In 1961, Henri Matisse’s painting Le Bateau was accidentally hung upside down in New York’s Museum of Modern Art for 47 days. 116,000 visitors had passed through the gallery before the mistake was discovered.
Critics pan great art:
- Moby Dick: “Raving and rhapsodizing in chapter after chapter … sheer moonstruck lunacy.” (London Morning Chronicle)
- Rigoletto: “The weakest work of Verdi. It lacks melody. This opera has hardly any chance of being kept in the repertoire.” (La Gazette Musicale de Paris)
- Cezanne’s paintings: “He chooses to daub paint on a canvas and spread it around with a comb or a toothbrush. This process produces landscapes, marines, still lifes, portraits … if he is lucky. The procedure somewhat recalls the designs that schoolchildren make by squeezing the heads of flies between the folds of a sheet of paper.” (Le Petit Parisien)
- Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1: “The concerto will never be played by anyone on earth. … Prokofiev wouldn’t grant an encore. The Russian heart may be a dark place, but its capacity for mercy is infinite.” (The New York Times)
- Buster Keaton’s The General: “A mixture of cast iron and jelly.” (The New York Times)
- Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo: “Pursues its theme of false identity with such plodding persistence that by the time the climactic cat is let out of the bag, the audience has long since had kittens.” (Saturday Review)
Henry Fielding wrote, “Now, in reality, the world have paid too great a compliment to critics, and have imagined them to be men of much greater profundity then they really are.”
Firefighter John McColgan “just happened to be in the right place at the right time” to take this photo on Aug. 6, 2000, while fighting a 100,000-acre blaze in Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest.
He was standing on a bridge over the East Fork of the Bitterroot River, and shot the photo with a Kodak DC280 digital camera.
The elk were gathering at the river, he says. “They know where to go, where their safe zones are. A lot of wildlife did get driven down there to the river. There were some bighorn sheep there. A small deer was standing right underneath me, under the bridge.”
“Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive.” — Moliere
From Edward Lear’s “Nonsense Botany” (1871):
Goya’s La Maja Desnuda and La Maja Vestida. In 19th-century Europe, it was common to have two paintings of the same subject, swapping them out depending on who’d be visiting. Still, the Inquisition confiscated both of these as obscene.
Said the Duchess of Alba to Goya,
“Do some pictures to hang in my foyer”;
So he painted her twice —
In the nude to look nice,
And then in her clothes to annoy ‘er.
— Cyril Bibby
Imaginary pictures “cataloged” in Thomas Browne’s Musaeum Clausum of 1684:
- “A Moon Piece, describing that notable Battel between Axalla, General of Tamerlane, and Camares the Persian, fought by the light of the Moon.”
- “A Snow Piece, of Land and Trees covered with Snow and Ice, and Mountains of Ice floating in the Sea, with Bears, Seals, Foxes, and variety of rare Fowls upon them.”
- “Pieces and Draughts in Caricatura, of Princes, Cardinals and famous men; wherein, among others, the Painter hath singularly hit the signatures of a Lion and a Fox in the face of Pope Leo the Tenth.”
- “Some Pieces A la ventura, or Rare Chance Pieces, either drawn at random, and happening to be like some person, or drawn for some and happening to be more like another; while the Face, mistaken by the Painter, proves a tolerable Picture of one he never saw.”
Borges wrote, “To write vast books is a laborious nonsense, much better is to offer a summary as if those books actually existed.”
William Topaz McGonagall is renowned as the worst poet in the English language. Sample:
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
He didn’t even get the facts right here — 75 died.
In the opening to his Poetic Gems, McGonagall wrote, “The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet.” Millions agreed. Stephen Pile, in The Book of Heroic Failures, calls him “so giftedly bad he backed unwittingly into genius”; his temperance speeches were wildly popular with “poet-baiters” in Dundee, who pelted him with eggs and vegetables, and he was allowed to play Macbeth only if he paid in advance.
When Tennyson died, McGonagall visited Balmoral to ask if he might become poet laureate. He was told the queen was not at home.
Steven Wright used to say, “I’ve been doing a lot of abstract painting lately, extremely abstract. No brush, no paint, no canvas. I just think about it.”
With Mr. Picassohead you can make a Cubist portrait in about 60 seconds. I spent a little longer on this one, pretending to get the composition right, but it’s hard to go wrong with drag-and-drop noses.
Even simpler is the Mondrian Machine — even a dead guy could produce a neoplasticist masterwork if you clicked the mouse for him.
I suppose the masters wouldn’t approve of these pushbutton knockoffs; Picasso seemed to take a dim view of technology in general. “Computers are useless,” he once said. “They can only give you answers.”
Ambigrams are word renderings that can be read both right-side up and upside down (or, sometimes, in a mirror). They’re hard to do convincingly, though some designers are pretty good at it. The one above was actually generated by a computer: Word.Net’s Ambigram.Matic. It’s not as elegant as the others, but I’m surprised that a machine can do this at all.