Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Critical cartoon

What does being a critic entail? It's a question that critics ask themselves often, yet its answer is hard to pin down—even for review-writing wordsmiths. One might look to philosophical texts to answer these kinds of soul-searching questions, but sometimes a random source provides surprising insight. In the 2007 Pixar film Ratatouille, the film's character Anton Ego (a dour food columnist) offers a short and sweet answer to our complex query:

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new."

A true critic (a non-digital one) couldn't have said it better.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Virtues of a virtual Thanksgiving

This week marked a watershed moment in my family tradition: My parents, who retired in Maine, will be coming to my sister's apartment in New York City for Thanksgiving dinner. And while it's true that my sister and I will be holiday hosts for the very first time, that's not why this holiday feels so progressive (we would have held one sooner, had either one of us a decently sized apartment). No, the biggest difference is not how we got to the table (me, via regular public transport; my parents, the same old Camry), but rather how the food ended up there.

Without the cache of cookbooks we had in Maine, my sister and I made do with what was at our disposal—namely, the great, vast The squash recipe, the turkey-baking how-to and the prize-winning pie instructions were all found by typing a mere three keywords. After a few more recipe searches ("sweet potato,"—check; "gravy"—check), we printed a stack of web recipes, and were set to shop. But the thought of waiting on a megaline at the cavernous Lower East Side Whole Foods, then lugging bags home to a fourth-floor walkup was terribly unappealing. So again, we ventured online and filled our wish list on FreshDirect, and had the food delivered straight to her door. The whole affair was not very ceremonious (and admittedly kinda lazy), but irresistibly convenient nonetheless.

On Thursday, our family will bake, watch some TV, gorge on an early turkey dinner, and subsequently slip into a tryptophan coma—just like last year, and like we'll undoubtedly do next. But for future holidays, particularly those in NYC, it's unlikely that we'll sift through recipe books (which are all in New England) or wait in line for a frozen bird like in days of yore. We only upgraded a few steps along the way, yet our Thanksgiving feast has been redesigned—possibly irrevocably—for the digital age.

Friday, November 9, 2007

D-Crit intelligence infiltrates KGB (the bar)

On Thursday, Nov 29 from 7–9 p.m., D-Crit devotees will gather at the leftist-leaning, Lower East Side watering hole KGB Bar (87 East 4th Street, for the first in a series of readings by design critics, writers and schemers. From within the covert, red-toned recesses of KGB's lounge, culture writer David Womak, conceptual artist Elizabeth Demaray and Metropolis columnist Karrie Jacobs divulge their thoughts on the concept of home. In keeping with the socialist spirit, all are invited to attend.

Speakers' profiles:

David Womack is a writer, editor and consultant who contributes articles on design, technology, and culture to publications including I.D. magazine,, The Guardian newspaper (UK) and Cabinet magazine. He is the editor of Adobe’s Think Tank, a series of in-depth articles that examines the relationship between design and technology. He was director of new media at AIGA from 2000 to 2004 and served as executive editor of GAIN: AIGA Journal of Business and Design, and managing editor of VOICE: AIGA Journal of Design. David has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Virginia.

Elizabeth Demaray’s conceptual sculptures explore ways in which thought is mediated by basic psychological needs, such as care, control, taxonomy and love. Her recent projects have focused on domesticating the great outdoors by knitting sweaters for plants, upholstering stones and manufacturing alternative forms of housing for hermit crabs out of plastic. As an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, Demaray studied cognitive psychology and neuroscience before receiving her MFA at UC Berkeley’s Department of Art. She has exhibited at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, The M.H DeYoung Memorial Museum, San Francisco, The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT, and Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, among other institutions.

Karrie Jacobs is contributing editor at Metropolis magazine where she writes a monthly column, “America,” about how ideas and strategies in architecture and design play out on the landscape, and is a regular contributor to Travel + Leisure, where she writes about destinations of interest to the architectural tourist. She is author of The Perfect $100,000 House: A Trip Across America and Back in Pursuit of a Place to Call Home (Viking, 2006), a book about housing in America. Between 1999 and 2002 Karrie was the founding editor in chief of Dwell, a San Francisco-based magazine about modern residential architecture and design. Prior to launching Dwell, Karrie served as the architecture critic of New York Magazine, and she has written about design, technology, and visual language for many periodicals including The New York Times, I.D., and Fortune. And in the early 1990s, Jacobs was the founding executive editor of Benetton’s Colors magazine.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Front-page muse

Last week, New York magazine rolled out a special design issue, spotlighting nine revolutionaries who, according David Colman in the feature’s introduction, “changed—and are still changing—the way we look at our world.” Catering to a Manhattan-centric readership, the magazine’s pantheon includes only NYC-based designers: glossy-mag guru Fabian Baron, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, (an Upper East Sider for more than three years now), multitalented duo Massimo and Lella Vignelli, ceramic maven Eva Zeisel and one-woman omnimedia company Martha Stewart among them. Sure, these individuals can be labeled as “New Yorkers,” but their ubiquitous designs (Calvin Klein ads, sleek ceramics, Bloomingdale's signs or no-lint Kmart towels) can't be pinned to a home town. With such a wide sphere of influence, isn't it funny to think that all of these designers might share one pithy area code?