Reflections on a year of this

Happy birthday to me

Hey, there,

So, I had the idea for this thing a year ago; it was my 45th birthday, and Rebecca and I were out for breakfast at Modern Times Cafe in south Minneapolis, and out of nowhere I had the idea that it’d be fun to start an art newsletter. That’s also when, after 45 years of it being true, that I realized that art literally is my middle name.

I was stoked about it from the beginning! It’s been really fun! And then, of course, it’s been a motherfucker of a year, in four or five different ways. There were stretches where I was so hyper-full of ideas that I had to force myself to keep these to one newsletter a week. And then there were stretches where the year and events had me drained so much that I had to dig pretty deep to make sure I met my “at least once a month” pledge.

Anyway, I’m glad to have done it, and I’m looking forward to keeping up with it. It’s been awesome seeing the subscriber list grow, and hearing from people who’ve had something to say about something they read (for real: if you ever have a thought, I’d love to hear it!). And one thing about that growth: as people have hopped on board, I think raw math means that some people must have missed some of the earlier installments that were pretty good.

So, as a secondary birthday gift to myself and kind of a fun end-of-Year-One wrapup, I thought I’d cobble together a list of a few of my favorites from the past year, in case you didn’t see them or felt like going back. Here they are, and again: thanks!

One of my favorites: How Do We Know that Franklin’s Black?, my look at how comics use visual cues to convey race and ethnicity, and some of the cultural currents buried in this. I was nervous about this one, but wound up being really happy with the way it came together.

I love to talk about Minneapolis, and I love to talk about music, so the one where I looked at the way the people of Minneapolis have memorialized Prince around the city is a natural fave. That one was also fun because people were great about letting me know about Prince street art they’d come across.

I wasn’t able to be the Heroic Man Who Cracked the Mystery of Dogs Playing Poker, because there was no mystery, but I had a lot of fun tracking down the story behind the painting(s) we all know and love, complete with a Twin Cities connection.

I liked my look at the industrial design of the electric guitar (and how it’s a shining example of Midcentury Modernism) so much that I gave a lecture version of it during a job interview. I didn’t get the job, but I did get to show them a funny picture of Neil Young.

In grad school, they would never have let me get away with my crackpot theory of the three phases of cultural movements, but this isn’t grad school, so I let myself get away with it. It’s a little more grad-school-acceptable to talk about famous artists like Jacques-Louis David, although I went in pretty hard on talking about how much he sucks. I was also closer to a traditional-academic vein when I talked about the work of Alphonse Mucha, except for my intense (and correct!) focus on what a horndog he was.

The last one I’ll highlight was my fascination with East German punks; the book that inspired that newsletter was the best thing I read this year, and I’m sorry that I won’t shut up about it. But it was great, and I really liked the newsletter issue it inspired.

There were others that I liked (I mean, really, I like ‘em all!), but I’ll cut myself off here. If you’re interested, I try to keep an index of newsletter issues up at my main website; so you could always go browse over there. Or just poke through it all here on Substack, if that’s more your speed.

Anyway. Thanks again for reading, and I promise there’ll be more good stuff coming your way in 2021, in a better world all around.

Right on. Stay safe!


OK, so here at the bottom, sorry for the ragged copy editing; my deal with myself was to keep this fast and loose, which is gonna mean typos. On the other hand, that also means it’ll actually come out, instead of being obsessed over.

If you have any thoughts/reactions/what have you about this, I’d love to hear about it, either by email or on Twitter. And if you know anybody who might dig this, please forward it on to them, or send ‘em the signup link! And thanks!