In our rush to control our children’s experience, we forget that people sometimes learn most from attempting to do those things for which they’re not naturally gifted.
As a child, my most obvious talents were musical, and although I studied classical piano for 20 years, I turned out to be an artist—no doubt because, not in spite of, of the challenges art continues to present.
I don’t practice yoga because I’m naturally flexible, but because I’m not.
In Lawrence Wechsler’s biography of Robert Irwin, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, Irwin says:
In my years…as a teacher, I’ve seen it over and over again. It’s the kids with the greatest facility who can run up against the biggest problems. You are the best in your class without even trying, which is the best way to learn nothing…The not-so-facile kid just plugs along, every step is a working step, and he comes to the twentieth step and it’s just another step. But facility is a funny thing—it takes you way up, you soar, and you look like you’re really doing something—but at a certain point you go as far as you can with facility, and then you hit the big questions. And for you, who’ve never been pressed, that can present a huge roadblock. I’ve seen a lot of kids get waylaid at this point…
I’m convinced children are best served when the quality of their effort is applauded, rather than their success. ("The process is the reality," as Samuel Johnson said.) And because there’s a Times article to back up every opinion, here’s Praise Children for Effort, Not Intelligence, Study Says, from 1998.
Here’s the trailer for the film (as it was recreated in 2000):
And the best Kid Creole video I found, from a concert in Cologne (the clip in the film is even better):
And sound, no visual, for James White/Chance (you gotta see him in the film):
In these over-stimulated times "Downtown 81" isn’t a film to watch, exactly, but—as Roberto suggested—have on while you’re doing something else. The one to sit down with, of course, is Julian Schnabel’s 1996 Basquiat, the only film I can think of (outside of High Fidelity) that captures the spirit of a time and place I lived in as I remember it.
Meanwhile the free-wheeling uninhibited nature of the music isn't totally confined to reminiscence but lives on in current bands such as The Rapture, whose exuberant live show is one of the best yet.
January 30, 2009: Ken Johnson, Elizabeth Schambelan, Joan Waltemath
February 20, 2009: Johanna Burton, Mark Stevens, Sarah Valdez
March 20, 2009: Michael Brenson, Carol Diehl, David Ebony
Aptil 24, 2009: Deborah Garwood, Blake Gopnik, Alexi Worth
All at 6:45 p.m. at the National Academy Museum, 1083 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street ($5).
On the way I caught Jenny Holzer’s projections at the Guggenheim,.which illuminate the exterior of the building every Friday evening through December 31, 2008, with a special additional showing on New Year’s Eve:
In addition, there seems to be a paucity of proper viewing areas. We saw paintings (priced in the tens of thousands) propped on blocks, held up by assistants, in their cartons (this after calling ahead), leaning against other paintings.
So if anyone wants to know why art fairs (and auctions) are overcoming galleries, it’s because at an art fair you can immediately see the work, the price is out in the open, and you can talk to someone who acts like a grown-up and who may actually know something. There was a time when galleries served a valuable purpose in developing artists’ careers while educating and advising collectors, and kudos to those who still take this role seriously. However the interface that used to be helpful is now often an impediment—as well as a missed opportunity.
Growing up in the fifties in a family who Liked Ike, what it meant to be an American was clear to me. America’s history was my family’s history—our forbears came to this country to escape religious persecution in France and England, my Quaker ancestors overcame their pacifism to fight against slavery in the Civil War, my grandfather’s first cousin led the U.S. Naval forces during the Normandy invasion in World War II. Americans were the good guys, the liberators, defenders of human rights. When I said the Pledge of Allegiance every day in my public school, there was a little stir in my childish heart, a pride that came of believing my country was different because the Constitution guaranteed basic freedoms of speech and religion, of being innocent until proven guilty, of one man [sic], one vote. Torture, racial and religious discrimination, a wide disparity between rich and poor, countries who invaded and occupied other countries, the use of mercenaries, large numbers of people in prison, blind nationalism, funny elections—these we associated with the totalitarian regimes America opposed, then characterized by the Russians and Nikita “I will bury you” Khrushchev. However I came of political age during the Vietnam War, and from then on became increasingly disillusioned as the distinctions became more and more blurred, until I found myself living in a world that more resembled them than us. Neither political party spoke for me, as neither took a firm stand against the Iraq war, against torture, against Guantanamo.
Until now. I didn’t realize how much it was getting to me. When I'd wake up in the morning, it was as if every day was gray. However since last Tuesday, the sun has been out. There’s warmth, possibility. My fellow Americans are my fellow Americans, not thoughtless automatons cowed by fear. I’m not on the outside but part of something huge. We did it together. We not only sent the Bush administration down the tubes, we elected a black president. How cool is that? And further, a thinking, literate, intelligent, poetic person who sees himself as accountable, who holds a press conference and actually solicits and answers questions from journalists. Who has such confidence that, at the Democratic Convention, he allowed his young daughters to go on international television miked and unscripted (a small detail, but I still haven’t gotten over it). I’m moved to tears now, and often, such as this morning when I read Frank Rich’s column.
But I realize this is just a beginning, that we are entering the “Reconstruction” phase. Last night a friend was asking herself how was it that she was so numb for eight years, why wasn’t she out battling? I asked myself the same thing. But I think a big reason was because we felt alone, that nothing we did could make a difference. Now that we know “We Can” there’s no limit to what else we can do. I’m going to start by pledging $20 a month to MoveOn, as I already do with The Hunger Project (they take it out of your bank or credit card account automatically every month, which I like—perhaps MoveOn will follow suit). It’s a small gesture, but meaningful if we all do it. Perhaps that’s the best lesson we’ve learned.
I’d hoped that my ten days away just before the election would provide some much-needed respite from agonizing over it every single moment, but instead I found the Europeans equally obsessed. To judge by the amount of coverage the election is getting in the British press, you’d think it was a local event. And the international members of Olafur Eliasson’s staff, who I joined for lunch in his Berlin studio, were as up-to-date on Joe the Plumber and the price of Sarah Palin’s wardrobe as anyone. It feels as if the whole world is holding its breath.
There’s even a Web site started by three Icelanders, If the World Could Vote, which (as of this writing) has collected 666,246 symbolic votes from 210 countries: 578,461 (86.8%) for Obama, 87,780 (13.2%) for McCain. I’d feel better if the polls reflected a similar disparity.
Our purpose in going to Olafur’s studio was to shoot footage for a short documentary focusing on his collaboration with mathematician, architect, and all-around visionary Einar Thorsteinn, who previously worked with Buckminster Fuller and Linus Pauling. Olafur and Einar have been working together since they met in Iceland 12 years ago, when Olafur, then 29, was looking for someone to help him build a geodesic dome-type structure, and one project led to another. The two-hour shoot couldn’t have gone better. We had some anxiety when, in the morning, city workers suddenly appeared with deafeningly noisy equipment to spend several hours pounding gravel into the cobblestone courtyard outside, but miraculously they finished just as we were about begin. I barely had to refer to my list of prepared questions; Olafur and Einar addressed each point in order as methodically as if they’d been clued in by a secret spy (I believe in never sharing questions with interviewees in advance, lest I get a canned response).
Despite requests by collectors and institutions to buy individual models and even the whole, Olafur and Einar’s Model Room, much of which was at PS 1 for the MoMA show, has been reinstalled in the conference room of the new studio and spills out into the hallway, where it continues to grow and serve as inspiration for new projects. The attitude toward it is hardly precious—this is a workshop, Einar said—and he told us, while we were filming it, to feel free to move things around as we liked. While Terry and Erica were setting up, I had time to spend with these quirky geometric gems, which led me to think about the relationship between harmony and chaos and how, to be fully engaging, an artwork requires certain degrees of each. It was also energizing to be around the 30 or 40 members of Olafur’s busy team, who he sees as working with rather than for him, acknowledged co-creators, an attitude which results in a palpable enthusiasm all around. He also feeds them well. Every day the cook (working in the studio kitchen, which is not walled off, so that she’s part of the creative bustle around her) prepares a simple, healthy lunch—the day I was there it was pumpkin risotto with a green salad and great bread. The food is is laid out buffet style and eaten on long trestle tables in the cavernous dining area, which has walls and high ceilings faced with the remnants of beautiful old tiles and tall, arched windows. As well as making sure everyone gets proper nutrition, the communal meal has its practical reasons for being—no one wastes time going out for food, and it provides a daily opportunity for cross-communication that would be unlikely otherwise.
I didn’t see much to mention in London, other than Frank Gehry’s pavilion at the Serpentine, which looked as if he’d handed the project over to an intern. Or perhaps it would have been better if he had. Terry deemed it “over-built and under-designed.” While the press release described it as “seemingly random,” I—a Gehry fan in general—couldn’t discern any over-arching concept, but saw it as an example of chaos that could have benefited from a little mediating harmony. I think we’ve had enough random for one century, thank you. While we were there an English girl and her Indian boy friend—art students, no doubt—were in the middle of an argument about their relationship when the guy became distracted and, looking over at the pavilion, muttered, “That thing is a pile of shit.”