Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Object of Beauty

I finished reading Steve Martin’s new book during the weekend. It just took a couple of hours to finish. It seems a trivial work compared to Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ which I finished last Friday after listening to the audio book for several weeks. McCarthy is the successor to great American writers like Hemingway and Mark Twain. His work has a brutal and honest subtlety which is not found in contemporary writers who strive for gimmick and novelty. One immediately knows when reading the book that it’s a significant and mature work. Others pale by comparison. The subject matter is relevant with the recent upheavals in the Middle East. It strikes at the heart of the American conception of Manifest Destiny – a policy well known to affected peoples like Filipinos, Cubans, Vietnamese, American Indians and Mexicans. It’s a tough book to read but profoundly satisfactory.

‘An Object of Beauty’ by comparison is light reading. Martin does not have great prose style but he is a competent writer; able to focus on the right moment. I think it’s more a ‘technical’ book if one wants to understand the contemporary art scene or investing in art. One understands about the art business in general. Although it lacks the dense erudition of scholars, the book possesses the brilliant insights of a savant or synthesizer. Only one who is not an art scholar can write this book –someone like Steve Martin who is an artist of multiple disciplines (acting, screenwriting, musician and author). It’s a more effective book because it strips away the scholarly and academic tone that confuses rather than educates people. After reading the book I watched the Internet channel KQED which features art galleries and artists in San Francisco – a good complement. I also watched the documentary ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’ – a sardonic tale about street art.

Later I read a more scholarly tome called ‘Sacred and the Profane’ about the Italian renaissance. Part history book - part art - part critical commentary - part book review, it had the confusing dense prose that’s difficult to read. I just skimmed through the book as it took a lot of effort to understand. Simplicity is a requirement due perhaps to the information overload and increasing complexity in life. Outsized characters exists in the recent books or films I watched or read such as the Judge in ‘Blood Meridian’, the heroine in Martin’s book, Mr. Brain Wash in ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’ and the Japanese extremist in the documentary ‘The Emperors Naked Army Marches on’ – another documentary I saw in the weekend together with ‘The Cove’ about the slaughter of dolphins in Japan. Perhaps the complexity of life and the desire to succeed results in eccentric characters. A simple life of quiet and contemplation is sorely needed today.

Unfortunately, one did not have silent serenity and rest in the weekend. Still a mad rush to read as many books as one can or as many films or magazines as one can. Is there a secret to master the complexities of modern life? Perhaps Google has a way. One speed reads the book ‘Google Apps – the Missing Manual’ in an attempt to master the new lifestyle. Moving one’s data to the ‘cloud’ like calendars, tasks and to do list plus using multiple tools and mobile devices maybe one way to survive. There is a perceptible shift towards the Internet driven by Google technology and one has to master that landscape. Being a writer is no exception unless one would like to end up a nutcase like Mr. Brain Wash. One can see great things happening in the Internet especially watching films via Netflix, browsing channels using Boxee or Google Television. I think I am ahead of the curve in having this set –up at home which is just a laptop connected via HDMI cable to a flat screen television, and controlled by a small wireless keyboard and iPod Touch. Together with voice recognition and tablet computers, one is living in a future household.

Also documentaries and You Tube videos capture everyone’s attention today. Is this a significant shift or just a momentary fad together with the mobile tools just mentioned? Appropriately, Ken Auletta’s book on Google is subtitled ‘The End of the World as we Know It.’ The key maybe is understanding the moves of Google, Face book and Microsoft. Last night I tried a new Microsoft application called ‘Montage’ as well as explore Google Apps for small business. Both are interesting software that requires a change in mindset. It’s clear that old ways of doings things don’t work. Closer to home, my current project is a mess and one is trying different techniques similar to agile methods to keep going. But like the country at large, most people are not prepared for change. Appreciating art and design perhaps helps one cultivate a creative mindset (hence ones’ interest in art) but one has to apply creativity in one’s finances, writing life and work life to survive the new world.



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