"the computer is not a cat." Abiko Maine Coon cat (21 October 1997).

Hidden lives

At consequential risk, we all rely on celebrity, to ease and enliven the burden of judgment.

But Fortuna casts celebrity on the wise and the merely fashionable alike, and on others of all sorts: apparatchiks just following orders, provincial political hacks, professional athletic stars rising unpredictably from draft pools.... It brings to power accidental arbiters of truth and justice who can be dangerously arbitrary in coping with unexpected instabilities.

Whatever effects their acts of commission the rule of celebrities may bring, its greatest impact is due to omissions, which obscure, devalue and foreclose manifold possibilities of ordinary lives. These possibilities are the great tidal flats of human culture that absorb destructive forces of storms and effluents (vast would-be superfund sites...), which could nurture wondrous diversity of human achievement in bright, sunny times. Each life matters. Each person merits the fullest possible resources for achieving fulfillment for themselves joyously to share with others.

That is the message of George Eliot's complex novel, Middlemarch, an important depiction of how the middle marches – many intertwined lives, each trying, however dimly, blindly, desperately, to maintain a path towards an inchoate telos, all needing the support of their peers – family, friends, and strangers. The heroes in that great march are singularly unheroic, Dorotheas all, but heroic all the same and needful, like the great, of all possible support and facilitation. Eliot concluded with a reminder for all times:

Our daily words and acts are preparing the lives of many Dorotheas, some of which may present a far sadder sacrifice than that of the Dorothea whose story we know. Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature . . . spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Bertolt Brecht wrote:

Student: "Happy the land that breeds a hero."
Galileo: "No. Unhappy the land that needs a hero."

Let us contemplate and build upon the accomplishments of these un-honored but honorable giants whose bodies may lie in unmarked graves.


BMcC: Probably my very earliest memory (which competes with being brutalized, i.e., barbered, i.e., having my hair cut: I had not slept with the enemy!), was not being allowed to play with my toys until I successfully "concentrated" [direct quote word there – probably the only ≥ 3 syllable word my mother knew] on the potty. It is said that a gun pointed point blank at one's head "wonderfully" concentrates one's mind. And then there are you-know-what's where work will make you free. And wasn't there some TV game show: "Concentration"?

I (BMcC) would prefer connoisseurship to concentration. It focusses the mind, too, but it's less constricting. I am supposed to concentrate on what my superiors are telling me to do and to believe and feel, so they do not have to repeat themselves (but they are not horological "minute repeaters" which cost > US$300,000). Centrifuges concentrate uranium hexaflouride, to reactor grade, then weapons grade. Boom!

I prefer connoisseurship ("What's that? Keep concentrating, child, and when you've concentrated you can get off your potty. If not, we'll give you an enema." ~ but I was way too young for it to have naughty effects...). "Prisoners of childhood" (Alice Miller)

Curating v. Conserving

The one at BMA was bigger and orange, not gray, if I recall rightly.

BMcC: I once worked in The Baltimore Museum ofArt BMA). The curator of Paintings and sculpture, Diana Johnson, was a full-of-herself fashionista, who curated such things as a massive motorized electrified hot water bottle "sculpture" manufactured by another fashionable (Claes Oldenburg) that took up the whole majestic entrance hall of the museum building. It was cute: its top gyrated slowly. I seem to recall that sometimes it broke. This curator lady was probably pre-menopausal and rather [physiologically] attractive, too. She disdained such a low life as myself. She should have stood in the sculpture court with a label on the wall giving her accession number, donor and title. She was a powsy-wowsy with my tattle-tale boss, the Registrar: Barbara Krizack.

The other curators were not so bad. The curator of Decorative Arts (William Elder) was a classy man who was cultivating a very old retired diplomat, to get his furniture for the museum when he [the diplomat, not the curator] died [J. Gilman d'arcy Paul (sp?)]. The curator of Prints and Drawings (Victor Carlson) was somewhere in the middle. I had a pass key (which, of course, I never told anybody about), so I could browse through the print storage trays in his office when he wasn't there.

You, my reader, may see what I think of "curators". In all fairness, before I came to work at the museum, the previous Curator of Paintings and Sculpture had been a scholarly old German lady, Dr. Gertrude Rosenthal, who put together a very intelligent exhibition: "Early and late", showing side by side works from early and late in the careers of master artists. Her example had not been emulated by her successor who surely had a better "figure", and dressed more in style.

The museum also had: conservators (Victor Covey[3] and Kay Silberfeld), and, obliquely associated with them, an art packer (Joe Brinkley). These were, in my experience, highly honorable persons. They respected me, even though I was just the Registrar's Office clerk [my boss was a powsy-wowsy with Diana: Barbara Krizack, who also disdained me, perhaps because I did not have a bachelor's degree from such a pedigreed college as herself? Goucher.].

The conservators' business was saving stuff, not stuffing the galleries with dreck that would not likely long endure. What can I say? What is a conservator's first solvent of choice when trying to get crap off an old master painting? His or her own saliva. Who told me as an aside an off-color remark about a society lady guest at a museum opening? Vic Covey. Who packed an extremely fragile work of art so securely that, when I made the mistake of asking him if he had packed it well, he simply knocked the box containing the piece off his work table onto the concrete floor and looked disdainfully at me? Joe Brinkley.

I would rather see a page devoted to conservatorhip (not conservatism!), than to curatorial. Some curators are good, but their occupation is at perpetual danger from temptation to go off the rails to lust after media gimmicks du jour. [There's another angle here: museum visitors like to pay to see trendy stuff, so the curator may also be under financial pressure to produce.] Conservators do honest labor every day, except when they have to conserve something that never should have existed in the first place, like a huge motorized hot water bottle (120 volt or 240 volt?).

The bottom line

If you stiff curators, art hangers can always put up an exhibition – they have to anyway. If you stiff the conservators, you can lose the objects to exhibit. Art hangers often know something, even if only pre-thematically, about art; Curators may not know anything about taking care of artworks – nor do they need to, if exhibiting things of no lasting value.

Unethical art

As I think about it, I cannot think of any art that is overtly evil. If it gets evil enough, doesn't it cease to be art and be instead pornography? Consider Adolf Hitler dressed in a medieval suit of armor, on a white horse and carrying aloft a Nazi flag. How is this so very different from a Saturday Evening Post Norman Rockwell cover? On the Internet I found a postcard with such a Hitler image that was quite good graphic design. So what makes such art be bad art? What might it inspire you to do? Join the German Army and go to war for your birth nation? What's any different about that from Uncle Sam sticking his finger in your face and telling you to join the Germen United States Army? Esthetically, the particular Hitler postcard is by far superior of the two.

Cocktail Maraschino Cherry and .with parasol decoration. Yum!

Let's be less politically contentions. What we are looking for is anything that does not inspire you to be the best you can be, nor give you some respite to rejuvenate yourself to go back in the fray, etc.

Let's try this: A maybe 3 foot by 4 foot fashionista painting, all light pastel colors, bright sunlight midday Florida sunshine [good for causing skin cancer] of a swimming pool poolside table, with a cocktail in its cocktail glass on the table, with a Maraschino Cherry [noted to be potentially carcinogenic] in the glass with a little parasol decoration piercing the Maraschino Cherry (like at right). And maybe also on the table, a couple other familiar items people have at a beach, like a pair of sunglasses, perhaps casting shadow even, to show off the artist's technical skill [shadows are difficult to paint well].

The painting may even have one or 2 collage elements so that some of the items in the painting are painted to look real and other items really look are real, which, or course is something Rene Magritte or Kurt Schwitters could never have dreamed of, which proves you are an art expert – at least anent: Maraschino Cherries.

Bring it home and hang it on your dining room wall. Every day, at dinner, you look at this big painting on your dining room wall (you paid good money for it!). How does it make you feel? Does it make you want to go swimming in the bright Florida sun where there's no humid heat wilting you and no risk of skin cancer, and Wow doesn't that sound sweet? Doesn't it just make you want to waste your day poolside at your "Club"? You waste your day.

By all means, sit and admire your purchase while listening to what New York Times OpEd writer Maureen Dowd wrote is one of (POTUS №45) President of the United States of America Donald J. Trump's favorite songs [available free on YouTube]: Peggy Lee's "morbid" ballad, "Is that all there is?" Now, despairing of wasting the day you've already spent some other way, at the pool, don't you feel like joining Peggy and dancing and drowning yourself in drink?

Such a painting is an example of unethical art, be it well or ineptly executed technically: it excites you and then leads you to despair if you take at it seriously. And people like the stuff. My (BMcC) ethical art commentary on this kind of semiotic BIOHAZARD material: here.

Actualités? The end of the world

BMcC: Actualités? I do not know French but this word reminds me of another French word: Réalités → a glossy, ¿may one say "high-brow"[1] magazine from when I was a high school student (early 1960's). They had an advertising slogan:

An intimacy to share.

Of course my preparatory schooling (preparation for what?) did not teach me what those words might mean, nor did my childrearing outside that day carcel for kids (they had boarding students, too, but I was not one of them). Maybe I had good genetic endowment (nature v. nurture). Somehow the magazine had made its way into the school's library. (I was "an A student" [USDA Prime], so I got work-release due to good behavior, to be able to go to the library instead of otherwise mandatory attendance at "study halls".) Somehow, the magazine struck me as something appealing, or as I would say now after many years' experience and some study: It "smelled" good (not in a Safeguard or Ban, etc. way).

At Abe Books, online, the current (October 2020) starting base price seems to be $9.00 + postage per single issue.

To show the value of this magazine, ca. 1980 I found a used magazine dealer in New York City who had over 100 (it may have been more like 200!) of the English edition and he sold the whole lot of them to me at 50 cents each. I got 2 heavy boxes of the magazines, Parcel Post.

Do I understand that actualités are such stuff as CNN is made of? The only famous contemporary artist I know of whose work seems to me to have value is: Anselm Kiefer. Who would want to live in a real world of what CNN presents these days (October 2020), or in the imaginative world of Anselm Kiefer's paintings? (If Kiefer did city planning, I think he would build Ronald Reagan's "shining city on a hill" → a mound piled up of Newark New Jersey garbage, blended with the city's overflow untreated sewage, and stabilized with coagulated industrial effluents (from the Meadowlands?). – That's how cheerful Kiefer's paintings are.) I (BMcC), for one, would much prefer to be nourished by Réalités: intimacies to share. I well know from experience what it is to be hungry.

The end of the world

Below is an actualité: A (12 year old?) upper-middle class [jewish] New York state (U.S.A.) girl's painting from 2002, to which I (BMcC) have reproduction rights for non-profit educational purposes. Enjoy!

U.S.A. privileged child's painting, 2002. © All rights reserved, BMcC. Photograph by BMcC. Painting located at 1 North Lexington Avenue, 2nd Floor, White Plains, New York, in girl's mother's work area, office of SMARTS computer company, at the time. This painting was not done by a child with PTSD.

+2024.02.09. Looking at this picture now and thinking about the Unkraine war, this painting seems prescient with its "futuristic" events in the sky. The Ukraine war is a new kind of war, fought largely with unmanned (even autonomous?) aerial and also sea drones — often swarms of them —, and electronic jamming, not just "hardware" such as artillery shelling and fighter plane dogfights.


I cannot create art – I cannot do anything that requires freehand drawing skill or other "artistic" talent. Of course, as the fools who compare Jackson Pollack's paintings to the creations of chimpanzees because they don't look like Saturday Evening Post Norman Rockwell covers, always boast, I could create Jackson Pollack paintings. And I do think Jackson Pollack's paintings are not of much value, but not for the reasons the people who may have no real value[s] think: Not because they are technically easy to produce, but because I do not see them as ennobling persons' lives. The Jackson Pollack detractors might mock some of Anselm Kiefer's art, too, but Kiefer is, I believe, making an ethical statement about the contemporary world, of which the Jackson Pollack paintings detractors are a part. I think a pile of garbage makes a statement which dripped paint on canvas does not make.

I create art, too: here. I doubt the Jackson Pollack detractors could do what I do, even if, like unethical postmodernist architects (item: Robert Venturi) they are adept at freehand drawing. Mine is mostly conceptual art (Marcel Duchamp-ish, etc.). I also write Dada poetry, or, to be more precise, I have written computer programs to generate dada poetry, and, even more extremely Dada than Tristan Tzara's: I do some at the per-character level, not only just shuffling pre-given words around. Example:[2]

BMcC English language text:

"The computer is not a cat. The cat is on the chair, not on the mat. Computers should be obedient to persons, even to lepers."

BMcC Tristan Tzara dada poem:

"not on not be is the even persons, chair, cat should obedient to lepers. is mat. cat. to Computers the a the computer The on"

BMcC über-dada poems:

"cti dobcosow af lot e sem. Mge nad or yn lmu nroyd, tor as hle tap. Vestesets rteakh se otaseorh na sehcahn, unoh so delelc."

"lot yn tor se or cti unoh sehcahn, nroyd, nad rteakh otaseorh na delelc. af tap. sem. so Vestesets lmu e hle dobcosow Mge as"

I think the quasi-popular music group "The Talking Heads" has a song:

+2024.02.16 v072
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  1. I (BMcC) do not hear this phrase being used in 2020. Is it shameful for a person to aspire to be and/or consider themselves to be above "the madding crowd"? Must every person at least pretend to be stupid and ignorant, like those who, at best, are: Dialtones, when they are not actively deploying their anti-Midas touch to, by reverse alchemy, transmute gold into lead, i.e.: to turn every person and thing of value into inane dreck like themselves?
  2. My reader: Please add line breaks, if desired, as desired. Thank you.
  3. Your Comment on For Rare Book Librarians, It's Gloves Off. Seriously.
    The New York Times <>
    8:29 AM (10 minutes ago) [+2023.03.11]
    Your comment has been approved!
    Bradford McCormick | New York
    I had the privilege of knowing Victor Covey when I worked at The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1969-72. At that time he wsa the Chief Conservator there and later moved on (and up) to be Chief Conservator at The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. I both liked and highly respected him. "Vic", as far as I ever knew, was an unusual person for haviing his position and being one of the most esteemed art conservators in the world: I think he was a "blue collar" guy, whose "formal" education was: apprenticed under Carolyn Keck. I may be wrong about that. In any case, he was "down to earth", in a business that often is detached from reality. (Once the grand entrance hall of the musuem was crowded by a huge Claes Oldenburg electrified hot water bottle with a top that rotated and often broke. Curatorial selection there.) I was just a clerical employee in the registrar's office, but I got to interact with Vic often. One day he told me something that has stuck with me. He said that in cleanng old master oil paintings, you solvent of first choice is your own saliva. Similar to the conservatorial wisdom in the present essay, yes?
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BMcC signature seal stamp. Modelled on 18th century messenger's letter box in collection of Suntory Museum, Tokyo. Japanese write poems and prayers on slips of paper which they tie into knots like this shape although with longer legs. Prayers are often tied to branches of trees which can look like they are covered with snow. "Symbol of a symbol, image of an image, emerging from the destiny that is sinking into darkness...." (H. Broch, "The Sleepwalkers", p.648) Always remember. Add value. (This image created not later than 21 May 2003)
Invenit et fecit
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