Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Friday Night Smoke on What is this weird plastic thing?
6000 on Strange London buses
Brian Micklethwait on Strange London buses
6000 on Strange London buses
BQV on Adverts for small and cheap drones
Darren on Ancient carved god spied in modern London
6000 on What are those things on her hands?
Natalie Solent on What are those things on her hands?
Brian Micklethwait on Ancient carved god spied in modern London
Natalie Solent on Ancient carved god spied in modern London
Most recent entries
- An interesting front page story
- What is this weird plastic thing?
- The view from outside Waterloo Station
- Goodbye KP?
- Strange London buses
- Seaside muralist
- How Centre Point is looking just now
- Another horizontal advert for an only slightly more expensive drone
- First test against NZ – first day
- Blue sky
- Adverts for small and cheap drones
- High hair
- Hungerford Footbridges photographers
Other Blogs I write for
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Boatang & Demetriou
Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Coffee & Complexity
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Deleted by tomorrow
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
Dr Robert Lefever
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
Freedom and Whisky
From The Barrel of a Gun
Gates of Vienna
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
Guido Fawkes' blog
Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Jeffrey Archer's Official Blog
Jessica Duchen's classical music blog
Laissez Faire Books
Last of the Few
Libertarian Alliance: Blog
Liberty Dad - a World Without Dictators
Lib on the United Kingdom
Little Man, What Now?
Loic Le Meur Blog
L'Ombre de l'Olivier
London Daily Photo
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal
More Than Mind Games
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism
My Boyfriend Is A Twat
My Other Stuff
Nation of Shopkeepers
Never Trust a Hippy
Non Diet Weight Loss
Nurses for Reform blog
Obnoxio The Clown
On an Overgrown Path
One Man & His Blog
Owlthoughts of a peripatetic pedant
Oxford Libertarian Society /blog
Patri's Peripatetic Peregrinations
Police Inspector Blog
Private Sector Development blog
Remember I'm the Bloody Architect
Setting The World To Rights
SimonHewittJones.com The Violin Blog
Sky Watching My World
Social Affairs Unit
Squander Two Blog
Stuff White People Like
Stumbling and Mumbling
Technology Liberation Front
The Adam Smith Institute Blog
The Becker-Posner Blog
The Belgravia Dispatch
The Belmont Club
The Big Blog Company
The Big Picture
the blog of dave cole
The Corridor of Uncertainty (a Cricket blog)
The Daily Ablution
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Kitchen
The Dissident Frogman
The Distributed Republic
The Early Days of a Better Nation
The Examined Life
The Fly Bottle
The Freeway to Serfdom
The Future of Music
The Happiness Project
The Jarndyce Blog
The London Fog
The Long Tail
The Lumber Room
The Online Photographer
The Only Winning Move
The Policeman's Blog
The Road to Surfdom
The Wedding Photography Blog
The Welfare State We're In
UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog
UK Libertarian Party
Violins and Starships
we make money not art
What Do I Know?
What's Up With That?
Where the grass is greener
White Sun of the Desert
Why Evolution Is True
Your Freedom and Ours
Arts & Letters Daily
Bjørn Stærk's homepage
Butterflies and Wheels
Dark Roasted Blend
Digital Photography Review
Ghana Centre for Democratic Reform
Global Warming and the Climate
History According to Bob
Institut économique Molinari
Institute of Economic Affairs
Ludwig von Mises Institute
Oxford Libertarian Society
The Christopher Hitchens Web
The Space Review
The TaxPayers' Alliance
This is Local London
UK Libertarian Party
Victor Davis Hanson
WSJ.com Opinion Journal
Bits from books
Bloggers and blogging
Brian Micklethwait podcasts
Cats and kittens
Food and drink
How the mind works
Media and journalism
Middle East and Islam
My blog ruins
Signs and notices
The Micklethwait Clock
This and that
Category archive: How the mind works
After an hour in the first test against New Zealand, England are now 30 for 4. This is exactly the sort of start the England bosses did not want, because it will amplify the clamour for the return of Kevin Petersen.
Here’s Ed: “Oh dear, an inevitably miserable summer for English cricket has now commenced ... and can already hear the plaintive cries of ‘KP, blah blah, must bring KP back ... blah, blah ... it’s SCANDALOUS, KP, blah blah, he’s box-office, you know ...’”
Well, you can see which side “Ed” is on. As for me, well, I want cricket to be entertaining and diverting. Whatever England do or do not manage this summer, first against New Zealand, and then against Australia, it will certainly be entertaining and diverting. If England win, hurrah! If they lose, then there will be all the “KP, blah blah” that Ed refers to. Sport is, among other things, soap opera, and it promises to be hugely soapy and operatic this summer, because England now look like doing very badly.
My main opinion about English cricket just now is, as it has long been, that the people running it seem to imagine that the I(ndian) P(remier) L(eague), now nearing its climax for this year, is “just another T20 slogfest”, when in truth it is the Indian T20 slogfest, which means that you can earn more money playing in it than in the rest of your year as a cricketer. Something like that anyway. It’s a lot of money, especially if you are really good at it. And money talks. Money says that the world’s best players now all want to play in the IPL, and that they will not want to play stupid test matches in England against England.
I will never forget the first day of a recent England/WI series, in England, in mid-may, when Gayle scored a terrific century. But, not a terrific century for the West Indies against England, a terrific century for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. I also distinctly remember blogging about this at the time, on the day, but cannot find anything by me about this.
Yes I can. Here:
I remember very little about that meaningless test series in England, but I do remember that on the first day of it, Chris Gayle scored a brilliant century. I watched this brilliant century on my television. But Gayle did not score this brilliant century for the West Indies, against England. He scored it for the Bangalore Royal Challengers.
You would think that the ECB would have got the message. How soon before cricket fandom everywhere just hoots with derision at these “test matches” in the sodden and frigid English spring? Such tests test nobody except the out-of-their depth second-stringers sucked into them. With the star players of the touring side missing, these tests mean very little. Sport is all about meaning. Drain the meaning from a game, and the thing is dead in the water. Literally in the water, if you are playing in England, in May, and you don’t get lucky.
So, memory does not deceive.
Well, it would seem that England still have the trick of enticing the best New Zealanders to come and play test matches in England, in mid-May. That is, the NZ cricket bosses are still able to insist that their IPL-ers come to England, in the nick of time. But this still isn’t satisfactory. I will be interested to see, when I watch the highlights of day one this evening on the telly, how big the crowd is.
England, at lunch, are now somewhat less soapy and less operatic 113 for 4, after the beginnings of a decent stand between Root and Stokes. But still very iffy.
Here is a picture I took in 2005 of Kevin Pietersen and Shane Warne, which I spotted at Waterloo Station in June of that year (it’s not one of those pictures):
Having had lunch, England are now 182 for 4, and the big stand by Root and Stokes is getting bigger and bigger. Stokes is really stepping on it. Hurrah! If England end up with a decent score, the KP clamour will fade.
And, happy coincidence, my other team, Surrey, are also right now enjoying a century stand for the fifth wicket, this time by Sanga and Roy. Roy is really stepping on it.
MOMENTS LATER: Stokes out, Sanga out, withing seconds of each other. Not so happy.
A few months back my computer got a going over from The Guru, and I immediately started receiving more internet advertising than hitherto. At first this continued because I merely didn’t know how to stop it. But now, I find myself interested by this advertising.
I like old-school advertising, the sort that has no idea who you are or what you like, not even a bad idea. I learn from old-school advertising how the world in general is feeling about things, which is interesting and amusing information. (This is, for me, one of the pleasures of walking about in London. (Soon this pleasure may also vanish, because of embedded spy cameras. Soon, I may find myself looking at adverts for classical CDs and history books (and drones – see the rest of this), whenever I walk past a billboard).)
But I am now starting to enjoy new-school, internet advertising, where your most trifling internetted thought results in adverts appearing a little while later, for related (or so the internet thinks) products. Sometimes, it’s just crass, like a salesman barging into a conversation at a party and changing it. Fuck off jerk. But I am starting to enjoy this sort of advertising, sometimes.
As you can see from this picture, this drone is very small. It is also very cheap. But does it have a camera on it? Could you even attach a camera to it, or would that make it too heavy and crash it?
The last drone posting here was about a drone noticed by 6k that costs $529 dollars. But the above drone costs a mere £13.78. It is as cheap as that partly because you get it in the form of a kit rather than completed. But there must surely be a factory in China where people are paid 10p a go to assemble such things. I could surely buy a completed Eachine Q200 40g Carbon Fiber FPV Quadcopter Multicopter if I wanted to, rather than have to make do with an Eachine Q200 40g Carbon Fiber FPV Quadcopter Multicopter Frame Kit.
Kit or completely, I have no intention whatsoever of buying such a thing any time soon.
I can’t help thinking what gadgets like this, so small, so cheap, will do to photography, in a place like London.
A lot of what this blog is about is the texture of everyday life, and how that is changing. (I mean things like down-market computer stuff and smartphones and CDs. And advertising, see above.) Well, these drones are not yet a Big Thing about which old-school moany newspaper articles are being written about how the twentieth century was better, blah blah. But, they soon will be.
If I ever do get a drone to take photos, you may be sure that I will make a point of photoing the other drones. Although that’s assuming I’d be able to make something like a drone actually work, and I now assume the opposite. Maybe I will compromise, and photo all the drones I see from the ground. So far, I have only seen drones for real in shop windows. But give it a couple of years …
And oh look, the mere fact of me working on this posting, embedding links into it, caused another advert to present itself to me (for this only slightly more expensive drone (and this one you don’t have to assemble yourself (it’s like it read my mind!))), when I switched to reading something Instapundit had linked to. The advert has vanished now and been replaced by something for Walt Disney (?), but I screen-captured it before it went:
Adverts at blogs are a rich source of horizontality, I find.
Goddaughter 2 recently suggested I read this. I now suggest that you read it:
In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.
You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet. You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant. You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can’t take a shower until it’s your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower. Two weeks wondering what happens when you die. One minute realizing your body is falling. Seventy-seven hours of confusion. One hour realizing you’ve forgotten someone’s name. Three weeks realizing you are wrong. Two days lying. Six weeks waiting for a green light. Seven hours vomiting. Fourteen minutes experiencing pure joy. Three months doing laundry. Fifteen hours writing your signature. Two days tying shoelaces. Sixty-seven days of heartbreak. Five weeks driving lost. Three days calculating restaurant tips. Fifty-one days deciding what to wear. Nine days pretending you know what is being talked about. Two weeks counting money. Eighteen days staring into the refrigerator. Thirty-four days longing. Six months watching commercials. Four weeks sitting in thought, wondering if there is something better you could be doing with your time. Three years swallowing food. Five days working buttons and zippers. Four minutes wondering what your life would be like if you reshuffled the order of events. In this part of the afterlife, you imagine something analogous to your Earthly life, and the thought is blissful: a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces, where moments do not endure, where one experiences the joy of jumping from one event to the next like a child hopping from spot to spot on the burning sand.
This is from Sum, by David Eagleman, which is subtitled “Forty tales from the afterlives”, the above being the first of them, also entitled “Sum”.
I sum- (hah!) -marised this tale as best I could to another friend, who immediately got the point that Eagleman makes at the end, that the mere fact of the variety of life becomes a source of joy, if you compare it with a life from which variety has been drained away. This alone turns humdrumness into hell, and contemplating that hell turns the humdrumness into a kind of heaven.
Count your blessings, but not the same blessings all at the same time.
Okay, this quote is from Chapter One, “A Universal Language?”, of The Story of English: How the English Language Conquered the World by Philip Gooden (pp. 11-12):
English is the closest the world has yet come to a universal language, at least in the sense that even those who cannot speak it - admittedly, the large majority of the world’s population - are likely to be familiar with the odd English expression. One term that is genuinely global as well as genuinely odd is OK (or O.K. or okay), originating in America in the 19th century. An astonishingly adaptable word, it works as almost any part of speech from noun to verb, adjective to adverb, though often just as a conversation-filler - ‘OK, what are we going to do now?’ Depending on the tone of voice, OK can convey anything from fervent agreement to basic accquiescence. It may be appropriate that such a truly universal term has no generally agreed source. Attempts to explain where it came from don’t so much show variety as a high degree of imaginative curiosity. So, OK is created from the initials of a deliberate misspelling, oll korreket, or from a campaign slogan for a would-be US president in the 1840s who was known as Old Kinderhook because he came from Kinderhook in New York State. Or it is a version of a word imported from Finland or Haiti, or possibly one borrowed from the Choctaw Indians. Or it is older than originally thought and derives from West African expressions like o-ke or waw-ke. Enough explanations, OK?
One of my happier fancies here at this blog has been a category of photos called: I just like it! And I just like this:
The point being that the sort of things that I write about here, and investigate, and then photograph very purposefully and self-consciously, often begin just as things that I like. When I trawl through the photo-archives, I find things that I thought I only started noticing quite recently cropping up casually, years back.
So, what do I like about the above picture? It certainly isn’t how well those leaves have come out. (Although in my opinion out-of-control light in a photo at least tells you that it was very sunny.) Do I think the RSC is GENIUS? Only a bit. No, I think what I like is the way that the advert is about as pompous as it is possible for an advert to be, yet life goes on right next to it and indifferent to it. Or maybe not. Maybe something else completely.
It’s the top of one of those open top double-decker buses, by the way. And below that, the advert is for a show called Matilda.
I wonder if me posting this will help:
And when I say “if me posting this will help”, what I mean is: if me posting this will help me. To take an informed interest in all this stuff, and then to start doing it.
All this stuff being:
That being a link to the posting at Quotulatiousness, in the heading of which those words are to be found, and where I found the above graphic. Mr Quotulatiousness found the graphic here.
I have tended to own cameras from which, had I understood all this stuff, I might have got the occasional much better result. However, the only reasons I owned such clever cameras was that I wanted lots of zoom and a twiddly screen. With all that, they have tended also to be very clever. But I have treated all of them as brainless point-and-shoot cameras. All my thinking has gone into the matter of what I have pointed at and shot at.
Goddaughter One once tried to give me a lesson in all this stuff. Well, correction, she did give me a lesson in all this stuff. But it didn’t stick, at all. One of the categories below is one of my favourites: how the mind works. But perhaps this posting would be better labelled as: how the mind doesn’t work.
It’s the BT Tower, reflected in that big shiny building known catchily as 250 Euston Road, photoed last Friday, from outside Warren Street tube station. Who says modern architecture is faceless?
I say it looks like an ancient carved god, but I can’t find, on the internet, any image that confirms this similarity which I know that I see, or remember. Anyone? The last time I said that, yesterday, in the previous posting here, I got the answer straight away.
I am working on a quite big and unwieldy architecture posting just now, but this probably won’t be ready to go any time today, or even soon, so I’ll instead write a little essay on a related matter. Which is: Why I feel more comfortable writing about architecture, of the contemporary and hence controversial sort, than I do about contemporary interior design. The contrast between how fascinated I am by the architectural stuff (this is the posting that got me going with the architectural posting that I am now working on) at one of my favourite internet sites, Dezeen, and the indifference I feel concerning Dezeenery about interior matters, is becoming ever more extreme. I mean, designer X has designed a chair. And what does it look like? It looks like a chair. Hoo ray.
It’s not that I dislike or oppose interior design. It’s just that I feel that what I feel about it, or for that matter what anybody else feels about it, is of no public significance. We can all just pick whatever interior designs and objects appeal to us, and let others do the same. Interior design is not a political problem. There is therefore nothing vitally important to be said about it. Why argue, when there is no need to argue?
If you are one of those people who likes to tease out why you feel the way you do, about everything in general and interior design in particular, fine. Blog away about wallpaper, tea kettles, tables, chairs, standard lamps, stoves and suchlike, all you like. You’ll surely find plenty of readers, probably a great many more than I have. You certainly will if you specialise, as I do not. I write about such things myself, from time to time, when the mood takes me.
But on the whole, it tends not to. When the answer the question is: each to his own, and when that answer basically takes care of it, I generally don’t feel like adding very much.
You could say that this mood, of insignificant self-scrutiny, is upon me right now. After all, who cares what I put on my blog? If you don’t like it, don’t read it, problem solved. Choosing a blog to read is like choosing a chair. Nobody else need be consulted, or imposed upon.
But architecture is different. We can’t each step outside into a city like London and each have exactly the London that we want. If I am to have those new Big Things that I like so much, you also have to put up with them, even if you hate them. It therefore feels right to me to be explaining, to the entire world (even if most of the world pays no attention), just what it is about these Big Things that I like so much. It makes sense for me to say (even if I haven’t done much of this lately) why I came to hate most modernistical architecture when I was in my twenties, and why I think that modernistical architecture has improved so very, very much since that time, at any rate in the places I mostly walk about in and see in photos.
For the same reason, it also makes sense, to me, for me to be celebrating roof clutter, cranes, this or that piece of public or semi-public sculpture, these or those public signs. It is because these are public issues. Political issues, even. Definitely political, in the case of those signs I just linked to. Things like these have positive (mostly, in my case) or negative (perhaps in yours) externalities attached to them.
Actually, it is most unlikely that you hate all the publicly obtrusive things that I love, because you wouldn’t want to be reading such opinions, day after day. But, you get my point.
As mentioned earlier this week, and as is in any case very obvious, I depend heavily on good light for my photography.
And I particularly like light where there is plenty of it, but also dark clouds in other parts of the sky.
As in this one, taken last Thursday in Tottenham Court Road:
I particularly like that scaffolding shadow effect that you sometimes get, but usually after dark with artificial light from inside the building site.
Photography days with me often happen when I am basically out and about for some other purpose, but am struck by a particularly striking sight, which demands to be photoed. And then (because I always have my camera with me) I am off. The above photo was one such. I distinctly remember taking it. And then I spent the next two hours snapping, which had not been the original plan at all.
I have, of course, included a couple of feline photos, what with today being Friday. But, knowing what we do of animals, most of us would probably reckon that only the monkey really has any clue about what is going on, and he only in the sense of perhaps suspecting that this is a thing that makes a picture on itself of what it sees. None of them really get it, and most of them have no idea at all. It’s just a peculiar thing.
But, of course, they all look as if they are taking photos, if you want to believe this.
What makes them all look like real photographers is their total and totally unselfconscious concentration on what they are looking at and doing, with no thought of the fact that they are themselves being looked at. This they all do share with real human photographers.
Another day another Dezeen posting, about some modernistical architecture, surrounded by The Wires:
But this time around, guess what. Do I believe my eyes. I must. For what they are telling me is that, in among this posting’s accommpanying verbiage, is to be found … this:
The gridded monochrome glass facade that wraps around the upper levels was conceived as a contrast to the “chaotic” urban area and criss-crossing electrical wires that surround the site, and features one raised corner covered in dark-tinted glass.
Yes, those “criss-crossing electrical wires” are acknowledged to exist. Amazing.
The Wires are mentioned, because the architects themselves mention them:
“The area where the building is set is highly chaotic in terms of architectural typologies, textures and colours, so it was therefore chosen to generate a building that would constitute itself as the order within the neighbourhood’s chaos,” explained the architects.
This is architect speak for:
We are going to build the exact same modernistical erection that we would have built had The Wires not been there. Screw The Wires! Yes, The Wires are there. But we will build as if The Wires were not there. The Wires have no power over us! The Wires, we spit on you with our modernism!
That’s the spirit. Unless it isn’t, and they actually only noticed The Wires after they had built the thing.
The point is, whether they see The Wires or they ignore The Wires, The Wires make no difference!
I find writing about music very difficult, because … why bother? I like what I like and you like what you like. Either this is a music blog, in which case we can all agree about how right I am to like the music which I like (which you like also), or it is not. And, it is not.
Nevertheless, here is a blog posting which is sort of about music, except that really it is about how the mind works, which this blog is often about.
On Saturday morning, I was woken by my alarm clock to make sure that I started the recorder on my radio to record CD Review, which I duly did, very dozily. I then, dozily, heard the announcer telling me that I was about to listen to Beethoven’s First Symphony, first movement, and I duly listened.
Beethoven’s First Symphony has a very particular start which is, if you know the piece, instantly recognisable. However, I have not known it, in the sense of hearing it and knowing with certainty that this was Beethoven’s First Symphony, until last Saturday morning. I could recognise the tune and hum and conduct along with it, but I was unable to tell you which piece it was with complete confidence, the way I could and can with all Beethoven symphonies from Third to Ninth. I might well have guessed it right, but it would still have been a guess. But this time, I am pretty sure that hearing that very recognisable opening of Beethoven’s First together with being told immediately before it began that this was what it was may actually have stuck in my head, as a twinned pair of facts.
This was because I was half awake, but not fully awake, I think. I was, I surmise, in a highly “suggestible” state. I think that’s the word the psychologists use.
The reason that all of this matters to me is that, as I get older, I find that getting to “know” a piece of music, as in: going from knowing it as a piece of music to knowing it as a piece of music and also being able to identify it, going from knowing it to knowing what it is, is becoming a rather rare experience. There is lots of music that I know in the sense of being able to hum along with it and of knowing approximately what is about to happen next, but as the decades roll by, I still can’t identify these pieces. The pieces I got to know well when I was young are like a fixed catalogue of pieces I know and can identify, rather than something that is expanding steadily. The catalogue is only expanding very slowly.
You may say: But merely knowing or not knowing the mere label of something is rather a superficial matter. Well yes, that may be. But I don’t think knowing the label of a piece of music prevents me from getting to know it more in all the deeper and more meaningful senses. Rather the reverse. Knowing what the music “is” frees my mind to concentrate on all of the more interesting things about what the music “is”, as opposed to the superficiality of what its mere label is.
Three exclamation marks in the title there, because this is the third time I’ve had cause to mention this strange habit, of writing about newly designed houses (in this case a newly adapted house) where there are lots of Wires in all the outside pictures, but The Wires never get a mention.
But at least, what with this house being yellow instead of white, we see an architect thinking in colour. Soon, soon I tell you, the floodgates of architectural colour will open.
I’d been meaning to check out that big Shiny Thing outside in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, ever since Mick Hartley gave it a mention at his blog, with a photo, way back on April 8th. Earlier this week I finally got around to doing this, and I took lots of the usual photographs that you would expect me to have taken, of which these are two:
Click on the left, and that shows what this Shiny Thing is like, in its present context. I loved the Shiny Thing itself, as my picture on the right illustrates. In there I see things like Darth Vader. And, rather smaller, I think I also see a naked woman there. Also, there is something vaguely feline about this shape, with its pointing ear-like attachments. Endless photographic fun, especially with the evening light warming up the colours of the surrounding courtyard buildings.
But, I found the rest of this agglomeration rather less interesting. If the idea was to create some interesting reflections, then blander shapes next to the Shiny Thing would have worked better. As it is, the wooden pointy thing, in itself nice enough, is by comparison rather mundane and the black frame that the wooden pointy thing and the Shiny Thing are held up by is ungainly, obtrusive and, to me, when I actually saw it, downright ugly. I mean, did the creator of the equally shiny Chicago Bean feel the need to stick a lot of other crap right next to it to be reflected in it, given that there was already a city there? No he did not.
But I guess if you are Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, you feel the need to do something arbitrary. Mere Platonic symmetry doesn’t do it. A merely beautiful Shiny Thing won’t serve your purpose. It would dilute your brand. Anyone could have done that. There had to be something there which would get people saying: Why did he do that? Come to that, who the hell is he? So that they can be told that it was done by Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, and so that Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, can supply an answer about what he thought he was doing when he, Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, did what he did, like this:
The contrasting materials employed in the sculpture, the natural wood against the highly finished metal, the differing treatments of space in the line-drawn star and the round curves of the solid star, create a tension and sense of the works being both repelled and attracted to each other at a fixed distance by an invisible force field.
Maybe if I go back and take some more snaps of this Shiny Thing, I will decide that I find the other crap next to it not so crappy after all. The other crap certainly looks better in the shots at the other end of the link above than it did to me, on the spot. And, if it was necessary for Frank Stella Hon RA to ponder the contrasts between a wooden thing and a shiny thing and black metal stuff to get Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, to have made a very entertaining Shiny Thing, then fine. Whatever it took.
I am reading In Defence of History by Richard J. Evans. The attackers are the post-modernists. In Chapter 3 ("Historians and their facts"), Evans writes about how evidence considered insignificant in one era can become highly significant in a later era:
The traces left by the past, as Dominick LaCapra has observed, do not provide an even coverage of it. Archives are the product of the chance survival of some documents and the corresponding chance loss or deliberate destruction of others. They are also the products of the professional activities of archivists, which therefore shape the record of the past and with it the interpretations of historians. Archivists have often weeded out records they consider unimportant, while retaining those they consider of lasting value. This might mean for example destroying vast and therefore bulky personnel files on low-ranking state employees such as ordinary soldiers and seamen, manual workers and so on, while keeping room on the crowded shelves for personnel files on high state officials. Yet such a policy would reflect a view that many historians would now find outmoded, a view which considered ‘history’ only as the history of the elites. Documents which seem worthless to one age, and hence ripe for the shredder, can seem extremely valuable to another.
Let me give an example from my personal experience. During research in the Hamburg state archives in the I98os, I became aware that the police had been sending plain-clothes agents into the city’s pubs and bars during the two decades or so before the First World War to gather and later write down secret reports of what was being said in them bysocialist workers. The reports I saw were part of larger files on the various organizations to which these workers belonged. Thinking it might be interesting to look at a wider sample, I went through a typewritten list of the police files with the archivist, and among the headings we came across was one which read: ‘Worthless Reports’. Going down into the muniment room, we found under the relevant call-number a mass of over 20,000 reports which had been judged of insufficient interest by the police authorities of the day to be taken up into the thematic files where I had first encountered this material. It was only by a lucky chance that they had not already been destroyed. They turned out to contain graphic and illuminating accounts of what rank-and-file socialist workers thought about almost every conceivable issue of the day, from the Dreyfus affair in France to the state of the traffic on Hamburg’s busy streets. Nobody had ever looked at them before. Historians of the labour movement had only been interested in organization and ideology. But by the time I came to inspect them, interest had shifted to the history of everyday life, and workers’ views on the family, crime and the law, food, drink and leisure pursuits, had become significant objects of historical research. It seemed worth transcribing and publishing a selection, therefore, which I did after a couple of years’ work on them. The resulting collection showed how rank-and-file Social Democrats and labour activists often had views that cut right across the Marxist ideology in which previous historians thought the party had indoctrinated them, because previous historians had lacked the sources to go down beyond the level of official pronouncements in the way the Hamburg police reports made it possible to do. Thus from ‘worthless reports’ there emerged a useful corrective to earlier historical interpretations. This wonderful material, which had survived by chance, had to wait for discovery and exploitation until the historiographical climate had changed.