Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Rochefort Tells How Americans Buy Art Fakes

From September 24, 1911

ROCHEFORT TELLS HOW AMERICANS BUY ART FAKES

ROCHEFORT TELLS HOW AMERICANS BUY ART FAKES: We Are the Preferred Victims of the Dealers in “Old Master,” He Says — Why, of “Rembrandts” Alone There Are 2,500 in the United States. (PDF)

When I worked for Christie’s Auction House, I was always fascinated when something came through that turned out to be a forgery. I was a photographer for the company, so I worked with a lot of experts in each department, and I tried to learn a bit about how they were able to tell a forgery from the real deal. I never gained a sophisticated enough eye to recognize a forgery, but it was all still interesting to me.

If the subject of art forgery at all interests you, I recommend the movie Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? (It was streaming on Netflix, but appears not to be anymore.)

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Written by David

September 23rd, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Art,Entertainment

Baltimore Gets Flag That Inspired Key’s Great Song

From September 10, 1911

BALTIMORE GETS FLAG THAT INSPIRED KEY'S GREAT SONG

BALTIMORE GETS FLAG THAT INSPIRED KEY’S GREAT SONG: Fort McHenry’s Emblem That Prompted “The Star-Spangled Banner” to Be Presented by a Descendant of Major Armistead, Who Held the Fort Against England. (PDF)

In 1912, the flag was giften to the Smithsonian Institute. A lengthy conservation process was recently completed, and the flag is there on display today for all who want to see it. Admission is free.

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Written by David

September 9th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Art,Technology

Famous Works Of Art That Have Been Stolen

From August 27, 1911

FAMOUS WORKS OF ART THAT HAVE BEEN STOLEN

FAMOUS WORKS OF ART THAT HAVE BEEN STOLEN: Disappearance of the “Mona Lisa” from the Louvre Climax of Long Series of Thefts. Priceless Picture Mystified and Inspired Lovers of Art Sine da Vinci Painted It. (PDF)

On August 21, 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre.

Whoever it was who stole Leonardo da Vinci’s “Gioconda” or “Mona Lisa” from the Louvre is sure of a place in history when his name comes out. He is sure of an extraordinary place, too. It is not possible to locate the General who fought the greatest battle since the world was made, or the statesman who framed the greatest law, or the author who wrote the greatest book; but it will always be possible henceforth to locate the thief who committed the greatest theft.

Okay, then. Do you know his name?

I won’t give you the answer here. Instead, read this article from the Financial Times published earlier this month that tells the whole story of the Mona Lisa’s theft and recovery.

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Written by David

August 22nd, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Art,True Crime

“In Two Hundred Years There Will Be No Poets Nor Authors”

From July 23, 1911

IN TWO HUNDRED YEARS THERE WILL BE NO POETS OR AUTHORS

“IN TWO HUNDRED YEARS THERE WILL BE NO POETS OR AUTHORS”: Thus Predicts Victor Auburtin, and the Cause, He Claims, Is Democracy and Utilitarianism. (PDF)

It’s only been one hundred years since this prediction was made, so it’s premature to say it hasn’t come true, but so far I think Victor Auburtin is a bit off.

“I believe that art is dying, and fo this belief I shall speak in the present work. Art is dying of democracy and utilitarianism. It is dying because the soil it needs has been built over — the soil of simplicity and superstition. I believe firmly that in 200 years we shall have no more artists and no more poets. On the other hand, we shall surely have machines, duly patented, by which may be turned out sixty plaster copies of the Apollo di Belvedere in a single minute.”

These are the opening words of a highly characteristic work just published by one of that galaxy of young Germans whose names have become known throughout the civilied world through their association with the Simplicissimus — the humorous weekly which by many is regarded as the most effective enemy so far encountered by the upholders of German bureaucracy, militarism, “junkerdom,” and reaction.

The entire run of the German satirical magazine Simplicissimus can be found at simplicissimus.info.

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Written by David

July 19th, 2011 at 11:30 am

Posted in Art,Humor

New National Hymn To Be Sung Here On The Fourth

From July 2, 1911

NEW NATIONAL HYMN TO BE SUNG HERE ON THE FOURTH

NEW NATIONAL HYMN TO BE SUNG HERE ON THE FOURTH: Arthur Farwell, Director of Music in the Parks and Recreation Piers, Has Written and Composed “A Hymn to Liberty.” Chorus of United German Singing Societies Will Sing It at City Hall and People’s Choral Union at the CCNY. (PDF)

For the Fourth of July, Arthur Farwell wrote a new national hymn. He had such high aspirations for it. Instead of being all America-centric, it would celebrate all nations:

“It is a world-hymn rather than a patriotic hymn in the old-fashioned sense.

“I have strictly avoided all the paraphernalia of phraseology of the old sort of narrow and egotistic patriotic hymn, and doubt very much if there will ever be another successful hymn of that kind written.

“The cry to-day is world federation, and the ‘Hymn to Liberty’ is addressed to the nations of the world, especially in its first and third stanzas, in behalf of the idea of liberty for the race, as springing to birth in a new sense with the creating fo the American nation.”

I can’t find a recording of it anywhere. Are any of you musically-minded readers willing to record it?

Update 1: Reader SamECircle made a midi version you can listen to here. Awesome.

Update 2: Reader Daniel Dockery has made his own arrangement which you can hear on his website.

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Written by David

July 1st, 2011 at 11:45 am

Posted in Art,Music

What Is The Most Beautiful Spot In New York?

From June 18, 1911

WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SPOT IN NEW YORK?

WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SPOT IN NEW YORK? Well Known Artists Express Their Preferences and Show an Astonishing Lack of Unanimity, No Two Selecting the Same Place — But They Upset the Popular Opinion That Skyscrapers Are Ugly. (PDF)

What’s the most beautiful spot in New York City? Answers in this article from a variety of artists include The Ramble in Central Park, Madison Square Park, Broad Street in the financial district, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

What do you think is the city’s most beautiful spot?

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Written by David

June 15th, 2011 at 10:15 am

Paintings Bought For A Song, Sold For Fortunes

From June 18, 1911

PAINTINGS BOUGHT FOR A SONG, SOLD FOR FORTUNES

PAINTINGS BOUGHT FOR A SONG, SOLD FOR FORTUNES: Raeburn Latest to Make High Record — $125,000 Paid for What Cost But Little a Few Years Ago — Prices of Rembrandts, Hals, Corots, Troyons and Others Take Sudden Leaps. (PDF)

Henry Clay Frick’s art collection is one of the most celebrated collections of old master paintings in the world. It’s permanently on view today in the 5th Avenue mansion where Frick lived towards the end of his life. So it’s really fascinating to read this article about art sales where Frick is mentioned buying some of his paintings.

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Written by David

June 13th, 2011 at 9:15 am

Posted in Art

Centenary Of Maker Of First Portrait Photograph

From April 30, 1911

CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH

CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH: New York University Will Honor the Memory of Prof John William Draper, Who Took the First Human Likeness When Daguerre Failed to Do It. (PDF)

I’m a photographer professionally, so articles like this are especially interesting to me. This one celebrates the 100th birthday of John William Draper, credited with taking the first portrait photo, an image of his sister Dorothy.

Back then, photos required long exposures, so the subjects needed to sit extremely still. Draper experimented with putting white powder on people’s faces to lighten them up a bit for the picture. And he also realized that if a person sits still for a 30 second exposure, they can feel free to blink during that time without worrying about ruining the image. But any other movement must be considered and eliminated:

“The hands should never rest upon the chest, for the motion of respiration disturbs them so much as to make them have a thick, clumsy appearance, destroying also the representation of the veins on the back, which, if they are held motionless, are copied with surprising beauty.”

Here’s some more of Draper’s advice for a portrait sitting:

“It has already been stated that pictorial advantages attend an arrangement in which the light is thrown upon the face at a small angle. This also allows us to get rid entirely of the shadow on the background or to compose it more gracefully in the picture. For this it is well that the chair should be brought forward from the background from three to six feet.

“Those who undertake daguerreotype portraiture will, of course, arrange the background of their pictures according to their own tastes. When one that is quite uniform is desired, a blanket or a cloth of drab color, properly suspended, will be found to answer very well.”

While Draper took the first formal portrait, Louis Daguerre actually took the first photo of a person. He captured a photo looking out over a street in Paris. It was a long exposure, so people moving through the frame were not captured. But one person stood still long enough to register in the image while he was getting his shoe shined. But the figure is tiny and silhouetted, so it could hardly be called a portrait.

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Written by David

April 29th, 2011 at 11:00 am

East Side Messenger Boy Wins Fame As A Sculptor

From December 25, 1910

EAST SIDE MESSENGER BOY WINS FAME AS A SCULPTOR

EAST SIDE MESSENGER BOY WINS FAME AS A SCULPTOR: Undismayed by Poverty Joseph Davidson Fitted Himself for a Notable Career in Art – Unusual Successes Here and Abroad. (PDF)

This is the story of Jo Davidson, who was 26 at the time of this article but had already climbed out of poverty to become a successful sculptor. Davidson went on to win several prestigious honors, had various exhibits and retrospectives, and ultimately became the subject of this Wikipedia entry were you can learn more about him and see some of his work.

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Written by David

December 24th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Art

What New York Artists Pay For A Good Model

From December 11, 1910

WHAT NEW YORK ARTISTS PAY FOR A GOOD MODEL

WHAT NEW YORK ARTISTS PAY FOR A GOOD MODEL: Rules That Obtain Among Those Who Gain a Livelihood by Posing in Schools and Studios. (PDF)

The answer: 50 cents an hour. Sure, that sounds like a lot of money to just sit still. But consider:

Have you ever tried to sit in one position for twenty-five minutes? Have you ever tried to hold your hand out before you for that length of time? If you have not, then do so at once. When you have had fiteen minutes of it think whether you would care to make a living as a model at 50 cents an hour. Twenty-five-minute periods are the standard ones in the art schools and studios, and the rest of five minutes follows. This lasts for eight hours a day. Being a model, therefore, is no easy task.

If you want to see someone hold still long enough to be sketched, there are some great places in the city where you can attend a sketching event with live models. The Society of Illustrators hosts regular Sketch Nights in their Upper East Side clubhouse with a full bar and live jazz. For a more alternative experience, try Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, which holds events in several cities worldwide.

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Written by David

December 10th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Art,Life

The Gibson Girl Analyzed By Her Originator

From November 20, 1910

THE GIBSON GIRL ANALYZED BY HER ORIGINATOR

THE GIBSON GIRL ANALYZED BY HER ORIGINATOR: Artist Whose Delineation of the Young American Woman Made Him Famous Tells How the Type Came Into Existence and What Her Mission Is. (PDF)

Charles Dana Gibson was an illustrator whose depiction of women came to represent the archetype of a beautiful American woman at the turn of the last century. She was dubbed the Gibson Girl. A Google Image Search for the term will show you several examples.

In this article, the artist reluctantly answers questions about the Gibson Girl at the insistence of the reporter, and explains that to him, the “Gibson Girl” does not really exist. Rather, there are just beautiful girls who exist as a product of evolution and the melting pot of races in America:

“Will you make a head for me?” I asked. “A Gibson Girl’s head, please!”

He tried it, but in a moment stopped work on it.

“I give up,” said he. “I never could work that way. I always am astounded, and perhaps a little envious, when I see chaps, at a dinner, for example, scratching pretty heads off on menu cards while they are talking. I can’t do it. I must work carefully and slowly and from models.”

“Then the stories of the models,” I said eagerly, “the models for the Gibson girl, are–”

He sighed wearily. “Please don’t,” he said. “The ‘Gibson Girl’ does not exist. She has been as the grains of sand in number. I imagine that folks must recognize ‘United States’ in her, and that it’s that which makes them think she’s all, or nearly all, the same. She isn’t really.”

His mind turned to [another topic, which he began to speak about for a bit.]

We dropped this line of conversation for a moment and went back to talking of the “Gibson Girl.” This was not because he wished it; it was because I forced it. A passing bell-hop saw him looking bored and glanced at me resentfully. Gibson is the sort of chap who quickly makes all creatures, even bell-hops, fall in worship.

“If there really is no ‘Gibson Girl,’” (the thing was in my head and bothered me) “how did the name originate?”

“The first time the name was used was in a story which The Century gave me to illustrate. It dealt with a certain type of girl, and in the manuscript, when it came to me, this type was called, I think, the ‘Goodrich Girl.’ I noticed that the word was written over an erasure in the manuscript wherever it occurred, but that did not impress me. Later, when — that ‘Gibson’ took the place of ‘Goodrich’ on the printed page — I saw what had been really done, I blushed. I have been blushing ever since. Let’s drop the ‘Gibson Girl.’ I don’t want to feel uncomfortable tonight.

“I haven’t really created a distinctive type,” he went on, more comfortably, having recovered from his embarrassment, “the nation made the type. What Zangwill calls the ‘Melting Pot of Races’ has resulted in a certain character; why should it not also have turned out a certain type of face? If I have done anything it has been to put on paper some fair examples of that type with very great, with minute, care. There isn’t any ‘Gibson Girl,’ but there are many thousands of American girls, and for that let us all thank God.

“They are beyond question the loveliest of all their sex. Evolution has selected the best things for preservation as the man and woman have climbed up from the monkey. In the body, as it always is in battle, it has been the fittest which has survived. Men are stronger, braver than the savages from which they sprang. Why should they not be handsomer? Why should women not be beautiful increasingly? Why should it not be the fittest in the form and features, as well as in the mind and muscle, which survives? And where should that fittest be in evidence most strikingly? In the United States, of course, where natural selection has been going on, as elsewhere, and where, much more than elsewhere, that has been a great variety to choose from. The eventual American woman will be even more beautiful than the woman of to-day. Her claims to that distinction will result from a fine combination of the best points of all those many races which have helped to make our population.

Later in the article, Gibson laments that there is no good place to exhibit illustration in New York:

“Americans are doing really big things with brush and pencil. Yes; let the eagle scream! I think they lead the world as illustrators. But–”

Indignation crept into the face of the big artist.

“Well, what is the ‘but’?”

“There is an exhibition of the really good work of American illustrators now traveling about the country. It is in Pittsburg now, and later on will be shown in most of the important cities, all the way to San Francisco. Everybody ought to go to see it; but — I was disgusted when I found that there is not a place in New York City provided for such things. The work is of a character superior to any I have ever seen exhibited in any country; but New York stands a chance of losing opportunity to look at it. Such things make me very weary. I’m trying, now, to find a place where the pictures may be shown, when they get back from San Francisco…”

Charles Dana Gibson did help set up a place in New York for illustrators to show their work, at the Society of Illustrators. He was a founding member and one of the first Presidents of the organization. Their earliest meetings were attended by Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parish, N.C. Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson, Frederic Remington, James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christy and guests such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie.

The Society still exists and they occupy the same old carriage house they’ve been in since 1939. A sort of clubhouse for illustrators, the Society holds sketching events upstairs where they have a full bar and dining area. And they have a gallery downstairs that rotates exhibits featuring prominent and emerging illustrators.

And the Society of Illustrators has a special prominence in my life, as I got married there a few years ago, surrounded by great artwork by the artists named above and others. I suppose in a way my wife is my Gibson Girl.

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Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 10:15 am

Posted in Art

The Birth Of The Halo

From November 6, 1910

THE BIRTH OF THE HALO

THE BIRTH OF THE HALO (PDF)

I always was under the impression that halos in paintings are meant to represent light, like rays emanating from a person’s head, giving a visual cue that the character depicted is holy, heavenly, or otherwise divine. But an unnamed but assuredly “well known” American painter puts forth a more interesting theory in this article.

“The first subjects to feel the Renaissance were architecture and sculpture, and this several generations before the days of Cimabue and Giotto, the earliest of painters. Of these subjects architecture came first, as is still evidenced in the magnificent ruins of cathedrals scattered over Europe. I say cathedrals, because everything was saturated with the religious spirit in those days, and the architect expressed his genius in his conceptions of the house of God.

“Later came the sculptor. He gave expression to his art in the images of the saints and other holy characters. The commonest form of expression was life-sized images of the saints, which were set in solemn row about the outside of the churches and cathedrals immediately under the eaves of the building.

“Now, the earliest sculptors soon saw that in a very short time the heads and faces of these figures were soiled and disfigured by action of the driving elements in time of storms; even the hot sun contributed its share in cracking the skulls and faces of the sacred images. Accordingly, to protect them they placed upon their heads a flat wooden disk that extended out far enough to act as umbrella or sunshade, as either was necessary.

“Now, it was several generations before any painters of note arose. These, of the Cimabue-Giotto type, were ignorant, even for that day of ignorance. Of course, following the spirit of the age, they must needs make their subjects holy ones, and the statues standing so invitingly to their hands offered themselves as their first models.

“Thinking, in their wealth of ignorance mentioned, that the wooden disk had something to do with the saintly character of their models, these peasants faithfully copied it into their paintings. In nearly all of the paintings of Comabue and many of those of Giotto, especially his earlier ones, the flat disk is represented, merely as such without any attempt at idealization. Later, however, the painters emphasized the rim and painted the body of the disk a color that barely distinguished it from the surrounding hues.”

So halos are really just misunderstood umbrellas. Somebody needs to add that to Wikipedia.

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Written by David

November 5th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Art,Religion

Odd Things That Happen In Hunting For Autographs

From October 23, 1910

ODD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN HUNTING FOR AUTOGRAPHS

ODD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN HUNTING FOR AUTOGRAPHS: Treasure That Is Sometimes Worth Thousands of Dollars and How It Is Obtained — Ingenious Tricks Played on Public Men — Finds in Ash-Barrels (PDF)

This article was inspired by a book on autograph collecting called Chats on Autographs by A. M. Broadley. You can read the book online thanks to Google Books.

The article begins as the book does, exploding the myth that autograph collectors are just trying to get signatures:

“Those who deliberately cut signatures from important letters are in reality the worst enemies both of the autograph collector and the historian. Vandalism of this kind (often committed in happy unconsciousness of the consequences) brings with it its own punishment, for detached signatures are almost worthless.

“Many years ago a dealer was offered sixteen genuine signatures of Samuel Pepys, their owner naively remarking that ‘he had cut them from the letters to save trouble.’ As a matter of fact he had, in the course of a few seconds, depreciated the value of his property to the extent of at least £15. The letters, if intact, would have fetched from £15 to £20 each!”

The article goes on to describe the methods autograph collectors employed to get intact letters from famous people. Today, autograph hounds can make themselves nuisances, stalking celebrities for mementos to sell on eBay. And the practice can even be dangerous.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Art,Business

The Amazing And Versatile Barneys Of Washington

From October 23, 1910

THE AMAZING AND VERSATILE BARNEYS OF WASHINGTON

THE AMAZING AND VERSATILE BARNEYS OF WASHINGTON: An Undraped Statue on Their Lawn Has Thrown Into the Lime-Light a Family Whose Talents and Unconventionalities Keep Society in the National Capital in Constant Expectation (PDF)

If there were a 1910 version of the Bravo TV series The Real Housewives of DC, Alice Barney would surely be the breakout star. A playwright and painter whose work can today be seen in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the wealthy widow Alice and her daughters Natalie and Laura were the talk of DC gossip circles.

One recent day a nude statue appeared on the Barneys’ lawn, and word spread that it was a likeness of one of the daughters, sculpted by the other daughter, who was known to be studying sculpture. DC society flocked to the Barney home to see it. On October 14, the Times ran a piece about the statue:

What is the Barney statue? When was it placed on the lawn of the fashionable residence in Massachusetts Avenue? Who placed it there? And why? Does it represent the beauty of Miss Natalie C. Barney, the younger daughter of Mrs. Albert Clifford Barney, or is it the likeness of some maid of antiquity? These are questions that are being asked in diplomatic, social, and official circles, and no one can reply with certainty.

The Hindu butler at the Barney home, who answers to the strange name of Only, to-day caused the statue to be placed in a coffin-like box and holds the key to the lid. The lid may be lifted if Only is properly approached.

It turned out later that the sculpture was an antique. The older daughter Laura was in fact working on a sculpture of Natalie, but it was just a bust, and not a nude.

The whole ordeal prompted the Sunday Magazine to write this profile of the Barneys. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

An undraped statue on the lawn brought the Barney family of Washington into international notoriety in a day. Yet for years the members of this remarkable household have kept the National capital in a state of constant expectancy.

They are more than a family, these Barneys; they are an issue.

Whenever a select and exclusive group of the smart set gathers about the dining table, and the flow of nimble wit, sent sparkling on its way with the advent of the oyster, and degenerating into a sluggish stream of inane platitudes with the arrival of the entree, is sinking, lifeless, into a pool of silence with the incoming of the ice, the watchful hostess, unfluttered by the critical situation, reaches back into the convolution of her brain marked “Emergency” and, drawing forth, deftly tosses into the centre of the table this conversational bombshell:

“What do you really think of the Barneys?”

Then she leans back, smiling comfortably, while her guests lock horns and silence flees.

“They are poseurs, learned only in the stale devices of studied eccentricity!” exclaims a beribboned member of a legation.

“Nonsense!” hotly replies a famous engineer, “it is genius scorning the narrow conventionalities of society.”

“Genius nothing!” interrupts a scientist with seven letters after his name, “the veriest tyro in art or literature or ethics would laugh at the Barneys’ pretensions. They fool nobody but the simple minded.”

“What but genius could ever show such remarkable versatility in every branch of art as Mrs. Barney has exhibited in the last ten years?” puts in a literary woman who boasts that she positively refuses to write for the newspapers.

“And what but oddity and freakishness would build a quarter-of-a-million dollar house and not put a bed in it!” exclaims the practical wife of a Cabinet officer.

Yes, silence has departed thence. For the Barneys, themselves of the ultra-fashionable set in Washington, furnish a perennial subject of heated debate in that city, no matter when or where the Barney name be mentioned.

Move over, Michaele Salahi.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Art,Politics

Many Pitfalls For The Unwary In Buying Antiques

From October 2, 1910

MANY PITFALLS FOR THE UNWARY IN BUYING ANTIQUES

MANY PITFALLS FOR THE UNWARY IN BUYING ANTIQUES: Cunning Dealers Ready to Impose on the Ignorance of Collectors. Buyers Do Not Take Precautions to Establish Genuineness of “Curios.” (PDF)

A great read for anyone who’s a fan of the Antiques Roadshow on PBS. A lot of the advice back then still stands today, like the suggestion that you “make your antique furniture a means, not an end.”

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Written by David

October 6th, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Posted in Art,Recreation

How Popular Song Factories Manufacture A Hit

From September 18, 1910

HOW POPULAR SONG FACTORIES MANUFACTURE A HIT

HOW POPULAR SONG FACTORIES MANUFACTURE A HIT: The Original Score Is Sometimes Hardly Recognizable After the Tinkering Is Completed — Luck a Big Factor in the Business (PDF)

100 years ago, music radio stations did not yet exist. But record players were around, so people could purchase music to play at home. So now the music industry had to figure out what kind of records people would buy. Is it the same kind of music they would go hear in a performance hall?

In America the popular song is of comparatively recent introduction. Its prototype was a composition with monotonous refrain and elaborate setting, which could only be rendered by a trained voice after laborious practice. It was seldom heard outside of drawing rooms, where it was sung with due ceremony and technical precision by prim young maidens in fresh white gowns and dapper swains in swallowtails. The only part of it that ever impressed the unfamiliar ear was the insistent refrain, which always ran something after this fashion: “Evangeline, where wendest thou? Where wendest thou, Evangeline — where wendest thou — where wendest thou — wendest thou — wendest thou-thou-t-h-o-u!!”

The song always left you in doubt and wonderment. You never learned where fair Evangeline wended, nor why she wended; nor, indeed, any single fact of interest or consequence regarding her.

That sort of song could never have become popular. You couldn’t expect the messenger boy and the shopgirl to take a very keen interest in Evangeline’s wendings when they led to nowhere. The masses need something more direct — something with a more human appeal. One of the chief secrets of popular song writing is to tell a simple story and to tell it completely.

At that time no attempt was made to cater to the musical tastes of the people. It was not supposed that they had any. Almost the only approach to popular ballads were a few well-worn war songs and plantation ditties. But two or three American song writers were trying to get a hearing with the kind of appeal to the people which in England, where the music halls afforded a ready avenue for reaching the masses, had been successfully made for many years.

The article goes on to describe the elements of a popular song. What should it be called? What should it be about? I found this article a delightful read. Today, of course, songwriters have the same challenges, but manufacturing a hit has become as much a technical and business endeavor as a creative one.

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Written by David

September 17th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Will The Leaning Tower Fall As Did The Campanile?

From September 4, 1910

WILL THE LEANING TOWER FALL AS DID THE CAMPANILE?

WILL THE LEANING TOWER FALL AS DID THE CAMPANILE? Only the Excellence of Its Masonry, Which Makes the Walls One Mass, Has Kept the Structure From Collapsing Long Ago. (PDF)

St. Mark’s Campanile collapsed in 1902. It was rebuilt and would be reopened in 1912. In the meantime, it was natural to turn an eye towards Italy’s famous leaning tower in Pisa and consider its destiny.

In more recent history, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which leans because it was built on a soft foundation, had work done to make sure it doesn’t fall. The bells were remove to reduce weight, counterweights were added, and it was straightened very slightly. It is estimated that it will remain stable for 300 to 400 years.

It also may have some help from Pisa Pushers.

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Written by David

September 3rd, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Art,Science

Unusual Snapshots Taken At Thrilling Moments

From August 14, 1910

UNUSUAL SNAPSHOTS TAKEN AT THRILLING MOMENTS

UNUSUAL SNAPSHOTS TAKEN AT THRILLING MOMENTS: Work of Camera Men with Presence of Mind to Press the Button at Critical Times (PDF)

This week in 1910, New York City mayor William Jay Gaynor was shot in a failed assassination attempt. Photographer William Warnecke was there to take the photo that captured the event.

So the New York Times Sunday Magazine decided to take a look at other photographers who managed to be in the right place at the right time with their cameras.

Such photographs were found in much greater variety than had been expected. The subjects were drawn from all parts of the world. Bombs were shown exploding in war, and a volcano at the moment of eruption. A big Japanese shell was divulged soaring in the air, plain in the picture, though invisible to those behind the gun that fired it. A steamship was caught at the moment it was submerged. A queen’s horses, which had plunged from the low parapet of a bridge, struggled wildly to keep afloat in a French lake. In many instances the photographs were taken as part of thrilling experience…

Those who have passed through such periods of excitement say that a man is likely to do one of three things. He will stand facing the danger, inert and with paralyzed faculties; he will lose his grip on his mind until a great fear seizes him which, in a crowd, means panic, or else he will face the crisis with faculties excited to abnormal acuteness.

The photographers who took the pictures mentioned belonged, almost without exception, to the last-named class. Accident may play a small part, but not a great one. The force of habit has a larger share in it. As an old fireman once described his dangerous duties, they “came naturally, because he had always done it.” In this spirit the photographer is impelled to press the lever of his camera. It requires much less force to do so than to fire an automatic revolver.

What follows then are stories behind those photos. The photographers in the article include Enrique Muller, Herbert Ponting, James Ricalton, Underwood & Underwood, and an anonymous passenger of a steamship who captured a photo of another steamship sinking (seen above). It reminds me of the Staten Island Ferry passenger who took the iconic photo of US Airways Flight 1549 after it landed in the Hudson River.

It’s worth pointing out an interesting paragraph towards the end of the article that describe the beginning of the stock footage industry, where outtakes from journalistic shoots were later used in fictional narrative works:

“Accidental” moving pictures are now usually held in reserve until a story is invented to fit them. Then they become a realistic scene in a series. A moving picture man, for instance, happened to be on the spot when a ship was wrecked off the coast of Florida recently. He obtained a film of the stormy sea, the wreck, Atlantic City. A fire horse collided with and the crew being rescued with a breeches buoy. A story of a castaway was built around it. Those who saw the film marveled at the realistic “faking” of the wreck. One New York manufacturer has a moving picture of a railroad crash on an up-State railroad in a snow storm last Winter. Obtained by accident, he is holding it until a story can be invented for it.”

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Written by David

August 13th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Art,Technology

Is The Modern Woman More Beautiful Than The Girl Of Ages Ago?

From May 29, 1910

IS THE MODERN WOMAN MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THE GIRL OF AGES AGO

IS THE MODERN WOMAN MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THE GIRL OF AGES AGO (PDF)

The headline doesn’t reveal that the question has been posed to just two people for this article: the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (whose sculpture The Thinker is still famous today) and the American sculptor Gutzon Borglum (whose much larger work at Mount Rushmore wouldn’t begin for another 15 years). They discuss modern, historical, and ethnic beauty from an artist’s perspective, including how a woman’s beauty changes as she gets older.

Here is part of what Rodin had to say:

“I would not say that a woman is like a landscape that the sun’s inclination changes ceaselessly; but the comparison is correct. Real youth with our models lasts scarcely more than six months. When the girl becomes a woman it is another sort of beauty, still admirable but nevertheless less pure.”

And part of Borglum’s retort:

“I do not see exactly what Rodin means,” he said, “when he talks about the beauty of the woman being less pure than that of the girl. Of course he cannot mean that a mother is any less pure than a young girl, and if he is talking about it from an aesthetic point of view the question arises, ‘What is beauty, anyway?’

“Nobody can pass on that. it is exactly as he says — in the eyes of the beholder. You see a landscape. I ask you if you like it. You say ‘Not much, it is too dull and gray.’ Then I paint it and you rave over it. The beauty was always there, but it needed my interpretation to make you see it. That is what being an artist means, seeing things that the general run of people cannot see, and interpreting for them. So it is out of the question for any of us to say that a woman is more beautiful at one time than at another. It all depends on the interpretation.”

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Written by David

May 28th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Art,Life

Moving Pictures Sound Melodrama’s Knell

From March 20, 1910

MOVING PICTURES SOUND MELODRAMAS KNELL

MOVING PICTURES SOUND MELODRAMA’S KNELL: Tricks of Films Explained and Method of Making Told by Those On the Inside (PDF)

Movies were still relatively new technology in 1910, but filmmakers were already figuring out how to do special effects. This article exposes some of the secrets of “film tricks,” but also talks about how the profession of acting was changing as a result of this new technology. For centuries, acting meant being on stage before a live audience. But not anymore. It reminds me of what publishers are going through now, as eReaders and digital newspapers threaten to make printed paper obsolete. New technology requires new skills, and new ways of thinking. Some actors saw film as an opportunity, while others saw it as the end of their careers.

From the article:

In every town in the United States there are moving picture shows that give excellent entertainment every night of the week, with two matinée days thrown in. The performances projected on the screen are the same as those which please audiences in the New York houses where third-rate melodrama artistes feared to tread. There are thrillers galore, with pistol shots, piano accompaniment, and all the effects to make the dumb show more real — and all for a nickel, or “one dime, ladies and gentlemen and little children! Two nickels! The tench part of a dollar! Amusing, instructing, and entertaining alike to man, woman, and child! Why pay more and see worse?”

Why, indeed? The old melodramatic companies put on a more or less crude performance with the aid of more or less crude scenic effects — such as the “op’ry house” or town hall happens to boast. The dramatic show comes to town twice or four times a year and charges up to 30 cents. The picture shows, running all the time, allow selection and leisure in attendance. The village moving picture theatregoer can choose from a trip through Switzerland or the streets of Cairo… Why pay 30 cents to see a rehash of an ancient theme by an obsolete troupe of archaic players when for 10 cents [you can see] a play by Shakespeare with all the appearances and vanishings of Banquo’s ghost, or Puck effectively wrought by the film art?

The times they were a-changing.

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Written by David

March 19th, 2010 at 9:01 am