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Tom is a painter, a cartoonist, a musician, a thinker and more. View some of his web sites:
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Number of posts: 171
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By Tom Ferguson:
Abstract Expression emerged in the late 1940s, growing out of the influx of European artists fleeing fascism, and the theories they brought with them. It was the second wave of European modernism, the first not having caught on here 30 years earlier. The idea of painting “automatically”, without thinking, without plan, drawing from that part of the brain where we dream – that Surrealist notion was used by the Abstract Expressionists but they left out the dream images, they just “automatically” put paint on canvas and moved it around until it seemed like time to stop.
When Mozart was three, the story goes, he watched his father give his sister a piano lesson, after which he sat down and played it from memory. Sometimes genius shows itself early.
There is a museum in Barcelona of Picasso’s work. When he was only ten years he was painting small neighborhood scenes – a view of a road on a hill, some chickens… He was already doing several paintings a day, a pattern he maintained most of the rest of his 93 years.
Dada was an art movement which reacted to the madness of World War I. The artists were saying, in essence, if this is what rational thinking brings us, let’s try a little irrational. Scientific theories were also in the air that would soon lead to the ultimate rational achievement, the atomic bomb.
The movement was made up of artists and poets, sculptors and writers, initially in Switzerland. They would hold events where three or more poets would read different poems at once. They might disrupt symphony concerts by standing to lecture or shout nonsense. The most extreme Dada act was suicide, or even murder.
Western Artists at the turn of the 20th century were faced with an emerging modern era, which they enthusiastically embraced or scornfully dismissed. Young Picasso was an enthusiast, attracted particularly to Paul Cezanne’s paintings, which were, in part, geometric simplifications of the subject, whether a portrait or landscape. Picasso developed this to its logical conclusion, and beyond, in ways that would probably have scandalized Cezanne. This was Cubism.
honest v. integrity
When you get interested in painting you naturally look around to see what others who got this bug have done. Finding out what painters are doing in the U.S. today is like listening to rock on the radio. You have to wade through a lot of “forgettables” before you hear one that will be an “oldie” in ten years. Museums show oldies. Most of their collections have been filtered. The forgettables have been thrown out. On this painting journey you will run across an opinion that painting is dead, irrelevant, old paradigm…
controlling the present
After stating in his introduction that “history is written and marketed… to enforce existing political orthodoxy” and that “Those who control the present take great pains to control our understanding of the past.” Michael Parenti goes on to attempt to persuade the skeptical reader of the truth of those assertions. The persuasion takes the form of chapters on how those who have written history are of a certain class with predictable biases, how the victor’s narrative is often the only one available…
letter to the editor
Over the years of my political seething I have cooled myself off some by exercising an art form, the letter to the editor (LTE). I even got one in the New York Times once. Mostly though they go to Atlanta’s daily or weekly rags, or when I’m visiting Michigan, their daily. Sometimes I might browse a monthly magazine, a business-oriented one recently. They did an interview with Georgia Power’s new president and I couldn’t let him get away with his greenwashing, not when they’re engaged in a huge con, bilking the ratepayers, ignoring clean alternatives like wind and solar and building dangerous nuclear reactors.
Monday, Day One: newly merged Southwest Air/Air Tran offered the best price, $144 one way Atlanta/New York City. The sore butt that kicked in about halfway, and lingered, suggests one of the reasons – but the thrifty, I’ve learned, endure the affordable. The relief of wheels thumping good ol’ runway quickly faded, replaced by the stress of navigating around outside my current comfort zone. Once the new terrain becomes familiar, the zone expands and that’s when the fun starts.
out of ego
The French Impressionists attempted a rendering of what they saw, an “impression” yes, but the interesting aspect is best illustrated by Seurat’s Pointillism. Interesting because in the late 1800s there was a shift in emphasis among painters of an adventurous nature, what came to be called the “avant-garde,” from the “subject” depicted to the “act” of perception…
Many a late night, with my waning energy, I’ve eased into day’s end with crime fiction under my lamp. Once a friend challenged, “You read so much of the genre, why don’t you write one?” What a great idea. So I did, called it Arrival, set it in Atlanta. Raymond Chandler, the dean of the detective story, once remarked that, in order to advance the plot or produce some drama, mystery writers more often than not, wander into a territory where credibility is thin and shaky.
The 40 page section covering the Reagan Years in Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s book, The Untold History of the United States, provides enough documentation of chicanery, hypocrisy, doublespeak and sociopathy to confirm in spades those of us who were appalled at the time and to turn around all but the most dedicated Reaganites. These will flee into ever deeper depths of denial in order to keep mythology intact. So, while they stop reading, let us consider some of the disgraceful aspects and consequences of that time.
old profound being thing
A few of us borrowed a friend’s cabin up near Blue Ridge and drove up for the weekend, took the scenic route through Dalhonega, Blairsville and up 19 to 76. Something uplifting about the mountains. We navigated those winding roads slower than the traffic behind us would have preferred but it was a safe speed and very visually engaging, what with the roadside leaves gone for winter. The distant ridge lines were accessible to hungry eyes and the slopes themselves were similarly denuded, kind of raw, primeval maybe. Puts you in touch with the old profound being thing that Jung was so taken with, archetypes and all that.
a book review
Eastern Europe and Russia – When the Soviet Union dissolved it left secret police and security personnel suddenly on the outs and without paycheck. Given their skill sets, for many, criminal behavior was the logical next step. The party apparatchiks were often out of work too but some were positioned to advantage. Prior to dissolution, national resources such as oil were sold abroad and the profits fed into the soviet system, keeping it alive…
In business school there is little ambiguity as to the mission, money … profits. In art school it’s a little different. The one I went to required focus, after a year of fundamentals, on one of several options: Advertising, Illustration, Industrial Design (all, you’ll note, with the same point as business school) or Fine Art. Within the Fine Arts, by year three, one selected a major: painting, sculpture or printmaking. Of course everyone knew that “fine art” was a commodity, but it was considered crass to dwell too much on that area. So what, if not money, was the point?
The phenomenon of elderly people fixed with rapt and adoring attention on The Lawrence Welk Show used to totally baffle me. Everything about it seemed transparently fake – fake smiles, fake dialogue, fake music. The bubbles might have been real. It was like the glaring opposite of hip. But hip can be fake too, more like the opposite of authentic, or maybe anti-real. It’s not much of a leap from Lawrence Welk to Ronald Reagan.
in the same boat
In electoral politics, the establishment point of view attracts hefty campaign contributions from the, well, establishment. Conversely, and obviously, anti-establishment points of view do not. Establishment comes in suit and tie, as if to declare the area off-limits to the imagination, though politicians of the female variety, apparently for reasons of their traditional, established, status as decorative objects, are granted some leeway here, a dab of color there. Otherwise, no suit and tie?
What is the best way to arrest our skid toward extinction? How to live an ethical life? How do we advance “spiritually”? How do we create the shift necessary to avoid nuclear war, war in general, alleviate poverty, eliminate pollution and unsustainable practices? I have always been suspicious of one-sentence or one-word answers to big questions, but Eckhart Tolle’s take on these questions overcomes my skepticism…
science and religion
Reading Richard Dawkins’s memoir, An Appetite for Wonder, which I’m finding a bit boring, I’m led to question how much less interesting would an autobiography by a non-celebrity be, like the one I’m working on for example. Well, there may be some redeeming quality, say if it were very well written, or something that caught the imagination of the reader, expressing the zeitgeist or whatever …
to be or not
I looked over and the strange fact that Pamela Kheto was driving seemed perfectly normal, even though my sole contact with her in the last ten years was a brief meeting in a parking lot where she tried to recruit me for some kind of power-grab at her church. When I looked to the front I saw we were on rough terrain. I felt the bottom scraping on large boulders and finally hitting something huge that threatened to completely tie us up, the edge of a cliff actually, but our momentum carried us up and over, teetering on the edge a moment then flipping over, dropping about 20 feet.
I join these three books because of their common unveiling of who-rules-for-whose-benefit, across cultures and time. Parenti shows an ancient example, the destruction of early Roman Democracy by oligarchic forces. Chomsky illustrates the continuation of plutocracy, or elite rule, in our time, despite and in opposition to the advances of Democracy. Roy provides confirmation that this struggle is international, in this case India.
evening with bernie
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders Vermont spoke this morning (10/18/13) at a union hall in Atlanta to an enthusiastic full house. The points he made in his talk and the town hall-like Q & A, though pretty wide-ranging, highlighted a couple items: extremist republican ideologues look around and realize, hell, we can’t ask people to vote for us so we can gut social security, medicare-medicade, veterans benefits, ship U.S. jobs to China and cut taxes for the wealthy.
it could make you free
We all have one, it seems, a sister or brother-in-law who isn’t quite on the same political track. I found myself in a shouting match with mine in my Mom’s kitchen, to her consternation. It was in the Reagan 80s and we were discussing U.S. Central American policy. The term “gun-boat diplomacy” came up, him admitting that maybe in the distant past it happened but today… no. As sort of a crescendo to a rising-to-maximum rude volume he triumphantly shouted, in italics, bold, with exclamation points and in my face, “Open your eyes!!!”
When the oil tanker Exxon Valdez went aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989, releasing more than 240,000 barrels of crude into a pristine environment, there was more behind it than an alcoholic captain. Exxon had downsized 40% of its personnel in a cost-cutting spree that included safety and environmental departments. At the same time the Reagan administration had downsized the coast guard as part of its near-fanatic belief in privatization and less government. The disaster thus was worse than it might have been…
the corporate agenda
Thanks to a leak by the group, Public Citizen, we now have access to some of the contents of the next international trade agreement, The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This deal is being reviewed and commented on by 600 some corporations with the usual representation of environmental, labor and social-justice concerns – zero. This corporate wet-dream is so secret that even the few U.S. senators who’ve had a peek are not allowed to publically discuss its provisions.
it's a rip
The Georgia legislature, in its great (yawn) wisdom, saw fit to grant Georgia Power the power to charge us ratepayers in advance for two nuclear reactors. The 16 billion dollar plus reactors are under construction at Plant Vogtle on the Savannah River just south of Augusta. CWIP (Construction Work in Progress) was passed as the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act.
In testifying at the committee level many citizens argued against the proposal brought by a legislator, known technically as a lapdog.
Leaving the tiny but expensive apartment on east 90th, I walked west, glancing down the always impressive Park Avenue, making my way to the Guggenheim on 5th Avenue. A fairly short line and I was in, senior discount, $18. Normally one stands at that point in the atrium, the spiral walkway there to take you past whatever show is hanging. Or take the elevators to start at the top — the last exhibit I saw here was abstraction from the 50s, with stand-out, drop-dead DeKoonings.
The war between the states, as some prefer to call the U.S. Civil War, is what first comes to mind when I encounter George Santayana’s quip, “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.” This applies to war in general. When each new one comes along we seem to be unaware of the carnage involved and skip gaily into the glorious fray sending the professionals along with the young and naïve as cannon fodder – being too busy, as Dick Cheney said about his failure to serve in Vietnam, to actually attend ourselves.
Apartheid over Peace
When I drove a taxi part-time while an art student in Milwaukee I learned that a prestigious club barred people of color and Jews. Women were also excluded except in the company of members.That was kind of shocking to a naïve kid from Michigan’s rural upper peninsula, especially since many of my pickups at that club were judges, lawyers, CEOs etc. – the naïve kid expecting people of that status to be enlightened.
Anything characterized by high energy, originality, humor and intelligence is bound to get my attention. I was at an annual fund-raising party for an alternative art center called Nexus in about 1986. Touring the studios I kept being distracted from the visual art by some very interesting Rock ‘n Roll. I wasn’t the only one. A large segment of the crowd was gathered around the Swimming Pool Qs in the courtyard. Once in their vicinity I was there for as long as they would play.
Business As Usual
Does it drive me careening ca-razy when I see O’reilly, Beck, Hannity etc; with books on the bestseller list? That would be a yes! These (mostly) white (mostly) guys capitalize on their positions in the media to sell books. Their TV and radio shows propagate a point of view that just happens to support an economic system that the billionaire owners of the media, their ultimate bosses, approve of. Their books send the same message, keeping their followers dumbed down…
Too Much Magic
It is all too tempting to dismiss James Howard Kunstler as a doom-and-gloom pessimist but the nagging questions he leaves us in his books and blog, are pretty insistent in their demand that we prove him wrong. This exercise, to have any meaning, would have to be done by what Kunstler calls, “reality-based adults.” Good luck finding such individuals and pray to the god (small cap) of your choice that they are successful. You might be such a person. Kunstler’s conclusions are too dark for my sunny disposition so I beg, someone, please demonstrate the flaws in his argument.
The Cuban Missile Crisis: background. After outlining how the U.S. was taken over by a cabal of unbalanced individuals at Roosevelt’s death, The Untold History goes on to document some later consequences, starting with the shameful 1954 coup that overthrew Guatemala’s democracy. This criminal action installed a murderous regime for which the U.S. had no criticism so long as it operated in ways that profited U.S. corporations, most particularly United Fruit, many of whose directors did the revolving door thing where they would work for the State Department then return to United Fruit…
I responded to a Sierra Club call once, back during Zell Miller’s governorship, to gather at the capital to raise awareness about some environmental issue, I forget what. I’ve often gone to demonstrations to put my body there, to be counted and this was one of those, a general support without specific knowledge of the issue. I was getting briefed by one of the Sierra Club folks when someone announced, “We’re being invited in to meet with the governor.” This was the pre-bonkers Zell Miller. In fact he had a bit of a progressive reputation. Still, no one expected…
Michael Parenti can always be counted on to provide an original twist, in this case to the old story of Empire. He refers to Imperial Forces as “batterers.” Given that the mainstream media is where most citizens get their information, Parenti’s view of the U.S. as a colonial empire will clash wildly with how those citizens likely understand world affairs. But the author, in his book, Against Empire, offers a persuasive argument for those willing to suspend belief for a moment in the “exceptional morality” of our government.
The 1944 Coup
Skipping straight to the most explosive item in the early part of this important history: Franklin Roosevelt was elected because the ruling elite, in their unbridled greed, had transgressed all bounds, forgetting their vulnerability to democracy. Toward the end of World War II and Roosevelt’s approaching unprecedented fourth term, the millionaire-backed powers that vehemently opposed his progressive programs banded together to dump his vice-president. Knowing Roosevelt would likely die in office…