A New Artistic Paradigm

Once upon a time, when journalism was journalism, gossip was gossip, and propaganda was recognized for what it is, aspiring beat writers learned to begin their news stories by answering six basic questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? 

The useful mnemonic device has a history stretching back to Cicero, although early rhetoricians framed the questions differently, and the form evolved over time. Perhaps most famously, Rudyard Kipling, in his well-known Just So Stories (1902), included this bit of verse in a tale he called “The Elephant’s Child.”

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew).
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me, I give them all a rest.

Questions beginning with one of these six famous words are especially useful for information gathering, since none can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.  Anyone hoping to write an informative news story, provide a good interview, understand historical context, or carry on enjoyable dinner conversation with a stranger soon will appreciate the importance of the five W’s and an H”. (more…)

Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 2:55 pm  Comments (114)  
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A Museum Bridges the Gaps

I knew he’d be there, waiting.  I’d seen his photo and heard a story or two, so I wasn’t fearful of missing him. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Still, when I turned and saw him at the end of the gallery, I was taken aback, both by his air of patient weariness and by his obvious disregard for the people who’d clustered around him. Edging closer, I listened to their conversation.

“What’s his name?”
“Don’t think he’s got a name.”
“He sure enough looks real. I was about ready to ask him the time.”
“Yeh, and if he’d answered, you’d have been right surprised.”

At Crystal Bridges, it doesn’t take long to become comfortable enough to join in.

“He reminds me of my dad,” I said. “That’s how he’d look when Mom made him go shopping with her.”

After the laughter subsided, one of the women looked at a man I took to be her husband and said,

“That’s right. I’ve seen that look. But the artist ought to have put a woman on that bench, too – for all the times we’ve been dragged off to hardware stores and farm sales.”

Clearly, Rod Bigelow, Executive Director of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, had it right. Asked about his favorite piece in the collection, he said,

“My favorite work of art changes regularly, but today… it’s a Duane Hanson sculpture titled “Man on a Bench”.  It’s literally a depiction of an older gentleman sitting on a bench. I like it because of the way our visitors interact with the sculpture – they’re surprised by it, intrigued, sometimes taken aback in that they think it’s real. It elicits great response, from all ages.”

There’s a lot to interact with at Crystal Bridges, beginning with WalMart heiress Alice Walton. Once she put her energies – and her considerable money – behind her vision of accessible, quality art for the people of Arkansas and surrounding states, the reactions were swift and often predictable.


The Sweet Weight of Memory

Looping around the old wooden house like a graveled and oil-coated oxbow, the driveway eased up into a yard littered with bits of sunlight-snagging metal: enameled porch chairs; galvanized tubs reserved for icing down watermelon; a hand pump hung with dippers and buckets.

At either end of the just slightly bowed roofline, ceramic insulators surrounded an array of lightning rods. Inside the house, ceramics overflowed the kitchen – mis-matched mixing bowls, pie plates, an orange refrigerator jug – while smooth, hexagonal tiles spread across the floor.

Apart from an étagère tucked into a living room corner to provide a resting place for tiny porcelain vases, candy dishes and a caterpillar won at the County Fair, the only purely decorative bit of ceramic art in my grandmother’s house was the cheese board kept in her kitchen.

Given that she departed Sweden for the United States from the Baltic Sea port of Gefle, and given that Bosättningsaffär translates roughly as “household furnishings store”, it seems likely the board was an advertising piece for a local shop. Still, its provenance remains uncertain. Perhaps my grandmother received it as a departure gift. Perhaps she herself purchased it, then wrapped and carried it away as a comforting reminder of her old-country home. Whatever the explanation, it arrived in America as one of her most cherished possessions, and throughout her life it rested, icon-like, inside a glass-fronted cabinet.

Once, I asked if I might hold it. The look she gave me suggested I’d asked to blow up the house, but the cabinet doors swung open and for a moment its surprising weight rested in my hands. “You take it, Grandma,” I said, my heart pounding with anxiety, my child’s mind convinced that, should I drop it, I’d be forever banished from my family.

Today, the weight of it hangs on my wall, sufficiently well-secured to please even my grandmother. An object of beauty in its own right, it testifies beautifully to the power of family ties and history. Still, as far as I know, it’s never held a chunk of cheese. It probably never will. (more…)

Published in: on September 20, 2013 at 10:03 am  Comments (107)  
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William Morris: Useful Bits of Beauty

Caught by its tail, desperate to escape but unable to avoid the shrieking woman who’s discovered it, the poor creature cowers beneath the kitchen sink, held fast by a slice of plywood and a metal spring. 

Unable to summon the courage to carry the mouse outdoors, unwilling to set it free and even more unwilling to dispatch it in place, the woman – my mother – makes a reasonable decision. Snatching up her white enameled dishpan with the pretty red edge and the unfortunate dent, she slaps it over the mouse.

Closing and latching the doors to the storage space beneath the sink, she turns to look at the only witness to her bravery. “There,” she says. “That’ll hold him until your father comes home.” (more…)

A Second View of Toledo

brushes color
with a quickened hand,
tips the canvas sunward
to defy the failing light
half-fearful that his flaming skies
 might fall, his rising shadows catch a
   nascent moon, the sweet-souled stars, in darkness. (more…)
Published in: on August 16, 2013 at 9:04 pm  Comments (81)  
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