Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In Case You Want to Be Like Me...

I've really been sucking at this recently.

But I have an excuse. I've been totally busy at work. And, since this doesn't pay yet, all I've got is an apology.

If it makes you feel any better, though, I've given two conference papers, went to see my parents for my Dad's 70th birthday, joined a search committee at work, and managed to be accepted to participate in a forthcoming issue of Aspect, with my friend Anne. So, I feel pretty productive, except here.

Anyway, I was in class today teaching about Mesoamerican art and, as it always happens, I was trying to explain human sacrifice to my students. Now, I'm not advocating human sacrifice, but I don't see why it's so confusing to people. So, in my crap way of being an academic, I tried to explain to them that it was just like Highlander, where cutting off someone's head gets you their powers. But, instead of a parking garage, you need to be at the top of a temple and pull out someone's still-beating heart.

Pretty simple, really. The difficult part was when I realized that most of my student didn't know about Highlander. They were talking about some movie called The Prophecy, which I've never seen, so we broke even.

So, in an attempt to make sense of each other, one of my students suggested that I make some lists of things that I think they, and by extension everyone, ought to know about for me to make sense to them. I thought that was a pretty good idea, mostly because I think the stuff I like is pretty good. Please be aware that these lists are partial and subjective. Here goes...

Ten Books I've Read That I've Learned the Most From, or Had the Most Fun Reading:
  1. Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum--Helped me make sense of Postmodernism. And proved that being a conspiracy freak is really fun.
  2. E.L. Konigsworth From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler--Turned me into an Art Historian.
  3. Dr. Seuss The Lorax & The Butter Battle Book--Taught me that we should care about the planet. And that war is stupid.
  4. God The Bible--My parents tried to raise me Catholic. Go Irish. The Bible taught me the difference between what Jesus says and what religion says. And it's really helpful if you're into art. And the Psalms and the Book of the Apocalypse may be the most amazing imagery I've ever read.
  5. Pearl S. Buck The Good Earth--Quite simply the most magnificent novel I've ever read. Stunning in scope. I don't care if you think I'm a wuss, I get weepy every time O-Lan dies.
  6. Paul Zimmerman The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football--Mandatory.
  7. Confucius The Analects--Proves that efficiency is the best way to write. And that you need to act right if you want your civilization to work.
  8. Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching--I'm not really one for poetry or religion, but this is one of the better examples of each that I can imagine.
  9. Gene Colan's work in the Tomb of Dracula series--If you like things with fangs, this is where you go after you're done reading Stoker.
  10. Leon Battista Alberti On Painting--It begins here. And everything else is explainable through or in relation to this.
Ten (or more) Albums I Can't Stop Listening To:
  1. Social Distortion Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell--Badass songwriting 101.
  2. Brian Eno Music for Airports--You want sound? You want calm? You want beautiful modulations? Ding. Ding. Ding.
  3. Metallica Master of Puppets (3b. Ride the Lightening)--As perfect as the first 2 Godfather movies. May not be as fundamental as Sabbath, but I would argue more pivotal.
  4. The Beatles Rubber Soul (4b. Revolver)--IMHO, the best albums by the best rock band ever.
  5. Lush Split--Can't explain it, but everything about this album strikes me as amazing. Saw them at Lollapalooza and haven't looked back.
  6. Ice Cube AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted--This is why Hip Hop is serious social critique. People who say otherwise are ignorant. Of this album.
  7. Slayer Seasons in the Abyss--If rock and roll is cocaine, this is absolutely the best freebase you can imagine. Loudest band I have ever seen live. Just fantastic.
  8. Outkast Aquemini--People who think Hip Hop is stupid or uninventive need to shut up and buy this album.
  9. Arcangelo Corelli 12 Concerti Grossi--I tried to convince my wife that this should be our wedding music. She didn't buy it, but I still think it's that good.
  10. Eric Satie 3 Gymnopedies--Imagine a small child trying to learn the piano. Imagine that that child is an unadulterated musical genius. This is the best I can describe this.
  11. Wu-Tang Clan Enter the 36 Chambers--It's true. You best protect your neck.
Ten Essays You Should Read to Be a Good Art Historian
  1. Susan Sontag "Against Interpretation"--Looking at art is best as an erotic experience.
  2. Giorgio Vasari "Life of Michelangelo"--This is the cornerstone of everything that is right and wrong with modern art writing.
  3. Rosalind Krauss "Sculpture in the Expanded Field"--Think about what art is. Now think that it's the opposite. And consider that those might be linked. Or, just read this.
  4. Clement Greenberg "Modernist Painting"--So filled with problems that it might actually be flawless. If you want to think about the last few centuries of painting, start here.
  5. Clement Greenberg "Avant-Garde and Kitsch"--Anyone ever tell you that something isn't art? Anyone ever tell you that visual culture is BS? This essay will put all of that in perspective.
  6. Clement Greenberg "Can Taste Be Objective?"--The answer is no. Except that it might be yes. Even though I know it's not.
  7. Umberto Eco "How to Write an Introduction to an Art Catalog"--Art Critics beware. The rug is being pulled out from underneath us.
  8. Roland Barthes "The Death of the Author"--Attention artists. This is why we like you better dead. Just kidding. We love you. But we don't care about what you think your work is about as much as we used to. This is one of the reasons why.
  9. Theodor Adorno "Commitment"--If your art isn't about anything, your art isn't about anything.
  10. Walter Benjamin "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"--Sometimes somebody figures it all out at the beginning. This is one of those essays that helps explain everything from photography to DJ Shadow.


  1. This is so inspiring! You are so doggone well-rounded.

  2. A copy of Foucault's Pendulum should be used as a bludgeon to kill anyone who extolls the virtue of Dan Brown's craptastic bullshit books. And I still have a great set of ideas for a Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction photo series. Know anyone who can make a 20x24 daguerrotype?

  3. And the best thing about Mike Ness's songwriting is that he can pull off, through sheer greaser-attitude theatrics, writing and singing some of the dumbest rhymed couplets ever penned. I think Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell is awesome in its crudeness and simplicity.

    Not sure if Rubber Soul is my favorite Beatles album, but Steph just got me the boxed set for my birthday and I'm working through them all. It's certainly a masterpiece, but is it the best one? I'm finding "Help" is actually an amazing point in their career, where the early la-la-la stuff is just beginning to morph into something far more fascinating, yet hasn't begun to show the excesses of, say, the White Album.