OK, here is another movie recommendation for you: Troublemakers: the Story of Land Art. If you are interested in environmental art and the American West, this is one to put on your list. What’s great about it: historical interviews with artists and footage of land art being excavated and built.
What’s weird about it: the lack of contemporary interviews with the film’s most noted artists (many of whom are deceased). Troublemakers relies heavily on interviews with people who knew them, which while interesting, aren’t the same as hearing from the artists themselves.
Interact with Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and other remotely sited pieces (and plan your land art road trip) on Google maps.
Over the weekend I finally got to watch Jim Jarmusch’s 2014 vampire flick, Only Lovers Left Alive and wholeheartedly recommend. It’s fun to watch these two beautifully attired vampire lovers played by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston speed reading, listening to records, lounging around and basking in each other’s company.
Alas, Big Magic in its beautiful dust jacket failed to conjure much for me.
I only mention Only Lovers because my experience watching it put me so much more in the mood to consider art than Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2015 creativity book, Big Magic. I started Big Magic last week, am still reading, and frankly finding it depressing because of all the tough-love advice nuggets like, “Get a job!” “What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?” and, “Please try to relax.” Anyhoo, while I like art and creativity books in general, and am one of those people who loved Gilbert’s bestseller, Eat Pray Love, Big Magic isn’t speaking my language. That’s OK. Plenty of other books do. People seeking constructive advice geared toward helping you move forward with creative work in the face of fear, procrastination and perfectionism, I recommend Sam Bennett’s, Get It Done.
The line between art and entertainment can be hard to draw. It’s actually easier to say what art has in common with entertainment than what makes it different. They’re both diverting. They’re both cultural products. The differences, I think, have to do with intention, context, and the feeling produced in the viewer. Art offers something extra in that realm. Sometimes it produces an inchoate yearning that has to do with your potential as a human being. Or maybe it evokes awe, or startles you, or is weird. Whatever the feeling you get from it, art gets under your skin.
The Knick, a TV show directed by Stephen Soderbergh, is piece of entertainment that feels like art to me. It has atmosphere. The cinematography is intimate. The sound design, modern, driving. The editing, sensitively done. None of the trailers I’ve see for it do it justice. But here is one . . .
Every now and then I read a book that so wholly absorbs me I want to share it with everyone with whom I think it might connect. The Lonely City by Olivia Laing is one of those books. Part memoir, part art history, and part criticism, The Lonely City chronicles Laing’s experience living in New York after moving there from London to live with a lover who subsequently abandons her. A writer and critic, Laing trains her lens on the art that moved her most deeply, the paintings, photographs, videos and stories that comforted and pricked during her lonely stint in New York.
“Almost the only thing I found consoling was watching music videos on YouTube, curled on the sofa with my headphones on, listening again and again to the same voices finding the register for their distress . . . It was during this period that I first came across Klaus Nomi, mutant chantant, who made an art of being an alien, like no one else on earth . . . The film I liked best was of his very first appearance, at Irving Plaza on 15th Street in 1978, performing at a night called New Wave Vaudeville. He appears on stage in a see-through plastic cape, with wings painted around his eyes. A science-fiction figure, gender indeterminate, he opens his mouth and out comes ‘Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix’, my heart opens to your voice.”
Dishy and deeply researched, Laing opens each chapter with a personal anecdote that blossoms into an essay about a particular artist’s work, explaining how and why she connected with it, and making it newly relevant to contemporary viewers awash in digital culture.
“Warhol is often thought of as being completely subsumed by the glossy carapace of his own celebrity, of having successfully transformed himself into an instantly recognizable avatar . . . But one of the interesting things about his work, once you stop to look, is the way the real, vulnerable, human self remains stubbornly visible, exerting its own submerged pressure, its own mute appeal to the viewer.”
If ever a book called out for hypertext, it’s this one. Containing just a few images, mainly photographed portraits of the artists she writes about: Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger, Klaus Nomi, and a still from a documentary about Josh Harris’ project, We Live in Public, each chapter bubbles with alluring descriptions of visual art, the people who made it and their happenings.
By blending anecdotes with insights and thoughtful writing about art, The Lonely City challenges the creepy paradox of the internet, the way it simultaneously isolates and connects, in a way that feels personal rather than analytical. While Laing cites several other excellent, recent books about how devices are changing culture, like Alone Together by Sherry Turkle and The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, The Lonely City doesn’t follow their lead. It’s not a warning bolstered by cognitive science. Nor does it offer advice. But rather the author offers her vulnerability, her experience feeling lonely in a connected-all-the-time culture, as a gift to the reader in a fascinating read that places art and people rather than science and data at its center.
A post-snow flush of green pushing its way up and out.
Lavender, just greening, April 2016
Enjoy garden design? Check out A Little Chaos directed by Alan Rickman. It’s the only costume drama I can think of with a plot that turns on the idiosyncratic placement of a single pot. Middling performances by some terrific actors and a fascinating performance by Rickman. Beautiful shots of formal and informal gardens in various stages of completion.