Monday, February 28, 2011

The Town, an Unkind Review

I went to Blockbuster yesterday to rent True Grit and discovered it isn’t out yet. Bummer. So I tried to get 127 Hours, but it wasn’t released to video yet either.

So I was looking for a film that had Oscar qualities and the store helps you by putting little placards on the shelves that indicate Oscar candidates. There were several I hadn’t seen and I asked the clerk about a couple of them. He said reviews were mixed on this one and mixed on that one, but The Town had very positive feedback. So I took out The Town.

Guess what. This film is a cliché from front to back, and no offense intended but Ben Affleck is not an actor. In the film he’s supposed to be a bank robber associated with killers and yet he just seems like another guy. He’s supposed to be cool and tough and guess what? It just doesn’t work. Or is he trying to portray a hard guy who has a soft side? It's confusing.

Dicaprio has the look. Javier Bardem knows how to play it. Woody Harrelson can be a killer. Ben Affleck just shouldn’t be in this role. He’s not believable.

Wah wah wah, the whole section where he tells his life story to his new love interest is supposed to get sympathy but again, this is such a cliché way of dumping the details into the story in an attempt to make him a real character. It just doesn’t work. Maybe it's because we've seen this scene so many times before. Two thumbs down for the screen writer. The director should have known better. Oh... that's Ben Affleck, too.

What a contrast between The Town and Our Town. Thornton Wilder's Our Town delves into the fundamental issues of meaning and life, famous for its sparse stage with a couple stepladders. This Town is a shoot 'em up... predictable and boring. It will not be famous, unless some film school uses it to study how not to make a movie.

The Town takes place in Charlestown, a neighborhood in Boston, where there are more bank robberies than any place in the country. The robbery lifestyle is so ingrained in this community that it is passed down from generation to generation. In the film's opening robbery, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) is taken hostage by the robbers, but then is released. The F.B.I. tries to use her to identify these bad guys who always seem to get away, but she's not sure how much to disclose. Chris Cooper appears briefly in the film as Ben Affleck's dad, who is doing time. Cooper plays the curmudgeon role very well. Affleck, who is thick with the thieves but wants out, could learn a few lessons from the old man.

It should be noted here that viewers on have given this film a 7.7 rating, which is to say the majority like it, and you might, too. You can probably tell I didn't.

On a related topic: Congrats to everyone associated with The King's Speech. It really was a g-g-g-ga-ga-great f-f-f-ilm.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Sunday

"Every time an Oscar is given out, an agent gets his wings." ~Kathy Bates

A lot going on this week... as usual. Tonight it's the Academy Awards. Who do you love? As is often the case there are quite a few flicks here that I have not seen, but seeing them listed here gives me ideas for my next movie rental.

I saw Inception, a special effects spectacle and a Matrix-like mind game rolled into one, and see it has been nominated for some awards. The King's Speech is certainly worthy of the accolades it has garnered. Having read the original book that The Social Network was based upon, I nominate that one as the best screenplay adapted from another source. (The book needed some major re-working to get that movie out of it.) And yes, Toy Story 3 is deserving of any recognition it achieves tonight. Best animated film of all time some are saying...

As for films I've not seen but need to check out soon, True Grit and 127 Hours are both on the top of that short list. Personally, I know they love John Wayne in Hollywood and even named an L.A. airport after him, but was he really the best actor the year he won the Oscar for his role as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit? He's no Jack Nicholson, nor a Javier Bardem. The original True Grit was O.K. but from what I'm hearing this one's got the mustard. Without having seen the performance, I'm hearing that Jeff Bridges was in Oscar form again, though the competition is looking fierce. Best actor nomination all begin with the letter J this year... Javier, Jeff, Jesse and James... with the exception of Colin Firth. Hence, I predict Firth with be first.

I guess the best part of the Academy Awards is all the television footage and media content it generates. In a culture so slathered with celebrity worship, this is definitely one of the places where stars shine bright. Naturally the critics zero in their scopes for all they're worth. "Worst Dressed", "Worst Speech" and M.I.A.... Whether its the music, the length, the occasional vapid rambling, there's always something to deride.

On the other hand, let's face it, Hollywood has created some truly great celluloid moments, challenging us and inspiring us, and occasionally giving us a nice diversion from all that ails us. So, that being said... let the ceremonies begin.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

More On Crowdsourcing

I'm nearing the end of Jeff Howe's insightful, contemporary bestseller on Crowdsourcing and I found a very minor error. The book is quite excellent and a worthy read describing the power of collaboration. He applies is to business enterprises, telling story after story of how companies used an open-ended undefined group of people to solve problems and perform sometimes daunting tasks. (He does not apply the term to revolutions or the overthrowing of governments like we are currently witnessing on the global stage, but I'm guessing that book will soon be written by someone, too.)

In telling success stories about companies and people who used crowds to good effect, he talks about American Idol and the incredible run it has had due to its use of the crowds who participate in turning talented wanna-bes into superstars. And in a following anecdote Howe describes a company that is striving to use the masses to produce films outside the ironclad Hollywood system where a handful of studio heads decide what films will be made or panned.

In listening to the story of this latter company, it was clear to me that he was unaware of how this very act of crowdsourcing was instrumental in Walt Disney's early success. The details of that story can be found in David Ogilvy's 1978 autobiography.

Ogilvy, one of the most influential ad men in history and co-founder of the global agency Ogilvy & Mather, began his career as a Paris chef. In his mid-twenties he came to the States looking for a career change and managed to become part of the Gallup organization, a pioneer in the science of polling. Gallup and company were stationed out east but Ogilvy saw an opportunity for Gallup in the emerging world of Hollywood. What he did was use polling to help Disney determine in advance what kind of animated films would most likely succeed. Polling was, in essence, an early form of crowdsourcing.

By using feedback from the crowd, Disney was able to expend energy on projects with a higher probability of success. Ogilvy's Autobiography detailed a number of these projects which ultimately contributed to Disney's fame and fortunes. Later, when he reached New York and began his life in the advertising trade, Ogilvy continued to apply what he had learned about the value of the crowd.

In short, Howe is right about crowd sourcing. But he appears to have been unaware that this isn't the first time such a tool has been used in Hollywood.

Till next.... and have a good day.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Will It Look Like Tomorrow?

I just learned that in terms of circulation Popular Science is the fourth largest men's magazine in the U.S. It's core philosophy is that the future looks bright because of the possibilities of science and technology. Can it be?

This month's cover of Popular Science features a rocket flying through outer space with large bold letters in orange that read, AFTER EARTH. And a subtitle, The Case for Populating the Universe and How We'll Get There.

If the past century contains any lessons, it's certainly shown us what humankind is capable of in the realm of science and technology, from the elimination of once killer diseases to Dolly the cloned ewe. We can also see a century that included incomprehensible genocidal horrors and rampant militarization, always in the name of peace.

Global prosperity has been unprecedented in terms of wealth creation, and economic disparity has also been part of the package, both amongst nations and amongst individuals. Books like Aftershock by David Widemer tout dire warnings about the coming collapse of the economy and the bankrupting of America which leads one to believe those space ships headed to galaxies beyond will be populated by Asians.

So the big question about the future is not whether our farmers can feed us, but to what extent the politicians will mess with things so as to leave our global compatriots hungry or starving. Currently a lot of once productive farmland is being diverted to the production of energy. While art collectors pay millions for the next available Picasso, there are hundreds of millions around the world living in shantytowns with inadequate food, water or basic necessities.

I know that optimism is what keeps us going, but even though the future remains a foggy haze, it's easy to identify with those who see a future that is grim.

We're a complicated people,
a mixed and crazy breed.
We can always blame our parents
for we're all of Adam's see,
though in fact it changes nothing
and there's nothing guaranteed.
The future remains unwrit.

The species dreams a dream,
all the bounds unspecified;
horizons stretch from berm to beam
with hearts can-opened wide;
though nothing makes much sense to us
there's much left to decide.
The future remains unwrit.

The grand and glorious grief
of heroes' anguish, spent
unwinding numb sensation,
reflecting inelegant
the image stream of crisis
without form, impermanent.
The future remains unwrit.

No matter how you cut it
there's a strange, weird story here.
Denials, accusations,
obfuscations and veneer --
no final answers given,
all the songs sound insincere.
The future remains unwrit.

Till next....

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lift Your Spirits with Ghost Town

It's one of those films that I overlooked but am glad I found. Starring Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, and Greg Kinnear, this review will attempt to avoid any serious spoilers.

For some reason I had not heard much about Ghost Town when it was released, and instead of sticking with the same old favorites I thought I’d give this one a chance. I’ve liked Greg Kinnear in the films I’ve seen him in (As Good As It Gets, Little Miss Sunshine) and Tea Leoni (Family Man, Fun With Dick & Jane) is always good. So it was only a matter of the film’s premise. Gervais has been a BBC television star involved with The Office and his own The Ricky Gervais Show, but till now I would not have been able to pick him out of a lineup.

To my great surprise this one is indeed surprisingly good. The premise is easy to accept because so many films have already explored light-hearted flavors of the ghost/hereafter premise including Abbott and Costello (The Time of Their Lives). The point of the film is in what happens next.

The artwork on the jacket cover tells the story. Dr. Pincus (Gervais in his role as a dentist) is sitting on a New York City park bench with his fingertips pressed against his foreheard. To his right is Tea Leoni with a smile and her arm behind Dr. Pincus. On his other side is semi-transparent Greg Kinnear with his fading arm reaching behind Pincus toward Leoni. The first minutes of the film set it all up.

As opening credits roll, Kinnear in suit and bow tie is approaching an apartment building. A couple several stories up is trying to install an air conditioner. There is an oops and the thirty pound box falls earthward toward the sidewalk. At the last second, Kinnear looks up, steps backwards and with relief enjoys the rush of having survived a close one. Unfortunately, a mid-town bus takes him out.

The light touch manner in which all this is handled gives viewers a tip that this ghost story is going to be more fun than macabre.

Dr. Pincus is a dentist who pretty much dislikes people and for whatever reason doesn't interact with them well. During a routine colonoscopy he dies and is revived. (Again, there is nothing graphic here, just as there was no blood when Kinnear got nailed by the bus.) There is a side effect from this near death experience. Pincus is now able to see ghosts, and there are a lot of them to see in New York.

The film's underlying premise is that ghosts are disembodied souls who have unfinished business here on earth. So each one is on a quest to make right something that had been left unresolved when they departed.

More than one reviewer of this film gives credit to Ricky Gervais for making it work. Here's one person's take:
By the far the greatest thing about Ghost Town however lies in its comedy, which is fronted by lead man Ricky Gervais, who teams up alongside Greg Kinnear to create a movie with both class and wit, not to mention a little bit of welcome shtick. Gervais, who goes about his role here with about the same mentality as he has so far implemented in his TV roles, delivers a wonderful performance here that embodies his character's comedic cynicism with absolute precision. If you already know the comedian then you know that much of his charm and natural comic ability comes from his timing and delivery; he doesn't necessarily try to make you laugh, and it isn't in the things he says, but how he says them, and when he does so. Through this Gervais makes sure not only to deliver his jokes with enough frequency to keep amusement levels high, but he crafts a character out of such moments too; the jokes never cheapen his persona, but only strengthen it.

I even got a bit mushy at the end, as there's more to the film than just a two hour diversion. But I already promised not to spoil it for you. Good take away message and lots of smiles throughout. If you get a chance, visit Ghost Town.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Millionaire Musing

In the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, you have three options when you get stuck: phone a friend, ask the audience or 50-50, where half the answers are removed. Which of these is most likely to give you the correct answer most often?

A. Phone a Friend
B. Ask the Audience
C. 50-50
D. Take a Deep Breath and Guess

If you chose C, you would then be left with:

A. Phone a Friend
B. Ask the Audience

And the answer is B.

Ohio University grad Jeff Howe, in his book Crowdsourcing, explains the logic. If only 4% of the audience knows the answer to a question and the rest guess randomly that means that the correct answer will be chosen by the majority.

What country is most likely to become the next Tunisia and Egypt?
A. Libya
B. Morocco
C. Yemen
D. Pakistan

If you chose to phone a friend, who would you call? If you choose 50-50, which two would be left after the other two are taken away? No, your best bet again is the audience, because at any given time about 5% are undercover government employees assigned to make sure that anyone who wins will pay their taxes in order to fund counterinsurgencies.

O.K., I'm off topic here, but here's another little known data bit. Monday I heard that since 2004 more people have been killed per year in Mexico's drug trafficking wars than were killed in the Viet Nam war. In trying to verify that stat I see that deaths from opiate related drugs eclipse both of these stats.

All sobering. Wish I had a pain killer for my neck though.

Till next.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Problem at the End of A Wonderful Life

THIS DISCUSSION/REVIEW of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and It's a Wonderful Life CONTAINS SPOILERS

I just finished watching the Frank Capra classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for the first time. Somewhere in my youngest days I may have seen snatches of it when it played on Saturday Night at the Movies, but the time I took it out from the library years ago I'm fairly certain I watched only part of it and left the rest. You pretty much know the end from the beginning, because... well it's Frank Capra and that happy ending sells hope, soap and movie tickets.

It's the classic formula, with the hero fighting for the right. Setback after setback leaves the viewer biting nails, and just when things seem darkest of all and hope is lost, hurrah! The good guy wins.

My DVD player (or rather, my Mac) has a small control panel that tells how much of the movie has played and how much remains. I was surprised, therefore when the little green numbers indicated that there were less than two minutes left in the film, after 127 minutes played, and the end is still not beginning. It's the famous filibuster scene. Not only has congress become weary, I imagine audiences were, too. "How long is this going to last?" Just before rigor mortis sets in, suddenly, with a flourish finish, it's over.

So there you have it, the Capra formula with his good-hearted star Jimmy Stewart walking the plank and sinking, down down down and then whoosh… Victory.

The structure so paralleled It's A Wonderful Life, which stars the same lovable hero, that my mind fixated on the problem I had with A Wonderful Life's tidy ending. That's a perennial favorite for many Americans at Christmas time, almost more important than going to church for some.

The most recent time I watched that film, about a month ago, I noticed that even though it feels good at the end when Clarence gets his wings, there is a problem, a complication that the film never addresses. As you recall George Bailey has just experienced the ultimate nightmare, what life would have been like had he never existed. Then, he is gratefully wakened and returns to the realities that he'd failed to recognize while in his puddle of despair. Fortunately, his lifetime of generosity comes back to him as friends line up to give their all in order to keep George from going to jail for fraud. Yes, George was in serious trouble, but all those people he helped when they'd been in trouble returned, like good karma, to help him when he was down.

So, what's my problem with that? Well, he needed $7,000 and all these people made sacrifices of all kinds, laying their money on the table so that it was a big pile of cash that the accountant tallied as it happened. Then, there's a phone call from an old friend saying he was wiring $25,000 for old Georgie boy because he heard George was in trouble.

Everybody there was cheerful and happy and the movie goers were happy... but don't you think one of the people who just gave so cheerfully might have gone to bed stewing over this thought, "How do you like that? I really didn't have to raid my piggy bank since that fellow from New York just wired more than three times what George needed."

Maybe I shouldn't think too deeply about that one.

Old movies loved keeping things tidy, which is O.K. probably. Real life is a bit more complex. But even though life is messy sometimes, it really is still wonderful. And better than the alternative.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ten Minutes with Nancy Miller

I first saw Nancy Miller's mosaics in a show at Beaners Central in Spirit Valley. They were compelling. More recently we met at one of Jessica Turtle's art openings and since then have crossed paths at yet another art event. Her enthusiasm is infectious and she had plenty to share so this will be a two day post. Seeing that she is also a Dylan fan, I am sure that we'll cross paths again this spring, at Dylan Days.

The interview is a bit long, but worth the ride.

Ennyman: When did you first realize you were more creative than some people and decide to pursue art?

Nancy Miller: I don't think I really made a conscious decision that I was more creative than other people. I guess I just viewed it as that I "could draw" when I was 6 or so, and then really started to notice my ability to render when I was 10, which finally gelled when I was 14.

What I called the "abilty to draw" I now consider the "ability to render", which is a skill because mostly what I was doing was reporting what I saw rather than true creativity. To me true creativity is putting information through a process in my head that divides and combines the information that I want to work on and then I push it out into a concept. I noticed this develop a great deal when I was about 17 or 18. That's when I began to develop unconventional ideas and then decided that I needed to be an artist above all else.

E: Have you always lived on the Iron Range and how has that influenced your creative pursuits?

NM: I have not always lived on the Iron Range. I guess I would say that the desire to leave the Iron Range was the greatest influence the Iron Range had on me at that time because I always felt as though I didn't fit in. That said, there are a few influential people from the Iron Range whom l credit with opening my eyes to art not being just about the accuracy of rendering with a pencil. My best friend, her sister and her mother were all interested in art, music and fashion and so I was exposed to things that I would never have experienced had I not known them. At that time I got to watch MTV at my friend's house back in the days when musicians made videos and the creativity in those early videos had a major influence on how I viewed the world.

E: You have recently overcome a bout with cancer. What are some things you’ve learned through this experience?

NM: I have learned from my cancer that I mean a lot to my friends and family. I didn't realize the depth of that until this happened to me. I also learned how to put into practice what I knew in theory about living in the moment. What helped me not to be worried about the future was what I was told by someone important to my development as an adult. I was told "Nancy! Don't worry about that because you could be run over by a car before that happens." That really puts things into perspective if you really think about it. Why worry? There's no point. You could choke on a pretzel before whatever dreaded event happens happens. I learned to live moment to moment, one second following the next like the cars on a train.

I spent my first year of college at St. Cloud State University, and then moved to Minneapolis and lived there from 1988 - 1995. When I was at St. Cloud State, I took a number of classes from Joe Aiken, a sculptor, who had a great influence on me. Through him, I was introduced to performance art there (Laurie Anderson), and because of that I began to understand that what I was seeing when I saw the Talking Heads videos from that era was performance art in the form of a video. I did do some performance at during the early 90's, which was quite the departure from drawing with a pencil.

From St.Cloud I made the leap to Minneapolis, and there I felt as though someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over me, if you can imagine the shock I felt once I started attending the University of Minnesota. The campus was enormous, the stress was enormous, and I felt overwhelming pressure to perform because I came to understand that there was no fooling around if I wanted to succeed at that school. The transition shocked me into focus, and among other things I really learned how to network with artists and musicians.

I made many valuable friends at that time, mainly in the field of art, but also people studying other topics. To say that these people influenced me is an understatement. I met and worked with some very interesting artists, and some of them have gone on to achieve great things. One of these people who did things related to what I was doing was my friend from Iran named Ali Heshmati who is an architect. Ali now has an architecture firm and lives most of the time in Norway, and he and I have spoken about collaborating at some point. Here is a link to one of his sites:

Some other experiences that I gained while living in Minneapolis was becoming a scenic painter and a stage properties assistant. That further gave me the crazy notion that absolutely anything was possible, that with the right things in place that mere me could create anything. I would say that these friends of mine and the experiences I had helped me see that ANYTHING is possible, that the world is wide open, I just need to be persistent and find the right connections to accomplish what needs doing. This point in time was light years away from drawing a still life of a duck and some twigs with a pencil in my high school drawing class.

E: Who were your early inspirations?

NM: Funny enough, it was musicians over artists at that time. I knew only the smallest amount possible about artists then because I had very little access to the information, as well as few people that I knew were interested in what I would now call important artists. I learned a bit about Picasso and Warhol in high school, also about Giacometti, whose bronze sculptures interested me a lot, but to give you an idea about how starved I was educationally for art at the time I was told that Giacometti's elongated sculptures were the result of "something being wrong with his eyesight" rather than the expression of a concept.

So who influenced me artistically at the time? I was influenced by the animation in Peter Gabriel's video called "Big Time," any video that the Talking Heads made; they always had the most interesting visuals such as David Byrne's huge suit that he called a "construction" which made his head look really small, the Clash and the Beastie Boys with their defiant silliness, and Grace Jones and her collaborations with Keith Haring and other artists in her videos had a tremendous influence on me. At the time, I had nothing to turn to nor the vocabulary with which to find out who the artist was who was responsible for the artistic direction of these videos, so those who inspired me were nameless.

E: Who are your favorite artists today and why?

NM: Gosh, I would say that I really love the mystery, emotion, intensity and poetry in Francis Bacon, Raphael Colonel and Frida Kahlo's work; the colorful graphic work by Peter Max really relates to what I am trying to accomplish in my current mosaic work. I like the trends I see happening in Brazilian mural art as well as what is going on in Spain in this regard. Street art is fascinating to me, I like that people are using mosaic tile instead of spray paint to express and create graffiti. I appreciate the wit: one such statement in a subway was tile shaped like a video game character from the 80's- tile squares are the perfect material to express pixelation.

Because I am trying to incorporate a graphic look in my work, I have been looking at Warhol as well as other pop artists. I love Chihuly; the audacity of his pieces and the color is fantastic. Gaudi, master stone worker and mosaic sculptures and Niki de St. Phalle because of her mosaic sculptures.

E: What are you currently working on that excites you and why?

NM: I am currently working on losing my mind. Just kidding. But I have put so many irons in the fire right now that I will very likely lose it by the end of May.

a) I am working on 2 pieces relating to love, "Love at the Snoodle" was the inspiration, but due to the size of them, I didn't complete tiling them in time for this year's show at the Snoodle.

b) Either I am working on a new piece for the Bob Dylan competition at Zimmy's of Hibbing for Dylan's 70th birthday, or I am going to try to get 1 of the 2 Dylans that I have made for Zimmy's competition that never made it over there. Iron World wanted one of them one year for a Dylan memorabilia show and the other is still in Bemidji because I had cancer last year and couldn't pick it up. It was put there in the first place because they were offering such a great stipend that I couldn't pass up the opportunity and so passed up the Dylan competition that year.

c) I am working on getting a grant with 2 other people to create a sculpture in Virginia in the Bess Metza Rose Garden, part of the process will be community based, so I am excited about this and apprehensive at the same time if that makes sense. I hope to God that I get that done this summer.

d) I am getting work ready for the Clyde Iron Works "Clyde A Scope" art, music and tattoos expo at Clyde Iron Works in Duluth, MN. Be prepared for 3 days of nonsense form me.

e) A piece for the Duluth Homegrown Festival - display location T.B.A.

f) The Cook Art Expo- a community mosaic is in the works, and I believe that I will also have work in one of the businesses for the expo.

g) I will be speaking to a group of students in Hibbing about mixed media in March.

h) Ongoing projects: I am working on creating my own glass to be used for indoor projects. This is merely spray painting window glass, anything that can be done with spray paint can be done on glass. I think this is a very exciting process and relatively unique in the mosaic world.

I will be teaching mosaic and sculpture classes this summer: I can be contacted via email regarding these. I am also trying to get a concept together to apply for a fellowship at Franconia Sculpture Park for next summer, and I would also like to apply for a travel grant to go to Mexico and learn the smalti technique of mosaic tiling from the first smalti glass factory in the Americas. This particular factory consulted with Diego Rivera and I believe Orozco. This would be a dream come true for me to go there and to learn this process.

E: Any advice for young people interested in pursuing an art career?

NM: Absolutely: rule # 1: there's no such word as "can't" There's such a thing as "I don't know how" and that can be remedied by learning, but there is nothing as false as the word can't when it comes to art.

The rest of my advice is this: If you want to succeed at being an artist, it is important to diversify as soon as you can, that or be so good at what you do that automatically "hit it." Be as creative about how you go about making a living as you are about your art work. This can mean teaching part time, doing window displays or something similar such as Warhol did in his early days. I painted ceramic fish for a while, now I do a mixture of solo and group shows, commissions, artistic opportunities such as designing an album cover for a band, teach workshops, speak to students, create and sell my own work, and participate in local competitions and events that have prizes to keep that creative streak flowing and to earn a little cash. This also gets my name in the public eye.

Take EVERY opportunity to show your work in venues that seem appropriate for your work. You never know who might want to commission you or who might want to buy a piece. Document your work, everything you do is resume material- every time you show your work write it down, this information comes in handy later on. Create a portfolio, this can be done cheaply online in book form and that never fails to impress someone looking at your work. Keep your eye on trends. This is definitely applicable for what I am doing, I like to be on the cutting edge of what is going on and if I can, I like to try to be ahead of the curve.

Use every opportunity to learn a new skill. This is important if you are a mixed media artist because anything can be an art material, the material just needs to work. Always try to be courteous to everyone you meet if it is possible. You never know who may help you in the future, who may buy work from you or connect you with someone who will give you a commission. Plus it's just nice to be nice.

Most importantly: never give up. I've seen people go really far in the art world solely from their persistence, not because of the quality of their work. There are a lot of bad but successful artists out there who succeed because they find and take every opportunity they can to further their career.

If you apply for a grant or some such thing, a good way to keep yourself from being crushed by rejection letters is to look at it as though it is a giant lottery. Just do your best to provide all of the information requested, mail it and forget about it. Don't look at rejection letters as a negative, look at as an opportunity to improve and to focus. Ask someone who is involved in grant writing to help if necessary. Many highly qualified and deserving artists get rejected over and over again, it's just part of the process.

E: Where else can people see your work?

NM: I have a piece at Snoodle Ceramic Studio of Duluth, MN through the end of February, a large Bob Dylan sculpture on the Bemidji Sculpture Walk in Bemidji, MN through mid-May; a mosaic piece on the business 'Bonsai Tea" between Jones and Jackson on Grant Ave. in Eveleth MN, and some small mosaic pieces at Art in the Alley in Superior, WI. I also have work at a few sites: @ search for Nancy Miller and at Miller, sorry I didn't put the links here, for some reason my email isn't cooperating today.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Says Who?

I read somewhere that a blog entry should be no longer than 400 words. Says who?

Someone once said that we should be like children. What if we discovered that the reason children are the way they are is that they were trying to be like old people.*

Who says New York has to be the cultural Capitol of the World? Why can't it be Superior, Wisconsin? Didn't Arnold Schwarzenegger go to school here? Besides, when you read the two names, it's self-evident which one is Superior.

Who says haiku poems have to be seventeen syllables? Why can't we make a haiku with nine syllables? Or twenty-three?

And what's the point of... I'd best just stop right here lest I start to sound like a cranky old man.

Speaking of crankiness... here are a few cantankerous quotes from an entertaining diversion, The Portable Curmudgeon, compiled and edited by Jon Winokur.

"Golf is a good walk spoiled." ~Mark Twain

"She got her good looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon." ~Groucho Marx

"I don't drink; I don't like it--it makes me feel good." ~Oscar Levant

"An optimist is a man who has never had much experience." ~Don Marquis

"The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple." ~Oscar Wilde

"The average dog is a nicer person than the average person." ~Andy Rooney

"You can fool too many of the people too much of the time." ~James Thurber

"Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable." ~John Kenneth Galbraith

*Cool website of the day: Aging and Creativity.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Musings

The exponential growth of social media has to be a historically unprecedented phenomenon. What it means for the future waits to be seen, but one thing is certain... it will not leave us unchanged.

Jeff Howe, in his book Crowdsourcing, offers numerous examples of ways in which the interactive connectivity of the Internet is producing effects that could never have been achieved previous to this point in time. For example, by means of millions of volunteers, a project striving to make contact with life in outer space has logged over a trillion hours of dedicated efforts in analyzing signals from the sky. There is no way a research institute could fund any team for such a massive project, yet the avid fans of such research have demonstrated that money is not the only way to get things done.

Howe argues that technology has enabled the rise of an amateur class that is reducing the gap between non-professionals and professionals or specialists.

On the one hand, this is exactly what the pessimists have feared. Page layout software programs enable nearly anyone to produce brochures, handbills and posters. The naysayers point out that, yes, this may be true but what we have is a lot of bad looking stuff because these untrained people have no sense of design.

The same goes for writers. In fact, with the advent of blogging, we may have more writers than readers!

Other controversial features of this new phenomenon include the pittance wages that can result as companies turn to the crowds to produce work that they might otherwise pay real workers a living wage for. Look, if you will, for freelance writing jobs online and you will find plenty... most of which pay pennies for content that helps make the "content provider" dollars.

Another form of crowdsourcing has been the emergence of microlending clubs where globs of people will pool their resources to give loans to people who are being turned down by banks. The problem is when the recipient of the loan defaults, how much money are you going to spend on legal fees when you only lost a hundred dollars that was pooled together with thousands of other suckers. (O.K., that is the more onerous spin and I should retract the "sucker" epithet.)

Anyways, there have been plenty of movements amongst artists to work collaboratively, even before all this high tech fandango. And I know many today for whom the Internet is simply a means for broadening the collaborative possibilities of creatives.
In the meantime, life goes on all around you. Make the most of it.

Noteworthy Blog of the Day: Ricelander's Art Gallery

Friday, February 18, 2011


Just finished Be Cool by Elmore Leonard. Leonard is a great entertainer as a writer, knows how to create memorable characters and how to tell a story. So many of his books have become films you might be astonished. Be Cool is a follow up of the Chili Palmer saga, the shylock who makes good in Hollywood, whom John Travolta played in Get Shorty.

Before that it was Kurt Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House. I remember when Welcome came out. I was into his novels at the time and did not get into the stories. Now, I've returned full circle to give them another try. Vonnegut is definitely a capable writer and like Leonard knows how to craft a story. Some stories reminded me of Gulliver's Travels. Others were pointed, with wry twists... and much to think about.

I was introduced to Elmore Leonard's writing by Twin Cities journalist and radio personality Joe Soucheray over lunch at a writers conference at Mankato State University in April, 1985. Joe found delight in Leonard's style and dismay at how difficult it really is to write a novel of one's own. At the time he was six chapters in and stymied. Alas, I've attempted two and completed one myself, but fifteen years later it languishes in a drawer.

But we're talking about Mr. Leonard here, his stories being possibly a bit raw for some tastes, but always satisfying. Elmore Leonard novels that I've read which that became films include:
Out of Sight
Get Shorty
Rum Punch (as the 1997 film Jackie Brown)
Hombre (Paul Newman is good, the book's even better.)
Mr. Majestyk (Charles Bronson)
Valdez Is Coming (Burt Lancaster)
Stick (Burt Reynolds)
Cat Chaser (Peter Weller)
Be Cool (John Travolta)
Killshot (Diane Lane, Mickey Rourke)
Freaky Deaky is scheduled to be filmed in 2011.

Three-Ten to Yuma was a short story which was translated twice into film, the re-make starring Russell Crowe. Leonard was once a writer of Westerns, and a recurring theme in many of his books is the high noon showdown between the good guy and the baddest of the bad guys.

Quite a few of his other novels have also been made into movies, but I've not read them all. On the other hand, there are still a number of others I did read that are not only enjoyably entertaining, but will likely make good films some day as well. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Everything in its time.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


"Painting has one foot in architecture and one foot in the dream." ~Roberto Matta

He was born in as Roberto Antonio Sebastián Matta Echaurren (1911-2002) but in the art world he was best known as Roberto Matta, a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionism and surrealist art.

Like most young art students, I devoured the art books in the library and the magazines that introduced us to who was doing what. When I saw several of Matta's pieces in an Art Forum story, I was immediately jazzed. The colors, complexity and originality were striking. I hungered to see more. Sadly, we had no Internet in those days, so my exposure to anything further was limited.

Matta began his career as an architect. He then went to Paris where he got a job as a draftsman. This gave him opportunity to travel extensively through Europe. In 1934 he met Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali, who encouraged him to share some of his drawings with Andre Breton, whose interest in Freud and the unconscious were formative in the Surrealist movement that inspired and spawned so many great artists. In 1937 Matta met Picasso, who encouraged him to join the surrealists, which he did, only to be expelled ten years later.

This excerpt from Wikipedia describes the emergence of Matta's style and impact:

The first true flowering of Matta's own art came in 1938, when he moved from drawing to the oil painting for which he is best known. This period coincided with his emigration to the United States, where he lived until 1948. His early paintings, such as Invasion of the Night, give an indication of the work he would continue, with diffuse light patterns and bold lines on a featureless background. This is also the period of the "inscape" series, and the closely related "psychological morphologies". Prof. Claude Cernuschi writes, "Matta's key ambition to represent and evoke the human psyche in visual form was filtered through the writings of Freud and the psychoanalytic view of the mind as a three-dimensional space: the 'inscape'." According to the essay on Matta in Crosscurrents of Modernism, the inscapes' evocative forms "are visual analogies for the artist's psyche". During the 1940s and 1950s, the disturbing state of world politics found reflection in Matta's work, with the canvases becoming busy with images of electrical machinery and distressed figures. The addition of clay to Matta's paintings in the early 1960s lent an added dimension to the distortions.

For copyright reasons I cannot show his work here but a website featuring paintings, prints and more can be found here.

If you get the opportunity, the IVAM (Institut Valencia d'Art Modern) in conjunction with the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao and the Sociedad Estatal de Acción Cultural, is displaying an exhibit commemorating the centenary of the birth of 20th century art. The exhibition comprises 32 paintings, some large-format, including a triptych and a polyptych.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Five Minutes with Duluth Painter Dale Lucas

Beaners Central here in Duluth has one of the nicer venues for showing art in the Twin Ports here, so I make it a habit to check out whose work is on display each month. In January, they featured works by painter Dale Lucas. I was immediately struck by what I saw, which led me to return the next day with my camera. Our paths unexpectedly crossed Saturday at the Pineapple Arts art supply store downtown... Here are some things you will find interesting about Dale's work.

Ennyman: Many of your paintings show references to the classical masters. Who are your favorites from the past?
DL: There are a number of them. Here are a few: John Singer Sargent, Velasquez, Whistler, Klimt, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. I've copied works of all of these great artists, sometimes several of their works. My former teachers encouraged this as a learning experience, and I totally agreed.

E: In what way do they inform your own work?
DL: Many of the masters used an underpainting, which I often do, especially for portraits. This allows for more control of value, which may be the most important aspect of painting in my opinion. It also permits me to do a better drawing.

E: How do you decide what you want to paint next?
DL: Since I spend so much time painting, it is important for me to be inspired by my subject. If I am perusing an art book something may excite me. Portraits of animals and children always inspire me. We get the New York Times, and often a photo of a dancer or performer lost in his music will get me going.

I always start with a sketch using a brush directly on the canvas. Some artists I know start with a detailed drawing and one of my former teachers almost insisted on making a transfer of a detailed drawing on the canvas, but this doesn't work so well with me; it seems to impede the freedom of my drawing. If I do an underpainting, I start with a "bistre" drawing of raw umber on a toned canvas of lead white and raw umber. Although I've painted in the past mostly with oil I've recently been painting alla prima using acrylics, which seems to work for me, although it took awhile to get used to the fast drying and for that reason the difficulty in painting wet on wet.

E: How would you describe the process of painting for you and how do decide when a piece is finished?
DL: As with everyone, sometimes it is difficult for me to determine when to leave well enough alone. I weekly attend what we call an "open studio" drawing a live model, and have for many years. We start with two-minute warmups and progress to twenty minute poses, which makes fast work on figures and portraits a requirement. I've learned that sometimes "less is more", and hope this carries over to my painting.

E: What are you currently working on and why?
DL: Right now I'm working on two baby portraits and a pre-wedding portrait. Just completed a portrait of our border collie Kirby for a neighbor boy, who is Kirby's best friend. Gave it to him as a valentine gift. I'm doing a collage using an acrylic painting of Natalie Portman as the Black Swan, because the ads show her eyes drilling right through you.

E: What does a typical day look like for you?
DL: I paint several hours every day--if I don't I miss it. We walk the dogs, and I like to work in the gardens in the summer or go canoeing or visit our cabin.

E: What are your strengths and weaknesses as an artist?
DL: If I'm trying to be too precise I can overwork a painting. It's more satisfying to me if I'm relatively accurate, say what I want to say, and get out. I believe my drawing ability is perhaps my strong point; understanding color is maybe my weakest, but I'm working on getting better.

E: Thank you for sharing your insights and experience here. The best to you in 2011.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Secret In Their Eyes

Last night I watched a remarkable film, winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film titled El Secreto Del Sus Ojos, which translated means The Secret In Their Eyes. It's refreshing to find an original story so well done. All the elements are there, intrigue, suspense, superb acting, underplayed romance.... and the tight surprise ending that both surprises and satisfies.

Of course I was "caught" in the opening moments of the film because it is about a writer. Or rather, it is about a man who 25 years ago went through a difficult experience and now that he was retired wants to write a novel about it in order to hopefully bring resolution to the pain of that unresolved matter.

Benjamin Esposito (Richard Darin) is a detective who was once involved in trying to solve the brutal rape and murder of Liliana Coloto, a young man's beautiful wife. The assailant is ultimately captured, but because of the corrupt government he is released in a relatively short time. This is Argentina 25 years past and to the dismay of Esposito and his supervisor/department chief Irene Menendez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil) the case is closed by high authorities and cannot be re-opened, despite the obvious injustice.

The film is full of subtlety as well as suspense. The title is derived from Esposito's efforts to identify potential killers from photos of all who have been associated with her in the past. In one of the photos he reads into the eyes of one man something more than just a look or glance at the beautiful innocent Coloto. This hunch gives direction to his investigation.

But the meaning of the title is multi-layered because there are also stories in the eyes of many other characters, including Esposito and his department chief who later becomes a judge and encourages him to write the story.

The manner in which the story is told strongly enhances the narrative and the suspense. The juxtapositions of present and past effectively reveal what happened, what was happening and the pain of life itself when things like this happen. All worked together to great effect. Esposito has been haunted all his life by the events of that moment in time, and by setting it down in print he hopes to slay the inner demon, find healing and release. I'm sure many a writer understands well this man's quest.

The film is in Spanish with English subtitles.

Monday, February 14, 2011

An Old-Fashioned Love Sonnet

It's arguably one of the most famous love poems in the English language, number forty-three in a set of forty-four. Written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Robert Browning while the Brownings were in courtship, their power is no doubt due to their very personal quality. In fact, the poems were so personal that Elizabeth felt uncomfortable with the idea of having them published. But her husband, who was to become one of England's foremost Victorian poets, devised a scheme to shield her a bit, and when the collection of forty-four poems appeared in print in 1850 they were called Sonnets from the Portugese as if written not by Ms. Browning but rather a translation of an ardent Portugese poet's work.

Number 43
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Happy Valentine's Day, y'all. Love the one you love.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


It's Valentine's Day weekend again, one of the most important "holidays" of the year for the greeting card industry. In fact, Hallmark has over 1300 variations of Valentine-themed cards.

I shared the following poem last night at a Sweetheart Banquet where I was MC. It was written by my grandmother Elizabeth Sandy, one of the creative influences in my life, who fostered in me a greater appreciation of art, literature and poetry.


When I was young and beautiful
I thought I was in love --
The moon was made for such as I
And all the stars above!

The days swam by in ecstasy --
I never paused to sigh --
Of all the mortals on this earth
The happiest was I!

Oh, who could dream it was a trap
That nature set for me?
That propagation might not cease
And mortals still should be?

When I was young and beautiful
I had a great romance --
But now -- I'm darning little socks
And mending little pants!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Friday Night Recap

Normally a blog entry should be no more than 400 words, they say. If a picture is worth a thousand, I hope you'll forgive me for this several thousand word blog entry. The photos here are from the two art events I attended, Love Your Local Artist at the Superior Library, and Love at the Snoodle V, at the Snoodle ceramic studio in Duluth.

The Superior Library event was attended by at least 70 people, many of whom were "Friends of the Library." The featured artists were those whose work had been displayed in the showcase in the library lobby during the previous twelve months including Gary Reed, Patricia Lenz, Lisa Casperson, Jeredt Runions and myself.

At right is an image by collage artist Patricia Lenz, one of the many pieces on display there...

A string quartet played music while guests mingled and enjoyed the numerous works on display.

When I arrived at the Snoodle there were fire dancers out front putting on a show to an engaged crowd. I learned that they have a Facebook page called the Spin Collective.

Inside, the studio was lit with blacklight and created an ambience that seemed most suitable for this year's theme. Nearly all of the pieces had a day-glo element, as at the top of the page.

In the upper building there was live music playing and there must have been face painters because there were a lot of people in somewhat expressive attire. I ran into Jeredt Runions again (right) along with numerous other local artists.

In short, there were a lot of artsy people out on the town last night, and it was nice making acquaintance with so many talented people in this community.

At every stop along the way I had something else on my mind to look forward to. My daughter, who is in China, was going to be calling home so we could say "Happy 22nd Birthday" with as much warmth and delight as can be possibly conveyed.

It's refreshing to share time with friends and make new ones. The best is always yet to come.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Art Events Tonight

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, the Superior Public Library will be hosting a Love Your Local Artist open house tonight. The public is invited to meet and greet with the artists whose work has been displayed monthly out in the lobby. It also gives the artists themselves a chance to meet one another. The community is invited to meet the artists and see some of their work up close and personal. (Pictured at right, a portion of the February 2010 display case featuring paintings and drawings by Ed Newman.)

In addition to the Superior event there is also an art opening at the Snoodle Ceramic Studio, similarly centered on the love theme. "Love at the Snoodle V" will feature a batch of local artists in various mediums sharing work around the theme Glow in the Dark. If you can't make it tonight, Love at the Snoodle V will be on display throughout the month of February. (In case you're not sure where the Snoodle is, it's down near the Duluth Zoo on Grand Avenue and 71st Avenue West.) Tonight's Line up: 5:00-6:00 open Gallery, 6:00- 6:30 Puppet Show, 6:30-7:00 Fire Spinners, 7:00-8:00 Robi Meyerson, 8:00-10:00 the GRRRL Band

Last night I found it gratifying to learn that the son of a friend keeps wanting to return to Goin' Postal to see my paintings. Not sure if he is an aspiring artist, but it could be a clue that elementary school kids might have to become my target fan base. If their parents would give them a bigger allowance, maybe I can cover the cost of my art supplies.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Spread the love.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Five Minutes with Painter Marcia Baldwin

Last week I was introduced to Marcia Baldwin's work by means of the EBSQ eNewsletter, just another mechanism that didn't exist a couple decades ago for giving visibility to artists. She graciously accepted my invitation to share a bit of herself and her paintings here.

Like so many others, early experiences were influential in prompting her toward her life interests. To see more of her paintings, links are included below.

Ennyman: When did you first take an interest in painting?
MB: It may surprise some, but painting was encourage by my elementary school principal. A tender age to be encouraged to experiment in many art mediums, but I remember it so vividly.
I even won my first regional art contest at age 8, won a cash prize, and also a spot on our local TV station. I was hooked !! Art and painting were going to be my passion for life. I continued to learn, with first formal lessons from a well known artist in our area, Louise Sicard. I was then on to college and graduated with a BFA.

Enny: Who have been your biggest influences?
MB: There have been many artists and teachers who would share wonderful skills and experiences with me and were very influential in my education, but the Impressionists have always been in my thoughts as I paint, even creating abstracts, I focus on color theory, the way the Impressionists explored and understood how color affects our lives.

Enny: Why horses?
MB: My passion is Art .. but my love is Horses. I was riding horses at the age of 4 and ever since then, I had to be around horses. I would study them, every thing about them, even how they learn and think. I think the first drawing when I was tiny was of a horse. It is a love that will never die. Horses are a gift to us and no other creature is so magnificent. If I can capture just a small bit of their grace, their patience, their beauty, ... then I am feel good about that painting.

Enny: What are your favorite mediums to work in and why?
MB: I work mainly in oil paints. The flow of the paint, the way I can manipulate them on the canvas, always excites me. Since my focus is on color theory, I truly love the purity of color and light that is reflected back to the eye in using oil paints. Some can be opaque, some transparent, some even translucent. I do use other mediums and find it exciting to switch to Batiks on canvas, using watercolor, inks and wax. Other mediums I enjoy are soft pastel and gouache.

Enny: What are your goals for 2011?
MB: I am always striving to become a better fine artist, so that is always a goal for each new year. But to be specific, 2011 is a year for more acclaim, being recognized more as a professional artist. There will be a book of my paintings for 2011, created in 2011, as a wonderful printed portfolio of all my work for the year.

Enny: How do you categorize yourself as an artist?
MB: I am a professional fine artist specializing in oil painting. My favorite subjects are animals and specifically horses. I may work in abstract, using bold brush strokes and bold color, and then I can also work in fine detail for super realism. All the styles between are an ever-lasting journey in creating new and exciting works of art.

Enny: Do we have too many artists in this country today?
MB: I don't think any country can have too many artists. What would our world be without artists? Dull and unimaginative... And "Color"... without artists, we would be without "color" in our lives, theoretically or actually !!

Enny: Any suggestions for talented young people and art school students?
MB: Learn the principles and elements of art. They are the foundation of everything you create. As for painters, paint every day, no matter what.

To Subscribe to my Daily Painting Blog

Portfolio on Fine Art America

To Purchase Fine Art Prints from my Originals

IMAGEKIND Prints & Custom Framing ~ Pick out Your Favorite M Baldwin ART !!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


"Housewife and mother Penny Chenery agrees to take over her ailing father's Virginia-based Meadow Stables, despite her lack of horse-racing knowledge. Against all odds, Chenery -- with the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin -- manages to navigate the male-dominated business, ultimately fostering the first Triple Crown winner in twenty-five years."


I finally got around to seeing Secretariat, the 2010 film about one of the great race horses of all time, if not the greatest. The movie was well done, for what it's worth. John Malkovich, in his roll as the trainer, was his usual unusual self and helped keep the film's entertainment value from lapsing.

Diane Lane as Penny Chenery Tweedy does an admirable job of being the tough mama who is the driving force behind Big Red's success. Not being familiar with the actual story behind the scenes, it was interesting to see the inner workings of modern horse racing. The Secretariat fable takes place in the early Seventies against a backdrop of Viet Nam, so there's a bit of spice added as Mrs. Tweedy's daughters get involved with a bit of the anti-war consciousness that prevailed among students of that time.

Efforts were made to create tension, but we all knew how it would end so these little attempts to create false drama felt hollow. For example, someone noted that one famous horse's heart burst because he'd run so hard, and when Secretariat was galloping so incredible hard at the Belmont Stakes it might be that he was also endangering himself. Since we all knew the outcome in advance, the nail-biting seemed almost silly.

Some readers here will remember the story of how my sister-in-law Rosemarie got to see Secretariat in all three of those races to win the 1973 Triple Crown. Not only did she see Secretariat and Sham do their show, she also bet Secretariat to win with Sham second in all three races. At the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, she and her older sister shared quite a bit of jubilation. Alas, poor Sham was burned out at the Belmont.

Some of the reviewers at called this the best or one of the best sports movies ever. I guess I didn't see it that way. Nice film by a director who knows how to make films, with a resume that includes Braveheart and Pearl Harbor, but when it's over it's pretty much, "Yeah, O.K. that was interesting." I just didn't care that much about all these people for some reason.

The feelgood ending with "Oh Happy Day" seemed designed to help everyone leave the theater with hearts lifted, and I guess that's O.K., too. But the next morning, life goes on and there is very little takeaway.

A bit of trivia here: several horses played Secretariat in the film... and the actual Penny Chenery picked the horse that played "Big Red" by means of a lookalike contest. Must have been fun for her a re-live a bit of her own personal history. All I have are a few photos of myself from that time. But I remember it well. 1973 was an interesting, even life changing, year for many of us.

For the record, you can see the real Secretariat at the Belmont right here on YouTube.

Popular Posts