Archive for the ‘Aesthetics’ Category


Tyler Mueninch

September 30, 2008

[Minor time update below for those thinking about stopping by].

It’s been really hectic here at the IHC with board retreats and new projects underway and a slew of new grant awards (more on that later) but I’m fast running out of time to clue you in on a pretty cool event with IDADA’s First Fridays this week.

Tyler Mueninch, who I’ve written about before, will be having a full exhibition at the Harrison Center for the Arts. The exhibition is called “bristled.” As the author himself says,

This series originated in my father’s studio, where we made paint brushes and other handmade tools. About halfway through the work I was doing for a show last October he showed me how to make some of my own brushes and encouraged me to use them on my paintings. This body of work is the result of some of that work.  Many times the brushes are the subject, in a kind of ambiguous space. The handmade brushes were an exciting way for me to work outside of my own set of rules.

The Harrison Center is at 1505 N. Delaware Street in Indianapolis historic Old Northside Neighborhood. Do you know what’s right across the street? The home of Meredith Nicholson, a.k.a. The Indiana Humanities Council offices, which will be open for visitors from 5pm-7pm and we too have Mueninch’s work on display. So, if you like what you see at the Harrison Center, feel free to pop over our way and see more before you head on down to the other galleries.

The Harrison Center will be open from 6pm-9pm for the exhibition.


Tyler Mueninch Art Exhibition at IHC Office

August 27, 2008

This announcement is a long time in coming but Tyler Mueninch, an Indianapolis-based artist (painter to be specific) became on June 6, 2008, the first artist to have his work displayed here at the Indiana Humanities Council office (the historic home of Meredith Nicholson).

Check out a slideshow I made of the displayed works (along with some carefully chosen words by yours truly) here.

My favorite piece is included below.

Unfortunately I do not have names of pieces, however, if you email me, I can give you prices (and sizes).


Do Museums House the Simulacrum Threat?

August 15, 2008

I know in advance I’m probably way off base here, but this very brief interview with Alison Griffiths at the Columbia University Press blog about her new book Shivers Down Your Spine and the Immersive View kept making me think of “the uncanny valley.”

If you have spent any time on the internet (and given where you’re reading this, I’m certain you have) you have probably heard of the “the uncanny valley,” which is a measure of likeablity for various kinds of “human facsimiles” (robots, muppets, cartoons, etc) that runs from “Super Creepy” to “Totally Great.” I’m going to be pretty general here, if you want something less so, then click the previous link. Basically our willingness to accept certain human forms rises very slowly as facsimiles move from not-human (one of those robot arms that puts bolts in car doors) to an attractive healthy human. But somewhere around Tom Hanks’ character in The Polar Express the general level of acceptability plummets before it rises again with actual humans on the other side of this “uncanny valley,” the unhappy denizens of which are often described as “corpselike.”

At any rate, there’s something here, I think for philosophers in the Baudrillardian tradition. Is Griffiths correct in assuming that the shiver we feel upon entering “the rainforest in the Hall of Biodiversity at the American Museum of Natural History” is rooted in ” a sense of the infinite and divine” as when we enter a Gothic cathedral; are the “shivers down our spine” really inspired by “a disjunct between what we see and feel and what we know is happening to us” similar to the ticklebelly feeling of watching Batman leap from a Hong Kong skyscraper in The Dark Knight in IMAX? Or, as the interviewer asks, is it more akin to the “shivers down our spine” we get from horror movies, something rooted in the reptilian part of our brain that seeks survival when confronted with the existential threat of the Artificial pursuing dominance over the Organic? Are we staring into the abyss and recognizing that the face of the beast that looks back is this one?


Applied Humanities

August 13, 2008

You’ve heard of the advances in applied mathematics that led to the Google search engine and other phenoms in the data mining world. Everybody at some point has seen or head a joke involving applied physics, applied biology, applied statistics etc. But what about the applied humanities?

It is a generally agreed upon truth amongst humanists that learning to recognize patterns in art (by which I mean all visual as well as literary, cinematic, and theatrical pieces) better equips us at finding patterns in real life. As James Wood says in his book How Fiction Works (I’m having trouble finding the exact quote, so bear with me as I paraphrase) “Literature teaches us to be better noticers of the details in life, which in turn makes us better readers of fiction, which makes us better noticers of life, and so on.”

Two news stories I’ve discovered highlight leaders putting this thought into practice. One was brought to my attention by James Wood in the aforementioned book. In it Gurria-Quintana of the Financial Times describes the efforts of a municipal chief outside Mexico City attempting to turn his police officers into better citizens by making them read literature. On the reading lists are such authors as:

Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century classic, Don Quixote de la Mancha, as well as 20th-century Mexican novels such as Juan Rulfo’s unsurpassable Pedro Paramo and Carlos Fuentes’ gothic novella, Aura; it listed such highbrow texts as Nobel laureate Octavio Paz’s essay on Mexican culture, “The Labyrinth of Solitude”, alongside modern classics including One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Among other “recommended authors” were Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Mexican detective fiction writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

According to the chief of police, reading literature will improve his officers in at least three ways:

First, by allowing them to acquire a wider vocabulary. “A policeman is responsible for communicating fluently. He must be able to speak well, even with delinquents. As his use of language improves, so will his efficiency.” Next, by granting officers the opportunity to acquire experience by proxy. “A police officer must be worldly, and books enrich people’s experience indirectly.” Finally, Amador claims, there is an ethical benefit. “Risking your life to save other people’s lives and property requires deep convictions. Literature can enhance those deep convictions by allowing readers to discover lives lived with similar commitment. We hope that contact with literature will make our police officers more committed to the values they have pledged to defend.

The second story I discovered by way of the Virginia Quarterly Review blog. This Washington Post story (by Liz Kowalczyk) focuses on a newish class at Harvard Med that takes apprentice doctors into art museums to improve their diagnostic skills. As you would expect of a Harvard class, such an innovative approach was not launched as a lark:

Katz’s belief that physicians can improve their diagnostic skills by observing art was bolstered this month when he and his colleagues published a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showing that after completing the class, students’ ability to make accurate observations increased 38 percent. When shown artwork and photos of patients, students were more likely to notice features such as a patient’s eyes being asymmetrical or a tiny, healed sore on an index finger. Observations by a control group of students who did not take the class did not change.

But it’s not just about becoming better noticers. It’s about learning that life rarely presents the kinds of cut-and-dry scenarios easily taught from biology manuals and technicians handbooks.

The most difficult part of the class for the high-achieving Harvard students, Miller said, seems to be letting go of their urge to find the one right answer. The Bodhisattva, for example, can spark a wide range of emotions, as the statue is towering and imposing when seen from the front but then “almost disappears into space” when looked at from the side, Miller said. As she pushes students to look harder at the sculpture, using a technique called visual thinking strategies, students’ observations become more complex, and they notice that the Bodhisattva is powerful, but also small and poignant.

So whether you’re looking to make yourself a more marketable person or hoping to raise Junior to take over the family medical practice, now might be good time to join a local reading group or take a trip to the IMA.


Once, he put a woman he thought was dating Cormac McCarthy on the Ransom’s advisory board

July 17, 2008

I am nonplussed after reading this D.T. Max piece in the June 11 New Yorker. The only thing I know for sure is that I think this is horribly, horribly wrong:

Staley’s conservatism extends beyond his literary taste. He does not want to place the Ransom’s archives online.

Seriously wrong.

It would be unjust for me not to say something nice about Tom Staley since Max paints such an intriguing and charming picture of the archive’s curator, but Staley is obviously not a man too moved by a sense of justice so, for the moment, neither will I be.


Welcome to the Thunderdome!

June 12, 2008

One of the steadfast assertions of humanities scholars is that the humanities are the means by which we develop context for new unknowns. The arts, specifically art history, literature, and drama (theatre and cinema) are particularly good at this.

As we were chatting this morning around the bust of Longfellow, conversation moved to, as it so often does, The Road Warrior, Mad Max.

The original Mad Max movie debuted in 1979 just as the world was experiencing its last fuel crisis (before the current one) and its plot was a none-too-subtle reflection of that time of fuel rations and long lines at filling stations. (They used to call them “filling stations” way back then.)

For those who don’t know, Mad Max is the story of a cop, Max, whose wife is slain by a biker gang after the cops crack down on them–an act which subsequently drives Max mad. Now, this story is set in an Australia of the not-too-distant future (perhaps 2008?) and gas is in short supply. So, the biker gangs are also gas pirates–seeking dominion by controlling the most precious of resources in the lawless Australian wastelands.

Flash forward, if you please, to a more recent time.

Several years ago I learned of a new alternative fuel: used vegetable oil. I was at the Cath Coffee house at 52nd and College (ran by the delightful Nora Spitznogle) listening to traveling songstress Jaia Suri who, at the time, was traveling around the country in a pickup truck she had had converted so that it ran on used vegetable oil. I know, right?

She had a rig she carried around in the pickup bed that pumped and filtered the captured oil, conducting it into a huge tank. And wherever she went, she told us after the show, she left the smell of french fries behind her.

She collected fuel by hitting up various Burger Kings, Wendy’s Good Times Burgers etc, asking them if she could pump the used grease from their grease traps, which, at the time, they were happy to allow her to do, if what somewhat confused why she’d want to.

Then there’s today. The gas this morning on South Madison Avenue was $4.17 and alternative fuel sources are a commodity in high demand. Companies have sprung up that do for a fee what Jaia Suri and a few hundred people nationwide used to do for free. They collect the grease from fast food restaurants, filter it, and sell it.

The biodiesel pioneers are having nothing of it. They have become, in the words of this author, Biodiesel Pirates. A gallon of crude soybean oil has a street value of 66 cents, a price that no one can argue with, says the new glistening black market.

I’m not attempting here to tarnish the image of the entrepreneurs that decided to buy and sell used grease. (For that matter, in the days before the modern Thunderdome, grease-hauling was a necessary but thankless task.) And I’m not trying to elevate thieves into heroes–one has no sympathy for the wife slayers in the Australian classic. I’m just saying, that what we are seeing right now in San Francisco is nothing that writer/director George Miller and future mega-star Mel Gibson couldn’t have predicted a long, long time ago in a land very far away.


Indianapolis’ Cultural Life Featured in Two Newspapers

June 9, 2008

Andrea Sachs, travel writer for the Washington Post, came into town for Fountain Square’s Masterpiece in a Day. After she gets past mentioning all of our sport’s attractions and our “seedy lots” she finds quite a bit of cultural value here. The Denver Post picked up the same story on Saturday (same story but without the slideshow)…I just wanted to let you know that we’re famous East to Old West.


I’m a Sucker

June 3, 2008

[via Ruth’s Blog]

The New York Times yesterday had a fantastic story that relates the only reason I enjoy going to yard sales: the possibility of finding something so completely cool and rare that it might justify countless hours perusing old Avon perfume bottles shaped like cars and books that weren’t worth 25 cents when they were printed.

Two Indiana women on their way back from a camping trip in Kentucky in 2003 bought a zebra-striped trunk only to find inside several black & white prints (and a bunch of old clothes). The prints were from famed tabloid photographer Weegee, the man who helped blaze the path for Diane Arbus and Andy Warhol (among several others).

The Indianapolis Museum of Art, will announce this week the receipt of the collection, meanwhile, the Times website has some of Weegee’s photographs in a slideshow.

This entry was posted by: Jim

The Sixth Law of Simplicity

May 30, 2008

Always interested in how to simplify the tangle of modern existence, I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda (2006). Maeda is an award-winning graphic designer, a professor in MIT’s Media Lab, and the founder of the Simplicity Consortium. He writes, “Achieving simplicity in the digital age became a personal mission, and a focus of my research at MIT.”

The book’s subtitle is: Design, Technology, Business, Life. The concatenation of those elements is a lot to ponder in itself, but it’s also fun and fascinating. We are encouraged to consider how design affects our lives and livelihoods.

Maeda identifies ten laws of simplicity; the sixth will illustrate his approach. It is the law of CONTEXT. Once you foreground the background, it is possible to become confused by ambience. To leave the security of filled space and overcome the fear of white space is the challenge. We just need to remember that “There is an important tradeoff between being completely lost in the unknown and completely found in the familiar” (p. 60).

To balance safety and excitement is to achieve simplicity. Or rather, it’s one of ten ways.

This entry was posted by: Nancy