MOVIES IN REVIEW: JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI
At the beginning of this little documentary, Jiro, the ancient sushi maker who is its subject says something that when I thought back upon it, just stopped me dead in my tracks thinking about how many millions of miles away modern culture has come from this concept. He says, I’m paraphrasing from my memory, that life is about loving what you do for work and getting better and better at it, and becoming truly skilled at what you do and always improving is the key to living an honorable life.
There pretty much is not a single word of the above statement that guides any part of American culture today. The idea that work is about doing something you love and improving yourself at it, rather than extracting the maximum possible lucre from society. The idea that being skilled at what you do and improving yourself has any value other than its commercial value…that we can be judged by how skilled we are at our craft rather than how high up the ladder we’ve climbed…that we all have room to constantly improve and are not just born special and gifted and entitled to have Michelin stars or fancy bylines rained down on us…the idea that “honor” is a thing…Not to get even more maudlin about it, but this is a blog about the end of civilization. Nothing in his statement above would have been remotely controversial even 25 years ago. Now not one word in his statement above is remotely an operating principle of our society.
Anyway, besides that, Jiro is a really beautiful little documentary about a man who has spent his life running a little sushi counter in a train station in Tokyo doing the same very small number of limited tasks and becoming the best in the world at each of them. I don’t know if there’s any craft in the world as precise and ephemeral as sushi making and if this portrait of Jiro and the many people who give their lives to it doesn’t make you feel completely inadequate, then I don’t want to eat at your restaurant. Or to read your blog.
I’m generally against most big screen documentaries because they mostly belong on the small screen. I’ve spent too many nights in theaters seeing talking heads interspersed with sped-up photography and mock-Phillip Glass music signifying dire warnings that the entire planet is likely to be unsustainable for human life before we leave the theater. Perhaps fine sentiments. Perhaps. But they belong on TV if anywhere. Jiro captures the beauty of the sushi business and the strange isolation it brings in a way that demands to be seen in a theater. So go do that. A beautiful film.
(Courtesy of Ellen Silverman)
[Ellen] Silverman’s images show the kitchens as she finds them. Well-used pots sit on stoves or burners, utensils hang from plaster walls with faded paint, and mismatched plates are piled haphazardly. At first glance, Silverman says, she wants viewers to see the photos as “kind of anthropological … in how people arrange things.” But the second thought, she hopes, will be: “Wow, they’re beautiful. … This is somebody’s reality.”
Ten-Minute Art School Course
El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (1541-1614)
by Keith Christiansen, Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
El Greco is one of the few old master painters who enjoys widespread popularity. Like Vermeer, Piero della Francesca, and Botticelli, he was rescued from obscurity by an avid group of nineteenth-century collectors, critics, and artists and became one of the select members of the modern pantheon of great painters. For Picasso, as for so many later admirers, El Greco was both the quintessential Spaniard and a proto-modern—a painter of the spirit. It was as a painter who “felt the mystical inner construction” of life that El Greco was admired by Franz Marc and the members of the Blue Rider school: someone whose art stood as a rejection of the materialist culture of modern life.
Born in Crete, El Greco was trained as an icon painter. Two certain examples survive, and these remind us of the Neo-Platonic, non-naturalistic basis of El Greco’s art, before he set about transforming himself into a disciple of Titian and an avid student of Tintoretto, Veronese, and Jacopo Bassano. He moved to Venice in 1567 (Crete was a Venetian territory). There he set about mastering the elements of Renaissance painting, including perspective, figural construction, and the ability to stage elaborate narratives. Among his finest works of this period is The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind (1978.416). Later, in Spain, El Greco wrote treatises on painting. Although these are lost, we possess the copies he owned of the architectural treatise by the ancient writer Vitruvius and Vasari’s Lives. They have El Greco’s annotations in the margins.
From Venice, El Greco moved to Rome, where he worked from 1570 to 1576. He arrived with a letter of recommendation from the Croatian miniaturist Giulio Clovio, who secured him quarters in the palace of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese—perhaps the most influential and wealthy patron in all of Rome. In 1572, he joined the painter’s academy and he set up shop, taking on at least one assistant, and possibly two. His intention must have been to pursue a Roman career, but after six years he had not received a single commission for an altarpiece; his reputation was based on occasional commissions for portraits and small-scale devotional paintings. El Greco had ill-advisedly criticized Michelangelo’s abilities as a painter, an opinion that generated little confidence in his abilities and may have served to ostracize him from the Roman art establishment (Michelangelo had died in 1564, but his prestige in Rome was undiminished).
These were not auspicious beginnings for his career in Spain, where he moved in 1576. In Madrid, his bid for royal patronage from Philip II failed. Not until he settled in Toledo did El Greco meet with the success an artist of his caliber might have expected. In this ancient city, which El Greco immortalized in one of the most celebrated landscapes in Western art—the View of Toledo (29.100.6)—he found a sympathetic circle of intellectual friends and patrons and forged a highly profitable career. Diego de Castilla, dean of Toledo Cathedral, commissioned El Greco to paint three altarpieces for the Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo and was also instrumental in the commission of the Espolio (The Disrobing of Christ) for the cathedral vestiary. These are among El Greco’s most ambitious masterpieces. In them can be found all of the various styles with which he had experimented in Italy: the naturalism that characterized his portraits; the painterly technique he had learned in Venice; the audacious compositional ideas of the late Michelangelo; and a Mannerist emphasis on hyper-elegance and refinement. A dispute over the price El Greco demanded for the Espolio led to litigation and left a mark on the artist’s subsequent career: he never received another comparable commission from the cathedral authorities; in the future, his commissions were to come from private individuals and convents in the city.
El Greco’s most celebrated painting, The Burial of Count Orgaz, was commissioned by the parish priest of Santo Tomé in Toledo in 1586 to celebrate the restitution of a financial obligation to the church. It honors a long-dead benefactor, at whose funeral Saints Stephen and Augustine were seen to miraculously appear to assist in the burial. The picture depicts this miracle as well as the count’s soul being received into Paradise. When seen in the church, the painting has the arresting character of a vision. El Greco’s son Jorge kneels fictively on the edge of the picture plane, looking out and indicating to the viewer the miracle El Greco has conjured up. The figure thus serves as intermediary between the real world of the viewer and the fictional world of the painting, which gains added resonance through the inclusion of a series of portraits of El Greco’s contemporaries. (El Greco was a remarkable portraitist [29.100.5], able not only to record a sitter’s features but to convey his character.) Above the funeral is depicted a heavenly vision, where a very different visionary experience is depicted: the verisimilitude of the earthly event is rejected in favor of a world of shifting planes inhabited by chimera-like personages. The Burial of Count Orgaz is central to our understanding of El Greco because it encapsulates the object of his art, which is to suggest a visionary experience—something that is not an extension of our physical world but of our imaginative faculties.
Toledo was far removed from the artistic ferment of Rome, but it was no bastion against the forces—cultural as well as artistic—that were to shape the art of the seventeenth century. It is all too easy to treat El Greco’s achievement in isolation, as though it were an art outside of its time—an art waiting to be discovered by the modern era. Yet when El Greco died in 1614, Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci—the creators of the new Baroque style—had been buried for four and five years, respectively. It is enough to mention these figures to realize that in important respects El Greco’s art belonged to the past, not the future: to the world of Mannerism, with its emphasis on the artist’s imagination rather than the reproduction of nature.
Francisco Pacheco—painter, artist’s biographer, and teacher of Velázquez—visited El Greco in his studio in Toledo and recorded seeing plaster, wax, and clay figures from which he worked. Pacheco did not approve of this method, which El Greco had doubtless learned from Tintoretto in Venice: a real human figure rather than something modeled in clay was what Pacheco advocated. But he could not deny El Greco’s place among the great painters, “for we see some works by his hand so plastic and so alive (in his characteristic style) that they equal the art of the very best.” He may have had in mind El Greco’s portraits, which Velázquez prized highly. Yet it is the most extravagant late works of the artist, such as The Opening of the Fifth Seal (56.48), in which the figures are elongated beyond credibility and their forms dematerialized by a flickering brushwork, that have appealed so strongly to modern tastes.
El Greco rejected naturalism as a vehicle for his art just as he rejected the idea of an art easily accessible to a large public. What he embraced was the world of a self-consciously, erudite style, or maniera. The paradox is that, at a time when the blatant display of artifice inherent in Mannerism was being criticized as an indulgence, and artists in Rome were striving to rid their paintings of anything that might seem mere display, El Greco took just the opposite route. He made elongated, twisting forms, radical foreshortening, and unreal colors the very basis of his art. The difference was that he made these effects deeply expressive and not merely emblems of virtuosity.
No other great Western artist moved mentally—as El Greco did—from the flat symbolic world of Byzantine icons to the world-embracing, humanistic vision of Renaissance painting, and then on to a predominantly conceptual kind of art. Those worlds had one thing in common: a respect for Neo-Platonic theory about art embodying a higher realm of the spirit. El Greco’s modernism is based on his repudiation of the world of mere appearances in favor of the realm of the intellect and the spirit.
Two of Titanic’s engines lie exposed in a gaping cross section of the stern. Draped in “rusticles”—orange stalactites created by iron-eating bacteria—these massive structures, four stories tall, once powered the largest moving man-made object on Earth.
Ten-Minute Art School Course
The Cage, or Why ‘No” is Creativity’s Greatest Enemy
by Adam Webster
Once we go to school, or perhaps long before that, we are coerced into putting all of our thoughts and ideas into a cage which is then labelled ‘preconceptions and limitations’ or ‘reality check.’
We are not born with, or in a cage; the cage is more a sort of family heirloom, passed down by previous generations of children, parents and, crucially, educators. Some cages are bigger than others and some cages even grow, or at least stretch, as time goes by.
Sadly though, what is more common, is for the cage to shrink. Ultimately of course, the cage represents our creativity, or at least it measures our ability to think creatively. What too few people realise, is that creativity was never supposed to live in a cage.
When it is first put in there, it struggles and fights against the bars that have surrounded it and sometimes it might even slip through the bars and briefly escape, but it is quickly told ‘no’ and is scooped up and put back in the cage. Eventually, the creativity stops trying to escape and simply resorts to bouncing off the walls of the cage, constantly retreating back over ground that has been covered before. Finally, the creativity stops moving; the cage has won and begins to close in around it.
The 6 walls that hold your creativity captive are labelled above. Each plays a fundamental role in restricting and eventually restraining creativity. These ideas, much like the walls of the cage, rely on each other to reinforce the message that creativity is not wanted or valued.
FEAR of being ‘wrong’ or told NO leads to CONFORMITY, which leads to a TOLERENCE that believes in the status quo.
A constant message that FACTS & KNOWLEDGE (in its traditional form) are all that really matter leads to an INHIBITION when it comes to thinking creatively.
Believing only in FACTS & KNOWLEDGE leads to a reliance on yes and NO answers, which ultimately leads to shallow thinking based on a TOLERENCE of CONFORMITY and CONFORMITY will only take you so far before you hit a dead end – or indeed the side of a cage.
The foundation of the cage; the one upon which all the other walls are built, is NO. NO is what all the other walls of the cage rely on.
NO is one of the most powerful words in our language. It is absolutely loaded with connotations relating to danger, restrictions, negativity and failure. In classroom and boardroom alike, NO can be the most brutal and destructive of words.
It takes courage to put forward an idea, whether in a group (verbally) or singularly (perhaps on paper or one on one) and to be told NO can have a lasting impact on the desire to go on creating ideas. It is crucial to successful creative thinking at any age or level, that the word NO is removed. The word NO is linked to the idea of the impossible and no great idea or invention was built upon ‘impossible.’
Anything is possible.
Young children believe this. But, slowly, we begin to tell them NO and the process of eroding their unfettered belief in the incredible potential of everything gathers pace. Reality dictates of course that sometimes NO, really is necessary. But stop to consider how often you use the word NO in a dismissive or even belittling way; as a way of yielding power, or forcing others to conclude as you have already done. ‘Yes’ is a positive word. It is full of possibility and encouragement. It is one of the most motivating words in our language.
In order to think ‘cagelessly’ we must tear down the walls of the cage and allow ourselves to think without prejudice or restriction. The process of writing this was borne out of hearing too many creative thinking experts explain that what they wanted to get people to do, was ‘think outside the box.’ To me, this is the wrong mentality. This makes the assumption that to think creatively, we should raise our heads above the parapet long enough to have a creative or ‘left-field’ idea and then return back to our previous ways of seeing the world.
Cageless thinking is a way of seeing and thinking as broadly as possible. Eventually the cageless thinker will have a complete 360° panoramic picture of his options, unconstrained by anything. It is however, a big step to move out of the cage and discard it completely. After all, the cage can become rather comfortable and familiar, and whilst these things may not inspire creativity, they feel safe (‘Safe’ often being synonymous with both FEAR and CONFORMITY). Nonetheless, there is a step that can be taken between being stuck in the box and the end goal, Cageless Thinking…
What makes people creative? What gives some of us the ability to create work that captivates the eyes, minds and hearts of others? Jonah Lehrer, a writer specializing in neuroscience, addresses that question in his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.
Lehrer defines creativity broadly, considering everything from the invention of masking tape to breakthroughs in mathematics; from memorable ad campaigns to Shakespearean tragedies. He finds that the conditions that favor creativity — our brains, our times, our buildings, our cities — are equally broad.
Lehrer joins NPR’s Robert Siegel to talk about the creative process — where great ideas come from, how to foster them, and what to do when you inevitably get stuck.