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<b><i>The Tale</i></b><br><b>Directed by Jennifer Fox</b><br>Gamechanger Films, 2018<br>114 minutes

Cruelty With a Point

In life and in depictions of life, when is it better to look directly at instances of suffering, and when to turn away? When is looking a form of violation, and when is it a moral imperative? As the documentary image proliferates, so, too, does a discussion that has preoccupied feature storytelling: When it comes to images of violence and brutality, what needs to be seen to be believed, and which representations can’t be justified? Major news outlets now air images of death and suffering as matters of course; in a culture of mass documentation and dissemination, images that exist exist to be seen. Social-media platforms put kitten frolics and beheading videos on an equal footing. “Viewer discretion” and trigger warnings only grow more elaborate, even as they become superfluous: Who now sits down in front of any sort of screen, at any time and with even the most benign intentions, unprepared for some form of visual assault?

Old Ideas


The first poem in Leonard Cohen’s posthumous book The Flame made me laugh. Not because the lyrics are especially funny (although there are touches of Cohen’s characteristic wry humor), and not because the poem is foolish (it’s quite good), but because it is practically a medley of every single theme and obsession Cohen took up over his sixty-year career. Holiness and pussies are just a start. One almost senses him (knowingly, always knowingly) ticking off boxes. Angels and devils: check. Art, sartorial elegance, and slaves: check, check, check. Messianism: check:


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Illustration by Anna Sudit

The News From the World of Beauty

In late summer of 2017 I was at an artists’ colony in rural Virginia. A hot topic of conversation among the artists there was how we were reading the news, and how often. Some of the artists at the colony were reading the news obsessively every morning, either because they were addicted to it or because they felt it was their social responsibility to stay informed about the invariably breathtaking choices of our current president and those who surround and respond to him. Some artists were ignoring the news altogether—every headline, every scandal, every tweet—choosing to entirely suppress the outside world during the span of the residency. The rest of the artists stayed lightly informed, but consciously attempted to prevent the news of the world from gaining much purchase on their inner lives.

Photographed by Rachel Cohen

Cohen

March 1, 2018

  1.  “Actors” was painted by Max Beckmann in 1941 and 1942 when he was a refugee from Nazi Germany in Amsterdam. It is the painting I photographed most in the years we were living in Cambridge. I tried repeatedly to write about it, [...]

Photo by Sarah Rice

Richard Blanco’s Notes to Self

When Two Ponds Press, a fine-art press that produces limited-edition monographs, approached poet Richard Blanco and photographer Jacob Hessler in early 2014 for a theme on which to collaborate, it didn’t take them long to agree on a purpose. Blanco had spent the previous year working on several commissioned occasional poems and had been exploring the role of poetry in public discourse, “the idea of the civic-minded poet—the poet as the village voice, a poetry of social conscience.” Hessler, who uses large-scale landscapes to explore similar ideas of artistic responsibility, shared Blanco’s values and concerns. In light of recent schisms in American political life—eruptions over marriage quality, racial strife, and police violence, for instance—they landed on the idea of boundaries and borders. As Blanco puts it, they sought to examine, through image and verse, “narratives that are manipulated to separate—to divide and conquer. We wanted to investigate and expose those narratives that run counter to the idea of our shared humanity.”

Milad Ahkabyar's hand-drawn map of his family's route from Afghanistan to Germany. The journey cost them $26,000, which they raised through selling their home, their livestock, jewelry, whatever they could.

Milad’s Arrival

He doesn’t know his birthday, exactly, because the Gregorian calendar is still a puzzle. But he knows his age, more or less, and he knows where he hails from—a village near Ghazni, Afghanistan, which he visits in dreams now and then. Milad Ahkabyar and his family fled their village in the fall of 2015 to escape persecution from the Taliban. 

Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer. By Arthur Lubow. Ecco, 2016. 734 p. HB, $35.

Street Casting

What kind of energy do we get from the streets? What does it give us and how much do we need it? The publication of Arthur Lubow’s biography, Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer, and a national tour of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, a career retrospective of the artist’s work organized by the Brooklyn Museum in 2015,* highlight how certain artists are able to tap into street energy, and what they extract from it.

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