Friday, June 27, 2014


Fan Kaun / van Gogh by ZHANG HONGTU
Art makes us react. That’s its job, to make us think and feel and know we’re alive. See if these two images don’t make you do a double take and think and smile a bit.
“Art” is such a short, monosyllabic word it doesn’t really do justice to all the glorious colors, shapes, ideas creativity and structures it represents or all the delight, rage, curiosity and satisfaction it provokes. I wish it were a bigger, longer more juicy word as befits such an important concept.

Art may be a small word but it plays a huge part in our daily life. Where would we be without it? 

Bereft, impoverished and probably insane that’s where. 
Art constantly enriches and subconsciously sustains us as we rush about:

- Advertising art on public transport can transport us: I’d like to go there/see that/have that/What the hell is that?

- Fine art in museums lifts our spirit with beauty, makes us marvel at how it was done, when it was done, why, where and by whom it was done. One problem with fine art is that it’s heavily influenced by its context, the hushed museum, the whispering and echoing footsteps. How wonderful it must be to have a piece of fine art in your own home where you can see it in different lights, talk about it without whispering, touch it, smell it, savor it, inhale and digest it.
- Art in decoration: our choice of color and texture for the walls, carpets and furniture is art.
- The art in the design of the things we use daily: a silver Mac, so carefully designed to function well and look beautiful, a comfortable chair designed to fit our anatomy (very hard to find), a Ferrari (Well, I’d like to use one daily) with its gorgeous lines and passionate color.
- A most powerful combination of two arts: an illuminated/illustrated book  a double joy and enrichment. 

1997, vase from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and paint by AI WEIWEI

Friday, June 20, 2014


I went to school with a boy who modeled himself on Bart Simpson, his parents being off at work every day and he being newly arrived in the US from Afghanistan and having no other influence but TV. When we explained that Bart wasn’t a role model, that he was an awful warning, a worst-case scenario, he vehemently protested. When we told him The Simpsons wasn’t a show for kids, he almost wept with rage. “It is, it is!” he screamed.

Poor kid. Except it was hard to feel too sorry for him because his parents condoned his truly terrible behavior, thought it was cute and allowed him to terrorise his older sister whom they treated as unimportant and invisible. He once received (from a non-family member) a firm swat on the butt for turning the stereo up to top volume and hiding the remote. The swat was remarkably effective because it disrespected his behavior and he immediately went into a sullen silence then slashed some furniture.

When he made his sister cry, we comforted her by saying he’d be in jail by the time he was eighteen. And, sad to say, he was. He became a drug addict, hated his parents for letting him become Bart Simpson, then found religion but was still profoundly unhappy. He subsequently returned to his homeland and who knows whom he could be terrorising now. His sister, on the other hand, was inspired by real life and a bit by Lisa Simpson and today is a college graduate and doing splendidly.

I mention this to illustrate what a cultural influence The Simpsons show has become since its inception in 1989. It’s part of global culture; everybody knows Homer, Marge, Lisa and Bart. The Simpsons even have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Mr. Burns has become a play (“Mr. Burns” by Anne Washburn) and their creator, Matt Groening, has eleven Emmys and is a multimillionaire,  and many of the voice actors are quite rich too. So, take that all of you who think cartoons are inconsequential fluff and nonsense.

What makes the show great?

- Not the limited animation, done by Film Roman and various South Korean animation studios.

- It’s not the design, storyboarding and layout also nicely done by Film Roman in Burbank and much improved from Matt Groening’s original characters:

- It could be the voices, which may sound casually cartoony but just try doing Homer’s little shriek or even his “doh”. It’s much harder than you think. Dan Castellaneta has kept him just this side of obnoxious, making him loveable despite his catastrophic stupidity and omnivorous greed (“Mmm, chocolate”) and lent him his good singing voice on occasion. Dan also does Grampa Simpson, Krusty, Barney Gumble, Mayor Quimby. Julie Kavner does Marge, Patty & Selma, Nancy Cartwright is Bart, Nelson Muntz, Ralph Wiggum. Harry Shearer does Mr. Burns, Smithers, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders, Rev. Lovejoy, Dr. Hibbert, Hank Azaria: Moe Syzlak, Chief Wiggum, Dr. Nick, Apu, Comic Book Guy.

-It definitely is the writers, mostly Harvard and UCLA-educated, who make this show great. Funny is much harder to write than anything else so an Ivy league education, great smarts, silliness and acerbic wit are essential to making a show consistently funny for 26 years. Writers Conan O’Brien,  
Ricky Gervais,    Evan Goldberg,   Al Jean, 
Ken Keeler*,   Jay Kogen Jeff Martin,   George Meyer,  
Mike Reiss,   Seth Rogen,   John Swartzwelder,
Jon Vitti,   Wallace Wolodarsky  gave us:
*Bonjour, you cheese-eating surrender-monkeys! - Groundskeeper Willie

You'll have to speak up, I'm wearing a towel. - Homer

"Inflammable means flammable? What a country!" - Dr Nick Riviera

Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You might remember me from such self-help videos as "Smoke Yourself Thin" and "Get Confident, Stupid." 

Aren't we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Santa - Bart

 I used to be with it, but then they changed what "it" was, and now what I'm with isn't it. And what's "it" seems weird and scary to me. -Grampa

Oh boy, dinnertime. The perfect break between work and drunk! - Homer

Now make like my pants, and split. -Comic Book Guy

Stupider like a fox! - Homer

Yes, but I'd trade it all for a little more. -Mr. Burns 

It felt comforting to know that while we watched TV, there was art going on behind us - Marge 

I'm going to the back seat of my car, with the woman I love, and I won't be back for ten minutes! - Homer

 If cartoons were meant for adults, they'd put them on in prime time. - Lisa

She knew my one weakness, that I'm weak! - Homer

 I've been called ugly, pug ugly, fugly, pug fugly, but never ugly ugly. – Moe

Hmm, looks like we’re out of corn pone, fat back, hard tack, fat pone, corn tack…” - Bart

If you don't like your job you don't strike, you just go in every day and do it really half assed, that's the American way. - Homer