Monday, April 20, 2015


I love Saul Steinberg's drawing of "Frozen Music Found Near Radio City Music Hall, Winter 1939"

For thousands of years,  philosophers have struggled for an aesthetic theory of music.  Platonic theorists argue that musical works are abstract objects, while Nominalist thinkers  claim music is a collection of  concrete particulars.   Scholars  fiercely debate the "ontology of music"--  are drawings "physical objects"  while music is an abstraction  allowing for "multiple instantations"?    How do "harmony" and "composition" in music relate to harmony and composition in the visual arts? 

Steinberg sidesteps these kinds of semantic debates by showing us the day when music froze in mid-air:


Bill Watterson, in his excellent new book,  Exploring Calvin and Hobbes, said:
I love the unpretentiousness of cartoons.  If you sat down and wrote a two hundred page book called My Big Thoughts on Life, no one would read it. But if you stick those same thoughts in a comic strip and wrap them in a little joke that takes five seconds to read, now you're talking to millions.

Steinberg looked at layer upon layer of dense philosophical analysis, as impenetrable as coal under pressure, and picked out this little diamond-- clear, light and funny.

Friday, April 10, 2015


On a recent trip to Disney World I was impressed by the way Disney has adapted state of the art digital technologies for a new generation of rides and events.  Everywhere I turned there were flashing video screens and interactive robotics and music and bustling activity.

Then I unexpectedly stumbled across a quiet and nearly empty building where I had the most interesting experience of my visit: a beautiful exhibition of original background drawings and paintings from Disney's classic films.  This art exhibit, entitled "Setting the Scene," will be on display until approximately 2019. 

From Fantasia's pastoral sequenceAll images copyright Walt Disney

The show contains a rich array of paintings from movies such as Fantasia, Pinocchio, Snow White and many others.  Here you can see the fertile imaginations of the founding fathers (and mothers) at the dawn of animation.

From Sleeping Beauty

The exhibition was assembled by the Walt Disney Animation Research Library in conjunction with Walt Disney Imagineering/Florida.  It provides a good sense for the massive treasure trove of talent that made Disney what it is today.


I strongly recommend this exhibition to anyone who makes it down to Disney World.  It won't be crowded and it's worth careful study.

Disney reports it has begun curating additional exhibitions that will get its art our of the vaults and in front of appreciative audiences.  "We are currently curating two original exhibitions, one that will open this year in China entitled, Drawn from Life and a second one that will open in Europe."  Disney also plans to release several books in 2015 and 2016 making use of art from the archives.

A few of the masterpieces in the exhibition are attributed to specific artists such as Gustaf Tenggren but as Disney reports,
In the early days of the Studio, artists did not sign their names as the films were seen as a highly collaborative experience, so we can only identify those pieces as having been created by a "Disney Studio Artist....In recent years, all the artwork has been signed (or digitally catalogued with the artists' names) so we can cite the artist attribution in books and exhibitions and properly recognize the very talented individuals who contribute to the films in his or her own style. 

As I left the gallery and returned to the main park, I couldn't help thinking of the ancient Egyptian temple of Karnak.

Karnak was one of the most monumental religious sites ever built.  The majestic temple grounds took more than 2,000 years to construct and included 200 acres of buildings, sacred lakes and grand courtyards.  Its "Sacred Enclosure of Amon" alone is 61 acres, big enough to hold ten European cathedrals.  Robed priests conducted torchlight processions along a 2.5 kilometer avenue lined with a thousand ram-headed sphinxes.

But in the beginning Karnak was only a small spot in the desert where a few people with vision saw something holy.  The first structure on that site was apparently a tiny reed hut but it was enough to provide a spiritual foundation for the mighty Egyptian empire that followed.  As the centuries passed, engineers, builders and armies arrived at the site and built outward from that first sacred spot, the "Holy of Holies,"

The handful of visionaries who put pencil to paper back in the days of Snow White and Pinocchio, they provided the spiritual foundation for the Disney empire.  These small, imaginative paintings can be found in Disney's Hollywood Studio Theme Park.  They didn't attract long lines of visitors like the tumultuous Toy Story Midway Mania 4D ride, but they deserve your close attention, for they are the Holy of Holies. 

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


This is how Jeff Koons (really and truly) explains his work of art, above:

This painting has a sexualized sense of nature.  There's reference to nineteenth-century French painting, and Courbet, and to Louis Elishemius, a twentieth-century American who has absolutely influenced me over the last couple of years.  There's also a reflective silver line drawing that's what I think would be Cy Twombley's take on Courbet's Origin of the World-- but a little more primal.  The image itself comes from a close-up of a couple in the act of making love.  It's a penetration.  Laid on top of that, with the exact same cropping, is an image of a waterfall.  So you have the greens and the nature colors and then in the center of the waterfall, you have white and the flesh of the couple.  It makes reference to Marcel Duchamp's Etant Donnes.  Sexuality is something that overtakes you.  The gesture that you end up making in the world happens through instinct and all these desires for procreation.  The most beautiful aesthetics, the greatest beauty, is the acceptance of nature and of how things function.  When I say beauty,  I mean just true reality and openness to everything.