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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Wednesday
Dec072016

In Which We Run And Swim And Jog The Whole Time

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

Things were going very well, I thought, between my boyfriend Charles and myself. Even though we have been together for six months, he feels that it is too soon to meet any of my family. The reason, as he explains it, is that he grew too attached to the family of his ex-girlfriend and when she dumped him it was like losing his entire life. He says he wants to take things slow.

I think this is probably bullshit but I wanted to check.

Anna C.

Anna,

Meeting the family is an important time in any young boy's life. For a man, however, it is no big deal.

This entire sob story may well be true, but that doesn't change the fact that it is a story. It sounds like Charles had quite a positive experience with the last family he met, and we can presume he has no such strong familial bonds of his own. It is indeed inappropriate for a family to become too close to their in-law before he is properly made their in-law. You can tell Charles this.

Not wanting to meet your family is a major red flag: it signals he is probably going to dump you and doesn't want the extra guilt of knowing the people who sired you before he does so. I would just end things now.

Hi,

A friend of mine who I will call Nancy absolutely refuses to return any of my calls or texts. We did have an argument over her current boyfriend, but we have been friends for over ten years and it has never gotten this bad.

Even though the argument Nancy and I had was not my fault in any way, and she was the one who I asked my opinion, I regret giving it. I don't like conflict and I want to resolve this. How can I get her to listen?

Gillian R.

Dear Gillian,

Some people are very stubborn, far more stubborn than you or I could ever be. They realize they are vulnerable if they open themselves up the slightest bit, so the only solution is to ward off the doorway to that soft inner part. If you can't get through the door, you're unable to access what's inside. I spent around thirty seconds crafting this metaphor, but I think it gets the job done quite well. The door represents...nevermind.

In the context of a dismantled romantic relationship, just showing up somewhere is pretty creepy, although it definitely can work. In the context of your friendship, it is not nearly as threatening so you should probably just do it that way.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Tuesday
Dec062016

In Which We Undermine A Piece Of Magic

Temporary Equilibrium

by ELEANOR RAY

A bad poem is one that vanishes into meaning. - Paul Valéry

Arguing against Frank Stella’s famous assertion that “Painting is made with colored paint on a surface and what you see is what you see,” Philip Guston claimed that a painting is “not there physically at all.”

For Guston, who spoke energetically about his varied experiences with the paintings he admired, powerful works could not be seen quickly or definitively. “The art of the past is a hidden art,” he once said. Despite his acknowledged difficulties with talking about painting, Guston was unwilling to wave away the stubbornly elusive quality of the paintings, and the ordinary objects, that moved him. He understood that, as Wittgenstein put it, “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.”

Philip Guston, Book, 1968, gouache on panel, 30 x 32 inches

For Guston and Morandi, painting what was around them – books and shoes, bottles and boxes – provided a way to engage with certain aspects of painting that, while always in plain sight, refuse to be pinned down. Giorgio Morandi’s paintings reveal a heightened sensitivity to the basic problems and possibilities of painting. Looking at Morandi in my earliest painting years felt like learning to read for the first time. As a new painter, I must have had a sharpened awareness of the many possible mistakes threatening to undermine representations of a three-dimensional world – problems inevitably occurring in attempts to make certain objects appear further away than others, or to distinguish between masses and air. Morandi makes these difficulties his subject, turning them into exhilarating ambiguities. 

Natura Morta (Still Life), 1954, Oil on canvas, 26 x 70 cm 

In a long horizontal still life, the white stripe on a box’s front could be read as the top plane of a second box. The empty space to that box’s left begins to look like another, closer box, pressed against the surface of the painting, its top plane invisible at eye level. The objects to the right of the tallest box appear almost stuck to it, relying on it for support, and listing downwards with gravity as that support weakens. The grey back space appears to rest on top of the frieze of objects like a slab of stone. 

Objects clustered together form a heavy mass that seems to push a solitary, lighter object up, as if on a scale:

Philip Guston, The Scale, 1965

Morandi, Natura Morta (Still Life), 1956, oil on canvas

In their effort to balance an object lifted at their side, a mass of objects exerts pressure on the adjacent empty space, turning it into a palpable mass, an invisible object.

The necks of bottles swap places with the ones behind them and the spaces in between.

Darker objects recede into a hole, leaving the things in front of them to float uncertainly, the tallest among them holding up the framing space like a piece of a stage set.

A shadow falls onto a group of objects from off-stage.

Three rectangular orange shapes separated by decisive black lines stubbornly remain boxes, one set back from the others.

Morandi gives so much responsibility to a single line. Lines standing in for the space between two objects have an insistently tactile presence.

What is the meaning of a line? When does its meaning disappear?

Mondrian believed that representation and the “superficial trompe-l’oeil techniques of traditional art” veiled the abstract forces in painting. He sought to reveal what he called “the universal” by eliminating objects from his paintings, working only with relationships between colors and lines. Philip Guston, during a period of working abstractly, worried that making a recognizable image would lead his work to “vanish into meaning,” a favorite phrase he took from Paul Valéry.

After a period of working with only a few lines in ink, however, Guston then began to draw the things around him — books, shoes — and realized the importance to him of the “mask” of representation: “One of the difficulties with this essence thing is that it's not hidden. [It's] too evident. I don't think we want those forces to be so evident to us, that when they are somewhat masked they seem to last longer to me. In fact, I think that's where the enigma is, in the hidden."

In conversations, Guston talked about the excitement of a mark becoming an image, a pleasure he could find in a single line: “I remember when I did this [Edge], that horizontal line, just like the edge of a box, that horizontal line seemed miles long.”

Philip Guston, Edge, 1967, and Paw, 1968In Paw, single lines mark the spaces between fingers on a hand, which, in turn, makes a line like the one in Edge. The quality of these lines recalls for me, or makes me more aware of, the human simplicity of hands painted by Giotto, Masaccio, or Manet.

Masaccio, The Tribute Money (detail), c. 1424-28, Fresco, Brancacci Chapel, Florence. Detail of St. Peter’s hands retrieving tribute money from the mouth of a fish.Giotto, Resurrection (Noli me tangere) (detail), 1304-06, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

Édouard Manet, Olympia (detail), 1863

Like Wittgenstein’s language games, Morandi’s paintings work like a simplified version of our own language that helps us understand how we use words. He brings painting to the edge of representation, painting objects so simple that they are nearly reduced to shapes and lines, but never are. He locates the power of a line in the tension between its simplicity as a mark and its existence as something else the space between two boxes or fingers. We can’t see a line or a shape in his still life as merely what it is because we can’t separate it from its participation in the painting’s representation. The language of painted notation disappears when you try to isolate it, as in the detail below. It remains visible only when hidden “under the shadows of natural objects.” (Cennino Cennini, 1437: “This is an occupation known as painting, which calls for imagination, and skill of hand, in order to discover things not seen, hiding themselves under the shadow of natural objects, and to fix them with the hand, presenting to plain sight what does not actually exist.”)

Morandi detail

Going as far as Mondrian does in removing the veil of representation risks removing the veiled forces in the process. A diagram of the geometry in a painting is not more powerful than the painting itself. An explanation of the meaning of a word is not more useful than the word.

The tension between a line’s (or shape’s) essence and its mask is perhaps clearest to me at the outpost where Morandi’s work lives, though Stanley Lewis can convince me that this tension also becomes clear at an opposite outpost, that of representation in extreme, saturated detail.

Stanley Lewis embeds a strikingly simple visual drama into his aggressively detailed and worked up surfaces. He organizes a complex landscape into large masses and volumes that influence each other like Morandi’s boxes. He relishes the sensation of one object passing behind another, disappearing from sight – a drama Guston called “delicious” in Piero della Francesca’s work, where “the spaces between the forms seem as important, as charged, as the volumes themselves.”

Piero della Francesca, Meeting between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon (detail), 1452-66, Fresco, San Francesco, Arezzo

Stanley Lewis, Lake Chautauqua July, 2010, Oil on canvas, 27 x 43 inches

In Lake Chautauqua July, a striped sail partially obscured by a tree becomes a metaphor for the vertically stacked landscape with its bands of sky, clouds, horizon, water, brush, and grass. The left side of the painting mimics the shape of the sail, its top edge formed by the curve of the tree. As soon as the sensation of this larger sail shape emerges, the space to the right of the tree begins to slip behind it like a tectonic plate, creating a current across the painting that the docks seem to follow. 

This sensation of slippage implies a past and future for the image. But, despite its writhing details, the painting maintains a lucid stillness, and the motion of wind moving across water or passing through leaves remains suspended. John Goodrich referred to this quality in Stanley Lewis’ work as “a kind of quivering, temporary equilibrium.” Isn’t this also the equilibrium between abstraction and representation?

Stanley Lewis, West Side of House (with Detailed Shingles), 2001-2003, Oil on canvas, 32 x 37 inches In the lower right corner of West Side of House (with Detailed Shingles), a break in the surface where the canvas has been cut and moved abruptly interrupts the form of a terracotta pot. The pot appears to have broken open to reveal what it’s made of juicy gobs of paint frozen in motion like dried lava. Stanley Lewis' paintings sometimes seem to be turned inside out, requiring you to see through their innards to an image. They remind me of Guston’s romantic dream of peeling open a painting by Rembrandt or El Greco to see what kind of teeming inner life of flames or fibers it contains.

The inner materials Guston imagines for paintings provide an alternative to Frank Stella’s literalist declaration that “painting is made with colored paint on a surface.” The “quivering equilibrium” in Stanley Lewis’ work is one between matter and imaginative experience, between a teeming surface and a spatial world. We can’t fix what we see into paint or image alone, or force it into schematic generality; it remains hidden in its particularity.

Eleanor Ray is an artist and writer living in New York. You can find her website here. She last wrote in these pages about Elena Sisto.

Masaccio, Raising of the Son of Theophilus and St. Peter Enthroned (detail), 1424-28, fresco, Brancacci Chapel, Florence

Philip Guston, in a talk given at a conference at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, February 27, 1978:

In a recent article which contrasts the work of a color field painter with mine, the painter is quoted as saying, 'Painting is made with colored paint on a surface and what you see is what you see.' This popular and melancholy cliché is so remote from my own concern. In my experience a painting is not made with colors and paint at all. I don't know what a painting is…The painting is not on a surface, but on a plane which is imagined. It moves in a mind. It is not there physically at all. It is an illusion - a piece of magic, so what you see is not what you see.


Monday
Dec052016

In Which We Know Where The Maze Ends

What's Older Than Ed Harris?

by DICK CHENEY

Westworld
creators Lisa Joy & Jonathan Nolan
HBO

There's a moment near the end of the first season of Westworld when Ed Harris is shot in the arm from a very long distance. Blood spills out of the artery, and he is just overwhelmed with delight. He has never been so surprised in his entire life. The truth is he probably has been that shocked before, but he simply cannot remember it. The novelty of that bloody, unexpected injury is only a reminder of how he was hurt before.

Would you possibly be interested in hours and hours of this kind of dialogue? Androids talk to each other the same way the humans do on Westworld: in a boring, quasi-philosophical monotone. Having all the androids and most of the humans wear the same clothes/costumes for ten consecutive episodes was a great way of saving HBO money, but I grew to hate Jeffrey Wright's black suit and the suburban mom pants constantly worn by Evan Rachel Wood. She looks like a corpse flattened by a truck.

Westworld creators, the husband and wife team of Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, spent the entire season sketching out the "mystery" of this garrulous place: it was primarily that one storyline was a flashback to the younger days of the park's owner, William (Ed Harris). (You will note this was also the basic premise of Lost.) All the viewers of Westworld figured this out rather quickly, so there is some question as to why this had to be veiled at all.

There was one other key mystery of the place, which is that a lot of people were androids who maybe didn't seem like it at first due to the various deceptions of the park's creator Ford (Anthony Hopkins). This led to a chilling scene in a basement and a few more ones in retrospect if you have the time to go back and watch the early episodes. (I'm retired, so I have that kind of freedom.) More and more people turned out to be androids as time went on. It was difficult to trust the death of anyone given that they could simply have created an android version of themselves to take the bullet, as probably occurred in this season's final scene.

We all knew where this completely dull show was going: eventually the androids would rebel and murder a lot of the humans. In last night's season finale, they did it, laughing and smiling the whole time. It was unclear why their murder spree was so joyful until we realized that it too was simply another storyline created by Ford. As Evan Rachel Wood opened fire on the executive board of Westworld, it was just another fake storyline — albeit one with real casualties.

The best part of Westworld's story, we found out last night, was also fake: the awakening of Maeve (Thandie Newton), who discovered she was an android and decided to leave the park. The story of one human being on a mission to destroy the world entire is always a strong plot, and she was supported in her mission by the completely charming Felix (Leonardo Nam). The fact that one murderous android was distinctly more sympathetic than another murderous android gave me a lot of pause.

No one ever made it very far past the basic concept of Westworld before. It is easy enough for machines to take over a space designed for them, with few modern weapons, that they have inhabited for 35 years. Keeping a rebellion going depends on substantial ingenuity, and the element of surprise would not really hurt either. Neither detail really plays much of a role here.

Along those lines, it is difficult for Westworld to come back for a second season with much of the same cast. The finale featured the hasty establishment of some new characters to replace the old — perhaps more significantly few of the park's owners and board members have actually been killed. Unlike most shows, we never really got terribly attached to any of these people/non-people to begin with.

It is a function of old age that people are always asking for advice. No one has ever seen a man like Donald Trump become president before; how could we possibly know what to expect no matter how long we have been alive? When my wife Lynne asks me if I should watch Westworld, I say no. Then she often asks why. I ask her if she has ever thought about whether the roomba that vacuums our living room ever wanted kids or engages in vigorous wishful thinking. After she says no, I tell her to watch The Crown.

 

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.