John Singer Sargent

A friend sent me this news piece about Sargent, featuring Met curators from an exhibit on his work.

Poetry and passwords

Thanks to this story, I can now kinda understand computers and kinda understand poetry at the same time!

What it means to be an artist

If you're in any sort of creative field--or hope to be--please take a moment to read this great essay and rallying cry in Glasstire.

Study tip: Get SelfControl over online distractions

We know that keeping yourself focused and distraction-free is necessary to do good work and good thinking. The problem is that these days, we go to the same place for distractions as we do for work—the computer. The work we’re doing has to compete with social media, incoming messages, and virtually all the information in the world. It’s very difficult for any of us to maintain self control when all those distractions are right there.

If you’re struggling with that self control, consider downloading SelfControl. It’s, in its own words, “a free and open-source application for Mac OS X that lets you block your own access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. Just set a period of time to block for, add sites to your blacklist, and click "Start." Until that timer expires, you will be unable to access those sites--even if you restart your computer or delete the application.”

If SelfControl isn’t the app for you, or if you’re not using a Mac, there are plenty of similar programs out there. Just search “apps to block social media” to more than a dozen. Please consider trying some out and see how it works for you.

Music: Year of Hibernation

Right now Youth Lagoon's newest album is getting a fair amount of attention, and rightly so.

But on a rainy Sunday when we're stuck inside all day, it's his first album, 2011's The Year of Hibernation, that I could listen to over and over.

On public sculpture, The Empire, and wifi

Alexander Milov turned a Ukranian public sculpture of Lenin into a public sculpture of Darth Vader. He added onto the Lenin, so the original sculpture is intact if later generations want it back. He also added a wifi router, so that the interent literally emanates from Lord Vader's head.

Got my mind on my music...

I've been listening to--and thinking a lot about--classical music lately. It seems I'm not the only one.

Here is an essay in The Guardian about a number of Classical traditions and what they have in common. You'l learn a lot from this one.

Here, also in The Guardian, is a love note to classical music and a plea to younger people to experience it. It's "not exclusive or elitist," Brigid Delaney writes.

Here, in a place other than the Guardian, is a more nuanced--and acceptably elitist--essay on the problem with so many superficial discussions about "what's wrong" with classical music.

Enjoy the reading! Or don't, and just go enjoy Simone Dinenrstein's recording of the Goldberg Variations.

MoMA Teens Online

Are any of you 13-17? If so, consider this online class, "A Tale of Three Cities: London, Chicago, and New York's Art Scenes Exposed!" It begins November 4, and it's free.

Music: Mozart's Divertimento, K.563

This is the best, most exquisite Mozart piece you've (probably) never heard. It's as good as all the famous ones.

I've been listening to this CD for around 10 years now, a 1990 recording with Gidon Kremer, Yo-Yo Ma, and Kim Kashkashian.

Just don't think of it as background music.

Study tip: use good ol' fashioned note cards

A while ago I put out a call on Facebook asking my friends for study and productivity advice. Several people responded that their advice is not to forget about note cards. They’re low-tech and time-consuming, so we might be tempted to think they’re useless. But note cards remain a great way to organize your thoughts and retain things you want to remember.

I require my Art History students to make note cards for works they’re supposed to remember. And the students hate it; they often complain about how time-consuming they are. However, I get notes from former students every year telling me how effective the note cards were, and students continue to use note cards for college classes.

There are a number of online flashcard programs out there. They certainly have their uses (I use one on my iPad to practice blackjack), but you potentially lose a lot of the value of note cards when you take away the tactile elements.

Dali's house

Salvador Dali's house looks pretty much like you'd expect it to. Which is awesome.

Music: Muchacho

Imagine an album written by Leonard Cohen, dark and poetic and yearning, but then reimagined by Dwight Yoakum--all that swagger and yodel. Then get the album on major pain medication to mellow it out. That's Muchacho, by Phosphorescent. Phosphorescent is the band name for Mathew Houk, an Alabama boy who moved to Brooklyn. Listen to this album when you've just fallen in love, just broken up, are going on a road trip, or are stuck inside for days. And then listen again and again.

When the art is the attacker, not the attacked

Glasstire has a nice compact essay on art exhibits that intentionally destroy or damage the exhibition space. If for no other reason, read it to get down to "An artist with a sledgehammer wakes you up."

Music: Blue Lines

When it comes to albums I can listen to over and over and over, there's nothing even in the same spectrum as Massive Attack's 1991 debut Blue Lines. I got it on cassette (because that's how you mostly got music then), and I think I literally listened to it every day for about 18 months. I wore out the cassette tape and had to replace it. And then a few years after that when my cassette player broke and I shifted to CD, Blue Lines was among the first I bought. I wouldn't surprise me to learn I've listened to this short--only nine songs--album a thousand times.

Blue Lines navigates like no other album the deep grey areas where soul, hip-hop, psychedelia, reggae, and R&B overlap. The term "trip hop" was pretty much invented for this group. They've gone on to have a long and always-interesting discography. Their most recent album was released in 2010.

Here's a Pitchfork retrospective review of the album that does a really good job of contextualizing Blue Lines.

Personal and almost-sad note: when it comes to narrowing down a "favorite band," the two contenders are Massive Attack and Bjork. And I've never seen either of them live (though I did go to a Sugarcubes concert in high school so I guess that kind of counts for Bjork).

Occupy Impressionism!

Here's a weird protest: this week people showed up outside the MFA Boston to protest the museum's collection of Renoirs. According to one of the picket signs, they're not iconoclasts, "Renoir just sucks at painting."

Apparently one of Renoir's descendants is responding on Instagram.

Study tip: use a to-do list

To-do lists are so important to productivity and time management because they allow your brain to focus on what is in front of it—be it homework, enjoyment, talking to someone, whatever—and not be distracted by trying to remember everything else it needs to do. If you have a system in place to write down what you need to do, and you regularly go back to that list, then your mind stops spending so much energy and trying to juggle all that information. A lot of you stress comes not from things you’re doing, but things your brain is trying to remember to do later. You can better focus on the task at hand and feel less stress if you use a good to-do list.

Think of this example: someone gives you their phone number, and you need to call that number in exactly one hour. You can write that phone number down and set a timer, or you can try to memorize it and watch the clock. If you write it down and set a timer, you now have an hour to do other things without worrying that you’ll forget the phone number or forget to call. If you try to memorize it and watch the clock, that’s all you’ll be doing for the next hour, and you’re still likely to mess up the number.

Each task you’re assigned, for school or otherwise, is like getting a phone number. Write it down in a place you’ll know you can retrieve it, and your mind is much less focused on trying to keep the details. If you write it down or have it written down for you, but you don’t trust the system for keeping it—because you never check your to-do list or are often losing papers—then it’s the same as not writing it down at all as far as your brain is concerned.

There are lots of ideas out there for how to write and use a to-do list. I’d be happy to share my system with you if you’re interested. The important thing is to find a system that works for you and use it. Who doesn’t need better focus and less stress?

Brian Eno lectures us, in a good way

In his BBC John Peele lecture, legendary musician/producer/creative guru Brian Eno defended and helped define The Arts and Culture. "Art is everything you don't have to do."

Art attack!

A man with a history of crimes--and, sadly, a history of mental illness--seems to have deliberately destroyed a dale Chihuly glass sculpture in Washington.

As always, let me know if you hear of any art attacks--I'm fascinated.