Sunday, September 21, 2008

Are we what we like?

A very interesting coincidence of ideas has appeared in the press recently. On a CNN blog, research into what makes a conservative different from a liberal was discussed. According to a study by political scientists at Rice University, conservative volunteers for a visual experiment showed markedly different reactions to stimuli than their democratic counterparts. Conservatives were more disturbed by unsettling images such as wounds and spiders, whereas the others were less averse to ugly sights.This struck me as odd, as conservatives in the U.S. and elsewhere tend to be more bellicose , and favour the bearing of arms , and the imposition of more draconian punishments than lefties do. Then I recalled an article in The New Yorker some months ago, where the critic, Peter Schjeldahl, said much the same thing. Conservative people, he implied, like an ordered and un-threatening world, where the viewer is in control of his circumstances, and he needs to take control if danger lurks. Liberal people are more open to "the other", and the" odd". Stimuli which provoke discomfort and fear in some people appeal to the curiosity of others. Obviously, the world needs both kinds of person, [ not that I, as a liberal, believe this for a minute!], and the Rice study suggests that our biases may be genetic. Knowing that this could be so may perhaps calm our exasperation with all those who say that their kids could outpaint Picasso , or that Wyeth is trite. We don't know what we like----we ARE what we like! But, oh, how we love those arguments!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mild Violence and Moderate Horror.

The B.B.C.produces some wonderful documentaries, yet somewhere in a back office sits The Official Stress Gauge. Is it a pleasantly middle-aged woman in twin-set and pearls, with a motherly concern for our emotional well-being ? Or is it a large machine, into whose maw are flung assorted tapes which are then passed through a politically correct robotic digestive system? She [or it] sends advisory notes to the printers of CD boxes. "Contains mild violence and nudity and moderate horror", says the blurb on my copy of "How Art Made the World". Everything except the integrity of words seems to be protected by this caveat. Okay, perhaps there are degrees of aggression and nudity----a badly thrown punch , or a breech-clouted bronze nude, but horror is not capable of polite qualification. Words like horror and terror, fury and ecstasy live on the far edge of language, occasionally enhanced by 'absolute' or 'total'. Better words exist for their less overwhelming emotional cousins, ----'fear', or 'anger', or 'joy', down to being 'scared' or 'cross ' or 'pleased.'

I suspect that my pedantic attitude towards warnings is because I probably don't want caveats for the arts. How can we be moved by the terrible beauty inherent in the arts if we are all kitted out in hard-hats and padded jackets? ....."Pssst," whispers the usher, "King Lear can be pretty awkward when he gets upset." ........ "Try to overlook the negative aspects of the Last Judgement, old chap" says a kindly guide in the Sistine Chapel, " these Italian fellows are inclined to be a bit over the top." ......"I suggest you leave during the slow movement, " advises the programme seller, "that Eroica can be a real tear-jerker."

No. Say : "The contents of this programme will probably disconcert you or move you. If you want anything less, we suggest a sit-com."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Missing More of Miami.

Miamians like designer dogs, great thoroughbred hounds , or little moustachio'ed things with hair-do's who live in handbags. They also like more exotic pets. There is the monitor lizard who sits in his owner's bike basket,his stubby legs on the handlebars, glaring with saurian splendour at passers-by, and flicking his purple tongue. There are the ones that got away. "White Ferret Lost. Reward" pasted to a wall. My favourites are the feral cats, bow-legged but unbowed, who lurk on the beaches and construction sites. What they think of the pampered pooches can only be imagined. As one dozes on the beach shadows pass over one's torpid body, and only by the sound can one tell if it is a 'plane overhead, or a pelican.

For a landscape artist, Miami has little to offer. There is only so much one can do with huge skies, indigo seas and palm trees. The only challenge left is to paint them worse than anybody else. The artwork that really conveys the sense of South Florida is the Mojito.An Everglade of muddled mint,a balmy splash of rum, the citron sharpness of lime, and ice-cubes that reflect stacked clouds and tranquil waterways to perfection. Order two, and look at one while you drink the other.