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Ebola: life appears to be imitating art again

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- first as farce and then as tragedy? ]
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From 2001:

I imagine this ad is going viral about now…

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Peacemaking: of serious joking and most studious play

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the aesthetic element in DoubleQuotes, and peacemaking as making connections; together with Renaissance phrasing of the same ideas ]
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rice hoops
Ambassador Susan Rice on the White House court with the Israeli & Palestinian Peace Players Yesterday

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There’s a fair amount of gaming leaking into the blogging I read these days.

Col. Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis is hosting an IS/Coalition War Game [1, 2, 3], while over at PAXsims, Rex Brynen is hosting the “game developer’s diary” of Alex Langer, a McGill undergraduate who is “designing a wargame of the current Syrian civil war as a course project” [1, 2].

Both efforts are of interest, but what the PAXsims venture makes clear to me is that I have been using my Zenpundit blogging as, among other things, a “game developer’s diary” for my own game thinking, and in particular for my thoughts about the DoubleQuotes format as a playful / serious analytic tool.

Both playful and serious, because all fresh thinking requires the application of a playful spirit to serious ends — an approach illustrated by the image of Palestinian and Israeli kids on the White House basketball court at the head of this post, by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra put together by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim — and enshrined in the Florentine Renaissance motto “iocari serio et studiosissime” — which Marsilio Ficino, the genius behind the Florentine Renaissance, named as the core practice of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato – “joking seriously and playing assiduously” in Edgar Wind‘s translation.

Which would among other things be the Renaissance Platonist’s answer to Scott Shipman‘s question posed here the other day, What tools do you use to boost your creativity?

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Ficino also said, “the task of Magic consists in comparing things to one another”, as quoted by Mircea Eliade in his Foreword to Ioan Couliano‘s great book, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

That’s precisely what my own games do, expressed in Renaissance terms, and my DoubleQuotes in particular.

In terms of theorizing about them, one point I may not have emphasized enough is that the quality of a given DoubleQuote (or move in a HipBone or Sembl game) is dependent on the aesthetics of the juxtaposition.

Let me give you a simple example, not taken from my own work but from a “DoubleQuote in the Wild” — the header illustration to a recent FP post, The Activists Assad Hates Most Are Now Obama’s Problem. FP could have used any two photos of Obama and Assad, photos of Obama on the phone in the Oval Office, say, or Assad against the background of the Syrian flag — but they chose two images that showed the two men in near-identical poses, and it’s that near-identity which gives force to the juxtaposition:

obamaassad

Likewise, I could have chosen any one of a flock of quotes to illustrate British and American forces entering Baghdad in 1917 and 2003 respectively — but the most effective way to make the point was via two quotes that very closely paralleled each other:

SPEC Baghdad

That too is fundamentally an aesthetic choice — a choice that favors the simple elegance of the tightest available symmetry.

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The image at the head of this post show Ambassador Rice on the Court with the Peace Players Yesterday

Peacemaking, too, is often a matter of bringing out the similarities between otherwise opposing forces.

As Nicholas of Cusa, Cardinal of the Roman Church, said in his De ludo globi / Of the Game of Spheres, a distant forefather to Hesse’s Glass Bead Game and thence to my own various games:

This game is played, not in a childish way, but as the Holy Wisdom played it for God at the beginning of the world.

Luditur hic ludus; sed non pueriliter, at sic / Lusit ut orbe nova Sancta Sophia Deo.

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New Post at The Chicago Progressive

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Musician, producer, professor and friend of mine, Joe Tortorici has a brand new e-zine start-up on the arts and social  commentary, The Chicago Progressive.  I will be contributing short ( 500 words or less) posts on national security.

Granted, I am not a political “progressive”, being more of a cranky realist-libertarian, Boydian, conservative pragmatist, but the important problems in national security today are substantively less Democrat vs. Republican than Smart vs. Dumb. The bipartisan strategic track record since 1991 is less than impressive and since 2001, extremely poor.  We can do better  and that will start with conversations across political lines that are usually impossible on domestic issues but were of critical importance in past foreign policy successes.

Here was my piece:

AMERICA’S STRATEGY  TO BATTLE ISIS

President Obama’s strategy against the genocidal ISIS “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria has been the subject of much criticism, some of it informed, much of it not, from pundits on both the Left and Right. Translating foreign policy goals into an effective military strategy is always the most difficult task for an administration and historically, short of WWII, American presidents generally find crafting strategy for a limited war to be very hard, and fighting a foreign insurgency the hardest of all.

The President’s strategy, a cautious effort at hedging and balancing competing U.S. priorities, has clear pros and cons. First, the positives:

  • Risk in blood and treasure are deliberately minimized by reliance on airpower, trainers, aid and proxies instead of masses of American soldiers. This is not Iraq 2003 Redux;
  • America is playing to its strengths—targeted firepower, intelligence sharing, training and arming local fighters—against a fast-moving, elusive, insurgency;
  • Minimal intervention means American allies like the Iraqi government are forced to actually fight in their own defense against ISIS and work out their political problems instead of passing the buck to the U.S.;
  • One proxy, the Kurdish Peshmerga, are highly motivated to fight, and do, in relatively well-disciplined units;
  • ISIS is a strategically isolated and a morally abominable enemy without real allies, not an underdog or object of world sympathy.

Now for the cons:

Read the rest here

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Furnish on “ISIS: Apocalypse .. How?”

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an important post with notes for Hagel & Dempsey, also my own thoughts on overlapping eschatologies ]
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Moire effect from Marvic Textiles bois-de-rose

Moiré effect from Marvic Textiles bois-de-rose

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Tim Furnish has a significant piece out today on his MahdiWatch blog, ISIS: Apocalypse…How?

What most interests me here, since I’m an eschatology watcher and it deals with what I think of as “eschatology squared” — the turmoil that results when opposing eschatologies run up against one another, creating some pretty strange intellectual moiré effects — is Furnish’s much needed comment to some of his fellow Christians:

[T]he last thing the US military or intelligence community needs is to have the genuine war against apocalypse-fired Islamic militants conflated with a narrowly Evangelical Christian view of matters. The US government is a secular, not a religious, one — and although I have repeatedly criticized the refusal of the leader of the world’s largest Christian-populated nation to do anything about global persecution of Christians, I do NOT want our forces engaged in an Evangelical Protestant “Crusade.” Furthermore, and just as (if not more) importantly, opposing and defeating the Islamic “apocalyptic strategic vision” — which is shared by groups besides IS[IS] — can only be done by analyzing said vision on its own Muslim terms, using Muslim (Arabic, Turkish and Persian) sources. Frankly, in this fight, I don’t give a damn in this context what Revelation or Ezekiel or Daniel say — it matters more what’s in the Qur’an, the Hadiths, and Islamic commentators thereupon. I say this to my Evangelical brethren: it’s not always about you and your interpretation of Christian Scripture. The rest of us (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutherans, etc.) in the fold might have something worthwhile to say on the topic, too — but this fight against IS[IS] is neither the time nor the place.

You’ll want to read the whole piece, but other things Tim covers include the actual extent of ” what al-Sham constituted in Middle Eastern history” and more generally some observations about, and comments addressed to, SecDef Hagel and General Dempsey.

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Synchronously, Richard Landes today tweeted:


I hope to hear more from him about the similarities & differences — stay tuned.

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Wikipedia describes moiré effects thus:

In mathematics, physics, and art, a moiré pattern is a secondary and visually evident superimposed pattern created, for example, when two identical (usually transparent) patterns on a flat or curved surface (such as closely spaced straight lines drawn radiating from a point or taking the form of a grid) are overlaid while displaced or rotated a small amount from one another.

Linens and silks can offer us beautiful examples of such superimposed patterns. The image at the top of this post is from Marvic Textiles and their lovely bois-de-rose fabric.

I am suggesting that when Islamic eschatologist discuss Christian eschatology, as was the case with Safar al-Hawali‘s treatment of Hal Lindsey in his Day of Wrath — or Christian eschatologists discuss Islamic eschatology, as in the case of Joel Richardson‘s book, Mideast Beast: The Scriptural Case for an Islamic Antichrist — the effect of one eschatology superimposing itself on another produces further “superimposed” patterns worth contemplating as such.

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Form is Insight: painter’s eye, cinematographer’s segue

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a follow-up to Form is Insight: parliamentarian scuffle, photographer’s eye -- Breugel's Fight between Carnival and Lent comes to a movie house near you ]
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Jem Cohen‘s film, Museum Hours, is set largely in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, with a particular focus on Pieter Breughel the Elder. Less than 10 minutes into the film, this shot, showing a detail of one of his paintings:

is followed seamlessly — as though nothing had happened — by this one, a “detail” one might say, of the Vienna street, perhaps indeed as the viewer steps into it right outside the museum:

Between the two shots — in the cut — we move from the sixteenth to the twentyfirst century, and from curated museum to careless street. The painter’s eye is echoed by the cinematographer’s segue: litter remains litter.

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The first image is a seemingly insignificant detail taken from the area of Breughel’s painting containing the “figure of Carnival”:

which you can easily spot, low down and slightly left of center, in the painting as a whole, here:

The painting itself, which goes by the title The Fight between Carnival and Lent, presents Breughel’s juxtaposition of festive and fasting seasons which follow one another seamlessly in the calendar of the church, while their respective impulses wrestle constantly for dominance in the hearts of humankind…

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Drew Martin at The Museum of Peripheral Art blog notices the successive “litter” shots from inside and outside the museum in Cohen’s film, too, and writes:

The most brilliant thing about this movie is the use of segue. In one scene, a series of shots focus on details of a Bruegel painting with the guide’s voice listing the objects “.. discarded playing cards, a bone, a broken egg ..”, and then the images switch to nondescript ground shots in Vienna, as he continues “.. a cigarette butt, a folded note, a lost glove, a beer can.”

When I write of the power of juxtapositions and of the eye that perceives pattern, then, I am not speaking of something that is entirely subjective and personal, but of a faculty native to the human, yet woefully under-practiced, under-explored. My intention is to suggest that this faculty is not merely of use to the artist or art-historian, but basic to a rich and full cognizance of the world around us. It is one techne of reading the world, one of many.

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How’s this for another juxtaposition from the same film?

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