Friday, April 24, 2015


Kara Walker, a 45-five-year-old African-American, is famous for her "paintings," that aren't really paintings.

With a bang, her works exploded in the art world of 1994 -- black paper silhouettes on a white background -- significantly black on white.

At 25, she was suddenly a name. She received the MacArthur "Genius" award; her work over the years has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Tate Liverpool in Liverpool, England, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Here are Walker's own words about her work that open our eyes and minds: "Slavery! Slavery! Presenting a grand and lifelike Panoramic Journey into Picturesque Southern Slavery or “Life at ‘Ol’ Virginny’s Hole.' See the Peculiar Institution as never before! All cut from black paper by the able hand of Kara Elizabeth Walker, an Emancipated Negress and leader in her Cause, 1997."

Is she a political proselytizer or a passionate black artist who's steeped in black history? I've studied many of her black on white works. They are detailed, carefully designed, representational black cut-outs -- not cut out with a scissors -- black figures painted on white canvas that tell, in bits and pieces, the story this artist is apparently compelled to tell, and display, in a 360 degree cyclorama format that surrounds the viewer.

At the Museum of Modern Art, during an interview, Walker said: "I guess there was a little bit of a slight rebellion, maybe a little bit of a renegade desire, that made me realize that I really liked pictures that told stories of things. I don't know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them.”

Her silhouettes are characters in a nightmarish world that reveals the brutality of American racism -- the inequality, the humiliating realities of life for plantation slaves -- very often with shocking grotesque images. For example, in "The Battle of Atlanta," a white soldier is raping a black girl while her shocked brother watches a white child, who is about to insert his sword into a black woman's vagina while a black slave is shedding tears on an adolescent white boy. Walker helps the viewer distinguish the Negroes from the Whites by using physical stereotypical details -- bigger lips, Negro nose and Negro hair.

Using her own voice, and sometimes her daughter's voice in some of her newest work -- films, puppet shows, and drawings with white bleeding into black -- Dr. Kara Walker, professor of visual arts at Columbia University, says that her work addresses the way Americans look at racism with a “soft focus, avoiding the confluence of disgust and desire and voluptuousness that are all wrapped up in racism.

Walker is a rueful artistic voice on the subject of race and racism -- maybe a leader -- in the undeclared civil war that's been brewing and getting hotter since black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot by white, neighborhood-watchman George Zimmerman.

Here's a link to the NYC Gallery where Kara Walker paintings are sold; if you want to know more about her personal life and education here's a link to the Wikipedia biography.

I think Kara Walker's art is a shout about black history and racism that reflects what's happening throughout the country.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Where is Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)  heading?

Some time ago, Stephen Hawking said, "The development of full Artificial Intelligence would spell the end of the human race."

Elon Musk, who has pioneered digital money, private spaceflight, and electric cars, has said, "We should be very careful about Artificial Intelligence ... probably we are summoning the demon."

Raymond Kurzweil, perhaps one of the world's foremost authorities on this subject, has published books about "Singularity." Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, a philanthropist, philosopher, and one of the wisest, wealthy persons in the world, said "Kurzweil is the best person I know at predicting the future of Artificial Intelligence."

I read about "Singularlity" in Time magazine, in February 2011 -- the definition of the word befuddles me -- "region of infinite mass density at which space and time are infinitely distorted by gravitational forces and which is held to be the final state of matter falling into a black hole." It was a six page cover story that explained what I'm trying to boil down here, in order to convey what "Singularity" might mean for you and me.

Kurzweil's research reveals that the speed at which computers are gaining power and intelligence means that Artificial Intelligence will soon be able to handle advanced mathematics and science, appreciate art, compose music, drive cars, write books, as well as make ethical decisions. Kurzweil states, loud and clear, and supported by facts, "What we are today -- our "species" will not fit in with what the world will be in 2045."

Throw up your hands and stop reading this if this seems preposterous. It's being analyzed  at Singularity University in Silicon Valley, which was founded by Google, and is currently sponsored and run by NASA. Why are Google and NASA involved? Because once we create an ultra intelligent machine, it will design better machines -- therefore, the first ultra intelligent machine is the last invention man ever needs to make.

Scary? Oh yes, for you and me perhaps, but not for our grandchildren's children.
Another major name in A. I. and Singularity, is Aubrey de Grey, British biologist, one of the world's best-known life-extension researchers. He's working on regenerative medicine, and runs SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.)

He views aging as a process of accumulating damage, and says the idea that death is an immutable fact of life "is childish, ridiculous. The human body is a machine that has many functions, and it accumulates various types of damage as a side effect of the normal function of the machine. Damage can be repaired periodically." Dr. de Grey says that medicine consists of working on what looks inevitable until you figure out how to make it not inevitable.

Both de Grey and Kurzweil tell us that many people who are alive today will wind up being "functionally immortal."

Kurzeil says, optimistically, that by "Advancing the diagnosis of diseases, developing cures, helping the disabled, developing clean energy, cleaning up the environment, as well as providing highest quality education, we have the chance, in the decades ahead, of addressing the grand challenges of humanity. Artificial Intelligence can be the pivotal technology in achieving this. We have the moral imperative to realize the promises of A.I., while controlling the peril.

"Hmmm," I said back in 2011. 

Hmmm I think, whenever I consider this. I won't be around in 2049 but T.S. Elliot's words are echoing.  "This is the way the world ends...."  Also Eliot said:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time.”

― T.S. EliotFour Quartets ----

Saturday, April 18, 2015


John Cullum and Emily Frankel discuss their differences, areas where their different backgrounds clash.

John, mentioning specifics, feels their incompatibilities make them more compatible.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


I just saw a film I'd seen before --"Elvis On Tour" -- spliced-together clips that revealed all the aspects of Elvis -- great moments, embarrassing, amusing moments -- his enormous ego, his kindness, his amazing awareness of others, his amazing connection to music.

Golly, his gestures, his fingers, his hands that said that he was into whatever he was singing -- the song itself -- the words, the idea; his dancing -- the knee that kept time, the trucking feet and legs -- sudden bursts of full out, full body movement -- he mesmerizes me now as he did the first time I saw him.

I was a fan. I am a fan, who is still embarrassed, even annoyed by all those weepy, thrilled, young and old females who loved him, truly loved him. I know that kind of love. (Hey, I married a man who has an inner thing like Elvis had. When you see a performer who has it, you fall in love -- it’s nutty, it's crazy, adoration.)

Sure, I saw again how Elvis changed as he aged -- the film emphasized all that, as we saw him, again and again, mop himself, toss his scarves to his fans, and drive them crazy when he bent down and kissed a female in the front row. What he wore -- his taste, rings, capes, low-hung glittering gold belt -- those gaudy, outrageously studded, bejeweled outfits -- did I look down on them? Sure. But I loved everything about those outfits because I knew Elvis picked them out and loved to wear them.

I haven't mentioned that voice of his -- the range, the control he had -- his lower register, wow. Like a Stradivarius, his voice was somehow encased in him perfectly, so perfectly that the tone was ... His voice was thrilling.

After his movie career, Elvis went back to touring and touring -- it's a killer way of performing and earning a living. (I know from my experience as dancer.)

All that we’ve learned about Elvis's death, August 1977, at age 42 -- awful that we had to know that he died on the toilet -- it was shocking to learn about his pills and medications, and why he was hooked on them.

None of this ugly reality was on my mind when I heard him again, in this film.
I just saw a man, a boy, a person, who loved to sing. Music was everything to him, gospel music that came from the world in which he was born and lived in all his life. Gospel was his family.

I am a writer, and as I work on what I write I feel out what’s on my mind. I loved his music, loved what came out of that voice. Elvis was to me, still is, a preacher in song.