Tag Archives: painting

The Guernica of our time

I have a few albums that I have collected and organized into a playlist I just labeled thoughts. It consists of the type of music that really cannot be just in the background, but rather consumes the entirety of my being and prevents me from participating in any sense required activity other than giving it my full auditory attention. Today in shuffling my entire playlist as I furiously completed cover letters for jobs I had researched (the life of the unemployed teacher) my itunes stumbled on a track from an album I had almost forgotten was given to me near two years ago. Trinity Requiem by Robert Moran,  was commissioned by and performed in Trinity Church to honor the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. That was how this piece was introduced to me and added to my collection of thought music I listen to when contemplating what 9/11 means and how it should be remembered. As a New Yorker I have no shortage of opinions on the day and its aftermath. But one opinion has stayed with me for as long as I can remember, the idea that no artist captured that which needed to be captured from that event as Picasso had with Guernica. Guernica represented the devastation and tragedy that was to become modern warfare. I remember first seeing Guernica not too long after 9/11, in the Spring of 2002, and asking myself where is the Guernica of our time? What I didn’t realize then and now only realized too late to appreciate it live was that it didn’t come visually but rather from an auditory source.

Moran’s Requiem captures the emotion, the sadfullness hope of New Yorkers building a world after that fateful day. This piece is our Guernica and like Guernica is not to be listened to one day out of the year, but rather should be enjoyed and appreciated more regularly with the same heart that produced the hopeful sorrow it captures.

I will never forget that day, but can now listen and be inspired as to how we can positively prevent that day from ever happening again.


Bob Dylan, Visual Art, and Marketing

The recent Times interview with Bob Dylan has mostly gotten attention for the (characteristically cryptic) endorsement of Barack Obama that Dylan threw in at the end. The Times even published a news article about their own feature in order to expand on the point. As a Dylan acolyte, I am certainly glad to hear that the man himself likes the same candidate as me, but there’s more to the interview than that endorsement, and it relates in particular to the subject of this blog, which is art. Dylan has become a painter.

The particular point I want to comment on is the position of an artist with a reputation in one area crossing over into an unrelated one. Of course, the celebrity novel that rides on name recognition rather than actual quality is not an unfamiliar thing, and one could easily assume the same of Dylan’s visual art – that it would not be in a gallery if it were made by an unknown. (Dylan has published a novel, by the way, although it’s hardly the sort of thing you’d expect to come of a celebrity book deal – from what I’ve read of it, it’s reminiscent of André Breton’s automatically-written Nadja. It’s calledTarantula.)

But while a People Magazine-level actor would hardly have trouble getting a novel out there, the world of visual art is different from that of trade publishing. Sez Dylan, “The critics didn’t want to review it. The publisher told me they couldn’t get past the idea of another singer who dabbled. You know, like, ‘David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney…Everyone’s doing it these days.’ No one from the singing profession was going to be taken seriously by the art world, I was told, but that was OK.”

Perhaps this reflects well on the visual art establishment – that Dylan’s celebrity status turned out to be a hindrance to getting his art out there rather than a boon. Dylan himself compares the visual art world favorably to the music industry: “From the small steps I’ve taken in [the art world], I’d say, yeah, the people are honest, upfront and deliver what they say. Basically, they are who they say they are. They don’t pretend.” In any case, it shows that critics have a much more prominent place in visual art than in literature, which tends to listen much more to the market than to the experts. What complicates the issue is that it’s not just a matter of the difference between a gallery, which is a destination, and a book, which is a product: the first edition of Dylan’s art book, Drawn Blank, came out in 1994, while his first gallery exhibition, held in London, is just opening until this Saturday.

As regards the art, I’m reserving final judgment until I see more of it, but I haven’t been blown away yet. From the examples that the Times article provides, it seems to go for the same sort of mood that Dylan’s most imagistic songs convey, and it pulls it off fairly well. I’m not sure whether it really adds anything substantive to that mood, but I like to think that it’s getting attention for its own merits, and not just because it’s Bob Dylan. Even if it’s read as outsider art, which it probably could be considered, that’s a better position to be in than celebrity tie-in.


A Parable

The first item up for auction was a vase. The artist didn’t pay much attention to it. It was a nice piece, a colored glass art vase, but the artist had barely enough money to feed himself, and he had plenty of more important things to buy than objects d’art. He was also distracted by his own paintings, which were hung on a screen on stage left, lot number 7. He hoped that they would sell—he needed the money—but something about one of them was disturbing him.

The auctioneer cried sold and the word reverberated in the ensuing silence, as he scribbled down the buyer’s number in a little book on the podium. The next item up for bids, he said, was lot number 4.

The artist got up from his seat in the back row and approached the stage, where he could get a better view of the painting. A wake of discontentment trailed behind him: he was blocking the view. He tried to get off to one side, but there he couldn’t see the painting.

The auctioneer asked if the man in the front would please sit down. But the artist didn’t listen. He was staring at the painting, a simple still-life. Something was wrong with it, he wasn’t sure what.

The guard, a tall man in a severe black suit, lightly grabbed the artist’s hand and led him to the door. The guard let him go once they had reached the lobby, and walked back into the auditorium where the auction was being held.

The artist, defeated, left the building. People passed him by as he stood on the sidewalk, trying to decide what to do. He was worried that, since he had been ejected from the auction, he wouldn’t get paid for the sale. Then, as his thoughts returned to the present, he realized what he could do. He rushed back into the auction house, where the guard halted him.

The artist begged the guard, telling him who he was, and showing him identification. The auctioneer, who noticed the commotion at the door, told the guard to let him back in, since he did have a lot up for auction. The artist thanked him and said that he wanted to withdraw one of the pieces from the lot, because he had to change it. The auctioneer told him that the lot was up for bidding already, and that several bids had been made. He said that it was too late.

A man in the front row had the winning bid. The artist walked up to him and asked kindly if, after the auction ended, he could be allowed to finish the painting before the bidder took it. The bidder agreed.

But someone else was bidding on the painting, too. The other bidder did not agree to the artist’s request. He said that he liked the painting as it was, and that he could not permit the artist to destroy it.

The artist implored the bidder: he could not, he said, let that painting go out into the world, beyond his control, displaying his error forever, conveying something he did not want to convey. But the bidder did not listen.

The auctioneer restarted the bidding. The auction went back and forth between the two for a few minutes, as the artist sat in the front with the first bidder, urging him on. He bid eagerly at first, but then he grew more reluctant, and the artist had plea him to continue against the other bidder. Finally, the second bidder, tired of the bidding war and with no shortage of money, doubled the bid. The first bidder apologized to the artist and said that he could not match it. The artist exasperatedly raised his paddle. The auctioneer stopped in his tracks, not sure if the bid was sincere. He told the artist that he was not allowed to bid on his own items, and declared the second bidder the winner.

The artist said goodbye to the first bidder and walked to the back where the second bidder was sitting. The bidder, seeing the artist approaching, said that he was sorry, but he was transfixed by the painting, and he would not allow it to be changed. For a small peace offering, he said that he would buy the artist a new canvas and paint, so that the artist could make a new version of the painting that he was satisfied with. But the artist told him that he could not paint again what he had already painted.