Category Visual Arts

On “Rocketman” and Artists, and Rocking One’s World

Prodigies rarely have it easy. No matter how much fame or wealth they may manage to accumulate on the basis of their outsized talent, they often wind up leading desperate lives, besieged by an inner desert of radical isolation from everything—loved ones included—that would offer them comfort and a reason to go on.

Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Phil Ochs, David Foster Wallace: barely the tip of a vast iceberg of genius talents who struggled mightily before cutting short their own lives when their inner demons overpowered the seemingly all powerful will-to-live that animates all life forms.

Despite multiple dark circumstances that had him pushing toward and then hovering on the edge of such self-destruction over many years, British rock star Elton John has managed to escape a place on that list, at least as of today, well into his 72nd year...

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Sixth Annual Holiday Photo Gallery

“Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing,” wrote the culture critic and free-range intellectual Susan Sontag in 1973. Were Sontag alive today (she died in 2004), she would surely be slapping her forehead and bemoaning her abysmally inaccurate “almost” qualifier, given today’s specter of nearly everyone in the industrialized world carrying high powered cameras that sit snugly in their pants pockets or purses, mere add-ons to the smartphones that power their 24/7 connectedness to the world.

Surely, no one anywhere can possibly be having sex or dancing at even a minute fraction of the rate we pull out our cameras to amuse ourselves.

For better and for worse, we are awash in photography, perhaps the greatest democratizer of all art forms, a chance for most anyone to scratch a creative itch and record for at least his or her own posterity a moment in t...

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The Solace of Rainbows

Don’t know about you, but I feel myself wearying of being in the dark thrall of a mad man. (Making that two words was intentional—he’s just angry, and thus engenders none of the empathy and understanding due someone who may be mentally ill.)

Knocked off balance by such brazen amorality and conniving, I have joined millions of others in groping toward a prudent response, but no amount or vehemence of thought or critique seems to suffice. Resist, yes, a solemn duty, but ultimately, it will likely be less outsiders’ resistance and more his self-immolation that will be the defining moment of this—and his—time.

Once again, Icarus flying high in his own fathomless self-regard, too close to the sun. It is a story as old as the first storytellers told.

***

Meanwhile, what other stories might we access in this time of trial? How might we break free, toward brighter lights and better angels within and am...

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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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