Sunday, March 24, 2019

Ferlinghetti Turns 100

"Some time during eternity
                                                some guys show up ..."

And one of those guys who showed up 100 years ago today became an iconic figure in the world of American poetry and publishing. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is celebrating his one-hundredth birthday, and the accolades justly honor this man of American letters.

Perhaps there was a special moon dust in the air that year, the Great War just ending. For 35 years and $500 later, Mr. Ferlinghetti was in the same business. Only in his case, he’d create a home-away-from-home for anyone who felt like an ex-patriate in their own country. City Lights the store, the journal attached to it, and the publisher which grew out of it has changed the face of American letters almost as much as Harlem.
While much of the country was falling in love with “The Ten Commandments,” Ferlinghetti’s store and what it stocked beckoned its visitors to think, to be socially engaged, to challenge the monstrosity that America had become (and in many ways, always has been). “If you would be a poet,” Ferlinghetti wrote in Poetry as Insurgent Art, “create works capable of answering the challenge of/apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.”
Mr. Ferlinghetti has dedicated his life to this project in all forms. While the US was passing a highway bill that would destroy much of the country, he was publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. When his store could have become a lucrative museum of the Beats, he redirected City Lights to publishing writers from around the world, such as Daisy Zamora and Semezdin Mehmedinovic. When a great many in the US were accepting the smoking gun that could be a mushroom cloud, City Lights was hosting anti-war vigils that spilled out into Jack Kerouac alley.

I somehow discovered Ferlinghetti in my early teens after my introduction to the Beats via Danny Sugarman's biography of Jim Morrison, and it wasn't long before I was reading Howl and looking for more poetry like A Coney Island of the Mind to rattle my small town suburban existence of a 1980s Gen X youth. While never truly a poet at heart, despite my attempts to develop a withdrawn poet ethos at various times in my life, Ferlinghetti was someone I came back to whenever I need him, like when I memorized "Sometime during eternity" for a college class in oral interpretation. It may be the only poem I ever performed.

Ferlinghetti matters to American literature and culture, and it's right that we celebrate his one hundred years.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Snowplow Parenting? Yep, that's a thing

As an educator and school administrator, I've been pretty attuned to the increasing messiness of the college application process. So, I'm not really shocked by the news of the Lori-Loughlin-Felicity-Huffman college admissions cheating scandal. Is it really any surprise that the system was vulnerable to rigging and manipulation by the wealthy and connected? We already know that standardized test scores are a better predictor of socioeconomic status than they are of college readiness, and we also know that tutors and test prep programs already skew the standardized test component in favor of the upper-middle and upper class families who can afford them. Once you add in the questionable industry of private college counselors for the application process, and it's a short leap to cheating on test scores or bribing sports programs and coaches into falsifying a student's application to get into the school of their dreams.

The really sad thing is that USC was not even the dream school for Lori Loughlin's daughter - she didn't actually want to go to college. So, the scandal is really all about the status for the parents, regardless of whether the kids knew or not. And I tend to believe they did.

Which leads to the stories of a few days ago in which a new parenting term has hit the lexicon -- snowplow parents. Snowplow parents are people who do everything they can to "clear the road" of any obstacles for their children. These choices in the parenting game are, of course, complicated in some ways because we all want what is best for our kids, and no one wants to see his child struggle in unnecessary ways. At the same time, most reasonable people understand that struggle and adversity are all part of growing up, and that often "what we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly," or so noted Thomas Paine in The Crisis. When our children are very young, it is right to protect them from the harsh realities of the world -- even if we think it's fun to introduce them to death, destruction, and betrayal at an early age by showing them Disney movies. Beyond that minor indiscretion, we want their childhood to be relatively pleasant.

School complicates that.

Once kids are into the adolescent years, and the rules of competition and living by comparison come into play, we must begin to evaluate those "sink or swim moments," as our kids learn to take care of themselves. The snowplow parents, however, won't allow the sinking, and they mistakenly believe that preparing and smoothing out the road for the kid is more important than teaching the driving skills and coping strategies to prepare the kid for the occasionally harsh rules of the road. There are varying levels of snowplow behavior, with the Loughlin-Huffman version being the most insane. And, the scandal will perhaps provide a moment of reflection for many parents and kids .... and college admissions officers .... to reevaluate just what sort of Faustian system we may have set up.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Art of the State - 2019, Arvada, CO

The “Art of the State 2019” exhibit at the Arvada Arts Center is a strong testament to the state of the the arts in Colorado. With three galleries featuring impressive works from 154 colorado artists in multiple media from oil on canvas to wood block to glass and mixed media, there is something for everyone. It’s worth the drive to Arvada to experience the third rendition of a juried exhibition on seeing the world through Colorado artists’ eyes. The Arvada Arts center is leading the inclusiveness of Colorado’s art scene, sponsoring its exhibit with an open call to more than a thousand Colorado artists, and then hosting the free exhibit for two months inviting everyone to come see the abounding talent in the Mile High state.

If you’re like me, and you’re hoping to live a bit more artfully and infuse more art into your life, the Art of the State exhibit is a great place to start exploring what you like about art. With still lifes and abstracts and sculptures and photographs, numerous forms of art are available to explore. As a newly developing novice of the arts and the Colorado art scene, I pondered what I liked and why and what I might say about the art when looking at it. Certainly some of the more abstract pieces like the one made of partially-inflated inner tubes hanging in a blob may give some viewers pause. What’s the point? Is it art? It’s called “Well Hung Butyle Remains” by Jessica Moon Bernstein-Schiano of Nederland, and it demands attention as a textural piece assigning significance to discarded objects.

In the main gallery, the eye-catching peacock greenish-blue figure “VOSS” by Roger Reutimann is identified as Best in Show by the curators, and it does not disappoint. Presented in bronze, automotive paint, and Carrara marble, the sleek style and futuristic swagger emphasizes what Reutimann describes as his inspiration of “fashion for strong and independent women.” Looking over her shoulder, viewers are invited into a well-choreographed display of paint, drawing, sculpture, and various pieces of found art. There, a beautiful backdrop to VOSS is a hanging arrangement of glass fragments entitled “Homecoming” by Lara Whitley, and the structure emphasizes Whitley’s intent to draw attention to “the potential -- and the quiet persistence -- of the things we discard.”

In Colorado we walk the fine line between engagement with nature and obstruction of it, and the intersection of nature and art and technology and media is a clear theme developed throughout the selections of the Arvada Arts Center. To that end, the display “135 Milkweed Pods” by Yoshitomo Saito is compelling in its use of arrangement, the pods standing out from the wall, solid and fragile at the same time. Around the corner is a pictograph and text on “The Lichen Map” by Andrew Beckham which becomes art through a stark visual image and poetic rhapsodizing on a unique ecosystem. It’s worth spending some time reading Beckham’s summary of the mystery of the lichen, which may just be “the only life form on Earth that cannot be called a species.” Other noteworthy pieces include two oil on metal pieces from Susan Blake including “Artifice and Nature” that meld nature and technology reminiscent of Wallace Stevens’ classic modernist work “Anecdote of the Jar.” In the upstairs gallery, I was drawn to “Magwa,” an oil paint on stainless steel by Mai Wyn Schantz with a silhouette of a bruin in a painted forest, and the landscape piece is worth seeing for what isn’t there. It seems as if the forestry image on stainless steel is saying much about man’s encroachment on nature, and the healthy blend of still life realism with thoughtful abstract asks us to think of dimension and color, of science and nature.

Numerous pieces in the Art of the State led me to pause, smile, ponder, and even shake my head. A mixed media piece by Sam Smith definitely wins for best title with his piece, “What You Need to Know About Brain Eating Amoebas.” The collection of colored pinwheels of mixed media is saying something about nature and science through art, but I’m not sure exactly what. Woodblock is a style of printing familiar to many, but the arrangement of thousands of mini blocks of wood becomes a thoughtful piece of natural art in “Oak Floor Study” from Chris DeKnikker. The intricate arrangement in three multi-hewed panels spotlights the beauty in the functional, and I couldn’t help but dwell on my laminate wood floor when I returned home, appreciating the patterns and the symmetry. Finally, as a high school teacher, I am quite familiar with the calming effects of doodling, and thus I was quite captivated by the Matt O’Neill’s ink on paper piece “Big Bambu.” The intricate designs of ball-point pen on several pieces of loose leaf paper is a geometric exploration I could get lost in as I gazed at it. Finally, Tony Ortega, a well-known Denver painter, is back in the exhibit for a second time with a colorful mixed media piece that captures the Latino experience and demands attention with its bright pastel colors of anonymous urban scenes. Having appreciated his work at the Red Line Gallery in RiNo, I know it really wouldn’t be a Colorado show without him.

Appreciation of art is a personal experience, and the challenge of interpreting art is first answering the questions: How does it make me feel? Does it hold my attention? And why. The huge number of pieces on exhibit at the Art of the State allows viewers to explore those questions and their experience of art. The paintings and prints accentuate the interplay of color and perspective, especially in abstracts like Ellen Moershel’s “Valdez” where the viewer can simply explore the lines, shades, and dimensions of acrylic on canvas. The artists at their most basic sense ask us to notice and appreciate the world. For me the abstract and the ab-ex works are the most compelling, and it’s because of how the interplay between color and texture and dimension ask me to notice the work. The thing I’m realizing is that art is meant to be appreciated in the same way we look at a sunset or the horizon or a majestic valley or even the way we stare at water in a brook running past or waves crashing on the shore.