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There are few more cheerful sights, when the evenings are long, and the weather dull, than a handsome, well-lighted billiard room, with the smooth, green surface of the billiard table; the ivory balls flying noiselessly here and there, or clicking musically together. — Charles Dickens Jr., (1889)
CAUSE AND EFFECT
In David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he includes a section on the connection between cause and effect. He draws examples such as one billiard ball moving and striking another, then the second ball moving. Hume goes to some length to convince us that we have absolutely no idea of why one event would cause another. All we have, he says, is a sequence of events that customarily follow each other over repeated experiences.
We only find that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse of one billiard-ball is attended with motion in the second. This is the whole that appears to the outward senses. The mind feels no sentiment or inward impression from this succession of objects: Consequently, there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion.
Hume mentions many times in this section that we have no idea of how a cause can be connected to an effect. How does heat come about from a flame? How are our limbs moved by our will? When a string vibrates and we hear a sound, we cannot know why we hear a sound, but merely that one customarily follows the other. Indeed, “even in the most familiar events, the energy of the cause is as unintelligible as in the most unusual, and that we only learn by experience the frequent Conjunction of objects, without being ever able to comprehend anything like Connection between them.”
Hume was very insightful to make this observation. However, he confuses how we learn the connection with whether or not we can investigate it and prove that the cause generates the effect. Yes, we typically learn cause and effect from repeated observation. However, it is not true that the most common effects are as much a mystery as the most unusual and mysterious ones. When we encounter an effect, it may take us a while to learn why the cause generates it. Indeed, in the case of the human mind and will, we may never fully understand all aspects of the cause. But it is not the case that all cause and effect relationships are this way.
In his billiard ball example, we can understand and explain the physics of objects and motion. Newton helped us demonstrate that objects with mass, when in motion, must expend that energy when striking another object. We know why the second ball moves because we know the laws of physics involved in objects in motion. Concluding that the second ball will move is not a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.
In Hume’s logic, we would have to lump such things as roosters crowing before the sun rises with billiard balls striking each other. Even if we do not understand a particular cause, it is not the case, as Hume explains, that “We have no idea of the connexion, nor even any distinct notion what it is we desire to know, where we endeavor at a conception of it.”
Sure, Hume is correct that when we see an object for the first time and are ignorant of its properties, we are not able to predict what it will do. And he is also correct that we need repeated observations to first learn the connection between the cause and effect that we observe. But once we do, then we are confident about how billiard balls and violin strings cause things because we know how they work. It is not the case that we forever assume the effect follows the cause merely because one customarily follows the other.
I am reminded of a very old TV show called The Beverly Hillbillies. In the show, a hillbilly family who has never seen modern life is transplanted to a mansion in Beverly Hills. One of the running gags is that when the doorbell rings, the family does not connect the sound of music coming from the walls with the fact that someone pushed the front doorbell button. They merely say that whenever that music comes from the walls, soon after someone always knocks at the door. Hume would have us forever stuck in the Beverly Hillbillies show, never realizing how the doorbell works. However, once we repeatedly observe the effect, we can understand how the mechanism works, and we do indeed know how the cause generates the effect.
What timing. Robert Indiana’s death (at the ripe age of eighty-nine) occurred barely a month before this summer’s retrospective of the artist opened at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. A blizzard of obituaries have appeared across national and international media, most inevitably focusing on one artwork: LOVE, commissioned as a Christmas card by the Museum of Modern Art in 1965, and then growing into its own industry, with paintings, sculptures, postage stamps, and more. In Milan, the sculpture says amor; in Jerusalem it is in Hebrew. LOVE sculptures can be found on the streets of Bilbao, Tokyo, Taipei, Jakarta, Mumbai, and Bogota.
Indiana made his mark in the New York art world well before LOVE, as one of the top artists of the burgeoning Pop movement. After attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on the G.I. Bill, Indiana moved to New York to start his career in 1954. He changed his name from Robert Clark to Robert Indiana, after his home state, and quickly became enmeshed in the scene, meeting such artists as Ellsworth Kelly, who was his partner for some years. By 1961, his work was well-known enough to be purchased by MoMA, and he was included in a show there with Claes Oldenberg and Ad Reinhardt. Like many of his peers, Indiana was intrigued by simple graphic images and words that had far-reaching significance: words like "eat" and "die," as well as stars, circles, and numbers. His first significant works feature stark canvases with solid blocks of color and stenciled letters and numbers, along with sculptures that the artist called "Herms." The Herms include stenciled letters, numbers, and symbols applied to pieces of found wood beams. With the Herms, Indiana seems to be inventing his own version of American folk art, employing highway signs, roulette wheels, billiard balls, and five-pointed stars. In his early paintings, he often makes deliberate references to Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and Joseph Stella, looking to his American forebears rather than to European traditions.
“La Fortune” (After Man Ray)
Sherrie Levine’s “La Fortune” (After Man Ray) challenges the perception of the artist as a creative genius and the art work as a unique, handcrafted object. Levine’s sculpture refers to a late Surrealist painting by Man Ray, entitled La Fortune (1938), which includes a dreamlike juxtaposition of a billiard table, a mountain range, and brightly colored clouds. Levine transforms the two-dimensional images into six billiard tables that give physical form to the one depicted in Man Ray’s La Fortune. The pocketless tables are identical to Man Ray’s, even with regard to the unusual hourglass shaped legs and the placement of the balls. Through extracting and repeatedly duplicating Man Ray’s imagery, Levine questions the nature of originality in art, both in terms of the creative idea and in the production of the art object.
As with much of her work, there is an element of the uncanny. The balls are secured in place and the cue sticks are absent; there is no mechanism built into the sculpture for the game to be actually played. La Fortune (After Man Ray) is, ultimately, no more a billiard table than its painted source, both made in the spirit of René Magritte’s famous painting The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe), from 1929. The Magritte painting pictures a pipe accompanied by the words Ceci n’est pas une pipe—a seemingly contradictory but literally truthful statement that it is not a pipe we are seeing.
Using a wide range of media, Levine explicitly appropriates works from the male-dominated Western artistic canon, resulting in a practice that is part commentary on a wildly unbalanced history and part homage to artists who, gender aside, have inspired her. Levine’s visual thievery began in the early 1980s when she started taking black-and-white photographs of reproductions of photographs. Among these were her After Walker Evans pieces (1981), which are next to impossible to distinguish from the real thing. Levine re-photographs, abstracts or digitizes these images, making them “ghosts” of the original images. Levine’s rigorously conceptual and coolly aesthetic practice calls into question issues of authenticity, originality, and fair use. “I want to put a picture on top of a picture,” Levine says. “This makes for times when both disappear and other times when they’re both visible.” While her photographs most audaciously beg the question of how closely a work of art can approach another and still be a work of art, all of her creations extend the aura of their referents as they generate their own. Levine thus claims history as part of her history, insisting that the male artists she admires share the stage.
In this painting by Man Ray, from 1938, a billiard table stretches toward the horizon. Above it float rainbow-colored clouds. The imagery defies simple explanation—this is a landscape of the mind, a product of the artist’s vivid imagination. The title, La Fortune, suggests luck. Games of luck and chance often appear in Man Ray’s work. Like other Surrealist artists, he regarded the creative process much like a game, requiring creativity, intelligence, and a playful approach to problem-solving. Man Ray was an American artist who spent most of his life in Europe, where he was a leading figure in the European avant-garde. In 1940, just before the Nazi occupation, he left Paris. He arrived in the United States, part of an enormous influx of exiled artists, writers, and intellectuals. Their presence had a tremendous impact on American culture, and a deep and lasting effect on American art.
Newman's Own is a food company founded by actor Paul Newman and author A. E. Hotchner in 1982. The company donates 100% of its after-tax profits to the Newman's Own Foundation, a private nonprofit foundation which in turn supports various educational and charitable organizations. According to the company, it has donated over $550 million to charity since its inception.
The brand started in 1982 with a homemade salad dressing that Paul Newman and Hotchner prepared themselves and gave to friends as gifts. The successful reception of the salad dressing led Newman and Hotchner to commercialize it for sale, financing it with $20,000 each as seed money. Afterward, they also produced pasta sauce, frozen pizza, lemonade, fruit cocktail juices, popcorn, salsa, grape juice, and other products. Newman's Own Lemonade was introduced in 2004 and Newman's Own premium wines in 2008. Each label features a picture of Newman, dressed in a different costume to represent the product. The company incorporated humor into its label packaging, as in the label for its first salad dressing in 1982, "Fine Foods Since February."
In the United States pool and billiards had died out for a bit, but between 1878 and 1956 pool and billiards became very popular. Players in annual championships began to receive their own cigarette cards. This was mainly due to the fact that it was a popular pastime for troops to take their minds off from battle. However, by the end of World War II pool and billiards began to die down once again. It was not until 1961 when the film "The Hustler" came out that sparked a new interest in the game. Now the game is generally a well-known game and has many players of all different skill levels.
The Hustler is a 1961 American CinemaScope drama film directed by Robert Rossen from Walter Tevis's 1959 novel of the same name, adapted for the screen by Rossen and Sidney Carroll. It tells the story of small-time pool hustler "Fast” Eddie Felson and his desire to break into the "major league" of professional hustling and high-stakes wagering by high-rollers that follows it. He throws his raw talent and ambition up against the best player in the country, seeking to best the legendary pool player "Minnesota Fats". After initially losing to Fats and getting involved with unscrupulous manager Bert Gordon, Eddie returns to try again, but only after paying a terrible personal price.
The film was shot on location in New York City and stars Paul Newman as "Fast" Eddie Felson; Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats; Piper Laurie as Sarah; and George C. Scott as Bert. It was followed by The Color of Money in 1986, with Newman reprising his role. It begins more than 25 years after the events of the previous film, with Eddie retired from the pool circuit. Newman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, his first Oscar win after eight nominations, seven of them for Best Actor. The Scorsese directed film centered around the game of nine-ball, a pool variant played for high stakes. A challenge nine-ball match was named after it in 1997 at which Efren Reyes defeated Earl Strickland to win the largest single match purse in pool history of $100,000.
The Hustler was a major critical and popular success, gaining a reputation as a modern classic. Its exploration of winning, losing, and character garnered a number of major awards; it is also credited with helping to spark a resurgence in the popularity of pool. In 1997, the Library of Congress selected The Hustler for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The Academy Film Archive preserved The Hustler in 2003.