Required Reading

Christo, "The Floating Piers (Project for Lake Iseo, Italy)" (2014), collage, 17 x 22" (43.2 x 55.9 cm), Pencil, wax crayon, enamel paint, photograph by Wolfgang Volz, map, fabric sample and tape (Photo: André Grossmann © 2014 Christo)
The ‘Economist‘ wrote about Christo’s newest project: “‘The Floating Piers’ will be a series of golden walkways connecting Sulzano on the mainland to the islands of Monte Isola and San Paolo. Christo says his intention is to create a beautiful, temporary work of art. Temporariness is important to him, he says, for containing an aesthetic quality he calls the ‘presence of the missing.'” Image of “The Floating Piers (Project for Lake Iseo, Italy)” (2014), collage, 17 x 22″ (43.2 x 55.9 cm) (photo by André Grossmann, © 2014 Christo) (via christojeanneclaude.net)

This week, whiteness of the avant-garde, history of ultramarine, Christo’s new project in Italy, rise of the Yuccies, Jane Austen getting workshopped, and more.

 Hyperallergic Weekend Editor John Yau has a fantastic must-read over at Boston Review, which skewers the notion of postidentity avant-garde and its essential whiteness. The kicker is amazing, but the whole argument is a pleasure to read:

Or are these assertions of a postidentity world part of the ongoing narrative of white privilege that is synonymous with accepted views of the “avant-garde?”

 Where are the black art critics in the US? My only issue with this post is it assumes an American identity as the baseline, and identity categories are proliferated from that assumption, but otherwise right on point:

By no means are we suggesting that only Black critics can or should write about Black artists. Quite the contrary. We use the example of Gopnik to illustrate #theclapback, a term we use often that’s rooted less in hostility and more in accountability. More than anything, the digital world has allowed us to respond in real time to a pervasive imbalance in the arts public discourse. In 2015, we can read a piece of troubling art criticism and offer our immediate evaluations. There is no ARTS.BLACK without the digital, simply.

 A brief history of ultramarine:

Michelangelo couldn’t afford ultramarine. His painting The Entombment, the story goes, was left unfinished as the result of his failure to procure the prized pigment. Rafael reserved ultramarine for his final coat, preferring for his base layers a common azurite; Vermeer was less parsimonious in his application and proceeded to mire his family in debt. Ultramarine: the quality of the shade is embodied in its name. This is the superlative blue, the end-all blue, the blue to which all other hues quietly aspire. The name means “beyond the sea” — a dreamy ode to its distant origins, as romantic as it is imprecise.

 Are you ready for the Yuccies (Young Urban Creatives)? Well, you better be:

Yuccies are hardly mythical creatures. If you live in a metropolitan area like New York or San Francisco, you probably know plenty. They’re social consultants coordinating #sponsored Instagram campaigns for lifestyle brands; they’re brogrammers hawking Uber for weed and Tinder for dogs; they’re boutique entrepreneurs shilling sustainably harvested bamboo sunglasses.

Getting rich quick would be great. Getting rich quick and preserving creative autonomy? That’s the yuccie dream.

 If you don’t know what “code” truly is, then get up to speed:

There are 11 million professional software developers on earth, according to the research firm IDC. (An additional 7 million are hobbyists.) That’s roughly the population of the greater Los Angeles metro area. Imagine all of L.A. programming. East Hollywood would be for Mac programmers, West L.A. for mobile, Beverly Hills for finance programmers, and all of Orange County for Windows.

There are lots of other neighborhoods, too: There are people who write code for embedded computers smaller than your thumb. There are people who write the code that runs your TV. There are programmers for everything. They have different cultures, different tribal folklores, that they use to organize their working life. If you told me a systems administrator was taking a juggling class, that would make sense, and I’d expect a product manager to take a trapeze class. I’ve met information architects who list and rank their friendships in spreadsheets. Security research specialists love to party.

What I’m saying is, I’m one of 18 million. So that’s what I’m writing: my view of software development, as an individual among millions. Code has been my life, and it has been your life, too. It is time to understand how it all works.

 If Jane Austen got some feedback from a guy in a writing workshop, it might have been something like this. It begins (and it’s hilarious):

Dear Jane,

I don’t usually read chick lit, but I didn’t hate reading this draft of your novel, which you’re calling Pride and Prejudice. I really liked the part where Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle went on a road trip, which reminded me of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (also about a road trip — check it out!). Anyway, good job. I do have a couple of notes to share, in the spirit of constructive criticism …

 Azar Nafisi reflects on the real-world meaning of a surveillance state for a writer:

When I was writing in Iran, it became clear to me that certain words or tones would immediately agitate the authorities. To write about the books I loved, I had to adopt an academic approach to themes that clamored for feisty and colorful language. (Once again I was writing in code.) I wanted to write about Nabokov, for example, some of whose novels had crept past the authorities, and about the intersections between fiction and reality. But I soon realized this was an impossible task, not only for political reasons but also because I couldn’t speak honestly about my own life: I couldn’t mention my boyfriend’s affectionate inscription on the flyleaf of “Ada, or Ardor,” or what that novel had meant to me as a young woman.

Instead I learned to produce pure literary criticism — and to limit myself to writing about the literature of the past. I was freer there; I could talk more openly and critically about society. The more I consigned myself to older books, the more I learned how central and subversive literature has been in Iranian history. I hadn’t realized the extent to which our sense of identity was rooted in poetry — no wonder even the illiterate can reel off lines from classical Persian poems. I learned how the radical changes in culture were as central to the creation of modern Iran as the political revolution. I began to read writers from the 10th century, starting with the epic poet Ferdowsi to more contemporary feminist poets like Forugh Farrokhzad and Simin Behbahani.

 A response to the controversial “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me” essay — which we linked to in last week’s Required Reading — has this to say:

When this article appeared in my timeline on Twitter, I immediately expected it would be a hate-read. The accompanying image, after all, was of a frightened-looking white man with his mouth taped over. Here we go, I thought, another lament of the loss of white-male privilege, this time set at the university. What I quickly realized, however, was that the essay might be better characterized as a jeremiad, a cautionary tale that exaggerates current woes to elicit social change. This particular liberal professor emerges as doomsday prophet to list the ails of higher education and to lay the blame mostly on students.

Students emerge in this essay as oversensitive and overemotional beings who consider a “simple act of indelicacy” as “tantamount to physical assault.” They complain about “offensive” course materials. They write nasty evaluations than threaten the careers of faculty members (in an essay for The Washington Post, Dan Drezner deftly handled the question of precisely which precariously employed instructors are most threatened by bad evals). The pseudonymous liberal professor argues that “[h]urting a student’s feelings … can now get a teacher in serious trouble.”

 Photographer Matty Smith’s Over/Under series showcases the dual environments that exist just above and below sea level, and each shot is divided by a wavy strip of ocean just above the center of the photograph (h/t Colossal):


 What we learned this week … pole dancing is “art,” but lap dancing isn’t. The best part is the testimony of an auditor who had to describe his lap-dancing investigation to a judge:

The auditor “credibly testified that in his 10 or 15 visits to Nite Moves over the course of years he purchased one or two private dances a night. He said the private dances were very similar. “He experienced back rubs from some performers and women massaging him with various body parts,” the judge wrote.

“He admitted he was not an expert in choreography but did not think what he experienced in the private dance was choreographed.”

 A movie special-effects legend talks about how CGI has hurt his industry:

Q: Now that CGI can show nearly anything, do you think filmmakers have lost the ability to astonish audiences? I’m thinking of that transformation scene in American Werewolf… Is that kind of jolt just not possible any more? 

A: Well, there seems to be a lot of CGI backlash, and [talk that] they’re going to bring back practical effects. But it’s not happening that much. I loved Mad Max: Fury Road, [seeing] a 70-year-old director kicking every young punk’s ass. And the fact that there was so much practical stuff. It does give you a different kind of adrenaline rush. I have the hardest time going to movies now and caring about stuff. I’m an effects nerd, that’s the kind of stuff that got me into this, and I watch films and I’m like, Why do I not careWhy am I just so bored? That’s one of the downfalls of the CGI stuff. You can do anything. But does it make it better? I don’t necessarily think so. But yeah, I think there’s a real difference when you know that something’s really happening. That guy really did risk his life, and this guy’s really standing in front of the camera doing this. I would rather watch an old Ray Harryhausen movie and suffer through 45 minutes of bad dialogue to get the 30-second stop-motion shot.

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning ET, and is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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