Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Price Modern Art?

 Night Windows by Edward Hopper

I was wondering what to write about this week, as I enjoy some time in the cosy retreat of my apartment, waiting on some potentially good news and following up on the flurry of activity created by the launch of my new book, which you may notice is now available directly from my blogsite (see right column of my front page).  This seems to be an easier procedure for those of you who do not want to create accounts on the Blurb site or would like me to sign your copy before shipping. I am trying to keep my prices in line with those offered on Blurb and still give myself some small margin of profit, so I will be offering paperbacks at $30 and hardcovers at $40, with $5 shipping anywhere in the US and $15 shipping anywhere overseas. Many thanks to those of you who have already purchased copies!

 Dance 1 by Henri Matisse

Then I saw this:

The Museum of Modern Art, faced with what it calls “escalating costs in virtually all aspects of operating the museum,’’ is raising its admission price to $25 for adults from $20, where it has been since 2004. The change takes effect on Sept. 1. Admission will remain free for children 16 and under; the charge for full-time students will rise to $14 from $12.
MoMA is following the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In June the Met announced that its suggested admission price would rise to $25 from $20 starting in July. Unlike the Met’s suggested fee, MoMA’s is mandatory. Membership rates for the Museum of Modern Art are rising as well, as of Nov. 1. Individuals will have to pay $85 to be a member rather than $75; a dual membership will be $140 instead of $120, and it will cost a family $175, up from $150.
“These carefully considered increases in admission prices will help ensure that the museum is able to maintain financial stability and a balanced budget,’’ a statement from the museum said.

 Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso

If there is anyone out there for whom this news does not immediately cause both high indignation and deep despair, they are probably not friends of mine and would never be reading a blog written by a starving artist, so I am going to take it on faith that the rant now building inside me and begging for release in writing will neither offend nor confuse nor repel anyone. But it is not in me to construct a detailed and insightful analysis of everything that is wrong with the art world today, of which this news is the perfect proof. Instead, I decided to fill this post with images that speak better than I can. All images in this post are of artworks currently in the MoMA collection, and will now never be seen in person by anyone who is of a certain economic status, the irony being, most of the artists represented in the collection died in poverty and would also have been unable to visit this elite institution. Art is not for the elite. Art is for everyone, and that includes persons for whom 25 dollars represents necessary funds going towards food, housing, medicine and clothing - not an overpriced leisure activity. It is not, to my mind, an adequate gesture of welcome that those under the age of 16 are still exempt from payment. How many teenagers do you know who would be wise enough to take advantage of this benefit before it is too late? Surely a minority. Better get your museumgoing done before you go to college. Again, how many college students of modest means can afford or would be willing to hand over 14 bucks a visit to go look at art? 

Hyeres, France by Henri Cartier-Bresson

The works here do not even begin to scratch the surface of the MoMA a permanent collection, or the scope and power of the works they regularly bring to the city from other museums and private holdings the world over. They are a powerful, influential and prestigious entity, and I suppose they are allowed to choose the type of people they want inside their doors enjoying what they have to offer. This is their right. The one thing that most angered me about their statement quoted above, was using the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the justification of their raised admission prices.

Slate Blue and Brown on Plum by Mark Rothko

As anyone who has ever visited the Met knows, the prices they list are "suggested" not "required." They may be guilty of relying upon the confusion of their visitors, local and foreign, who pay the price they see written above them on the admissions desk, in script far larger than the word "suggested," to get the full price by less than honorable means, but I can attest that I have visited the Met frequently over the past three decades and never paid them more than I could afford, which was sometimes whatever spare coins I had in pocket, and did not receive any harsh words or looks for my inability to pay more. The Met has other sources of income, other far more affluent connections, just as MoMA, a smaller institution with equally wealthy and numerous patrons does, but the Met chooses not to pass along their escalating operating costs to a sector of the population who can least afford to bear that burden, and now more than ever are the ones most in need of the inspiring and healing powers of art. And this is why I will never go to MoMA again, and will always consider the Met a sanctuary. 

Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Great Hall, Open to All

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Disillusioned Optimist


Anyone familiar with my contact information will recognize in the title of this post the name I use for my gmail account. I am not the first or only person to use this phrase as an identifier online and there are millions of us out there who were born or grew into this philosophy and continue to live it every day. My particular journey began in the blinding sunshine of optimism, took a quick detour in very bad weather into pessimism, and has finally taken me into this most misunderstood but to me so perfectly comfortable condition I chose to use it as the first impression prefacing most of my communications.

Place in the Sun

Optimism did not serve me well. Always looking on the bright side can be a frustrating and exhausting task. The bright side is an elusive creature that is so often chased away by the dark side, and in general finds itself suspected, mistrusted and mocked, and nearly suffocated in the desperate grip of its own defenders, it is no wonder that it becomes more and more reluctant to show its face. After a few challenging years as the champion of the bright side, I gave it up and left it to more dedicated advocates.

 Cover of Darkness

The obvious next move was to go over to the dark side completely. Pessimism was thrilling at first. Predicting that everything in life will eventually turn into crap means being right most of the time, and that can feel pretty good to a former optimist who hardly ever enjoyed that sensation. But after a while pointing a finger, laughing like a cartoon villain and declaring “I told you so!” lost its allure. It’s wonderful to predict accurately that something will happen in a certain way. It’s not so wonderful when the self-satisfied smile begins to fade as you realize that everything has indeed turned into crap and this is not a happy state of affairs. In such cases being wrong probably feels a lot better.

 Disillusioned Optimist

So I found a way to be half-right all the time (half wrong, for you dedicated wholehearted pessimists out there!) I looked inside and realized that I was indeed an optimist at heart. I believe that there is good in just about everyone, that miraculous things can happen if you open yourself to them, and that eventually even the negative things that happen can prove to be important stepping stones on the way to a very positive outcome. All evidence to the contrary, all will be well in the end. I am also painfully aware that bad things happen to good people, good people often do very bad things, and that sometimes you never do get an explanation or justification for some of the hurtful situations in your life, or the bad break that arrives with perfect timing, having caught up on the road with the good break you clearly deserved and was earnestly energetically making its way to you, then clubbed it over the head and left it in a ditch.

 Hot and Cold

Being a disillusioned optimist also means I can hang with the pessimists when things turn sour and join the chorus of “what did you expect? Life sucks!” But I can also hang with the optimists when a little magic dust descends and agree “I always knew things would be okay.” I am not sure which came first, my embrace of this philosophy or my life’s pattern of equal and opposite evidence of magic and of life sucking. Either way, life does indeed suck at times, and life can also be magic at times. I have had my share of both. I believe in and accept both. It’s all about the balance of light and shadow, and you rarely have one without the other. 

 "Qual de Nos" by Denise Scaramai

Last week was one of those times when reverting to pessimism seems entirely justified. But all the time I was struggling to stand my ground against some negative forces causing me to question myself, I was being encouraged by all the wonderful supportive comments left on last week’s post by you wonderful people out there. It was an especially welcome surprise to learn that my blogfriend Denise created another masterful illustration based on one of my photographs, which you can see above. 

 Artbeat 2011
The week culminated on Saturday at the Artbeat festival, which proved successful for both Brian, baking in the hot sun under a tent outdoors, and myself, in the cool indoor setting of the Burren, a local bar and restaurant.  Brian will be posting this week about how his day went and also making available for purchase a new t-shirt with a design based on one of his paintings. For my part, I made some good sales and received a lot of positive feedback on my work, some of which was being shown for the first time. A good day all around.

And saving the best news for last, my new book is now available on Blurb! This book represents my best work from the past ten years right up to images captured only a couple weeks ago, which proved to be the last necessary pieces to complete a work I envisioned many months ago and was having difficulty realizing. Clicking on the badge in my sidebar will take you directly to the Blurb bookstore which will be the exclusive distributor of my book. I have also added links in both the NEWS and STUDIES IN CONTRAST sections of my blog. Because it is currently under consideration in the Photography Book Now contest, my book is set to full preview and you can view it in its entirety here or on the Blurb site. Of course, there is nothing quite like the experience of an actual physical book, as I discovered today when I held my book in my hands for the first time, so please buy a copy for yourself, you will not be disappointed! All in all, this week I am happy to report that my optimism, although still entirely free of illusions, has once again emerged triumphant! Have a great week, and thanks for visiting.

Book in Hand

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Life is Elsewhere

Objects in the Mirror

Many people know Arthur Rimbaud’s famous declaration that life is elsewhere from its use as the title of Milan Kundera’s novel but do not know that the full quote is "What a life! True life is elsewhere. We are not in the world."  This line has always resonated with me but this past week I have been particularly haunted by its continued relevance to my life.

Next Flight Out

There have been times in my life when things seemed out of balance, even upside down. It seemed that the people I spent the most time with were strangers with no values or tastes or drives in common with mine, while my best friends were in other cities or found in books through characters and authors from other centuries. Times when music understood me better and embraced me more warmly than any human being. Times when my past successes or future hopes were far more real to me than anything going on in my life at the present moment.  I once thought this was my own fault, or the fault of the human condition, and that my task was not to correct, but accept this imbalance.

 Vermont's Longest Covered Bridge

But instead these periods of imbalance have provoked first the desire and then an enacted plan for great change in my life, compelling me to examine why and how things had come to such a point and make a move either to bring meaning into my life, or bring myself to where the meaning could be found. When I left my job last summer, it was one of those moments of taking a huge risk to effect a change I hoped would restore balance to my life. It has been a long twelve months, with much progress in the right direction, but it has occurred to me this past week just how long and slow a journey I am on, and that while I am further away from the unacceptable life I left behind, I am still very far away from living the kind of life in which I can look around and feel that life is right where I am and not still elsewhere.

Eyes Wide Shut

There are those who might think I expect too much from life, that the majority of people never do find the right companions, living conditions or work. They merely become accustomed to a mild sense of disappointment and lack of fulfillment in their lives and in order to cope with it, find means of escape, distraction or rationalization to make it tolerable. I mean, who said life was about satisfaction? Who said dreams can come true and that the human condition can rise above regret and longing through action, instead of oblivion? Who said striving for meaning with no guaranteed results could be preferable to just making things stable and comfortable?

 Dreamer in a Garden

I did, that’s who. I’ve been told I was born without a small piece of connective tissue in my right side. I have also come to understand that I was born without any concept of the urgent necessity and intrinsic value of money, material possessions, and impressive titles one can use in conversation to send people away secure in their knowledge of who you are with no need to inquire further. For as long as I can remember, all I wanted was to be that most elusive of things – happy. Numbers with dollar signs in front of them don’t make me happy. Watching someone’s eyes light up when I name the prestigious institution good enough to pay me for sitting around angry and frustrated all day doesn’t make me happy. A home so beautiful guests are afraid to touch anything, two shiny cars in the garage, and any item of clothing that costs more than a week’s worth of groceries also do not make me happy.


The day I arrived in the Boston area from New York, my new apartment was not yet ready for occupancy and I spent the night at my brother’s house with a moving van parked outside containing all my worldly possessions protected only by a small fragile combination lock. I remember thinking that if someone broke into the van and stole all its contents it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Not one thing in there was unique or irreplaceable because they were  -- things. The thought of this potential unburdening actually made me feel happy.  And so it seems happiness for me is more about enjoying what I’m doing and who I am. I like beautiful places, and beautiful souls, and have been fortunate enough to be finding them lately. But not here. Always and again – elsewhere.

 Table for One

Some of you have read of my longstanding love affairs with certain places like my native New York City and more recently Vermont. When I first moved here almost 10 years ago, it took a long time to make connections with people. I have found some good friends here finally, exceptional folks who are indeed the exception rather than the rule, but I never have felt tied to this place. I only managed to live here this long by enriching my life with the planning and taking of trips to other places. This past year thanks to Blogger I have met some of the best brightest and most sympathetic souls I have ever known, some of them in other cities, some halfway around the world, whose friendship will continue to sustain me wherever an Internet connection can be accessed.  I always felt that leaving this place, my residence for nearly one fifth of my life thus far, would be easy, both practically and psychologically. I’ve never really felt I was HERE, so relocation would take effort, but no internal struggle as it does for so many people. From the day I arrived I was on a path to being elsewhere. It does seem that I am coming close to the end of this path, and I am full of hope but also sadness, not for the quitting of this place, but because it should be so easy, and will so quickly become a memory of an experience only important as a launching point to something else, for which I will always be grateful, but also always wonder – what took so long?

 Missing the Friend - by Denise Scaramai
Please take a moment this week to visit the site of one of my dearest blogfriends Denise Scaramai, whose recent interpretation of one of my photographs you see above. I have never met this woman face to face but the strength of her great intelligence and heart carries across continents. I am better for her presence in my life, wherever she or I may be.  I’d also like to draw your attention to a wonderful project sponsored by The Minneapolis Institute of Art whose exhibit "Facing the Lens : Portraits of Photographers" ( runs through August 2011 and features works by classic and contemporary photographers. They have established an accompanying Flickr group ( to which any photographer can upload their own self-portraits. The images will not only be viewable on Flickr, but will also be projected on a screen in the actual gallery space in Minneapolis for the duration of the show. Some of my images were recently accepted to the pool and I intend to add more. It thrills me to think that my images will appear in the same room as those by some of my favorite masters from past centuries, and that as I sit here at my desk, the eyes of strangers fall on my photographs, and indeed on my face. Perhaps through their sensing of the person behind the work, I will be in that room too. Life is elsewhere.

Longview 2

This post is dedicated to the pursuit of happiness and the wonderful places I hope you will all find along the way.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Red (White and Blue)


Here in the States tomorrow is Independence Day, the celebration of which includes fireworks, food and a lot of flag waving. In honor of the holiday, I offer you my own renditions of these three traditional items, beginning with some natural fireworks (to me the best kind) above.  Followed by food:

 Slice of Life

And last but not least, a waving flag:

 Stars and Stripes

These three images were recently submitted, along with the one below, which was the one to be accepted, for a show called “Red” now on display in the Inside Out Gallery in Davis Square in Somerville. 

 Red Handed

I recently took some photos in Davis Square to give you a better idea of what this unique little gallery space is all about.

Inside Out occupies the front windows of the CVS Drugstore in the heart of Davis Square and offers a new theme-based selection of work every month. As you can see, many people pass by these windows at all hours of the day and night at the neighborhood’s busiest intersection.

My work hangs next to another photographer with an eerily similar take on the “Red” theme we were asked to follow. It is a small show of around 12 pieces by various artists in different media, and I am pleased to be among such good works.

On July 15th and 16th, Davis Square is host to one of the city’s biggest annual outdoor art events, Artbeat. Every year the vendors and entertainers represent a specific theme, and this year’s was RED. I am happy to be a part of the event, which is a celebration of the arts as something not only to be found in a museum. The group behind all these endeavors, the Somerville Arts Council, strives to put art in public places, and put artists to work in community projects. They do wonderful work all year round, but Artbeat is their big event, taking over Davis Square and with several other performance spaces around the area.

If you are in the area, please do come check out this wonderful summer happening. This week, as everyone else returns to work after their long holiday weekend, Brian and I will be traveling down to Provincetown on Cape Cod to enjoy one of the best reasons for living in the Northeast: access to the ocean. I'll be back soon with a new post and new photos to share -- and hopefully a nice tan!  Thank you to all my readers. Enjoy the summer! And for my friends now in the dead of the winter, enjoy the comforts of cosy indoor living. Our roles will be reversed soon enough!