Category Archives: art

Streetfights! Swordsmen! Artists! Scandals! Puns!

Pax Arcana

van_goghIf the central thesis of a new book by a pair of art historians is correct, everything you knew about how Vincent Van Gogh lost his ear is wrong.

When we were kids, we were told he cut his own ear off after being jilted by the love of his life. When we were teenagers they finally told us that he was a bit deranged and the “love of his life” was really a local prostitute.

Now it seems the mystery has even deeper and smellier layers of onion [Ed Note — I’m pretty sure I’m using this metaphor incorrectly].

The researchers claim that Van Gogh did not even cut his own ear off. Instead it was severed by…

… his contemporary artist Paul Gaugin!!

Van Gogh and Gauguin’s troubled friendship was legendary. In 1888, Van Gogh persuaded him to come to Arles in the south of France to live with him in the Yellow House he had set up as a “studio of the south”. They spent the autumn painting together before things soured. Just before Christmas, they fell out. Van Gogh, seized by an attack of a metabolic disease became aggressive and was apparently crushed when Gauguin said he was leaving for good.

Kaufmann told the Guardian: “Near the brothel, about 300 metres from the Yellow House, there was a final encounter between them: Vincent might have attacked him, Gauguin wanted to defend himself and to get rid of this ‘madman’. He drew his weapon, made some movement in the direction of Vincent and by that cut off his left ear.” Kaufmann said it was not clear if it was an accident or an aimed hit.

Of course they didn’t have Twitter back then, so we’ll never really know what happened. What we do know is that Van Gogh proceeded to deliver his ear to the brothel with a note that said “Ear you go!” Haha just kidding. It said “Sorry for being so ear-rational!”

Art historians claim Van Gogh’s ear ‘cut off by Gauguin’ [Guardian]



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I can tell you a few things about John Updike

Pax Arcana

updikeJohn Updike, the literary titan who was praised and reviled in equal parts throughout his career, died today at 76. This makes me sad. I sort-of knew him a little bit, since my company represented him for speaking engagements (I was there from 2000 to 2003).

I’ll avoid getting too deep into the many controversies surrounding his literary worth, but here are a few things I can tell you about John Updike:

1. He hated talking on the phone and refused to email. At work we had to mail him letters, which he would respond to on typed 3×5 notecards. I still have one in which he doubts the wisdom of accepting a $25,000 speaking engagement for fear that he would not match the well-honed speechcraft of prior event speakers Stephen Jay Gould and Daniel Boorstin.

2. While Updike was nervous about accepting money for these things, he was also keenly aware of what others were receiving for their events. I remember being yelled at by his daughter over the phone because lesser talents like Salman Rushdie commanded more money. I don’t think he really cared about the dollar figure, but I do think he was very concerned about his place in the firmament of great literary people.

3. He was funny. After one lecture in Florida, a rich alum from a major university wrote us asking if we could obtain an autographed picture for his wife to remember Updike by, since he’d made such a good impression at the event. Updike sent us a signed picture of himself curling 10-pound dumbells in a tweed jacket and tie. The picture had clearly been developed at one of those one-hour photomat places. There was no explanation given for the dumbells.

John Updike, Author, Dies at 76 [NYT]


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Your animal paintings are all wrong

Pax Arcana

dogPablo Picasso once said that art is the lie that tells the truth. He also said French chicks will screw anyone with a paint brush and a fancy grammaphone, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that artists sometimes get things wrong. And not on purpose, like the surrealists or whatever, but just because they don’t know which leg goes where when painting a dog or horse walking. Luckily we have some squirrely academic types to point this out for us:

After analyzing more than 300 depictions of walking animals in museums, veterinary books and toy models, the researchers report that in almost half of them the leg positions are wrong. The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

The researchers studied only depictions where it could be determined unambiguously that the animal was walking, and not trotting or otherwise running, as in those gaits the leg movements may differ. (In walking, two or more legs are touching the ground at all times while in galloping, for example, there are moments when all the legs are lifted.)

The researchers found, for example, that a skeleton of a dog at a Finnish museum depicts the right hindleg in a rearward position while the right foreleg is lifted and moving forward. In a proper depiction the hindleg would be forward too, having moved before the foreleg.

It’s a good thing they didn’t interview any dogs for this story, since I happen to know that many of them are proud of their idiosyncratic walking styles. My Beagle — Hallgeir the King Slayer — busts into a sideways creep when approaching a female of the species. I call it his “pimp walk.”

In Lots of Animal Art, Wrong Foot Is Forward [NYT]


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The secret benefit of The Secret

Father Scott

Customer reviews don’t typically mean much to me. What do I care what Bertha in Biloxi thinks of No Country for Old Men? Will Igor from Ukraine really shape my appreciation for the Dodos? Fallen Angel from Melrose certainly would not make my opinion of the fine ladies of Massachusetts change, either.

But after reading the following review of The Secret, I have to say, Ari Brouillete, you’ve sold me.

Please allow me to share with you how “The Secret” changed my life and in a very real and substantive way allowed me to overcome a severe crisis in my personal life. It is well known that the premise of “The Secret” is the science of attracting the things in life that you desire and need and in removing from your life those things that you don’t want. Before finding this book, I knew nothing of these principles, the process of positive visualization, and had actually engaged in reckless behaviors to the point of endangering my own life and wellbeing.

At age 36, I found myself in a medium security prison serving 3-5 years for destruction of government property and public intoxication. This was stiff punishment for drunkenly defecating in a mailbox but as the judge pointed out, this was my third conviction for the exact same crime. I obviously had an alcohol problem and a deep and intense disrespect for the postal system, but even more importantly I was ignoring the very fabric of our metaphysical reality and inviting destructive influences into my life.

My fourth day in prison was the first day that I was allowed in general population and while in the recreation yard I was approached by a prisoner named Marcus who calmly informed me that as a new prisoner I had been purchased by him for three packs of Winston cigarettes and 8 ounces of Pruno (prison wine). Marcus elaborated further that I could expect to be […] raped by him on a daily basis and that I had pretty eyes.

Needless to say, I was deeply shocked that my life had sunk to this level. Although I’ve never been homophobic I was discovering that I was very rape phobic and dismayed by my overall personal street value of roughly $15. I returned to my cell and sat very quietly, searching myself for answers on how I could improve my life and distance myself from harmful outside influences. At that point, in what I consider to be a miraculous moment, my cell mate Jim Norton informed me that he knew about the Marcus situation and that he had something that could solve my problems. He handed me a copy of “The Secret”. Normally I wouldn’t have turned to a self help book to resolve such a severe and immediate threat but I literally didn’t have any other available alternatives. I immediately opened the book and began to read.

The first few chapters deal with the essence of something called the “Law of Attraction” in which a primal universal force is available to us and can be harnessed for the betterment of our lives. The theoretical nature of the first few chapters wasn’t exactly putting me at peace. In fact, I had never meditated and had great difficulty with closing out the chaotic noises of the prison and visualizing the positive changes that I so dearly needed. It was when I reached Chapter 6 “The Secret to Relationships” that I realized how this book could help me distance myself from Marcus and his negative intentions. Starting with chapter six there was a cavity carved into the book and in that cavity was a prison shiv. This particular shiv was a toothbrush with a handle that had been repeatedly melted and ground into a razor sharp point.

The next day in the exercise yard I carried “The Secret” with me and when Marcus approached me I opened the book and stabbed him in the neck. The next eight weeks in solitary confinement provided ample time to practice positive visualization and the 16 hours per day of absolute darkness actually made visualization about the only thing that I actually could do. I’m not sure that everybody’s life will be changed in such a dramatic way by this book but I’m very thankful to have found it and will continue to recommend it heartily.


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Virginia newspaper takes courageous stand against art, freedom of speech

Pax Arcana

Whenever people ask my thoughts on the current crisis in newspapers, I offer the following anecdote:

I was once told to cut a reference to eBay from one of my stories, because the paper did not want to “call attention” to the Internet. This was in 2006.

In related news, Romenesko* today links to a story in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot about the bizarre tale of Beth Reid — a 17-year-old high school student and artist.

Reid recently entered an art contest sponsored by the paper and was awarded 1st place for her self-portrait. The judge who awarded her the honor was Aaron De Groft, director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary.

But the paper’s marketing director nixed the honor because Reid was nude in her self-portrait — despite the fact that she is crouching and none of the goodies are showing. So they judged again and a second judge awarded first prize to a student who sculpted a nude torso of a pregnant woman. Again, rejected.

Here’s how the newspaper executive in charge explains herself:

“We honestly don’t believe those two pieces are appropriate to be held up as the winners of a high school art show, because they do depict the nude,” Pam Smith-Rodden, director of marketing for The Pilot, said at the time. The marketing department runs the Student Gallery. Two Pilot employees, one from the marketing department and one from advertising, were selected to conduct a third judging, from which a winner was chosen and announced Tuesday.

I think Pam Smith-Rodden is a hero who should be given a medal. It’s not really nudity that’s so offensive, but thinking about nudity. And nothing makes me think about nude girls more than seeing them not-nude. Or nude but with the good stuff covered up. Or with clothes on.

Furthermore, nudity has no place in the art world. Art is about paintings of lighthouses and dogs. And NASCAR legends.

Da Vinci meets Jim Neighbors meets exhaust fumes

Some art is just swirly lines and geometric shapes. That art is weird and I don’t understand it, but at least there’s no naked people.

Reid disagrees:

“My work is on display at the Chrysler, but they could not suffer me to receive a ribbon,” Beth said. “I think it seems ludicrous.”

“And, of course, there’s naked men on the front porch,” said Beth, referring to a monumental statue of torch bearers at the museum’s main entrance.

Look, young lady. You have a very active imagination, and that’s good! But take it from us media professionals — there is no Internet and there is no nudity. Neither thing exists, because if they did, advertising might suffer.

Art lovers raise money for teen who lost Student Gallery title [Virginian-Pilot]

* For those unaware of the Web-surfing habits of journalism nerds the world over, Jim Romenesko’s blog at the Poynter Institute Web site is like a gossip site for buttoned-up old media types. If you are truly interested in what makes journalists tick (short answer: Equal parts anger, nostalgia, and self-aggrandizement disguised as self-deprecation), you would do well to read it often.


Filed under art, media

Judgment Day: Father Scott weighs in on 2007, pt. 3

After a brief snow-, work-, and laziness-induced respite, the top 41 songs of 2007 countdown continues. Hopefully we’ll dig up a couple that Perry has heard of (but I kind of doubt it).

Did I choose a top 41 to honor official NBA player of Father Scott, Dirk Nowitzki? I’d like to call it a fortunate coincidence.

Vamanos, amigos.

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Rock is dead. Long live rock!

Like Kristin Hersh, indie rock uber-mensch Bob Mould has some ideas about the future of the music industry: a subscription-based model with fans directly subsidizing their favorite artists. Check it out:

“Individual songs, $1 – 2

When I finish a song, you are notified by e-mail. You are directed to a secure site, some sort of unique password is generated, and you download the DRM-free file.

Album length release, $10 – 20

When I finish a group of 10 songs, you are notified by e-mail. You are directed to a secure site, some sort of unique password is generated, and you download the DRM-free files.

Annual fee, $20 – 40

Artist subsidy. In return for underwriting my work, you receive all music as it is completed, as well as exclusive content (video, artwork, stuff from my storage space). When tours are scheduled, additional consideration at each venue (VIP seating, etc.).”

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