No, I have never been to Japan and I have never been overly interested in much of Japanese art, but I found an exception at the Japan Society on 47th St. in New York City the other day. Shibata Zeshin (1809-1891) was an artist as well as a lacquer specialist. As I have always appreciated the craft of art, Zeshin, I realized very quickly, was my man. His lacquer work is particularly beautiful, delicate and balanced with nuance and whimsy. His paintings exhibit similar understanding of composition and form. Furthermore, he developed ways of using lacquer on scrolls which demonstrated a dedication to material and a willingness to push his material beyond traditional scopes.

Art in today’s society has become a passport of cool of hipness, more about ideas than craft. While I understand the desire to separate from the group to celebrate one’s vision, I have to say that Zeshin was a man who understood what it was to be contemporary and still a 19th century Japanese artist.

You are what you eat. That is undeniable, but are you also what you listen to and read collaterally, like skimmed newspaper articles, advertisements in the background, muzak in the marketplace? This is a nuanced question given the mass of what we come in contact with on a daily basis. In the world of antiques, for example, the shelter magazines tout hot new ideas in almost every issue and this reportage most certainly has resonance in my business. The word for the last five to seven years is that modern is hot and sexy. Bullshit! Good design is hot and sexy and always will be.

The media craves and creates excitement. Is it any wonder that the election process produces sound bites instead of substance? Substance requires attention and concentration. Health care, education and infrastructure are boring subjects in depth and yet essential elements of our society. Going to war is sexy, particularly all those new bombs and missiles. But five years of war is not sexy. Maybe it is the sound bites, that information we have barely listened to, that has polluted our judgment? It is something to think about.

After spending half an hour on Youtube watching all manners of political commentary and their peanut galleries, left and right wing, I have to say the right to free speech seems overextended (boy. would this doom my candidacy if I was running for office). Of course, I don’t really mean that, but we are a nation that believes that incivility and profanity and personal insult is a recognized form of debate. I would not dare to question the intelligence of such people, but I might ask that they learn how to spell before they spew their screed. I might also suggest a few years in college to help elevate debating skills.

If this sounds elitist, it is only because it sounds that way. It isn’t that way, however. Discussion is not declamatory. Refutation is not put down. If your beliefs are credible, then articulate them. The rest is, well, not worth talking about.

I would love to see a controlled study group of, say, two hundred people given the words “antique dealer” to define. I can’t see many people being able to do so. I thought of this because of an article about a man in California who is being prosecuted for claiming to have won the Congressional Medal of Honor. There is a law that says you cannot claim any military honors without merit. This man is facing fines and jail time.

I sympathize with the intent of the law, but free speech is free speech. If I had won such an honor, I would be furious with people who claimed such valor and I’d probably want to punch them out. But that is not how our system works. Free speech allows you to say anything…., ANYTHING.

In the antiques world, there are people who are traders, those people who perhaps understand style and who may have a commercial instinct, and there are dealers. Dealers, in my opinion, should know their woods reasonably well, they should know style, they should know makers, they should know other examples of things similar to what they sell that are in museums and country houses, they should know good restorers/conservators…, the list goes on. Do I take dealing seriously? Yes, because words do matter.

There is so much resounding news that I almost don’t have time to think about antiques. New York’s own Shakespearean tragedy revealed itself almost giving hypocrisy a new standard for the record books. A crane fell which scares the hell out of everyone. (I have always felt nervous walking by–under that is–them.) Sexually transmitted diseases infect one in four teenage girls which reminds me never to believe George Bush about how abstinence is an effective prophylactic for teenagers???????? The Iraq war is entering its sixth year and I am tempted to take out citizenship and see if I can glom some American lucre because we are certainly running short of the stuff over here. Obama is getting slimed by association. Hillary knows what getting slimed is all about and perhaps she has even learned how to deliver the slime? And, oh, the financial sector is trying to prove their relevance by scaring the bejesus out of everyone. Did they goof or can this be blamed on some higher power? I would rather be on vacation, frankly.

Ambling along a street on the Upper East Side of New York City the other day, I saw a pile of discarded furniture with the signature mahogany stain of the Bombay Company. It was a fitting reminder to me of a conversation I had in the 1980’s with a man who was telling me that the Bombay price point was indisputably a better deal than antique furniture. It was so cheap!!!! The pile on the sidewalk bore out his observation.

The downside to companies like Bombay for me is that they emulate classic styles. It is the middle class dream to own things that appear to have some sophistication. I don’t disagree with this, but I have to say that quality also matters a great deal. That we will buy something because it is cheap is a contradiction in many different ways. Unfortunately, like a great many other things we do these days, we choose to turn a blind eye and accept half a loaf when the whole loaf will ultimately prove to be more worthwhile.

I wonder if this is a function of education or perhaps a lack of time to complete all that needs to be done. Who really wants to spend the time looking for a table that might require a budget stretch (I am not talking antiques here, I am referring to used furniture which can be found all over the place) but which will last over the convenience of buying something new for very little money? The catch of course is that cheap is cheap, there is no way of getting around that fact.

I believe it is education that makes us curious. As much as I would like to blame the current administration for this lack of education, I fear that it has become endemic to our way of life. Clever entrepreneurs, and make no mistake the Bombay Company was a very clever idea, want to prove to us that we can have the look for very little money when in fact what is required of us is time and curiosity. That pile of debris on 73rd St. is my case in point.