Friday, July 09, 2004

Penumbria: A great word for a Partial Eclipse in Central Italy.

Listening to Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega

I am annoyed that I missed Suzanne Vega on tour here - she was at the Lowry Centre last weekend. Hers was the first concert I saw in Liverpool in 1986 and she was there again around about the time of Days of Open Hand. I cannot decide which is the best album between Solitude Standing and Songs in Red and Gray, though it is difficult to put even those two above all the others. I suppose the weedy poet in me - still nascent in 1986 - was stimulated by La Vega's first album.

What now! Oh yes! BBC4 have started showing the original Shock of the New which was excellent. Robert Hughes left great open spaces between his commentary, which I hope were to let you appreciate the art without listening to some overheated wibbling by the critic. What he did say was pointed and intelligent but the major voice was the art itself. It was nice to see that he joined art and technology together. For years I have wondered about art critics' views that the 20th Century began in 1880 as far as art was concerned but of course this is when the great expansion in technology began and art reflects that. Hughes also said that he thought that the 20th Century was drawing to a close around the time of the programme which was first broadcast in 1980 and that reflects my idea that all the great single ideas and achievements had been made by then. There may still be great things to do but they all seem to be the result of group efforts. Watching Dan Cruickshank in What the Industrial Revolution Did For Us, it came to me that I could understand a steam engine or a chemical process in one single lesson, the basics in a few minutes. These great achievements are simple; their greatness is in the breakthrough it first took to create these things in the first place. However great they were, they were actually simple when compared to the tacit knowledge and delicate skill of the craftsmen or the artist.

I was scanning a book called Leonardo's Laptop yesterday which took issue with all our mid-eighties ideas about computers taking over human abilities, all that stuff about Artificial Intelligence to take over from Doctors. The book tells that we have rightly dropped this conceit because what we really want is for computers to be tools to increase our own abilities rather than to mimic them. An analogy could be that we want a bulldozer to amplify our muscles not a robot to pretend to be human.

How did I get on to this from The Shock of the New? I have suddenly had a great impression of emptiness after having switched at speed between thinking about all these concepts. This happens often and is something I have decided (in the last few minutes) to call my gibber-gibber phase. Obviously not quite as debilitating as all that as I am still writing. Back to The Ascent of Man

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