Art and Culture

1934

I found the 1934:  A New Deal for Artists exhibit at SAAM quite moving.  The exhibit was put together for the 75th anniversary of the New Deal; it is merely coincidence that paintings commissioned by the United States government to depict American life in a time of dire conditions happen to be on exhibit at this time.  It is a good companion to view along with Robert Frank’s Americans at the NGA West Wing — also on view because of an anniversary, not because of its coincidental timeliness.

The art is not great art, and it is stuck in the period in which it was painted, in part because of the nature of the commission.  The depictions of America show any resilience and beauty inextricably intertwined with hardship and struggle.  In its very datedness, the art on exhibit raises questions about what are society’s priorities today, how we are responding to the crisis of war, environmental devastation, and economic crisis and how we could enhance and celebrate humanity and the planet rather than continue to decimate the earth and ourselves.

According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, approximately 43% of your 2008 taxes will pay for war.   President Obama’s proposed budget has a smaller increase than previous years, but does not lower in any way military spending.  I’d rather my tax dollars were buying art.

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“Dry Clean Only” (Don’t Believe Everything You Read)

As I was doing my laundry yesterday, most of which I line-dried, I thought about the fact that I have not been to the dry cleaner in nearly a decade. This is one of the small things I have chosen in order to be a little kinder to the environment.

Some of my clothes, especially things I bought several years ago, say “dry clean only.”  This includes knits made of wool, tencel, modal, or rayon (all of which are natural fibers) and linen and silk unconstructed clothing.  All of these do fine with hand washing (or on the gentle cycle in the washing machine) and being hung up to dry (this also applies to cotton, button-down shirts).   Of course, if it doesn’t say to dry clean then you definitely don’t need to dry clean.

Always believed the label?  How was clothing made of natural fibers cleaned before there was such a thing as a dry cleaner?  Think they look better or it is easier to get them dry cleaned?  Think about the solvents, the plastic, the energy for the cleaning method, and whether you drive to the dry cleaners.  Then make a decision.

Most things do not need to be cleaned by use of poisonous solvents (just because a solvent is “organic” or “natural” doesn’t mean it is good for the environment) and then wrapped in non-recyclable plastic to take home (many dry cleaners will take back the hangers, but will say they need to use the plastic wrap because their premises are too dusty for your clothes to stay clean outside the plastic wrapper).

So look for clothes that say “gentle wash, line dry” instead of “dry clean only.”  If it says “dry clean only” think about whether it really applies.  It will not apply for a wool sweater, most knits, or unlined clothes.  A business suit — yes, it won’t keep its shape unless you dry clean.  Do you really need to wear a business suit?  Will a choice not to wear a suit impact whether some people think you are truly “professional”?  Possibly.  If you decide you need to wear a suit regularly, how many times can you wear it before taking it to the dry cleaners?

PS.  Don’t experiment with things that are new and expensive.  Try it on older clothes and discover whether you need to believe everything you read.

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Are You Wondering

why I did not post an entry about the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq?  I obviously care deeply about the need to end the war and to address the tragic aftermath at home and abroad.  So why choose not to mark an anniversary?  Why instead of marking a dire anniversary, celebrate spring?  Sometimes, by celebrating something small in the midst of a crisis, we can give ourselves the grounding and energy to work harder to bring more light and to seek to end needless suffering.

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Dim the Lights for Earth Hour on March 28th

Join in the call for a friendlier, healthier planet by participating in Earth Hour by dimming your lights on March 28th (and before and after when you can).

A few years ago — just before the Al Gore movie came out — I went to a talk and movie about what we can do about global warming.  A Nepalese attorney who had been working on a case before the World Court that related to saving the snows of the Himalayas (good luck), said something that fully resonated with me.  He said he did not understand why Americans turn on electric lights on a sunny day.  I think about that every time I see a light on at the same time as bright daylight is coming through the window.  If I have the power to turn off the light (or not turn it on in the first place), I choose to do so.

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To do list? (Yoga citta vrtti nirodaha)

Twitter?  What would be

The point without an I-phone?

Buy one? Save the nation?

Last night I wrote this “twaiku” (why is it not a “twittiku?”) after having read yet another series of articles on why or why not to Twitter and still more articles on why it is important for a nation of consumers to keep consuming even if that is what got them into trouble in the first place.  One of the articles was lamenting the loss of true communication that comes with being limited to 140 characters, and it set forth some examples of how peculiar, when taken out of context, some twittering can sound, especially to the uninitiated.  In my attempt to keep an open mind about devaluing language while still communicating in language, I was led to think about haikus v. sonnets and other longer poetic forms.   A haiku easily fits into 140 characters.  This led me to wonder whether anyone had created a haiku trend on Twitter?  A quick Google search revealed that I am way behind the times in terms of the twaiku?

One of the articles suggested that Twittering is about being in the moment.  Contrarians say it fosters attention deficit disorder and a host of other language-loss ills.  This led me to think of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali “yoga citta vrtti nirodaha” (yoga is stilling/aligning with the thoughwaves of the mind).  When evaluating what to consume, when to consume, and how to consume (whether it is language and communication methods or electronic goods or anything else), if we are serious about taking yoga off the mat, it is good to think about whether our consumption eases the trials of being embodied or makes daily living more agitating, and whether our consumption brings us more into alignment with nature/spirit (brahmacharya) or turns us away.

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In the “ether”

Yesterday, I took the plunge and joined Facebook.  I’d read one too many articles in the New York Times about it without being able to really understand what I was reading.  What an interesting phenomenon — seeing images and reading words of friends and acquaintances through space (friends around the world) and time (friends from way back).

Tomorrow, I will be speaking on a webcast to more than a 1,000 people.

I’ve gotten thousands of hits on this blog.

This is a lot of shared energy without knowing most of those with whom one I am sharing. It is shifting space and time as I think about it.  In the computer world, we say or write about what we are thinking as we type or speak into the computer, and then our words and energies shift and take on their own power as they extend out instantly to anyone who chooses — intentionally or randomly — to receive them.

I think the more we are in the ethereal world, the more we need simultaneously to make certain we are grounded.

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Ardha, Kama, Dharma, Moksha

Friday, when I was traveling through New York City on my way home from a business trip, I detoured to the Metropolitan to see the Walker Evans’ postcards and the Bonnard, Late Interiors.  The curator chose this quote to inform the viewing of the paintings:  “Material concerns and worries about the future are troubling me a lot, and I’m afraid that painting may abandon me because of a lack of mental freedom.”  Pierre Bonnard to Henri Matisse, September 1940.

The quote made me think of the yoga principles of ardha, kama, dharma, moksha. In classical yoga, in order to reach liberation (moksha), we need to have our material life — how we eat, consume, dwell, etc. (ardha), our love and relationships (kama), and our work/life path (dharma), in right order.  From a tantric perspective, when ardha, kama, and dharma are aligned so that mind, body, and spirit are united in our day to day being, then we are living liberated — jivan mukti (moksha).

In 1940, the Nazis were growing in power and World War II was impending.  Bonnard had lost his love, Marthe, was ill and aging, and was in some financial difficulty.  He was afraid of losing his vision, his creativity (dare I interpret “painting may abandon me” as “loss of connection to spirit”) because ardha and kama were out of alignment.  The late paintings carry a sense of yearning of spirit — perhaps because of the consciousness that struggling physically and emotionally challenges our ability to truly see, to feel connected to spirit.  The paintings are lovely with color and light.  The subject matter makes them accessible at a surface level.  Shadowy figures and ambiguities, though, give a sense of longing and seeking.  Although there is a certain basic prettiness because of the color and the subject matter, they are not comfort paintings.  They invite one to think about whether color is enough, whether home is enough, what we need to be in a place where we can rest at one with ourselves.

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Theater of the Absurd

Last night I went with a group of friends for dinner and to see “Hell Meets Henry Halfway” at the Woolly Mammoth.   We all had a most enjoyable time, although the play was pretty negative.  What could you expect, though, from a play based on a 1930s novel written by a Polish exile that was about declining monarchies and social depravity, etc?  What relieved the bleakness of the outlook was the slapstick playfulness of the acting and staging.  It was also a pleasure just to see beautiful technique, and acting was wonderful.

As the recession deepens, I have been trying to go to see more theater and dance, to support local theaters and restaurants that I care to have still in my world.  It would be easy to settle into a mindset of anti-consumption at this time.  Better I think, even if we are trying to shift the consumer orientation of our society, to become ever more mindful in our consumption, being especially mindful of those around us are struggling from the sudden shift.  The right action, I think,  for those who cannot help but recognize problems, or suffering, or even absurdity, is not only to seek change, but also to see the playfulness in everything to keep the spirit vital and to be able to accept the change that might not be realized despite our best efforts and intentions.

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