Category Visual Arts

The Holy Ground of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“I saw people throwing pies in each others’ faces, and I thought: ‘This could be a wonderful tool. Why is it being used this way?’” So says a lanky, exceedingly soft-spoken Presbyterian minister with the classic middle America name of Fred Rogers, a man who turned children’s television in the latter part of the 20th century into a kind of ode to basic human decency rather than the casually cruel and empty-headed drivel it often was and still too often remains.

By the end of his 31-year tenure ministering to children’s souls via a daily half-hour public television show, Rogers had earned such a revered place in American culture that a documentary about his life’s work, entitled, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is currently packing theaters around the country with adults who, if the viewing I took in yesterday and again this morning is any indication, mostly sob their way through the film’s 9...

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Light and Dark in the Arts: What’s Your Pleasure?

A small group of us was discussing possible movie choices for the upcoming weekend a few nights ago when one person floated the possibility of “Chesil Beach,” the adaptation of a dark Ian McEwan novel about a rapidly failing, misbegotten marriage, almost shocking in its misery. Someone else, a psychotherapist who spends his days listening to those and many other such woeful tales, brightly asked, “Why would you want to subject yourself to that?”

Now, the therapist can most certainly be excused for abstaining from the prospect of extending the rigors of his day job into his leisure hours. (And paying to do so, no less.) But his question reflected a kind of fundamental “There are two kinds of people in the world…” issue that has always been of great interest to producers of art and entertainment.

Dark or light? Sweet or sour?  Frothy or strained?

Serious and sober or witty and weightless?

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A Visit to Duke Gardens

Like a lot of aphorisms, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” has such perfect pitch and rhythm that we rarely question whether it is altogether true. It is no doubt partially true, given that cultural constructs of the beautiful vary as dramatically as they do in this world. Not to mention the individual sensibilities that can see two people focus on the exact same thing and leave one swooning and the other cringing and backing away.

But whatever one’s unique tastes, some things seem to strike a universal chord of sensory appreciation, causing us to dreamily exclaim, “Oh, that’s beautiful!

Sunrises and sunsets, swans afloat and geese in flight, a perfect plump strawberry.

Ecclesiastes 3, and when it was set to music.

All these seem to elicit universal agreement that they are good and beautiful things.

And, of course, gardens.

“God Almighty first planted a Garden...

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Philippe Petit’s Art of the High Wire, and the Artworks It Inspired

At root, we go to art, whatever its form, to be changed. To alter our perception, to see something new or something we have seen before in a new way, to contemplate the mysterious, the beautiful, the joyous, the awful, the searing.

The best art upends our world, shatters our assumptions, pierces our ignorance and venality. It inspires question upon question, wonder upon wonderment, and as it does so, it assaults us physically—roiling our stomachs, fluttering our hearts, goosebumping our necks, disturbing our sleep.

All art aspires to these things if it is to be worthy of its name.

In this post, I want to discuss three related works of art that in my estimation accomplish all—or at least a good deal—of the above.

1. Tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s unparalleled 138-foot traverse between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City in 1974.
2...

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Bringing Joy to “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

THE SNOWMAN

One must have a mind of winter 
To regard the frost and the boughs 
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time 
To behold the junipers shagged with ice, 
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think 
Of any misery in the sound of the wind, 
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land 
Full of the same wind 
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow, 
And, nothing himself, beholds 
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

***

The snowman in this well-known Wallace Stevens poem from 1921 presents as a rather bleak figure. As we read in the 15 meticulously crafted lines above, he’s been “cold a long time,” immobile and inert, devoid of any thought linking the winter landscape in front of him to feelings of “misery,” barrenness and other ...

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