Monthly Archives: September 2011


Joan Miro, "The Lightning Bird Blinded by Moonfire" -- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid

Part of the experience of visiting an art museum is squinting at those little plaques beside the artworks.  As you know, they have a lot of information in tiny type:  The artist’s name, when the work was done, what materials were used, and so on.  It also includes the title of the work, which can often be helpful.

Oh, if you’re looking at a painting of a baby in a stable you can probably guess the subject matter without looking at the title, but if you’re looking at a group of men wearing tights, it’s reasonable to wonder who the heck they are.

Let’s say the plaque informs you that the title of this Velázquez painting  is “The Surrender of Breda”.  Unless your major was Spanish History, you may still wonder what you’re looking at, but at least you have a hint.  It’s possible to surmise what the artist was intending to convey;  how we, as viewers, are encouraged to see it.

To put it another way, there’s a reason that Velázquez titled one of his other paintings “Philip IV on Horseback” and not “Paco the Horse with Some Guy Riding Him”.  It’s primarily about the king, not his transportation.

What I’m suggesting is that the title of a painting or sculpture can provide clues to what the artist was hoping to communicate, and it’s my view that art is — or should be — a way of expressing thoughts and emotions and experiences, a means of inviting the viewer to share the artist’s insight.

That may have been easier to do when painting was representational.  As noted before, in religious scenes or portraits of royalty, visual cues were supplied.  In the era of abstract art, however, it’s more difficult to know what’s on the artist’s mind.  That’s why it annoys me when the little plaque next to a canvas or sculpture says “Untitled”.

Painters like Picasso and Miró, who were pioneers in the new style of art, still gave us titles.  Some of them were doozies, too — Miró called one of his “The Lightning Bird Blinded by Moonfire” (see above).  You’re not likely to look at it for five seconds and say, “Oh, sure, I get that,” but it at least gives you a point of departure.

Let’s face it — an artist who calls a work “Untitled” is just being lazy.  I’m aware of the argument that by not naming a piece, the artist is allowing the viewer the freedom to interpret it any way he or she wants.  To which I say, “C’mon, artist, you must have been thinking about something  while you were creating it.  What was on your mind?”

Perhaps there are artists, though, who simply have trouble thinking up titles.  That’s why I’ve come up with the following suggestions, which are available to any painter or sculptor who is stuck for a title.  Help yourself; these are free of charge, and just might express what you were hoping to communicate during the act of creation:

Flow Chart of the Entire Universe

Ex-Girlfriend with Mustache and Blacked-out Tooth (a.k.a. “That Bitch”)

If Smoke and Shadows Were Orange

Stuff I Found in the Trunk of My Car

First Attempt at Homemade Tattoo

Victory March of Trapezoids Down Michigan Avenue

A Dream — Or Was It?

PTA President Thanks Cafeteria Workers, 1957

Squiggly Lines, Part Four

Grandma Calls Them Her “Girls”

Gone Again

Don’t think for a moment that I’m just off having fun somewhere.  No, I’m currently doing research for a future blog post.  Without divulging my exact location, let’s just say that as you read this, I am probably pleading with a hotel desk clerk who can find no record of our reservation.  And I may not be doing that in English.

I’ll get back to my word-arranging duties soon, so you can expect to see new posts in a couple of weeks.  While you’re waiting, though, feel free to have a look around; check out posts you may have missed.

Since the inception of Tom Reeder’s Blog in 2009, the most popular post has been “Blondin’s Question” (1/14/09), about the French daredevil who crossed Niagara Falls several times on a tightrope.  Others that have had a lot of views include “Fake Beer” (10/1/09), “Artistic License” (12/17/09) and “The Circle of Willis” (2/4/11).

On the other hand, if you’d like to visit posts that are feeling neglected because they didn’t get a lot of attention, there is “Look, You Can See Our Farm From Up Here” (8/17/10), which deals with the invention of the Ferris Wheel, or “Food Is Bad For You” (6/27/11).

Feel free to hang out as long as you want, and stop by again soon!

September 10, 2001

Lower Manhattan Before 9/11 (photo by Sally Reeder)

It’s impossible to forget where we were and what we were feeling the day the planes hit.  On the other hand, the day before is now a hazy memory — what were the topics that occupied our attention then?  Here are a few of the things that seemed important to us until that terrible morning when everything changed…

     • The political career of Representative Gary Condit was slowly evaporating.  There were allegations that he had been involved in an extramarital affair with a young intern named Chandra Levy, who was missing.  Rumors and gossip linked Condit to her disappearance.  He was eventually exonerated, but by then had lost his congressional seat.

     •  The #1 movie on 9/10/01 was “The Musketeer”; “Rush Hour 2” and “American Pie 2” were still going strong at the box office.

     •  The National Transportation Safety Board announced its preliminary findings in the plane crash that killed 22-year-old singer Aaliyah.  The plane, they said, had been “significantly overloaded”.

     •  A headline in the New York Times September 10th issue read “Fear of Recession Ignites Discussion of Tax Cuts”.  Among other things, the article stated that “For the administration and Congress, the question is how to reconcile their growing interest in tax cuts or spending increases — the traditional responses to a flagging economy — with their pledge not to touch the portion of the budget surplus generated by Social Security.”

    •  The Los Angeles Times had coverage of a 4.2 earthquake that hit around 5 p.m. on September 9th, causing panic at the Beverly Center, an upscale shopping mall.

     •  News media were reporting the exploits of baseball slugger Barry Bonds, who had clubbed three home runs on 9/9, on his way to a record 73 that season.  The ones he hit against the Colorado Rockies were homers #61, 62 and 63.

     •  Just before dawn on September 9th, an abandoned newborn was found in New York’s Central Park, with umbilical cord and placenta still attached.

     •  The Emmy Awards were scheduled for the following Sunday, September 16th.  The nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series were Will & Grace, Malcolm in the Middle, Sex and the City, Everybody Loves Raymond and Frasier.

That event was among the reasons that our friends Lynn and David Angell were headed back to Los Angeles from Cape Cod:  David was co-creator and executive producer of Frasier.  We had known each other for a long time — we met when Lynn was the librarian at the school our kids attended, and Dave got dragged along to school-related activities.  Later he and I were colleagues, but mainly we were friends.

On September 11, the Angells were aboard American Airlines flight 11.  By the time we found an email Lynn had sent to Sally very late the night before, their lives had already ended at the World Trade Center.

Because she had such affection for children, I think it would have pleased Lynn (and Dave, too) to know that the baby abandoned in Central Park survived her ordeal.  Her name is Molly, and she’ll be celebrating her 10th birthday this month.

The Mendoza Line

In baseball, the difference between a .300 batting average and a .200 batting average is one hit every ten at-bats.  The difference between .300 and .200 is also the difference between a multimillion-dollar contract and unemployment.  The low end of the scale — a .200 batting average — has come to be known as The Mendoza Line.

Mario Mendoza was a slick-fielding shortstop; his defensive skills were so good, in fact, that in his native Mexico he was known as Manos de Seda (Silk Hands).  He joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1974 and was used primarily as a late-inning replacement for Frank Taveras, who was a better hitter, but whose hands invited comparison to madera (wood) or hierro (iron).

Since Mendoza didn’t get to the plate very often, it’s understandable that he didn’t hit very well.  With limited ABs, his batting average in 1975 was .180; it was .185 the year after that, and “surged” to .198 in 1977.

He was traded to Seattle before the 1979 season, and it was during his time with the Mariners that Mario Mendoza’s name became permanently associated with mediocre hitting.

At the beginning of the 1980 season, Kansas City’s George Brett was off to an uncharacteristically miserable start.  To give you an idea, on April 22 Brett was batting .209.  A couple of Mendoza’s teammates, Bruce Bochte and Tom Paciorek, apparently were taunting Brett that he was going to fall below the Mendoza Line — meaning that Brett’s name would appear below Mendoza’s when newspapers listed all players’ batting averages.  (Bruce Bochte, by the way, is not the same person as Bruce Bochy, the current manager of the San Francisco Giants.)

There are slightly different versions of what happened next, but one way or another, that expression got from George Brett to Chris Berman of ESPN.  Berman used it on the air frequently, and The Mendoza Line got absorbed into baseball lingo.

No one seems to want to take credit for the term; Paciorek says it was Bochte’s idea, Berman says he got it from Brett, and so on.  They all say it was a joke, but Mario Mendoza didn’t find it very funny.  Over 30 years later, he’s still a little touchy about it.

Brett, as you may recall, rebounded from his bad start and wound up hitting a spectacular .390 in 1980, while Mendoza’s average was a semi-respectable .245 that year.

He was traded to the Texas Rangers in 1981, and was released by them in June of 1982.  Mendoza’s career batting average was not .200, as most baseball fans assume; it was actually .215.

In case you’re wondering about the guys who were involved in coining “The Mendoza Line”, Brett’s lifetime average was .305, part of the reason he’s in baseball’s Hall of Fame.  Tom Paciorek’s career average was .282, and strangely enough, so was Bruce Bochte’s.  As far as I know, Chris Berman does not refer to a .282 average as either The Paciorek Line or The Bochte Line.  (Bruce Bochy, who had nothing to do with any of this, had a career average of .239.)