The Starbucks Experiment

Friday, December 30, 2005

Sunny San Diego

Since my oldest sister Jessica lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband Nathan and their beautiful year-and-a-half-old daughter Lily, we occasionally try to have a vacation on the west coast so that they don't have to travel as far. this christmas we settled on renting a house in San Diego, in a charming enclave called mission beach sandwiched between the bay and the ocean (our house is a block from each beach). i was particularly looking forward to this vacation for various reasons. firstly, it marks the end of the stressful getting-in-applications phase, and from now on all i have to do is wait for the graduate schools to offer me stipends (i hope). secondly, San Diego is in that region i have previously viewed askance known as southern california. many of you know that my first choice for grad school, USC, lies most unfortunately in the heart of a city that i rank slightly above Beirut in my list of places i can die without seeing. but even though i know with a cold certainty that i would hate living in LA, i did come on this trip hoping that i would find something to like about southern california.

and it's basically paradise. 350 days of the year here its 74 and sunny. the ocean is beautiful, and the gardens! i could easily be in the riviera as i'm absolutely surrounded by bougainvillea, or in the tropics, with birds of paradise sprouting from every corner. dozens of different palm trees line the streets and make me think of Dr. Seus (who's v. big here, he spent the last part of his life in La Jolla). i've seen roses bigger than my fist, hundreds of blossoms on plants that i didn't even know had flowers. it is one word, lush.

i find myself watching the surfers with envy. they seem like a school of fish, a whole other species let loose in their natural habitat to be observed from afar by the humans. it seems like a wonderful way to enjoy the ocean. i even find myself enjoying the tacky christmas decorations. the one evergreen tree on ocean beach was decorated with beach balls. another house in the neighborhood is strung with a garland of beach pails and shovels. here the plastic santas wear board shorts and flip flops. i always thought that if i did move out here i would spend 3+ years complaining about how much i missed New York, the seasons, public transportation, old buildings, walking, etc. but now i think it would be a lot more fun to turn traitor, to embrace california with a tube of sunscreen and pair of shades. if i lived here i would have to go all the way; i would have to get a tan, a clunky convertible, and a surfboard. if USC were in San Diego i would be here in an instant.

but of course San Diego is not LA, and although i still haven't been to that metropolis two hours north, i still think i will hate it when i see it. but i guess now i see how living in this region, even in LA, could work. and that is rather a relief. not only can i look on USC with an even friendlier eye, but it's nice to know that i'm not so stuck up or east-coast centric that i couldn't survive west of the appalachians. it's nice to feel like your character has some breadth as well as depth.

Monday, December 19, 2005

What does it represent?

Continuing in my vein of only quoting other people, i came across this today and feel that it represents everything that is wrong with the study of art. i promise that after christmas i will post my own words.

"One question--a naive one--remains: What does it represent? Were I to show one of Sam Francis's paintings to an uninitiated viewer, that very question would inevitably be voiced. Does painting have to represent something? Is it always the ambassador of the real? Does it represent reality? If it does, then it means reality is absent, distant, and, in fact, inaccessible. If it were supposed to represent the real, painting would be subjugated to the real. Yet, is it not the real that is in fact subjugated to painting? Is it not the painting that gives the real its reality, that grounds the real in its reality by introducing it to the world in which it may appear? Isn't the question one of the real presence of the real? That real presence is not a matter of representation but rather of transfiguration. That which in the work attests to the real presence of the real is not that the real is represented there, but that it is effectively present as an object of contemplation. How is that presence possible, It is possible only on condition that all that is not the work be excluded from it. It is necessary that the work stand "alone unto itself," "reposing in itself." Hence, there is no need to "interpret" the work, to reduce it to that which it could be, and is not, or to that which, not being so in essence, it could be accidentally" (Michel Waldbery. Sam Francis: Metaphysics of the Void. Translated by Michael Vogel and Marianne Tinnell. Toronto: Moos Book Pub., [1987?]: 17).

Sigh. of course it was written by a frenchman.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Best Emails Evs 2005

so remember that idea i had about a post consisting entirely of quotes from emails that friends have written me? well here it is. i have tried to abstain from excessively personal correspondence (although that is often the best reading), so i hope that those who find themselves below will feel honored, and that everyone else will try to get onto next years "best emails evs" post by regaling me with witty remarks.

Winner of the Warm and Fuzzy Award

“italy is going very well. i am in Bologna for the year studying scienze politiche, i've moved in with some people following an advert found on the street. they are one guy and three girls who are all 4 or 5 years older than me. we have a dog called bruno who has befriended me with open arms (his head i on my lap as i type) as have the others, though it is difficult to be funny and interesting when the extent of one's conversational vocab barely covers the weather. this i will have to do something about. my italian is improving at a rate though and i'm getting the feeling of being sucked into a new warm pool the further on i go, where the rest of the world seems strange and i look back on england with a slightly detatched perspective. i have never experienced this before. i think that for all the travelling ive done, this is the first time that i am playing the role of participant rather than observer.” –Paddy Wells 9/23/05

Winner of the Most Humorous Depression Award

“I've had to revert to smoking as a
means of self-expressive/destructive sublimation of my emotions.

Bah. It's cold outside and I feel like I've been licking ashtrays. I
don't want to travel over Thanksgiving weekend and I have no interest
in making deals with Jonathan so I can go dodge stray bullets in
Baltimore. I want to go to bed.” –Karin Isaacson 11/17/05

Winners of the Best Rant Award (Tied)

“I don't really care very much about chemistry or physics, and I'm not
really sure I know enough about the Peace Prize winner to have an
opinion (though when I got out of the shower, the BBC was all in a
lather about the IAEA or whatevs not actually deserving it and being
highly controversial, blah blah blah). But you should tell your dad
that the H. pylori guys were the first to prove the link between
bacteria and a chronic medical condition. It's much less about
finding the cause of ulcers than the fact that these two challenged
the sheer stubbornness of doctors--medicine was like no way, and they
were like, fuck you, we're right. And they were. And one of the guys
who had a completely healthy stomach DRANK A CULTURE to prove it.
That's pretty badass, and more than just a little crazy. And it's
figured that bacteria can actually be implicated in a number of other
chronic conditions (arthritis, etc.), including inherited conditions
(!) and even cancer. It's just because doctors and biomedical
researchers have their heads up their asses that they're not looking
in the right places yet for the causes.

So as you can probably tell, I support that. Not that it really
matters, but I always like to see people stick it to quote-unquote
medical “science.”

I feel you business (busy-ness, that is) at work . . . I'm pretty
busy too, and Jonathan just bitched (well, not really bitched--bitched
in that passive-agressive way that academics have--he came up to me
and was like, "I'm surprised that you didn't do more with these
yesterday"--how fucking unclear is that? Like, if I hadn't already
worked for professors, I would have NO IDEA that he was attempting to
express unhappiness) at me for not doing more with these experiments
that he wanted done, which is especially dumb for the following
reasons: a) I've been here late--like, more than a hour late--for the
last two days . . . not that he would know that, he goes home at five
or before and b) when you give somebody a long list of things to do
and are not totally clear about the order in which you want them done,
you should expect the individual you give the list to prioritize the
tasks as they see fit. Whatever, the bottom line is that academics
make super sucky managers.” –Karin Issacson 10/7/05


The best thing about lubeck was its puppetry museum. Don't ask me why i'm so interesting, never get a thrill out of it as a kid. The museum had an
extensive collection of puppets and marionettes from all over the
world, very cool! (where did the v. as in v. cool come from?) In some
ways I understand why puppetry has lost its mass appeal but on the
other hand, I feel it's been partly made irrelevant by its own doing.
We saw some examples of recent/modern puppetry and they're all
ridiculous faceless blobs, weird shapes and the like. The actual
productions are done with electronic or otherwise modern music. No
wonder no one gets it! I mean, back in the day when you had puppets
that dressed in the style of dress of the day, made social commentary,
played out stories or what have you- the audience could relate! I
think things would be a lot different if you had puppets wearing baggy
pants, backward hats, lots of bling and playing to pop or rap. I don't
think I'm being very articulate here- but I don't understand why
today's audience doesn't get its due. Maybe music videos suffice and
people wouldn't be interested in puppetry anyway (big
possibility...)... Is part of the problem the attempt to elevate
everything to a higher "art"? Whereby puppets no longer function as
entertainment but are used as a vehicle for this very intellectualized
conveyance of "meaning"? I want to learn more about how previous
vehicles of mass entertainment and social commentary have been
modified for our "modern" age...” Haley Morrisson 11/7/05

and the Best Email Title Award goes to . . .

This day rated U for "UGH" --Karin Isaacson 12/1/05

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Framing academic whatsits?

The writers block on what to post is steaming full speed ahead, so to fulfil my self-induced weekly obligation to add new material to ye ole blog, i'm posting the personal statement that i've spent this past week writing for USC. I've already sent it to a couple of friends but have received absolutely no response from said friends (shame on you Karin and Adithi). of course i was v. polite and said they didn't have to respond until this weekend, and then they were v. rude and actually took me at my word! obviously, what i really meant was "respond right now or i will go crazy!" since they didn't, and i am now going crazy, i'll go ahead and post the damn thing and then maybe some other friend of mine will respond. so, here goes:

Framing academic interests: a personal statement

During this process of applying to graduate school, I have had to continually summarize my scholarly pursuits, and invariably I describe myself as a student of the history and theory of fashion and the decorative arts. But this one-sentence description hardly does justice to my diverse academic interests, and even listing all the particular disciplines or mediums that interest me—architecture, interior design, photography, graphic arts, museums, criticism, feminism, modernism, post-modernism, social history, etc.—is insufficient. This list, however expanded, is insignificant unless it can be made part of a meaningful framework, and so I will try in this text to provide such a context. This reminds me of a quotation from Bal and Bryson’s “Semiotics and Art History:”

Context, in other words, is a text itself, and it thus consists of signs that require interpretation. What we take to be positive knowledge is the product of interpretative choices. The art historian is always present in the construction she or he produces. […] by examining the social factors that frame the signs, it is possible to analyze simultaneously the practices of the past and our own interaction with them, an interaction that is otherwise in danger of passing unnoticed.

I include this quotation here because it articulates the reason I was drawn to the discipline of art history during my college career. Some of my interests—in history, fashion, and architecture—are much more longstanding. I was always designing clothes for myself or my dolls, drawing floor plans for dream houses, and trying to find out about the people of the past, their clothes and the homes in which they lived. By the time I started college I was aware that these interests came under the heading of social history, but I was not sure which humanities discipline would allow me to best study them. I considered various majors, and I finally chose art history not because I feel it to be inherently better suited to the study of these subjects, but rather because I simply fell in love with the discipline itself. No other courses, readings, or instructors had such a frank and full understanding of the importance of subjectivity, for their goals were to understand not only the subjects of works of art, but also the subjects who produced them, and, to a lesser extent perhaps, the subjects who view them. Consequently, the best writing of art history reveals the subjectivity of the art historian, and in this way it engaged me as no other writing could. It was amusing, exciting, and fascinating to be able to feel the art historian in his text. To read such a text, as to look at a great work of art, is to be part of a dialogue without saying a word.

Once I made the decision to major in art history, I committed myself to spending my junior year abroad and decided to study in Vienna and Paris to improve my German and French. Being in Vienna was an invaluable experience because it placed me literally and figuratively on the other side of the continent. Whether I was studying the fall of Communism or the rise of the Habsburgs (and where else could one take “The Hapsburg Empire 101”?), or even standing for three hours at the back of the Opera while watching an imperial version of The Nutcracker, I gained access to a perspective that was entirely new. One of the most important new perspectives that I acquired was a deep respect for angewandte kunst, or applied arts, which includes not only the “decorative” arts but any practice that applies aesthetics to everyday life. I learned about such applied-art movements as the Weiner Werkstatte and Biedermeier, but mainly by osmosis, and in retrospect I regret that I did not undertake more formal studies of these practices. Yet whereas in Vienna I seemed to learn just by being there, in Paris I concentrated on doing, on navigating the French library system in order to research the history of nineteenth-century haute couture. This research became the historical underpinning of my senior thesis, which explored the relationship between fashion, femininity, and Art by using representations of the work of Charles Frederick Worth, the so-called “founder” of haute couture, as a case study.

My senior project was immeasurably influenced by my senior coursework in the methodology of art history and theories of the avant-garde, post-modernism, and feminism. These studies deepened my engagement with the subjectivity of art historians by further encouraging me to look at their texts with critical inquiry. I am particularly engaged by the discourse of modernism and its critiques, for modern aestheticism from Kant through Greenberg to today sets a standard in the art of framing by framing the fine arts as the cream of the crop, while everything else is mere milk. Not only does modern aestheticism degrade that which lies outside Art’s frame, but it also degrades the frame itself. As Bal and Bryson write, in modernist discourse “the frame is conceptually disavowed and repressed, becoming an ornamental supplement, an unnecessary and optional accompaniment to the work of art.” This quotation clarifies how modernism’s conceptual framework—like a physical frame—is trivialized as decorative, but I believe that what frames the modernist notion of high art is in fact the decorative, the various applied-arts practices that have been marginalized throughout the period of modern art. These trivialized arts lie in the space between the fine arts and everyday life, and act as the frame against which high art is defined. I hope to increase our understanding of Art by examining the frames, or lack thereof, that surround these marginalized artistic practices. And I hope to be part of a reframing, a re-presentation of these practices, by creating texts that will provide their new contexts. I believe that USC stands at the head of this reframing of Art History.

The Department of Art History at USC is an exciting one specifically because its programs and faculty are devoted to encouraging fresh perspectives. Malcolm Baker, Thomas Crow, Richard Meyer, and Nancy Troy stand out in my mind as art historians who have transformed our understanding by reframing once familiar artistic practices. The USC-Getty Program in the History of Collecting and Display shifts our attention from the production of works of art to their consumption and distribution, while the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute swings our focus from post-war art and the end of modernism to its beginning. Furthermore, these programs, along with the Literary, Visual, and Material Culture Initiative, demonstrate a commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship and a hearing of multiple perspectives. I hope to be able to develop my own perspective within this stimulating environment.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Welcome to December

All week i have been flirting with a subject for this post. should i produce "recall! 2" the exciting sequel to my last post exploring such ordering procedures as how to stay in line and order at the same time (a huge challenge to most sbux customers) or how to not take a drink that you didn't order (dude, we don't mark those cups just for our own benefit). or i could disclose the fact that i'm going to be a shift supervisor, that they asked me to be one despite the fact that i work part time, that i initially laughed in their faces (no, literally, it was sort of embarrassing), but have since decided that the extra $1.75 an hour is worth the trouble. part of me wants to give up talking about sbux altogether and aver (good GRE word) that i have another life of social activities and watching tv, pouring over books in the NGA library and, oh yeah, trying to get into graduate school. i meant to write a post documenting last week's thanksgiving holiday and suppose i still could. recently i thought i should have a post devoted entirely to excerpts from my email correspondence, since my friends are better writers than i. instead of any of these, however, it appears that i am writing a post about what to write a post about. and this means that my creative process has come to that inevitable self-referential phase, often considered an exciting moment in the history of an artistic practice. i suppose it says something about the artistry of my practice that this post is not exciting in the least.

sigh. i have 25 min. before i have to leave work to meet my dad for a ride home, so maybe i will set aside these ramblings and at least provide an update.

so yes, i am going to be a shift supervisor, despite my initial hesitation based on the fact that shifts are responsible for getting people to work during their shift yet have absolutely no authority to actually accomplish this. also, all the shifts i know or have known are unhappy. one girl quit after a month over the summer, Eugene is like the poster child for disgruntled middle management, Dan is negativity incarnate, although to be fair that has more to do with his recent breakup than the nature of his job, and Yessi recently quit with no word (like, he didn't show up for days and then sneaked in when he knew Melissa wouldn't be there to return his keys), apparently due to some sort of metal crisis. but i figure i can't be any worse at the job than any of these people, and Eugene and Dan have both encouraged me to do it. i figure it will be good to have a taste of managerial experience, and i know it will be good to get an almost 25% raise. so yeah, what the hell, supervisor training here i come.

thanksgiving was actually really fantastic. Karin came down, and it was nice to have a non-family member around for the weekend. dinner itself went off like clockwork; we had 8 people in all (7 women and my dad), which was a nice group but not as stressful as the 25-person thanksgivings of years past. we did all the traditional things: watched the tail end of the parade, played touch football, watched football on tv in order to explain it to our nepalese guest. then we sat by the fire after dinner with various after-dinner drinks and sang family songs (i give extreme credit to Karin for not gagging during any of the above). the rest of the weekend passed in a food-induced, movie-watching comma, with occasional breaks provided by having to work at sbux. i went to see a movie in the theatres three times that week (pride and prejudice, horrible, shopgirl, an intriguing look at my probable future home, and walk the line, which i thought Reese was quite good in), and god only knows how many movies i saw at home. i was recently reading over my post about the graduate school tour, and was struck by how many movies i watched. that is probably the only time i have so carefully documented what i was doing on any given day, and it turns out that on any given day i watch a movie.

Karin, Louise, and i had a fun night out drinking at my friend Cat's house and then dancing at the black cat. every wannabe hipster in DC seemed to be there (including us). my friend Leah got surprisingly drunk and belligerent with the cabbie on the way home. it was literally the first time i had seen her drunk and i've known her since pre-k. tonight i'm going to a book party, and tomorrow i'm going to a gallery opening (so there!). but of course most of my spare time is spent thinking about grad school. this week i got out my transcript requests (a surprisingly complicated affair), and tried to get my GRE scores but the automated voice insists i have to wait until next week (even though i took them two weeks ago and hence, they should be ready). now i have to start the hard part, writing samples and personal statements. i keep telling myself it will be fun, but judging from how much i've procrastinated my heart isn't in it.

well, this was always going to be the most stressful month of my life. so welcome! one and all! it is the advent of my discontent.