Art for the Blind

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In the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, has a Touch Tour, for the visually impaired. In addition to sculptures that can be touched, there are three-dimensional representations of some of the pieces, including Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Standing in front of the majestic piece, we could simultaneously feel the winds showering her with roses and see them in full color. Her coy attempt to cover herself seemed every more futile under our curious fingers.

Of course, we recognize writing and painting as art; most of us can literally and metaphorically see the similarities. However, touch yields similarities in line and form.

http://www.uffizi.org/artworks/the-birth-of-venus-by-sandro-botticelli/

Consider the following vivid visual descriptions of “The Blind Woman” by Ted Kooser:

Her brown shoes splashed on
into the light. The moment was like
a circus wagon rolling before her
through puddles of light, a cage on wheels,
and she walked fast behind it,
exuberant, curious, pushing her cane
through the bars, poking and prodding,
while the world cowered back in a corner.
  • Read the start of the poem at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/42645; you can also listen to the piece at the same site. Describe your favorite color or time of day as if you are delivering it to a person who cannot perceive it with her eyes.

Ai Weiwei: Political Art

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According to Bertolt Brecht, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”

We could not know we were headed into Ai Weiwei’s brain from the lifeboats hanging from the Palazzo Strozzi. We knew, of course, the rubber boats represented the plight of refugees. We knew of Ai Weiwei’s reputation as a dissident, as a prisoner, as a spokesperson for justice and against corruption and censorship.

However, we were overcome with his grief, rage, and  agitation as we were delivered into his hippocampus. We recognized its horseshoe shape and how the monumental installations we encountered there helped him–and us–to process history and emotion.

In the second piece, Snake Bag, he sewed 360 backpacks to represent 360 children killed at a school when an earthquake in China’s Sichuan province killed approximately 90,000 people; as visible in the companion video that shows the recovery of the inadequate rebar, the massive destruction was due to the government cutting corners on construction.

In another series, we see Ai Weiwei’s left middle finger extended to the White House, the Eiffel Tower, Hong Kong, Tiananmen Square, and the Mona Lisa, among others; these pieces are title A Study in Perspective. His perspective is clear. He even has wallpaper that also has patterns of middle fingers.

An ivory porcelain plot of flowers is centered in the middle of one of the rooms. These flowers represent his rebellion against censorship, surveillance, and control. He further addresses restrictions he faced by recreating the surveillance cameras (in marble), handcuffs (in wood), and hangers (from his imprisonment, in wood).

Film, selfies, pamphlets, 32 Qing Dynasty stools assembled into a circle, 3200 porcelain crabs, Lego portraits of Dante Alighieri and Galileo Galilei and three self-portraits (also in Legos) further intensify the multimedia experience.

I am inspired by this tour of Ai Weiwei’s brain and heart. I am reminded that, especially in the face of oppression and restriction, we must use all of the resources we have at hand to fight for what is right. Art can be mirror, hammer, souvenir, warning, flare, lighthouse, tank, lifeboat…

 

The Mask of Evil

by Bertolt Brecht

On my wall hangs a Japanese carving,

The mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer.
Sympathetically I observe

The swollen veins of the forehead, indicating

What a strain it is to be evil.

  • Ai Weiwei’s installations and representations function as Brecht’s “mask of evil.” What does your character/speaker have or make to remind her of “what a strain it is to be evil?”

 

Ekphrasis

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In Florence, we invested in the Firenze Card, a pass that allowed us into more than 72 museums in 72 hours, and M is serious about getting his money’s worth. He has a plan, and when I start to flag at the fast four we visit the first morning, he cheers: “Only 68 more!”

Nearly 60 hours into the adventure, I have seen more than a dozen statues of Dionysus, a handful of Davids, a couple of Goliaths, The Birth of Venus and her wind gods, The Baptism of Christ, lots of busts of the wealthy (many of them lazily named: Bust of a Man, and at least, it seems, 10,000 versions of Madonna with Bambino. I have read this title so many times I am almost certain it is synonymous with: “untitled.”

 I walk into a room and think I have been there before. I am on sensory overload. (I recognize this makes me both giddy and a little mean.) I learn that when a large room is sparingly appointed with adequate signage, I am delighted. When the display appears to be a sink of dishes or a closet of clothes (parts of the Pitti Palace offerings) or a haphazard shrine (Dante House), I am not so pleased.

Space and structure allow small pieces to speak to me; Sandro Botticelli’s St. Augustine in His Study (Uffizi Gallery) has a sign to explain, among other things,  that “This picture shows the saint writing in the privacy of his study…The sheets of paper strewn across the floor at the saint’s feet are intended to convey the difficulty implicit in translating divine inspiration into words.”

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Yes, I think. Yes, this is what it is to try to write, and this is why most days it is near impossible to teach creative writing. Sometimes it seems like an endeavor designed to torment writers—and words. I can only open doors for people to walk in; upon entering, some will discover a museum; others will observe a Spartan cell. What I can offer is that no one can teach us how to make art. It’s easier to cure disease, win the lottery, or find true love. I want to hand over the secret, the recipe, the key, but that’s the secret. We each need to learn to distinguish one Madonna and Bambino from another. So we study the masters, nature, and the divine magic of the world to learn to see the way to transform our lives.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle I so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. I must change my life.

Rainer Maria Rilkehttps://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/archaic-torso-apollo

  • Write an ekphrastic piece of writing. Ekphrasis is art inspired by art. Don’t just describe it; let it transform the speaker as Rilke has in his “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”

Rushing into the Music

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In Belfast, we took the Hop On and Hop Off sightseeing bus to get a cursory glimpse of the city still decorated for Christmas, on the verge of the New Year. From the Titanic museum, to the Belfast Peace Wall, to Belfast Castle (photo above), we were immersed in the setting of huge history lessons, including our own family’s history, including news of how one of the cousins was married in a ceremony at the sprawling Castle.

When I was a high school student, my history teacher once criticized me for reading history too fancifully, of thinking of castles as having dragons, of conflating fact and fiction. I don’t know how my teacher recognized it, but it was a keen assessment. He did not prescribe it at the time, but I have found travel to be an excellent antidote to irreverence and ignorance.

The tour guide was well-educated, thoughtful, and engaging. Even better, he brought a friend along for the ride. And the friend brought a guitar to entertain on stretches of motorway where there wasn’t much narration to be done.

One of the tunes, “Big Strong Man (My Brother Sylveste),” required audience participation.

Stanza two goes: That was my brother Sylvest’ (What’s he got?)
A row of forty medals on his chest (big chest!)
He killed fifty bad men in the west; he knows no rest.
Think of a man, hells’ fire, don’t push, just shove,
Plenty of room for you and me.
He’s got an arm like a leg (a ladies’ leg!)
And a punch that would sink a battleship (big ship!)
It takes all of the Army and the Navy to put the wind up Sylvest’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7yiUxCmqrI

The words in parenthesis, we quickly learned, needed to be hooted out when cued by the first part of the line. Each run-through of the song picked up speed; thus, by the end, a busload of strangers were breathlessly laughing, smiling, singing together.

Traveling always reminds me of what I am missing in my day-to-day life. More music is essential.

Speaking of music, I am sincerely grateful to have a poem, “Rushing into the Music, published by Postcard Poems and Prose: https://postcardpoemsandprose.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/rushing-into-the-music-by-heather-hutcheson/

  • Listen to a type of music you don’t usually listen to, like “Big Strong Man,” and see where it takes you.

(Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belfast_Castle)

Ephemera

The booming tourist season starts this weekend and should go through August 1, the last night of Guelaguetza performances, but the zocalo is still a tent city, many highways are still blocked, and some of the exhibitions have been relocated to Llano Park, away from the (ugly) zocalo.

A city that is usually speedy about making graffiti ephemera cannot or is not keeping up with erasing the almost daily production of new propaganda.

This sculpture in the middle of the Alcala pedestrian walkway, on the other hand, proved easier to erase.

http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21701789-why-teachers-are-so-disobedient-battle-feed-young-minds?frsc=dg%7Cc

Ephemera

–William Butler Yeats

‘YOUR eyes that once were never weary of mine
Are bowed in sotrow under pendulous lids,
Because our love is waning.’
And then She:
‘Although our love is waning, let us stand
By the lone border of the lake once more,
Together in that hour of gentleness
When the poor tired child, passion, falls asleep.
How far away the stars seem, and how far
Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!’
Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,
While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:
‘Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.’
The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves
Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once
A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;
Autumn was over him: and now they stood
On the lone border of the lake once more:
Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves
Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,
In bosom and hair.
‘Ah, do not mourn,’ he said,
‘That we are tired, for other loves await us;
Hate on and love through unrepining hours.
Before us lies eternity; our souls
Are love, and a continual farewell.’

  • Compose a list of ephemeral things in your life. Explore them in a detailed list or sequential piece.