Avast Ye Bastards!

Sitting around in Hanover, freezing my ass off in front of Collis (we could go in, but we’re waiting til we’re actually “cold” to do so, since it’s otherwise quite lovely out). They’re building the bonfire for homecoming right now, which will be this weekend at some point (I have no idea actually when, nor do I especially care). I’m drinking my second copy of chai (out of a paper cup, plastic lid, and a corrugated cardboard “sleeve” so I don’t burn my hands), and hanging out with Eli. I have The Pixies “Where is my Mind” stuck in my head, and am in a cheerful, almost manic mood (finally getting to do some blogging, WOO!).

The past week has been busy yet largely fun, involving meals with friends and family, and lots of good conversation. I’ve got my Online Communities thesis up on Critical Games now, so if you wanted an alternative to downloading a 51 page PDF, you can read it that way instead. I do realize that I SHOULD be posting some more (there and here), especially some newer material that I’ve been talking about but not actually writing for the past several weeks. This should happen soon (heh, honest).
Continue reading

Hello I’m Updating

If you haven’t seen it yet, Sockbaby has finally released the conclusion to the Sockbaby Trilogy. If you haven’t seen these movies, I would highly recommend checking them out… “That Sockbaby is a Sockbaby Jesus, the Sock Saviour of the Sock People,” need I say more?

I haven’t updated in a while, and I apologize for that. In my defense, I’ve been pretty busy. For instance, I am now back in Vermont for a few weeks, UberCon just wrapped up, and so did my semester. On a more geeky front, I managed to break my server severely enough that the CTO of the company had to step in to patch things. Basically, in my recent site renovations, one of the changes I requested concerning the subdomains and how things get redirected managed to create an instance of a bug that hadn’t cropped up in 3 years. I would like to publicly thank Terra, the CTO of FutureQuest, for not only fixing the issue, but doing so quickly and professionally. He (and the rest of the support staff) are the reason I keep on recommending FutureQuest.
Continue reading

Annotation: About Looking

This is the second book I’ve read by John Berger this semester. The first, Ways of Seeing, was excellent, cogent, and topical, all without being too over-intellectual or stuffy. With that in mind, it seemed like an excellent idea to pick up another of his books, to continue to the authorial conversation. Unsure which to pick (he has several collections of essays), I selected somewhat randomly, and ended up with About Looking, which proved to be likewise cogently written, but not as consistently so, and certainly with a more academic vocabulary (this is not a good thing). There were a variety of excellent points and ideas brought up in the course of the book, but it really failed to make as significant an impact as his previous work.

I think that perhaps the reason the book doesn’t work as well for me is how it was collected. The essays are in no apparent order (neither subject nor date seem to have any influence), other than — and this may be my own perception — the longest essays are in the front, and the shorter, more cogent essays are in the back. He opens with a 28 page essay about how the perception of animals has changed in society, and the man-animal relationship has changed as well. He made some excellent points in it, in particular concerning the role of zoos in our urban society, as well as the social misperception of zoos. A zoo is a place to see what animals look like, not to see and be seen by animals. Of course, all his excellent points could have been said in half the space if he stopped beating around the bush for so much of the essay. It felt (and this sentiment extends to a lot of the essays) like he knew he had something he wanted to talk about, but wasn’t sure how to say it, and the essay is his process to get it out.

The rest of the book is a bit more directly topical, and the collection is loosely broken down into “Uses of Photography” and “Moments Lived”. The photography section I suppose is fairly clear, but what exactly does “Moments Lived” mean as a subject title? Apparently, it means “new takes on the motivations of artists,” if the actual content is any indication. I’ll get to it more in depth in a moment, but first, the photography section.

Technically speaking, these were four separate essays, written over the course of a decade (1968 to 1978), though not necessarily in chronological order. Subjectively speaking, it read like one long, rambling essay. As a photographer, I was a little taken aback by his somewhat antiquated views of photography. He talked at length about how they serve as a method to capture a moment in time, as a supplement (and sometimes replacement) to memory, unlike traditional painting. He is entitled to opinion, of course, but I am also allowed to completely disagree with compartmentalizing photography like that. The “capturing of memories” is a minor part of photography (though I will admit, it IS a pretty significant portion of the popular sentiment about photography). Photography can also be used as a very potent tool in creating abstract imagery, as well as creating a range of emotions that can be every bit as distinct and strong as a painting. As much as Berger was trying to tout the values of photography, I think in the end, he ended up doing it a disservice, which is unfortunate.

The majority of the book fell under the “Moments Lived” section, and was in my opinion the strongest writing in the book. in each essay, it was clear the author knew what he was talking about, and really brought some interesting insight into various works of art (mostly paintings, but some sculptural work as well). In particular, I really appreciated his juxtaposition of Francis Bacon and Walt Disney, with one taking a pessimistic conclusion and one taking an optimistic conclusion, both from the same underlying concept and intent. Also worth noting was a recurring topic between several essays on how birthplace influenced the art of several artists, both in subject matter as well as style. For instance, Courbet was born in the foothills of the Jura mountains in France. The most direct and obvious tie to this area is his predominant use of minimal horizon (very little sky is shown in the majority of his work), which directly relates to the towering mountains blotting out most of the horizon when he was growing up. Another example would be Fasanella’s cityscapes (in particular of Manhattan). They succeed in capturing the sentiment of finding privacy while simultaneously being on display that many other artists fail to capture, because quite simply, they’ve never truly lived in that fashion.

My favorite essay is the one he closed with, entitled “Field”. It had nothing to do with any artist, and most precisely captured the sentiment of the section title. The essay describes a simple, uncultivated field that sits amidst the trees near a set of train tracks that he has to pass on his way home from work. Occasionally, he has to wait for a train on the tracks, and when doing so, looks over and sees the meadow between the trees, a short distance away. He watches two birds playing, or butterflies doing what butterflies do, or a cat stalking some invisible prey, or any of a variety of simple things happening in the meadow, and feels as enriched and rewarded by it as he feels about any work of art.

The latter half of the essay completely misses the point, however, and relegates this sublime moment to a set of rules that must be applied for any sort of effect, which he partially uses as an excuse to not actually visit the field, lest the feeling be destroyed. After such a strong start, too. The first half of the essay struck a very strong chord with me, as it managed to at least partially describe a sentiment that I am constantly trying to explain. Walking around on the half-snow half-mud in Vermont in late March/early April, where the world is just starting to wake up again, and you can hear the trickle of a stream still partially obscured by ice in the distance. Wind playing with leaves on an empty street at dusk, where the lights are just starting to come on, but it’s still light out anyway, and there is a crisp, real taste to the air. Sitting in the grass in the shade of some trees, looking up through a gap in the branches and watching the clouds float by, while butterflies flutter nearby. Standing in the woods after a snowstorm, in that brief “warm” spell that sometimes follows snowstorms in New England, and listening to the snow drop off the overladen branches.

It’s experiences and sentiments like these that fill me with an enormous sense of personal peace and well-being, and I try to be receptive (not vigilant… that would defeat the point) to these moments whenever I can.

Despite its faults, I still feel this was a pretty good collection of essays, and I’m glad I read them. I would probably suggest this book to people who enjoy art essays (whether for school or personal enjoyment), but at the same time, I would probably also suggest AD Coleman’s Critical Focus as a counterpoint and companion to this book. Between the two authors, I think a really great creative sentiment can be painted.

Annotation: Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mind of the Renaissance

While I found Vezzosi’s writing interesting and intelligent, and found the subject well researched and scholastic in tone, I can’t help but feel like this book should have instead been called “Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mind, The Man, The Myth”. What it comes down to is that despite all the research about Da Vinci that has been done over the years, very little is verifiably known: most of our “facts” about him are taken from journals (some his own, others from his contemporaries), which are ultimately an entirely subjective view. There is this notion of him as a seer and visionary, which is largely due to his self-portrait and the use of his likeness in Raphael’s painting of Plato. That’s not to say that he wasn’t visionary and innovative in his work and ideas, but rather that the assumption of a benevolent old man is ultimately conjecture.

Though a relatively small book, Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mind of the Renaissance is extremely dense, using a high quality paper to allow for high quality reproduction of his artwork. It is also dense in the another sense of the word, in terms of the amount of information that was packed into such a small space. Organized in a chronological/geological fashion, the book is broken down into several sections, starting in Vinci (his birthplace), and ending in Amboise (where he died). Considering that his works often spanned several years, this is really as good a method to organize his life as any.

Leonardo definitely had an interesting life. Despite being born as an illegitimate child, he was taken into his father’s house and raised largely as if he was. Really, the only aspect of family life that he was not able to participate in was the family business as Notary to several noble houses, including the Medici family. (The role of Notary required a level of gentility that his illegitmacy prevented.) He taught himself to write, which the author attributed a large amount of the mirror writing Leonardo is famous for (also, in conjecture, the idea was posited that he may have been dyslexic, which would also contribute to his adoption of backwards writing).

At the age of 17, he entered an apprenticeship in Florence, studying under the famous artist Verrocchio, during which time he became well respected among his peers, contributing to several remarkable works, including The Annunciation, and the Dreyfus Madonna (as well as the similarly composed Madonna with Carnation). He had already gained a mastery of painting at this time, but was able to refine that mastery while also learning more about sculpture, collaborating with Verrocchio to create Verrocchio’s David and Putta with Dolphin. Even after being admitted to the artists’ guild, he stayed with Verrocchio’s studio for several more years before finally heading out on his own.

Leonardo worked on several commissions while in Florence, working to curry favor with the Medici family, whom was the ruling family of Florence at the time. He achieved a moderate level of success, but after reaching something of a dead end, he found an excuse to travel to Milan, where he tried to get a position as engineer in the Ducal Court. His attempts did not succeed, but he did achieve moderate success as an artist in the area, until finally he began working for the Duke of Milan, Sforza, designing a giant bronze horse statue that was never completed. (This is a well known story: war broke out, and the 66 tons of bronze that Leonardo had managed to accumulate for the project was taken in order to make cannons.)

The entire region was embroiled in a variety of alliances, wars, invasions, and political intruiges, and Leonardo largely managed to play every side. He primarily worked for Milan and Florence, but he also worked for France and Pisa at several points, in various roles ranging from royal artist to war and civil engineers. He maintained ties with the Medici family, which allowed him to become an engineer/artist for Pope Leo X (a member of the Medici family), where he enjoyed relatively free reign over his projects (in fact, he worked for a man known as “il Magnifico”, the Pope’s brother). It was at this time that Raphael used Leonardo’s likeness for his fresco The School of Athens.

After il Magnifico grew ill and died, Leonardo decided that it was time to seek his fortunes elsewhere, taking the king of France up on a prior invitation to come and paint for him in Ambiose. Leonardo enjoyed his time in Ambiose, though he no longer was working with color as much as he had in the past, due to an injury to his arm (since he was ambidexterous, it really only hindered his work a little, but still enough to make it worth mentioning). He designed and (with the help of the King) initiated the building of a new city, Romolontino, in France, though work on it ultimately ended due to complications at the build site. Leonardo remained in Ambiose for the rest of his life. He remained well respected throughout these years, and purportedly, died in the presence of the King, whom had great admiration for the artist. (The actual accuracy of the legend is subject to considerable debate, apparently.)

I really enjoyed Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mind of the Renaissance, and found it quite informative about this master artist. I would recommend it to those looking for a grounding in the background of the arist and a general sense of what works he did, though for a more in depth look, I’m sure there are more robust works about Da Vinci, that would probably serve that purpose in a more complete and enriching fashion. Frankly, I’m not sure what I’m impressed more by: the works he completed, or the works that never made it out of his sketchbooks.

Vezzosi, Alessandro. Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mind of the Renaissance. New York: Henry N Abrams, Inc., 1997.

Changes Are In Place

So, in case you haven’t noticed, the changes I alluded to in a previous post have taken place. Criticalgames.com is now up and operational (though not yet fully organized and certainly not populated with content). I’m really excited about it as a project, and look forward to doing stuff with it soon. I am a little concerned that my IRM for nadreck.org doesn’t seem to be functioning as I was expecting, but that might be propagation stuff… I’ll wait a few days before pinging the service folks at FutureQuest (whom all have been MORE than helpful through this process… go buy a package from them, will ya? They deserve your business!).

Until then, I’ve posted a quick greeting message on the Critical Games front page, and will only be lightly futzing with organization until I finish my schoolwork. If I finish it quickly, I may post an actual essay or article before heading to UberCon, otherwise it’ll have to wait til I’m in Vermont (or later).

And no, don’t worry, I don’t plan to stop posting here. This is my blog, and will continue to be my central place for personal and informal writing. DO expect a little maintenance work while I clean up links and such, though.
Continue reading

Nothing New to Report

Just a quick post to say that I have nothing new to report. My semester is wrapping up in two weeks, though realistically I want to be done by the end of this week, since I’ll be travelling for most of next week, and thus will not have much time to do school. Which is fine.

We were down in Portland, Oregon this past weekend, which was really a lot of fun. One of Mickey’s friends from High School was running in the Portland marathon, so we decided to go down and cheer her on. It sort of snowballed during the planning phase, though, and about 10 or 12 of Mickey’s old High School circle of friends ended up coming in for it, from all over the country (which is a pretty darn cool notion in of itself). We hung out and in general had a pretty laid back weekend all weekend, most of which I was amused by, because everyone was feeling pretty surreal about seeing everyone for the first time in 10 years for some. Lots of good conversation and good food and a fun trip to Powells (Powells is a LARGE bookstore in Portland… it takes up 3 stories of a city block). Spent probably $160 when all said and done there between Mickey and I, but I should be able to recoup at least a little of that, since they were books for my upcoming semester of school.
Continue reading