TAB at bat

I promise not to overhype my new little venture called THE ART BUREAU but I’m really honored to be mentioned by two of my heros in the Web design and development world: Jeffrey Zeldman and Dave Shea.
The site is starting to get picked up by the Web standards community, a small but fiercely dedicated group of folks making the Web a better place to learn and play, and many thanks go out to Michael Barrish for his fine, fine coding of THE ART BUREAU.

Skittle Love

I never liked Skittles. They’re basically just colored pieces of corn syrup in an ugly red bag.
But I love the new ads. This week, Slate posted an ad report card that dismissed this kind of advertising, lumping these with those for Burger King and Quiznos.
But the Skittles ones are different. Having just seen a few Dali movies at the Philadelphia Art Museum, I’ve come to re-value the visual absurdity and beauty that comes with odd juxtaposition, inexplicable events, and faked sexuality. Dali, in good and terrible ways, exploited our capacity to believe in the unbelievable. Un chien andalou it’s not but these Skittles ads at least attempt to question the bad sincerity of advertising reality.

Blogs, blogs

I’ve been writing to Deckchairs for about 1,000 years and now everywhere I look, blogs appear. It’s remarkable that weblogs, bloggers, blogs, blogging, war-blogging, etc. have taken on a life of their own and are not a component of the “Internet” or “Web design” or “Content Management.”
But blogs like Deckchairs are pretty old school. My intuition about blogging is that, as business blogs grow and more CEOs, personalities, and corporations use blogging on their sites, personal blogs will increasingly look small, petty, and possibly N/A. Everything technological today moves from the personal to the socio-political: cellular phones to ringtones, downloadable files to digital piracy, recycling to full-on green cars, pirate radio to podcasting and mixability.
A few mild moments in time to prove my point:
Business Week’s cover story is all about how blogs will change big business. I think they’re right. And one way I know they’re right is that because the online article is more interesting, comprehensive, and carefully formatted than the newstand edition, which looks like a bad Rolling Stone layout. In the online version, you can actually read the article, click to related links, and get a sense of the transition from the personal to the corporate. The magazine is also launching its own Blogspotting site.
A newish company called, sadly, Othx aims to pull personal weblogs into its fold. You can pay for being featured higher up in their search rankings and they act as a kind of oddly commercial warehouse for personality-driven blogs. Nice idea but you know that personal blogging is over when sites like this crop up. I signed up!
Yahoo has a new News interface that they’re trying out. It’s pretty great and one of the reasons is because it doesn’t look like a blog. It’s Amazon-like tabbed interface makes reading news easier and it will be a great tool once it’s fully RSS-enabled (which will be very soon) and corporatized.

A Lion

We took out of the Brooklyn library a newish book called If I Were a Lion, a children’s book by written by Sarah Weeks and illustrated by Heather M. Solomon. The book’s illustrations are incredible moving and beautifully rendered – a small child is shown imagining, during her time-out/punishment, that animals are inhabiting her home. The furious detail of the watercolors and gouache (I believe) by Ms. Solomon are full of incredible observation, passion, and knowledge of animal fur.
What always strikes me about such lusciously illustrated books is that the top billing goes to the writer. I don’t know if this is a historical remnant of the publishing world, an artifact of written culture, or is it a sign of some kind of half-hearted respect for the creators? The book is well written. But the illustrations are what make the book the book.
P.S. I believe that one of my favorite fonts, Emigre’s Filosofia, is used for the titling of the book on the cover. Specifically, it looks like Filosofia Small Caps.
P.P.S. Nope – just checked. It’s not.

Smoke Signals

I question whether I should even post something on the subject, but it does strike me as slightly odd that Catholic officials chose Joseph Ratzinger to be Pope. The man does seem singularly acceptable to the old church but I can’t imagine that it’s going to help the foundation of the faith expand in places like Latin America and Africa, where there actually are church-goers (as compared to say, much of Germany, where Mr. Ratzinger hails).
Further, while Jewish newspapers like Haaretz seem to support the choice, his membership in Hitler Youth feels strange. According to a number of articles, Mr. Ratzinger has a very positive view of and has committed himself to contemporary Jews, Judaism, and Jewish religiosity. And it’s true that almost any young boy during Hitler’s reign was inducted into the youth movement.
Still, still, why did the Church take on a German cardinal when Germany is no longer a model Catholic country? And while hiring a senior citizen as Pope keeps the tenure short, why not make a statement about the Church’s longevity with someone with longevity? And what’s with the name Benedict? Odd, odd, odder still.


Well, it’s official, Adobe bought Macromedia. I had heard rumors about it but now that it’s come to light – and it all makes some sense – I find it sad that competition is again being erased. There are many, many good, small design software shops out there but none of them will have the baby teeth to take on a behemoth like this new company.
So what? Adobe has done a good job of providing quality software over the past three years.
What does the design software community really need?
Here’s my wishlist:

  • A stronger commitment to Web standards and Web standardization which would include promotion of accesssibility, good coding, and good usability.
  • The ability to better customize software. Mozilla is of course leading the way with themes, extensions, and plug-ins. Photoshop and Dreamweaver have had extensibility for years but the barrier of entry is pretty of high.
  • Less bloat. Software should have fewer bells and whistles when installed and the possibility of turning them on and off as needed.

The Art Bureau Opens

I’m proud to announce that The Art Bureau was (soft) launched on Saturday, April 9, 2005. We’ve been getting some traffic and a bit of buzz here and there but mostly, it’s been a total joy to see this site come up from nothing.
In case you’re interested, here’s the scoop: In 2004, photographer Jennifer Fiore and I determined that what the world really needs is a unique royalty-free collection of stock photography. We were so exhausted at looking at the same ads, bookcovers, trade mags, and websites which use stock images of a boy in horn-rim glasses smiling into a telephone or a busy mother cooking while holding her child or beach sunsets with too-large suns, etc. So we put our skills together, worked with a great programmer and coder, and built (the first) Web standards based royalty free online stock agency.
I’ll spare you the rest but if you think your work would fit at The Art Bureau, please let us know. Oh, and if you have any problems, comments, or recommendations for the site, please let us know that, too.

Small is Good

For the second time in two years, I had to have my 20-inch Apple Monitor in for repair. It doesn’t actually bother me that much. The thing is basically on all of the time and the technology of LCDs is pretty new and, afterall, the thing’s a workhorse. (I’m always surprised when obsolescently-designed machines actually perform better than my withering expectations.)
What I found interesting was that I actually like working on a “little” 17-inch LCD monitor, my backup. It’s small, square, and stable and it’s a bit brighter, somehow, than the larger beast (now sitting on its side in some DHL depot between here and Florida). Sure, the visual real estate isn’t there and I can’t have four applications open at the same time. But I’m enjoying the new, clean desktop, the solidity of one window per application, and the confinement of focus that this visual reprieve has brought to my table.

West Winging

Last night I tuned into The West Wing, a fictional tele-communication that, for the past few (Republican) years, shows what it might be like if a smart, hard-nosed Democrat ran the Oval Office and the Oval Nation. It’s a pretty enjoyable show and it has its flaws but overall, it’s a wonderful fantasy.
Others have written about The West Wing, but I keep thinking that the Hollywood television industry has been out to lunch since 2000. In the show last night, which was the season finale, it depicted the inimitable Jimmy Smits (as Matthew Santos) announcing his candidacy and winning the Democratic nomination. I was excited to watch him pronounce, at the convention, his allegiance to democracy with a small “d,” to Democrats with a large “D,” and to veracity, leadership, and popular honor. It was a slightly impressive little speech he gave, better than any Kerry had given in retrospect, perhaps, and it made me want to vote.
The U.S. one day will look to a candidate like Santos, but it’s a long ways away right now. Santos is too good-hearted, too clean, too minority, too composed, too smart, too strong, and too good-looking for 2005 or 2006. He is the other-Bush, the one who probably should be in office and who would be in office of Hollywood writers had their say.
For me, the questions mount: Is this just wishful thinking on the part of Hollywood? Is this entertainment a fantasy based on our collective real desires? Is The West Wing literally out on a wing or does it reflect a secondary reality that liberals inhabit on their better days? Will there one day be a minority candidate? Most importantly, when does the new season begin?


Last week I saw the Basquiat show at the fine new Brooklyn Museum of Art in Brooklyn, New York. Man, it was a good show.
I haven’t painted in probably five years. I’m not proud of it, nor am I somehow self-satisfied that “design” or the “Web” or “bloggin” is more than the sum of the many parts of “art.” (Nor do I think that words in “quotation marks” is helpful in explaining personal presumptions but I’ve deployed them here nonetheless.) I’m not one of those folks who (always) thinks that design has now reached the critical point of inflection in its gamesmanship with contemporary art and won. And I don’t think that the making and exhibiting of art is only for the spiritually bereft wealthy among us. Finally, I’m definitley not one of those Web designers who refuse to go to Chelsea for lack of interest in aesthetic questioning and critical thinking.
The plain fact is that I’m swamped between work and family and art has been squeezed out. Probably for the better, for my sake.
Anyway, this is not about me. Or, rather it’s about my training as a painter back in college in the mid- and late 1980s when many people were set on fire (myself included) by the incredible volume of really interesting paintings being made by folks in and around New York City. As a student, I and many others ate the paint and the glossy magazines that depicted the art of the time and I actively fantasized (out loud no less) about becoming a master painter like Mr. Schnabel, Mr. Salle, Mr. Baecheler, or even Mr. Clemente . I did admire and enjoy a good Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, but these always seemed like playboy paintings for the heroin set. I knew Basquiat developed great iconography (the crowns, the skulls) and good handwriting (the scrawl and fine print on his drawings) and that he was some kind of buddy of Andy Warhol.
But what I only learned last week was that Basquiat was the true genius of the 1980s painter set. Granted, the notion of genius is fraught and was proven so by too many books in the 1980s. But he was. Basquiat was a phenomenally talented painter. In almost any modern painting I see, from a Pollock to a Currin, it’s obvious to find how the painter went wrong — where the left turn should have been right and where the top stroke should have been stronger. Not with Basquiat. I may be too far removed from the production of art but my eye is still pretty sharp: every single painting at the show at the BMA was of perfection. Not a single element felt wrong, not a single element out of place. For all of their criticality and questioning and personaliztion of popular iconography, Basquiat had a hand that could do no wrong before the canvas. I am endlessly impressed with his unforced strength of hand matched with his intense care for line and space and his ability to make disparate motions and movements cohere and coalesce. Formally, Basquiat did no wrong. I’m disappointed that I didn’t know him (or that) better in the 1980s.