The other day, at a small cocktail party, a literary agent told me that he liked writers who knew and wrote for their audience. Our conversation soon sputtered out because I didn’t see any value in disagreeing with him. A few minutes later, a writer confided that he would keep working on a manuscript only if he could morally, ethically and esthetically justify what he was doing. For each of them the work itself could never be justification enough. It had to appeal to a larger power.
As I sometimes — or quite a lot of the time — find myself disposed to avoid the demands of work and household, my favorite dodge is perusing much read books for those “juicy” parts that I’ve doted over for years. Samuel Beckett’s Murphy is just the right book for this kind of time wasting: It’s a novel about an indolent, hapless, emotionally paralyzed man. He’s a loner, out of step with the world, torn between desire for his mistress and the wish to sink further in a self-involved fantasy world. The eponymous un-hero Murphy (he really can’t be called an anti-hero as his chief aspiration — a catatonic state achieved by rocking in his rocking chair — barely qualifies as anti-anything) is securely held by what Blake called “mind forg’d manacles.”
This week, Christian Marclay’s unoriginal(?) “The Clock,” art in post-revolution Egypt, power of Renaissance portraiture, GIF trends, Gagosian troubles, Adolph Gottlieb’s words in 1966 and more.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the extraordinary June Leaf show before it closes at the Edward Thorp Gallery on February 4, 2012.
I set out with the intention of seeing these shows, so I wouldn’t call it synchronicity, but the simultaneous exhibitions of David Goerk and Martha Clippinger in the same building, just one floor apart, did get me thinking about art making that is concerned with the realm between painting and sculpture — from della Robbia’s bas reliefs to early modernism (Hans Arp) to contemporary art (Stuart Arends, Ellsworth Kelly, Jim Lee, and Richard Tuttle).
Somehow I missed the 16,400 internet posts reporting that the ill-fated luxury liner, Costa Concordia — presumably still on its side in the waters off Tuscany’s Isola del Giglio — was the setting for the first act of Jean-Luc Godard’s latest feature, Film Socialisme (2010).
It’s to be expected that when America’s greatest living poet publishes a translation of one of the greatest and — to borrow a phrase from the titles of old forgotten anthologies — best-loved poets of world modernity, readers would take notice. And they have, so maybe I should think twice before adding more kudos to the pile. But it’s surprising that people haven’t been more surprised by John Ashbery’s decision to undertake a translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations.
What does it mean to be “Perfectly Happy, Even Without Happy Endings”?
Early this week, The New York Times published an article under that title by longtime Philadelphia Inquirer film critic (and former Village Voice art critic) Carrie Rickey. It told the story of an independent film producer named Lindsay Doran, whom Rickey describes in the third paragraph as “a missionary for mood-elevating films.”
It seems as if Doran became enamored of a book by a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, Martin E. P. Seligman, and “began rewatching films through the lens of what Dr. Seligman identifies as the five essential elements of well-being: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. (He refers to these elements collectively as perma.)”
This week, an unfinished masterpiece, artists on Facebook, Guggenheim’s free online catalogues, Okwui Enwezor lectures on art and civic imagination, Russian space, nasty ancient graffiti and much more …
“You do know, don’t you, that even well-meaning people are pawns for the powerful, and when it comes right down to it, humans are best thought of as oversized prawns waiting to be plucked from their beds of ice? Personally, I like to methodically squeeze the plumpest and pinkest ones between my thumb and forefinger, really smooth them out, before swallowing them whole.”
I dreamt that I met the famous and powerful Hollywood gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper. She was tired of lying around in Rose Hill Permanent Rest Stop and wondered if she could get her old job back.
Today was unseasonably warm
There were mountains in the distance, and disaster was coming. I heard it on the evening news.
What do we see when we look at art? What do we want to see? Answers come readily and are various: we seek beauty; enlightenment; pleasure; escape from ourselves; insight into those same selves.