt similarly about Adolf Hitler. He received an “excellent” mark in Art during his final year of formal schooling, but his failure to complete a Leaving Certificate in the U.S. equivalent of high school did him no favors when he first took the exam to enter the prestigious Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien (Academy of Fine Art in Vienna) in 1907. Ostensibly rejecting him for lack of academic skills, the Academy’s admissions department also commented on Hitler’s lack of understanding of human anatomy. Undaunted, Hitler again took the entrance exam in 1908, with similar results. He temporarily refocused on a future in architecture but this, too, did not come to pass due to lack of education. Regrettably, he then embarked upon a well-documented crooked path toward attempted world domination after this final artistic disappointment.

Important works: None of his own. The most important thing Hitler did for art was to spotlight the “Degenerates” – artists whose works were avant garde, or otherwise failed to meet National Socialist arts policies. Of course, he did this for the wrong reasons, wanting to ridicule and ruin talented artists’ careers. No one was more enraged than he when his plan backfired and the public flocked to Degenerate exhibitions.

Date and place of death: April 30, 1945, Berlin (Committed suicide in an underground bunker of the chancellery building.)

Art quotes by Adolph Hitler:

  • All my life I have wanted to be a great painter in oils … As soon as I have carried out my program for Germany, I shall take up painting. I feel that I have it in my soul to become one of the great artists of the age and that future historians will remember me not for what I have done for Germany, but for my art.
  • As for the degenerate artists, I forbid them to force their so-called experiences upon the public. If they do see fields blue, they are deranged, and should go to an asylum. If they only pretend to see them blue, they are criminals, and should go to prison. I will purge the nation of them.
  • My pictures, in the collections which I have bought in the course of years, have never been collected for private purposes, but only for the extension of a gallery in my home town of Linz on Donau. – from Hitler’s Last Will and Testament dated April 29, 1945.

Sources and Further Reading (see original article)

As you may know (or can easily find out by reading a bit more of this blog), I am on a journey of recovery and so far the most effective form of treatment to get me out of a debilitating clinical depression (the state I’m in by default if I’m not being manic) has been to make creativity and creative output the priority in my life, and wanting to share this experience led me to start

So far I’ve been very impressed with the quality of work our collaborators have submitted, and I do want to encourage almost all creative effort at all level of experience, perceived talent or skill. But I have asked myself the question “what if someone starts sending in truly horrible stuff? Will I want to have my name attached to that as an aesthete, as a Creative & Art Director?” So far I haven’t had to deal with this issue. But after reading the above, and especially the excellent New Yorker article called Hitler as Artist (the chilling conclusion addresses an issue I have struggled with for the better part of my life), I’m starting to think I have a strong ethical responsibility if I am to become any kind of authority on Creativity at any point in time.

The moral of the story? Better let people express themselves, however “badly” than brimming their creative impulses and risk them lashing out and becoming mass murderers on a universal scale instead. Sheesh.

Drawing by Adolph Hitler. As much as I hate to say it, I don’t find it so bad and would publish it on the other site if someone sent me something in a similar vein. A most troubling thought, all things considered.