Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Thoughts on Details from Monet's Waterlilies

Here are some photos I took a few years ago of Monet's Waterlilies at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

"Art still has truth, take refuge there." -- Matthew Arnold

 "We have art in order that we might not perish from truth -- Nietzche.

I've never been happy with either of these opposing quotes. Art is a concoction, at times it is smoke and mirrors, a trick. It is not Truth either morally or objectively. But then, we serve ourselves very poorly if we treat art as a "refuge," still less as a palliative for "truth" as Nietzche would have us do.

 Monet painted this large picture of the sky reflected in the surface of the lily pad pond on his estate at Giverny very late in his life. He began working on it in 1914, and only finished it in 1926, just a year before he died. Impressionism as a movement was long over by this time. So much of early 20th century art was already over by 1926; Cubism, Futurism, the first abstract works, even much of Dada. It's a little startling to realize how late this painting is. By this point in Monet's life, the colors are no longer anchored in direct observation, but become symbolic. What he is trying to do is to recapture not just what clouds reflected on the shimmering surface of water really look like, but to reconstruct the experience and especially why so simple a thing should be so hypnotic and engrossing.

Monet's painting is not a path out of experience, but as a way of entering back into it so much more fully. Watching the ripples of light on water has never been the same for anyone since Monet did his work.
That's what all art at its best does for us, and why for anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000 years human beings expended so much time and energy making and looking at something that is entirely useless for survival. No matter what kind, abstract or "realistic," religious or materialistic, spiritual or prosaic, serious or silly, objective or imaginative, art is a way of looking at and thinking about life, and of entering back into it more fully. Art at its best shows us new ways of contemplating and participating in our life in the world in all its fullness.

This is why I resist all these efforts to use art as some kind of "escape" or break from politics. Art is many things, but it is not a palliative.

In the end, my favorite quote about art is from Picasso:
"Art is a lie that tells the truth."

Politics has become an urgent issue these days, and naturally pre-occupies a lot of people including yours truly.  I want to continue to do what I've always done with this blog, think out loud about where all these various aspects of life intersect and how artists articulate them.  Far from being a relief from politics, at times when liberty is threatened and "the terrible simplifiers" are on the march, nothing could be more acutely political than to decide for oneself what to hang on a wall and look at.
Politics have always played a large role in this blog, and I insist that the art essays, the religious essays, and the political entries are all of a piece.  This is one of those moments when history pokes its finger through the page and says, "This is here, and now."

Posting has been light because I've been busy, or I've been ill.  I have a post or two that I've been working on for awhile and hope to publish soon.  I still have the rest of my last trip to Europe to process.

Stay tuned.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Trump Mandate ...

... as wide and deep and strong as a paper cup.  Maybe we can beat this.

A fact from Friday's inauguration parade.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Women's March in New York January 21, 2017

Looking west on 42nd Street.

I went to the New York version of the Women's March taking place nationwide (and it turns out world wide).  The March was YUGE.  Forty Second Street was so packed with people -- and more coming in -- that the march could hardly march.  We walked very slowly from First Avenue to Grand Central.  The march continued up Fifth Avenue to the the Joker's Lair high over Gotham City, but I never got that far.  After about 3 hours down 42nd Street, my back was killing me and my dogs were barking, and so I bailed at Grand Central Terminal.  I salute all who made it all the way uptown.
The trains and buses coming and going were packed with protesters, many carrying signs and wearing pink (dudes too).  Even in my neighborhood as I was walking home, I saw lots of people with signs going to and fro on Graham Avenue in Brooklyn (Williamsburg).

I had a great time.  I went with 5 friends.  We met for lunch in the East Village and then traveled by a bus packed with protestors (and I mean packed) to 42nd Street and First Avenue where we caught up with the march.  The official rallying point of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was so full of people that no more people could get in.

These are my pictures from the March.  They are freely available.

First Avenue looking north

Low clouds moved in our sunny day, and the temperatures dropped rapidly.

As you can see, the march in New York was vast.  Looking west toward Grand Central on 42nd Street.

The top of the Chrysler Building.

Looking west toward Grand Central.

And of course, what is a protest march without signs?

A lot of kids at this parade.

A lot of daughters riding parents' shoulders in the march.

I saw a lot of these hats at the march, and beyond.

This Queen of Diamonds refers to a famous movie, The Manchurian Candidate.

The crowd behind us stretching all the way back to First Avenue in the east.

The Commodore, Cornelius Vanderbilt in bronze, scornfully disdains the rabble.

Fellow rabble rousers:  Weiben Wang, Paul Lane in back, Cindy Brome, Julia Alberino, and Suzanne Pyrch

Julia Alberino, Paul Lane, and Weiben Wang

Weiben's photo of Julia, Yours Truly, and Paul

Weiben's photo of me photographing the march.


Norman Rockwell's painting of Rosie the Riveter for the Saturday Evening Post in 1943.
He had a 19 year old girl named Mary Doyle pose based on Michelangelo's Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Rosie rests her penny-loafered foot triumphantly on a battered copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf. The reflection in her visor resembles a halo; a female Saint Michael with Satan beat down under her feet.

If men don't have the heart to resist and fight back this venture into fascism, the women clearly do. As far as I'm concerned, Trump did not become President of the USA so much as king of all the white people who voted for him. His inaugural address (mostly written by Steve Bannon) was full of fascist appeals: the nation is under threat from within and without; only a strong leader can save the nation; solidarity with the tribe, the race, the sect counts for more than the rights of a few puny individuals.  Trump used the term "America First" in his speech.  That was the slogan of Charles Lindbergh's movement to stay out of WWII, a movement with barely concealed fascist sympathies and more than a little antisemitism. Already in the first press briefings, some Goebbels wannabes are trying to threaten the press into parroting the official story of events.
Women -- half the population of the USA -- were singled out by Trump for scorn and humiliation. Fascist and theocratic ideologues for years wanted to return women to a servile and subordinate status. Women have a lot to lose from this new regime, and so they've stepped up to fight it.
 Who knows if this gigantic protest will make any difference in the end. Maybe the energies released here will go the way of too many left wing grass-roots movements; dissipated in factionalism or impotent anarchism. But then, it might also mean the beginning of the end of this new dictatorship. Women might save liberal democracy if for no other reason than they stand to lose so much if it is destroyed.
Dictators thrive when their opponents feel isolated and hopeless.
Sure rallies like those today are mostly symbolic, but symbols matter and they have their power. A big power that they have is a vision of movement and community to battle the isolation and division imposed by oppressors. Marches, rallies, and "zaps" -- public political disruptions of official business -- played a vital role in early gay liberation showing people who felt isolated and alone that there was a community waiting for them and that they didn't have to accept the hardships and humiliations imposed upon them.
So too I feel much better and more hopeful today.

The March of the Women (Shoulder to Shoulder) from Wild Love Music on Vimeo.