Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Art in the News

Dangerous Arts  - by Salman Rushdie - op-ed New York Times, April 20,2011

Governments of the free world must make sure artists, like Ai Weiwei, who courageously stand up against authoritarianism are safe.

China’s most famous and politically outspoken artist, Ai Weiwei, has filled the back half of London’s cavernous Turbine Hall with what appears, from a distance, to be a mass of small grey pebbles. In fact these are 100 million tiny sculptures of sunflower seeds, made out of porcelain and hand-painted by skilled artisans in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Rest of the review in The Independent here.

What I've discovered about modern and contemporary art installations is that there is often more to them than meets the eye.  It's easy to stroll by or read about a particular installation and write it off as junk, label it strange or just not think about it at all. This is one such case. If you happened to be in London, at The Tate's ginormous Turbine Hall and came upon a floor covered with tiny porcelain sunflowers that you could walk upon, what would you be thinking? if you had no knowledge of the artist or his motives, would you dismiss it as ridiculous? And if you were enlightened, would that change your mind about the relevance of such an installation?

I say it all the time - no matter how strange and incomprehensible, I admire an artist's drive to create. The ability to pull off something controversial or weird or unpalatable is artistic in and of itself.  When one risks persecution and censorship at the hands of one's government and yet their vision and need to create is still unbound. That is a courageous thing. 

I am in love with Ai Weiwei's sunflowers as much as I am in love with Charles Ledray's miniature garments. And for the same reason - the unstoppable need to put their work out there for us to guess at and a lot of times, to criticize. In the case of Ai Weisei, the need to create and express has turned his government against him; their most celebrated artist. Artists risk much for many things, not the least of which is the freedom to create. I for one, am grateful for this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Little Madness in the Spring

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown -
Who ponders this tremendous scene -
This whole Experiment of Green -
As if it were his own!  
~~Emily Dickinson

For several years now,every April during my spring vacation I visit Emily Dickinson's garden at The Homestead. Emily is my neighbor to the southeast, less than a half hour's drive from where I live. This is one of my top favorite places in Western Massachusetts.

 Since childhood I've been fascinated by The Belle of Amherst. Her reclusiveness has been speculated upon by all manner of scholars, some of whom have made it their entire life's work to study her poems and letters, in an effort to understand who she really was.

A very private person, obviously. By her own instructions, her letters were burned after her death by her younger sister Lavinia, who while doing so, came upon a box of 1700 of Emily's poems. During her lifetime, Emily Dickinson felt uneasy about publishing her very personal and highly passionate writing. Perhaps she felt secure that her tiny bundles of poems, sewed together into little books, would one day be discovered and found to have merit.

I've always entertained a suspicion that Emily's reclusiveness was not a result of serious mental illness as was once highly speculated. The old stereotype of her as a frail, perhaps frigid spinster have more recently given way to a view of Emily much more after my own heart!  In thinking of someone like Dickinson, we assume that she was like a little mouse, never speaking to anyone, holing up in her upstairs bedroom to write, paranoid that anyone was watching her. In fact, Emily interacted fully with her own family, having close relationships with both her siblings and an adoration of her nieces and nephews. She tended the family garden and baked the family bread daily. Eccentric, yes. Yet busy and productive, with a sharpness of mind that is one of the trademarks of her poetry.

That her poems reveal, at times, a smoldering physical passion is obvious. Her relationship with God and religion  tentative and questioning, she was most comfortable worshiping nature in her garden. Her father and brother Austin, prominent citizens of Amherst, helped to found the Congregational Church, just across the street from the Dickinson home. Emily never stepped foot inside of it.

"I feel that the world holds a predominant place in my affections. I do not feel that I could give up all for Christ, were I called to die" (L13)

 I have not gone into a full biography, as others have done a much better job of it than I could possibly. For everything that is known about Emily, please visit The Homestead website, linked above. For many things speculated and invented, read Jerome Charyn's delightful novel The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.

Here some more photos of Emily's garden in April, 2011. If you visit last year's post on this subject, you will notice a difference in how the garden is blooming. Spring is here, albeit somewhat delayed.


Spring comes on the World—
I sight the Aprils—
Hueless to me until thou come
As, till the Bee
Blossoms stand negative
Touched to Conditions
By a Hum. 
~~Emily Dickinson

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown -
Who ponders this tremendous scene -
This whole Experiment of Green -
As if it were his own!

 The path from the Dickinson Homestead to The Evergreens, Austin and Susan Dickinson's home.


Wild Nights - Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile - the Winds -
To a Heart in port -
Done with the Compass -
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden -
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor - Tonight -
In Thee!

Linking to That's My World

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Artist of the Week - Emil Nolde (Linking to ABC Wednesday)

 N is for Nolde
German Expressionist painter and printmaker


"There is silver blue, sky blue and thunder blue. Every colour holds within it a soul, which makes me happy or repels me, and which acts as a stimulus. To a person who has no art in him, colours are colours, tones tones...and that is all. All their consequences for the human spirit, which range between heaven to hell, just go unnoticed."  ~ Emil Nolde


 Green Landscape with Red Cloud

"I had an infinite number of visions at this time, for wherever I turned my eyes nature, the sky, the clouds were alive, in each stone and in the branches of each tree, everywhere, my figures stirred and lived their still or wildly animated life, and they aroused my enthusiasm as well as tormented me with demands that I paint them."

Spectators at theCabaret

"The art of an artist must be his own art. It is... always a continuous chain of little inventions, little technical discoveries of one's own, in one's relation to the tool, the material and the colors."

"What an artist learns matters little. What he himself discovers has a real worth for him, and gives him the necessary incitement to work."

Lost Paradise

Linking to ABC Wednesday

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