I hope you’ve had a good-work week and that you’ll be enjoying some rest and relaxation today.
Today’s newsletter is about how I’ve been R&Ring (while also working at full tilt) over the past week, and will be doing much the same tomorrow when I’m off to New York City, which includes joining up with Emily for a late afternoon at the Met and an adventurous meal that she’ll find for us afterwards.
The R&R-related shares that follow are about extending your vacation with its pictures, listening to the best of last year’s sounds after the music awards are handed out, how to keep the art but confront the artist, a terrific documentary that has even more to say (than's been said already) about “the costs of leaving yourself open,” and a community of underdogs for the Big Game.
1. Still Traveling: the journey continues
Over the past couple of weeks, several of you have wondered out loud whether I’m still away. It’s because of this. Since the day I landed in Rome in mid-December, I’ve been posting one or more pictures of what I was seeing nearly everyday since.
For instance, this morning I posted a shot of some fresh artichokes I almost tripped over outside a trattoria that would be serving them for lunch later that day—a picture taken on my last morning after 5 days of walking around. You see, I’ve been home since before Christmas but the pictures of my Roman holiday have been extending it for me well into the new year.
Rainy day in St. Peter's Square
I’ve been putting up at least one picture (and sometimes several) every morning for almost 60 days. When I’m trying to figure out what to say about them and pin-point their locations on the grid, I’m reliving some of what already happened that day, what was about to happen and how I was feeling at the time.
These pictures have made it possible to extend a vacation’s afterglow into some of the gloomiest days of the season.
I’ll post the last pictures from Rome and my journey home over the next several days. It’s been my way of staying almost two months longer than was ever possible.
2. Still Listening: for the day's music
In terms of what people watch, read or listen to, awards make a difference even when they shouldn’t. "The shouldn’t” seems particularly true for the annual Grammy Awards, except for the fact that one of the artists I recommended a few weeks back got Grammy's nod this week for 2017’s “Best Rock Album.”
With our football team in the Super Bowl tonight, this is one more for Philadelphia. The War On Drugs has been sharing its music with its hometown for years and it was good to hear that the music industry was appreciating them too--even when their awards seems to get it wrong more than they get it right. Here’s another link to the video for the War On Drugs song I profiled, That’s the Delaware River, one of the City’s bike lanes, and some of our Eagles fans crowding into the frame too.
Another band on my recommended list was Brockhampton, a musical collective from the West Coast. They put out several albums worth of music in 2017 to the kind of buzz that eventually got me listening. When I was trying to find out whether the Grammy voters were listening too, I found this posted on Reddit:
“DID YALL ACTUALLY THINK THEY WERE GONNA GET NOMINATED THESE HOES LEGIT JUST GOT POPULAR IN THE UNDERGROUND THIS YEAR SAT 1 and 2 are albums of the year but come on now”
(by the way, SAT or Saturation is the name on some of their recent albums.)
You can find your soundtrack by putting your ears to the ground or by watching TV on a Sunday night in January—but however you're finding it, don't forget to listen.
3. Still Inspiring: an artist’s art vs. an artist’s behavior
I wouldn’t be doing good work if I weren’t arguing with somebody about something—hopefully both of us being open to what the other one is saying. This week it was about whether we should dismiss the art when the person creating it acts badly.
Realist portrait painter Chuck Close, who happens to be confined to a wheelchair, has been accused by several women who have posed for him of engaging in predatory behavior.
Close is one of America’s preeminent living artists. To be invited to sit for him (either with your clothes or without them) was an offer that few women models thought they could refuse, and Close apparently took advantage of his power by describing sexual acts that he wanted to perform on them while they were posing. When first confronted with his remarks, he talked about the importance of his sexuality, the prison of his wheelchair, that he’d never made any attempt to act on his comments, and how no one had complained before. Before #MeToo that is.
Close is hardly the first artist to act badly. Picasso talked about women as farm animals as well as goddesses, but few questioned the greatness of his art when he behaved like a farm animal himself. After his death, Picasso’s bragging carnality and legendary cruelty towards women might have been held against the man but almost never against his art. Close’s behavior seems mild by comparison to Picasso’s, but Picasso died in 1973, as they say, a lifetime ago.
The Close controversy also has a local connection. Through April, 2018, “the first comprehensive survey of his photographic work” is at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which is both an art museum and one of the country’s oldest art schools. In other words, Philadelphia is hosting a major show of Close’s work at an institution where “models posing for artists” is also part of the curriculum.
My position in the argument was that the art should stand on its own, however the artist acted. But I also admitted that it’s more complicated with living artists who are still selling their work and profiting from their reputations. My antagonist’s message was that Close should be made to feel the kind of degradation he was meeting out as soon as possible, and that as far as she was concerned his work (which she had loved before) was tainted forever.
A far more evolved view than either of ours came from Kim Sajet a few days later. Sajet is director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery where a couple of Close portraits (including one of Bill Clinton!) are hanging. In her NewsHourinterview, Sajet said that art buyers should know “what they’re buying” and viewers “what they’re looking at” whenever an artist’s artwork is colored by his behavior—particularly when he’s alive and still stands to benefit personally from art exhibits and sales. She talked about Close’s Philadelphia show in particular, and what a smart decision the Academy had made by mounting a companion show about artists’ varying relationships with their models in order to encourage a fuller consideration of the power dynamic that Close’s models have been complaining about.
When I meet Emily in New York, we’ll be seeing the retrospective exhibit for another living artist of similar prominence, David Hockney. When I was encouraging her to join me at his show, I was sure she would love his paintings but also felt it necessary to say “that as far as I know, no one has ever accused Hockney of being a predator.” Somewhere between the vigilantes and the apologists, we’ll find a balance here eventually. But in the meantime, I’m really looking forward to the R&R of seeing Hockney’s career-spanning artistry.
David Hockney's A Bigger Picture
4. Still Witnessing: the costs of creating something worthwhile
A documentary called “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers” debuted on HBO last Monday. This 4-man band of two brothers, a double bass and a cello player is about their mutual bonds as much as it’s about their evolution from folk rockers "in a hillbilly corner of North Carolina" to the center stage at Madison Square Garden.
It’s about Scott and Seth Avett seeming to complete one another as they write their music. It’s about the joys and tragedies that they process almost immediately into the songs that they write. And it’s about the band members broader relationships with wives, girl friends, their parents, children, manager, record producer and a second orbit of musicians, all of whom seem to know that something unique and special is radiating out from the core.
The best documentaries serve up a slice of life that you’ve never tasted before. I caught some of “the band on the road” experience when I was in college, working for the student organization that hosted acts like the Eagles, Arrowsmith, and J. Geils on campus. However, hanging out with them backstage or during sound checks told me nothing about where their music came from in the first place.
That’s where “May It Last” begins and ends.
Three-quarters of the way in, there is a moment where Scott and Seth Avett are hit—almost at the same time—by the terrible cost of one of their particularly gorgeous songs. It’s a shattering moment, maybe even more because they’re so in sync when they’re having it and because it somehow gets captured by the cameraman.
You really should see and hear this story if you can.
5. Still Competing: the Big Game
Near the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
I played football every fall and winter as a kid, and was always an avid fan cheering my four-schools’-worth of football squads while I was a student, but never made the leap in loyalty to a professional football team when I lived in New England or moved to Philadelphia.
Everybody on my neighborhood teams “lived” in the neighborhood. Everyone on my schools’ teams “went” to those schools, and almost none were recruited to play there. They were simply “the best athletes who got in,” and sometimes they even took a class with you. Our shared experience created the bond between us, making it the most natural thing in the world to cheer them on with abandon. But with the NFL teams that might have mattered to me, almost none of the Patriots or Eagles grew up in Boston or Philadelphia or even lived there in the off-season—so I never wore their shirts or forged a bond.
But it’s easy to relate to the underdog, and when the fans in Philly started wearing their rubber dog masks, it became a different matter. The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl, and the Patriots, well we all know that story. So I cheered the underdogs in their rout of the Vikings, and I’ll be taking my R&R with them again tonight.
My Philadelphia always roots for the underdog. Maybe you'll be joining me this time around.