• In an article for Gawker, Erin Somers calls for abolishing the practice of recommendation letters. Amen to that! The MacDowell residency in New Hampshire has already decided to do away with reference letters to eliminate entry barriers for candidates from less privileged backgrounds. It’s time for other institutions to follow suit. Somers writes:

Reference letters, in addition to just being a pain in the ass, have an anti-Semitic origin story in the U.S. “In the 1920s, the heads of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton decided they were admitting too many Jewish students,” writes Sarah Todd in a recent article for Quartz, citing Jerome Karabel’s history of Ivy League admissions, The Chosen. “Until that point, acceptances had been determined largely by students’ scores on entrance exams, giving administrators little control over who made the cut.” The letters were instituted as a subjective criterion, a way to say, well, yes, this Jewish student over here has higher test scores, but this non-Jewish student has a glowing recommendation from an alum, so.

That the practice has endured at the undergraduate level is bad enough; that it has been adopted by most higher-level literary institutions in the country, all of whom claim diversity as a central aim, is revolting. The letters were not only born of discrimination, but carry it forward. For a writer to know someone they can ask for a reference, especially one that might move the needle, means they have already been admitted to an exclusive institution, or more likely, several. Those who haven’t — marginalized people, people who cannot afford to attend a fancy university, people with no generational connections, people who do not live in literary New York City — are out of luck.

At many of the residencies that require them, the stated purpose of recommendations is to determine how well applicants will fare in a collaborative environment. When I have had residencies, the nature of this “collaboration” has usually boiled down to occasional studio visits and having a fun time with the other residents at dinner. While having fun at dinner is important, I’m not sure such a stringent vetting process is necessary.

One begins to suspect the real goal is to create a criterion so odious, so socially uncomfortable, that it dissuades applicants, even those who might know someone who could write one. No one wants to dredge up the email address of their thesis advisor from five years ago. No one wants to ask their more successful acquaintance for yet another favor. It keeps the numbers down: that is its real purpose.

  • Billy Gannon, a local politician in Wales, has been plagued by rumors that he is in fact the elusive British street artist known as Banksy. He’s not, or at least that’s what he claims. Meanwhile, these rumors have ruined Gannon’s career and made his life a living nightmare. Esther Addley reports for the Guardian:  

“The problem I have is that when I say to people, ‘I am not Banksy,’ I can see this look in their eyes, and they say, ‘That’s what Banksy would say,’” says the 58-year-old from Pembroke Dock, west Wales. “Every time I deny I am Banksy … a significant number of people in the town [decide] that I am, or could possibly be, Banksy.”

Not being Banksy may appear unremarkable to many people, the overwhelming majority of whom are also not the elusive street artist and activist. But in Gannon’s case his status as Not Banksy plunged him this week into what he describes as “an existential crisis”, after he resigned from his post as a councillor in the small Pembrokeshire town, in response to allegations spread by email and on social media that he has lied about his identity, is 10 years younger than he claims – and is, in fact, Banksy.

The rumours, which Gannon believes were started maliciously by a rival council candidate, were “undermining my ability to do the work of councillor” and tarnishing the town council’s reputation, he wrote in an email to the clerk earlier this week. As a result, he has stepped down as an independent member for Bufferland ward.

“What I’m being asked to do is not to prove who I am. I’m being asked to prove who I am not, and the person that I am not may not exist. I mean, how am I supposed to prove that I’m not somebody who doesn’t exist? Just how do you do that?”

For now, he has taken to wearing a small, black badge on his lapel that reads: “I am NOT Banksy.” “I am not Banksy,” he says, “and I have the badge to prove it.”

… Poor Billy Gannon.

  • The Stonehenge site projected eight portraits of Queen Elizabeth II on the ancient slabs to mark her Platinum Jubilee. Reactions to the official tweet include “Embarrassing,” “This is really rubbish,” “Dreadful,” and “Tacky”:
  • In an interview with the New York Times, intended primarily to promote her skincare line, Kim Kardashian pronounced that she would do anything in pursuit of a youthful look, including consuming feces:

“I’ll try anything,” Kim Kardashian said last month during an interview in her enormous office here. It houses a photo studio, a showroom, a video room, offices for staff, her personal office, a glam room (where she gets ready for shoots), a model glam room (where models get ready for shoots), a conference room, a theater and more. “If you told me that I literally had to eat poop every single day and I would look younger, I might. I just might.”

You can extrapolate a lot from this interview about celebrity culture today, the impossible standards of beauty, and so on, but it’s really hard to move beyond that line about poop. Does Kim know something we don’t?

  • It’s been 50 years since the first episode of “Ways of Seeing” with late art critic John Berger aired on the BBC. As a tribute, here’s the first episode of the series in full:
YouTube Poster
  • Whaddayaknow, people earning over $250,000 a year say they’re living “from paycheck to paycheck.” This is from a Bloomberg report by Alexandre Tanzi:

More than a third of Americans earning at least $250,000 annually say they are living paycheck to paycheck, underscoring how inflation is taking a bigger bite out of Americans’ budgets at all ends of the pay spectrum.

Some 36% of households taking in nearly four times the median US salary devote nearly all of their income to household expenses, according to a survey by industry publication Pymnts.com and LendingClub Corp.

It’s particularly true among millennials, who are now in their mid-20s to early 40s: More than half of top earners in that generation report having little left at the end of the month.

Sounds ridiculous but the survey presents a broader definition of “paycheck to paycheck”:

Living paycheck-to-paycheck doesn’t necessarily mean hardship, and LendingClub makes the distinction between those can pay their bills easily and those who can’t. Only a fraction of high earners — roughly one in ten — reported issues covering all their household expenses in April, according to the survey. 

Housing expenses, which typically take up large chunks of the budgets of wealthier people, have skyrocketed during the pandemic. For example in Orange County, California, a top-tier home cost $1.7 million in April, up from $1.2 million in February 2020, based on Zillow Group Inc. data. A mortgage on that house, assuming a 20% down payment, would cost about $100,000 per year. That’s 40% of a $250,000 annual pre-tax income.

  • On the first day of Pride Month, Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman, stirred a debate online by reminding everyone that the comics superhero is queer:
  • A disturbing new trend in clubs across Europe: needle-pricking attacks. Jade Le Deley of the Associated Press reports:

Across France, more than 300 people have reported being pricked out of the blue with needles at nightclubs or concerts in recent months. Doctors and multiple prosecutors are on the case, but no one knows who’s doing it or why, and whether the victims have been injected with drugs — or indeed any substance at all.

Club owners and police are trying to raise awareness, and a rapper even interrupted his recent show to warn concert-goers about the risk of surprise needle attacks.

It’s not just France: Britain’s government is studying a spate of “needle spiking” there, and police in Belgium and the Netherlands are investigating scattered cases too.

On May 4, 18-year-old Tomas Laux attended a rap concert in Lille in northern France, where he smoked a bit of marijuana and drank some alcohol during the show. When he came home, he told The Associated Press, he was feeling dizzy and had a headache – and he spotted a strange little skin puncture on his arm and a bruise.

The next morning, the symptoms didn’t disappear and Laux went to his doctor, who advised him to go to the emergency room. Medics confirmed evidence of a needle prick, and Laux was tested for HIV and hepatitis. His results came out negative, like other victims’ so far.

“I’ve given up going to concerts since it happened,” Laux said.

  • We should all be grateful to the Johns Hopkins students who came up with this much-needed technological advancement:
  • And finally, hats off to this acrobatic cyclist, and shoutout to @arthandlermag:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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This week, the world’s lightest paint, Pakistan’s feminist movement, World Puppy Day, and were some of Vermeer’s paintings created by his daughter?

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...