An Artist’s Role in Troubled Times

MeinmystudioThere is the idea that art is not a ‘legitimate’ type of work; that it is a frivolity best saved for spare time, etc; or a luxury for the wealthy. But for artists who have a vision that they are compelled to share, art isn’t a frivolity or luxury- it’s a necessity. And for society, art is also a necessity, although this may not be realized by many. We are the spirit keepers, the mirrors, the candles. And we need to become our own best friends- to believe in ourselves and what we do. And stick together, rather than compete with one another.  – Agnes Martin

For those of you who do not make art full time, Agnes is right, it isn’t a frivolity or luxury, making art for an artist is a necessity, a bodily function if you will, like breathing.  When tragedy occurs , especially on a global scale,  artists respond.  It’s what we do.  We make art to express collective sentiment, or to mark the event, or to raise money for those impacted.  Artists are active participants in change.

For some of us American citizens, the results of the recent presidential election is a tragedy of serious magnitude.  People are afraid- of deportation; of destruction to the environment; of violence caused by racial, gender and sexual prejudice; of certain rights in place being repealed; and of having all that our country has done to progress dismantled.

It is a time for us artists to hunker down and figure out a way to respond.  Usually when faced with a catastrophe, my creativity goes out the window for a good long while.  It’s as if all my creative energy goes elsewhere.  Within me is an ominous radio silence, like the quiet before a tornado when all the birds stop singing and the air is completely still.

The day after the election had me metaphorically face down on my shield.  I was devastated.  I felt all the fight drain from me.  Meanwhile on social media I watch all my artist friends spring into action.   There are calls to action, conferences, symposiums, calls for entry for themed shows, calendars for organized protests, all within a week after the election.  I seem paralyzed.  I feel as if I’ve been through so much that it’s taking me longer and longer to bounce back.  What can I do to help support those willing to be on the front lines?

I thus retreat into contemplative mode.  By quiet contemplation and prayer I seek out the small still voice that will lead me where I need to go and tell me what to do once I get there.  And that small voice is telling me right now that alot of healing and peace making is needed right now.  Comfort and healing is a major thread in my work, has been for  years.  This I can do.  As I pray for healing and comfort to those suffering, and for wisdom and peaceful hearts for those now in charge, I leave you with who I am as an artist and how I respond to times like this through my work:  come inside my work and rest.

 

Autumn Frolics: the Performing Arts

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Crowned Queen of the Public Theater lobby

Although if given the choice I will choose to experience the fine arts most any day, Bill and I go to the theater and other performing arts events a lot- more than we watch television or go to the movies. I’ll try to cover as best I can what we’ve seen in any given season. From now until the end of November we’re going to the theater practically every week.

We have memberships to Lincoln Center and the Public Theater. I like the Public better as it’s in my old stomping ground of the Village, close to the apartment, has intimate venues, cutting edge material, tickets are a fraction of those found on Broadway and best of all, the people watching is fantastic.

Not to be rude or anything, but sometimes going to Lincoln Center can be depressing. At times the audience in the Mitzi Newhouse or the Vivian Beaumont resembles a display of fossils at The Museum of Natural History (I’m afraid I’m represented in this same bunch so don’t think I’m singling anyone out, ok?)

The Public is a more youthful, energetic and exciting venue to me. Mind you, I was going to the Public back in the day where a lot of my NYU school chums were part of the cast, the bathrooms rivaled those at CBGB in terms of lack of sanitation and depravity, and if one were smart one would sit near the fire exit. Nowadays, the place is lively, bright, buzzing and fun. There’s a bar, café, nightclub, restaurant, sparkling clean bathrooms and first-rate theaters.

Another venue off the beaten path is a real sleeper called the Kasser Theater on the campus of Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, NJ. It is 6 miles from home, has indoor, affordable parking in the same building as the theater, has cutting edge venues covering all the performing arts, and all tickets are $20 for a brand new theater with amazing acoustics. It also is located within a stone’s throw to all the wonderful dining Montclair and the environs have to offer. Many of the venues are experimental and cutting edge. In a way there’s something for everyone but not for everyone at the same time. But hey, for $20 who cares if you don’t like the piece, right? A lot less complicated and cheaper than seeing a clunker on Broadway, and you’re in bed around the time you would just be about hitting the Lincoln Tunnel for the long, late slog home.

So far we’ve seen 3 performances, one at the Kassar, Rooms of Light: The Life of Photographs A Song Cycle and 2 at the Public, Barbeque and The First Daughters Suite. The music for Rooms of Light was composed by Fred Hersch. What I’m about to explain is complicated so pay attention, because there’s a Cincinnati connection involved. Like the phenomenon of 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon, there always seems to be a Cincinnati connection involved when it comes to fine art, music or interesting people. Bill is from Cincinnati. He comes from a long line of Cincinnati Westheimers. When his parents were alive and I visited, if I paid for something with a credit card while there, whoever was processing it would see my last name then ask how Charles and May were and which one of the boys was I married to.

Whenever and wherever we are, if we meet somebody really interesting, or are introduced to a phenomenal artist or musician and ask where they’re from they’ll inevitably say Cincinnati. That’s just the way it is. Cincinnati is a great place to be from, just in my humble opinion, not a great place to live in permanently (it has to do with the food.) Anyway, Fred Hersch is the son of Florence (Flo) Hoffheimer, who was married to the now departed Harry Hoffheimer, who was one of my mother in law May Westheimer’s best friends. Get it?

So that was one of the reasons why we wanted to see the show. Another was the title. It had the words “Rooms of Light” and “Photographs” in the same sentence. Regardless, it was very very good. There was a small live orchestra and several singers who performed 19 short pieces, sometimes solo and many times with each other. I enjoyed them all. The venue was perfect as the Kasser is small and the acoustics are incredible. It was sparsely attended but we recognized many faces in the audience and it was a great time. We pre paid for our parking ($6!) so were home in record time, and since it wasn’t too far from home, I cooked beforehand. It was a really nice, stress free, enjoyable night.

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Resting up for 2 hours of Barbeque at The Public

Bill is in charge of booking tickets for shows at Lincoln Center. I’m in charge of The Public. 3 performances caught my eye, all closing in November, so I stacked them up consecutively from late October to the middle of November. The first performance was Barbeque. I’m not going to tell you a lot about it as there is a plot twist involved and I don’t want to be a spoiler. Let me tell you that we had great seats, the set was minimal but got the point across and the casting and acting was first rate. It was a long performance, over 2 hours and neither of us got tired or bored or fidgety at all which is huge. I’m usually elbowing Bill in the ribs as he tends to do the subway roll (falls asleep, head lolls down, he jerks awake ad infinitum) or I’m digging my fingernails into my palms to stay awake. Not this time. Definitely a must see.

We saw First Daughter Suite last week. It’s a musical. This stage was set with the audience in a “u” shape around the stage and a live orchestra in a scrim covered mezzanine behind it. Minimal sets but the acting, singing, script and score made the play come alive. Two acts with 2 separate pieces in each act, again an event over a two hours long that didn’t feel like it. Each piece involves mothers and daughters of sitting presidents during difficult times in their presidencies. When Bill and I go to a play and read in the Playbill that it’s a musical we always have an “uh-oh” moment. Bill hates opera (the phrase “strangling cats” gets tossed about a lot) so if that “o” word is even hinted we’re out of there. Thankfully we took a chance on Hamilton with happy results so fingers and toes were crossed for this play too.

Fortunately, it was terrific. Some of the acting was so believable I couldn’t separate in my mind the real person from the actress, especially Carly Tamer as Amy Carter, Rachel Bay Jones as Rosalynn Carter AND a completely credible Laura Bush, Caissie Levy as Patti Davis, Alison Fraser as Nancy Reagan and most notably for me, Mary Testa as Barbara Bush.

We have a 3rd play coming up at The Public, Before Your Very Eyes. Don’t ask me what it’s about. I never read any sort of review before seeing the play. It ruins it for me as I’m very impressionable, so I’ll report back after we see it, but so far so good! So check in with me for my next theatrical review, but first we’re going to spend a week in PARIS!

A bientot!