Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dior's Big Handbag

Christian Dior Store (LVMH Tower) on 57th between Fifth Avenue and Madison (architect Christian de Portzamparc, 1995-1999) put up a scaffold and covered it with a giant handbag -- very elegant. I didn't have my Canon but the twilight glow was perfect, and I couldn't resist snapping it with my Blackberry.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Joy of anticipation

A piece of music you hear for the first time may have a thrill of novelty. If the novelty is excessive, it may be hard to follow and demand such concentrated attention as to lessen the pleasure it was expected to provide; it then calls for repeated listening, if we are so inclined.

When we listen to a familiar piece of music, there is a special pleasure of recognition, like the established classic works of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven, of Rossini, Puccini, and Tchaikovsky. The better we know the piece, the greater is the pleasure, and from phrase to phrase, from section to section, we anticipate what is to come next, even without catchy melodies, and the anticipation provides a special sense of fulfillment. Operatic arias are so placed as to whet anticipation. At times we even long to hear the piece all over again as soon as it is over, as an aria is sometimes repeated in response to the jubilant calls from the audience. With earned familiarity, Berg, Bartok, and Shostakovich also reward us with the joy of anticipation.

With each repeated experience of these classic works, we hear the music in greater depth, and the pleasure invariably increases. Not only do we ever tire of listening to the same music periodically, over and over, it gets better. It is surely not only for the conservative cast of the aging audience at classic concerts that the standard works in the repertory are tireless repeated and new works tend to be slighted in programming. Nor is it merely the comfort of habit that familiar works attract more attentive listeners. Familiar works are supported by the solid aesthetics of joyful anticipation. New works are taxing to take in; they are often more work than pleasure.

In the 20th century modernism, however, novelty was given an undue premium. It was assumed that the public is hungry for new works and the artists were expected to aspire for innovation in order to be respectably creative. If they did not come up with something fresh and different, they were censored for lacking in originality. “It’s the same old thing; there is nothing new; this has been done before,” critics insist. Aesthetic fatigue may seem to explain our appetite for novelty.

Daily routine at work or at home drives us to take a break and make a vacation trip. Dishes too often repeated for dinner, even favorite ones, do bore us soon enough and we crave for something different. But daily meal, no less than daily work, holds limited aesthetic merit. Better works of art, by contrast, are much more complex, and great works are almost inexhaustibly profound in their aesthetic resources. That is what holds our interest time and again. Moreover, the stockpile of familiar old works of great merit is enormous; if we get tired of one composer, we turn to another, and yet another. There is little chance we’d be left aesthetically fatigued.

There is something atavistic in the joy of anticipation as E. M. Forster said of storytelling in . In our childhood waiting for Christmas, birthday, and the end of the school year was as intense an experience as the final arrival of the awaited day. A child often asks tirelessly to be read the same book at the bedside night after night, or return to it after another book; joy of anticipation and recognition evidently underlies this proclivity. In our adult life, too, we experience a very special satisfaction in re-visiting a foreign city we have visited before, and we are likely to retrace the sights we already know even when we came to discover new sights. We rearrange furniture in the house “for a change,” sometimes surely “for the better” to improve the pattern of circulation. The new arrangement is awkward at first and becomes satisfying only after we have learned the landmarks and the way to places and things, that is, to navigate effortlessly, that is, with anticipation. This is how we settle in the new neighborhood after our move into a new house; with each perambulation we get to know the place in further details with increasing pleasure.

The pleasure we experience on our return home after a long trip is of the same nature. In fact, our yen for a trip may well be motivated by the joy of anticipation in the return trip homeward. We need new works to expand our taste and satisfy our explorative instinct; but they also help intensify our joy of anticipation in experiencing familiar works.

What is true of music applies, of course, to other arts, Shakespeare is performed all over the place all the time everywhere. Ibsen, Chekhov, and Tennesse Williams always attract eager audience. Old movies don’t bore us, even those that are less than masterpieces. When we visit a museum in far away places, we look for works of familiar artists or works we have heretofore known only in reproductions. “It should be here somewhere,” we say, and move from gallery to gallery, and we exclaim, “Here it is!” Recognition fulfills our anticipation.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010