we like lists: list # 11: awesome art

I notice whenever I do a "we like lists" post that I'm never satisfied with my own list. On our hanging out in history list, I forgot Clarence Darrow. In our all-time celebrity crushes, I forgot Bruce Springsteen. In our list of the influential authors, I forgot Michael Pollan. And in my favourite list post, simple pleasures, everyone's list was so much more interesting than mine.

(Looking for those links, I noticed that the most successful list post so far, based on number and variety of entries, and how many new people participated, was page 56, sentence 5.)

In the simple pleasures list, Joe mentioned that sad but wonderful feeling when you finish a book or movie or other experience that is so meaningful to you that it "leaves a void," you're sad to see it end. Which made Jen suggest a list of art that does just that.

And here it is. A list of art we love: art that drives you crazy with your love for it, breaks your heart with its beauty, fills you with awe and wonder, makes you wish you could capture it and retain the experience forever. We're going to take the broadest possible definition of art: anything human-created. So while the majesty of the giant redwoods and the perfection of wolves fill me with joy and awe, they are not art; they are nature. Other than that, art can be books, movies, music, paintings, buildings... anything humans make.

Since this is list number 11, and because I like the number 11, let's do 11 each.

One more thing about this list: it's not a best-of. Not the top 11 works of art that you love. There is just no way I could choose, and I'd end up kicking myself for all the ones I forgot. So just 11 instances of human creativity that you totally and madly love, in no particular order. Here's mine.

1. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939

2. Annie Hall, Woody Allen, 1977

3. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Picasso, 1907

4. David, Michelangelo, 1501-1504

5. Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, the people of Chartres, France, approximately 1190-1250

6. Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones, 1972

7. Show Me Love, Lukas Moodysson, 1998

8. Machu Picchu, Incan people, Peru, 15th Century

9. The Band (The Brown Album), The Band, 1969

10. Othello, performed by Christopher Plummer and James Earl Jones at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Connecticut, 1981

11. The game of baseball


impstrump said...

I don't have a list yet, but holy shit, James Earl Jones playing Othello??? I want to see that!

impstrump said...

Actually I have part of a list, I'll have to think about the rest:

1. Glenn Gould's 1981 Goldberg Variations.

2. Shakespeare's 29th sonnet.

3. The plot resolution of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In one action-packed sequence, the series is turned from some nice fun stories to something demanding analysis and fanfiction.

4. The plot arc of the Princess Bride movie. I wish I could completely forget how it goes so I could watch it for the very first time again.

5. The mirror scene in Duck Soup.

laura k said...

I don't have a list yet, but holy shit, James Earl Jones playing Othello??? I want to see that!

It was, in a word, awesome. The show moved to Broadway, with Kelsey Grammer as Cassio and Dianne Weist as Desdemona. The link is to Frank Rich's review. (He was then the NY Times' chief theatre critic.) He gushes over Plummer.

laura k said...

I wish I could completely forget how it goes so I could watch it for the very first time again.

That's the perfect expression of how great art makes you feel.

johngoldfine said...

This one is going to skunk me. I have plenty of things I like, but I think my reaction of awesomeness is reserved for experiences outside art, unless you want to consider riding a horse an art, which in a better rider than I am, it certainly is, or turning a perfect omelet, or getting off the exact right wisecrack to break everyone up.

But I don't think those are what you have in mind for this list.

James Redekop said...

There's too much to make a list of only 11. I'm reminded of a panel in a Frazz comic strip:

Caulfield: What's your favourite book?
Frazz: The one I'm reading now.

But here are some:

- The original run of "Pogo"
- Brancusi's "Bird In Space"
- Terry Gilliam's "Brazil"
- The career of The Residents
- Becket's "Waiting for Godot" (I wish I could have seen the recent Ian McKellan / Patrick Stewart version)
- The "Dies irae/Tuba mirum" from Verdi's Requiem Mass
- "The Dreaded Batter-Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-On-Sea" by The Goon Show
- The finale of "Dialogue of the Carmelites"
- Art Spiegelman's "Maus"
- "Deduce, You Say" (or just about any classic WB cartoon)
- Monty Python's "Fish Slapping Dance"

laura k said...

There's too much to make a list of only 11.

That's for sure. My list could have been verrrrry long.

* * * *

JohnGoldfine, I'm thinking of anything created by humans, as long as you can be specific. I debated with myself about including baseball. My reasoning: I regard it as a thing of beauty and perfection, something amazing and awesome that humans have created. If I step back from the day-to-day game - MLB, teams, players, standings - and simply bask in the game itself, I can be transported by it. So, I included it.

I hope that helps you come up with a list, yours are always so interesting.

laura k said...

(I wish I could have seen the recent Ian McKellan / Patrick Stewart version)

Me too. That would have been... wow.

* * * *

One of my theatre regrets is never having seen Patrick Stewart's reading of Dickens' A Christmas Carol in NYC. Every year a very small number of tickets would go on sale and disappear. It was after my time in theatre and I had no way to finale a couple for us. Allan bought me a recording of it, which helps.

James Redekop said...

I'm thinking of anything created by humans

In Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (which I almost put on the list), McCloud addresses the question of whether comics are art: "Yes! Especially if your definition of art is as broad as mine!"

Here's his definition, as it appears in the book:

First page
Second page

His definition's too broad, but I mostly like it anyway.

James Redekop said...

Me too. That would have been... wow.

There are rumours of a DVD coming out, but I have no idea how true -- or even possible -- they are.

There's a wonderful story that McKellan tells about that production in Australia:

"During the dress rehearsal of Godot, I crouched by the stage door of the Comedy Theatre, getting some air, my bowler hat at my feet (and) seeing an unkempt old man down on his luck, a passer-by said, 'Need some help, brother?' and put a dollar in my hat.


"The dollar coin is now lodged between two drawing pins on the board above my dressing room mirror. My lucky talisman."

Lorelei said...

In no particular order:

1. Rosa la Rouge
2. Breakfast of Champions, when Vonnegut writes himself into the plot then gets attacked by the dog he forgot about from the beginning of the book.
3. the Karmann Ghia
4. Harold and Maude
5. Falling Water, Frank Lloyd Wright
6. Any furniture by the Bauhaus architects
7. The opening 2 pages of Under Milkwood
8. Abbey Road
9. The concept behind Six Characters in Search of an Author
10. Nina Simone, Lilac Wine
11. Easter Island

laura k said...

His definition's too broad, but I mostly like it anyway.

Ha, that's great. It's bizarre that anyone would question whether comics or graphic novels are art. But many people don't regard handwork as art, and of course art, when made by aboriginal people, is called artifacts. Not useful distinctions, IMO.

laura k said...

I am a huge fan of Fallingwater. It was one of the highlights of our 1999 baseball road trip. Anyone who finds themselves in western Pennsylvania for any reason should go, take the tour.

(Hi Loreilei!)

James Redekop said...

It's bizarre that anyone would question whether comics or graphic novels are art.

It's a mindset that dates back from when people thought Art was what happened in Museums and Opera Houses. It's not Art if you're allowed to touch it.

Fortunately, I had the type of mother who read Pogo and the type of father who read Asimov, so I got raised with a much more inclusive view of the subject.

To my mind, you can't look at things like this for long without seeing the deep artistry in the drawing and the writing (and, for that matter, the philosophy).


A crossover: Six Characters in Search of an Author was spoofed by the creators of one of my entries, The Goons, as Six Charlies in Search of an Author. As Doug Hofstadter would say, "Variations on a theme are the crux of creativity".

laura k said...

I just read the Sonnet that Imp Strump linked to. I have read all the Sonnets, but not for umpteen years. #29 is a killer. Incredible.

impstrump said...

Additions to my list, from the art of translation:

6. Robert Scott's German translation of Jabberwocky. It is perfect. Which is doubly impossible, because a) Jabberwocky is technically untranslatable, and b) there's not such thing as a perfect translation. And yet, it persists in being perfect.

7. The collective coinages of all the Harry Potter translators.

8. Monty Python's Black Knight scene performed live, in full, in person, on stage, before your very eyes, in Spamalot.

Another thing that will go on this list if I can verify that it's real: Reviews report that Eddie Izzard's French show includes his giraffes and tigers bit, but no one on the recorded internet has reported on how exactly he manages to translate something as untranslatable as charades. (It's like I'm the only person who thinks this is important or something!) If Eddie has in fact succeeded in adapting the word-based charades in a way that is both understandable and entertaining to Francophone audiences, this skyrockets to the top of my list.

laura k said...

It's a mindset that dates back from when people thought Art was what happened in Museums and Opera Houses. It's not Art if you're allowed to touch it.

Then a little ground was conceded with a distinction between so-called High Art and Low Art. High Art had credentials. Low Art was made by and for the masses.

And finally that got left by the wayside, too. But we see a hangover, as you said, every time someone asks, Is this art? (Answer: you might not like it or understand it, but that doesn't mean it's not art!)

James Redekop said...

And finally that got left by the wayside, too. But we see a hangover, as you said, every time someone asks, Is this art? (Answer: you might not like it or understand it, but that doesn't mean it's not art!)

Next time someone looks at a piece of abstract expressionism and says "My six-year-old daughter could do that!", tell him that he should be very proud of her. :)

laura k said...

Imp Strump, I read your blog post about Giraffes and Tigers but I didn't click on it. Thanks for linking to it here. God he's brilliant.

James Redekop said...

Robert Scott's German translation of Jabberwocky

If you like brilliant translations of difficult word games, check out the English translation of Stanislaw Lem's "The Electronic Bard" from The Cyberiad, originally written in Polish. In it, the inventor Klapaucius challenges the Electronic Bard created by Trurl.

One of the challenges, in the English version, is:

This is a poem about a haircut! But lofty, nobel, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter "s"!

And the poem:

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.

Now, in the original Polish challenge and poems were almost completely different -- but also almost completely identical in spirit.

The longest poem in the story came from this challenge:

A love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit.

You can read the full poem online.

laura k said...

I can't imagine - literally, cannot imagine - how someone translates poetry. I love all that alliteration, though.

If I'm not mistaken, Imp Strump speaks and translates Polish.

James Redekop said...

I should mention that I don't speak or translate Polish, so I'm basing my comments on the quality of the translation on my enjoyment of the English version, and assurances I've had that it's surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the original.

impstrump said...

I can't imagine - literally, cannot imagine - how someone translates poetry.

I can't imagine either, and I've seen people do it in real time. I can't do it myself though. You have to be basically like the Electronic Bard that James is talking about (which I'm totally going to have to look up in the original Polish as soon as I can figure out what it's called in the original - the presence of the word "Bard" indicates that even that name is an adaptation). You have to be able to write original and artistically effective poetry that meets very specific parameters, and you have to be able to figure out for yourself, based on your own analysis of what the end user need from the text, what those parameters are.

Which, now that I think about it, is what all of the translation-related works of art I linked to have done, each in their own way.

James Redekop said...

Lem's book is Cyberiada in Polish. It's a Polish Wikipedia page on the book.

The translator of the English version was Michael Kandel, who is also known for having worked as an editor on some of Ursula K. Le Guin's work.

Hey! I just found the Polish text of the story!

Here is the Polish version of the first poetic challenge (I think, going by the alliteration):

- Niech ułoży wiersz o cyberotyce! - rzekł nagle, rozjaśniony. - Żeby tam było najwyżej sześć linijek, a w nich o miłości i o zdradzie, o muzyce, o Murzynach, o wyższych sferach, o nieszczęściu, o kazirodztwie, do rymu i żeby wszystkie słowa były tylko na literę C!!

- A całego wykładu ogólnej teorii nieskończonych automatów nie ma tam czasem być? - wrzasnął rozwścieczony do żywego Trurl. - Nie można stawiać tak kretyńskich warun...

Ale nie dokończył, ponieważ słodki baryton, wypełniając całą halę, odezwał się właśnie:

Cyprian cyberotoman, cynik, ceniąc czule
Czarnej córy cesarskiej cud ciemnego ciała,
Ciągle cytrą czarował. Czerwieniała cała,
Cicha, co dzień czekała, cierpiała, czuwała...
...Cyprian ciotkę całuje, cisnąwszy czarnulę!!

I love Lem's books. They vary in tone quite a bit -- Cyberiad is very whimsical, Solaris is very serious, Memoirs Found In A Bathtub is downright Kafkaesque, but they're all excellent.

allan said...

Better late than never (and still somewhat hurried):

1. Infinite Jest

2. Egyptian pyramids (the really big ones)

3. The opening of Woody Allen's Manhattan

4. Fenway Park (in person)

5. The opening blast of "Safe European Home" by the Clash

6. Sistine Chapel ceiling

7. Jean-Michel Basquiat's art

8. Video of REM from 1982 to 1985 (2 complete shows!!)

9. Kevin Millar's mouth, approximately 5-6 PM, October 17, 2004

James Redekop said...

Just for the lulz, here's Google's translation of the Polish passage:

- Let them work out a poem about cyberotyce! - He said, suddenly brightened. - To get there was more than six lines, and in them the love and betrayal, about music, about blacks, the higher spheres, about the tragedy of incest, to rhyme and that all of the words were just beginning C!!

- A whole exposition of the general theory of infinite automata there is no time to be? - Yelled enraged to live Trurl. - You can not put so kretyńskich conditions ...

But I did not finish because the sweet baritone, filling the entire hall, just said:

Cyprian cyberotoman, cynic, valuing fondly
Black daughter of the imperial dark miracle of the body,
Still lyre charmed. Czerwieniała whole,
Quiet, every day she waited, suffered, watched ...
... Cyprian aunt kisses, Cisna Gypsy!

It's kind of impressive for a machine, but it's no Electronic Bard...

laura k said...

Better late than never (and still somewhat hurried):

Not late - I'm still expecting several other entries. Awesome list!

Millar. <3

I'll have to catch up with this Polish translation convo tomorrow. :)

laura k said...

Oh my. I just watched the Manhattan sequence. Not only is my heart squeezing with joy and love for that movie and that city, but it's fucking RHAPSODY IN BLUE which almost squeezed out The Brown Album on my own list. For me that is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever. Ever ever.

impstrump said...

The English translation certainly captures sibilance (I think that's the word?) of the original Polish. The Polish C is pronounced as S, and Polish is a lispy language to start with. At first glance, I figured the English translator wrote a poem with as many S's as he could fit in there and then adapted the character's request of the robot to match, but now that I think about it some more, the original Polish author probably did the exact same thing.

As for the long poem, either the English translator took the mathematical theme of the Polish a few steps further, or all the Polish words I don't understand are mathematical. (That's the problem with scifi in languages I don't understand well - when I see a word I don't understand, I don't know if it's sciencey or made-up or just my lack of fluency). What's especially cool (even if you can't read Polish, just read it out loud using an internally consistent phonetic model) is that "Że zwarciem zagrażają, idąc z oczu w oczy" becomes " We shall encounter, counting, face to face." The translator took the assonance of the Polish a step even further into the English. Well done!

laura k said...

Don't let us win tonight.

OMG Allan your list keeps making me cry! In a good way.

James Redekop said...

Thanks for the comments on the translation!

Kanedel's English translations of Lem, and especially this story, are often cited as examples of great translations of difficult material. Doug Hofstatder wrote extensively about translation using the Electronic Bard, which is where I first became conscious of the difficulty of such translation.

deang said...

Ah! I don't know if I can participate because it will take a long time and I no longer maintain home internet access so I don't spend as much time here as I used to. And this one would take a long time to think about. The first thing that came to mind, though, was Vaughan Williams "Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" and "Antarctic Symphony." So many other possibilities!

allan said...

10. Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the WTC towers.

11. A type of harmony singing that is quite prevalent in bluegrass (though hard to find an ideal example of right now! this is close, but what i'm thinking of is bit higher. maybe the "aahhhhh" at 1:52 and 2:00 and 2:23 of this or "carrie darling carrie" on this? it also pops up in some rootsy rock - and it fucking gets me every time. it's floating and airy and propulsive all at the same time. i don't know what it's called ("high lonesome?") or what the notes are but i'll bet it's extremely prevelant in music i like. there is also a certain rhythm guitar sound that may be connected to it. i would love to be able to sound like that.


I thought of a couple more last night, and promptly forgot them. Damn.

allan said...

I remembered!

12. Howlin' Wolf! (good god; i posted last june how much i lose my shit when i watch wolf) (wolf is not #12, he may be #1a).

laura k said...

So glad you thought of it! I was going to include Muddy Waters but I couldn't think of a particular song or performance - it didn't occur to me to just list the man himself. So my two should-haves so far: Rhapsody In Blue, Muddy.

Amy said...

I am even later than Allan. Just catching up after a week with relatively little internet or baseball.

So as I watch the first inning....

1. Beethoven's Violin Concerto

2. Nicole Krauss' History of Love

3. The New York City skyline

4. The Wizard of Oz (book and movie)

5. Rhapsody in Blue (thanks, Allan, for reminding me of Manhattan's opening sequence)

6. Certain dishes at certain restaurants---like the tuna avocado martini at Mac's Shack in Wellfleet

7. Joel Meyerowitz's photography of the Outer Cape

8. Vermeer's paintings, also some of the Impressionist paintings (sorry, hard to limit it to one work or artist, especially with my beach tired brain!)

9. Assisi---the whole city and its cathedral

10. Joni Mitchell singing, especially on Court and Spark

11. Nolan Ryan or Pedro Martinez pitching (in their heydays)

I know there are more books I would add to this list, but I am limited by the number and by my brain. Plus we have already done books.

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy! Court and Spark is certainly on my list, but I figured everything Joni is so predictable from me.

I also love Vermeer. When I was much younger I would have named several Monets and Cezannes, but no more.

Just a reminder to myself and everyone: thos isn't a best-of. Not the all-time top 11, just "name 11".

So we also have The Wizard of Oz in common, along with Charlotte's Web. :)

Amy said...

The Wizard of Oz works for me on so many levels. It's amazing how I relate to it even as an adult.

Sometimes, Laura, I think we knew each other in real space in some alternative universe!

Harvey and I must have listened to Court and Spark hundreds of times in the first years we were together.

laura k said...

I know! We have many of these loves in common. You're the only person I know who appreciates Charlotte's Web the way I do. That book certainly makes my short list of art that knocks me out.

I love many films, but I always say my two favourite movies ever are Annie Hall and The Wizard of Oz.

I still listen to Court and Spark a lot, also Hissing of Summer Lawns. And although I think those two plus Blue are Joni's greatest albums, I'm so glad I put the time into appreciating her jazz. It's so interesting, much of it is great - and it set me on a whole new musical course.

Amy said...

I was going to put Charlotte's Web on my list, but since I had already listed it before, I figured I'd add something new. Never knew you were a Wizard of Oz fan!

laura k said...

"Deduce, You Say" (or just about any classic WB cartoon)

Pure genius. Allan and both love Bugs Bunny - the character himself and the cartoons. I have been known to go around saying, "My name is Elmer J. Fudd, I am a millionaire, I own a mansion and a yacht." And of course, the music! The music in those cartoons and the way it was used is simply amazing.

James Redekop said...

The music in those cartoons and the way it was used is simply amazing.

I don't think anyone has ever been able to use music to score comedy as well as Carl W. Stalling. Anyone who has come close has probably been imitating Stalling anyway...

And there's never been another cartooning team like the combination of Chuck Jones (dir), Michael Maltese (story), Maurice Noble (layout), Carl Stalling (music), and Mel Blanc (voices). Jones and Blanc are the best known, but the others are just as important to those cartoons.

And, much as I'm a big fan of Bugs Bunny, I think the the Daffy & Porky spoofs are among the best things WB ever did. Deduce, You Say, Duck Dodgers in the 24-1/2th Century, Robin Hood Daffy, The Scarlet Pumpernickel, etc...

I could go on for hours about the WB cartons and their place in art history.

laura k said...

Also Friz Freleng! I'm the opposite - I love Daffy, but it's the wisecracking Brooklyn bunny that steals the show for me. But I agree those WB cartoons have never been rivalled. Absolutely love them.

James Redekop said...

Freleng is great, too, but no-one did expresive faces and body language like Chuck Jones. There's more acting in a five-second shot of Wile E. Coyote coming up with a plan than there is in the typical Dreamworks feature film.

As characters, I do prefer Bugs to Daffy; however, the cartoons that combined Daffy's manic idiocy with Porky's stoic straight-man routine are definitely among my favourites. Daffy, unlike Bugs, is not a stable enough character to carry a cartoon on his own.

There's a great story about Mel Blanc's recovery from a horrendous car accident he was in on Dead Man's Curve in Hollywood. He was in a coma for several days, and didn't respond to anyone, until his doctor leaned close and said, "Hey, Bugs! How are ya?", and Blanc replied, in Bugs's voice, "Ehh, just fine, Doc! How are you?"

Blanc was bedridden for six months after the accident, recording Looney Tunes, Flintstones, & other voice work from his bedroom.

impstrump said...

I never knew until I clicked on Allan's link that the outside of the pyramids aren't smooth.

James Redekop said...

I never knew until I clicked on Allan's link that the outside of the pyramids aren't smooth.

Originally, they were covered with polished limestone, and were very reflective. Over the centuries, though, the limestone was salvaged for other construction projects.

The Pyramid of Khafre still has some casing stones around the summit, though those have been severely weathered over the past few thousand years.

Joe Gravellese said...

Bart Giamatti's "Green Fields of the Mind" quote that Joe Castiglione reads every year at the end of Red Sox season
The Leonard Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston.
Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities," especially the ending.
The TV series "The West Wing." I think my lingering unrealistic hope that positive things can be accomplished through the vehicles of the Democratic Party and Washington DC come from the West Wing, so I guess that's a negative, but wow does that show ever consistently give me the chills.
Dvorak's New World Symphony. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yctfXIqugXc
Someone mentioned memories of Pedro Martinez pitching and I'm gonna steal that (and add in memories of Manny Ramirez batting).
Cat Stevens, "Don't Be Shy"
never fails to put me in a certain emotional place
Bapst Library at Boston College
Woody Guthrie, "All You Fascists Bound to Lose"
Always find this to be an inspirational song in tough times.
I know we've discussed that you're not a fan of Nick Hornby, but the first time I read "Fever Pitch" was the strongest experience I ever had of pre-emptively missing a book and not wanting it to be over when I realized it was winding down.
ESPN 30 for 30 documentary: "Four Days in October" about the '04 Sox ALCS comeback. Probably tied with the newly-released Bruins championship DVD (which was just brilliantly done, I've watched it five times already).

laura k said...

Awesome list of awesomeness, Joe.