Monday, June 25, 2007

Five New Sights & Thoughts

Writing a decent essay is exhausting. I outline it, hammer out a first draft, shuffle its paragraphs, edit it, reduce it back to an outline, completely restructure it. I read it front to back and back to front, and then do line editing until I'm cross-eyed, trying to ensure that the words do indeed say exactly what I want to say, clearly and in the proper sequence. By the time all that's done, I've read the thrice-accursed (that's an Aeschylean adjective) essay at least two dozen times. It has all the appeal of a month-old piece of bread. How can I possibly look at it yet again?

In an effort to regain my energy for editing, I gave myself a visual rather than verbal assignment. On the 4 blocks from the library to the subway (which I've walked hundreds of times), could I find 5 things to photograph that I hadn't ever noticed before? Could I think 5 thoughts about them that I hadn't thought before? For an art critic/historian this is good exercise. It makes me observe what's around me, rather than focusing on what's ricocheting about in my head. Here are the results.

East 79th St., between Park and Lexington. Love the cobalt blue glass.

Hanging gardens of Park Ave., southeast corner of 79th St.

Cartouche bearing a house number on East 78th St. (ca. 1900?). Love the grillwork and the proportions.

One of a row of 5 oil lamps (Aladdin's lamps?), just above the first floor of 132 East 78th St. Charming, but ... why? The AIA Guide to NYC does not explain.

A couple weeks ago, architectural historian Matt Postal (who lectures for the Municipal Art Society, and is currently giving a 10- or 12-lecture course on the history of the skyscraper in NYC) pointed out that the "Chippendale" top of Philip Johnson's AT&T Building on Madison Avenue made it acceptable to include historical references on buildings again, after decades of glass boxes. The architects of the two buildings here obviously embraced Post-Modernism: this one has a vaguely gothic top, and the following one is reminiscent of a turreted castle. I've probably walked past both at ground level (3rd Avenue in the 70s?) and thought they were perfectly normal and boring.

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