Archive for the ‘Alan Dean Foster’s Perceivings’ Category

  • Nostalgia or art?: A picture’s worth, revisited

    Dec 1, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster “Art is in the eye of the beholder.” The first known mention of this common aphorism is from the 3rd century Greek, and nothing much has changed regarding what is “art” since then. Opinions rage on. Is a boulder placed over a ditch “art”? The L.A. County Museum of Art seems to think so. Is a cartoon balloon animal blown up to Green Giant size art? Some believe it makes Jeff Koons — and others who execute likewise — artists. For that matter, is the rendering of the Green Giant on cans of vegetables “art”? Here’s where it gets interesting. Of the enormous, indeed unquantifiable, amount of art produced over the last few centuries originally for purposes of advertising, what can be considered art and what is simply junk? While a small quantity of such material was considered art (or at least containing some artistic merit) when it was originally produced, how does the vast volume of such endeavors hold up today? One only has to drop in on PBS’s highly entertaining and informative program “Antiques Roadshow” to find out. Substantial valuations are proposed for everything from travel posters to General Store box displays. None of this material was birthed for the purpose of creating art. Yet people will pay thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars for a poster promoting ship travel to South America,

  • Mouth-watering flavors: The aesthetics of gurgle

    Nov 3, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster So … water has taste? Is that aesthetics, or is there science behind the claim? I can remember when water was just water. At least, so it was for most Americans. Europeans always seemed to feel differently about it. I guess because they’ve been parsing foods longer than us. But … water? Nowadays people have taken to speaking about water the same way oenophiles (I love that word … it’s stupid, but lovable) talk about wine. A glass of water might be “crisp” (as opposed to what … damp?) or “lightly mineralized” or “slightly acidic” (ah, there’s the science!) or having a taste like a “fresh spring morning.” Sometimes I can’t tell if the testers are talking about water or room deodorizer. I can see the difference between plain water and alkaline water, but some of the rest of the so-called differences leave me cold. As to alkaline water, why would people boast about drinking rock? Not for me to criticize individual tastes, I suppose, no matter how confounding they may be. Sparkling water seems to be a thing of the moment. Especially sparkling water flavored with “essence.” When I was young we used to call “essence” “concentrated,” but hey, whatever sells. Perrier has been selling sparkling water, i.e. water full of bubbles, since 1863, so plainly there’s something to it. In order to compete with

  • Everybody was here: A portrait of the artist(‘s self portraits)

    Oct 6, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Why selfies? I mean, I already know what I look like. That’s what mirrors, hairstylists, bad home videos, and good grandparents are for. Why go to the trouble of taking a picture of myself in front of Big Ben, or a rainforest river, or six drunken fake Spidermen in Times Square? Why not just take pictures of each place? Doesn’t inserting oneself in front of the presumably interesting locale spoil the picture? I reckon it’s because humans have always had this incorrigible desire to validate their existence; first through art, then graffiti, and today via the ubiquitous selfie. Regardless of the form it takes, the selfie declares, “I was here! I existed. I meant something — even if only for the brief time it required to paint this image, etch these words, or take this snapshot.” Selfies are an expression of the id and a desire to find permanence in an impermanent universe. Much to humanity’s surprise, like so many things over time these intensely personal expressions quite inadvertently become history and art. That’s not to say the shaky quickie pix of you and your date smooching on Whiskey Row at one on a Saturday morning will some day appear in a celebrated visual history of the 21st century — but it might. A lot depends on the lighting, what you’re wearing, your makeup, what’s visible

  • Inka-dinka-do you … and me: Considering question(able) marks & extreme stretching

    Sep 1, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    The author and a friend. Courtesy photo. By Alan Dean Foster “Inka-dinka-dee, Inka-dinka-doo … .” That was the great Jimmy Durante’s signature song. Later recorded by, among others, John Lithgow and Ann Margaret. For those of you who remember or enjoy the music of the ’50s, comic songs did not begin with Ray Stevens (kind of hard to imagine something like “Ahab the Arab” making it into the Top 40 these days) or Sheb Wooley or Allan Sherman. I’ll grant you Gilbert and Sullivan. Ah, Allan Sherman, the lyrics of whose parody song “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” was set to Ponticelli’s “Dance of the Hours”… a ballet to which I alluded in my column on classical music a couple of months ago because it also provided a source of amusement to Walt Disney and his animators, who parodied it in their own way in “Fantasia.” Which naturally leads us into a discussion of the art of scarification, body modification, and tattoos. I have to laugh at the people who think the current frenzy for tattoos is a passing fad or something new. Human beings have been treating their bodies like collagenic versions of silly putty since time immemorial. What possessed the first person, possibly a Neanderthal (Neanderthal jewelry has been recorded back as far as 130,000 years) to pierce their ears, or their nasal septum, or some other unknown body

  • Stravinsky, dinosaurs optional Part II: The unusual suspects

    Jul 25, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky. Wonderful composers. Whose music, as I mentioned last month, retains its luster but after dozens of performances of the same works, tends to … not bore, necessarily. But to lose the excitement of the new. There are only so many ways to play Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue,” Beethoven’s ninth symphony (interminable TV commercial excerpts notwithstanding), or Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto. Yet that’s what most orchestras do, then wonder why attendance falls off and interest in classical music wanes. I don’t care how much you love “Star Wars.” You don’t want to just see “Star Wars” every time you go to the movie theater. Ah, you say, but I’d go to see something like “Star Wars.” So, isn’t there something like Bach, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky? There’s plenty, and much more besides, but modern orchestras just won’t program it. Love Tchaikovsky? When was the last time you saw Sergei Bortkiewicz’s first or second symphony on an orchestral program? Like, never? There is so much wonderful music by so many fabulously talented composers that never, and I mean never, gets played. Here’s a sample program of American classical music that I’d drive a long ways to hear but that you’ll never see on a domestic symphony orchestra program. Because, no Copland. “Rocky Point Holiday” (yes, that Rocky Point) by Ron Nelson. “The Fiddle Concerto,” by Mark

  • Stravinsky, dinosaurs optional Part I: On discovering a fantastical hearing aid for classical music

    Jun 30, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Here’s how you get kids interested in classical music: you throw out all the traditional “music appreciation” courses, haul your class to a theater, and have them watch the original Disney “Fantasia.” Then you go back to the classroom and spend a semester discussing it. That’s what did it for me, and I did my own homework because the class in question didn’t exist. I remember being taken to see a re-release of the film when I was about 7. We had a little classical music in our house. Beethoven’s Fifth, some Tchaikovsky, on 33 rpm records. My mother played a mean “Rhapsody in Blue” on her baby Steinway. But “Fantasia” simply overwhelmed me. I remember my initial reactions to it to this day. Confusion at the abstract visuals of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue”, mild amusement at Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours”, quiet awe at the sheer beauty of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” wonderment at Beethoven’s sixth symphony, amazement that Mickey Mouse could do more than giggle in Dukas’ “The Sorceror’s Apprentice,” and yawning at the concluding Schubert “Ave Maria.” But … there were dinosaurs. Ah, dinosaurs! As part of the whole evolution them of the Stravinsky “Rite of Spring.” Stravinsky hated Disney’s take on his ballet, but the appearance of the score in Fantasia has probably sold more copies of recordings of “Rite” than all the

  • Disney vs. the death channels

    Jun 2, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    The author and a friend. Courtesy photo. By Alan Dean Foster If there was any doubt how much I love Nature, the debut of a new photo accompanying this column ought to dispel that. I’m hanging out with a Mayotte Brown Lemur on the island of M’bouzi in the French Comoros islands (I’m the one with the sappy smile). M’bouzi has been turned into a sanctuary for the lemurs. They need one, since they have an unfortunate habit on the other islands of eating the farmers’ bananas, mangoes, etc. right off the trees. The chap in the picture developed a serious fondness for the gold earring in my left ear. Lemurs are strong, but they’re not chimps or gorillas, so I still have the ring. And the ear. In 1951 my family moved from New York to Los Angeles. As I recall the television options at the time there were three major networks, Fox not having erupted yet from its alien egg, plus a handful of independent channels: 5, 9, 11, and 13. None of them were specialty channels. Such innovations lay far in the electronic future. There was nothing like the Discovery Channel or the National Geographic channel, much less further specialized iterations of such channels such as those for kids, those devoted to the sea, and so on. And of course satellite television was still a gleam in

  • Glass-eyed: A consideration of art, science, & optics

    Apr 28, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's Perceivings1 CommentRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster “I am large, I contain multitudes.” It’s safe to say that Walt Whitman wasn’t thinking of fun house mirrors when he composed that line, but it fits what has always been a historically popular combination of physics and art. The reproduction of self or other objects, ad infinitum, has long been both possible and fascinating. Best of all, it requires a minimum of investment and effort. When I was a kid, there used to be an over-the-water entertainment venue in Santa Monica, California, called Pacific Ocean Park. It had one decent, expensive ride, the Banana Train, to which was appended a host of Coney Island-type games and rides with ocean themes. It was over the water, so I didn’t care if some of it was a little tacky. But besides the classy Banana Train, I distinctly remember the park’s version of fun house mirrors. Along with the usual warped mirrors that made you look fat, or tall, there was an “infinity” room, where you could stand in the center surrounded by mirrors and see yourself reproduced over and over again, until your multitudinous tiny selves vanished like ants, swallowed up by distance and time. It was only simple optics, but it fascinated me. It fascinated Orson Welles, too, who utilized the same fun house mirrors in “The Lady from Shanghai” and, later and more memorably, in

  • ‘Everything’s Hometown’: Winging it with nature in Prescott

    Mar 31, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    The author in a Tuareg headdress. Courtesy photo. By Alan Dean Foster We’ve lived in Prescott for 36 years and I still take the local nature for granted. It’s amazing how downright blasé you can become over time about such things. It’s usually when we have visitors from out of town, often from metropolitan areas where the only real wildlife tends to hang around liquor stores, that I realize how fortunate we are, and how each of us really needs to take time from work and commuting and the damn TV and the addictive internet to get out and have a look around town for something besides the weekly arts and crafts festival. We’re doubly fortunate because our house backs onto one of the several major creeks that run through town. That gives us access not only to more wildlife but to a greater variety of visitors, as critters that tend to hang out elsewhere come down for the occasional drink. There’s the rare bobcat, and deer, and skunks. We had a bear once, a long time ago, and of course coyotes and javelinas are a steady presence. But to get a real feel for Prescott city wildlife you have to pay attention to the birds. I’m not going to turn this into a birdwatcher column. For one thing, there are better local resources available and for another, I’d probably

  • Planetary appropriation: On drawing a line in the sand

    Feb 27, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    The author in a Tuareg headdress. Courtesy photo. By Alan Dean Foster I was born here. This is my culture: all of it. I cannot “appropriate” what I was born to. By born here, I mean on this world. Planet Earth. I am, at base, not a tribalist. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very glad to have been born into the largest, most powerful, and sometimes (though not always) the “best” tribe: the USA. But my home is the planet. Its cultures are my culture. In the past couple of decades there has been a lot of talk, not to mention yelling and screaming, over something called cultural appropriation. To give one example, as residents of the state of Arizona we are probably more familiar than most with the term, given the interminable arguments over what constitutes cultural appropriation of Native American art. There’s a fine line (and there has to be a line) between utilizing cultural memes out of admiration and as the basis for one’s own artistic endeavors. The best way to do this is via authentication. But even with authentication the lines can blur. Take sand paintings. If the Navajo Nation was able to collect a royalty not only on every cheap rendition of a sand painting that’s sold in the Southwest but also on every skirt, t-shirt, dinner plate, light switch cover, piece of upholstery and

Celebrating art and science in Greater Prescott.

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