April 2013

No Time for Silence

During last evening’s votes in the House, John Boehner ordered a moment of silence for the victims of yesterday’s terror bombings of the Boston Marathon. It was a timid, sentimental call, an act of retreat from any statement of rage or resolve. The president muttered something about “senseless loss” caused by “explosions.” Not deliberate bombings, just unspecified explosions . As if there had been a gas leak. There was nothing senseless about them. Terror has a purpose, one our political class and a courtier press prefer to deflect attention from. Continue Reading
Happy Tax Day

Norman Rockwell prepared each of his magazine cover illustrations as fully realized paintings. It did not matter to him that his audience would see his work only in reproduction. The image reproduced would only be as fine as the work it replicated. More recent artists—David Hockney is one—whose work is widely distributed in reproduction paint for the more limited capacities of the reproductive process. That permits the artist to work faster, omitting those subtleties of tone and touch that are lost in duplication. Continue Reading
In the End, Perhaps, Lightness of Heart

I came to Hans Sedlmayr’s Art in Crisis, first published in 1948 , through Roger Kimball’s essay in which he termed the text a “blistering polemic.” I confess a weakness for blistering polemics. Nothing warms the heart faster in these imperiously nonjudgmental days. Morevover, Sedlmayr’s cultural pessimism conforms more convincingly to fallen man and his ever-falling times than our current dalliance with the saving powers of beauty. Anonymous. Jonah Thrown Into the Sea (c.1606). Musée Saint Denis, Reims. For a concise bio of Sedlmayr go directly to the Dictionary of Art Historians. Continue Reading
"I Don't Do Nice"

In 2008, the Pontifical Council for Culture invited to the Vatican five hundred of its favorite international brands in the arts. Cardinal Ravasi drew up the guest list and emceed the program. Pope Benedict was enlisted, like the speaker at a communion breakfast, to address the gathering. Among the trademarked “custodians of beauty” flattered by the summons was Zaha Hadid, London-based, Iraqi-born starchitect. She is as much a phenomenon as an architect, winning conspicuous commissions all over the globe. Her stated intention is to “rewrite the script for architecture.” That means removing it from its classic concerns for the needs of man—for shelter and comfort, for useful spaces that individuals want to be in—and toward an embodiment of what Jonathan Glancey terms the “consequences of modernity.” Among these consequences are spatial structures devised as signature spectacles for their own sake, superseding if not supplanting, the social function they house. Continue Reading
Bosch and the Grotesque, cont'd

Stay awhile with Hieronymus Bosch (1450 – 1516). In aesthetic terms, he represents an authentic art of the horrific, true evocations of the infernal. Yet his painting is a universe away from today’s so-called shock art , in intention no less than execution. Two centuries after Dante’s death, it provided vivid, comprehensible, visual analogies to the poet’s imaginative verbal descriptions of the consequences of sin. Hiernymus Bosch. The Last Judgment. Suermondt-Ludwig Museum, Aachen. The seductiveness of sin, the force of it, and its consequences, occupies the center of Bosch’s entire body of work. Continue Reading