The perfect Christmas book

ISBN-13: 9781603201742; Publisher: Time Home Entertainment, Inc; Publication date: 10/30/2012; Pages: 112; Sales rank: 122,161 (Dec. 26); Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

The publication this season of JESUS: Who Do You Say That I Am? could not have come at a more perfect time, coinciding with the unveiling (re-birth really) of a special stained glass window at my church, Emmanuel Howard Park United in Toronto. The window’s image, of Christ holding a lantern, is based on a painting entitled “The Light of the World” by the PreRaphaelite William Holman Hunt. So perfect was this painting that it was for a time the most reproduced image in the world. (At Emmanuel Howard Park United there are no less than three versions of it.)

This particular stained glass window has an exceptionally perfect story. Commissioned by the church janitor to commemorate the life of his son killed in WWI, it was the only window to survive a church fire in the 40s, but remained virtually unseen in a little used stairwell for over 70 years until this fall when it came to the attention of a few people at the church who worked through a labyrinth of unusual to say nothing of improbable circumstances until this December, when the window was cleared of obstructions and backlit. It is now a beacon of light that presents a welcoming message directly on to the main street of our bustling community.

The LIFE publication appeared on magazine racks by the cash registers at my local grocery store just at the same time as the Emmanuel Howard Park window was lit up. One can imagine the enormous number of people this little publication is reaching, putting it into that special category of (publishing) miracles.

JESUS, Who Do You Say That I Am? is a perfect publication is so many way. It fleshes out the details of Christ’s life with stories and pictures that bring the places, the geography and culture of the times alive. It lays out the story from the Bible with a mixture of interpretiion, theology and history so we can understand, without judging, what people believe and where there are doubts. It’s an exquisite balancing act.

The Light of the World, stained glass window after an original painting by William Holman Hunt

The final section, “He Is All Things to All Men,” shows how Christ figures into the work and lives of organizations and individuals around the world. But then, after consulting notable scholars, the Surgeon General of the U.S. and the Cardinal of New York City, LIFE settles on three of the unlikeliest of characters to draw the whole thing together.

They choose three artists, musicians Moby, Aaron Neville and Willy Nelson, to deliver personal accounts of how Christ figures into their lives.

Moby relates most to the glorious side of the Son of God. He believes in Jesus, he says, but isn’t going to make a big deal about it; he’s content with the idea that the universe is “an unknowable but fascinating and wonderful place.”

Neville relates most to the compassion of Christ, describing personal feelings of empathy for Christ’s suffering and joys, and recalling a moving prayer/story about footprints in sand.

Nelson takes things in completely different direction that for me cuts to the quick of thinking about Jesus. He begins by quoting Matthew 5:48: ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.’ then goes on to say, “The purpose of life is to reach perfection. The rose starts as a seed or cutting, then grows and prospers with the sunshine and the rain. After a period of time, the perfect rose blossoms. The human experience is much the same, except the time span is much greater because man, before he can reach this state of perfection, must return again and again through many incarnations in order to conquer all disease, greed, jealousy, anger, hatred and guilt. In order to achieve perfection man must use his imagination to create an image of himself in his mind as a happy, healthy person, perfect in every way. He must pattern himself after the master of perfection, such as the great master Jesus.”

In today’s world, so fraught with violence and misunderstanding, it’s odd to hear someone holding out for the possibility of perfection. Yet there is perfection in this little publication with the not so little circulation. And there is perfection in its timing, coinciding as it did with the most perfect resurrection of the heart of a modest downtown church in Toronto.

With the brilliance of perfection all around, the darkness of doubt is extinguished.

 

Mrs. Delany’s invention: collage, aging and the artist’s life

Mary Delany collage of a Magnolia grandiflora.

Mary Delany collage of a Magnolia grandiflora.

There are so many good reasons to buy this book, which came to us via Virginia Eichhorn of the Tom Thomson Art Gallery. (Thank you!) It is beautifully produced, on a fascinating if somewhat esoteric topic (collage), addresses in several ways the important role art plays in people’s lives (for artists but also  non-artists, the seasons of an artist’s career, art in relation to life-experience and aging) and is well-written despite being a bit quirky (speculative, almost fictional while also being a biography).

It is exactly the kind of book that can change how you think and inspire new directions.

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THE PAPER GARDEN

An Artist (Begins Her Life’s Work) at 72

By Molly Peacock,

Illustrated. 397 pp. Bloomsbury. 2011 $30.

reviewed in the New York Times

reviewed in the Globe and Mail

[buy it in the Amazon]

Buzz Hargrove or Lee Iococca: the search for business models in the arts.

Creative Enterprise book cover

ISBN-13: 978-1441188205

For decades now, everyone from artists to arts organizations to public and private galleries and arts councils has been under pressure to operate in a more transparent, business-like fashion. When combined with artists parallel creative pushing at the limits of the institutional and discursive frameworks that hold art apart from (and above) audiences, it is hardly surprising if traditional ways of explaining or justifying the arts look less and less convincing.

Two new books step towards the idea that it may be fruitful to start looking at the arts through the same lens as we look at other things people do; cost vs. benefit, profit vs. loss, labour vs. management.
Martha Buskirk’s Creative Enterprise: Contemporary Art between Museum and Marketplace, is characterized as “[a] dryly skeptical account of the nuanced and complex relationships between artists, museums and the marketplace.” – interview with Martha Buskirk here: http://hyperallergic.com/54766/arts-corrosive-success-an-interview-with-martha-buskirk

Buskirk focuses on roles and methodologies, relationships and institutional frameworks, basically the infrastructure of the arts,  attempting to identify the models that are at work. Among her observations:

  • It is  increasingly difficult to distinguish between art and other forms of commerce or production: Alan Kaprow called himself a “service provider,” a labourer in other words.
  • Artworks today are often iterative, meaning the artist changes them as they move to new venues. It is not a matter of a discrete object being produced in the studio and then sent out for display. It is more like how the marketplace works for other types of products, where design, packaging and promotion  evolve in response to demand. Creating and presenting artwork has always involved “management” – by the artist and by curators and dealers – but today that management is increasingly like management anywhere in the marketplace.
  • The visual art market, particularly since the bubble of the first decade of this century, has been increasingly revealed to be driven by the same things that drive business: profits and tax breaks. The language is shocking, but so is the idea that there might be pretty straight forward business model at work.
  • Artists today are more frequently invited to work in situ, to work withing a gallery context or other setting. They are increasingly seen as people who can be brought in to “fix” any range of institutional or corporate ills, from public profile or office culture. operate like management consultants, except they are paid far less.
  • Institutional critique has become popular even among public galleries, because it is popular with the public who like to see the inner workings of the musuem. The avant garde that once was tied to the ruling elite with a rope of gold (Greenberg) is effectively taking down the velvet
  • The explosion in collections, museums, galleries, no less than the number of art schools and art school  graduates add diversity of points of view and practices that will inevitably change the character of the field.
  • Artists like Murakami are brands, managing processes that have all the attributes of the industrial assembly line. The results are both hi art and low or no art. The gift shop item no less than the one off monumental sculpture being part of a conceptual project that challenges both the meaning of ownership and the value of the art object.

 

Claire Bishop's Artificial Hells book cover

ISBN-13: 978-1844676903

The second book, Claire Bishop’s Artificial Hells, further stirs the pot by examining the political effectiveness of social or “relational” art practices, provoking a similar kind of questioning of what models exactly are at work.

She looks at “the tensions between quality and equality, singular and collective authorship, and the ongoing struggle to find artistic equivalents for political positions.” http://hyperallergic.com/55068/claire-bishop-artificial-hells/

Bishop takes art practices that seek validity outside of the proper institutions and discourse of art at their word, as if to say, if your  first commitment is to social change, then put up or shut up. Don’t dress up like Buzz Hargrove if all you’re doing in the end is reinforcing the investments of Lee Iococca’s shareholders.

It’s a fair point – how can one champion the working stiff while also protecting the shareholders’ exclusive interest? – but only to the extent that the art falls so strictly along ideological lines, which most art, and most art institutions for that matter, do not.

While we may expect debate to rage now about what exactly Bishop is “for” or “against,” or thinks “better” or “worse,” and whether all that is still rooted in the same modernist cricial traditions it will be more interesting to consider what it means for  a critic of Bishop’s stature to be digging down to look at the foundations of current art practices, or what fresh hell she may excavate.

Bishop has provided an important spur to critical debate, which pretty well everyone has been saying for over a decade has become moribund: “boosterism is the only form of dialogue and lack of hype around an artist suffices for criticism.” Buskirk has similarly expanded the way in which we can speak about and analyze the infrastructure that validates and promotes certain practices and certain artists over others.

Whether looking at art or its context, the search for internal validation for art now seems not so much frustrating, even Quixotic, so much as misdirected. Validation occurs in art, just as in other kinds of human activity, in relatively predictable, but more importantly, knowable, describable ways.

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This article was first posted on View on Canadian Art. (Thanks to Andrea Carson.)

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