This week, Getty’s recorded art history, Muhammad Ali’s radical history, Michelle Obama’s commencement speech, Morley Safer as artist, venture philanthropists, and more.
The Getty Research Institute has released many of its oral histories of some of the 20th century’s greatest artists (most video and audio files have to be accessed at the Foundation), including Kenneth Anger, Larry Bell, Betye Saar, and others.
11 beautifully obscure words describing complex emotions you must know:
So many people became hopeful when an IMF report was critical of neoliberalism. I’m more cynical, because I see it as a way to assimilate the critique (like the CIA does with Noam Chomsky and others), but here’s a more hopeful article:
The very headline delivers a jolt. For so long mainstream economists and policymakers have denied the very existence of such a thing as neoliberalism, dismissing it as an insult invented by gap-toothed malcontents who understand neither economics nor capitalism. Now here comes the IMF, describing how a “neoliberal agenda” has spread across the globe in the past 30 years. What they mean is that more and more states have remade their social and political institutions into pale copies of the market. Two British examples, suggests Will Davies – author of the Limits of Neoliberalism – would be the NHS and universities “where classrooms are being transformed into supermarkets”. In this way, the public sector is replaced by private companies, and democracy is supplanted by mere competition.
The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off. It causes epic crashes that leave behind human wreckage and cost billions to clean up, a finding with which most residents of food bank Britain would agree. And while George Osborne might justify austerity as “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”, the fund team defines it as “curbing the size of the state … another aspect of the neoliberal agenda”. And, they say, its costs “could be large – much larger than the benefit”.
Daniel José Older passionately responds to the hundreds of authors who signed a petition against Trump. He points out there are some overlooked realities in the image of the United States they want to portray (read the whole thing, but this is a solid taste):
Because this line, “American history, despite periods of nativism and bigotry, has from the first been a grand experiment in bringing people of different backgrounds together, not pitting them against one another,” from the Writers Against Trump statement is not only empirically false, it’s a continuation of the ongoing legacy of sanitized lies America has shoved down its own throat since its creation;
Because we, the people who continue to struggle in the face of that lie, and whose ancestors suffered and died from the reality that lie conceals, are fully fed the fuck up with people who claim to have our backs dishonoring our past and perpetuating that lie;
Because in an age when we still have to shut down highways to declare whose lives matter, the lie of American exceptionalism and “a grand experiment” is really a way of valuing one life, one story, one experience over another;
Because no matter how many times you say words like “freedom” and “justice,” genocide is still genocide and slavery is still slavery. Rape is still rape;
Because American foreign policy is and has always meant perpetual war;
Muhammad Ali died this week, and lest we forget he was such a controversial figure, let’s remember this poignant Esquire cover from 1968:
And read Dave Zirin’s “‘I Just Wanted to Be Free’: The Radical Reverberations of Muhammad Ali” in The Nation:
When Dr. Martin Luther King came out against the war in Vietnam in 1967, he was criticized by the mainstream press and his own advisors who told him to not focus on “foreign” policy. But Dr. King forged ahead and to justify his new stand, said publicly, “Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all—black and brown and poor—victims of the same system of oppression.”
When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, he said that Muhammad Ali gave him hope that the walls would some day come tumbling down.
Michelle Obama spoke at the City College of New York and was very inspiring (“First Lady: I Wake Up Each Day in House Built By Slaves“:
Judging by his segments on contemporary art, it isn’t hard to figure out that 60 Minutes journalist Morley Safer hated it. But critic Jerry Saltz reveals another side of the puzzle that was Safer by publishing some of the paintings the journalist (who died last month) shared with Saltz. The critic writes:
I wouldn’t have bought any of these if I saw them at a yard sale, except one. His motel-room picture has everything you’d want it to have, and even a little bit more. Which is to say banality, blankness, something sweet, neat, forlorn, and soul-killing. The space is cramped, the décor drab and sterile; a rotary dial phone sits on the bare night table next to one generic lamp. Over the small double bed is just the kind of cliché landscape that Safer liked to paint: two trees on a hill with a yellow sun in the white sky. Ironies extend. The rumpled bed with only one side turned down lets us know Safer has been here, alone on the road. A plain poignancy lingers, even in the uninspired style.
A chilling first-hand account of racial violence against Black Americans by white Americans roughly a hundred years ago:
The younger Franklin says Tulsa has been in denial over the fact that people were cruel enough to bomb the black community from the air, in private planes, and that black people were machine-gunned down in the streets. The issue was economics. Franklin explains that Native Americans and African-Americans became wealthy thanks to the discovery of oil in the early 1900s on what had previously been seen as worthless land.
“That’s what leads to Greenwood being called the Black Wall Street. It had restaurants and furriers and jewelry stores and hotels,” John W. Franklin explains, “and the white mobs looted the homes and businesses before they set fire to the community. For years black women would see white women walking down the street in their jewelry and snatch it off.”
A fascinating take by Scientific American on the myths and stereotypes about creativity:
4. The “10-Year Rule” is not a rule. The idea that it takes 10 years to become a world-class expert in any domain is not a rule. While Ericsson didn’t present the variability statistics in his original paper on deliberate practice amongst musicians*, other psychologists have done such an analysis. For example, Simonton conducted an analysis of 120 classical composers and found that while on average, nearly a decade of compositional practice was important before the first major works appeared, the standard deviation was almost as large, with the range exceeding three decades! Many composers took less than 10 years and even more took longer than 10 years. Creativity doesn’t have an expiration date. Creativity seems to happen when it’s ready to happen.
10. Too much expertise can be detrimental to creative greatness. The deliberate practice approach assumes that performance is a linear function of practice. While this may be true for many well-defined domains of human achievement, this doesn’t appear to be the case for creativity. The relationship between knowledge and creativity is best characterized by an “inverted U-shaped” curve: Some knowledge is good, but too much knowledge can impair flexibility. In fact, in some fields such as creative writing, there is an optimal amount of formal schooling, after which further schooling decreases the likelihood of writing highly creative fiction.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken a very controversial and undemocratic position on the BDS movement:
“Liminal” might be one of the most pretentious words in English today (at least at the moment). Writing for The Awl, Michelle Dean writes about the art world’s love of this word:
In other and fewer words: the notion of the liminal comes from people who believed in the possibility of supernatural powers. Not all that different from postmodern academics, if you really think about it.
In general, the word threshold could do liminal’s job quite nicely. “Threshold” has a pleasing onomatopoeic effect — there are two main beats in it, and because “hold” is a down beat (don’t bother me with scansion terms, there’s no need to get technical here) it nicely mimics a step. In a pinch, or if you don’t like the slight implication of forward movement in “threshold,” “in-between” does quite nicely. Or “transitional,” though that one can sound a bit too much like you have a masters in public administration.
The LA Times writes a strong editorial that points out that the incredibly wealthy Gates Foundation has admitted failures in its attempt to reform public schools. It raises questions about other venture philanthropists (like those in the art world, including Eli Broad) who are pushing their own public education agendas:
Then the foundation set its sights on improving teaching, specifically through evaluating and rewarding good teaching. But it was not always successful. In 2009, it pledged a gift of up to $100 million to the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools to fund bonuses for high-performing teachers, to revamp teacher evaluations and to fire the lowest-performing 5%. In return, the school district promised to match the funds. But, according to reports in the Tampa Bay Times, the Gates Foundation changed its mind about the value of bonuses and stopped short of giving the last $20 million; costs ballooned beyond expectations, the schools were left with too big a tab and the least-experienced teachers still ended up at low-income schools. The program, evaluation system and all, was dumped.
The Gates Foundation strongly supported the proposed Common Core curriculum standards, helping to bankroll not just their development, but the political effort to have them quickly adopted and implemented by states. Here, Desmond-Hellmann wrote in her May letter, the foundation also stumbled. The too-quick introduction of Common Core, and attempts in many states to hold schools and teachers immediately accountable for a very different form of teaching, led to a public backlash.
How are the lives of unemployed men and women in the US different? The New York Times offers this infographic to help us see the patterns:
A surprisingly interesting, professional, funny, extensive, and somewhat detailed history of Japan in nine minutes … enjoy: