January 09, 2010

Rights Rights

I have a little sideline in video making; some of these videos would benefit from music soundtracks derived from (or using as-is) classical or rap or whatever recordings. Unfortunately, while I'd be happy paying a reasonable price to use these tracks on public versions of the videos, there's just no easy way to get those rights, and no fair pricing setup. Around here you typically have to get at least two types of rights per song (sync rights and a master use license); but there's no single central place to find out who the original rights holders are (there may be many, and you may never be able to discover with any certainty whether the rights are unencumbered by other hidden rights holders through derivative licensing), and even if you find them, it may take months or even years of wrangling to get an agreement, which will inevitably cost an arm and a leg (think thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars with a reduction if you're just doing a film festival or you're a student or whatever). The system's set up for large-scale studio films and lawyers; it's hopeless for people like me who're only too happy to pay but have no mechanism for doing so that doesn't include paying more than every other production expense combined for a single soundtrack right, for a short video that's intended for only very limited public showing, or that's not a commercial work.

I dream of the day when there's a central authoritative and efficient rights clearing house for things like this, with a simple payment system based on micro payments per (YouTube, Vimeo, whatever) play, up to a capped amount (think something like a penny per play up to (say) $500 for non-mainstream use). Fat chance, of course, but I can dream.

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November 19, 2009


I recently stumbled across a Beethoven quote somewhere which has him saying his Sixth Symphony is "a matter more of feeling than of painting in sounds". The difference in what "painting" means now compared to then brought me up short: what else is something like a Rothko or a Bacon or a Diebenkorn than a "matter of feeling" or affect or, well, visual musicality? Well, it's a lot else, really, but it's still hard to think of "painting" as realistic depiction or something somewhat programmatic in the way it must have been to Beethoven.

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November 04, 2009


(Or, "What I Did On My Holidays In Bakersfield"…).

No, I don't expect anyone to get all the way through this one. And yes, it has a soundtrack, which needs to be heard loud with a good sound system.

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May 31, 2009

Punch Up

"The San Francisco artists tended to be anti-intellectual and uptight, […] a lot of energy went into hating New York and Los Angeles" — Bruce Nauman, quoted in the latest New Yorker, on the SF art scene he once escaped from years ago.

It's still a lot like that, at least for older San Franciscans: I don't think establishment San Francisco's ever really got over the fact that in the last few decades LA's become the cultural heart of California, the place where interesting art happens, a place where music and culture go their own merry way without so much as a nod to mother San Francisco. Those older San Franciscans seem fixated on LA (and, to a lesser extent, NY) as cultural rivals, but there's really no contest: San Francisco might have punched well above its weight fifty years ago, but looking back lovingly at the 1960's doesn't in itself a vibrant culture make, and neither New York nor LA see SF as much of a rival — gallingly for us here in the Bay Area, they don't see us at all.

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January 11, 2009

No True Scotsman

In a rather over-the-top and unintentionally-funny article for Design Observer, the great Murray Moss flails away at design windmills with whole paragraphs of things like:
"When he says 'come down a notch or two,' does Mr. Cannell [in an NYT article on design and recession] mean that Design should retreat from its current expansive, ambitious, fearless, exploratory, guild-breaking, all-encompassing plateau, from its hard-won re-positioning in the Arts? And revert back to what? To the perceived mid-century notion of efficiency and comfort?"
Those words seem almost, well, designed to set off the puffery detectors; "fearless, exploratory, guild-breaking, all-encompassing…"? Lordy, it's just design, dammit; and what is design but art harnessed for commerce and / or practicality? Self-importance? Moi?

"Designers and their true supporters have fought hard over the last fifteen years to expand the definition of design, not shrink it." And I guess that those of us who haven't fought hard for quite the same things — the expansion of the Design empire, for one — or bought any of the $10,000 designer chairs Moss mentions as exemplars of Design — just aren't True Supporters. Oh well. It's back to the drawing board for me, I guess….

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December 23, 2008

Advance Notice

[Note: edited 09-01-05 to reflect new start date — JL]

A bit of advance notice that my real-life self will be having a small art photo exhibition at Kefa Coffee (a really good local cafe / coffee shop) for a month starting sometime early February; details when I know 'em (including whether or not there'll be any sort of opening reception, something that currently seems unlikely given the lack of notice and the small size of Kefa…). Today, West Jingletown; tomorrow the world…

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November 10, 2008

Soundtrack For A Future Short

Click here for a lightly-edited and only slightly mashed-up mp3 I did of an Ivesian short stroll around Sproul Plaza last Saturday while the University of California band warmed up for a game (listen to it with headphones and loud to get the full effect).

I take my surrealism where I can get it, I guess.

(There's a much larger and higher-quality audio-only Quicktime version here for those of you with the bandwidth).

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November 06, 2008

Scott Reilly At The Compound Gallery

Scott Reilly, an artist friend of mine in Oakland, is having a show at The Compound Gallery on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland November 1 through December 1. I went to the opening last Saturday — it's a small deeply-affecting set piece on his brother's death as a young child in a car accident, quite unlike any other bits of Scott's stuff I've seen over the years — and if you're local, drop in some time (The Compound is worth a visit even if you don't get to see Scott's stuff). That Man Fantastic will be playing there this Friday (November 7) at 7pm as well. You may (or may not) get to see this fake Jimmy Little there behind the cameras….

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August 17, 2008

Stunt Ballet

"Once again The Crucible sets the dance scene ablaze with a fusion of classical ballet, fire performance, aerialists, acrobats and break dancers to create a fiery and funky interpretation of Stravinsky’s masterpiece. It’s definitely ballet with an industrial edge provided by Crucible artisans, a cameo appearance by a Pontiac Firebird, and a ballerina’s graceful pas-de-deux with a motorcycle stunt rider." (from a flyer promoting local arts and craft outfit The Crucible's latest song and dance).

In other words, NASCAR in drag for hipsters who wouldn't be seen dead at a NASCAR event (both demos have tats; it's just that one group thinks of them as pictures, the other as "art"; and for one group, "industrial" is an edgy aesthetic; the other, a way of life). That great herd of independent minds, again, I guess. See you at Burning Man. Boom!! Bang!! Crash!! Dude, the Flames…

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July 30, 2008


Barbara Holmes, an artist friend of mine here in Oakland, has a six month internship as artist-in-residence at San Francisco's trash recycling plant (aka "The Dump"). Which is really cool in itself (it's the sort of thing I'd kill for), but even more cool is the art she's building from the stuff that comes in (I've seen some of it up close and personal lately). She's got a blog, Re(f)use, describing it all as it happens. Check it out, as they say….

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July 10, 2008

Everybody Loves A Parade

For a little good-natured state-sanctioned surrealism, check out the eight minute video take on Alameda's 4th of July parade I did last weekend. You'll need a quicktime player (your browser probably already has one), and the soundtrack's kinda crucial (so don't turn it down), and it's probably a little large for some tastes, but other than that, what's to say? Amazingly, it's the first 4th of July parade I've seen in all the years I've lived here, and the strange mixture of NRA floats, Peace Now pink ladies, the Oakland Back Cowboys Association, and the various Mexican dancing horses all felt about right to me, but I guess I expected more marching bands and whackos on floats. Still, it's not so bad for a small urban town still struggling with the loss of the military and rapidly-changing demographics. (Alameda is just across the Estuary from where I live).

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June 12, 2008

Wall and Piece

Kennedy Street, Oakland, CA

I've got a real soft spot for Banksy. (Assuming "Banksy" is a "he", and is just one person, which seems a dangerous assumption, but never mind) his stuff is smart, witty, funny, thoughtful, clever, well-targeted, visually appealing, and (for me, anyway), motivated by just the Right Stuff. As he puts it in Wall and Piece, "Mindless vandalism can take a lot of thought". And that's kind of the key, no? Living in a neighbourhood increasingly suffocated by gang (and wannabe-gang) graffiti, his stuff often makes me ache for something other than the omnipresent thoughtless scribbled dog-piss graffiti 'round here.

He says "People look at an oil painting and admire the use of brushstrokes to convey meaning. People look at a graffiti painting and admire the use of a drainpipe to gain access." (in his "Advice on painting with stencils"). Well, maybe. Of course, 'round here people look at graffiti and wonder whether it means they're in norteño or surreño territory, or whether that little bit over there is E14th gang graffiti or A-town Runners graffiti, or wonder whether the huge gang sign graffiti repeated endlessly along the wall on E 7th means there's a hope in hell their car won't be graffitied the next night, or wonder why they have to clean the graffiti off their windows every damn week for the rest of their lives...

"Crime against property is not real crime." (ditto) But a lot of graffiti isn't resented by the graffitiist's targets because it's a property crime (the most graffitied neighbourhoods rarely have many property owners who are directly affected by it), it's because it's a visceral reminder that most of us have little control over our external visual environments, and a scary sign that gangs control the streets late at night (I'm guessing Banksy doesn't live in a place where gang-related gunshots are heard every night, but never mind, it's the thought that counts, right?).

Graffiti's no more inherently subversive than painting (or, for that matter, Frisbee golf). Graffiti's a medium, not a coherently-motivated and targeted act. It's OK to take a positive or at least indulgent attitude to graffiti when it's either thoughtful and clever (think "Banksy", of course…) or somehow subversive, but when its intention is simply to make us feel unwelcome or intimidated in our own environments, or to mark territory, it's a little disingenuous to proclaim it as a revolutionary or liberating thing as such. Sure, there's graffiti and there's Graffiti, and I sometimes long for the witty (or at least provocative) political and anti-commercial graffiti that used to pop up in inner-city Sydney and London, but that's not the reality most of us live.

(There's just no way to write something like this without sounding Pooterish or school-marmish, is there?).

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April 20, 2008

Come To Your Happy Place

The wildlife of West Oakland

Local wildlife, West Oakland.

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April 17, 2008

In The Flesh

I finally got to see a typical selection of Lee Friedlander prints at an SFMOMA retrospective the other day, and in many ways I wish I hadn't. It wasn't that the images were bad or disappointing, it's just that the best of them seem to work so much better in his books than hanging there isolated on the gallery walls. They're icons that want to be lovingly pawed over or casually flipped through in dense thickets or looked at in real-life contexts much more than they want to be respectfully gazed at framed on nice white walls in a nice little cultural castle like SFMOMA.

They'd work much better as book or magazine prints torn out and tacked to those same walls.

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March 01, 2008

Fair Trade

I live in a neighbourhood that's now officially designated an "Arts District". This seems to mean that all the artists have been priced out of the area by an influx of galleries. There's art here alright; just not too many artists any more.

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February 04, 2008

Like I Care

"Confronted with a collection like [the Refco Collection of Contemporary Photography], the question of what makes one photograph or one painting 'art' and another not 'art' is an honest one. The simplest answer is that pictures become art when we love them for themselves. The more modern answer would be that pictures become art when we love them for themselves, and they seem on the verge of obsolescence, when we are fearful for their survival." — David Hickey, ruminating on Art and All That in an introduction to "Subjective Realities: Works from the Refco Collection of Contemporary Photography" (2003, Refco Group; bought as a remainder at Moe's the other day).

What an odd answer (especially for something written in 2003): it seems to fetishise the isolated art object (the photograph) itself, and seems to want to put the art in individual and sentimentalised relationships to it. I'm never too sure how to respond when someone talks about art that way, but for me the real question when confronted with a collection like this isn't about art, it's "why should I care (about the image or art)?" That's always a much stronger question, a much more interesting quest in the long run.

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January 14, 2008

Buy Design

The late, great, Tibor Kalman (1989, quoted in number 47 of Michael Bierut's Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design) on the role of Design and designers: "We're not here to help clients eradicate everything of visual interest from the face of the earth. We're here to make them think about what's dangerous and unpredictable. We're here to inject art into commerce. We're here to be bad."

That sounds more like a manifesto for selling Design to designers, for selling self-importance to the insecure, than a serious attempt to answer the Big Question. Face it Tibor, Design's for selling, for deflection, for distraction. Design is aesthetics and visual rhetoric in the service of sales — selling a product, an ideology, a state of mind, an idea, an individual's weltschmerz, a corporate image…. If a design's not tugging you by the cuffs and whispering (or screaming) "Buy! Buy! Buy!" in your ear, it's just not doing its job (or it's Art).

(Bierut's book's a lot of fun, and he gently rips into the rather fatuous Adbusters manifesto of some years back, but he's pleasingly elliptical about his own answer to the question, "What is design for?". He seems most engaged when discussing what we might call Heroic Design, i.e. design selling the idea of Design (to clients or to other designers); but that may be a little unfair).

(And Kalman's mini rant's actually an ironic breath of fresh air compared to Cheryl Towler Weese's recent muddled, earnest, and unintentionally funny Design Observer piece "Is Apple Soft On Crime?", a piece that's likely to pass into history as a classic of its type. Danger and unpredictability are all very well until it's by design, right?!).

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December 17, 2007


Accidentally caught mid-flight on a local arts channel while skimming between Simpsons episodes and PBS pledge breaks, one of those fortuitous chancy Postmodern collisions between a familiar overheated shriek of Modernism and the self-conscious Postmodernism of late 90's Manhattan (I'm amazed I haven't seen it before). Made for each other, you'd think, in a place where the irony is arch (and the "i" in Irony most definitely upper-case), and where (mirroring the respective sins of their eras) the cliches both drip a hysterical earnestness and simultaneously preempt any criticism (and where the WTC sill stands). But I'm seduced by the cooler visual lyrical rhetoric as a sort of visual sprechstimme mirroring the music, and if you can't hear the Schoenbergs on the streets of Midtown, you'll miss seeing the Rothkos in the surfaces surrounding you. And dreams go forth to greet the distance….

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October 15, 2007

Good Gracious

“Because the beautiful is nothing
other than the beginning of the terrible,
which we can scarcely bear,
and we marvel at it, because it calmly refuses
to destroy us. Every angel is terrible.”

(Rilke, First Duino Elegy, trans. Michael Wood, in an old LRB)

“Rilke doesn’t have too much in common with Brecht, but both of them probably knew so much about grace and courage because they had an intimate and harrowing experience of what it meant to lack them.” (Wood again).


September 05, 2007

Root Division

A friend of mine, Barbara Holmes, has a couple of pieces in Root Division's Introductions 2007 in the Mission (I'm also vaguely acquainted with one of the other artists in the show, but I don't actually know his work very well). If you're in San Francisco this Saturday and have nothing better to do, come to the opening (7pm — details on the website). I'll be there. I might even remember to answer to "Jimmy Little"…

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August 25, 2007


Fleeing through SoMa pursued at every corner by those velvet Elvises of the hipster art world, the omnipresent Frida Kahlo self-portraits…

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August 22, 2007

Ciné, ma verité

Chris Marker's Sans Soleil: an exquisite flowing piece of (or about? who knows…?) exquisite orientalisms (in the broader Saidian sense), beautiful cliches, the sort of thing that always says infinitely more about the observer than the observed, that feels more like a travelogue of a filmaking era than of memory, place, and culture (it's always fascinating to see what fascinated someone like Marker 25 years ago), a melange of signs of signs, a thoughtfully-constructed cabinet of curiosities of curiosities. Like La Jetée, the effect's hypnotic, but this time it's difficult to escape the feeling that you're watching a filmmaker at work at making you watch a filmmaker at work, striving for significance with a studied and sometime sardonic off-handedness that tries to hide or efface the portentousness always lurking on the surface. All of which makes it sound as though I disliked the film, but it's stayed with me for weeks, mostly as a complex impression, a set of tones and colours, a pleasurable flow of little misdirections….

(Part of Flix).

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July 25, 2007


"Modern mass production destroys the sense of art, and the sense of work, in labor: 'We have products; we no longer have works.'" (Curtius, quoted in The Arcades Project (d12a5, p768 in my version)).

We have images; we no longer have works of art. Or perhaps it's just that we have Artists; we no longer have art.

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July 01, 2007

All About Art

There's an amusing (but potentially fairly ugly) little kerfuffle going on in the New York art world between the established (uhuh…) street artists / graffitiists (think "Banksy" and epigones) and a bunch of so-far mostly faceless defacers and disruptors. As reported by that newspaper-with-its-pulse-on-what's-happening-on-the-street, the NYT, "One manifesto declared street art 'a bourgeois-sponsored rebellion,' politically impotent, facilitiating gentrification". (Michael Kimmleman, "Splashing the Art World With Anger and Questions", NYT 30/6/07).

Well, yes. Maybe. Does anyone really think that the street art that's being talked about there is any sort of rebellion, let alone a bourgeois-sponsored rebellion, nowadays? It's an industry, a cog in the production of the Spectacle (it is a spectacle), a product with a carefully-nurtured market and an associated party set.

Later, ending Kimmelman's article: "Minus the incendiary devices, this latest little flap is proof that art can still matter". But it's not about art, is it?

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June 15, 2007



Just a morsel, an obsessograph from the sublime, a day in my studio last year…

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April 08, 2007

Scenic Cookery

Sian Bonnell's "everyday dada", a little hardback with the sort of understated, small-scale and wordlessly self-explanatory art in it that lurks unassuming in Moe's amongst all the large-scale earnestry and bloated self-regard… I have to buy it.

(For those of you who knew me in Sydney, think "nuisance art", but done with more planning, more malice-aforethought, more wit, and much better execution).

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February 25, 2007

Old School

In Moe's, surrounded by so much packaged striving for a certain unintentionally-twee visual hipness, I pick up a cheap remaindered hardback copy of Sylvia Wolf's "Ed Ruscha and Photography" (Whitney 2004). Ruscha's photography clearly charted a lot of the territory I later plodded around aimlessly; it's a shame I didn't know the map except subconsciously or by instinct.

Ruscha's photos (or at least the little I know of them) always please me, always come across as staunchly old school: they don't come off as calculating or theory-driven, just driven. Sure, you can infer a lot of coherent thought and aesthetic ideology behind the scenes, but at least they're not advertisements for a conventional and self-satisfied sort of transgressiveness or illustrated me! me! me! self-absorption. And they have the sort of droll dry humour that puts those all-too-familiar earnest academic attempts at "play" and "playfulness" to shame. All of which does it for me… so I buy the damn thing.

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January 21, 2007

Taking The Fifth

In the Milano, the guy behind the counter switches the radio from some tired-sounding Conjunto to the local classical cheese station, and there's something terribly familiar about the results. It takes a minute or so, but I realise I'm hearing Beethoven's Fifth for the the first time in maybe a decade, and start actually listening along with the bagels. It's one of my short shameful confessions, I guess, but for me this concise little piece of bombast transcends "warhorse" at times, and if it weren't so often verging on the delirious, it could almost be Classical rather than Romantic, with those clean lines developing with such well-measured logic. One day I'll have the courage to listen to it properly again… damn the critics.

I wander down to Moe's and torture myself by browsing books I can't afford to buy. There's yet another of those twee many-words-with-few-pictures books on (this time) female nudes now (they always have that "now!" there with the unstated exclamation mark). Give me nakeds instead, any day.

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