SHEP'S ARMY: BUMMERS, BLISTERS, AND BOONDOGGLES, Opus Books. Nearly three dozen of Shepherd's army stories never before in print introduced and transcribed. Foreword by Keith Olbermann. (published August 2013)


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ARTSY immersion van Gogh update


The New York Times, on the front page and full, two-page inside of the Weekend Arts section (6/11/2021), finally did an actual review of the van Gogh multimedia folderol. Written by Jason Farago, virtually every paragraph is a major disparagement of the two van Gogh “immersion” extravaganza installations—as Farago begins one paragraph, “Like van Gogh, I, too, suffer for my art, and so I attended both of them.” He begins his review:

BABIES DON’T DEVELOP stereoscopic vision for the first few months of life; they have a hard time perceiving depth and dimensions, and therefore gravitate to swirling shapes and bright colors. They and others with similar tastes will find great pleasure in our culture’s latest virally transmitted spectacles, which distill fin-de-siecle French painting into an amusement as captivating as a nursery mobile.

Vincent van Gogh, his corpse moldering in Auvers-sur-Oise and his paintings out of copyright, has these past few years been dragooned into a new sort of immersive exhibition….

One of several NYT images, 6/11/21

(Photos by Sam Youkilis)

To put it generously, deluded Philistines may actually believe that van Gogh (or any other artist) deserves multi-media manipulations (distortions) as a way to elicit emotion and cash from the sometimes esthetically unsophisticated.


Playing with words (punning), when asked what I’m doing when merely resting,

frequently I’ll comment, “I’m just rusting.”

* * * * *

What is rust, literally? Just the detritus of water eating its way into metal?

What does a dictionary or thesaurus have to report?

Decay, corrosion, erosion, decomposition, demolition,

assault, adulteration, corruption, debasement, taint,

sabotage, ruination, outrage, devastation, spoilage,

defilement, disintegration.

Thus, only a negative, destructive force?

Or, in an artsy fartsy sense, is there an esthetics of rust?

A symbol of life on its way toward some other

kind of being in the universe?

( Click on the above. It’s a world. )

Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life And Rust!


By The (Black-Gloved) Hands Of Man

A Portrait Gallery

Of Toy Car Models

Scaveneged From The Earth-Bound Internet

Including Porsche In Ice

And BMW Aflame


(Click on images for even more delectable views!)

All That Remains (just these images) Of

Ferrari, VW, Camaro, Maserati, Lamborghini. and Etceteras


Recently I saw a photo of a rusted toy truck.

I was immediately struck by its beauty.

The colors and even its tattered remnant were extraordinary! The wonderful oranges and the lopsided elegance of its misshapen remains—all created by decay.

I envisioned having it in our home full of arts and crafts, this decayed truck forever prominently displayed maybe, on a 7” X 12” X 1” high base of pristine white marble. Is it art, craft, trash?

It took decades for nature to make this living, elegant decay. Soon after seeing the photo I watched the YouTube video of its transformation—covered over by a master craftsman, who, with meticulous skills, made the relic into what it might have been when new—unimpressive and boring, encased–in a thin, simple, flat, modern, dull, squarish, black truck–irredeemably dormant, shrouded and forever dead. Apparently all this proud craftsman saw was a corpse to be brought to sterile life. The kind of thing, in all its workmanship, I would not even look at once.

What startled and dismayed me most in the video:

tidying up left-over rusty bits, no-longer-required,

shoveled to the trash.

Terminal assault. Esthetic sacrilege.

*   *   *   * *   *   *   *

I appreciate craft, with all its skill and sensitivity, separate

from what I hold to be on a higher level of human creativity–Art.

(Previously I’ve posted illustrated essays on my thoughts about the

uneasy relationship between arts and crafts:

1/13/2017, 1/16/2017.)

My wife, Allison, whose intelligence and sensitivity I recognize to be above mine, disagrees. She believes that what I demean as mere “craft,” can be equal or superior to “art,” because it can combine both beauty and human function—two, so to speak, for the price of one. Despite our usual agreement on matters of taste in film, videos, etc., on this point we agree to disagree.

As an example, she refers to what we recognize as a very striking, truly beautiful hand-crafted water pitcher our good friend Peggy Cooper gave us decades ago as a wedding present. She is now long-gone and the pitcher is now broken but well-glued back together, so that its once dual-function as a thing of beauty and as a holder of water and flowers, now only functions for its beauty–and remembrance of our friend Peggy on that important day in our lives. Is our water pitcher both art and craft?



I’ve written of Abraham Maslow’s studies of “self-actualization” before.

(See my posts

of July 17, 2014 and July 23, 2014.)

Jean Shepherd enthusiast Dr. Edward Hoffman, who wrote the authoritative book about Maslow and his work, The Right To Be Human, contacted me upon reading my Shepherd book, and we have become friends, especially sharing our mutual interests in Shepherd and Maslow.

Recently, Dr. Hoffman gave me and my wife a signed copy of a workbook he and William C. Compton wrote, and this re-emphasized for me my interest in self-actualization.

I believe that one’s life is mostly determined by some combination of luck and skill. (I’ve been lucky to have had two important women in my life—my mother and my wife, Allison.) In my multifarious amusements, the combination of luck and skill has importantly affected me not once, but several times, namely: 1. my novels and poems; 2. designing exhibits for the American Museum of Natural History; 3. the influence of Jean Shepherd in encouraging me during my formative years to widely observe and analyze life around me, and then, rediscovering his importance in my life when I read his obituary in October, 1999; 4. remembering the important role my varied interests in the arts have meant, resulting in my writing and illustrating my nearly two-hundred “Artsy Fartsy” essays.

I realized that in different periods of my life, as I see it, some component of

self-actualization has been a part of my activities.

(Understand that I venture here into the audacious field that falls between

self-aggrandizement and false modesty.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In my earlier years, I wrote three novels, all unpublishednot for lack of trying. In 1987, Dodd, Mead & Company responded: “Thanks very much for sending RIO AMAZONAS. I liked the manuscript….I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere describing it as serious literature. Oh, it is that, but I wouldn’t tell anyone. Not much of that is being published. Instead, stress the adventure aspect…. I also wrote scores of poems and occasionally tried to get a few published. I succeeded with two poems in the book, Magnetic Poetry–I blush to admit–which still can be found in bookstores and online. More importantly, in 1997, a Canadian poetry journal, Undertow, published two of my short poems. Here’s one:

*   *   *   *   *

Because of my combined interest in serious literature and my education in design, I found that I could understand curators’ scientific ideas, and thus increase the public’s enjoyment and understanding through my exhibit design. Most “designers” merely put objects in exhibit cases without enhancing the content—when I could, I expressed content and sometimes emphasized content by creating an environment for the material. An example of this–designing my first museum exhibit, in which, to organize and express the relationship between larger groupings of animals (phyla) and the subgroups (classes) into which they belonged, I used color, dimension, and juxtaposition. (one-fifth of the exhibit is shown here.):

(In 1970, on a New York State Grant, I spent a month in Western Europe

discussing exhibit design with museum directors and designers.

In 1980, on a Fulbright Senior Lecturer’s Award, I spent four months lecturing

in Spanish and advising at Lima, Peru’s National Museum of Anthropology.)

*   *   *   *   *

As my final museum design years wound down, diminishing my creative design possibilities, I discovered an important obituary—of Jean Shepherd. Rediscovering Shepherd led me to write the definitive book about him; transcribe, organize, edit, and have published a second book, focusing on his stories; writing two additional unpublished manuscripts of his stories/narratives; posting on my blog hundreds of illustrated essays about all aspects of his life and work. These works on Shepherd also led me to have published about him several articles in books and periodicals, as well as being interviewed several dozen times in the media.

*   *   *   *   *

As new ideas for my hundreds of thoughts and discoveries about Shepherd posted in my blog seemed to diminish a couple of years ago, I realized that my nearly lifelong questing and encountering scores of adventures in the world of the arts deserved exploring and “immortalizing” in an addendum to my Shep-quests–in several hundred illustrated essays, which I came to call “Artsy Fartsy.” Art, architecture, museum work, music, books, artists’ books, graphic novels, you name it! (The ultimate quest’s destination, I hope, would result in book publication.)

*   *   *   *   *

All of these personal adventures seem to me

to somewhat include aspects of a self-actualizing persona.


Theo, Jo, and Vincent van Gogh

(Vincent at 19, his only known photo)

A recent article has revealed the major contribution of

Jo van Gogh-Bonger

to our knowledge and appreciation of Vincent van Gogh.

Russell Shorto investigated and wrote the authoritative and elegant article (in the New York Times Magazine, April 18, 2021) about the major significance Jo van Gogh-Bonger contributed to our recognition of Vincent’s art and life. I, and probably most others, had not previously heard of her–and without her, we and the art world may never have heard of Vincent van Gogh.

Jo, Theo’s wife, upon reading letters from Vincent to Theo, and seeing hundreds of Vincent’s work in the family’s possession after his death in 1890, became convinced of his artistic genius. Despite her lack of background in the arts, and, at that time, the resistance in the art world to her being a woman, she devoted much of her adult life to promoting his work, and lived to finally see Vincent’s work accepted and revered.

I reproduce a few of Shorto’s comments in the article:

*   *   *   *

My van Gogh quest.

Over 50 years ago, in 1966, traveling through much of Western Europe, questing to see the art and architecture I’d previously seen only in photos, I encountered in Holland a small brochure for a museum I’d never heard of, located in a woods about 50 miles south of Amsterdam. I drove to it in my new VW Bug and discovered that they owned the world’s second largest collection of van Goghs.

Glorying in the experience, the moment I encountered a somewhat small van Gogh: “Pollard Willows at Sunset,” I immediately recognized that it was my favorite of all the van Goghs I’d ever see in the original or in reproduction.

For some cause I’ve never understood, this artwork, this painting, seems rarely reproduced and thus is rarely known. (The small reproduction on the brochure’s cover had failed to sufficiently excite me.) I went immediately to the Museum’s shop, found a good-sized reproduction and bought it. Framed, it now hangs in my study.

I’ve found that the museum is named after Helene Kroller-Muller, who had purchased her first work by Vincent in 1908—just 3 years after Jo’s major show in Amsterdam. Thus, this woman, just as Jo van Gogh-Bonger, had also been in the vanguard of Vincent’s admirers and promoters.

ARTSY Addendum to Van Gogh art atrocity

Some time ago I created and described my “Guernica Colorization Kit.” In it I suggested that Picasso’s great mural, all in black, white, and gray, might be done in colored Crayolas. I included an outline drawing and—significantly–a revered critic’s comments on the importance of Picasso avoiding color in the work. Note that my “Kit” was meant to be a joke, denigrating the colorization of movies, artworks, etc.

On March 14, 2021 I posted on my an illustrated essay about a recent travesty regarding Van Gogh, one of my favorite artists.

In our world, there are many instances contributing to the desecration of the holy essence of art. Now I must speak out. The following ad appeared Friday, April 9, 2021. Dylan Thomas must be spinning and groaning in his grave.

Over the last few months, I’ve encountered at least three of these ads in the New York Times for a lamp company’s product. Once was too much, the second added to the insult, and now here’s the third.

The beginning of the Dylan Thomas poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The poem is about the dying of his father; “light” and “day” are metaphors for life itself. (not about an electric lamp).

The ad is




ARTSY obits

Someone (was it Mark Twain?) is quoted as having said that he woke every morning and read the obituaries—if he was not featured, he went about his day’s business. Twain is quoted as saying that the report of his death was an exaggeration. In 1954, while on safari in Africa, Hemingway was erroneously reported dead after two plane crashes. It’s said that he enjoyed reading the obituaries of himself.

I always check the New York Times obituaries. To see if someone I’m interested in has died, and to encounter information about someone I’m not familiar with but about whom I may find interesting information.

It is how I first found out that Jean Shepherd had died (October 16, 1999). As I say in the introduction to my Excelsior, You Fathead!  “Recently I’ve gotten to know him a lot better, beginning when I read his obituary in the New York Times, and realized that I’d lost an old friend. It was then that I recognized how much he had meant to me—and means now. And how important his art is to American culture.” This moment led to the last two decades of my obsession and my writing about him.

My most recent encounter of an obituary that has fascinated me was on April 1, 2021, when I read about poet and publisher of poets, Robert Hershon (obit by Neil Genzlinger). What got me most is his seemingly casual funniness and the “Hanging Loose Press” poetry journal he co-founded—loose mimeographed sheets that could be deleted, posted on your bulletin board, and etcetera.

Part of one poem, titled “F Stop”:

Don’t push.

There’s another F

train right behind us.

There’s another

that’s faster and finer

than this F train is.

It serves French fries

And frogs legs….

ARTSY Lady Gaga, Star Spangled Banner

(See YouTube for video. It should be noted that Lady Gaga also did an exceptional performance

of our Anthem at the 2016 Super Bowl.)

An unexpected work of art. I’m not a Lady Gaga fan.

But I was overwhelmed by her performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

at Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021.

It’s important to note that this was just two weeks after the January 6 insurrectionary assault on our Capital building and all it represents for our democracy and our country.

As always, there were political luminaries on the Capital platform. As usual there were millions of TV watchers/listeners, but out there at the Capital in real life, instead of hundreds of thousand of people, there were mostly flags (The” Star-Spangled Banners” the symbol of what, shockingly, we might have lost as a country.) Sometimes it’s said that democracy is a fragile thing and could be lost if not sufficiently guarded and cherished.

All of us have heard our Anthem sung hundreds of times at ballgames and other occasions. By opera stars, popular singers, and by ordinary folk who their friends think have “good voices.” For my considered thought and heart, those others just sing the words, well or badly, without patriotic soul.

But Lada Gaga is something else.

With the traumatic events of January 6 in all our minds,

Gaga gave us a pitch-perfect and strong version of our song.

But she did more than that. At appropriate moments, reminding us of our love of country and flag and what they mean, on that public platform she flung out her hand toward us and those flags above and behind as if to remind us all of what we might have lost, and indicating that it was still there—if we can keep it.

And one other elegantly artistic thing she did–with the final, significant word “Brave.” After her pitch-perfect performance, in that last phrase (reminding us of that January 6 near tragic glitch in our heritage), her final “Brave” note began off-pitch!!!. On purpose! And then confidently slid to the on-pitch finale. She had performed in our Anthem the off-pitch symbol representing our near-tragic calamity–and its positive resolution for our democracy. She ended the performance with sublime resolution, fulfilling the song–our patriotism and our aspirations again in-tune.

The effect reminds me of what City Lights bookstore owner and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is quoted as

having written about poetry: it should “arise to ecstasy somewhere between speech and song.”

We have survived. And Lady Gaga has bolstered our hearts and minds.

ARTSY van Gogh Immersion

To the Editor [of the New York Times

here, slightly modified by eb, the sender]:

Regarding the article by Christina Morales on the Immersive van Gogh exhibits (March 8, 2021). Of the artists I consider the greatest of all time, such as Picasso and Michelangelo, I consider van Gogh among them. In my opinion, artworks should not be (pardon the word) screwed around with.


Vincent van Gogh’s oeuvre. Wander through entrancing, moving images

Lose yourself in 500,000 cubic feet of monumental projections animating

that highlight brushstrokes, detail, and color….”






The important thing, folks, is to immerse oneself in the originals or (if necessary),good reproductions of the singular, wonderous works themselves! Distorting and rearranging them into some other media is a desecration.

*   *   *

Thanking the esthetic heavens above (and Google),

I eventually found negative reviews, including this one, excerpted below.

“Perhaps the point is to create an ‘experience’ for people who don’t go to art galleries to pretend that this is another way to appreciate art. It isn’t…. I hated every wretched moment of this tasteless, vulgar, cheap display trying to give us another way of appreciating the brilliant work of Vincent Van Gogh. The arrogance.”




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