From the opening close-ups of the Ghent Altarpiece, it is clear that The Monuments Men is a different kind of war movie, involved not with the protection of national identity or the graphic slaughter of the enemy, but instead deeply concerned with the preservation of collective material culture. Adapted from the book of the same name by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter, it recounts the true story of a division of soldiers tasked with saving the great artwork and monuments of Europe as World War II raged around them. The failed art student Hitler dreamed of building the Führermuseum in his home town of Linz, Austria, and he sent his troops to ravage the great museums and private collections of Europe, hiding their plunder as it awaited its eventual display. The Monuments Men raced against time and the fast-working network of art thieves employed by the Third Reich to save the irreplaceable gems of Western culture.
The always-popular genre of art heist film consistently glosses over the true value of art, placing emphasis instead on the financial sums attached to objects by the art market. Discussion of money is conspicuously absent from The Monuments Men; the artwork is worth saving because of its historical and cultural worth, not the sum it might reach on an auction floor. A main theme of the film is the fragility of material culture and our responsibility to protect and preserve it. This is not typical blockbuster material. The film asks the tough questions: is it really worth sacrificing a life to insure the safety of a Michelangelo? The answer is a carefully justified yes. The rhetoric of The Monuments Men might make a person who might not automatically assign such value to art, someone who doesn’t often visit museums or give much thought to this aspect of history think again.
We don’t see a lot of movies made about art and art history. If you would like to see more made, go see The Monuments Men. It’s far from a perfect movie, but it raises issues rarely seen in mainstream cinema.
I saw a post on twitter recently that said knitters are people who like to pretend the industrial revolution never happened. The other day, a friend expressed surprise when I told him that I want to take cobbling classes. “I like to pretend as many modern conveniences as possible don’t exist,” I explained, as I search for design schools in Atlanta on the tiny computer I carry around in my pocket.
Much has been made of the do-it-yourself craze that has encroached on our culture of late. It has become trendy to can your own fruit, brew your own beer, knit your own sweaters. I’m not convinced, however, that recent years have actually seen any marked increase in these activities as much as an increased visibility due to websites such as Pinterest and Etsy. Regardless, the permeation of the DIY aesthetic into our culture as a whole is undeniable. Even Walmart is selling mass-produced items designed to have that certain DIY feeling.
What is the appeal of doing it yourself? I argue that aside from the satisfaction that comes from having created something with your own hands, the desire do things the hard way is driven by a (perhaps unconscious) wish to defy our financial system. Continue Reading →
For the past few months, I have been working in the interpretation department of a museum. It is the role of our department to think about how visitors interact with artwork, and create tools—text, audio guides, games, etc.—to make that interaction more meaningful.
It’s a dream job for me. Museums played a huge and formative role in my childhood, and I want to make that positive influence as accessible as possible. I hope that museums can change the way viewers think, and even change the course of a young viewer’s future.
But there’s a roadblock standing in the way of this goal.
Tickets to the museum where I work cost $19.50 per person – slightly less for students, seniors, and children. Tickets to the Museum of Modern Art cost $25. Tickets to the Metropolitan Museum of Art are technically pay-what-you-wish, but you’d be hard pressed to find a cashier who will tell you that if you don’t ask.
Culture should not be the purview of the very rich. Access to the arts should be free and open to all, and museums should lead the way. Continue Reading →
I haven’t updated the blog in a very long time because school has been pretty crazy. On the bright side, I graduate in a few short weeks! I will begin to post regularly after that.
In the meantime, here is a mixtape I made.
Amid the hubbub surrounding President Obama’s dinner with twelve influential Republican senators last week at the Jefferson Hotel, one detail stood out to me. According to the Washington Post’s Reliable Source column, one of the thirteen guests ordered a special vegetarian meal.
I ruled out Presiden Obama quickly. Such information would be difficult to hide from the public and would certainly be the subject of some right wing conspiracy theory (Obama is trying to bankrupt the meat industry!) or other. Plus, I found this 2011 Politico article asserting that he is no such thing.
Armed with the names of the twelve senators present at the dinner, I decided to embark on a wild goose chase to discover which one of them, if any, abstains from meat. Of course, it is possible that someone ordered the meal for another reason: perhaps he or she gave up meat for Lent. I hoped, however, to get a clear yes or no answer from the offices of all involved. Continue Reading →
Back in November, I was browsing popular Kickstarter projects and I came across “Run Free 2013,” a fake marathon. In the project’s introductory video, Kyle Scheele, director of Ridiculo.us, the company behind Run Free, explains that they were inspired by the internet-age adage “Pics or it didn’t happen.” “What if something didn’t actually happen, but there are still pictures of it?” he wonders. This is the central premise of the “marathon”: participants wearing race bibs and branded t-shirts would, on the appointed date of February 2, flood the internet with pictures of themselves pretending to run. “How many photographs does it take before something fake becomes real?” asks the narrator.
Run Free achieved its funding goal of $999 just 48 minutes after the project went live. I checked back around the time the campaign ended, and it had raised an astounding $23,098 from 592 backers. Clearly, the project struck a nerve.
In the age of Photoshop, the idea of a photograph lacking an indexical relationship to reality is hardly revolutionary. That’s not exactly the case here – the people in the photograph above, which won “Best Team Picture” on the Run Free Facebook page, really stood there garbed in T-shirts and headbands, looking enthused. The guy on the right really wore his ironic pink short-shorts. Continue Reading →
Last weekend I went to see the Brooklyn-based band Lucius perform as part of the consistently great Billsville House Concerts, to whom I am always grateful for bringing quality live music to this little corner of the Berkshires. At one point, the band put down their electric instruments and waded into the crowd to play perform a few songs without amplification. Their undistorted voices, the gently plucked strings of the acoustic guitar, and the percussive rapping on the ground reverberated around the wooden room and the audience, crowded together and mere feet from the performers, felt as one. We breathed together.
I would not have booed Bob Dylan in 1965, but I feel there is something special about music that is not just acoustic but unamplified, resonant, and performed in a small space. The experience is not just auditory but somehow bodily, a phenomenon not unlike the intimacy I described some weeks ago in close looking at artwork. The audience becomes the amplifier, each individual breathing in the sounds and letting them vibrate through her flesh. Continue Reading →
In the Vatican Museums, after viewing the splendor of the Raphael Rooms and on the way to the Sistine Chapel, visitors must make their way through a maze of hallways and rooms that includes the “Collection of Modern Religious Art.” Anxious to get to the Main Event, most everyone rushes through, annoyed by the delay. At most, they glance at the displays on the walls of these curiously modern rooms, which stand in stark contrast to the centuries-old architecture they sit between. The comparatively dull installation begs one to ask what exactly “modern religious art” is.
Centuries ago, the Catholic Church was a powerful patron of the arts. A large portion of the masterpieces of the Renaissance were commissioned and paid for by various factions of the Church—think of the aforementioned Vatican frescoes or Titian’s monumental Assumption of the Virgin. Back then, art was practically synonymous with religious art. This oversimplification overlooks all the fantastic art inspired by classical myth and civic monuments, but the fact remains that the Church played a crucial role in shaping and funding what some might consider the high point of western culture. Continue Reading →
You shouldn’t need a BA to be someone’s secretary. A few days ago, the New York Times published an article by Catherine Rampell headlined “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk.” The article focuses on the law firm of Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh in Atlanta, which exclusively hires people with bachelordegrees – even the $10/hour courier. Rampell calls this phenomenon “degree inflation”: bachelor’s degrees are the new high school diplomas in the job search. She only briefly mentions the steep price tag that accompanies this newly required credential. The average student now graduates from college $26,000 in debt, and some owing amounts far greater. Why should students be forced to shell out to learn about Moby Dick if they’re just going to be ferrying documents between a law firm and a court for a barely livable wage? As Rampell observes, with higher than ever numbers of college graduates, and few job openings, employers are increasingly able to make these kinds of demands on their applicants. The solution is, of course, that fewer people should go to college.
The Times article made me think of “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower,” a controversial article written by the anonymous Professor X that has since been published as a book. Professor X teaches introductory English classes at a community college and many of his students prove woefully unprepared for even the simplest tasks. Generally, his students need college credit to advance in their jobs or obtain raises.
Why should these students be forced to slog through tasks they don’t enjoy and may not be qualified for only to go on to jobs where the skills they obtain will be irrelevant? There is certainly an intellectual reward in being able to read and analyze great books, recount obscure historical facts, or any number of the engaging but impractical things one learns in college. These should be a joy and not an obligation.
To make college accessible and affordable to everyone is a noble goal, and one I wholeheartedly embrace. But we should not force people who might not be suited for the experience to take on debt to do so, for fear of never finding a rewarding career.
When I saw George W. Bush’s leaked paintings, I was surprised to be so strongly reminded of early David Hockney. The two above works, for example, employ not just the shower motif but a similar use of flatness. (It’s questionable whether that is deliberate in Bush’s painting.)