When I arrived in New York City in the early 70s—fresh from a very different cadence that was life on the Other Coast—my first roommate was another artist. George Wingate rented me my first berth on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for $87.50 a month, and we went on to become friends for life. He was studying with two larger-than-life teachers, Henry Pearson and Frank Mason, so many of my first friends in New York were artists I met through him. And it does not seem like a random event that both of us ended up leaving Manhattan and living out our lives in the Boston area. Our mutual geography has been fortuitous.

George has many talents, but lately he has been mastering the one day pop up exhibit. On Saturday in Gloucester he orchestrated his third event over the last few years. (Words and images about his previous two exhibits are posted here and here.) George’s sensibilities are quick, quirky and startlingly fresh. And while his work is uniquely and inviolately Wingatian, he also offers up a respectful nod to many of the artists we both love—Richard Tuttle, Barnett Newman, Lee Bontecou, John Cage, Joan Mitchell, among others.

Driving up to see this exhibit staged in an emptied 18th century space (The White-Ellery house is part of by the Cape Ann Museum), I listened to an entire episode of This American Life devoted to the tale of an abandoned house in Freedom New Hampshire. The storyteller was 11 years old when he first encountered it, and the house and the family who had abandoned it became an obsession and a haunted thread in his life and the lives of his friends. This hour long radio program was the perfect preamble to George’s very personal and provocative conversation with this aged and evocative structure, one that has had its own complex history. Demonstrating respect for the solemnity of its bare essence, George found a way to nudge, tease, prod and engage that structure into an adventure in looking and seeing.

This show had an extra feature that George has not explored in his two previous pop up exhibits: Sound. Sitting monk-like on the floor in an upstairs room, Gordon Williams was surrounded by simple tools for sounding, creating a backdrop of noises that were suggestive of “house language”: obscure knockings, cranked up hammerings, tinny creaks, all reminding us that every structure has a space and spirit of its own which sometimes comes with a soundtrack. This house, for one day, was given a playful festooning and memorable voicing that was both aural and visual.

This portfolio of images speaks best for yet another memorable Wingatian visual exposé.
































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Detailed views of some recent paintings that I hope suggest a layered and complex reality

Science has always wrestled with the idea of an immaterial will, or agency, at work in the universe, and for centuries it was thought to be expressed through the “laws of nature.” God might be dead, but he rules on, or so it was thought, through his immutable laws. It turns out, however, that those laws are at best crude averages, rough generalizations. Take a more fine-grained look, or develop more sensitive instruments, and things get more interesting. At the smallest, quantum, level, there are no laws at all, only probabilities. An electron can be here, there, or both places at once, very much as if it had a choice in the matter…A hint of—dare I say?—animism has entered into the scientific worldview. The physical world is no longer either dead or passively obedient to the “laws.”

The closer and more carefully we probe, the more [the universe] seethes with what looks like life—runaway processes driven by positive feedback loops, emergent patterns, violent attractions, quantum leaps, and always, as far ahead as we can see, more surprises. There may be no invisible creaturely “beings” afoot, either symbionts, parasites, or predators. But there are uncountable algorithms at work in the physical world, writhing and reaching, pulling matter and energy into their schemes, acting out of what almost seems to be an unquenchable playfulness.

These two passages are from one of my favorite recent reads, Barbara Ehrenreich‘s Living With a Wild God (which I wrote about in more detail here.) This book has been met with mixed reviews, and some of Ehrenreich’s longstanding fans of her approach—no bullshit, straight shooter—consider this book a wrong step into the mystical and the non-substantiated. For many, science is the religion of our era, and Ehrenreich has committed a heresy.

Whether the issue is science, politics, lifestyle, religious practice or art making, I am frustrated by the concept of dogma. There is not just one way to know or understand or do, and my inner agent provocateur gets called up when that is not acknowledged. Bring up the topic of crop circles or alien contactees around physicists and scientists, and they can’t depart your company fast enough. Once they are “Vaticanized” and ordained into their profession, spending any time in the mysterious (and at times mystical) fringe would be career suicide. Science has rules, regulations and practices, and if you break out you are marked.

And even though some have expelled Ehrenreich from the clan of the anointed, it may be that the reductionist/scientific stance is actually softening just a little. Ehrenreich describes how much the practice of science has changed over her lifetime, and her insights dovetail with those expressed by another scientist willing to step into the arena of the unanswered and unknowable, Alan Lightman. In his recent book, The Accidental Universe, Lightman (who is both a novelist and theoretical physicist) devotes an entire chapter to discussing what he terms the “spiritual universe.”

We scientists are taught from an early age of our apprenticeship not to waste time on questions that do not have clear and definite answers. But artists and humanists often don’t care what the answer is because definite answers don’t exist to all interesting and important questions…For many artists and humanists, the question is more important than the answer.

There are things we believe in that do not submit to the methods and reductions of science. Furthermore, faith and the passion for the transcendent that often goes with it have been the impulse for so many exquisite creations of humankind…The strong sense of the infinite, the belief in an unseen order in the world, the feeling of being in the presence of something divine are all personal.

Lightman has been part of a group of scientists and artists (centered in and around Cambridge MA) who explore contrasting beliefs and disparate ways of knowing. He and his friends are “fascinated by how science and religion can coexist in our minds.”

His solution has been to distinguish between the physical universe—that “constellation of all physical matter and energy that scientists study”—and the spiritual universe, the territory of religion and the nonmaterial. “All of us have had experiences that are not subject to rational analysis,” he writes. “Besides religion, much of our art and our values and our personal relationships with other people spring from such experiences.” For Lightman, the distinction between the physical and the spiritual universes mirrors the essential tension of the personal and the impersonal. While the spiritual universe is perceived by many to hover out just beyond our personal being, the evidence of that universe is extremely personal.

The personal and the impersonal, the willingness to acknowledge a multiverse of more dimensions than we can see or measure—these are expansions in thinking that have import on more than just the practice of science. As Ehrenreich put is so eloquently, the playfulness appears to be unquenchable, dogma be damned.

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The Tempest, at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge MA (Photo: A.R.T.)

Ah Prospero. You are my favorite character in all of Shakespeare! The masterful conjurings, the lonely exile, the fierce revenge still raging after twelve years away from the lost Dukedom of Milan, the Other embodied in ethereality and earthiness, the willingness in the end to forgive and forego—there are so many parts of his story that have resonance for me. Many have described Prospero as a primal symbol for the solitary (and often solipsistic) artist, and others see him as a particularly personal stand in for Shakespeare himself (it was the last play he wrote before returning to Stratford upon Avon, and he died just two years later). It is a poetic fantasy, and one that asks for us to step out of the world that we know and to enter into a phantasm of sprites, monsters, magic and manipulated nature.

A.R.T.’s new production of Prospero’s world, The Tempest, makes stepping out of our world and into another domain quite effortless. Aided by the skillful blending of what may seem like disparate themes—old time dustbowl carney shows, classical magic tricks (even cards!), the rough and tumble earthiness of Tom Waits’ music played by rough and tumble musicians, physical performers and Pilobolus-inspired acrobatism, staging in and off the proscenium—Prospero’s island laboratory of extraordinary powers invites us in and we are all his, ready to be enchanted.

Co-directors Aaron Posner and Teller (the quiet one from the Penn & Teller magic duo), have also blended their quite disparate visions of the play in a way that gives it a richly layered texture. For Posner The Tempest is a family play, with the island inhabitants of Prospero, Miranda, Ariel and Caliban making up an odd but not unfamiliar version of the dysfunctional family. For Teller it is the magic, the thing he loves most in life. “How different Prospero is from typical fairy tale wizards,” Teller writes. “He doesn’t use spells and potions to affect the physical world. He creates shows, and those shows—’that insubstantial pagaent’—are his weapons. That makes him less like a warlock than like a stage magician.” But as Teller points out, Prospero gives it all up, the very thing that is so essential to his very being. And why? For the love for his daughter, Miranda. Which brings all the theatrics right back to Posner’s view of the play as a story about family.

Yes, the editing of the play has been generous, but I do not take issue with that. Purists are often offended by any prunings of the Bard’s original material. But many of us know this play well, and the well-placed nips and tucks hold this production together in a way that does not feel inadequate or abusive of its intent. And what performances! Nate Dendy‘s Ariel is the best I have ever seen—every move he makes is light as air, and in the end he disappears from the stage as if by magic(!)—plus a Caliban cobbled from two sets of bodies is unforgettable.

We all agreed we would love to see it again. But we would need some serious conjuring skills of our own to make that happen since every show is sold out for the rest of the run through June 15. Standing room, anyone?

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Magpie’s nest (Photo: Wire.com)

Last week I returned from a two week sojourn in the desert. Everything shifts around inside when I am in that landscape, and I have been gently allowing the ballast that balances me to settle into its new positions. Luckily I found the perfect companion for that subtle transition: Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything, by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Ehrenreich is a longtime hero of mine, a tireless advocate for humanitarian causes and most especially for those living at the fringe—she took several months out of her life to live and work as a minimum wage earner before writing about the absurd poverty of that life in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She can be relied on for consistently brilliant writing full of insightful—and often very necessary—jabs at issues that are important but often overlooked. Living With a Wild God is quintessential Ehrenreich but with a twist, one that swings in very close to the magpie’s nest of my own handcrafted reality, a collection of sinewy bits that have held true over a lifetime and are still deemed durable.

This book is a very personal account that plumbs Ehrenreich’s formative childhood and adolescence. Most particularly it is about an experience she had when she was 17 that was so inexplicably outside her cast iron atheist, “science can explain everything” upbringing that she buried it as a secret.

Over time however the events of her life worked it to the surface. When things were going well she could “handle a world without transcendence.” But when things began to fall apart, “the repressed began its inevitable return.” The frost heaves of 50 years forced her to come to terms with that experience and the implications of what happened to her on that day so long ago.

After a night of sleeping in her car while on a road trip with friends near Death Valley, Ehrenreich took an early morning walk by herself. Suddenly the world flamed into life. “Something poured into me and I poured out into it.”

Many of us would celebrate this unexpected revelation of the oneness of life, but Ehrenreich greeted the whole encounter with disdain. For her evidence-based scientific mind (she went on to get her PhD in cellular immunology), this was an aberration, something to be buried and forgotten. At that point in her life, she was unwilling and incapable of embracing anything that even remotely suggested a mystical experience.

But her older self eventually comes to see it in a different light. As is her nature, she sought for understanding by researching similar experiences. She discovers that encounters like these are more common than she had ever imagined. While many flatly dismiss these occurrences as a chemical imbalance in the brain or a form of mental illness, an older and wiser Ehrenreich does not find this to be an adequate explanation.

What nudged her into a more expansive view of what that experience could have been was her midlife immersion in nature. Describing an exquisite sunset seen from her home in the Florida Keys, she writes:

I came to think of it as the Presence, what scientists call an “emergent quality,” something greater than the sum of all the parts—the birds and cloudscapes and glittering Milky Way—that begins to feel like a single living, breathing Other. There was nothing mystical about this Presence, or so I told myself. It was just a matter of being alert enough to put things together, to catch the drift. And when it succeeded in gathering itself together out of all the bits and pieces—from the glasslike calm of the water at dawn to the earsplitting afternoon thunder—-there was a sense of great freedom and uplift, whether on my part or on its.

She goes on to quote author Howard Bloom:

We have vastly underrated the cosmos that gave us birth. We have understated her achievements, her capacities, and her creativity. We’ve set aside will, purpose and persistence in a magic enclosure and have claimed that [they] do not belong to nature, they belong solely to us human beings.

Ehrenreich then adds this thought: “We have, in other words, made ourselves far lonelier than we have any reason to be.”

The values I was taught in my childhood were completely different from Ehrenreich’s. I came from a very confined and narrow religious tradition, full of constraints and limitations about how to live and what was possible. But underneath the restrictiveness was a foundation of numinousness. Mystical experiences were revered, and touching into the ineffable was sought after. While the via creativa was not encompassed in my religious upbringing, the numinousness at its core spilled over into my life as an artist. Uncertainty, ineffability, mystery, trust in the unseen and an easy comfort with what cannot be measured—all essential requirements for my process-driven kind of art making—are concepts that I learned from my religious heritage. While I found no reason to carry any of the theological trappings into my adult life, those fundamental qualities are hobbled into my magpie’s nest.

Ehrenreich’s family traditions were completely different, but we both have ended up with a similar view. Her final paragraph is a lovely tribute to her own journey and closely aligns with my way of seeing things:

Ah, you say, this is all in your mind. And you are right to be skeptical: I expect no less. It is in my mind, which I have acknowledged from the beginning is a less than perfect instrument. But this is what appears to be the purpose of my mind, and no doubt yours as well, its designated function beyond all the mundane calculations: To condense all of the chaos and mystery of the world into a palpable Other or Others, not necessarily because we love it, and certainly not out of any intention to “worship” it. But because ultimately we may have no choice in this matter. I have the impression, growing out of the experiences chronicled here, that it may be seeking us out.

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Pottery shards from a bygone era are everywhere along the upper mesa at Tsankawi

One of the best parts of visiting New Mexico is the rich mix of mark making. A sense of surfaces that have been touched is everywhere, some of it from human hands and some of it by other means. In a landscape that leans naturally into the minimalist and the contemplative, even the smallest gestures deserve attention.

So outdoors and in, alone and in company of friends, some great moments happened for me, extraordinary occasions for the eye to flood the interior landscape with a rare refulgence. That transformative experience—that “retinal flutter”—can and does happen everywhere that our engaged eyes travel. But there is something about the desert variety of those encounters that speaks personally and particularly to me. I have desert dirt in me, going back many generations, which is a handy explanation albeit an incomplete one.

A few highlights for those of you interested in the area of artmaking: Elmer Schooley (I have written about him previously here) has moments of brilliance that stand out from the rest of his work. The Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art collection in Roswell has probably the most exquisite Schooley I have ever seen in person. Untitled, it alone justified the 3 hour drive from Santa Fe. Other worthy viewables in Roswell: Susana Jacobson (my old LES loft mate), Johnnie Winona Ross and Jean Promutico.

Between jaunts into the desert on my own, I visited the studios of several friends. Having time to sit with extraordinary work and to talk about this engagement that mutually fills our waking (and dreaming) consciousness was so memorable. These New Mexico-based artists are doing work that continues to inspire, engage and delight me:

Ciel Bergman
David Forlano
Diane McGregor

Special thanks to the inimitable Jill Fineberg who was an intrepid advocate and friend throughout my visit.

I am off again tomorrow, this time to DC to celebrate the wedding of my sweet niece Sarah Larsen (plus some time with my ever changing and ever engaging granddaughter Siena Wilcox), but I’ll be back to being Boston-based next week.

Untitled, by Elmer Schooley

Untitled (detail)

Untitled (even closer in)

Johnnie Winona Ross at Anderson

Jean Promutico at Anderson

Susan Jacobson at Anderson

spaceship clouds
The view of spaceship clouds from Tsankawi

Surface of the water at the hot springs at Ojo Caliente

The Earthship Biotecture near Taos

More Earthship

bitter lake
Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

At Bitter Lake


Desert wall

Visiting Ciel Bergman’s studio (Photo: Jill Fineberg)

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Somewhere in New Mexico

A Muslim prayer expresses this extraordinary request: “Lord, increase my bewilderment.”

In poet Fanny Howe‘s essay, “Bewilderment”, from her essay collection, The Wedding Dress, she describes bewilderment as more than an attitude. It is an actual approach she says, a way to “settle with the unresolvable.”

And this:

A signal does not necessarily mean that you want to be located or described. It can mean that you want to be known as Unlocatable and Hidden…

Weakness, fluidity, concealment, and solitude assume their place in a kind of dream world, where the sleeping witness finally feels safe to lie down in mystery.

Those are wise words, especially as I head to the Southwest desert for a few weeks. A bit of a walkabout, time alone in the open expanses. And Fanny has advice about that as well:

The wilderness as metaphor is in this case evocative enough because causing a complete failure in the magnet, the compass, the scale, the stars, and the movement of the rivers is more catastrophic than getting lost in the woods. Bewilderment is an enchantment that follows a complete collapse of reference and reconcilability.

I’ll be back, hopefully with stories to tell.

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Moe Angelos as young Susan Sontag (and as an older Sontag on a scrim above) in the Builders Association’s “Sontag: Reborn.” (Photo: James Gibbs)

Susan Sontag, author of many books that are now classics—Against Interpretation, On Photography, Illness as Metaphor, Where the Stress Falls, Regarding the Pain of Others—has been gone for 10 years. But her trenchant writing, brilliant insights and fearless expressiveness have kept her very much alive, here in the present. She comes up in conversation frequently in my life, and her books are some of my favorites. Now that her journals are available—she began writing them when she was a precocious and voraciously curious 14 year old—the evolution of her mind’s development has been laid open.

It is a tempting idea to capture Sontag’s quickfire thinking in a theatrical setting, and I can think of a thousand ways it would not work. But when your team is actor and adapter Moe Angelos, director Marianne Weems and the rest of Builders Association team, that rarefied Sontagian world is recreated with a multidimensional richness that is mystifying. In Sontag: Reborn, the many textures are captured—how the mind thinks, how reality is constantly being parsed, how a writer arduously creates (and invents) a self.

“We tried to stage her mind at work, her mental process, in a small way,” says Angelos who plays Sontag both as a young woman and later in her life. Part of that mental process involves the vulnerability that was so evident in the young Sontag, a quality that really struck Angelos when she poured over Sontag’s unedited journals in the Sontag archives at UCLA. Experiencing the awkwardness and discomfort of a young brilliant woman gives a new dimension to the hard edged, combative woman that Sontag was known to be in her later life.

While there is only one actor on stage throughout, this is nothing like the genre of the one woman show. Angelos sits at a desk and begins as a teenaged Sontag. Projected nearby is a larger-than-life image of Angelos playing an older Sontag with that signatory white mane. As the young Sontag shares her insights, the older Sontag interacts and comments. (How appropriate given Sontag’s predilection to review her own early journal entires and allow her older self to annotate them.) Words appear on the screen behind Angelos as she writes, and phrases periodically unravel out towards the audience. The dreamy specter of an older self, the stacks of books that were so beloved, the agonizing struggle to make sense of the self and of life–it all comes together to open up a theatrical window into the private and evolving mind of a writer.

I have heard about Builders Association and their singular mastery of multimedia, but this is the first production by them that I have seen. Their own description is a good one: “The company uses the richness of new and old tools to extend the boundaries of theatre. Based on innovative collaborations, they blend stage performance, text, video, sound and architecture to tell stories about human experience in the 21st century.” I won’t be missing any of their future productions.

If you are in Boston, if you love words, if you are fascinated by Sontag, if you are engaged in the life of the mind, this is for you. The performance is at the Paramount Center and runs through May 18. For more information, see ArtsEmerson.

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Door into my zone of privacy, my studio

I am not the only artist out there voicing advocacy for the way of solitude. There are many of us who spend most of our days working alone and know that is the only way we can do what we do. But Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has brought the topic to a larger audience.

From her article, The Rise of the New Groupthink:

Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

In her article, Cain highlights the necessary introverted approach of Apple’s cofounder Steve Wozniak:

The story of Apple’s origin speaks to the power of collaboration. Mr. Wozniak wouldn’t have been catalyzed by the Altair but for the kindred spirits of Homebrew. And he’d never have started Apple without Mr. Jobs.

But it’s also a story of solo spirit. If you look at how Mr. Wozniak got the work done — the sheer hard work of creating something from nothing — he did it alone. Late at night, all by himself.

Intentionally so. In his memoir, Mr. Wozniak offers this guidance to aspiring inventors:

“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me … they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone …. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

Note: Today’s post is based on an earlier one from the Slow Muse archive.

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New York park pond
“Hydra,” by Kay Canavino*, a photograph in my personal collection that I look at every day and adore

I keep coming to that tough place, the one where you just have to say, “Yes, but…” It is a pervasive thing, this need to straddle. It isn’t just in the area of art and art making, but in so many aspects of life. How many times a day do we encounter strongly stated opinions, ones that make a case with unyielding certainty? The problem is, I don’t believe in certainty, so the push back is constant.

Here is a good case in point: The ongoing argument regarding the nature of art criticism and the role that it plays in relationship to experiencing and coming to terms with art. In an interview with the art theorist Arthur Danto (who passed away last October), he is asked to define the role of the critic who has lived during the transition from modernism to postmodernism:

Modernist criticism is formalist, while postmodernist criticism is relativist…My objection to formalism is that it tends to imply that formalism is all there is to criticism. My objection to postmodernism is that it tends to imply that there are no universal truths about art. Postmodernists base this belief on the radical pluralism that has overtaken the art world in recent decades. I am entirely a defender of radical pluralism (the term was invented by William James), which may make it seem that I am in fact postmodernist myself. But I am, to the contrary, an essentialist, and my project as a philosopher of art has been to nail down the definition of art that covers all cases, western and non0-western, contemporary and traditional. So I am entirely anti-relativist.

Nail down a definition of art that holds in all cases? Is he serious? Later in the same interview he says, “the method of art criticism I practice is much like science, in the sense that in science, one infers to the best explanation of the data.” Not my way of experiencing (or creating) art.

Another critic, Donald Kuspit, answers the same question:

In modernism aesthetic and cultural values, and the value of art itself, seemed clear, however debatable. In postmodernism, nothing is clear—everything to do with art is open to interminable discussion. Uncertainty rather than certainty reigns. It is no longer possible to be definitive: to have a decisively closed reading, an absolute idea of value, a linear historical narrative…In postmodernism the canon has collapsed, and the collapse reverberates back onto modernism: there is no such thing as modernism, but rather a pluralism of modernisms, each with its particular concerns and values, and each addressed to a different audience. We are truly in what André Malraux called “museum without walls”—a museum in which no artists have a place of privilege, and every artist, however ostensibly innovative, is simply one factor in an ever expanding field of artistic operations and audience participation.

Yes, but…there are other versions of what is happening. This is just one.

But then, in the same interview, Kuspit drills down deeper into a particularly harsh and discomforting reality—how the market for art is affected by those trends:

In postmodernism the market has become the major determinant of art’s meaning and value, thus usurping critical consciousness, which is a tragedy for both art and criticism. Both have become peculiarly impotent–encapsulated and neurtralized—by the popularity and importance that money confers. Art has entered the capitalist mainstream: more than ever, its exchange value matters more than its use value–its value for consciousness, emotion, subjectivity, and more broadly culture. Decades ago Meyer Schapiro noted that the spiritual and economic value of art tended to be confused. Today the economic value of art confers spiritual value on it, at least for the public at large.

He engenders less of a push back from me with this point of view. Kuspit’s take on things closely tracks with a recent piece about the rise in art prices at auction in the New York Times titled, The Great Divide in the Art Market. Addressing the impact of these economic changes on art investing, this article dovetails with the conclusions of the cause célèbre book at the moment, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, written by rockstar economist Thomas Piketty.

From the Times:

Where does that leave a lower-level art investor?

“People look too much at auction results,” Mr. McNerney said. “Rich collectors compete in auctions to prove how much money they have. The rest of us should just have a discussion about the art we like.”

And so with “investment grade” works beyond the reach of most wallets, buyers at the lower end of the market are having to fall back in love with the idea that art is a commodity that generates something more than mere financial returns.

“Art gives you something every day,” said Pilar Ordovas, a London-based dealer and former European head of Christie’s contemporary art department. “There are several art markets, and it is possible to buy good things that are prints and works on paper. It’s all about developing an eye and not ticking boxes and thinking about stocks and shares.”

I am less with the “Yes…but” with this report and more with the wish that someday, somehow, more people will figure out how intense and powerful the connection can be with art that was not purchased for investment purposes. Imagine! Buying art that you picked yourself, because it spoke to you personally. The walls of my home are filled with works that enthrall me everyday, most of them by artists whose names you would not recognize but who are as committed and hardworking as those who show up in auctions.

But that is another topic for another day.

*You can see more images from Kay Canavino here.

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Veriddyi 2
“Veriddyi 2″, a recent painting (and one that speaks to my ongoing longing to envision that first day of creation)

One of my favorite quotes comes by way of W. S. Piero from his book of essays, Out of Eden: “Certain artists give up the making of representational images so that they can see through traditional iconography to the world as it could have been seen only on the first day of creation.”

The longing for this primeval envisioning speaks to many of the aspects of art making that resemble a monastic practice (which I wrote about here). For those of us who are in search for that primordial sense of things, that usually means that voyaging there alone.

By pronouncing his credo as “truth is a pathless land,” Krishnamurti disavowed his alliance with the Theosophists (who were grooming him carefully) as well as with any religion, nationality or philosophy. That essential tension between going it alone and doing it with a group has been a recurring theme in my life. I was raised in a very structured religious setting where rules, obedience and participation in the community are core values. Whether in the domain of spiritual practice or of art making, I’m very clear about one thing: I am not designed for joining.

From the poet Kazim Ali:

You can search alongside others, but I don’t think others can help you understand your own nature…I’ve always been on my own, a single person in the field of physical matter, on his back looking up into oblivion…

To join with others in a gesture of similitude—I can’t draw anything from that, or at least at the moment have not been able to do so. I’d rather be wandering in a trance through the streets of a busy city, peeling an orange and whispering to the universe than sitting in a pew listening to a sermon or kneeling on a rug reciting chapters.

In the introduction to their book, A God in the House: Poets Talk About Faith, Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler give poetry (or more broadly art making) a memorable positioning:

In the end, what poetry and faith share, perhaps more than anything else, is a sense of awe. In awe is the beginning of a life of wonder. Or, as the poet Jack Spicer put it, in an American idiom: “Poets think they are pitchers, when they are actually catchers.”

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