Arnold Schönberg: Playing Cards

Arnold Schönberg: Playing Cards. I love those designs.

This facsimile edition of playing cards painted by the composer Arnold Schönberg in c.1910 was published by Belmont Music Publishers in 1981 and produced by Ferd Piatnik (Vienna), with a preface by the composer’s daughter, Nuria Schoenberg-Nono. The original cards were made in watercolours and gouache on cardboard with gold and silver, size: 10.5 by 5.5 cm. No reverse has been found for the cards so a coloured pattern painted in one of his diaries was used.

Filed under: not just a composer.

Art Moments

When the portraits of the Obamas were revealed today, I mentioned that seeing Kehinde Wiley‘s work was one of the big Art Moments in my life. I started thinking about a few other peak experiences and wanted to jot’em down.

First, Wiley. I saw an exhibition in Phoenix, and just drooled. I love the large painted portraits, but it was the stained glass that really won me over:

The first time I ever saw Out of the Past, I almost couldn’t believe it was happening. At that moment, it was a pinnacle combination of zippy script, glamour, camerawork, noir, tragedy. Just dumbfounded and grateful that I’d found it.

As a teen I got kinda lost in the Louvre and then I came around some the corner, I saw Winged Victory, and I couldn’t move. When the spell wore off a little bit, I didn’t want to leave.

In college I went to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra play Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with a buddy of mine. At this point it was one of my favorite works for orchestra, one I’d listened to a million times, and I lucked into one of those edge-of-your-seat performances where everyone was locked in. It’s all great and then we come to the close of the third movement, just a few minutes remaining, where the pianist is racing through a closing bit of fireworks (32:18 or so), and where there’s a pause (32:33) – it’s just a second, but at this point we’re just dying to hear the orchestra re-enter – we can hear the pianist and the composer both take a deep breath and lunge into action and boooooom we’re back with timpani and strings and big chunky chords and we’re all losing our minds. Lordy.

Lastly (for now) I went to Chicago a few years back and wandered around the Art Institute. I had some time to kill so I figured why not wander to the bottom floor and see about that Ethel Stein exhibit they had tucked away. I’d seen plenty of woven stuff before but this was one that made me really appreciate how high the ceiling can be.

I know I’m missing a bunch, and that’s fine. These are the ones that stick out for now. Here’s to many more.

Look what I made: a MacBook Air sleeve

Meant to post this a couple months ago. I was commissioned by a friend. After a couple experiments with scotch tape and newspaper, I laid out the hide and got to work:
New project

Then I spent roughly 900 hours punching holes and sewing:

MacBook Air envelope, before

Not too shabby.

MacBook Air envelope, before

My hindsight hunch is that I should have reinforced this better. Time will tell:

MacBook Air envelope, before

Dyed and ready for action:

MacBook Air envelope, after

Fits the 13-inch model like a dream. Other things I’ve made: a super-simple wallet, a leather tray.

Favorite movies of 2011

I watched a lot of movies last year, 82 if my count is right. I re-watched some favorites (Out of the Past, Alien, Back to the Future), but I kept these monthly selections focused on new-to-me stuff. Out of all of them, I think Winter’s Bone and Apocalypto were really amazing movies that you’d be a fool to miss. All the links go to my tumblr, where you’ll find whatever brief or sometimes rambling commentary I had in mind after watching. Right now I’m too lazy to get images like I did for my favorite albums of 2011. So here’s the quick text-only run-down, mostly to give you an encouraging nudge if you get the chance to see them:
The American

Double Indemnity
The Virgin Suicides
Force of Evil

High Noon
Winter’s Bone

Some Like It Hot
The Social Network

Shotgun Stories
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

127 Hours, by default.

Days of Heaven

3:10 to Yuma
The Last Days of Disco

The Seventh Seal
Ivan’s Childhood

Mystic River
Scarface (1932)

Martha Marcy May Marlene

The Purple Rose of Cairo
The Artist

The best art in Tokyo and nearby

I visited a bunch of galleries when I was on vacation and wrote down and/or drew all that I found especially memorable. (Side note: the combination of not being able to take photos in museums + not being able to find the artwork online is absolutely maddening.) Here’s some highlights…
National Museum of Western Art
Bonus anecdote: on the walk through Ueno Park on the way to the National Museum of Western Art, there was a contact juggler busking outside. His soundtrack was a jazz-lite Japanese flute cover of John Denver’s “Country Roads”. On my first morning in town, this was a welcome dose of home.

Orpheus and the Maenads – Auguste Rodin

Orpheus and the Maenads - Rodin

Fugit Amor – Auguste Rodin

Fugit Amor - Rodin

Diptych: Christ Crowned with Thorns/Mater Dolorosa – (workshop of) Dirk Bouts

Christ Crowned with Thorns - BoutsMater Dolorosa - Bouts

Gypsy in Reflection – Gustave Courbet

Gypsy in Reflection - Courbet

Beach of Trouville – Eugène Boudin

Beach of Trouville - Boudin

Tokyo National Museum
I couldn’t take (decent) photos of some of these, and the website is fairly useless for finding images. In any case, I’d never been much for the whispy suggestive evanescent Japanese tapestry “thing”, but these went a long way to changing my mind. There really is no substitute for standing in front of a piece of art.

I really liked this one landscape by Unkoku Togan:

Landscape by Unkoku Togan

There was also an amazingly simple watercolor of an Ox by Maruyama Okyo. Kind of like ensō in its simplicity.

Ox by Maruyana Okyo

In the town of Kamakura
The Great Buddha at Kōtoku-in Temple was so much better than I expected. Wow.

Buddha in Kamakura

In the Odawara Castle museum I got caught with my camera out. Ach! I really, really, really wish I’d gotten a picture of this one incredible painting by Okamoto Shuki. It had a peacock and some fish painted on four large cedar panels slightly smaller than doors. Incredible stuff:

Painting on Four Cedar Panels by Okamoto Shuki

In the Hakone Open-air Museum
Besides the landscaping, gardens, and outdoor sculpture, there’s also a whole building dedicated to stuff by Picasso. Who knew he did pottery?

I haven’t seen them anywhere online, but he did a series of 18 portraits of his wife Jacqueline, each slightly different in medium and execution. Awesome to see them lined up side by side on the gallery walls. I also liked his “Man with the Striped Shirt”:

Man with the Striped Shirt - Picasso

Another nice surprise in the Picasso wing was a ton of photography of Picasso taken by David Douglas Duncan. You can see a bunch of Duncan’s Picasso photos at the Harry Ransom Center (where else?). Well worth your time.

Picasso & Jacqueline - David Douglas Duncan

Lastly, Kyoji Takubo made a really cool obelisk, presumably one of more than one, that I haven’t been able to find anywhere. If I drew it it would just look like a stick, but rest assured it was cool.

Lesson Learned
I went to a handful of other galleries and museums besides these. The lasting lesson of seeing so much good stuff is that it made me want to acquire more of my own. I’ve already gotten started. What I’d really love is to have a giant chunk of marble or metal sculpture in my house… One fine day.

Newspaper blackout gratuitous unboxing

As a long-time reader and would-be patron of Austin Kleon and his blackout poems, I was glad to see his work featured on Jen Bekman’s 20×200. I bought How It Works last week. This afternoon I came home and saw that I had received a parcel.
I've got mail

I made my way inside for a better camera and a better view of its labeled glory.


The envelope, constructed of a firm cardboard, features a well-designed exhortation to avoid bending it. One can open it by pulling a strip along the top edge of the reverse side.

Method for to open

Inside, in between two protective boards is a plastic sleeve containing 1) a certificate of authenticity with the artist’s signature and 2) a short document with bio, statement, and information about the print and 3) the print in question.


Aforementioned print uses archival pigment inks on 100% cotton rag paper with a matte finish, and will look rather fetching when I find a frame (Austin recommends this one):

I bought art

I love this post about measuring whether an artist is under- or over-valued. The method is pretty cool, basically comparing the Human Accomplishment ranking and the available Amazon music inventory, and making a rough P/E ratio. This post focuses on notable composers and it looks like Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque composers get shorted, while late Romantics (especially opera dudes) get more hype than they deserve. And you see the same sort of bias in the season programming of most major orchestras.
Anyway, two cool things this brings to mind. One, I like this idea of bubbles in culture. Reminds me of the vast difference in New York Times coverage of conflicts in Darfur vs. the Congo, though one area has been about 10 times as deadly. There are all kinds of interesting feedback loops that affect how we perceive and respond to our world. And two, realizing that there’s so much rough-and-ready data out there that we’ve unwittingly created, just waiting to be mined.

Stravinsky on remix and love

igor stravinskyIgor Stravinsky (↑, one of my favorite composers) is probably best known for his collaboration with Serge Diaghilev on the The Rite of Spring ballet and its scandalous premiere. But a few years after that, with Diaghilev’s prodding, he brought out another ballet score with older, more conservative roots, Pulcinella.

What made Pulcinella different was that Stravinsky took most of the music from lesser-known classical-era composers like Pergolesi, Gallo, Monza, et al. “It was a backward glance, of course, but it was a look in the mirror, too.” Stravinsky took whole melodies and bass lines from the old stuff, and within that framework he rejiggered the harmonies, rhythms, and orchestration.

I began by composing on the Pergolesi manuscripts themselves, as though I were correcting an old work of my own. I knew that I could not produce a ‘forgery’ of Pergolesi because my motor habits are so different; at best, I could repeat him in my own accent.

The reception of the new work wasn’t all positive…

I was… attacked for being a pasticheur, chided for composing ‘simple’ music, blamed for deserting ‘modernism,’ accused of renouncing my ‘true Russian heritage.’ People who had never heard of, or cared about, the originals cried ‘sacrilege’: “The classics are ours. Leave the classics alone.”

… but he had his reasons…

To them all my answer was and is the same: You “respect,” but I love.

From an interview with Lynda Barry:

There isn’t much of a difference in the experience of painting a picture, writing a novel, making a comic strip, reading a poem or listening to a song. The containers are different, but the lively thing at the center is what I’m interested in.

[via austin kleon]

Is it Art?, an essay on videogames.

A common criticism of video games made by non-gamers is that they are pointless and escapist, but a more valid observation might be that the bulk of games are nowhere near escapist enough. A persuasive recent essay by the games theorist Steven Poole made the strong argument that the majority of games offer a model of play which is oppressively close to work.

One day backstage in the ’30s, Larry, Shemp, and Moe were playing cards. Shemp accused Larry of cheating. After a heated argument, Shemp reached over and stuck his fingers in Larry’s eyes. Moe, watching, thought it was hilarious … and that’s how the famous poke-in-the-eyes routine was born.

The origin of the Three Stooges. [via marginal revolution]