Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Is "Dennis The Menace" Right?

My apologies to Hank Ketcham - but this was too good to pass up!

I saw this cartoon a few weeks ago and clipped it out for a better time to comment on it. After a recent visit to the wonderful, actually amazing Palm Springs Art Museum, this cartoon suddenly came into focus. I saw the world through the eyes of another.

I brought my friend from Hong Kong to visit the museum that is free Thursdays from 4 - 8 pm. Afterwords we headed to the equally amazing street fair in itself a kind of revolving art show. At least a mile or two of Palm Canyon Drive is blocked off from 5 pm to 9 pm every Thursday. The street becomes a street vendors paradise. Stores that line the street are also mostly open including many art galleries, tourist traps, food and assorted stores. It is incredibly easy to spend three hours roaming the street and sidewalks! The variety of vendors and their often handmade items is astounding!

I discovered that growing up in Communist China, abstract or modern art was not encouraged. Their posters and banners, wall coverings and such all used a kind of Hitlerish, Stalinist style of art that is best left for war posters. Modern art wasn't available, nor much else, as a child growing up my friend pointed out. He has been to many museums in Europe, learned to appreciate Western art and found himself enjoying the range of items available here. I too was more than impressed. However, with Dennis in mind, I looked at some of the offerings in a new light. I'm sure Stanley Whitney's BLUE MEETS YELLOW, left, was what he had in mind. I could see a little boy asking, really?

I can remember one Christmas holiday I spent with my children as my father-in-law was dying. To keep them busy, I took my yearly vacation to spend time with them freeing their mother to deal with her father. The kids loved museums and boy did we visit them! However, it was the Museum of Modern Art that brought the most comments. In the courtyard was a sculpture of airplane parts that had actually fallen off planes, was gathered and put together again in an abstract sculpture. Whatever it may have intended, it was a sobering item when you figured out what some of those parts were and where they were on the plane. I made them promise to never tell Grandma, a woman who while flying a great deal in her life, hated flying. 

Walking through the museum there was a painting that fascinated my daughter. Titled THE BLUE ROOM she walked up to it, fascinated. After a rather long time, she turned, looked at me and said, "Daddy, there isn't even a spot of blue in this painting!" Stifling laughter, I tried to explain to her that the artist was trying to depict sadness, it was a a room that where the artist was trying to depict what it was like to be sad. She turned, looked at it and shrugging moved on.

I could only imagine what my kids in their youth would have said, like Dennis, what is wrong with this car? Erwin Wurm's FAT CAR, left, would have caused more than a little comment. Children don't usually take kindly to aberrations of what they know and see every day.

Its not only children either. While there were many in the museum that night, it was but a fraction of the numbers walking the street fair. Modern art, in many ways and for years probably since the rise of Expressionism and the birth of modern art has left the sensibilities of many
adults in the cold. With the rise of modern realism again it is at least an attempt to portray our world in a view that the main stream can understand. dali comes to mind. His objects are realistic but often distorted showing in their way a way to view the world. Even with that said however, the sculpture of a male and female tourists in a realistic sculpture that you might at first think were alive, (look closely at the figures on the extreme left of the galley photo) that is at once amazing and disconcerting. So, who knows.

The Chihuly glass sculpture here and of course in his museum in his native Seattle museum are simply fun ... fantastic, whimsical forms that need no description. They don't pretend to be anything. 

While we may chuckle at the comments of Dennis and our children, they do speak a greater truth, one that artists from time immemorial have tried to express, distill and portray their perception of the world.
To truly understand art, the artists and their movements, you need to study them and learn what they are trying to say. Many of the great paintings were love often had resistance to their images. People didn't know what to think.

As I have said in earlier blogs, one can never know what art will live and what will never find a place in art history. Does that mean that it is of no value? I argue that it does not. It fascinates me to see Pennsylvania Dutch items, painted as gifts and as modest decorations of German immigrants items back from the 1700's appraised for high values on the Antiques Roadshow. I think we can safely say, those unknown artists were not decorating everyday items for fame or money.

Art is definitely a personal item. There are those that collect with the hope that their purchases will eventually become quite valuable but often, purchases are made because the artist was able to reach out and captivate the purchaser. An example of a primitive painter would be Roy De Forest's PAINTER IN THE FOREST. It brings to mind the painter Henri Rousseau's primitive paintings done in the height of the Impressionist period in France. While they weren't popular in his time, they are considered amazing works of a primitive art style today. De Forest's piece, left, is amazing in both its detail and complexity. It is notable because he went outside the box!
The Palm Springs museum would have things that would intrigue the Dennis's of the world. One of the things that really captivated me was a light sculpture that had the shadow of birds flying through it. It was arresting and fun to just stand and watch. Rather than being repetitive, the birds, actually their shadows, flew through the lights randomly and can only be captured with a video. 

Of course the plate sculpture would have been understood as to what it was but as to the size and why, well, probably Dennis would have been as perplexed as I was. About the only place such a
creation could be shown would be a museum. So I guess many of the things we see, especially in museums are items created expressly for them.

There are collectors who buy such items and with huge homes needing to be filled, are willing to make such purchases. Many great artists throughout history have been patronized by wealthy patrons and it is to them that we owe our artistic heritage. Who has not seen THE MONA LISA, or Van Gogh's STARRY NIGHT, a Vermeer, even a Rodin sculpture and not been moved. Great art captures a moment in time.

However, the secret to understanding art is to actually learn about it. While I have studied a great deal about art on my own, it was a curator at the Los Angeles Museum of Art that finally made me understand Expressionism. Reaching further than the Impressionists, she made the exhibit at the time, "From Van Gogh to Kandinsky" come alive in a way I had never experienced art before. A good teacher, curator, can do that.

So before we dismiss art, any art, it would be wise to study the artist to try to understand what they are trying to say. The world is a confusing place and artists usually are more sensitive to events and are able in their own way to show us, point out the good and bad in us in ways many of us are not able to do ourselves.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please look at earlier posts that show, in their own way, how design shapes our lives!

Monday, May 9, 2016

For The Love Of Dogs

My Labrador Retriever, Maggie
When I moved to Palm Springs, one of the things I wanted as much as anything else from my old life was my dog Maggie. We really do design our lives whether we want to call it that or not. And one of the things that you quickly discover, on your morning walks, here in Palm Springs and just about every other city in the Coachella Valley, is that there are dogs. Lots of dogs. Usually in multiples everywhere.

In the condo complex where I live you meet everyone pretty quickly as we all seem to walk our dogs at about the same time. Most are friendly but then there are those that aren't.

For me, living alone for the first time in nearly 40 years, a dog sort of grounds you into a daily routine, whether you want one or not. I've discovered its not unlike bringing up a child all over again! However, they also provide great company and are so happy to see you when you return. Feed them, give them walks every few hours and they make the best companion ever.

Palm Springs Dog Park
In the Coachella Valley you discover that dog lovers abound. You see them in stores, on leashes at the street fair, your morning walks. They have many many fundraisers for animal shelters and it is a source of pride to point out at the city dog park that the dog was gotten at the SPCA. The weekend newspaper even features dogs and cats that are available to be adopted ... usually a full page of them.

We started walking to the city dog park when I realized it was about a 20 minute walk away from the condo. Maggie has spent most of her life alone with me and has never been particularly interested in other dogs. Not aggressive to them, she prefers going up to the owners and getting a free pet instead! Each visit however she becomes more dog sociable and that gives the owners a chance to chat and pet whatever dog happens to come up and want petting. Soon you realize most do.

Lizard Patrol
Here at the condo she has discovered the joys of catching lizards to such a degree that I now call our pee breaks "doing the LP " (... lizard patrol.) Bred as retrievers she has no problem looking up at trees, the numerous walls as well as the ground and moves so fast they are in her mouth before I can even react. How can an 9 year-old dog move so fast? I try to get her to drop them and she pretends to do so then later I spot them on the living room floor. She doesn't eat them but trust me, they ARE dead. One of the funniest scenes was when she managed to capture a pretty large one. In the process of stunning it by shaking her head it got out of her mouth and ran towards a rock near me. She looked the other way and missed the escape.
After breakfast - she sleeps you are awake!

Currently we have a small problem. While I used to always wake up quite early, say around 4 - 5 am, she still thinks that is the proper time. I would get up, feed her, make coffee and begin my day. I don't need to get up that early anymore but well, she still does. It starts at the appointed hour, say 4:30 am with half of her on the bed. Her cold nose finds a vulnerable spot, the tongue comes out and then paws. It doesn't do any good to discourage her because, well, I am now awake.

Oddly, once fed, she is content to go back to sleep again and leave you awake. So there I sit, coffee in hand and catch up on the email I have ignored all day the day before.

There is a short LP, then later we have a good 30 or so minute walk that she is insistent on having. Actually, I need it too so after delaying it if I'm involved with something she comes up to you with "the look." First its just "the look." Then she grins and if that doesn't do the trick up come the paws on your
The look!
knees. Usually that will do the trick so I put on walking shoes and off we go.

I'm not really sure here who is training whom. I would say that she has done a pretty good job of getting me to do her bidding. While we haven't had 100ยบ+ weather yet, I would imagine soon that feeding time and our long walks will coincide. This week promises to be the hottest one since I moved here in January and so far she doesn't seem to be affected. I'm concerned about the heat on her paws though.

Already I am beginning to look for walks that have more shade. I've discovered that while palm trees are impressive and quite large here, they are useless for shade. Palm Springs has been tearing up the grassy sidewalks and replacing grass with desert landscaping. That includes trees that do give some shade. Actually this desert landscaping is far more colorful than grass and provides even more interesting places for critters to hide, much to Maggie's delight. Their world must be so different from ours. They say a dog has a 100,000 % greater sense of smell that humans; watching her sniff a spot in the dirt, this must be so.
Riding shotgun.
After the long walk

She is also a great travel companion ... always riding shotgun if she can. Sitting up and looking out the window, like a people, she causes more than her share of stares as she looks down from the truck's high window. After awhile, she will sprawl across the seat and really stretch if I pull up the center armrest. Now that the truck is gone though, she will have to be content with her new front seat. The center console doesn't move anymore. Sometimes she will stretch out in the back but she seems to prefer getting as close as she can, putting her head on the console,  making sure she gets her petting quotient.

Qiang and Maggie
A friend recently visited who, growing up in China during "The Cultural Revolution," never had a pet. I was surprised and he admitted that well, they had rabbits and chickens ... then ate them. He was nervous about being with a dog, his first time. However, she took to him like a long lost friend letting him bathe her (the first time since she came here) and groom her everyday. I must admit she never looked better. He would feed her in the middle of the night and even walk her. They became best buddies. Labs are like that. Being around people seems to be their greatest joy. And yes, it is a joy!

One of the best things about living here is that I don't have to worry about her escaping as before. She is an escape artist. I probably got her because she got out of her previous owners yard. She can easily climb a chain link fence ... a constant source of worry leaving her alone in the yard. Now I have a concrete patio with high walls and a high wooden gate. I can leave the slider open so she can sleep in her kennel, have access to water or roam the condo when I am gone.

A man's best friend!!!
There are many ways we create a lifestyle ... I prefer saying "design" our lives. We can be single, single with pets, married, married with pets or married with children and oftentimes pets. There are dog people, cat people, bird people even fish or bird people, often having several of the above. I never truly realized how much they bring to our lives until alone again. Like an unruly child they can be a pill but what they bring lovingly to you far outweighs any other thing.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier blogs as they all, one way or another, talk about the way we and our world designs how we live.