Goldberger on Gehry + Stravinsky


I just finished this book on Frank Gehry by Paul Goldberger. It’s a quick read, feels like an extended New Yorker article. Interesting about career building when you want to do your stuff and not kowtow to the accepted norms for the sake of financial success.Gehry was in his fifties before his work really took off (he’ll be 87 in February). I feel like Goldberger does spend a lot of time telling the reader over and over just why we should appreciate Gehry’s approach—and if one is already enough of a fan to have picked up this book (I got it for Christmas), it is overkill. Overall I’d give it a solid B.

BUT, right on the next to last page is this great quote from Igor Stravinsky:

The faculty of creating is never given to us all by itself. It always goes hand-in-hand with the gift of observation and the true creator may be recognized by his ability always to find about him, in the commonest and humblest thing, items worthy of note. He does not have to concern himself with a beautiful landscape, he does not need to surround himself with rare and precious objects. He does not have to put forth in search of discoveries: they are always within his reach. He will only have to cast a glance about him. Familiar things, things that are everywhere, attract his attention. 

That insightful quote might raise the overall grade to B+.

Just a thought…



For the nitpickers, yes it is true that members of lots of religions do not actually follow the tenets of the religion (maybe some Christians are not charitable, for instance), but (from Wikipedia):

In Islam, consumption of any intoxicants (specifically, alcoholic beverages) is generally forbidden in the Qur’an through several separate verses revealed at different times over a period of years. At first, it was forbidden for Muslims to attend prayers while intoxicated.

O you who believe! do not go near prayer when you are Intoxicated until you know (well) what you say, nor when you are under an obligation to perform a bath—unless (you are) travelling on the road—until you have washed yourselves; and if you are sick, or on a journey, or one of you come from the privy or you have touched the women, and you cannot find water, betake yourselves to pure earth, then wipe your faces and your hands; surely Allah is Pardoning, Forgiving.

— Qurʼan, Sura 4 (al-Nisaʼ), ayah 43[9]

Then a later verse was revealed which said that alcohol contains some good and some evil, but the evil is greater than the good:

They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them there is a great sin and means of profit for men, and their sin is greater than their profit. And they ask you as to what they should spend. Say: What you can spare. Thus does Allah make clear to you the communications, that you may ponder.

— Qurʼan, Surah 2 (al-Baqarah), ayah 219[10]

This was the next step in turning people away from consumption of it. Finally, “intoxicants and games of chance” were called “abominations of Satan‘s handiwork”, intended to turn people away from God and forget about prayer, and Muslims were ordered to avoid.

O you who believe! Intoxicants, gambling, al-ansāb, and al-azlām (arrows for seeking luck or decision) are an abomination of Shayṭān’s (Satan’s) handiwork. So avoid that in order that you may be successful.

— Qurʼan, Surah 5 (al-Maʼidah), ayah 90[11]

In addition to this, most observant Muslims refrain from consuming food products that contain pure vanilla extract or soy sauce if these food products contain alcohol; there is some debate about whether the prohibition extends to dishes in which the alcohol would be cooked off or if it would be practically impossible to consume enough of the food to become intoxicated.[12][13] The Zaidi and Mutazili sects believe that the use of alcohol has always been forbidden and refer to this Qur’an Ayah (4:43) as feeling of sleepiness and not to be awake.

Substances which are intoxicants are not prohibited as such, although their consumption is.[14] For example, alcohol can be used as a disinfectant[15][16] or for cleaning, but not as a beverage. For people who will enter paradise, in Sura XLVII Verse 15 it states that,

(There is) a Parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised; in it are rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes; rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink;and rivers of honey……etc.


But that isn’t the point.

Details 3: Egypt

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art there’s an amazing collection of ancient Egyptian Art. The most imposing is the Temple of Dendur:


It is easy get overwhelmed by sarcophagi and mummies, and amazing stone statuary. Last summer I saw yet another large fragment of an ancient wall tucked away in a small gallery off to the side of the Temple of Dendur—pretty much at the end of my Egyptian tour route, full to the brim with Egypt. I could easily pass it by—and probably have done so dozens of times.

FBK Egypt

BLOG Egypt wall label

But then I notice something really amazing:

BLOG Egypt

Look at how the artist, working 3,000 years ago, managed to depict in stone the light translucency of the garment! OK, that really amazes me.

(BTW, if you click on the image it gets bigger so you can see it better.)



Details 2: Matisse’s glass

Every time I get to the Museum of Modern Art my favorite place is the gallery of paintings by Henri Matisse. He always amazes me. I always find something new. This time, one of those things was just a small item in The Red Studio, 1911:


This is an amazingly advanced work, 104 years old. I’ve seen it perhaps three dozen times. But I think I got caught up in the overall idea of the composition, never looking at the details. Never seeing that goofy wine glass in the lower right:


Looks like something from Walt Disney. How did Matisse manage to get something so funny into what I’ve always thought of as a “serious” painting?

Then, a little bit later at MOMA, I was looking at Gilbert & George: The Early Years and ran into another goofy glass:


That was a “wow!” moment of recognition. And then, back at home, I came across this glass that I bought at an art student sale back when I was a student at Portland State, about 1971:

My Matisse glass

Goofiness comes in threes.


Details, details

Living in Portland, Oregon, I’m lucky to have been able to make it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art just about every year. The masterpieces have become familiar, and I find that I now am attracted to looking at little things like coins, silver work, and other small articles in display cases. There’s amazing little stuff.

This big thing below is made up of little things—small carved bone panels—and I’ve walked right by it for decades, probably. A couple months ago I paused to look it over and was amazed by the imagery. I don’t know what is going on in these little panels—that would take some study that I’m probably never going to do. But if you are at The Met, check this out.

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Who are these folks? Where are they going? How about that crane lifting/dropping the person into the boat? I like the trees, too.

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Who is this person with all the babies? And what’s with the deer? Not Romulus and Remus.IMG_4138 a

And Big Bird being carried on a litter? (Nice detail of shutters in the windows above.)

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And this is really strange:

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Yeah, take some time to check out the little things. You just never know.




Christo on Broadway

Well, it reminded me of Christo, the new wrap on the Broadway Bridge. 

Xto Bwy BLOG

It made me think about how the experience of art influences our experience of life. If we see something in art, how do we recognize and value similar experiences? The wrap on the bridge might have been intriguing even if I hadn’t seen Christo in Paris (great Maysles Brothers documentary) at least 15 times (showed it in class every year), or interviewed him when Portland  Center for the Visual Arts showed his work.

And “picturesque” views might not be picturesque if we’d never seen an artist’s landscape picture.

What do we notice because our time experiencing artworks has helped us to be visually aware?

No answers, just questions.


Academic Buzzwords

I just came across a little notebook that I took to a college art conference several years ago. I noted a few expressions that kept coming up in the most pedantic academic presentations. I felt that when I heard them, it was an alert for academic BS time:

“would argue”

“as it were”

“want to suggest”

“it becomes clear”

Watch out!


Reading Note: Philip Glass

I recently read Words Without Music, a memoir by Philip Glass. Although I really know nothing about music—how people compose it, how they manage to play it, very mysterious—Glass’s thoughts about his development is a great read. It is not a conventional autobiography, but connected reminiscences about  how he proceeded in life.


Glass is no universal example for how to build a career in the arts, but then nobody is. Nowadays you can’t proceed in the ways that Glass did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. But, his attitude about how to become a professional can be very useful.

It helped that Glass’s father owned a record store and listened to classical music in the evenings at home. It was important that a 15 year old kid could get into the University of Chicago through an entrance exam without having to finish high school. It was a time when a young man going to Julliard, living in Paris, or making his way in the New York art/performance world could make a kind of living on part-time work, leaving time and energy for writing and performing music.

There are two main things that I learned about Glass through this book: he is a student and he is musically omnivorous.

In the 60s he traveled overland from Paris to India. His “significant purchase” before leaving Europe: a transistor radio—so he could listen to the music of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as he traveled though those countries—a tool for the omnivorous student. At the end of his  journey he was in Kalimpong, once the Indian gateway to Tibet. There he met Tomo Geshe Rimpoche, a Tibetan monk, who at one point asked him, “What would you like to do?” Glass replied, ” I’d like to learn from you what you are willing to teach me.” Glass’s willingness to be open to being the student,  throughout his life, is strangely impressive to me, because I have always been resistant to learning from a teacher (beyond the conventional classroom experience).

He studied composition with the famously demanding Nadia Boulanger in Paris for two years (when he was 27-29 years old). He needed to understand how to write music for strings, so he took violin lessons. He studied Indian music with Ravi Shankar. He studied tabla with Alla Rakha. He studied yoga. He studied qigong. Richard Serra offered him drawing lessons, but he never got around to that.

One other thing about Glass is his perseverance, but that seems, for him, innate. His first concert was in 1968, when he was 31. There were six people in the audience—and one of those was his mother. Eight years later Einstein on the Beach was sold out at the Metropolitan Opera. He would still be driving a cab for two more years, until, at 41, he could make a living through his music.

There’s a lot in this book, but I was left wishing there was more.

I  recommend that you watch this documentary before you read the book. It might help you hear Glass’s voice in the writing:

Glass – A Portrait of Philip In Twelve Parts

A little reminiscence: Must have been 1972. I was in the White Gallery at Portland State University one evening, helping to install a show. Mel Katz stopped by. He had just heard some music performance at PSU, said it was really good, we should have been there. Really loud. Philip Glass. That was Glass’s first tour in the US. I missed that one.