30 Jan 2003 jfleck   » (Master)

Lest y'all think I only bike, write and play at free software....

books and music

My sister, Lisa, gave me Richard Brettell's Modern Art 1851-1929 for Christmas, an astute gift. I've been intrigued with the art revolution of the early 20th century since Lisa, Lissa and I saw a show back in the 1980s at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art of a collection of work from the Hermitage. It had Picasso's Three Women, and I was blown away. It's a big painting, muscular, agressive, full of arrogance. There were these big Matisse's in the show, too, and I tried to write about the show afterwards and did so poorly and I've been tinkering with the ideas involved ever since.

Lissa (my wife, not a misspelling of my sister's name) at some point soon after pointed me to Cezanne, where you can see the shapes on a landscape hillside trying to break free like cubism waiting to happen, and she showed me Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a staircase - the ultimate artist's joke, cubism taken to its logical conclusion, as if Duchamp is gleefully washing his hands of the whole affair - "Well, that's done. What shall we try next?" And then there was one spectacular memorable afternoon in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, all by myself, where I found a Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gaugin, a Picasso and the great Duchamp and I could finally put them all together in sequence and feel like I understood how it happened, how one led to the next with an inevitability that brings us to today.

All this matters to me, because my aesthetic came of age in the 1970s, cut to rough form by exposure to my dad's painting from the cradle, honed to a sharp edge by years of anything-is-possible art that my teenage brain couldn't get itself around but loved. I am post-modern (please respect the hyphen) because I am of the generations after whatever modernism is.

But I don't understand modernism, of course. Brettell's book is helping, because he is towing me through the weeds of political, social and economic context - urbanization, global communication among artists, the new sciences of vision and light that were changing the way we perceived the way we perceived, and of course photography, which for some, and for a time, made painting seem irrelevent.

I meant to write about music, too. I've been digging some happening '50s Miles Davis/Gil Evans things, but I don't understand them either yet well enough to write very well about them. Something's up there, too, that helped shape the world I entered.

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