Sunday, July 20, 2008

Classic/Fantastic: Apollo versus Dionysus

We all know examples of the orderly in art. Think of the Classical world of ancient Greece and Rome with art in the form of perfectly-shaped urns and the ideal of the Discus Thrower. We have also seen art from the irrational side of the brain in the work of Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. It is rare to have an art show which juxtaposes the rational and irrational impulses at the same time. In doing so, each side is more illuminating, and we see how we depend on both in our personalities.

An ongoing show entitled Classic/Fantastic: From the Modern Design Collection opened in December of 2007 in the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It is a minor show, yet sometimes a little can say a lot. The ongoing show demonstrates the dual and dueling parts of the human mind.

In The Birth of Tragedy the Frederich Nietzsche distinguished two principles from ancient Greek philosophy, the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Everything that maintains man's or things' individuality and that makes distinctions between things is Apollonian: "...all types of form or structure are Apollonian, since form serves to define or individualize that which is formed..." (Steven Kreis, 2000. See last link). According to Nietzsche (see Kreis' website), rational thought is Apollonian due to it being structured and that it makes distinctions. All types of form and structure are Apollonian, according to Kreis, and "...sculpture is the most Apollonian of the arts, since it relies entirely on form for its effect."

That which is Dionysian opposes that which is Apollonian. Music and bacchanalian debauches from Roman times are Dionysian, as they dissolve man's individualism in favor of mass activity. Man gives up his reasoning power and takes on attributes, i.e. enthusiasm, ecstasy, and instinct. He joins irrational and mass behavior. he submerges himself in the greater whole, says Kreis. Surrealist art represents symbols from the irrational mind.

On the Apollonian side, for example is the "Capiletto Chair" shaped like a capital (in ruins) from the Classical world. It was designed by Studio 65 in 1971. The show's curator, Jared Goss, imparts how the designers were rebelling against the functionalism of the International Style and how the instantly recognizable image is linked to Pop Art. The fact that the chair is made of foam rubber underscores that.

Another take on the capital is the Taccia company's lamp of 1962 by Achille Castiglione. The base is a fluted metal column. A glass cone subs for capital. It is Classic and Modern. One could say the pool of light that emanates is akin to the Apollonian sense of learning.

Let's stay rational for a while longer. The urn may epitomize Greek and Roman rational art, as it positions idealized figures in idealized activities. The urn's face recreates the Classic world as thinkers of the day envisaged. Each character on the urn is individuated and has a singular purpose. The form of the urn itself individuates its own forming (see Nietzsche link).

A wonderful urn of porcelain by the famous Gio Ponti called La passaeggiata archeologica is somewhat Art Deco in its cartoon-like stylizations. According to the show's curator, Gio Ponti was a Modernist who respected tradition. I myself believe that Modernism, in its rational concern for the betterment of man and rejection of irrational waste and corruption is felicitous to the Apollonian concept. The urn presents Classical imagery from ancient Rome, the Renaissance, and the NeoClassical age. The Modern stylings work well with the Classical vocabulary.The masonry motif is particulary whimsical. Note that each figure is individuated.

On the Dionysian side - and, incidentally, side is quite literal here, as the two galleries are side-by-side - are strange works of art that may defy rational explanation. Consider a serving dish for fish (presumably) by Henning Koppel of Denmark. Its clam shape is more than the odd stylizations of fruits de mer on bouillabaisse pots of the Renaissance. Here the object is the concept. It seems to be Apollonian at first due to the intact nature of its form, that individuates the clam. The "clam" is the form, after all. What could be more Apollonian? I think the reason the dish is on this side of the divide is that it borrows heavily from Surrealism. Think of Paul Klee's fish against the black void, or Dali's ants and tigers. The clam is no idealized form such as the Discus Thrower. There's nothing noble about a clam. In Surrealism like in no other art style, emblems from Jung's Collective Unconscious come to the fore and supersede logic. The clam, then, is Dionysian as it loses its individuality by being part of an art movement, Surrealism, and therefore out of the collective world of dreams. Surrealist and Dionysian art should let the viewer submerge with the greater whole of nature. The clam is more than a clam.

A hand table - not what you are thinking - makes its bizarre appearance. It is by Costa Achillopoulo and from 1934, in the heart of the Surrealist movement. Mr. Goss indicates that the table also functions as sculpture. Disembodied hands were prominent in Surrealism -the left hand in particular symbolized the irrational. The cloudlike element from which the hand emerges, Mr. Goss says, may represent the transition from the unconscious to the conscious. You cannot use it as a functional item without a feeling of discomfit, I believe. It must have elicited unusual conversations at cocktail parties.
The "Architettura" drop-front desk by Piero Fornasetti and Gio Ponti from 1952 is a tour de force. The illusionistic work seems to depict one palace or public building, but look again. the three levels are incongruent, and the leaves of the front may or may not be of the palace facade. There is an architectural inset hovering on the staircase. It conjures up the technique of collage in Modernism and Surrealism, whereby incompatible objects are juxtaposed in time and space to disorient the viewer and, hopefully, access his unconscious.

My favorite items are textile samples circa 1900 by an unknown designer. Mr. Goss says the organic quality may have been inspired by advances in medical science, namely serums and antibiotics, as the motifs look like microscopic specimens. Here rational science meets the incongruence of the bedroom, parlor, or dress. By turning microscopic organisms into decorative designs, the creator entered the realm of the illogical mind. The germs and bacilli become monsters ready to devour the family at home (if they were wallpaper) or wearer (if they were for a dress). The comfort of scientific, rational study degenerates into the uncertainty of the world of chaos, violence, terror. While the other art in the show kept on either side of the Apollonian/Dionysian credo, these textiles give us an uneasy alloy. It's not so easy to keep the two kingdoms apart always.

Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Quote of the Week

I'd say I'm doing just peachy, but peaches are now $1.79 a pound.

I said that Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Egyptian City of Akhetaten: Does this Remind You of Anything?

Between 1347 and 1332 BCE, also understood as in the late Eighteenth Dynasty of the New Kingdom, a remarkable transformation took place in Egypt. Over a fifteen year span existed a city, Akhetaten (today called Tell el-Amarna) which broke the rules of two millenia of gods worship and artistic expression. It was a radical new concept of monotheism after eighteen dynasties of polytheism. Art was now naturalistic instead of formal and static. People, too, changed their ideas and created a new lifestyle.

The mastermind behind this transformation of minds was Akhenaten, the son of Amenhotep (Amenophis)III. The one god his devotees followed was Aten. Although Aten, the sun god, existed for centuries, his cult was now the only game in town - town being Akhetaten, "the horizon of the Aten." Akhenaten built his first temples to Aten in Karnak but, wanting to remove his followers from past associations, took his court and many subjects to the east bank of the Nile to construct the new city.

According to Professors Barry Kemp and Jerry Rose of the Amarna Project, a very high proportion of the people, according to paleontology, suffered from short stature and early death due to iron deficiency in childhood. Add to that an epidemic, and life must have been very hard prior to the Amarna period.

Akhenaten might have responded to the desperation of his new subjects by rejecting the older generation's ways in favor of a new set-up. He and his wife Nefertiti and their up to six daughters set up court in the new city. Tuthmose was his most famous artist who created the groundbreaking style. To quote Dr. Kemp: "We must assume that Akhenaten incurred the hostility of the priests of the old cults, particularly the powerful priests of the god Amun at Thebes.

Let's see. Crisis of the old regime. A lack of faith in the old ways. A questioning of authority and religion. New concepts of art. New depictions of reality. Young people speaking their minds. Does this all remind you of anything?

If you're going to Akhetaten
Be sure to wear some lotus in your hair
If you're going to Akhetaten
You're gonna meet some monotheists there

For those who come to Akhetaten
Sunny rays descend from Aten's flair
In the streets of Akhetaten
Aten's children with lotus in their hair

On the east bank of the Nile, throw out your sundial
People in motion
There's a whole new art style raising old cult priests' bile
People in motion people in motion

For those who come to Akhetaten
Be sure to wear some lotus in your hair
If you come to Akhetaten
Temple time will be for Aten there

If you come to Akhetaten
Akhenaten grants the sun to share

"Hey, Man, try this Frankincense. It'll get you real high."

"I'm tired of my folks and there Middle Kingdom values."

First Egyptian:"Hey, Man, we're going to a party at Tuthmose's Papyrus Factory, you know 'The Factory.'
other Egyptian: "Yeah, isn't he the artist who did Hatshepsot's image repeated like 20 times?"
First Egytian: "Yeah, and his iconic 'Karnak's mallow soup can 20 times."

See insets below. It's a love-in (with some unwanted guests)

These young people are followed by the National Guard sent by the old priests in Thebes. Some kids under Abu Haaf-Aman tried to levitate the chariot house of Ay.

"What a field day for The Heat, a thousand devotees in the street."

"Why don't we paint these in day-glow hieroglyphics?"

Thebes doesn't fool around. Akhenaten has to reign in the Vizier's "Gestapo tactics."

These are the "people in motion."

"Free stuff for everyone! More stuff at the Wart Hog Farm!"

Veggie food, of course.

This girl band is part of the Mo-Town (Memphis Town) music scene. Mo-Town is where they make all the chariots.

You've got it. A commune. But what's this about work? We feel the rays of the Aten. Groovy!

Remember readers: There's nothing new under the sun. Akhetaten and its subsequent revolutions will come around again.

Life, Man

Credit to Scott McKenzie for the lyrics to "San Francisco". Credit to Buffalo Springfield for "For What it's Worth" (1966). Credit to Googleimage for the photo of the Ankh. Credit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, U.S.A. for the far out show, "Pharaohs of the Sun" in 1999-2000. Thanks go to Professor Barry Kemp of the Amarna Project.
Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Friday, July 11, 2008

Quote of the Week

I was doing a telemarketing pitch (your opinions of me probably just went down a few pegs) to a limo co. on possibly selling gift cards to them for their employee incentive program. The woman there said: "I'm sorry. We offer other 'infringements' to our employees." Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Humor. Har, Har!

I think George Bush should be up on Mount Rushmore.

He could clean out Lincoln's nose.
Then he could wax Teddy Roosevelt's moustache.

At a classical music concert the condutor should get to the podium and say: "Hey Flower Children, artfully arranged, there is some bad acid going around." Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

The Tao of the Dow: The Market Creeping into the Soul

The triumph of neoliberal market Capitalism since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has colored many aspects of our lives. We have seen a "Coke Day" in a Georgia high school, Oprah Winfrey making a guest appearance on "Colonial House" on PBS, and the allowance of private concessions vendors in the national parks (I worked with them).

With globalization we see intense competition in industrial nations and capitalism becoming Hyper-capitalism. Free trade is entering every aspect of our lives. Now, you would think religion was a hands-off affair. Not so, if you take a look at what is happening in some of our places of worship and in the relgious merchandise catalogs.

Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion by J. Carrette and Richard King deals with the corruption of the spiritual realm by very worldly aims. The authors write:

“What is being sold to us as a radical, trendy, and transformative
spirituality in fact produces little in the way of a significant change in one’s
lifestyle or fundamental behavior patterns (with the possible exception of
motivating the individual to be more efficient and productive at work). By
‘cornering the market’ on spirituality, such trends actually limit the socially
transformative dimension of the religious perspectives…”

“A religion of feel-good affluence reassures the consuming public that religion
can indeed be just another feature of the capitalist world with little or no
social challenge to offer to the world of business deals and corporate
takeovers. Spirituality is appropriated for the market instead of offering a
countervailing social force to the ethos and values of the business world.”

J. Carrette and Richard King, Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, (Routledge, 2005), pages 1, 5-6, 126.

My search for work in advertising led me to a webpage touting advertising as "a spiritual endeavor."

To get slightly off topic (off road without a map), I want to tack on something you readers might find of interest. Do you remember how advertising was once (60's - early 90's) synonymous with selling out, with slickness, with snookering the unsuspecting consumer? I came across a job announcement I dare not put a link to on this post. It said the advertising position required "honest and integrity." The times have changed.

Thanks to Aaron Ghiloni for the book quotes.

Thanks to and (seller) for the photo of the Buddha for $49.95.

Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Monday, July 7, 2008

Curses on Censorship

Here's a promising article that should give the on-line community some platform shoes, so we can walk a little taller. It's just another step in making information free and accessible everywhere.

Director of technical research Nart Villeneuve, for example, went to Kyrgyzstan last year just before a controversial general election in February, when internet sites for opposition newspapers were being shut down.

"Eventually we decided to host some of the sites here so that we could document the extent of the denial of service attack and track where it was coming from," he said.

Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Quote of the Week

Reality doesn't always look like the map.

I said that. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Health Care Bennies of the Near Future

In the not so distant future...

at a health care company

Applicant: Do you provide health benefits?
Manager: Oh yes, see for yourself. [opens a first aid kit and shows bandaids, snake anti-venom, iodine, Ace bandages, and syrup of Ipecac]. And the co-pays are reasonable Bandaids are a quarter. Gauze pads are 75 cents. Splints are $4. If you ask for anti-smoking advice, it's $10. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo