Archive | Art Matters

Schnoz Is Beautiful: Reconsidering Modigliani

The Jewess

Even a year ago, “Modigliani: Unmasked” at New York City’s Jewish Museum would not have been as timely, though its pleasures would have been just as assured. A showcase of Italian-Sephardic Jewish Amedeo Modigliani’s work as a sculptor and a craftsman, it revels in his defiant embrace of outsider status, and reminds us that extraordinary creative work can arise despite – and to spite – repressive political climates.

In 1906, when Modigliani emigrated from his native Livorno, an Italian port town known as a safe enclave for Jews, France was beset by nationalist anti-Semitism. Because of his fluency in French and Latin good looks, he might have been able to assimilate as a Gentile. Instead, as the Museum’s curatorial notes report, he’d introduce himself by saying: “My name is Modigliani. I am Jewish.” This exhibition, amassed mostly from the collection of patron and dear friend Paul Alexandre, shows the “artist as a young outsider,” exploring non-Western art and unpacking accepted notions of beauty in rough drafts and sculpture as well as a handful of completed paintings made between 1906 and 1914. Continue Reading →

There You Are

My routine this fall: Watch the sunrise with the seagulls and the seals, then walk into the dunes. For the rest of the morning, write. Afterward walk into the woods and sometimes go thrifting, naming my finds consolation prizes or rewards depending on the day’s work. From then, bid the sun farewell from a west-facing beach, and make dinner from fisheries and farmstands in the area. Star-gazing from the hammock beneath the birch trees, and asleep by 9:30, tucked in with a grey-gold permakitten purring at my feet. This has been my perfect life, and it has turned me into the space crone mermaid of my dreams.

Last night I was telling a dear friend in Brooklyn about how sad I’ll be to leave the Cape next week. “I’m running out of supplies,” I told her. “I’m on my last bag of Oslo Coffee beans and down to my last bottle of vitamins. I’m even running out of wine. But it’s so hard to imagine not being able to run to the sea as soon as I wake. And how will I get unstuck in my writing when I can’t walk in the woods to clear my head?” “Spend this last week just soaking it all up,” she said. “It will be the best week of your life.” She is an artist and knows how to be inside the moment while also storing it for her paintings and drawings. I was grateful for her glorious plan, and grateful for the reminder of why I love New York City so much. It is there–scratch that, it is here–that I find my people one way or another. What’s most beautiful: once you find kindred spirits, they’re inside you wherever you go, whether they be tree spirits or seal spirits or loudmouth millennial spirits. Love is love.

Art credit: Detail from a Marlene Frontera drawing. Photo: me.

Beautiful Resistance: Why Protest Art Matters

Recently I was at a dinner party of my peers, which is to say: Not Young People. (Thus far, most Generation Xers refuse to refer to themselves as middle-aged, though we surely are.) The subject came around, as it inevitably does these days, to the Trump administration and the turmoil wracking our country and world (besides France). ““I feel like there’s no protest music being made anymore,” said one friend. “Dude,” said another. “I feel like there’s no protest art being made anymore, period.”

On the way home, I realized how much I disagreed with that statement. One of the fundamental roles of art always has been to shed light on the human condition–to increase our empathy for each other. Even art that ostensibly focuses only on beauty–Monet’s lilies, for example, or ee cummings’s lowercase homages–is also about love and mortality, which brings us back to the human condition. And the concept of “beauty” has always been subjective and intensely fraught; read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye if you need a refresher on that concept.

But let’s not be fatuous. Not all art is equally charged. Karen Finley’s performance art is a provocative tool of second-wave feminism while “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2″ hardly challenges the status quo in any significant way. To even compare the two seems ridiculous, which begs the question: Isn’t there a place for fluff-o-tainment that allows us to turn our brains off sometimes? Isn’t there room in our cultural arena for, say, the “Real Housewives” television franchise and “The Wire,” David Simon’s potent examination of Baltimore power structures? For James Ellroy’s pulpy noir and Paul Beatty’s sharply observed fiction? For the works of kitsch masters Walter (and Margaret!) Keane and activist-artist Kerry James Marshall? Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy