Friday, May 1, 2009

Art, Politics, Life

It’s a beautiful day here in the south, warm, though there are some clouds. I am anxious about the things I am always anxious about, even as I find moments of pleasure in the things that usually give me pleasure (and I don’t, now, amazingly find a conflict between the two: it’ just the nature of my existence today)…I received and have begun reading Phillip Lopate’s book on Susan Sontag, Notes on Sontag, and my response is thus far mixed (His favorable comments about Sontag’s intellect and unique commitment I appreciate, but some of his negative arguments are shallow, especially regarding personal matters and certain intellectual judgments; and there is a certain stupidity and vulgarity in trying to look at an artist and intellectual’s behavior as if it were on the same level as her work—artists control their work but that control does not extend to other people and the larger world). It’s sad that Sontag seems to have inspired as much resentment as admiration; and each says a lot about the person who feels it. I don’t know how far I will go with reading this or if I will try to develop a thorough response. As well, I have been listening to singer-songwriter’s Marshall Crenshaw’s Jaggedland with some fascination, as his is a name I have heard for years (he released his first album in 1982), without my having a good sense of his work, which, with this album, has a certain subtle sensuality.

Many people were concerned about Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s proposed cuts to the state’s art budget. (I sent in a written call for arts supports to various public officials, as did others.) The journalist Walter Pierce reports for Louisiana’s Independent Weekly (“Lawmakers Undo Jindal Arts Cuts”): “Arts councils, arts presenters and artists statewide are breathing a sigh of relief and keeping their collective fingers crossed after the state House Appropriations Committee this week restored $3.3 million to Decentralized Arts Funding, the state’s principal means of distributing grant funding to artistic and cultural endeavors administered by both public and private entities. The restoration is the full 83 percent of funding the Jindal administration cut from the budget. It came through an amendment by Rep. John Schroder, a Covington Republican, to House Bill 1, the massive appropriations bill that funds state government for the next fiscal year” (May 1, 2009).

In Louisiana, there is a lot of emphasis on sports and other physical things, such as hunting and fishing. It is nice to have some attention paid to the arts, and the introduction of the arts to young people and what they manage to do. “Skyler Pham, a senior at Magnet Academy for the Cultural Arts in Opelousas, has been named the grand prize winner of the 2009 River of Words Poetry Contest sponsored by the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book. It is the world’s largest competition for youth poetry and art. Pham’s poem, ‘Sisyphean,’ addresses the theme of watersheds. The Opelousas native’s poem was selected for the prize by Robert Haas, former U.S. poet laureate and winner of a 2008 Pulitzer Prize,” reports the Independent Weekly in Louisiana (“Acadiana Teen Wins National Poetry Award, May 1, 2009). As well, elsewhere, William Farley, an 18 year-old, won the 2009 Poetry Out Loud recitation contest sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and the National Arts Endowment, with a reading of “Danse Russe” by William Carlos Williams, about a middle-age man.

David Hudson at IFC’s online digest The Daily notes some of the new films that are opening now: The Limits of Control, Revanche, Three Monkeys, The Merry Gentlemen, Eldorado, Wolverine, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, however adding that there seems to be more quantity than quality (May 1, 2009).

According to,…in Australia, in the town of Paddington, the country’s most important photography awards were distributed: The winners included a critic’s choice award for Gary Heery’s photograph of actress Cate Blanchett. Other winners at Paddington’s Australian Centre for Photography were “Katerina Mantelos for her image ‘Athina, 98 years of life’, Vincent Long for his image ‘Generation Y’ and Janyon Boschoff for his image ‘Urban Camouflage.’”

On May 26th and May 27th (Tues. and Wed.), a free film festival featuring student documentaries, the Truth Be Told Documentary Film Festival, will be held in Tishman auditorium at The New School in Manhattan (66 West 12th Street). This summer, there will be a free film festival focusing on environmental and nature protection: Films on the Green, taking place in New York parks. In Louisiana, at the Robinson Film Center there will be filmmaking summer camps (at a cost).

“Culture, especially in its rarefied incarnations, has never been a high priority for the mainstream press. Criticism is a strange bird in an enterprise devoted to ‘objectivity’ and mass readership,” says Andras Szanto in the article titled “With newspapers in terminal decline, what future for arts journalism?” (The Art Newspaper, available online April 29, 2009; print, May 2009, Issue 202). Szanto acknowledges, “More people than ever are reading and writing about art, thanks to the web.” He speculates on how to sustain this, how to fund it, regarding the participations of institutions and writers and advertisers.

Following the American Society of Magazine Editors awards, the New York Times Stephanie Clifford reported that, “The winners of the general excellence award were Reader’s Digest, Field & Stream, Wired, Texas Monthly, Foreign Policy and Print. The general excellence awards are categorized by circulation, from the more than two million (Reader’s Digest) to the under 100,000 (Print)” (April 30, 2009).

Scheduled for Friday, May 15 at 8 pm, at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, 172 Norfolk Street (south of Houston), in Manhattan, according to a notice from the New York Institute for the Humanities, the humanities institute at NYU “teams up with those young twinned musical powerhouses, The Knights, a dynamic NYC-based orchestra, and Brooklyn Rider, the borough’s premier string quartet, for an evening circling around the theme of Schubert and Solitude. That theme receives an achingly sublime evocation in Argentine-Lithuanian/Jewish MacArthur-Award winning composer Osvaldo Golijov’s recent “She Was Here,” an orchestral re-envisioning of four Schubert songs, to be performed by the Knights, with Tehila Nini Goldstein, soprano. Golijov, who will be present, will discuss the taproots of this recent project, his debt to and sense of Schubert’s singular genius, with Fred Child, host of NPR’s Performance Today.” The themes and performances of other pieces will be discussed as well, including Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture,” Schubert’s own “Death and the Maiden,” Philip Glass’s “Company,” Charles Ives’s “Unanswered Question,” and Golijov’s “Night of the Flying Horses.”

Mark Goldenson started an internet TV network for games called PlayCafe, and things didn’t go well: “Producing quality content every day is a herculean task, especially live. The idea of creating both the content and technology for PlayCafe seemed achievable, but TV networks focus on distribution and studios on production for good reason: both are hard,” says Mark Goldenson in “10 Lessons from a Failed Startup,” for the web site Venture Beat (April 29th, 2009).

Everyone has been concerned about the flu epidemic, which we were told first began in Mexico but more information is beginning to come out. “Mexico’s top government epidemiologist said Wednesday that it is ‘highly improbable’ that a farm in the Mexican state of Veracruz operated by Smithfield Foods Inc. is responsible for the nation’s swine-flu outbreak. Miguel Angel Lezana, the government’s chief epidemiologist, said in an interview that pigs at the farm are from North America, while the genetic material in the virus is from Europe and Asia,” write Ana Campoy and Lauren Etter, “Expert Says Farm Isn’t Flu Origin,” The Wall Street Journal (April 30, 2009). I heard one report this morning that said it should not even be referred to as swine flu as pigs do not have this flu although some of the genetic makeup of the flu does contain pig genetic material as well as that of other creatures.

In an “African Gene-map Findings” post at the web site African Loft, it is stated that “A ten-year study by scientists has found Africa to be the most genetically diverse continent in the world. The team of international scientists believes that modern humans evolved in south-western Africa, near the coastal border of Namibia and Angola. They also took samples from four African-American populations, and found that most of them were of West African ancestry. The team led by Sarah Tishkoff from the University of Pennsylvania studied genetic material from 121 African populations” (May 1, 2009).

How translatable is knowledge, how translatable are standards? How central is literacy? “In countless American communities, flyers are routinely full of major misspellings, more than a few people are only fitfully comfortable with e-mail, and few read newspapers above the tabloid level. Life is fundamentally oral. People from places like this (which include Appalachia and the rural white South, as much as black and brown inner cities) get next to no reinforcement from home life in acquiring comfort with the written word beyond the utilitarian,” declares the usually conservative John McWhorter in “Moving Beyond Bias,” a piece I want to read more of on African-Americans and standardized tests (The New Republic, online April 22, 2009). After invoking scholar-activist W.E.B. DuBois, John McWhorter says, “People like Du Bois did not dedicate their lives to paving the way for black people to be exempt from tests. Sure, the tests may not correlate perfectly with firefighters’ duties. But which falls more into the spirit of black uplift that you could explain to a foreigner in less than three minutes: teaching black candidates how to show what they are made of despite obstacles, or banning a test of mental agility as inappropriate to impose on black candidates?”

Someone who is a man of excellence by almost any intelligent, sensible standard is Barack Obama; and this week marked his first one-hundred days in office—and I watched the press conference he gave on Wednesday, the night of the one-hundredth day. He spoke about a new generation facing challenges, a new generation with the power to make different decisions. It often doesn’t pay to bet against youth and he has that on his side. “To a greater extent than among older voters, support for Obama among voters under the age of 30 was based on issues and ideology. The main reason so many young people were attracted to Barack Obama’s candidacy was because of his ideas,” writes Alan Abromowitz in “The Obama Generation,” from Rasmussen Reports (May 1, 2009). Alan Abromowitz offers statistics and observations regarding the liberal attitudes of young people and affirms, “The primary reason for the distinctive political behavior of younger Americans today is that their political attitudes differ significantly from those of their elders.”

The Cato Institute has given diverse analyses of President Obama’s first one-hundred days in office, a mixed response, depending on the issues involved. However, earlier in the week, April 27th, 2009, in a “Public Opinion Snapshot,” the Center for American Progress’s Ruy Teixeira reported that “In a just-released Pew Research Center poll, the president’s favorability rating stands at 73 percent, with just 24 percent viewing him unfavorably.”