Interaction of Color by Josef Albers
One of my favorite classes as an undergraduate art student was Color Theory. Who knew that context and juxtaposition could so fully change the way we see something as seemingly straightforward as a patch of color? A middle tone looks darker when it's next to light colors, and lighter when it's next to dark colors; the same color can look like two different colors within the same composition; the colors we see now are even affected by the colors we just looked at. Recently I've been revisiting those lessons in Josef Albers' seminal Interaction of Color (which is now also an amazing interactive app). This week, watching so many coversations and arguments unfold over social media feeds, I couldn't help but to feel struck at the similar effects of juxtaposition. Not only does a comment that feels moderate in one feed look radical in another, but we also see different content or undercurrents in phrases based on past conversations we've had or the things we've recently read. Does this make me feel heartened? Not really. Does it make me wonder if, perhaps, the lessons we learn through art can help us proceed with empathy and understanding? That, at the least, is a yes.
Antigonick, translated by Anne Carson and illustrated by Bianca Stone
Antigonick is one of those books that has a particular "objectness" to it; it feels both expansive and self-contained, like it is its own world. This is Anne Carson's translation of Sophocles's Antigone, with illustrations by Bianca Stone. The pages—with scribbly handwritten text, translucent sheets over watercolor images—are an environment of their own. Carson translates the story into something fresh and unexpected, bringing new light and meanings to the classic play. It is the story of Antigone, whose brother has died and whose king has declared that nobody may bury him under penalty of death. Antigone invokes divine law and goes to bury her brother, and the tragedy unfolds. I returned to this book this week after seeing so many conversations unfold between my black friends and my white friends and family after the killing of Keith Lamont Scott and too many others. I returned, in particular, to a conversation between Antigone and Ismene, who implores her sister to follow the law and leave their brother's body to rot alone: "oh sister don't cross this line" "dear sister my dead are mine and yours as well as mine." Read more about the book in a review in Guernica: "The horror is not simply that we allow the same atrocities to occur time and time again, but that we have resigned ourselves to this cycle and acknowledge our resignation half-heartedly."
Alex Kanevsky's Meditations on Color
I remember in high school when my art teacher pointed to a shadow on the sidewalk. Look closely, she said. Is it really black? Or is it actually blue? I credit her with first fostering my love of the process of art. Learning to look and really see what's presenting itself to you, rather than imposing your expectations. (My elementary school art teacher primed me for this epiphany when she pointed out that the sky often contains plenty of colors that aren't blue.) So of course I was intrigued when I saw one of my favorite painters, Alex Kanevsky, posting on Facebook recently about his experiences with the various colors he uses—their associations and connotations, his opinions about different pigments, along with tidbits about color use throughout art history. In his post about blue, Kanevsky revealed that he had an epiphany similar to mine: "Blue next to orange is the first pair of opposite colors I noticed." As if speaking directly to my memory of the blue sidewalk shadow: "Philadelphia shadows are never blue; if impressionism began here, everything would have looked very different." Read his posts about blue, green, red, yellow, white, flesh, and darkness. His gallery, Hollis Taggart, made these posts into videos featuring his paintings.
Poems for Mother's Day
For Mother's Day this year, I had fun working on Image's "literary bouquet" of a dozen poems, essays, and short stories to celebrate moms and motherhood. I told my mom that these lines from John Terpstra's poem "Near Annunciation at Carroll’s Point" make me think of her: "The dying-to-self / our mothers did so well / a little something / they picked up on the fly." But I also know that not everyone has an easy time feeling joyful on Mother's Day. I've known several loved ones who have experienced miscarriage and infertility, which is a hard thing to carry while churches are handing out roses to all the mothers at Sunday worship. So I'm rereading Melissa Reeser Poulin's poem "Nullus Partus," which stuns me and stops me in my tracks. Stories and poems help us do the holy work of stretching our imaginations toward others. Our mothers are often such constants in our lives that we can get away with never fully extending our imaginations toward them, never considering the fullness of their own experiences. Reading the stories of mothers is one way to honor them.
John Berger's Ways of Seeing
John Berger—art critic, author, painter, and poet—passed away on Monday. His body of work is extensive and worth exploring (especially Here Is Where We Meet), but the best way to introduce yourself to Berger is to watch his famous four-part 1972 BBC series Ways of Seeing (watch for free on YouTube). In this influential series (also made into a book that is often assigned in undergraduate art history courses), Berger synthesizes important cultural theory as it relates to art and media, and does so in a way that is inspiring and intuitive. His most important legacy might be the way he approached the act of looking: as a process. "The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled."
Review of Adam’s Passion by Arvo Pärt and Robert Wilson and The Lost Paradise, A Documentary by Günter Atteln
Adam’s Passion, the recent stage production of the music of Arvo Pärt, is a masterpiece on DVD. It brings together three of Pärt’s major works—Adam’s Lament, Tabula rasa, and Miserere, as well as Sequentia, a new work composed for the production—with the vision of American theater director Robert Wilson. One might expect that choreographed actors, props, and lighting would distract from Pärt's music, famous for its stillness. Not so: Wilson creates scenes that bring viewers into deeper focus and closer contact with it. The figures are archetypal. Their movement is slow. Pärt and Wilson have been called two “masters of deceleration” for their ability to seemingly slow down time and expand it outward. And it is the two of them together that make Adam’s Passion so compelling. The Lost Paradise, the documentary that complements the DVD of Adam’s Passion, reveals what may well be the creative tension that gives the performance its vitality: Pärt is religious, and Wilson is not. One scene shows the two of them at a press conference. A reporter asks Wilson, “What does the religious aspect in Arvo Pärt’s music mean to you?” With Pärt sitting beside him, Wilson answers, “For me, religion has no place on stage.” He explains that he sees religion as divisive, whereas spirituality is liberating, and to him, Adam’s Passion is spiritual. Of course, defining those categories and how one ought to relate to such terms is its own sport, and many may roll their eyes at yet another “spiritual, not religious” declaration. But The Lost Paradise reveals something much more fruitful than that tired debate. It shows two artists whose beliefs don’t align, yet whose visions converge and enlarge one another’s. Says Pärt: “Robert Wilson, he sees the music. His specialty is light. And that is probably the most important thing of all….And that light is almost certainly eternal.” Together, they have created something divine.