Posts filed under “Art”


By Our Roving Critic.

The so-called Moving Sale at No. 1721 Featherstone Avenue in Dormont was—there is no kinder way of putting it—a disappointment. The goods on display were pedestrian and unimaginative. The cookware section was typical: granted that some of the items, notably the sauté pan with lid, were useful, where was the emotional impact? We looked in vain for any trace of a pattern in the boxes of VHS tapes, but they seemed to have been thrown together at random. The children’s clothes on sale had the same old story to tell: once our children were small, and now they are bigger, and their clothes no longer fit—there is not a triter trope in the book. The blandly adequate furniture spoke of no tragedies; there was no hidden sadness in the garden tools. In short, the sale was not moving at all, and to advertise it as such straddles the line between hyperbole and consumer fraud.


Garden at the Vanderbilt mansion, Hyde Park.

Garden at the Vanderbilt mansion, Hyde Park.

Update: The site is no longer on line.

Do you wish the world were more like an old postcard? Then you will want to visit Father Pitt’s new Two-Color World, a silly photographic experiment in which every picture is presented in old-fashioned two-color printing, like an old postcard or a two-strip Technicolor movie from 1929.

You may notice from the URL that our friend Bozar the Clown has graciously donated Web space for this enterprise, and in fact we are interested to see how his Web host responds to the demands of running WordPress. Mr. Bozar’s site uses a tiny and simple blogging script that places very few demands on the host, but WordPress takes some oomph.


If you wish to understand the state of aesthetics in modern Western civilization, the site of the Monument Builders of North America is all the education you need.

It is simultaneously depressing, horrifying, and hilarious, a kind of Doctor Strangelove of Web sites.

From it we also learn that the Funeral and Memorial Information Council has claimed “Have the talk of a lifetime” as a service mark for the pre-need-planning business. Evelyn Waugh could not have invented that slogan.

Nevertheless, the site does tell us that people still desperately want representational art for their cemetery monuments—an observation confirmed by our friend Father Pitt, who reports that there is not a single monument dealer in Allegheny County who does not have a gravestone shaped like a motorcycle prominently displayed in front of his shop.


We shall all belong to Google sooner or later, unless Google, like Microsoft, clings to outdated technology once it is clear the world is headed somewhere else. So we might as well know what it is like to live in the Google world. Since he manages Father Pitt’s little corner of the Web, Dr. Boli has been privileged to observe firsthand what Google can do with several thousand pictures and a few clever algorithms. We have already seen the dancing mushroom and the nodding statue. But there’s more! So much more.

By continuing to read, you agree that you accept the risk of animated GIFs, and take full responsibility for whatever they may do to your computer or your soul.



Addendum: See also the Nodding Faceless Statue below.

Experimenting with Google Photos, our friend Father Pitt discovered that Google will automatically do certain things with your pictures, especially if you have a lot of similar pictures. Father Pitt always takes several of the same shot, just to make sure he gets one usable photograph in the bunch. The secret to being a good photographer is to take hundreds of pictures and expect to use a dozen or so of them. (And Father Pitt never throws out the failures, because—who knows?—they might be useful for something.)

Sometimes Google decides that what you wanted was an HDR version of the image. HDR—“high dynamic range”—images use more than one photograph of the same thing to capture detail both in the shadows and highlights; in sunlight, for example, one might otherwise have to settle for either featureless white highlights or featureless black shadows.

But often Google decides that, since the pictures are only subtly different, what you wanted was an animation. So it dutifully animates your multiple shots of the same stationary object. The result is usually just a jiggly picture; but every once in a while, Google’s automatic animations come out, well, terrifying. And you may see an example of the latter only if you promise not to hold Dr. Boli responsible for your psychiatrist’s bills:



Like most organizations today, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has a mission statement:

PAFA promotes the transformative power of art and art making.

It also has a vision statement, because (we must admit) the mission statement is not very specific:

PAFA will inspire the future of American art by creating, challenging, cultivating, and celebrating excellence in the fine arts.

Now here is your challenge: Given the current climate of thought in the art world, try to think of any plan, program, exhibition, or any other activity a museum and art school could engage in that would not satisfy one or both of these statements.

Drunken revelry in the hall of statuary—celebrates excellence in the fine arts and, depending on how drunk people get, may be considerably transformative.

Shooting paintballs at the eighteenth-century collection—challenges excellence in the fine arts and promotes the transformative power of art.

Blowing up three blocks of urban Philadelphia—as transformative as all get out, and there certainly are blocks of Philadelphia that would be rendered more artistically excellent by a giant explosion.

Even hanging old paintings on the wall and letting people look at them could conceivably be justified by both statements, as much as it might be frowned upon by true devotees of Art with a capital R.

No, Dr. Boli cannot think of a single thing the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts could do that could not be justified by its mission statement and vision statement, which he therefore must regard as perfect in their kind. He would be happy, however, if someone else could prove him wrong.


You have seen Le Sang d’un poète; you have perhaps devoured the works of James Whale, Federico Fellini, and Edward D. Wood, Jr.—but what do you know of Nazimova?

Actress, dancer, director, producer, artist, and genuine mystery woman in an age of would-be mystery women, Nazimova (or Alla Nazimova, but she usually went by the one name only) was a big star in 1922. By 1923, she was back to Broadway, having used up all her own money and the patience of her backers producing bizarre art films that no one would go to see—or in the case of this one, even distribute.

Salomé is a silent adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play by the same name. The look of the whole film was inspired by the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, although modern viewers are also likely to think of Dr. Seuss, especially in the costumes, designed by Natacha Rambova (Rudolph Valentino’s wife, but Nazimova’s “constant companion,” as they used to say in the gossip rags). Charles Bryant (Nazimova’s nominal husband) is the listed director, but Nazimova conceived the project, paid for the film, and was well known as the authority on set, director or no director.

What shall we say about this picture? It walks the knife edge between sublime art and risible pretension. If you have never seen it, then you have never seen anything remotely like it. Nothing is naturalistic: the actors move like dancers; the sets are abstract and very much show their derivation from Beardsley’s illustrations; the costumes are cartoonish. A Beardsleyesque moon makes such frequent appearances that it becomes a character itself. Nazimova as Salomé is an unforgettable experience; with stars in her hair, she moves like some unknown species of creature, not quite feline but not quite human. In short, the ideas of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley are filtered through the utter weirdness that was Nazimova. She was as bizarre in real life as she was on film, with a house that was like a set from a German Expressionist horror movie and an embarrassing habit of seducing Hollywood leading men’s wives—embarrassing, that is, to the men, though apparently not at all to Nazimova. You may suspect, on seeing Salomé, that Nazomova was not the only one in the film whose sexual orientation would have been considered unorthodox in 1923.

So if you are ready for five reels of utter strangeness, you can see the film below. Two versions can be found on This one is a reasonably clear print, with original (or restored) tinting, an effective modernist score played by a small orchestra, and German translations of the titles:

Here is another print, lower resolution, but with an interesting original score by Edward Boensnes, who makes a hobby of composing original scores for silent films:


Traditional methods of drawing emphasize creating the illusion of thingness through representation of the irrelevant and distracting details of the thing. Abstract expressionism rejects such artificial illusion and purifies art to its essentials.

It is a mistake, however, to assume that abstract expressionist art is not representational. Nothing could be further from the truth. Abstract expressionism seeks true representation by eliminating the irrelevant, leaving only the essential of the thing represented.

Let us take as an example this drawing of a stagecoach:

In this old-fashioned drawing, the artist has wasted minutes, perhaps even hours, of effort on the various parts of four separate horses, the wheels of the coach, and even individual passengers inside, when it is clear that the essential element of the picture is its horizontality. The properly trained artist therefore reproduces only what is essential in his production:

Abstract Expressionist Stagecoach

Stagecoach, by Lambert Bedlam.

On the other hand, in this picture of Anna Karenina, inspired by the heroine of Tolstoy’s novel, the essential element is diagonality.

Here the artist has expended a simply obscene amount of labor on irrelevancies, going so far as to duplicate every wrinkle of each glove. The abstract expressionist, on the other hand, at once recognizes what is essential, and reproduces that alone:

Abstract Expressionist Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina, by Vitaly Wallaby-Perkins.

Who can doubt that Tolstoy would recognize his heroine at once?

Having once seen the method, we can immediately understand how the painters of the following works have applied it to their chosen subjects:

Abstract Expressionist John L. Stephens

The American Mail Steamer John L. Stephens Arriving at Liverpool, by Ratchet Dawson III.

Abstract Expressionist Nude Reading the Congressional Record

Nude Reading the Congressional Record, by Emily Pitchfork.

Abstract Expressionist Frank Julian Sprague

Frank Julian Sprague Falling Down an Elevator Shaft, by Arnold M. Shoehorn.

Abstract Expressionist Rose Mary Woods

Rose Mary Woods Accidentally Erasing 18½ Minutes of Conversation, by Richard M. Nixon.