illustration 2015 by jpbohannon
The bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition that was Sabina’s life. It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed. … each time the same object would give rise to a new meaning, though all former meanings would resonate (like an echo, like a parade of echoes) together with the new one.
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Iconic photo of Patti Smith
by Robert Maplethorpe
“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.”
Patti Smith (remembering advice she got from William S. Burroughs)
I’ve been reading a lot of Susan Sontag lately: her journals, her book Illness as Metaphor, and a slew of blog posts. One of these excerpted a journal entry in which Sontag not only analyzed why we humans like lists but that produced a list of her own likes and dislikes. Essentially, she was standing up for or against particular aspects of modern life. Most of us “jot down” lists, but this is probably the wrong phrase for this activity, because thinking about what one actually likes and dislikes is a more difficult thing to do than I first imagined, more involved than mere jotting. I know, because I tried.
© 2013 jpbohannon
At first I worried that making such a list bordered on the narcissistic. Who really cares what a person likes or dislikes? Do we make conscious decisions with any of this knowledge about other people? I doubt it, particularly in our day to day interactions.
But making such a list could be enlightening, for oneself. No one else needs to know. Sit down and think about the world and what you actually enjoy and what you find annoying, painful, sad.
However, if created lightly, without much thought, this list ends up sounding like the profile of some air-headed celebrity: “I like moonlit walks on the beach…, etc.” A far cry from the list Sontag created.
And to put any such a list out there is a bit risky…and again a bit self-involved.
I spent a good bit of time thinking about what I like–which writers and musicians, what art forms and what cities, what quirks of my own and what indulgences, what parts of everyday life and what special dreams. It was harder thinking of those things I didn’t like–the things I find annoying seemed petty when put on paper, seemed like too much kvetching, and was beginning to be forced.
So I put my list together and I worked hard at it and I decided it didn’t need posting, after all. It was good enough for me: “the examined life and all that.” Hah!
“…The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. A Man Without a Country, 2005
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1922-2007
illustration by jpbohannon © 2013
David D’Imperio’s sculptured lighting
On Friday past, I went to the Philadelphia Art Museum’s annual Craft Show. Now this isn’t your usual craft show with knitted tea cozies, outré Christmas decorations, and cute tchotchkes for the home. This is major art. The exhibitors were potters and metal workers, fabric artists and glass blowers, painters, fashion designers and jewelers, woodworkers and stone carvers. This was some major stuff–and more often than not far above my price range.
Yet it was all beautiful. At one point, I called over one of the women I was with to see these magnificent glass platters. The artist corrected me: what I thought was glass was actually wood. All his pieces were wood. Yet they were so translucent and brilliant and delicate that one would never first believe that they were wood.
Mark Schuler’s wooden bowl.
Two fashion designers–at opposite ends of the “elegance” scale–were both kicky and inventive. Their dresses and capes and skirts and pants were flowing with ruched materials or angular draping. One woman painted gorgeous canvasses, part abstract/part folk art, and treated them so they could be use as floor coverings. Runners for hallways, area mats for large rooms. They were exquisite.
There was exquisite furniture and graceful pots, jewelry both elegant and extreme. There was a perpetual motion glass wine aerator and eyeglasses made of wood. There were graceful ceramics and fun metal sculptures. There was simply aisle after aisle in the cavernous Convention Center filled with magnificent works of human artistry.
And that was the true beauty of this collection. Hundreds of people from around the world were simply doing what they loved–creating things of beauty. How lucky one must be to be able to do what he or she loves as not their job but as their vocation, to be able to start the day with nothing and end up with something. For the artist does not go to work, he is always at work. He eats and sleeps and breathes his work. And while not all of these crafts were to my taste–though many, many were–all were to my liking. For something inside me loves the idea that human beings are a species that does create, and often creates piece not for their utility but for their simple and utter beauty.