We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams; -
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world forever, it seems.
- Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy
I’ll also be migrating some of the posts from here onto that blog, so if you’re interested in keeping up, scoot over there for the time being. In a couple of weeks, I’ll install a redirect to the new one.
I’m really excited about this new design because it puts more emphasis on my artwork and fiction writing. The struggle with using a blog as a portfolio and vice versa is that it often doesn’t give equal weight to all aspects. The new site, thankfully, does offer relatively equal weight to all of my endeavors. I’m thrilled to share all of that with you, and with more clarity.
Thanks so much for all the love, and I hope you’ll follow me to my new space!
Just a quick head’s up that I will be launching a blog soon (as in, tonight) that will feature my creative short fiction. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more creatively and more actively – hopefully this blog will make me keep up with the practice more.
Jumping now into editing a piece for PolicyMic – keep your eyes peeled for it this week!
Recently, I’ve been chewing over how we value and judge art, and how we talk about it effectively. I wrote a piece touching on some of these issues, and an edited version was published over at PolicyMic. I’ve included it here in full, plus a couple of great links to other articles:
Sometimes when visiting galleries or museums, I find myself wondering why a piece was included. Whenever I’d sense I was looking at something not good, or poorly executed, or gratuitous, a nagging concern that I was not educated or qualified enough to evaluate the work would persuade me to accept it. This seemed reasonable at the time; after all, I am a Western millennial, raised to believe that art is essentially subjective and undefinable.
In the contemporary art world, anything goes. I am not criticizing this aspect of contemporary art, but stating the obvious. For this reality, we can mostly thank Marcel Duchamp and his ideological contemporaries. Though the Impressionists got the ball rolling, Duchamp became one of the most famous artists to proclaim that art is whatever the artist says it is. (You don’t have to know any art history to understand the point I’m making, but it is good context if you’re interested.) Jimmy Kimmel did a hilarious satire of this idea (though in a different, more commercial industry) with his Fashion Week Lie Witness News skit:
When it first came to popularity, this idea of anything as art was radical. It gave us a lot of opportunity to experiment, to play, to remove ourselves as creatives from the boundaries of “art” as defined by the cultural elite.
The idea that the artist defines the artwork and creates art simply by declaring it as such diminished the viewer’s experience with the artwork, and eroded the authority of the viewers’ perspective. In this belief system, the artist has the ultimate trump card: “you don’t understand.” Conversation over, and viewer hushed, if not quite shamed into silence.
This eventuality is exactly why people are timid about expressing their opinions about art if they have a lick of sense (this from art school experience), and why casual art consumers leave it to so-called and sometimes self-proclaimed experts to tell us what is art.
Life is by all methods of measurement a subjective experience, and yet, we still trust in the ability of people to percieve, evaluate and share their perceptions in journalism, in storytelling, in history, in law and in science. Why should it be any different in art? It is the responsiblity of the artist, the scientist, the historian to perceive, evaluate, and convey those analyses.
We also gave up our ability to judge art when we accepted the idea that art could be whatever the artist said it was, because the idea of good or bad became completely irrelevant. If you “don’t understand” something, you cannot evaluate whether it’s good or bad, even in a relative sense.
Entrepreneur Paul Graham wrote an interesting article on his blog many moons ago about how art can be good, which I recommend. Though I don’t agree with everything he writes, he raises some excellent points.
This pseudo-utopian ideal that all art is good art is seductive, but ultimately limiting. It is limiting because if it is impossible to create good art, then any art is as good and as important and as enlightening as any other. And if it’s all the same, then as a creator and a consumer, why bother with effort? Post-modern and contemporary art are crafting their own answers to that question, but those answers are beginning to feel like dead ends to me. I will be elaborating on these “dead ends” later, but I will say that the emphasis on process in contemporary art is a conceptually consistent though reductive eventuality of the idea of “anything as art”.
I’m not arguing that there are absolute evaluations of good art. I am instead saying that I believe there are absolute qualities of good art. Good art makes us aware of that by connecting people, by sharing vision and experience. If a piece of art genuinely moves only one person, it is still good art. If it moves many people, it might be great art. If it moves you only because you think that it ought to, then it is time to start thinking about why. This does involve a Pollyanna-ish expectation of self-awareness and belief in the ability to people to be self-confident in their own perspectives. At the very least, it requires thoughtfulness.
Art should not be bewildering, or impenetrable – it is as universal as any individual human experience writ large. Art is a shared conversation, a conceptually public debate. People should feel empowered to evaluate art and call it like they see it, without their evaluation targeting them as unenlightened, as long as the evaluation is developed and defensible. “You don’t understand” isn’t a defense, for anyone. Instead, let’s try “show me.”
A major part of what I’m saying is this: if you can’t see the emperor’s clothes, it is most definitely okay to say so.
It’s August (late August), and y’all know what that means: the end of the 100-day weekend, also known as summer. School either has started back or will soon, and the florid green is deepening, preparing to fade.
I spent my summer reading and working and writing and traveling a bit, and mostly learning how to navigate this city physically, emotionally and mentally. I also spent it exploring, which is my favorite thing, because it is an act of investment and self-edification and fulfillment.
With that in mind, I’d like to share a few places (mostly restaurants) that I’ve fallen in love with and that you should check out in these, our last days of summer. Or fall. Or deep in the winter. These are non-seasonal treasures. Most of them are in my neighborhood, which I am madly in love with, and which is also relatively non-touristy because it’s a bit away from the station. Not all of them, though.
1. Northern Spy Food Co.: An East/Village Alphabet City staple, this phenomenal little restaurant is elegantly designed in every way. A season- and source-conscious menu pairs with an easy-going decor to make for the kind of intimate and unpretentious experience you wish for. The best thing about Northern Spy? The Sunday Night Supper – a three-course, prix fixe meal designed by the chef, Hadley Schmitt, for the unbelievably low price of $27. I had a gorgeous balsamic apple, pear, strawberry and feta salad, jambalaya with grits, and pistachio grandmother’s cake with raspberry coulis when I went earlier this summer. Let your belly really enjoy the summer.
2. Bobwhite Supper Counter: While we’re on restaurants, Bobwhite is a beautiful Southern restaurant on Avenue C. While their fried chicken is prominent on the menu, it’s not as good as they make it out to be. Admittedly, I’ve had excellent fried chicken, being from North Carolina (Price’s…Rooster’s…Acme….), so I am hard to please. It’s the other things on the menu that are absolutely revelatory. First, they make their sweet tea with simple syrup. Yes. They’re purists. Second, their chow-chow (a Southern relish) is perfectly balanced and a bit unusual, as is their tomato chutney. Both go excellently with their pimento cheese sandwich and, wait for it, fried okra. It’s the best fried okra I’ve ever had. Sorry, Frank Stitt.
3. The Dog Park on 15th St. and 3rd Avenue: It’s just a dog park. But it’s a dog park! If you need a little four-legged therapy, this is the place to go. The dogs are friendly and so are the people. And if you don’t have a pup, and are just there to scheme on the neighborhood’s happy animals, that’s okay. You won’t be the only one.
4. Brooklyn Brine: This Gowanus brinery is just about as cool as it gets. They make whiskey sour pickles, pickled chipotle carrots, deli-style pickles, hop-pickles (brined with beer), maple-bourbon bread and butter pickles, orange and fennel pickles, and a whole host of delicious other varieties. It’s also a really friendly space; just pop in, try some pickles, leave with a couple of jars. Also hope that Jenny is there – she’s a gem, and will let you try every single one if you’re that kind of shopper.
5. Still House: This is an intricate, well-designed store on 7th near Big Gay Ice Cream and it’s sublime. Full of little items that are special and secret, Still House is a quietly epic place. Most of the things inside are also earthy, or handmade, which is nice to find in this city. 7th Street is a gold mine for this sort of thing, as is 9th.
6. Van Leeuwen: While you’re on 7th, stop into Van Leeuwan for some elevated (expensive) ice cream! With flavors like earl grey and two kinds of vegan ice cream, it’s a bit of a specialty shop. I love ice cream, though, but have trouble with “real” ice cream, so the vegan is worth it for me. Not to mention that it’s also very nicely designed. Would fit right into a little North Carolina town like Chapel Hill, which is probably why I love it so.
That’s a good jumping-off place for now. I’ll add to the list as I can. Happy adventuring!
Today, the London duo that is AlunaGeorge (Aluna Francis and George Reid) dropped their much-anticipated album, Body Music. I credit this stellar playlist by DonRaphaelAli on 8tracks for turning me on to them. It’s slinky, sexy and got me through most of this winter and frigid spring. Dare you not to adore it, especially if James Blake, Ghost Poet and The Weeknd happen to live pretty high on your list. “Your Drums, Your Love” is the song that got me hooked:
I have trouble describing their work without over-describing it. Let’s just say that there’s something gorgeous and vulnerable about what they’re doing. Maybe they play in a key that resonates with certain folks particularly and I’m lucky enough to be one of them. My impression of their work, and popular reaction to it, is that it’s delightfully delicious and digestible.
I read today in Lorrie Moore’s stunning short story, People Like That Are the Only People Here, that “The trip and the story of the trip are always two different things. The narrator is the one who has stayed him but then, afterward, pressers her mouth upon the traveler’s mouth, in order to make the mouth work, to make the mouth say, say, say. One cannot go to a place and speak of it, one cannot both see and say, not really. One can go, and upon returning make a lot of hand motions and indications with the arms. The mouth itself, working at the speed of light, at the eye’s instructions, is necessarily struck still; so fast, so much to report, it hangs open and dump as a gutted bell. All that unsayable life! That’s where the narrator comes in. The narrator comes with her kisses and mimicry and tidying up. The narrator comes and makes a slow, fake song of the mouth’s eager devastation.” (Best American Short Stories: 1998, p.207 – 208)
Is your heart swollen yet?
I hate to admit that Moore may be onto something there; cultural writing and critique very often falls into the echo-chamber category. Very few cultural critics and ambassadors manage to bring original insight to the table, and seem to chatter only for themselves.
With bands like AlunaGeorge, which are currently in that buzzy phase, I hesitate to say much for exactly this reason. My advice: get the album and listen for yourself. While you’re at it, take a gander at the below tracks for some more beautiful work. Then get on to a bit of your own sonic explorations.
1. Cyril Hahn’s remix of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name”
My March and April were entirely about Rhye’s album Woman, and this song particularly. The entire album is intricate, sensual, fleeting and forever. The video takes away from the song in a major way, so I didn’t include it. It’s here, if you’re interested.
Here also is a longer set of Rhye songs, courtesy of the FADER:
I wanted to give a s/o to those artists with obviously unfulfilled potential. The early rounds, for these folks, are hopefully just warm-ups.
Jake Bugg: English musician, really compelling for a few seconds at a time, every few seconds. Enough to keep you guessing but also stay a little disappointed. Lots going on, but not enough. Yet.
Lianne Las Havas: Another English artist, beautiful voice and aesthetic. Her sound is wonderful, but her lyrics need a little bit more depth than they have. She will get more confident and her lyrics will get better.
Sky Ferriera: Hard to argue with this beautiful American pop-punk princess. Think Marina and the Diamonds, but she is a touch less refined and maybe more melancholic. While she is a niche artist – that is, I’m not sure she has potential for mainstream longevity – she is doing a great job making a name for herself. I’m interested in seeing how her artistic concepts develop.