We checked out the Empresses exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum today (yeah, I’m sorry we didn’t get out earlier so I could plug it before its final week) and aside from the most wondrous silk stitching I’ve seen in my life, I was stuck with a couple zoological-perspective revelations.
First, the symbol of the Emperor is the five-clawed dragon, the symbol of the Empress is the Phoenix. I noticed that to bolster the real-world actuality of the imaginary birds, they were always painted (and stitched, and carved) the same way (long neck with crested head, long legs, some peacock aspects to the plumage) and often in a natural setting — a bird among birds.
Second, it blew our brains how a different cultural attitude toward an animal can change its representation in art. I knew bats were considered good luck symbols (because of no more than a weird word coincidence), but did not realize how much a different connotation, even perception, of an animal could alter its representation in art. There were lots of bats with beautiful curly wings and cute, whiskery faces. And then some utterly wild ones that had white wings, pink heads and blue bodies (more like butterflies, really). Concluded that these were understood to not be realism in any way, but their own sort of ideogram.
[Single most astonishing object: the head-on-both-ends dragon seal of the final Emperor. It was not melted down like all previous ones because he was the last Emperor. Weighs 40 pounds. Incredibly detailed, utterly ferocious monster.]
I got a malware pitch this week that tried to ask me “If I had any advice to blog writers.”
Sorry, evil machine, no direct response to you. But not the worst question. Because a quite simple answer came to me, which was of course an intention of the twisted bot pitch.
For me, blogs are:
Basically, the oldest message I’ve sent out on the Interwebs — don’t write/post/whatever you would not say on the open street where anyone could hear you. But try to hold an active, varied, funny conversation that entertains and provokes ideas and new interests.
I can do quick, informal reviews of whatever I want here, old or new. And I’m very gratified that these are now considered real journalism of very informal sort. That’s fun, and the fun is what I want to preserve.
I see that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s ’90s albums are going to be reissued. Back in the day I had a real mixed response: I was glad they were out there because he could use the moolah; these numbers were just (sometimes good) jokes — his earlier renditions had been both jokes and not-jokes. And this is one of my all-time favorite Hairy Who paintings (very sad to see it is not on display — first discovered it visiting the museum in Chicago):
One of David’s superb characteristics is that he made sure if you hung out with him you would learn art information that was exciting and important to you. During that same St. Louis visit, he ensured we went to what he called the most essential exhibit in the city for me. Turned out to be a small gallery featuring a bunch of early drawings by Jim Nutt (one of the most perfect artist names, ever) including most of the items on this page.
I was captivated and transported. I knew nothing of Nutt (love the phrases that happen spontaneously) barely more about The Hairy Who than they had a super-cool name. Now we’ve got three books about Nutt and the Hairys and a lot more savvy about a major part of early Pop Surrealism. Thanks to David.
Joyce Carol Oates just put this brilliant comment on Twitter:
all we ever hear is NRA. who exactly are the gun manufacturers whose merchandise is being peddled? whose guns are killing citizens, thousands a year? CEO’s certainly have names. the anonymity of NRA gives it a spurious aura, like “act of God.” blood on the hands of–exactly whom?
She has the most profound understanding I know of American violence, its cover-up, and its eerie connection to a current of Edgar Allen Poe/H.P. Lovecraft that runs through the country.
If you haven’t read her incredible 1966 story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been,” you must.