Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Art of Mathematics

When I was in 5th grade, around 1954-55, I had a math teacher who was probably brilliant but what did I know at the age of 10.  In retrospect, however, I believe he was somehow involved with early computers.  Anyway, he was teaching us about “Random Number Tables”.  I have always had a very linear mind and I thought at the time how ridiculous, why would you want a random number table.  I naively asked, “how do you set up a random number table?”.  I am sure you have guessed his answer, “Randomly”!  It only took me about 65 years to understand.  Today, for almost anything I want to do, log into a financial website or sync my remote keyboard with my monitor, they send me a 6-digit number which is, of course, randomly picked by a computer.  I actually marvel at all the combinations and possibilities.

This has had me thinking about mathematics and art. They say that art works on emotion and imagination to create a reaction in the viewer or listener.  Some people find emotional reactions in the perfection of mathematics.  Certainly, line and proportion are part of both visual arts and mathematics.

I am sure that one of my old schoolbooks had the Vitruvian Man created around 1487 by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) to represent what he believed were the ideal human proportions. The drawing was accompanied by Leonardos’ notes based on the calculations of Vitruvius, the 1st century BC Roman architect and engineer.

When I started to delve further into the subject there was kind of a “dah” moment when I related the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) to my geometry class. His early work was quite traditional painting landscapes and still-lives and, for my taste, his flowers were beautiful. Without going into his philosophy too deeply, when he came to believe that art surpassed the mundane and wished to find a higher level, he became a leader in modern abstract art.  If you care to review a geometry lesson based on the artist click here 

Here is an iconic Mondrian Image, “Broadway Booggie Woogie” painted in 1942.  It can be found in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

I cannot comprehend the scientific definition of a fractal, but I did find a relatively simple definition: fractals exhibit similar patterns at increasingly small scales. Can the same shape, repeated over and over again at smaller scale be turned into an image to which one can form an emotional attachment?  Research done by a physicist, Richard Taylor at the University of Oregon and others claim that Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings are fractals.  These complex geometric shapes have been studied by mathematicians since only in the 1970’s.  Jackson Pollock died in 1956!  Here is a Fractal Canvas Print by Jason Padgett and a Jackson Pollock Drip Painting called “Lavender Mist # 1” from 1950 and now in the National Gallery, Washington D.C.

The lengths that some will go to, to explain a painting shows why I have stayed away from math all my life and centered on the arts!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Trump Art Souvenirs

I have no wish to become a political, much less just an anti-trump, blogger but I believe I have made it clear on how I feel about our previous President. To work within the scope of my Missives I have found a middle ground at least for this week in the “art” that makes fun of him. It probably galls him no-end and that brightens my day!

Artists have produced a great deal of protest art thanks to our last president The first time I became aware of this phenomenon was an article on an acquisition by the Museum of London of a giant “trump baby” balloon for its collection of Protest Art.  The unflattering caricature of him as a giant baby in a diaper waving a cell phone first flew over London in 2018 to mark the president’s first official visit.

Activist, artist and curator, Karen Gutfreund, illustrates the Anti-Trump Fine Art Movement in her nf released book, “Not Normal: Art in the Age of Trump”.  Here Is one of my favorite examples, a billboard by Karen Fiorito called “Trumpocalypse”, (2017) in Phoenix, Arizona, 10 x 42.6 feet.

New York artist, Andres Serrano, best known for his “Piss Christ” has gathered examples of trump memorabilia in a multi-media installation devoted to his subject called, “The Game: All things trump.”  Serrano spent two years and $200,000 of his own money putting the collection together.  He opened his   presentation in a defunct night club in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District with a thousand pieces related to his subject including a souvenir miniature cake from trump’s 2005 wedding to Melania!

The exhibition, which starts with trump as a businessman, is a portrait of consumerism and egoism wrapped up in a lot of cringe-worthy memorabilia. It demonstrates that trump's America has been a long time in the making.  Unfortunately, it is not a permanent museum, but it is commemorated in a book.

The pro-trump Insurrection at the Capitol has inspired the Smithsonian to collect flags, protest signs and other ephemera from the event.  This bumper sign is headed for the collection of the National Museum of American History.

Photo by Frank Blazich

The most devastating aspect of trump’s legacy is being documented by the state museums of New Mexico which are collecting photographs and written submissions regarding the Covid Pandemic.  There is a lot to collect for the last time I checked the U.S. ranks among the countries with the most Covid-related deaths per capita, and so many could have been avoided with responsible leadership.  The more that museums preserve of this period the better the reminder to future generations to watch out for a repeat of this kind of would-be tyrant.  

Sunday, January 17, 2021


Ten days later and I am still boiling.  Who could believe that an event such as two Democrats, one a black Minister and  a young Jewish documentary filmmaker get elected to the US House of Represenatives in Georgia, of all places, and it gets so little play on the news.  You know why? We had an insurrection in the Capital and in the Capitol preceded by a treasonable  phone call trying to overthrow our election.

If you have followed my Missives over the last 4 years you saw these blogs:

So hopefully this is a final farewell from this president who should be in prison … I shall live in hope.

Here are a couple of comments from friends and colleagues that resonated with me because of my German Jewish immigrant parents:

 “I left Germany when I was 4; born after war, my parents could barely speak about what happened, but I have studied my past -- I'm a German gentile after all- and I needed to understand what happened.  I know what Hitler did- race baiting, scape goating, distorting the truth, lying, using violence and pressure, demanding loyalty,  attacking the press-  using his loyalists like thugs- scaring people -- creating a cult- it's ALL there- ALL THERE! Plus he's INSANE—"

Another wrote: 

“This is a rare day when I’m powerfully reminded that I’m an (Jewish) immigrant & naturalized American citizen. I’m remembering the prizes I won in elementary school in the 1940’s for my Americanism essays. Can this be made right? Was the idealism with which my immigrant parent imbued me misplaced? Today I had to wonder.”

Susan Glasser ended her excellent New Yorker piece on “Trümperdämmerung” this way: "Out of all the books I read this year—and I read many, stuck at home during 2020’s endless quarantine—the one that resonated perhaps the most was “Those Who Forget,” an account by the French-German author Géraldine Schwarz of postwar Europe’s, and her own family’s, not entirely successful effort to reckon with the crimes of the Second World War. It made the very convincing case that, until and unless there is a full accounting for what happened with Donald Trump, 2020 is not over and never will be. I still don’t want to remember, but I know that forgetting is not an option, either."

How about I end with a bit of news that is more positive. Lee Rosenbaum, wrote about the collateral damage to the 300 works in the Capitol that are desginated as art in her blog called, “Scooprose, Culture Grrl” in the Arts Journal on the subject of:

The New York Times and others picked up the story a bit later.  Happily, there was no major damage to paintings and sculptures t including those in the Rotunda.  For once in my life, I was happy that the marauders did not understand art and thought it unimportant.  If there had been, we would have had another black eye from the international community where there is a greater appreciation.

When we look for the seditionists, we must remember that the criminals were not only those who invaded the Capitol: Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Josh Hawley and their cohorts who tried to overturn the election should be included, not to mention their leader, djt.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Tira Howard – A Hidden Talent

Who is Tira Howard? Well you may ask … she is a hidden talent in Santa Fe, a fabulous photographer who I only discovered in that guise on-line, first on Facebook and then on her website ( Let me say right here that I know Tira because she is married to one of our son’s best friends, Brian Weed, a cinematographer for the Travel Channel. Let me further state that I asked Tira if I could write about her. 

Tira told me that she has been interested in photography as long as she can remember.  The first decade of her life was spent in Japan where her father went with the Peace Corps and later taught there.  As her father was an avid photographer, she was just following in his footsteps, often carrying a camera with her, taking photographs of her world, her friends and even her stuffed animals.

She became serious about photography when she was a little older and her father gave her an old Nikon F1. Today her favorite camera is a Canon EOS-R and most often attaches a Canon zoom 24-70mm f/2.8L but her favorite lens for portraits is a Canon 85mmf/1.2.  Though she says she relishes the sensations of rolling film onto a spool, she also uses a range of digital tools.

In spite of her life-long love of photography Tira only turned professional in 2015  when she moved to New Mexico. With an already long list of both corporate and private clients Tira bills herself as a Fashion and Portrait photographer. To me she is much more than that.  Though her work has appeared in numerous New Mexican publications, in my opinion she is a superb artist who deserves to be known beyond our state borders.

For this blog I picked a few of my favorite of her photos, which could not be easily pigeon-holed, and asked for her comments.  There was a still life which reminded me of a Dutch 17th century painting and her observation of her work was, “The quality of light in painting, as in photography, is so much of what informs the feeling and storytelling of an image … I’m always learning, and the painterly quality of many of the Dutch masters has a lot of inspiration to draw from.”

I told Tira that this second image of a woman made me think of French artists of the 19th century.  Tira said, “The romance of much French 19th century painting, is the kind of storytelling that appeals to my soul. I really enjoy the drama of elevating a humble moment or subject to one of heroism or fantasy…”.

The third is a striking photograph that for some reason I find upsetting. Tira, of course, looked at it differently, “These wild geese were so full of personality and the shapes that their bodies made as they interacted with each other were mesmerizing.”

Here is a photo that I did not ask about since it appears as such a universal of mother and child.  I have been taking photos of our 15-month-old granddaughter which prove all little ones are cute, Tira’s photograph, however, goes much further into the emotional bond between infant and parent than any photo of this subject that I have ever seen.

One last quote from Tira which I am sure any photographers out there will appreciate, “I’m hoping someone can invent a camera I can just keep in my eye.”

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Sharing Art During Covid

I have been struggling to find art subjects to write about during these 9 months of shut down. Then I found this headline in “PLEASE REMAIN IN YOUR VEHICLE WHILE VIEWING ART. A drive-through exhibition in a commercial parking lot in Mexico City brings together over 30 works by more than 20 contemporary artists.”  Obviously, this is not ideal, and the works would have to be of a certain size, but what an innovative idea.  If I were there, I would definitely drive through.

Photo Michelle Baran

The U.S. government seems to think that the arts are not essential and even though some might disagree we have to appreciate that if the current Administration has little interest in the health of the population, at least a number of local governments do.  Be that as it may, art institutions are doing the best they can to keep the arts alive and retain the interest of their public. Otherwise, it is “out of sight, out of mind”.

I am on the board of our main venue for concerts and other theater events.  Amazingly, thanks to the generosity of our community they have done almost as well financially as in a year where they can collect revenue.  But that cannot be expected annually. Museums and ot    her forms of the arts have made great efforts to provide online programming for free, but they may have to put up paywalls, so that,like Netflix and Prime Video, people will have to pay for entertainment on their home screens.  While we are missing a whole lot by not seeing the original and not being able to enjoy it with others, we may be paying less than the price of an admission ticket.  When the institutions finally reopen additional people from all over the world will be able to join in for online tours of exhibitions bringing in a new revenue stream.

Even major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York that are beginning to open can only have 25% capacity. Of course, when you have 2.2 million square feet it allows 2,000 people per hour to enter, and with so few tourists you won’t don’t have to worry about crowds!

From the Irish Times

We recently donated a Hopi Concho Belt to the Metropolitan Museum.  We told them that we had an excellent packing service here in Santa Fe, Pak Mail, which specializes in Indian art and serves our famed annual Indian Market. But the Met insisted on sending the art shipping service they normally deal with, at greater cost.  At least they did not require a courier! 

When there is a major work of art to travel museums will usually send a curator or someone on the registrar’s staff to accompany the work of art.  That individual may ride in the main cabin of the plane, but they are on the tarmac when the work of art is placed in the cargo hold and there again when it is taken off.  If the work is on a truck the courier rides with the driver. I have never understood why an individual needs to accompany the art because what will a curator or registrar do when confronted by an armed group? However, my wife, the curator, insists that they can spot and avoid hazardous conditions. What to do in the age of Covid?  Like everything else, virtual solutions must be found. Tracking devices can be packed with the art and via Zoom curators can watch de-installation and re-installation.

The issue of deaccessioning (selling works of art from the museum’s collection) has always been a thorny one.  The Association of Art Museum Directors has traditionally only sanctioned it in order to make possible acquisition that would improve the collection.  Well, in April of this year they changed that rule slightly by saying that museums would not be sanctioned for selling to pay for “the direct care” of the collections, and that they would rely on the museum’s good faith in enhancing the life of the works and thus benefitting the public.

Dare I say that the art world working together is managing to stay in business. Looking to the future the use of virtual Zoom couriers can reduce the prohibitive cost of sending and receiving of loans of works for exhibitions. Online programming can broaden the reach of museums and theaters. Additional innovations for fund raising, prompted by the pandemic shutdown, are just waiting in the wings.