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Thursday, May 29, 2003

Why Government Is Bailing Out Of The Arts In America state governments are getting out of the arts business. State after state is slashing arts funding. Why now? ArtsJournal editor Douglas McLennan suggests that in trying to recover from the culture wars of the early 1990s, arts leaders may have unintentionally pursued an endgame strategy. "As the current arts-funding crisis suggests—the survival strategy might have topped itself out and ultimately killed public arts funding." Newsweek 05/29/03

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Taking The "Public" Out Of Public Universities "Today colleges and universities are seen principally as providing tickets to financial security and economic status. Few people worry about higher-education institutions leading young people astray. If anything, the lament is that they have, in their pursuit of market advantage, become dispensers of degrees and certificates rather than vibrant communities of educators who originate, debate, and promulgate important ideas. What happened? In part, colleges and universities are what they are today because the 1970s began so badly. The result is likely to be equally clear: a set of colleges and universities that have come to believe their futures are best served by satisfying the interests of their customers, even if that ultimately means becoming increasingly self-interested and detached from broader public goals." Chronicle of Higher Education 05/30/03

Monday, May 26, 2003

Conceptual Retreads - Who Needs It? "Clearly Britain is in a bad way. A watered-down conceptual art is the current orthodoxy. Much of what looked new and radical when it first emerged in the 1960s is now being run past us again, and it’s limping badly. And so much of it is the same. It really looks as if art students were issued with a pattern book of how to come up with a show — six ideas on the back of an envelope: good tried-and-tested old concepts that won’t cause anyone too much trouble. How has this come to pass? The decline of one of our greatest glories — the art schools — has much to answer for." The Spectator 05/24/03

Sunday, May 25, 2003

War & Policy As A Marketing Message For years critics have been observing the growing sophistication and power of the entertainment/marketing complex and marveling at its effectiveness in selling its messages to the public. But "the media giants that wield such clout don't always put it to such frivolous use. We are not just plugged into their matrix to be sold movies and other entertainment products. These companies can also plug the nation into news narratives as ubiquitous and lightweight as 'The Matrix Reloaded,' but with more damaging side effects." The New York Times 05/25/03

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Am I Hot Or Not? (Scientifically Speaking, Of Course) It's surprisingly easy to find agreement on what is an attractive face and what is not. But "finding answers to why we regard one face as being more beautiful than another is actually not as easy as it seems." A major research project on 'facial attractiveness' by two German universities has been attempting to find out "why some faces are more beautiful than others, how scienctists help unravel the mystery of beauty, and the dangerous relationship between a beautiful body and social power." Beautycheck 05/03

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The Marketing of Homeland Security "Nearly all politicians care about branding -- just as Procter & Gamble fixates on creating positive 'brand awareness' about Crest, Cheer, Pampers and Pepto-Bismol. But [Secretary of Homeland Security Tom] Ridge is the rare public official who uses the term. He is attuned to small details of his department's 'visual brand.' These include the creation of DHS logos, patches and signs." The fact is, Homeland Security's mission is as much about selling itself to the public as it is about preventing terrorist attacks. The idea is to find new and innovative ways to convince an increasingly cynical public to take the department's pronouncements seriously. Washington Post 05/22/03

The Evolution of "Talent" With genetic research opening up new worlds of medical intervention at a stunning rate, there is still much virulent opposition to even the smallest suggestion of genetic manipulation in humans, especially when it comes to notions of changing not just who we are, but what we can do. But, says Slavoj Zizek, too many objections are based on our own outdated notions of humanity and what constitutes it. "The point is that both hard work and natural talent are considered 'part of me', while using a drug is 'artificial' enhancement because it is a form of external manipulation. Which brings us back to the... problem: once we know that my 'natural talent' depends on the levels of certain chemicals in my brain, does it matter, morally, whether I acquired it from outside or have possessed it from birth?" London Review of Books 05/22/03

Monday, May 19, 2003

Getting Inside Einstein A new website explores the mind and world of Albert Einstein. "In addition to the voluminous collection of Einstein's writings, some never before published and none previously available online, the website will house an extensive database of 40,000 documents, images and research on Einstein's life and work, as well as digitized copies of Einstein's professional and personal correspondence and pages from his notebooks and travel diaries." Wired 05/19/03

Pondering The Theory Years In the most recent past, critics have returned to studying art in historical social context. The art theory years of the 60s and 70s seem like a distant past. "As we look back at the theory years today, now that the fierce polemical passions have waned, the transformation of literary studies through several phases in a single generation seems astonishing. Where did it come from? Are its sources to be found in the 1960s, the tumultuous decade in which it emerged? In the poststructuralist phase, scholarship and criticism that had been focused on individual writers gave way to a skeptical approach to all interpretation." Chronicle of Higher Education 05/23/03

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Frank Rich To Bill Bennett: Blame It On Tupac "It is almost too perfect that Las Vegas, the city where Tupac Shakur was murdered in 1996, would be the undoing of William Bennett. In 1995, Mr. Bennett, serving as America's self-appointed cultural commissar, made a target of Tupac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and other practitioners of gangsta rap. They were public enemy No. 1 in his relentless battle against what he was fond of calling 'the filth, sewage and mindless bloodletting of the popular entertainment industry.' Mr. Bennett was above such vulgarity. He had been secretary of education. He had attacked the National Endowment for the Arts for perpetrating junk. He had anthologized Plato and Aesop in The Book of Virtues. But the guy just couldn't keep away from Vegas." The New York Times 05/18/03

Innovative In The Sense Of Stupid Dave Barry is America's preeminent humor columnist, and for some time now, he has been fascinated by the predilection of British art museums for "paying large sums of money for works of art that can only be described as extremely innovative (I am using 'innovative' in the sense of 'stupid')." Having previously questioned the legitimacy of Martin Creed's flickering lights, Barry is now doubled over by the news that artist Ceal Floyer has won a major award for a bag of trash. "To judge from the photograph in the Times, it is a standard black plastic garbage bag, just like the ones you put your garbage in, except of course that you have to pay people to haul your garbage bags away, whereas Ms. Floyer got $47,000 for hers." Miami Herald 05/18/03

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Are Universities Selling Their Souls? A former president of Harvard writes in a new book about the dangers to academia by the profit imperative. Increasingly schools are chasing money at the the expense of... standards? Integrity? "How colleges and universities relate to the marketplace and the world beyond their walls is not merely an academic issue. These institutions are an engine of prosperity, training specialists and the workforce, advancing scientific discoveries and moving people up the ladder of socioeconomic advancement. It is increasingly difficult, though, to meet higher education's insatiable financial demands through conventional means. The hunt for profits is not a new story." The New York Times 05/17/03

Thursday, May 15, 2003

What Is Infrasound? "The big brother of ultrasound, infrasound means frequencies too low to be heard by the human ear. Infrasound occurs naturally - from waves pounding shores, storms, earthquakes, meteors hitting the atmosphere. Longer pipes in church organs also create infrasound, which many believe gives the music a particular atmospheric power. Humans have a hearing range of roughly 20 to 20,000 Hz (the lowest note on a piano is around 33Hz). Sounds that fall below that threshold are not audible - but they are felt." And musicians are learning to play with it. The Guardian (UK) 05/16/03

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Homogeneity, American-Style As much as we may want to believe that people are truly creative beings who appreciate the unconventional and revel in the revolutionary, the facts of modern life say otherwise, according to Lisa Rochon. "We've settled deeply into our La-Z-Boys and clicked on a lifetime of architectural reruns. It's Tim Hortons, it's Starbucks, it's the Gap, it's Home Depot, it's tract housing and towers for as far as the land rolls on... To suggest that people are desperate for an alternative is to romanticize the reality." Whose fault is it? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but, um, Americans, actually, with our "development of ecologically sensitive land to exploit for the android architecture of the suburbs and big-box retailers which destroy the Mom and Pop stores of the downtown." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/14/03

30 Spaces for the 21st Century "Our old ideas about space have exploded. The past three decades have produced more change in more cultures than any other time in history. Radically accelerated growth, deregulation, and globalization have redrawn our familiar maps and reset the parameters: Borders are inscribed and permeated, control zones imposed and violated, jurisdictions declared and ignored, markets pumped up and punctured. And at the same time, entirely new spatial conditions, demanding new definitions, have emerged." Rem Koolhaas has no shortage of ideas on the future of space, from legislative gluts to the art of miniaturization to virtual space. Wired 06/03

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Questionable (Artificial) Intelligence Scientists have been working for decades on trying to build artificial intelligence. But how much progress has actually been made, when "notions as 'water is wet' and 'fire is hot' have proved elusive quarry for AI researchers? Unfortunately, the strategies most popular among AI researchers in the 1980s have come to a dead end. So-called 'expert systems,' which emulated human expertise within tightly defined subject areas like law and medicine, could match users' queries to relevant diagnoses, papers and abstracts, yet they could not learn concepts that most children know by the time they are 3 years old." Wired 05/13/03

Monday, May 12, 2003

Official Art - Minimally Unacceptable Roger Kimball believes that the official art world has its priotities on backwards when it comes to touting art it thinks is worthwhile. "When it comes to the Art World — to the congeries of critic-publicists and curator-publicists, museum-director-publicists, publicist-publicists, and artist-narcissist-publicists who set the agenda and spend the money—the front-burner issue is not aesthetic quality but one or another species of trendiness. When exhibitions of Velázquez or Leonardo or some other historical name-brand worthy roll into town, you can reap some reasonably straight oohs and aahs from the arts pages of the Times and other finger-in-the-air publications. But let the focus shift to what’s happening now and, presto! instant lobotomy and onset of Tourette Syndrome." The New Criterion 05/03

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Failure To Communicate - Why America Doesn't Translate Is it any surprise that Americans have such a narrow sense of other cultures? "About 3% of the fiction and poetry published in the United States in 1999 was translated (approximately 330 out of the total 11,570 fiction and poetry titles published). America compares unfavourably to almost every other country and most unfavourably to western Europe, the region closest to an ideological sibling. There, Germany translates the most works - about six times as many as the US each year. Spain is close behind, while the French publishing industry exceeds the US by four times. Without translations, Americans, who are notoriously monolingual, have access only to the perspectives of those who write and speak in English; thus the ideas of millions are lost to them." OpenDemocracy 05/01/03

Thursday, May 8, 2003

How Artists Earn Money For Their Work Not everyone pays for an artist's work. That's a good thing - it allows entry to the work and opens possibilities for the artist. "An ecosystem with many ways for unintended free-release is a requirement. Therefore, an ecosystem which looks to a mixture of the traditional amateur, performance, patronage, and commission forms of payment is a requirement. Depending upon rigid enforcement of performance payments will disrupt the balance. Listening to representatives from the recording and movie industries, you would think that selling fixed artifacts is the only way that artists can get paid. That has never been the case, and should not be in the future or else society and art itself will suffer." Bricklin.com 04/21/03

Can Economics Quantify The Quality Of Art? A Universisty of Chicago economist contends that "techniques commonly used by economists, such as statistical analysis, can be employed to understand even a seemingly subjective world such as art. By studying the careers of more than 100 modern artists, David Galenson proved certain artists did their best work early in their careers - with 'best' determined by which works fetch highest prices at auction and are displayed by museums - while other artists did their best work later in their careers. Those who peaked early, Galenson claimed, were conceptual artists, driven by a singular vision. The late bloomers, by contrast, were experimental innovators who used a long period of trial and error to eventually create their masterpieces. What irked art historians was the prospect of dividing artists into neat categories, of treating their output like a commodity." Chicago Tribune 05/08/03

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Musicians Alarmed Over Media Consolidation "Musicians of all stripes are starting to recognize that the galloping consolidation of American media - especially in radio, where most Americans were first introduced to their favorite songs - has reduced the ability of recording artists to take the risks that reshape our consciousness, to explore new ideas and new sounds and, ultimately, to be heard." And musicians are alarmed by proposeals for even more deregulation They've sent a letter to the FCC to protest. The "letter from some of the best-known musicians in the U.S. is the latest sign of the broad opposition that rule changes being considered by the FCC - which would allow one company to own newspapers, television and radio in the same town, and which would allow more consolidation of media ownership on the local and national levels." The Nation 05/04/03

Who Cares If It's True? It's Fascinating! "'On March 2, 2003, at 4:12 p.m., I disappeared,' the journal begins. 'My name is Isabella V. I'm twenty-something, and I am an international fugitive.'" Sound scintillating? It's the first entry in a fascinating weblog purportedly written by a European heiress fleeing her wealthy and (apparently) powerful family. At this point, the blog is looking an awful lot like a hoax, but that's really not the point. In an era when news, fiction, entertainment, 'reality TV,' and advertising all blur together in disturbing fashion, Isabella's story is a sign of the synergistic times. Wired 05/07/03

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Serious Art Won't Hurt You? Time was, people aspired to consuming high art. Now they apologise for it. Or at least feel like they need to defend it. Peter Plagens says the turnaround is no mystery. "As for high art’s problem, it’s simple, but with complex fallout. High art is elitist. Only a relatively few people have the educated taste for it, the patience to enjoy it and, frankly, the ability to get it. We live, however, in a passionately egalitarian society, most of whose members absolutely resent the idea that Mr. Fairfax Van Richbuckets has, when he goes to the opera, a better esthetic experience than Mr. Harry Twelvepack does when he springs for a couple of Bon Jovi tickets. (Of course, Harry doesn’t have much regard for his kid sister’s taste for Justin Timberlake, and she can’t understand her younger cousin’s jones for that new Hilary Duff movie. Hierarchies are everywhere.) Connoisseurship on any but a micro level ('Man, that’s a great Clint Black T-shirt—must be six colors in the silkscreen for it) is practically a dirty word these days, and I’d be surprised if the word 'vulgar' is uttered pejoratively more than twice a year in the United States outside of a Tipper Gore tea party." Newsweek 05/01/03

Monday, May 5, 2003

Does Globalism Equal American Dominance? "Fears that globalization is imposing a deadening cultural uniformity are as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Mickey Mouse. Europeans and Latin Americans, left-wingers and right, rich and poor -- all of them dread that local cultures and national identities are dissolving into a crass all-American consumerism. That cultural imperialism is said to impose American values as well as products, promote the commercial at the expense of the authentic, and substitute shallow gratification for deeper satisfaction. If critics of globalization were less obsessed with 'Coca-colonization,' they might notice a rich feast of cultural mixing that belies fears about Americanized uniformity." Chronicle of Higher Education 05/05/03

Cutting Edge - Too Much Interactivity Doesn't Serve Art "These days, any film for which a studio's marketing department has sufficiently high commercial expectations is issued on DVD in a 'special' or 'limited' or 'collector's' edition that makes an Arden Shakespeare look skimpy by comparison. The contemporary desire for interactivity in the experience of art derives, obviously, from the heady sense of control over information to which we've become accustomed as users of computers. The problem with applying that model to works of art is that in order to get anything out of them, you have to accept that the artist, not you, is in control of this particular package of 'information.' And that's the paradox of movies on DVD: the digital format tries to make interactive what is certainly the least interactive, most controlling art form in human history." The New York Times 05/04/03

Saturday, May 3, 2003

Pictorial Writing Westerners have always been fascinated by "writing systems of East Asia. "Chinese, Japanese and Korean, are 'syllabaries,' in which each character corresponds to a syllable of sound, and in Chinese, at least, a basic unit of meaning (called a morpheme). By contrast, alphabetic systems rely on letters that by themselves are pure abstractions: a single letter represents neither a syllable of sound nor a morpheme. While alphabets tend to be small, syllabaries can be quite large: there are more than 50,000 Chinese characters, though most people can get by with knowing about 5,000. But a better understanding of Asian writing systems has not stopped Western experts from making grand claims about their virtues and limitations." The New York Times 05/03/02

Friday, May 2, 2003

Why People Loot "Looting seems about as psychologically complicated as, 'Hey, outta my way - I saw it first!' Yet the sociologists who study crowd behavior say that looting is commonly misunderstood. 'Looting is not just lawlessness. It's not that looting is a good thing. But there's a logic to it. You get a sense, from what people loot and destroy, of which things they think are illegitimate. The things left standing are the parts of society that people feel some solidarity with'." Chicago Tribune 05/02/03

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Are You A "Choice Machine" Or Are You A "Situation-Action Machine"? Situation-action machines are built with a bunch of rules that say, "If in situation X, do A," "If in situation B, do Z," and so forth. It's as if you had a list that you kept in your wallet and when important decisions came up, you looked at the list. If the conditions for a particular decision were met, you just did it. You don't know why. It's just that the rule says to do it. A choice machine is different. A choice machine looks at the world and sees options, and it says, "If I did this, what would happen? If I did that, what would happen? If I did this other thing, what would happen?" It builds up an anticipation of what the likely outcome of one action or another would be, and then chooses on the basis of how much that outcome is valued or disvalued." Reason 05/03

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