Monday, October 16, 2006

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of traditional art. So of course I was drawn to the article in the recent Smithsonian Magazine called "The Painter Who Hated Picasso." I don't know about all that--I like a lot of Picasso--but Sir Alfred Munnings had it more right than wrong when he said:

I find myself a president of a body of men who are what I call shilly-shallying. They feel there is something in this so-called modern art....Well, I myself would rather have—excuse me, my Lord Archbishop—a damned bad failure, a bad, muddy old picture where somebody has set down what they have seen than all this affected juggling....Not so long ago I spoke in this room to the students, and....I said to those students, 'if you paint a tree, for God's sake try and make it look like a tree, and if you paint a sky, try and make it look like a sky....'


"What are pictures for?" To fill a man's soul with admiration and sheer joy, not to bewilder and daze him."
Unfortunately, the linked article has no images, so here is the Google Image search for "Alfred Munnings." There is much to enjoy there, but this is pretty representative of his landscape work:

As usual, but by coincidence, James Lileks sums up the issue nicely with his riff on the new Denver Art Museum at the end of this Bleat.

Also from that Smithsonian, a short funny article by an intelligent person dealing with a conspiracy theorist. The conspiracy this time was the classic "Oh, everybody knows the moon landings were faked."

What is interesting, from my perspective, about the author's response is that he comes at it from a scientific perspective. Check out his account of the give and take:

"The pictures are all perfect," he said.

"Because there is no air," I replied. "Which means no dust, so that distant objects on the moon still appear crisp."

"But they're perfectly focused."

"The published ones are perfectly focused, sure. Nobody wants to see the astronaut's thumb."

His eyes narrowed. "The flag is flapping. How is that possible when there's no wind?"

"It's not flapping," I said. "It's unfurling. Well, not unfurling, but that's the point—it was folded during the flight, and it didn't unfold fully even after they hung from the flagpole."

"OK, maybe. But those supposed moon rocks"—he did that annoying curly-finger quote thing—"could have easily been faked in a lab somewhere on earth."

"There's no water in them," I said. "Nor do they have compositions that are commonly found on earth."

"But you could make them," he insisted. "In a lab."

I clenched my teeth. "It would take less research to just go get them from the actual moon!"

His nostrils flared. He was coming in for the kill now. "What about...radiation! People can't go through the Van Halen belts. They’d be fried."

"Van Allen belts."


"The Apollo traveled through the Van Allen belts in less than an hour. It would take far longer than that for the exposure to affect them."

I launched into a lecture on relative dosage, my area of expertise. But I didn't stop there. In my fury, my three semesters of college physics resurfaced. I shoved the snack plates out of the way and positioned an olive centrally in the cleared space.

"This is earth," I growled. I snatched four cheese puffs, to represent the inner and outer Van Allen radiation belts, then grabbed some Twizzlers and modeled the solar wind and the earth's magnetosphere and the bow shock region.

I started spewing mathematical formulas, not because it was crucial to my argument but to intimidate. "Do you understand?" I finally demanded.
All of the scientific arguments are, or course, correct, but I never would have gone about convincing the conspiracy theorist that way. As a historian, I'm a subject of the humanities, so my thinking on matters such as these leans toward the fallability and inconsistencies of the human condition. Faking the moon landings (and 9/11) would have required a conspiracy so complex, involving so many people operating in absolute secrecy, and run with search perfect competance that it really is beyond the abilities of mankind. Put it this way: faking the moon landings would require more skill than actually landing on the moon.

It seems I'm not alone in thinking this way. Note what finally gives the conspiracy theorist pause in the article:

Finally, my coup de grĂ¢ce: "The Russians."

He knit his brow.

"They had the first satellite, the first man in space, the first spacewalk," I said. "Then America gets the first man on the moon? That's like getting tripped by the other team's mascot. But have the Russians ever said the moon landing was a hoax?"

From now on I will start with this question. He backed away, admitting that perhaps—just maybe—I had a point.
I must say that it is fascinating that this doubter did not believe the American government and the thousands of Americans who worked on the space program, but the Soviet government, long noted for its honesty, seems to get the benefit of the doubt. But leaving that aside, the point of Russian silence on the issue is a very human one. And course, that point has just been added to any argument I have to make at cocktail parties against faking the moon landings.

Not that I go to any cocktail parties. No time for such trifles in a busy life of seeing to the maintenance and cleanup of two high-speed sustenance conversion devices. Time-consumers of all-time, they are. Especially this last weekend, when the cycle of feed-clean-up, activity-clean-up, expunge-clean-up was punctuated by new teeth/developing cold whining and moaning and not sleeping from both machines.

Note to the uninitiated: you know you're in for a long night when the two-year-old points to his right ear and says "Boo boo."

But what amazes me is what troopers they are--when they want to have fun and play, they don't care how sick they feel, they just go have fun and play. In part it is toughness--on Saturday night, the neighbors' daughter (who is two weeks younger than my 11 month old but has been walking for two months already) decided to try to challenge my younger boy's massive melon with a vicious headbutt. It was classic, he was just sitting there while we were talking about his gigantic gourd, and she walks up, cocks her head back, and headbutts him right on the top of the head. And he just looks up, like hey, what was that? All the adults gasped, which made him get scared, and the girl stumbled over to her mom with a large red mark in the middle of her forehead. And that was it--no crying, no complaining, not a mark on the boy. He's got a head like a coconut and he's extremely tough--which is useful because he has absolutely no self-preservation instinct and tries to hurt himself at every opportunity.

But part of the kids playing while they are sick is that they refuse not to play. They might get tired quicker, but dammit, they are going to play. Mind over matter.

I never missed a football game for a cold, whether it be strep throat, the flu, or a sinus infection. I wanted to play the games that bad. Which is approximately half as much as my kids want to play with toy trucks even when they have ear infections. Amazing little machines, they are. I don't miss the cocktail parties at all.

(Besides, I can save my moon landings argument for late on the weekends, when we drink beers around the fire pit in the backyard.)


Stephen said...

For some reason, that picture really make me want to hear you rant and rave about something at about 3 am.

Tom said...

Come on over. You know where I live.

Tom said...

And yes, I carved that sign by hand. I'm a tool.