As he gave drawing instructions to his friend and fellow artist James Edward Kelly (1855-1933), [Winslow] Homer once said, “You should practice drawing old shoes and getting their character…”
I knew there was a Homer quote about old shoes, and when I went looking for it found it in an “About The Cover” column for Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal published by the CDC, written by the excellently named Polyxeni Potter:
Since 1995, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published Emerging Infectious Diseases, a public health journal that endeavors to improve scientific understanding of disease emergence, prevention, and elimination.
Widely known for its leading research in infectious disease, EID is also recognized for its unique aesthetic, which brings together visual art from across periods and, through prose, makes it relatable to the journal’s science-minded readership.
In Art in Science: Selections from Emerging Infectious Diseases, the journal’s highly popular fine-art covers are contextualized with essays that address how the featured art relates to science, and to us all. Through the combined covers and essays, the journal’s contents — topics such as infections, contagions, disease emergence, antimicrobial resistance — find larger context amid topics such as poverty and war, the hazards of global travel, natural disasters, and human-animal interactions.
In May 1908 Homer suffered temporary impairment of his speech and muscular control as the effects of a mild stroke; on June 4 he wrote his brother Charles that “I can paint as well as ever. I think my pictures better for having one eye in the pot and one eye up a chimney— a new departure in the art world.” By July 18 he was able to write that he had regained his abilities with the exception of tying “my neck tie in the way that I have done for the past 20 years….Every four or five days I try to do it but….it has been of no use.” Although he never completely recovered, Homer was well enough to attempt a major work, and it is probably Right and Left that he referred to in a letter to his brother Charles dated December 8, 1908: “I am painting when it is light enough on a most surprising picture”.
Public* mourning makes me uncomfortable. In the tradition I’m from, which let’s say is some combination of Irish/Italian/New England Catholicism and New England puritanism, the appropriate reaction to death, as I understood it, was somber quiet.
Mourning for celebrities tends to very quickly veer into something personal and showy — “I met him once…” “he/she meant this to me…” — that make me a tiny bit queasy. My gut reaction is that it’s a little selfish or self-aggrandizing, a strange reaction to something which should be humbling, reductive of the self.
I can see the other side too, people feel pain and loss and it’s natural enough to want to express it, so: whatever.
There’s also the comedy instinct to find the exact grey border country between “wildly inappropriate” and “just wrong enough, just teasing enough of taboo, to be exciting and boldly funny.” [I still laugh when I think about the guy who walked into the room where we were watching CNN after 9/11 and – not having heard about 9/11 – the dude walked into the room with both middle fingers up and said “what’s up bitches?” Only to then learn what the thing was that was on TV. An accidental joke.] If you’re gonna try this, though, you better be darn sure it’s funny. (The one or two stabs at this I saw yesterday were not just failures but were revolting and ugly.)
Anyway. I guess that’s it. I’m sad Robin Williams died, and the circumstances are extra sad. He died in Tiburon, CA.
Separate note: unrelated:
Yesterday I was reading Warren Bennis‘ book On Becoming A Leader. Not a great book, I have to say, it doesn’t capture or have the same impact of what it was like to hear Bennis in person. But I found myself thinking about this bit, hours later, it stuck in my craw:
Think what a great batting average is: .400 — which means a great batter fails to get a hit more than half the time. Most of the rest of us are paralyzed by our failures, large and small. We’re so haunted by them, so afraid that we’re going to goof again, that we become fearful of doing anything. When jockeys are thrown, they get back on the horse, because they know if they don’t, their fear may immobilize them. When an F-14 pilot has to eject, he or she goes up the next day in another plane.
(* I guess in this case I mean specifically “Twitter”)
This is a fascinating book about addiction, compulsion, psychology, sociology, the relationship of people and technology.
I heard about it from Tyler Cowen of course. Here are some unauthorized excerpts:
Schull quotes extensively from “Designing Casinos To Dominate The Competition” by Bill Friedman:
I’d love to read that book but it costs $199.
How about this?:
Was thinking about this Orwell quote:
When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.
did my Google legwork, and found it came from an essay about the postcard artist Donald McGill. Here’s more:
Society has always to demand a little more from human beings than it will get in practice. It has to demand faultless discipline and self-sacrifice, it must expect its subjects to work hard, pay their taxes, and be faithful to their wives, it must assume that men think it glorious to die on the battlefield and women want to wear themselves out with child-bearing. The whole of what one may call official literature is founded on such assumptions. I never read the proclamations of generals before battle, the speeches of fuhrers and prime ministers, the solidarity songs of public schools and Left Wing political parties, national anthems, Temperance tracts, papal encyclicals and sermons against gambling and contraception, without seeming to hear in the background a chorus of raspberries from all the millions of common men to whom these high sentiments make no appeal. Nevertheless the high sentiments always win in the end, leaders who offer blood, toil, tears, and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic. Women face childbed and the scrubbing brush, revolutionaries keep their mouths shut in the torture chamber, battleships go down with their guns still firing when their decks are awash. It is only that the other element in man, the lazy, cowardly, debt-bilking adulterer who is inside all of us, can never be suppressed altogether and needs a hearing occasionally.
The comic post cards are one expression of his point of view…
The whole essay is a terrific thing to read about life and comedy, we trust most HelyTimes readers will savor that over the weekend. For Friday, let’s enjoy this McGill postcard, which was apparently listed in the 1973 Guinness book as the most sold postcard ever:
McGill was born in London in 1875. He lost a foot in a school rugby accident…
Approaching 80, McGill fell foul of several local censorship committees which culminated in a major trial inLincoln on 15 July 1954 for breaking the Obscene Publications Act 1857. He was found guilty and fined £50 with £25 costs. The wider result was a devastating blow to the saucy postcard industry.
(found those here thanks to a tumblr search)
Yesterday’s post incited an unusual amount of correspondence. More perspective, from Sam Shepard (b. 1943)’s Paris Review interview:
You said the men on your dad’s side of the family were hard drinkers. Is this why the mothers in your plays always seem to be caught in the middle of so much havoc?
Those Midwestern women from the forties suffered an incredible psychological assault, mainly by men who were disappointed in a way that they didn’t understand. While growing up I saw that assault over and over again, and not only in my own family. These were men who came back from the war, had to settle down, raise a family and send the kids to school—and they just couldn’t handle it. There was something outrageous about it. I still don’t know what it was—maybe living through those adventures in the war and then having to come back to suburbia. Anyway, the women took it on the nose, and it wasn’t like they said, Hey Jack, you know, down the road, I’m leaving. They sat there and took it. I think there was a kind of heroism in those women. They were tough and selfless in a way. What they sacrificed at the hands of those maniacs . . .
What was your dad like?
He was also a maniac, but in a very quiet way. I had a falling-out with him at a relatively young age by the standards of that era. We were always butting up against each other, never seeing eye-to-eye on anything, and as I got older it escalated into a really bad, violent situation. Eventually I just decided to get out.
Is he alive?
No, a couple of years ago he was killed coming out of a bar in New Mexico. I saw him the year before he died. Our last meeting slipped into this gear where I knew it was going to turn really nasty. I remember forcing myself, for some reason, not to flip out. I don’t know why I made that decision, but I ended up leaving without coming back at him. He was boozed up, very violent and crazy. After that I didn’t see him for a long time. I did try to track him down; a friend of his told me he got a haircut, a fishing license, and a bottle, and then took off for the Pecos River. That was the last I heard of him before he died. He turned up a year later in New Mexico, with some woman I guess he was running with. They had a big blowout in a bar, and he went out in the street and got run over.
What a life Sam Shepard has had, btw:
His father, Samuel Shepard Rogers, Jr., was a teacher and farmer who served in the United States Army Air Forces as a bomber pilot.
Shepard accompanied Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975 as the ostensible screenwriter of the surrealist Renaldo and Clara (1978) that emerged from the tour; because much of the film was improvised, Shepard’s services were seldom utilized.
When Shepard first arrived in New York, he roomed with Charlie Mingus Jr., a friend from his high school days and the son of famous jazz musician Charles Mingus. Then he lived with actress Joyce Aaron. From 1969 to 1984 he was married to actress O-Lan Jones, with whom he has one son, Jesse Mojo Shepard (born 1970). In 1970-71, he was involved in an extramarital affair with Patti Smith, who remained unaware of Shepard’s identity as a multiple Obie Award-winning playwright until it was finally divulged to her by Jackie Curtis. According to Smith, “Me and his wife still even liked each other. I mean, it wasn’t like committing adultery in the suburbs or something.”
Two images I wanted to post that came up re: Warren Bennis, yesterday. This top one, and this one:
Both these pictures I’m getting from here, they’re credited to the National Archives, and I’m prepared to take them at their word.
These pictures, combined with this article in the NYT about the upcoming Brad Pitt movie “Fury” made me think about how the dudes that won World War II weren’t all like, mature men who knew exactly the risks and stakes of what they were doing, and were therefore the greatest heroes anyone has ever conceived of. Most of them were children, doing what they were told, involved in an enterprise that was fucked up and disastrously executed in every way at every turn.
Don’t take my word for it, take the word of a guy who was there:
Or this guy, who was there on the other side:
Fussell (if I remember right) talks about how, once word of the concentration camps got out, and they realized what they’d been fighting, he wasn’t even sure that made it better, he says “it might’ve made it worse.”
(The point I took away from these books is that destroying any myth around them doesn’t make them less cool. It makes them cooler still)
This guy, a professor who specialized in the study of leadership, died the other day.
Once I took a class Warren Bennis co-taught with David Gergen, it was called something like “Art, Culture and The Politics Of Leadership.” I loved the class. I wrote my paper about Robert Sherwood, a playwright famed for “Abe Lincoln In Illinois,” who went on to write speeches for FDR.
Sherwood stood six feet eight inches tall. Dorothy Parker, who was five-feet four-inches, once commented that when she, Sherwood, and Robert Benchley (who was six feet tall) would walk down the street together, they looked like “a walking pipe organ.” When asked at a party how long he had known Sherwood, Robert Benchley stood on a chair, raised his hand to the ceiling, and said, “I knew Bob Sherwood back when he was only this tall.”
(Sometimes the Algonquin Round Table gang seems like they must’ve been pretty insufferable to be around.)
Anyway, I remember something Bennis used to talk about. When Bennis was 19 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army and sent to Europe. It was 1945 — the troops he was sent to command were seasoned veterans already. They’d just survived the Battle Of The Bulge. He was just a kid rookie. Imagine that situation.
What he said happened was, the soldiers in his platoon “taught me how to lead them.”
What a profound thought. Will have to see if it comes up in Bennis’ autobiography:
(Badass thing to name your book).
Bennis also co-authored this book:
which is full of interesting stuff. There’s a story about Walt Disney, after he decided to make a feature length animated movie, the first ever, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Disney gathered 200 or so animators and artists in an auditorium, stood up on stage, and acted out the entire movie for them. The whole thing, two hours. He “did” the witch and stuff, exactly how he wanted it drawn.
That was “visionary leadership,” says Bennis.
That was the same class in which I was made to do improv games with David Gergen.