Category: The Arts
An excellent book, full of substance and going well beyond cliche, the author is Julie Phillips and the subtitle is Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem. Strikingly unsentimental, it covers women writers who balanced (or didn’t balance) their creative urges with their child-rearing responsibilities. Excerpt:
Grace Hartigan married at nineteen and had her son the same year, 1941. In 1975 she said:
“My son bitterly opposed my painting. He would stay after school and would come in at five o’clock, look at me, and say: “I know, you have been painting again.” When he got to be twelve and his father had remarried, I sent him to California. I have never seen him since. It is a very bitter relationship.”
I especially enjoyed the chapters on Doris Lessing, Ursula Le Guin, and Angela Carter. Will make the year’s “Best Non-Fiction” list.
From Wikipedia, here is a description of the views of Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky on Ukraine:
According to many historians, despite the fact that Brodsky had anti-Soviet views, for which he was eventually forced to leave Soviet Russia and emigrate to the United States, he, with all that, had pronounced Russian-imperial views, which resulted in his rejection of the existence of Ukrainians as a nation separate from Russians. According to Russian literary critic and biographer and friend of Brodsky Lev Losev, Brodsky considered Ukraine “the only cultural space with Great Russia”, and the Polish historian Irena Grudzinska-Gross [pl] in her book “Milosz and Brodsky” (2007) Brodsky firmly believed that Ukraine and has always been “an integral part of Great Russia”. According to Grudzinskaya-Gross, “Brodsky’s Russian patriotism is also evidenced by … the poem “The People” and another poem “On the Independence of Ukraine”, attacking Ukraine from imperial and Great Russian positions.”
In 1985, even before writing the scandalous Ukrainian-phobic poem “On the Independence of Ukraine“, he entered into a debate with the Czech-French poet Milan Kundera, in which he showed his Russian-imperial views.
The most famous public manifestation of Brodsky’s Ukrainophobia was the poem “On the Independence of Ukraine”, written, tentatively, in 1992. In this poem, Brodsky sarcastically described Ukraine’s independence in 1991 and scolded Ukrainian independence fighters for abandoning the Russian language. Brodsky did not publish this poem in any of his lifetime collections, and, until his death in 1996, he managed to read only a few times at various Muscovite and Judeophile meetings in America. In particular, there is documentary evidence that Brodsky read this poem on October 30, 1992 at a solo evening in the hall of the Palo Alto Jewish Center and on February 28, 1994 in front of a group of the Russian diaspora at New York University’s Quincy College. Through this poem, critics saw in Brodsky manifestations of Russian chauvinism and accused him of Anti-Ukrainian sentiment and racism.
These views are deeply rooted in Russian culture and history. Here Brodsky reads the poem in Russian. He is excited. Here is a 2011 Keith Gessen New Yorker piece on the poem. Again, ideas really matter! And not always for the better.
Here are my picks, in no particular order:
W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants (1992, maybe not recent?).
Elena Ferrante, The Neapolitan quadrology.
Karl Knausgaard, My Struggle, volumes one and two.
Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials.
Michel Houellebecq, Submission.
Min Lee, Pachinko.
Liu Cixin, The Three-Body Problem.
Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives.
Haruki Murakami, IQ84.
Vikrram Seth, A Suitable Boy.
Orhan Pamuk, Museum of Innocence.
Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon.
David Grossman, To the End of the Land.
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas.
Jose Saramago, Blindness.
China Mieville, The City and the City.
J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace.
I do not feel that recent times lag far so behind some of the earlier, more classic literary eras. Which books am I forgetting?
Here is the audio, video, and transcript. Here is part of the episode summary;
Roy joined Tyler to discuss why the Scots got off easier than the Irish under British rule, the truths and misconceptions about Ireland as a policy laboratory for the British government, why spoken Irish faded more rapidly than Welsh, the single question that drove a great flowering of Irish economic thought, how Foster’s Quaker education shaped his view of Irish history, how the Battle of the Somme and the 1916 Easter Rising cemented the rift between the Northeast and the rest of the country, what went wrong with Irish trade policies between the 1920s and 1970s, the power of Irish education, why the re-emergence of The Troubles in the 1960s may not have been as inevitable as many people believe, the cultural effects of Ireland’s pro-Allied neutrality in World War II, how Irish visual art is beginning to be looked at in a similar way to Irish literature, the social and economic changes of the 1970s that began to radically reshape Irish society, the reasons for Ireland’s openness to foreigners, what Irish Americans misunderstand, and more.
Here is an excerpt:
COWEN: If we think of the 19th century, as you know, I think it’s in 1831 that free universal schooling comes to Ireland. Are there ways in which, in the 19th century, Ireland is more modern than Britain?
FOSTER: That’s a very interesting and subtle question.
There is a theory that Ireland is used as a laboratory for British government and that they will apply further afield, in India and the Caribbean, models and lessons that they’ve learned in Ireland, which is sometimes referred to as Britain’s oldest or England’s oldest colony.
I have a slight problem with that, because Ireland is a very special kind of colony, if it’s a colony: it’s a metropolitan colony. The original inhabitants remain, one could say, in a far stronger position than in many of the areas of the British Empire, where they are effectively either enslaved or wiped out. But the point is really that what’s happening in Ireland in the 18th and 19th century is, as I’ve said earlier, a kind of dispossession.
But at the same time, there are elements — and this is true from the Act of Union, which abolishes the old, very elite Irish Parliament in 1800 — there are elements of experimentation in the British government of Ireland which aren’t (I have to say this) entirely malign, and you zero in on education. The attempt that was being made in the early 1830s was to introduce a nondenominational form of primary education for the Irish people.
Ireland being Ireland, it was rapidly denominationalized: the Catholics used it for their purposes and the Protestants used it for their purposes. But the theory of it was that you had to overcome the religious differences, which by the early 19th century seemed to dictate everything that was happening in Ireland.
The great novelist William Thackeray, who was married to an Irish woman, said when he did a tour of Ireland and wrote his Irish Sketch Book, “Where to get at the truth in this country: it is not possible. There are two truths, the Catholic truth and the Protestant truth.” By the early 19th century, this seemed all too true.
Substantive throughout, in my view one of the very best CWTs in some while.
Surrogates is a 2009 science-fiction movie starring Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike and Ving Rhames. On Rotten Tomatoes it’s rated at a measly 37% (tomatometer) and 38% (audience). When I first saw it I thought it was underrated and a recent re-watch cemented that conclusion.
Surrogates is about a slightly future world in which people predominantly interact with one another through surrogates, i.e. humanoid robots controlled from home. The premise should be familiar today in the Zoom, Metaverse, avatar age in a way it wasn’t in 2009. Surrogates touches on trans issues (your surrogate can be a different gender), the meaning of identity, age, aging and youth, the advantages of surrogates for creating low crime and even eliminating infectious diseases (good prediction!) and the sense of anxiety and fear we feel when interacting in the real world after becoming comfortable with surrogates and the sense of unrealness of interacting with avatars.
The world of surrogates is threatened when for the first time ever a human operator is murdered by “killing” their surrogate. Willis and Mitchell are detectives trying to solve the mystery and track down the killer. The film noir aspect isn’t Chinatown but it follows the formula and follows it well. A luddite cult is involved.
Perhaps one of the reasons Surrogates didn’t do well is that it’s low-budget. At the same time as this world has advanced robotics the cars are purely circa 2009! The surrogates are played by the same actors as the operators with only makeup and hair pieces to indicate the differences but in fact the make-up and surrogate acting is very well done! The contrast between young, perfectly coiffed and flattened surrogate Bruce Willis and the old, bloody, beaten but expressive Bruce Willis is well done. The ending is excellent.
A masterpiece? No. But Surrogates is an underrated gem. It’s available now on HBO.
This research shows people are perceived as less powerful when they use pictures versus words. This effect was found across picture types (company logos, emojis, and photographs) and use contexts (clothing prints, written messages, and Zoom profiles). Mediation analysis and a mediation-by-moderation design show this happens because picture-use signals a greater desire for social proximity (versus distance) than word-use, and a desire for social proximity is associated with lower power. Finally, we find that people strategically use words (pictures) when aiming to signal more (less) power. We refute alternative explanations including differences in the content of pictures and words, the medium’s perceived appropriateness, the context’s formality, and the target’s age and gender. Our research shows pictures and words are not interchangeable means of representation. Rather, they signal distinct social values with reputational consequences.
Zvi Mowshowitz, TheZvi, New York City, to develop his career as idea generator and public intellectual.
Nadia Eghbal, Miami, to study and write on philanthropy for tech and crypto wealth.
Geffen Avrahan, Bay Area, founder at Skyline Celestial, an earlier winner, omitted from an early list by mistake, apologies Geffen!
Subaita Rahman of Scarborough, Ontario, to enable a one-year visiting student appointment at Church Labs at Harvard University.
Gareth Black, Dublin, to start YIMBY Dublin.
Ulkar Aghayeva, New York City, Azerbaijani music and bioscience.
Steven Lu, Seattle, to create GenesisFund, a new project for nurturing talent, and general career development.
Ashley Lin, University of Pennsylvania gap year, Center for Effective Altruism, for general career development and to learn talent search in China, India, Russia.
James Lin, McMaster University gap year, from Toronto area, general career development and to support his interests in effective altruism and also biosecurity.
Santiago Tobar Potes, Oxford, from Colombia and DACA in the United States, general career development, interest in public service, law, and foreign policy.
Martin Borch Jensen of Longevity Impetus Grants (a kind of Fast Grants for longevity research), Bay Area and from Denmark, for a new project Talent Bridge, to help talented foreigners reach the US and contribute to longevity R&D.
Congratulations to you all! We are honored to have you as Emergent Ventures winners.
Chen et al. show that people’s aesthetic tastes are not arbitrarily different from each other in different sensory modalities but vary primarily along only a single dimension across sights and sounds: how similar a person’s taste is to the average taste. People who have atypical taste for images also tend to have atypical taste for sounds.
The Russian filmmaker Kirill Sokolov has spent the past week distraught at the horror unfolding in Ukraine. Half his family is Ukrainian, he said in a telephone interview, and as a child he spent summers there, staying with his grandparents.
His maternal grandmother was still living in Kyiv, he said, “hiding from bombs in a bunker.”
Since Russia’s invasion began, Mr. Sokolov said he had signed two online petitions calling for an end to the war, an act that carries a risk in Russia, where thousands have been arrested for protesting the conflict, and some have reportedly lost their jobs.
Yet despite his antiwar stance, Mr. Sokolov on Monday learned that the Glasgow Film Festival in Scotland had dropped his latest movie, “No Looking Back.”
Here is more from Alex Marshall at the NYT. Remind me again — why is this better than “simple racism”? The Festival noted that the Russian government earlier had funded his film work. Surely that could be grounds for cancelling anyone who went to public school in Russia?
Jesse’s description was “Wide ranging discussion with the brilliant @tylercowen. Topics include: Satoshi’s identity, Straussian Jesus, the Beatles and UFOs. Taped in early January but he presciently expresses concerns around Russia/Ukraine”
Great fun was had by all, and they added in nice visuals.
That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column:
The Metropolitan Opera of New York has announced it will no longer stage performers who have supported Russian President Vladimir Putin. Carnegie Hall has done the same, and the Royal Opera House in London is canceling a planned Bolshoi Ballet residency. I expect more institutions to follow suit. Russia’s contemporary art scene, already financially struggling, fears ostracism from museums and collectors, mostly because of Putin’s recent actions.
Unwise, says I. And:
It is simply not possible to draw fair or accurate lines of demarcation. What about performers who may have favored Putin in the more benign times of 2003 and now are skeptical, but have family members still living in Russia? Do they have to speak out?
Another question: Who exactly counts as Russian? Ethnic Russians? Russian citizens? Former citizens? Ethnic Russians born in Ukraine? If you were an ethnic minority born under the Soviet Union, your former Soviet passport may have explicitly stated that you were not Russian.
And what about citizens of Belarus, which according to some reports is planning to send troops into Ukraine? Might they be subject to such strictures as well? How about citizens of China, which abstained from the United Nations vote condemning Russia’s invasion? Which wars are performers from Rwanda or Democratic Republic of the Congo required to repudiate?
When exactly is this ban supposed to end?
And to close:
If anything, the McCarthyism of the 1950s is a bit more explicable than the cancel culture of the present. At least it was trying to address what was then considered a great threat. That said, McCarthyism is not a practice America should want to revive. Witch hunts, by their very nature, do not bring out the best in people, Americans very much included.
I guess we will really see who is against cancel culture and who is not.
Excellent stuff, we had so much fun we kept on going for an extra half hour, as he decided to ask me a bunch of questions about economics and personal finance. Here is the audio and transcript. Here is the CWT summary:
Chuck joined Tyler to discuss the challenges of writing about recent history, the “slow cancellation of the future” that began in the aughts, how the internet widened cultural knowledge but removed its depth, why the context of Seinfeld was in some ways more important than its content, what Jurassic Park illustrates about public feelings around scientific progress in the ’90s, why the ’90s was the last era of physical mass subcultures, why it’s uncommon to be shocked by modern music, how his limited access to art when growing up made him a better critic, why Spin Magazine became irrelevant with the advent of online streaming, what made Grantland so special, what he learned from teaching in East Germany, the impact of politics on the legacies of Eric Clapton and Van Morrison, how sports often rewards obnoxious personalities, why Wilt Chamberlain is still underrated, how the self-awareness of the Portland Trail Blazers undermined them, how the design of the NFL makes sports rivalries nearly impossible, how pro-level compensation prevents sports gambling from corrupting players, why so many people are interested in e-sports, the unteachable element of writing, why he didn’t make a great editor on his school paper, what he’d say to a room filled with ex-lovers, the question he’d most like to ask his parents, his impressions of cryptocurrency, why he’s trying to focus on what he has in the current moment rather than think too much about future plans, the power of charisma, and more.
Whew! Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: I see the world as follows. Every decade, to me, is super weird, but the 1980s and ’90s pretended they weren’t weird. The ’80s pretended to be good versus evil. The ’90s pretended that good won. But when crypto comes and persists, you have to drop all pretense that the age you’re living in isn’t totally weird.
You have internet crypto, and everyone admits, right now, everything’s weird. And that, to me, is the fundamental break with the 1990s because everyone pretended most things were normal and that Seinfeld was your dose of weird, right? Jason Alexander — that’s a very manageable weird.
KLOSTERMAN: Oh, absolutely.
COWEN: Some guy in an apartment in New York City cracking sarcastic jokes — like, whoop-de-do.
KLOSTERMAN: …this guy, Mark Fisher, who’s dead now, had this idea about the slow cancellation of the future. I feel like that’s one of the most profound ideas that I’ve come across in the last 10 years of my life, and it seems so palpable that this is occurring.
An example I will often use is, if you take, say, 10 minutes from an obscure film in 1965 with no major actors, and then you take 10 minutes from an obscure film from 1980 where nobody became famous, and you show anyone these 10-minute clips, they will have no problem whatsoever figuring out which one came first. Even a little kid can look at a movie from 1965 and a movie from 1980 and instantly understand that one predates the other.
But if you do that with a film from 2005 and a film from 2020 — again, an obscure film where you don’t recognize the actors — you’re just looking at it aesthetically and trying to deduce which one came first and which one came second. It’s almost impossible.
This phenomenon just seems to almost be infiltrating every aspect of the culture…
KLOSTERMAN: Before I did this podcast, I listened to your podcast with Žižek.
COWEN: Oh yeah, that was hilarious.
KLOSTERMAN: Are you friends with him? It sure seemed like it. And if you are, what is it like to be with him when he is not in a performative scenario?
Recommended. And again, here is Chuck’s new book The Nineties.
I will be doing a Conversation with him, noting that he is my co-author on Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creators, and Winners Around the World.
Since we are co-authors, this won’t just be the standard interview format, how do you think we should do it? And what should we ask each other?
A number of you have been asking me about this maxim, so here is some background on what it means:
1. Ever try to persuade another person? Let’s say it is even of an uncontested idea such as supply and demand. You might “final exam them into admitting that the demand curve slopes downward.” But still, if they do not understand enough of the uses of supply and demand thinking, they will find it hard to think in terms of supply and demand themselves. They will not have the background context to understand the import of the idea.
2. Why did economists for so long stick with cost of production theories of value, rather than adopting the marginal revolution? They didn’t see or understand all the possibilities that would open up from bringing the marginal calculus to microeconomics, and then later to empirical work. Given the context they had, which was for performing simple comparative statics experiments on developing economies, the cost of production theory seemed good enough.
3. One correspondent from a successful company wrote me:
“- I’ve been onboarding ~5 people every two weeks for my team.
– The number of them that actually learn all the important stuff in under a month is zero. The number of them that have a self-guided strategy to learn what is relevant is almost zero.
– Remember these are people with fancy college degrees, that passed a hard interview, and are getting paid $X00k!
– I’m now spending entire days writing / maintaining an FAQ, producing diagrams, and having meetings with them to answer their questions.”
4. Ever wonder about the vast universe of critically acclaimed aesthetic masterworks, most of which you do not really fathom? If you dismiss them, and mistrust the critics, odds are that you are wrong and they are right. You do not have the context to appreciate those works. That is fine, but no reason to dismiss that which you do not understand. The better you understand context, the more likely you will see how easily you can be missing out on it.
5. I use “modern art” or “contemporary art” (both bad terms, by the way) as good benchmarks for whether a person understands “context is that which is scarce.” “Contemporary classical music” too (another bad terms, but you know what I mean). If a person is convinced that those are absurd enterprises, that is a good litmus test for that person not understanding the import of context. You may not prefer things to be this way, but in many cultural areas appreciation of the outputs demands more and more context (Adam Smith called this division of labor, by the way).
6. If you think a great deal of things are “downstream from culture and ideas,” as I do, you also have to think they are downstream of context.
7. Many attributions of bad motives to people, or attributions of conspiracy, spring from a lack of understanding of context. It is easy enough for someone to seem like he or she is “operating in bad faith.” But usually a deeper and better understanding is available.
8. Lack of context is often a serious problem on Twitter and other forms of social media, as they may deliberately truncate context. In some parts of our culture, context is growing more scarce. “When I’m Sixty-Four” makes much more sense on Sgt. Pepper than it does on Spotify.
9. So much of education is teaching people context. That is why it is hard, and also why it often does not seem like real learning.
10. When judging people for leadership positions, or for jobs that require strongly synthetic abilities, you should consider how well they are capable of generating an understanding of context across a broad range of domains, including ex nihilo, so to speak. How to test for understanding of context is itself a topic we could consider in more depth.
Addendum: MR, by the way, or at least my contributions to it, is deliberately written to give you less than full context. It is assumed that you are up to speed on the relevant discourse, and are hungering for the latest tidbit on top of where you are currently standing. Conversations with Tyler also are conducted on a “I’m just going to assume you have the relevant context and jump right in” — that is not ideal for many people, or they may like the performance art of it without it furthering their understanding optimally. But it keeps me motivated because for me the process is rarely boring. I figure that is more important than keeping you all happy. It also attracts smarter and better informed readers and listeners, which in turn helps me keep smart and alert. I view my context decisions, in particular the choice to go “minimal upfront context” in so many settings, as essential to my ongoing program of self-education.
The answer here depends so much on how much money and how much time and how much interest you have that I can’t give you a simple formula. Nonetheless here are a few basic observations that might prove useful at varying levels of interest:
1. At some you should just start buying some stuff. You’re going to make some mistakes at first, treat that as part of your learning curve and as part of the price of the broader endeavor.
2. Don’t ever think you can make money buying and selling art. The bid-ask spread is a bitch, and finding the right buyers is a complex and time-consuming matching problem.
3. Art is strongly tiered in a hierarchical fashion. That means most fields are incredible bargains, at least relative to the trendy fields. A lot of HNW buyers are looking for large, striking contemporary works they can hang over their sofas in their second homes in Miami Beach or Los Angeles or Aspen. Good for them, as many of those works are splendid. Nonetheless that opens up opportunities for you. I find the price/beauty gradient ratio can be especially favorable for textiles, ethnographic works, Old Master drawings (and sometimes paintings), paintings from smaller or obscure countries, various collectibles, and many other areas.
4. As for the price/beauty gradient, prints, lithographs, and watercolors usually are much cheaper than original paintings. And they are not necessarily of lower quality. Figure out early on which are the artists whose prints can be as good or better than many of their original works (Lozowick, Picasso, and Johns would be a few nominees) and learn lots about those areas. A Goncharova painting can costs hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, but one of her Ballet Russe designs — an original done by the same hand — can go for thousands.
4b. The “mainstream art market” still discriminates in favor of “original” works, but it already has started laying this convention aside for photographs, and I wonder if further erosion along these lines is not on the way. The “internet generation” is getting wealthier all the time, and do they all hate reproducibility so much?
5. Pick a small number of areas and specialize in them. Learn everything you can about them. Everything. Follow auction results. Read about their history. Read biographies of their creators. Go visit exhibitions. And so on. It is also a great way to learn about the world more generally.
6. If you are an outsider, you can’t just walk up to a gallery and buy the best stuff at a market clearing price. You have to invest in your relationships there. Or consider buying at auction. Whatever your choice, be aware of the logic and why things work that way. Selling practices are also an exercise in reputation management of the artist and of the gallery, and maybe they think you are not up to snuff as a buyer!
7. Visit other people’s art collections as much as you can. You will learn a great deal this way, and learn to spot new forms of foolishness that you had never before imagined.
8. Don’t treat art collecting as like shopping, or as motivated by the same impulses. If you do, you will accumulate a lot of junk very quickly. Thinking of it more as building out a long term narrative of what an artistic field, and a culture, is all about. Fine if you don’t want to do that! It is a demanding exercise, and if you wish to escalate your collecting to higher levels, you need to ask yourself if you are really up for that. Does it sound like something you would be good at?
9. Fakes are rampant in so many parts of the art world, but they are especially likely if the artist is “popular” (e.g., Chagall, Dali) or if the style is easily copied ex post (Malevich). In contrast, if you buy a piece of complex stained glass, it is probably the real thing. The major auction houses are usually reasonably good at rooting out fakes, but there is no institution you can trust 100 percent. And sometimes, as with the recently auction Botticelli and da Vinci paintings, no one really knows for sure (Botticelli pro and con; in any case I don’t like the work, certainly not for $45 million).
10. Don’t buy art on the basis of the artist’s name. This is a good way to end up with a lot of crap and, for that matter, fakes. Just about every famous artist has a fair number of mediocre works, overpriced at that. (That said, if you really just want to “collect names,” you will find it is remarkable on a limited income just how many top names you can wrack up.)
11. Few of the important art collections were built by just throwing tons of money at the task. That is a recipe for being ripped off, and it attracts poor quality sellers to your orbit. You have to understand something more deeply than other people do. Obviously money helps, but you can’t rely on outbidding others as your most important ally.
12. Maybe sometime I’ll tell you the story of how I obtained an especially fine, rare work by throwing a stone at a wild dog in rural Mexico. Or how I tracked another painter down at the mental hospital.
13. Get a mentor!
There is much more I could say of relevance (e.g., how to present yourself to dealers? how to avoid winner’s curse?), but I’ll stop there for now.