Friday, September 20, 2002

There was a fire across the street from my bus stop this morning.

I noticed it first because of the huge black plume of smoke. Actually, I noticed it before I noticed it. I thought it was foggy outside, and I was worried that the bench would be too wet to sit on. Then I noticed the pillar of smoke.

Since I was still stupefied from being up too early, I didn't realize that the smoke was unusual. I just thought it was from a smokestack. Then I thought, hey, there's no smokestack on that building. Which is when I saw the fire.

It was burning in a grove of trees by the highway. The orange glow flickered through the black outlines of the trees growing between me and the flames. It seemed rather small, especially when compared to the multi-acre fires we've been used to this year. I watched it for a while before I thought, should I call the fire department?

There were a few men in the parking lot across the street, they were closer to the fire. I thought they must have called, since they were obviously watching it. But it was quiet, and time dragged on with no sirens. I became suspicious and wondered if those people were the ones who had set the fire.

There are crazies out there, you know.

If I'd had my phone with me, I would have called. I've never called 911 before, it would be a good thing to know how to do, in case of emergency. But this was an emergency. There was a fire across the street.

I'd had a fire near my house before, at a nasty slummy place I lived in Anchorage. The building over burned down. We all got out on the balconies and watched it. But the trucks were already on the scene.

I was waiting for the bus, and I was concerned because it was late already. I had an important meeting at work I didn't want to be late for. But there was a fire burning. What if no one called 911? In my sleep deprived state, I just watched it burn. I was reminded of how much I love the smell of woodsmoke. It always reminds me of fall in Alaska.

But this wasn't a fire in a woodstove. What if it raged and I ignored it, because I needed to go to work?

That's what's wrong with the world today. People don't care. Maybe I should go inside and call the fire department.

It seemed like an eternity before the trucks appeared. But they did blare up the road, and let me off the hook.

After they fire was put out, wispy flakes of ash began to rain on me.
posted by Murphy 9/20/2002

Thursday, September 19, 2002

This art review is on blogcritics, too. Just so you know.
posted by Murphy 9/19/2002

I got a chance to see the works of Thomas Struth this week at the Museum of Modern Art here in downtown LA. I made a point of going to the MOCA , since I believe in the importance of art and art museums. It's funny, I'll go to huge lengths to spend an entire day at a museum when I travel, but if it's nearby and convenient, I have trouble finding the time.

The MOCA is a small museum, which is good because I only had my lunch hour to see it. Also, the "contemporary art" title made me curious as to what I should expect. It's funny, but you can't call it "Modern" art anymore. Modern art is the art of a specific period, which, ironically, is in the PAST. Those who categorize and subdivide are soon going to run out of words.

But contemporary art right now means Thomas Struth, among others. His works on display were photographic. Big photographs. I'm concerned with three kinds of things he took pictures of:

Patches of jungle
Major City streets
People in museums looking at incredible art

In his jungle shots, there were no people, only plants. In this respect, Struth was the only human touch in the scene. The plants grew untamed in an order completely without human intervention. Struth's choice of angle and lighting for his photograph was the only external influence upon the profusion of flora represented in the work.
The city views he photographed were the exact opposite. Every object in the frame was something created by humans. Sidewalks, streets, skyscrapers, billboards, streetlights, even the clothes on the passersby were all products of human choices and endeavor. And yet...The scene in total was more random than each individual choice. In the same way that each plant in the jungle photos sprung up according to it's own needs and volition, it seemed as if each man-made object in these city scenes had sprung up out of distinct and different wills and desires. The scene was chaotic and conflicting, with different goals and philosophies expressed. The people walking through the streets all had their own purposes in mind, mostly unaffected and undeterred by their surroundings. There was not really an over-arching plan in the arrangement of these big and small objects, they sprang up according to desire and need.

The progression of subjects in these photographs from purely natural to purely man made reminded me of something...It wasn't until I put it together with the photos of people in museums that I remembered...The aesthete movement in Victorian England.
Walter Pater started it, and Oscar Wilde finished it. "Art for art's sake" was their slogan. As I remember it, Pater wrote up this whole argument that artistically refined art is the better.

Think: refined like sugar.

He said, Nature is beautiful, yes. Go out and receive the beauty of a sunset. But you might be disappointed. It would be better by far to go to a museum and observe a painting of a beautiful sunset. But if that is a better idea, then it might be even better to read a beautiful critical piece about the beautiful painting of a beautiful sunset.
The art critic's piece would be beauty (aka art) processed, refined, three times. He rhapsodically concluded that it must therefore be the highest and best
I’m not making this stuff up. He had a lot of adherents in his day.

So the photos of the jungle are once processed, just nature turned into a photograph. The next one was cities, human-processed nature, turned into art.

But don't stop there!

We now arrive at the photographs of people in museums looking at the art. Which is a little weird, because I was in a museum looking at photos of the people looking at art in a museum.

I think Pater would have been curling his toes in glee.

I was thinking of Puff Daddy. Are these photos the equivalent of remixes? Like in P. Diddy's remixes, I was paying attention to the hook. Me and my friend kept commenting on the beautiful paintings in the photo. Of course! They were astounding and beautiful and all the things that we love to go to museums for.

What if there was a 99-cent museum gallery, with nothing in it but prints of great works of art? I bet we would enjoy it still.

Just a thought.

I'm still not sure about Struth. I respected the jungle and city shots, but I am uncertain about the museum shots. What was the originality of his product? How much of himself was he really adding?

posted by Murphy 9/19/2002

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

I'm famous!

Those of you who read my boyfriend's blog are familiar with the truly stupendous new website, Blogcritics.org. That clever man who created Blogcritics, Eric Olsen, sent me my password to join the Blogcritic cadre.

I'm so thrilled to see myself in print, I'm squirmy!

I reprinted my little review on Alanis over there. It's exactly the same as the one below, but it is on someone else's page, with a logo and links on the side.

You should check out the site, anyway. It is grassroots in the best possible way, and it's interesting. I find out all kinds of things by checking it out.

This may have the result of focussing my posts, here, too. I may feel more motivated towards critically relevant topics, and less inclined towards introspective musings...Or maybe I will merge the two!

We'll see.
posted by Murphy 9/18/2002

Tuesday, September 17, 2002


Thank you for your patience. Let's just say, you get what you pay for sometimes.

Blogger was giving me technical problems. Apparently, they thought I needed a makeover.

I kind of like the new look, and I really like that I can post again.
posted by Murphy 9/17/2002

Once, while on a visit to a zoo, I saw a jaguar. This shiny black animal was pacing back and forth in front of his cage, eyes intent on the direction he was headed, muscles rippling with the potential of all the things muscles can do.

I could not stop watching this pent up animal. He was caged, yes, but he also seemed pent inside himself. I wanted to catch his eye to see what he was feeling. Of course, he never looked at me. He was single-minded in his purposeful prowl.

I could not help remembering that magnificent beast when I saw Alanis Morrisette explode onto the stage at the Greek Theatre last Saturday. Her skin-tight black leather pants helped the illusion, but she had the same barely contained pacing that the jaguar had. She loped across the stage in strides that were far longer than most people would take. She stretched her legs, and her voice and her heart out as far as she could.

Her songs have always hit me like a Mack truck. When she sings about love and faith and pain she takes the lid off the things I’ve “kept bubbling under,” and makes me feel the need to move, to act, or to speak.

Her songs, no matter which one, express her spirit. She is not comfortable, she is not complacent. When I saw her relentless pacing onstage, I was not surprised. I feel like pacing too, when I hear her songs.

I am grateful to her, because she grapples with ideas and issues that many people grapple with. Most people, however, give up in exhaustion, willing to believe that answers or even questions are beyond their capacity. Alanis does not give up on them. After seeing her perform in person, I can see that she cannot. The person she is finds it physically impossible to back off.

She engages her experiences and her questions as if in battle. She finds a way to express them, and behind every single song is a harmonic drone, like a bagpipe, of “Why?” She dares to take it on.

And I, along with many others, am very much the richer for it. She’s given a voice to many of us, because she was able to express herself, She did not hold back and say, “that’s too personal, I’d better just be quiet about that.” It’s in the personal, in the subjective, that the universal human experience can be understood.

I appreciate her bravery, and I am so glad I saw her in concert. I really need to buy her latest album.

posted by Murphy 9/17/2002

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Musings about art and the meaning of life