A – Z Guide: A

Courtesy of Tate

Attention Span

“Call me Ishmael…but first I have to call the captain, who just left a message for me on my cell….Wait, who’s that? Oh, it’s Captain A himself in an e-mail, telling me to get CNN on my smartphone for the latest weather conditions in the North Atlantic, which I will do in….just one second….as soon as I finish bidding on a new harpoon on eBay, click on this Web site to reserve a table for 12 at that great new restaurant in Tahiti, and answer this frantic text from Pip, who apparently has been thrown overboard.” If Herman Melville had lived in our moment of whizzing technologies, his fictional crew never would have made it out of the harbor.

In any other age, our incredibly shrinking attention spans might have been the subject of congressional committees and university seminars, but nowadays no one can focus long enough on the crisis of attention to address it. And it is a crisis. William James once said that if for a single second we could be conscious of everything around us, our brains would explode. Our brains are about to explode. Streams of news 24/7, captions of news running beneath news commentary, calls interrupted by text messages that keep us from our e-mail that draws our attention from the car’s navigation system that interferes with our attempt to steer and google at the same time….Sorry, I’m so busy watching an episode of Lost on my iPhone that I forgot the point I was making.

Oh yes, attention span. It’s getting harder to concentrate on anything. It’s hard to finish a book, hard to sit through an opera, hard to read the newspaper front to back, hard to write in complete sentences—OMG!—hard (admit it) not to mentally wander during sex. Our destiny seems to be in the hands of gadgets sewn into the palms of our hands. And our lives are now mediated through two-dimensional screens.

Is the inability to focus all bad? Not necessarily. For one thing, there will be fewer premeditated murders. And sheer cultural impatience might one day swing the pendulum the other way and make the habit of attention a chic human quality. Microsoft and Google will compete to market the collected works of Henry James. In the meantime, just relax and forget what I said about there being a crisis. Or whatever I said.

Lee Siegel is the author of Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob, recently published by Spiegel & Grau.

Arik Levy

It’s a long way from surfboards to Baccarat. But Arik Levy, the Paris-based designer, started out crafting wet suits and bodyboards for a beachfront surf shop he ran in his native Tel Aviv following a stint in the Israeli army. These days his smart, cool creations seem to be popping up everywhere, from lighting and glassware for Baccarat and ceramic vases for Bitossi to installations for art and design galleries.

Levy’s firm, L design, which he runs with graphic artist Pippo Lionni, pursues a dizzying array of work—corporate branding, Web sites, furniture, tabletop products, lighting—for clients such as Cartier, Adidas, and Ikea. Levy’s forte is product design. While he doesn’t have a single, defining style, his work is often organic (he uses the term “technopoetic”) with fluid forms, like the graceful interwoven glass tubes of his Mistic candleholder for the Turkish design house Gaia&Gino.

Recently Levy has been making works that blur the boundary between design and art. His limited-edition Rock Fusion mirrors and stools, made of polished stainless steel and brass, are sexy minimalist sculptures. They generated buzz last fall when London dealer Kenny Schachter exhibited pieces from the series at Design Miami.

In May the ever-prolific Levy is doing an installation at Wright in Chicago that will introduce his Log series, low forms resembling cut timber. Produced in blackened wood, polished stainless steel, or supersleek steel mesh, these might be his most sublime and sophisticated works yet.

American Original

In 1955 the Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank received a Guggenheim grant and set out on a road trip to document life in the United States. Of the 28,000 pictures he took, 83 were selected for The Americans, a monument of postwar photography that was published in France in 1958 and a year later in this country, with an introduction by Jack Kerouac. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, Frank’s longtime publisher, Steidl, is releasing a new edition in May, in advance of a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., next year. “Anybody doesnt like these pitchers dont like potry, see?” Kerouac wrote. “Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film.”

Autumn Glow

This year the spotlight shines on American painter Cy Twombly, who’s turning 80. His retrospective, “Cycles and Seasons,” visits London’s Tate Modern this summer, before traveling to the Guggenheim Bilbao in the fall.