Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Illuminating Walt Whitman’s Words with Pictures

It’s one of the great openings in all of American literature: “I celebrate myself, / And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” So begins Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” the opening and central poem of Whitman’s life’s work, Leaves of Grass. Generations of readers—many enthralled, but many confused—have encountered the “Good Gray Poet” in classrooms, but Whitman’s the poet of wide open spaces from the wilderness to the cosmos. Allen Crawford’s new illustrated version of “Song of Myself,” titled Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself, hopes to bring clarity to those struggling with the poem in the belief that “every atom belonging to” Whitman “as good” still remains to us, if only we can crack the poet’s code and rediscover the good he recognized in everyone through his fervent spiritual, poetic, and democratic ideals. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Illuminating Walt Whitman’s Words with Pictures."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Does Opera Have a Weight Problem (But Just for Women)?

“It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” American sport fans have heard that Wagnerian opera allusion countless times when one team seems hopelessly behind but with plenty of time to come back. Unfortunately, the stereotype of overweight opera singers, specifically women opera singers, reared its ugly head once again in an incident involving 27-year-old, Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Eerraught (shown above) singing the part of Octavian in Richard StraussDer Rosenkavalier at this year's Glyndebourne Festival Opera in England. Early reviews from several major British newspapers all focused on Eerraught’s physical appearance and how they felt her weight detracted from the quality of the performance. Witnessing this young singer face age-old stereotypes about body image, the opera world took arms against the critics to bring the curtain down once and for all on opera and modern society’s female-specific weight problem. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Does Opera Have a Weight Problem (But Just for Women)?"

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

An Exhibition About an Art Critic?

Nobody goes to a baseball game to watch the umpires, so why would someone go to a museum to see an exhibition dedicated to an art critic—one of those arbiters of taste who hopes to mediate but sometimes only muddles the interaction between artists and the public? England’s Tate Britain bets that the British public will come to watch the umpire in their new exhibition Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation. Not just your average umpire, Sir Kenneth Clark (shown above) ruled over art criticism for decades, stretching from his becoming Director of the British National Gallery in 1933 at just 30 years of age all the way to his crowning achievement with the 13-part documentary Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark in 1969. Although the main focus of the show is on Clark’s work in the 1930s and 1940s, by having the show’s title hark back to his highly personal broadcast of what was civilization and art, it raises the larger question of how this public servant served the public for well-intentioned good and possibly ill, as any critic can. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "An Exhibition About an Art Critic?"

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kara Walker’s Sweet, Not So Subtle Revenge on Big Sugar

If you know the sexually and racially charged art of Kara Walker, you know one thing—she’s not subtle. Walker’s artistic oeuvre to date makes the title of her newest work, which is also her first large-scale public project, all the funnier—A Subtlety. Subtitled the Marvelous Sugar Baby for the 35-foot-high, 75-foot-long, sugar sphinx “Mammy” (shown above) at the heart of the exhibition, Walker’s “subtlety” show both alludes to the absurdly elaborate desserts (also known as “entremets”) the nobility of the past would stage for their guests as well as the subtle, unseen ways that the sugar we use to sweeten our lives still comes as the cost of the embitterment of lives of those living in third world countries. Adding to the symbolism, A Subtlety appears in the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, which was once the largest sugar refinery in the United States but which is now destined for the wrecking ball. In what might be the most significant (if not the physically largest) artistic statement of the year, Kara Walker’s A Subtlety enacts sweet, not so subtle revenge on big sugar of yesterday and calls us to examine the cruelty mixed into every sweet spoonful today. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Kara Walker’s Sweet, Not So Subtle Revenge on Big Sugar."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Does America Need More Wa?

The 2011 Tōhoku, Japan, earthquake and tsunami killed thousands of people and damaged more than one million buildings, including the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant. The initial crisis of rebuilding that region quickly became a question of how to rebuild, including how to rebuild the fractured spirit of the place. “This spirit and awareness of the importance of collective memory and the risk of losing that ‘capacity for making,’ which is an expression of social cohesion,” Rossella Menegazzo writes in the introduction to Wa: The Essence of Japanese Design turned Tōhoku into a center of design as “social interaction.” The fallout of that terrible crisis was a purposeful turning back to the idea of Wa, the Japanese cultural idea usually translated as “harmony” in English, and away from the more rational, individualist ideas of the West. Wa takes form in everything from a building to a chair to a kitchen knife. As American society faces its own ideological upheavals and tidal waves of unrest as political races begin to go nuclear, it’s worth asking: Does America need more Wa? Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Does America Need More Wa?"

Roz Chast’s Comic Take on Taking Care of Elderly Parents

“It was against my parents’ principles to talk about death,” Roz Chast writes in Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir. “Between their one-bad-thing-after-another lives and the Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust, in which they both lost family—it was amazing that they weren’t crazier than they were. Who could blame them for not wanting to talk about death?” In this, her first memoir, Chast talks and cartoons about death years after her parents’ deaths and the trip down that long road to that end, which starts slowly in her childhood but accelerates frenetically in those final years of emotional and physical dependence. Many of us will face the unavoidable realities surrounding aging and dying parents, but Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir offers, if not advice, at least sympathy from one who’s been there and survived with wit and compassion. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Roz Chast’s Comic Take on Taking Care of Elderly Parents."

How Patrick Kelly Emancipated Fashion

“I’ll take American Fashion History for $500, Alex.” “The answer: This man was the first American to be admitted as a member of the Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode, the prestigious French fashion association, in 1988.” “Who is Patrick Kelly?” The question remains decades later. Who is Patrick Kelly, not only the first American to join the ranks of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and others, but an African-American man? Two new exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of ArtPatrick Kelly: Runway of Love and Gerlan Jeans ♥ Patrick Kelly—try to answer that question by recalling a tragically short, but groundbreaking career in fashion in which Kelly created artful fashion while challenging racial boundaries that still persist today. Arguing against those who see fashion as trivial, Patrick Kelly’s story shows how one man emancipated fashion through fun and love. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "How Patrick Kelly Emancipated Fashion."

Thursday, May 1, 2014

How Making Art Can Rebuild Broken Communities

"The broken places are my canvases,” Artist Lily Yeh says in the documentary The Barefoot Artist. “People’s stories are my pigments. People’s talents and imaginations are the instruments. I began to find my voice.” Since the 1980s, Yeh has taken her talents to places around the world broken by poverty or war and rebuilt those communities through the making of communal art. Through what eventually grew into the organization Barefoot Artists, Yeh “breathe[s] life, beauty, rhythm, and joy into th[ose] space[s]” that “beckon” to her as the “forgotten” homes of “traumatized people.” The directing team of Glenn Holsten and Daniel Traub (who is also Yeh’s son) have followed Yeh’s work since 1988 and provide an inspiring film that is sometimes painful in its honesty but always as hopeful as Yeh’s unyielding faith in the power of art to restore the individual spirit and rebuild shattered communities. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "How Making Art Can Rebuild Broken Communities."