I’ve been thinking about the impermanence of art as marked by its materials, whether it be composed on paper, canvas, or any medium in between.
Sappho, a famous Ancient Greek poet, left us with many fragments as the papyrus used to contain her poetry was torn or damaged in several places, leaving up with pieces of stanzas, forever marking how we as readers interact with her art.
Then, several thousands of years later, we come into contact with writers like Zelda Fitzgerald — a talented writer and a painter, her wide-expansing talents unrecognized even to this day. She was overshadowed by her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald and her first and last novel Save Me The Waltz fell through the cracks, becoming out-of-print as the years passed. There’s so much more to cover on her history, but that’s enough for another post entirely.
What I mean to say is this: most of Zelda’s paintings were destroyed by her jealous sister and others were lost with the advent of time.
I guess I’ve been considering how time fragments memories and art as the materials we utilize to create and transcribe our art are so easily damaged, and then in other cases, artists sometimes ask others to destroy their art for them.
In the case of ignorance, millions of records were damaged in the 2008 Universal Studios Fire. (See post on Art Corner page for more info.)
Yet again, in the case of a decisive will, sometimes writers ask someone they love to burn their words for them so the public will never be able to see them again. Emily Dickinson asked her sister Lavinia to burn a chest full of her fascicles and I still think about how Lavinia did what she asked her to do and burned all those poems to this day.
I still think about what it means to lose art. And I still wonder at the distance between recovery and loss in relation to art. Because those paintings and poems are gone to us now and we will never be able to recover them; they smoldered and all we are left with now is these fragments of memory.
Will you burn this for me?
Some words on a crumbling page.
And a memory of loss sometimes captured on the page or in the paint.
I don’t think I understand the connection between recovery and loss yet.
I think it’s about time we’ve re-navigated the line between the critic and the artist. It’s commonplace today for artists to bemoan the critic and to complain of their lofty ideals and petty taste. In movie after movie, the protagonist often shakes their fist at the nefarious critic, accusing them of derailing their big break — their one crucial moment in the sun.
In Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Dermot Hoggins, a man intimately familiar with the thug life, publishes a novel inspired by his experiences called Knuckle Sandwich. At an awards event, Hoggins comes in contact with Felix Finch: a classically renowned critic who pens Mr. Hoggins a harsh critique. Hoggins, then, in a moment of blinding fury picks up Felix and throws him off the side of a high-story building. From this moment forward, Hoggins is revered as the man who “showed it” to the hideous critic and literally put an end to the bane of all artists everywhere.
This is a prime example of the endless war as seen in film and literature against the critic. Here is the one person who derails the success of all artists, writers, and poets. They proclaim, “Not good enough. This is trash.” They are displayed as snobbish drinkers of champagne with long blue scarfs and pointed smirks and blue eyes.
In the Critic as Artist, Oscar Wilde challenges the traditional relationship witnessed between the artist and the critic. During this dialogue, one of the characters, Ernest, proclaims, “Each new school, as it appears, cries out against criticism, but it is to the critical faculty in man that it owes its origin” (Wilde 230). Here, Wilde lays the framework for cultivating a new interpretation of the critic. Through his main character Ernest, Wilde presents the critic as a person central in the creation and later cultivation of the art and the artist as the art and artist appear to be inextricably women to one another; their fate and livelihood is simultaneous in this regard. In this manner, Wilde is cognizant of the nature of the critic and how their image and identity will always be bemoaned and critiqued. Even so, Wilde lays a case for the critic as seen throughout this dialogue.
As Ernest and Gilbert, the two main characters of the dialogue continue their discussion, they both arrive at a new understanding and interpretation of the critic. Dare I say it, they consider the artist as critic, or if you prefer, the critic as artist. (I’ll explain more later). During a pivotal scene, Ernest remarks, “The highest Criticism, then, is more creative than creation, and the primary aim of the critic is to see the object as in itself it really is not; that is your theory, I believe” (Wilde 240). This moment is crucial as Ernest argues here that the role of the critic occupies a critical, creative liminal space. In this manner, there is a kind of creativity, which weighs on the critic as they observe and account for the open space of the artist and their subsequent art. The artist cannot see their work’s shortcomings or even their unconscious contribution to the space of art, but the critic can. A thoughtful critic can. A discerning critic can. A compassionate, fair critic can.
I would argue that Wilde considers the role of the critic to be paramount to the creation, cultivation, and dissemination of art, for it is the critic who uncovers new beauty and “fills the [art] with wonder . . . [in a place] in which the artist may have left void, or not understood, or understood incompletely” (Wilde 240). This, then, solidifies the critic as crucial to the welfare of both the artist and the art. The critic celebrates the art, challenges the art, and disseminates and cultivates dialogue and discussion about the art. Moreover, if done well, the relationship between the critic and artist ought to be symbiotic and not parasitic.
As “the critic will [always] be an interpreter” it is necessary for the artist and critic to make peace with each other and set about forging a healthy, collaborative and cooperative relationship with each other, holding respect for the work each role serves in its place (Wilde 245). There is an air of respect Wilde leaves the reader with when in contemplation of the critic. In the text, through the mouth of Gilbert, he declares, “[The critic] may seek rather to deepen [art’s] mystery, to raise round it, and round its maker, that mist of wonder which is dear to both gods and worshippers alike” (Wilde 244).
In a strange roundabout way, I return to contemplating if the critic and artist will ever find peace within their relationship — if the artist will ever feel strong enough in their ego to accept the critic’s criticisms and if the critic will look upon their role of judgment with a kind of collaborative compassion and wonder. I wonder if the space in which the critic and the artist lie will ever be a peaceful place.
I suppose, then, I’ll leave you with this final point of inquiry.
Is not the work of the artist the same as the work of the critic?
I’ve been thinking about a statement Mary Lennox declares in The Secret Garden. She says to Colin that if he “make[s] them open the door and take [him] in like that it will never be a secret garden again” (Burnett 130).
In the very beginning of The Secret Garden, Mary keeps the abandoned garden she has recovered a secret primarily because she wants to revive it and she witnesses and recalls herself in this piece of earth.
By tending to the garden, she inadvertently tends to herself and becomes less sullen, gloomy, and alone. Mary finds solace in the bit of earth she cares for as she finds solace and a kind of love in herself.
But, I keep returning to this point of the magic in a secret garden or any secret really. I believe Mary didn’t want to share the secret of the garden because she was afraid she would lose herself in being tender and revealing an undisclosed aspect of herself to another — a familiar, a stranger: her first cousin.
When I think of my own life, I often think of the secret smiles I’ve kept to myself — those memories I’ve shared with only another — a memory no one else will be able to recover.
I think that’s what Mary spoke about at the end of the day.
There’s magic in a secret garden. There’s magic in the parts of ourselves we thought were abandoned but then tended to and watched bloom.
And there’s magic in this ancestry and me and you.
Lately, I’ve been contemplating the role nostalgia plays in our lives as we journey forward through all our challenges and respective triumphs.
I honestly believe nostalgia comes from a desire for safety and comfort. Every time I’ve felt nostalgic in the past, I’ve noticed how the feelings I experience aren’t necessarily a desire to return to the exact time I’m reflecting back on. Rather, these scattered feelings bring me to a place of deep and earnest longing for a time when everything felt certain, warm, and comforting.
Now, in light of the pandemic and the fight/flight responses our brains all are naturally working through, it only makes sense to indulge in nostalgia for a time before the pandemic and before masks and this madness.
Every day, it appears that another area of conflict appears on our door side. Another day equals another conflict —another concern, another worry, which appears insurmountable to even us.
Given this, I’ve been reflecting on why we are nostalgic over the course of our lives. What purpose does nostalgia serve? And why do we linger in past memories through tinted rose-colored glasses?
In the end, I consider nostalgia to be laced in a moment, which never truly existed — a moment when everything appeared to be certain, brilliant, and fulfilling.
And so we return to our childhoods. We return to the playgrounds of our youth. We return to the first kisses, which caught us head over heels. And lastly, we return to the moment before everything unfolded before us.
Because even now we desire to trace the elusive “what-if’s.”
What if I had stayed in his/her/or their arms?
What if I lingered another day in a moment of sustained comfort?
I highly doubt nostalgia will ever leave us, but we might reconsider how we utilize this emotion as we face every challenge in our lives.
I’ve seen a lot of people recounting and reflecting on their story of where they were during 9/11 on that fateful day so I’ve decided to share my story in this space as well. Some of you may not know me well, but I was born in New York, on Long Island, to be precise, and I don’t remember much about the specifics. I was six. I was in elementary school. I remember being confused, sensing my teacher’s apprehension and the fierce whispers and plastered concerned smiles of my teachers. On that day, all the parents rushed to pick us up out of school. The mood was edged in fear, but I didn’t remember why. I can still see those burning towers in my eyes. For hours on end, the towers were projected on my television screen. But I couldn’t understand why. Weeks later, I drew billowing gray clouds on parchment paper with two stark towers to symbolize this moment I had seen — a spectacle of a scene, surely. All my teachers commented on how beautiful my drawing was, but I think in the end, I drew it as a means to understand because I still don’t understand. And these memories — these recollections are a paltry attempt to put meaning to the spectacle, the burning towers crashing down — a love story. How could we not look away? How could I not look away? Years later, I remember the news reel re-runs and the speeches set in constant, regurgitated motion, but I’ll never forget the way it made me feel. I think I’ll keep looking on. Because I’ll never be able to look away. And I don’t think any of us will.
I’ve been contemplating the place the stranger occupies and our relation to it.
Who is the stranger? When does someone cease being the stranger, or the specter, in our eyes?
How did we come to calling the stranger our enemy? I suppose my spirituality predicates many of my views on the stranger as the one who is truly the familiar and it has informed my belief that we are all connected in our uniqueness — all divine expressions of the same source no matter what you want to call it.
In my first poetry collection, I consider the stranger my familiar — my lover, my beloved, and my dearest friend.
Today, my Dad asked me why I sign books for someone I’ve never met and left it there with no clue who may be receiving it.
And as I’ve told you now, I communicated the same message in kind to him.
I believe no one is truly a stranger.
I believe we share this moment and all the ones which came prior.
And if you greeted me on the road, asking for my solace and my embrace, would I not give it?
Repeat after me: I trust and surrender to the magnificent flow of life.
Today has been challenging for me. I’ve been met by specters of the past — doubt and a nameless kind of fear about my future and the birth of my newest aspirations — to write and live in the place where the lioness lay.
So, I’ve chosen to breathe through these shadows and fears and surrender to what is out of my hands and placed within the divine flow of consciousness. I believe in G-d — the magical, the mystical, the wondrous, and the unseen and I know even when I doubt that all is going according to plan.
Take some time for yourself today and dedicate it to play.
What does this look like for you? What does it feel like to trust and surrender to your heart and your wildest desires?
For me, it feels like breathing, dancing, and listening to good music.
For me, it feels like putting on my favorite fragrance and meditating.
The last time I was at the Phoenix Art Museum with my friend, I was at odds with myself and the hundreds of years of creation isolated between the art museum’s walls.
I kept thinking to myself, why me? Why did I choose to be creative in this life when I am constantly reminded of the usefulness of other paths and careers.
At that time, I bemoaned my creativity — wished to be different, in fact. If only I could live a life in pursuit of something technical or scientific, I kept saying.
Now, a few months later, my perspective has radically changed. How lucky I am to live this life — to create art and share it with you, the stranger from a near-far distance.
How lucky I am to be the amalgamation of all the artists and creators who came before me. How lucky I am to live a life where my words can create a ripple in the ocean.
“Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops,” David Mitchell writes in his masterpiece of a novel, Cloud Atlas. And how true he is.
I’ve been thinking of those who’ve been considered the literary greats — Walt Whitman, Bram Stoker, Sappho, Emily Dickinson; the list continues on ad infinitum.
I’ve been thinking of how Whitman spoke of equality — of Bram Stoker’s candid declarations of affection to Whitman and how anyone, including you, can touch someone with your words.
I think it’s rather lovely to hold this space for you, whoever you may be, across this liminal space. My words may not be pressed between a physical page, but I believe they’ve touched someone in the ether.
I’ve been thinking lately about my legacy in these poems and words I press to the page.
One of my favorite musicians, Zella Day, once spoke to the oceanic nature of her songs and how in time she will collect a catalogue of pressed moments, which she can return to any time.
Now, as I near the next poem of my life, I think fondly back on the catalogue I’ve created thus far within my poetry. It’s rather beautiful how I can return to any poem I’ve written, or any work for that matter, and find something new every time.
In the end, this is what I love about art in all its multifaceted forms. I love how artists show up for their art every day. I love how people can find some new interpretation in the words, which I press to the page (and the words you may press to the page).
I love how I can go to an art gallery and connect so viscerally with a portrait painted hundreds of years ago. And I love how I can meet you in this hour, without ever touching you in the physical realm.
That’s why I show up every day in my life. That’s why I show up in my art.
I do it because that’s what it means to live well and to preserve a moment in time for eternity.