Monthly Archives: September 2012

September 2012

The Sunday Poem : Jean Valentine

By |09.29.12|



No one has captured the essence of Jean Valentine’s poetry as eloquently as the late writer Adrienne Rich:

“Looking into a Jean Valentine poem is like looking into a lake: you can see your own outline, and the shapes of the upper world, reflected among rocks, underwater life, glint of lost bottles, drifted leaves. The known and familiar become one with the mysterious and half-wild, at the place where consciousness and the subliminal meet. This is a poetry of the highest order, because it lets us into spaces and meanings we couldn’t approach in any other way.”

Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems 1965 – 2003  is one of the few poetry collections I keep close at hand by the bedside. You can open Valentine’s book to practically any page and find brave, urgent, personal poems that somehow manage to be both emotional and unsentimental (not an easy task).

When Jean called to tell me that her brand new chapbook [The ship] was about to be published by Red Glass Books, I jumped at the chance to share her latest work with Gwarlingo readers. In addition to being a well-respected teacher and mentor, Valentine is the winner of the National Book Award for poetry, the Guggenheim, several NEA fellowships, and was a recent finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. I can think of no better way to kick-off a Sunday morning…




Shirt in Heaven
Come upon a snapshot
of secret you, smiling like FDR, leaning on your crutches—
come upon letters I thought I’d burned—
“I suppose you’ve got a place with lots of stairs.”
“I’m at the end of something, you’re at the beginning.”

I’d be rich, I’d get you an elevator:
a rare old smoky wood one.
I was at the beginning, so I was the oldest:
a looking-away cage that opens at your touch.

       —dearest, they told me a surgeon sat down
in the hospital morgue, next to your body, & cried.
He yelled at the aide to get out.
His two sons had been your students.
—me too, little-knowing—


Bury your money

Now, there:       there’s the money.

Great captivities tap
in our sleep.

But we made a promise         God and us
to meet in another life
when we both could want it.
If only one of us wanted, that
wouldn’t be enough.
We made a promise to be naked
—though great famines bury the ear and the mouth,
though captivities cut parts away, or swell, or sap them,
we made a promise to be naked, John Cage said
Music is permanent, only listening is intermittent.

Writer Christian McEwen on Creativity and Slowing Down

By |09.26.12|


Every day we’re faced with the decision of how and where to focus our attention. Sustained attention may be the most endangered resource in our modern age. We often forget that we have a choice […]

The Sunday Poem : Jim Daniels

By |09.22.12|





Last Day in Coldwater

Our phone died due to lack
of payment. I left her a note
and trudged down
the gray splintered stairs.
She was sleeping the weekly
sleep of the dead,
the morning crash after the stairs
burned down beneath her.
After […]

Tatzu Nishi Builds Christopher Columbus a Living Room in the Sky: Exclusive Photos

By |09.21.12|



Last week I featured Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus on my Don’t Miss List for September. Two New Hampshire friends, who were on their way to Manhattan this weekend, asked me to recommend the one thing they shouldn’t miss during their trip. My response: Discovering Columbus, which finally opened yesterday.

Since no interior photos of the installation were available last week, a few readers were clearly baffled by the project when it appeared on my list. Trying to explain the project in person proved to be no easier:
Me raving with enthusiasm: “It’s Christopher Columbus…inside a room!”
Skeptical friends starting at me with pity and suspicion: “Hmm. Right. Sounds interesting. But what exactly is it again?”
Tatzu Nishi, a Japanese artist who lives in Berlin, Germany, and Tokyo, Japan, is known for his unconventional, site-specific public art projects, which transform historical monuments by placing them in domestic settings. The idea is to place public monuments, which are so often invisible and taken for granted, into a new context. After all, how often are we allowed to get up close and personal with a 13-foot statue with Christopher Columbus?

To better understand the Columbus project, it’s useful to look back at some of Nishi’s earlier projects. In 2002 the artist created Villa Victoria, a temporary functioning hotel around a statue of Queen Victoria for the Liverpool Biennial, and in 2011 the artist built a temporary hotel suite around Singapore’s iconic Merlion fountain for the Singapore Biennial. As these photos show, Nishi’s invented domestic spaces are surprising, highly original, as well as intimate.







Until yesterday, the interior of Nishi’s latest installation, Discovering Columbus, was a secret. But on Thursday the public art project, a living room that hovers six stories above Columbus Circle, officially opened. Luckily, artist Amy Jenkins was one of the first in line to attend the opening and sent these exclusive photos to Gwarlingo.

“I was certainly transfixed,” Jenkins told me in an email. “It was a truly magical experience and reminded me of why I love New York.”

Perched on top of six flights of stairs and metal scaffolding, Nishi has cleverly placed Gaetano Russo’s 1892 sculpture of Christopher Columbus inside of an airy living room.  The 13-foot marble statue sits on top of a coffee table in a space that measures 30 feet by 27 feet. The ceilings are 16-feet high in order to accommodate this oversized, coffee-table “knickknack.”

Magazines and books are scattered on the table beside the statue. Guests hang out on the couch as though they were watching the game at a friend’s house (conveniently, a working flat-screen television is nearby, but sadly, is tuned to CNN). The pink wallpaper, which depicts pop culture icons like Elvis, McDonald’s Malcom X, and Marilyn Monroe, is another special detail designed by Nishi.














15+ Books Worth Reading from Hello Hello Books in Rockland, Maine

By |09.19.12|


I do quite a bit of traveling for Gwarlingo these days and one of the best things about being on the road is discovering out-of-the way, independent bookshops. For me, walking into a deftly run, well-curated bookstore is almost as good as losing myself in a bang-up novel: there’s a sense of forgetting, as well as discovery.

That is exactly how I felt when I walked into Lacy Simons’ shop Hello Hello Books in Rockland, Maine, in late August.

I was fresh from a week on a boat and was literally finding my “land legs” when I stopped into the Rock City Cafe for a cup of coffee. Hello Hello Books is tucked away at the back of the cafe, but don’t let its location or size fool you. As one Hello Hello customer recently said, the store “is small, but powerful.”

I knew I was in the right place when I saw The McSweeney’s Book of Lists (funniest book ever), Mary Ruefle’s Selected Poems, and The Cloud Collector’s Handbook (an obscure, personal favorite) near the register and overheard the store’s owner, Lacy Simons, giving passionate, personal advice to a customer about a particular author.

Almost two hours later, I emerged from the shop with my arms full and my hunger for a little oceanside culture entirely satisfied.











Simons grew up in Maine, worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Sitka, Alaska (which Lacy says, also has “an awesome bookstore), and then went on to earn her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminar in 2003. For three years, she worked as the Managing Editor of Alice James Books, a forty-year-old independent poetry press based in Maine and one of my own favorite publishers.

Lacy is hardly new to the book scene in Rockland. “I worked for the previous business from 2003-2006 as the assistant bookshop manager (one of just two employees) and then returned in 2009 as the manager,” Lacy told me via email. “In early 2011, Susanne Ward (Rock City’s owner) decided she just couldn’t do the bookstore business anymore, and offered to sell it to me. I got my act together super quickly, and just a few months later, June of 2011, it became officially mine; in August of that same year, I officially opened for business!”











At Hello Hello Books the shelves are teeming with unusual children’s books, quality magazines like The Paris Review, Uppercase, Lucky Peach, and The Believer, handmade cards, one-of-a-kind artist books, and funky finds like decorative Japanese tape and journals handmade from record album covers, as well as plenty of well-chosen books from every category under the sun. Simons doesn’t waste a single inch of space in her carefully curated store. There is a mixture of new, used, and sale books as well, which only adds to the fun.


The Sunday Poem : Joan Murray

By |09.15.12|



Today’s Sunday Poem is a special excerpt from poet Joan Murray’s project The Visitor: Poems from the Eastman House. The last time I saw Joan she was working on this series of poems at The MacDowell Colony. I asked Joan to tell us more about this project, which was inspired by photographs in the collection at the George Eastman House, the world’s oldest photography museum…
A few years back I was invited by the director of the Eastman House to collaborate on a project. He was aware of a few poems I’d written in response to works in the collection, and he offered to co-publish a book of my poems with the photographic images that inspired them. However, I was unable to find my way into the project—until last autumn when “voices began speaking” from the photos.
I was drawn to certain images because of the social or political ideas they stirred in me, and to others by the historic events or personal recollections they evoked for me, or by the opportunities they gave me for creative expression. Some poems touched on issues such as capital punishment, segregation, class disparity, gender attitudes, immigration, disability-institutionalization, and events such as the Depression and the Vietnam War.
All the poems are first-person, persona poems. In creating them, I’ve chosen an individual voice and pursued a particular narrative line—often an unexpected one—to make a point and create an effect. While inspired by the works of photographers, these are poems of my own perspective and concerns.
Most of the poems I’ve written so far were inspired by photographers working from 1900 to 1970. To complete my project, I’ll engage with more recent photographers, in particular women and minority photographers.
I kind of see this body of work as a social documentary of the 20th Century in verse.
I’ve selected two poems from Joan’s series to share with you today, along with the original photographs that inspired each piece. I’ll be eager to see the final publication when it comes out.

Enjoy your Sunday!




The Visitor
(after Lollipops, 1910, by Gertrude Käserbier)
Mother told me I must be kind to the gardener’s daughter.
Mother said some children are “less fortunate
than I.” Mother’s said the gardener’s daughter
had “a difficult life” before she came to live with her father.
The gardener’s daughter wore a dirty dress
the first time she came to play, so I gave her one of mine.
Next time she asked for my favorite shoes—
she’s not so fortunate as I—and her feet are just my size.
The gardener’s daughter told me she once had “another father.”
The gardener’s daughter taught me some of the words
he used to say. When we sit together at the bottom of the stairs,
we whisper them to each other. She calls me
a “silly bitch,” and I call her a “lazy slut”—
since she’s less fortunate than I.
I wonder if Mother knows her other father went to jail.
I wonder if Mother knows her mother got another—
she used to watch him run upstairs to punch
her mother in the nose. Sometimes she punches me
and tries to make me cry. But I don’t mind—she’s
less fortunate than I. And I love to hear the stories that she tells—
about the rats  in the alley, and her uncle who went crazy,
and her sister who’s a drunk, and her brother who’s a lady,
and the neighbor boy who pulled her bloomers
down in front of all her friends—but she’s my friend now.
She comes here every day, and Mother always gives us
lollies. I let her take the cherry—the one
we both like best—I take the yellow one that’s sour,
or the green one that’s the worst.
Now she’s crowding me into the banister
because she asked for my brand new bow—
I said I’d give it to her later—I always do—but she wants it now
so she can wear it to the gardener’s house for supper.
I hope she’ll invite me there someday. That way
I can see my teddy bear, and the locket father
gave me for my birthday, and the book I got from Mother
about a girl who has my name—she took my crayons
and crossed it out on every page, then made me
write her name—since she doesn’t know how.
She just asked me for my kitten. I pretended not to hear,
I pray she won’t ask me again. In fact I pray for her
each night since she’s less fortunate than I—I pray
that God will let her go and live with her mother.




Art On the Radar : Gwarlingo’s Don’t-Miss List for September

By |09.14.12|


The invitations, event notices, emails, and review copies are pouring in. The fall arts season has officially arrived. If only I could clone myself, then perhaps, I’d have a chance of catching even a handful of these concerts, openings, and shows.

I wish I could attend everything listed here, but since I can’t, I hope you’ll venture out in the coming weeks and report back on what you loved (and what you didn’t).

Here is my completely biased Don’t-Miss List for the coming month (in no particular order).

If I’ve overlooked an event you think Gwarlingo readers would enjoy, feel free to add your event to the Comments section below or to the Gwarlingo Facebook page.


Slinkachu in London and New York
British street artist Slinkachu (a favorite here at Gwarlingo) is celebrating the launch of his new book with two solo shows in London and New York. Global Model Village opens to the public September 27th at Andipa Gallery in London and runs until October 27th. There will also be a pop-up show in New York City from October 3rd through the 7th. Both shows will feature new work shot in different cities around the world.


Also be sure to check out Slinkachu’s new book Global Model Village: The International Street Art of Slinkachu, which collects together images of installations the street artist has left in cities around the world, including New York, Moscow, Cape Town, Beijing, Berlin, Hong Kong and, of course, his hometown of London. The books is available in UK, US, and German editions. There will also be a Japanese version released in the new year by Sogensha (図書出版 創元社), along with a Japanese version of Slinkachu’s original book. 驚くべき.




John Kelly at Joe’s Pub in New York City
When performance artist-actor-writer-video artist-singer-dancer John Kelly is scheduled to perform, count me in. Kelly has the reputation as an artist’s artist. Over the years, he has worked with everyone from Nan Goldin to Antony and the Johnsons and James Franco. His work is so daring and original it can be difficult to boil down to a bite-sized blurb. He has received numerous awards, including Obies, Bessies, and The Rome Prize (a testament to how diverse his work is). If you don’t know Kelly’s work yet, keep him on your radar. I’m building an entire New York trip around his upcoming cabaret performances at Joe’s Pub. Seeing Kelly perform is always revelatory.

John Kelly makes his solo Joe’s Pub debut performing songs by Kurt Weill, Charles Aznavour, Holcombe Waller, Richard Einhorn, The Incredible String Band and Richard Thompson, among others. Tickets are $20. Performances are October 14th, October 28th, and November 4th. Visit the Joe’s Pub website for more information or to purchase tickets. You can also read more about the show on John Kelly’s Facebook event page.




OPERAtion Brooklyn Brings Opera to The BEAT Festival
American Opera Projects and Opera on Tap’s acclaimed series returns for a new showcase of operatic works from and inspired by Brooklyn.

Composer Daniel Felsenfeld will premiere A Genuine Willingness to Help (Book I), the first installment in the composer’s “Author Project,” which features music and multi-media performance based on texts by living writers and songwriters, such as Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, Stephen Elliott, and Fiona Maazel. Felsenfeld’s Raw Footage: Composer’s Cut, based on Robert Coover’s novel The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Director’s Cut, is also on the program, along with Stop and Frisk by composer Sidney Marquez Boquiren and librettist Daniel Neer and Male Identity by composer Zach Redler and librettist Sara Cooper.

Topping off the program are four songs drawn from One Ring Zero’s album As Smart As We Are (The Author Project). Viggo Mortensen (yes, that Viggo Mortensen) calls these “mysterious pop songs,” arranged for piano and chamber ensemble by Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp,  “…a well-orchestrated booby trap for music lovers everywhere…“ The works feature texts by Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and David Wondrich.

OPERAtion Brooklyn is part of the first annual BEAT Festival. BEAT creates a platform to celebrate Brooklyn’s finest performing artists, “extraordinary world-class performers who stand as the greatest innovators of the performing arts,” says festival artistic director Stephen Shelley. From September 12-23, artists will perform in venues throughout the borough. For complete information and festival passes visit

Individual tickets for OPERAtion Brooklyn are $20 (passes to the entire BEAT Festival are also available). There will be three opportunities to see this special OPERAtion Brooklyn performance:
Thursday, Sept. 13 – 7:30 PM
Flatbush Reformed Church
890 Flatbush Avenue, Flatbush
Wednesday, Sept. 19 – 7:30 PM
Brooklyn Conservatory of Music
58 7th Avenue, Park Slope
Saturday, Sept. 22 – 7:30 PM
The Irondale Center
85 S. Oxford Street, Ft Greene




Andrew Ohanesian’s The House Party at Pierogi’s The Boiler in Williamsburg
Artist Andrew Ohanesian is fascinated with art that imitates reality. He’s built a confessional-booth-sized bar for one (with beer on tap), a row house  and a fully stocked, walk-in, refrigerated cooler (installed at English Kills Art Gallery). For his latest work, The House Party, Ohanesian has constructed a full-sized suburban home inside Pierogi’s satellite gallery, The Boiler, a former factory boiler room with 40 foot ceilings located at 191 N. 14th St. in Willisamburg.

Ohanesian’s house will be opened up to the public for a house party on September 14th, the opening night of the exhibition. In this at once creative and destructive act, the artist enlists the audience to provide the final element of the work itself, giving each viewer the unique opportunity to physically leave his or her own scar on the House, by partying within it throughout the evening. You can see an animation of the house in this video:

As Stephen Truax reported on Hyperallergic, “depending on New York Fire Department’s ruling on the certificate of occupancy, visitors may or may not have to sign a waiver to enter the space. However, if you do get in, you will enjoy a functional bathroom and kitchen with plumbing (as well as, thankfully, ventilation), a working stove (including an oven hood), dishwasher, fridge (complete with water dispenser), garbage disposal, 94,000 BTUs of AC cooling power, dish cable, and wifi.”

There will be a lot of openings to choose from the night of the 14th, but be sure to put this one on the must-see list.

Andrew Ohanesian’s The House Party is on view at Pierogi’s The Boiler at 191 North 14th Street in Brooklyn September 14th-November 18th.




Fred Hersch Trio at the Village Vanguard and On Tour
Composer and pianist Fred Hersch’s return to jazz after several months in an AIDS-related coma was nothing short of miraculous. (You can hear Hersch discuss his illness and recovery with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross here). Hersch is back with a new tour, a new album, and is better than ever.

The Grammy-nominated performer is currently performing at the Village Vanguard with his trio, John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, to celebrate the release of his new two-disk CD, Alive at the Vanguard. Recorded in February 2012, the new album contains seven new Hersch compositions, as well as music by Coleman, Kern, Porter and Monk.

I’ve seen Hersch perform over seven times now, and he never disappoints. If you can’t catch The Fred Hersch Trio for their six-night performance at the Village Vanguard in New York, you can also see them on tour this September in Boston, Chicago, D.C., Baltimore, and Cincinnati. Tour dates and venues are listed below. You can listen to tracks off the new album right here: Widgets


You can purchase a copy of the Fred Hersch Trio’s new album Alive at the Vanguard from Amazon or iTunes. (A portion of your purchase will benefit Gwarlingo).


The Fred Hersch Trio’s U.S. Tour Dates:
Tuesday-Sunday Sept 11th-16th: Village Vanguard, NYC

Wednesday September 19th: Scullers, Boston, MA

Thursday-Sunday September 20th-23rd: Jazz Showcase, Chicago IL

Monday-Tuesday September 24th-25th: Blue Wisp, Cincinnati OH

Thursday, September 27th: Blues Alley, Washington, DC

Friday September 28th: An Die Musik Live, Baltimore, MD




Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus in New York City
Thanks to the Public Art Fund, Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi has created a different kind of “house party” at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Discovering Columbus places the 13-foot-tall statue of Columbus in the center of an American living room six stories above the city streets, temporarily transforming it into a contemporary artwork. According to the Public Art Fund website, the room will feature many of the trappings of a domestic living room—lamps, a couch, a coffee table, a television, and more—as well as custom wallpaper by the artist. Through large, loft-style windows, visitors will have dramatic views of Central Park and Midtown Manhattan that will be seen from Columbus’s perspective for the first time.

In a stroke of genius, the Public Art Fund is simultaneously overseeing the conservation of the 1892 Columbus Monument in cooperation with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The scaffolding supporting Nishi’s living room is allowing conservators to access the column and figure at its top. The restoration is expected to be completed by January of 2013. (Why can’t all government bureaucracies be this creative with their resources?)

Over 100,000 people are expected to visit the installation, which is on view from September 20th through November 18th.

Tickets to climb six stories to this home-away-from-home are free, but must be booked in advance. (Elevator access is available for those who require special assistance.) Register for free tickets at the Public Art website.




Norman Mooney’s Close Your Eyes at Causey Contemporary in Williamsburg

If you’re in Williamsburg Friday night to catch the opening of Andrew Ohanesian’s The House Party, stop by Causey Contemporary for Norman Mooney’s solo show of monumental carbon smoke drawings, Close Your Eyes. The Irish artist’s carbon drawings are created with layers of billowing smoke preserved on aluminum panel and have both a physical and metaphysical presence.

Causey Contemporary is located at 92 Wythe Avenue in Brooklyn. The gallery will be participating in the Williamsburg Gallery Association’s Every Second Friday on September 14, 2012 from 6-10 p.m. along with Art101, Figureworks, Front Room, Gitana Rosa, Parker’s Box, Pierogi, P339, Skink Ink Editions, T.A.P.S. Gallery, The Boiler, Ventana 244 and Williamsburg Art and Historical Society. Galleries will be open late and the wine and cheese will be in heavy supply. More information is available at the Causey Contemporary website.


The Complete Creative Part 1 : How “If-Only Syndrome” Derails Us As Artists

By |09.12.12|



When Gwarlingo readers give me feedback, I listen. You’ve been telling me that you’d like to see more articles about process and the challenges of being an artist. I’ve appreciated your emails and comments.

Today, I’m excited to launch a new series on Gwarlingo called The Complete Creative, an in-depth series that will examine some of the topics that most concern you and your creative life. During the coming months, I’ll be covering practical topics like money, social media, deadlines, artist retreats, presenting yourself online, and grant writing, as well as a range of deeper, more complex subjects like fear, procrastination, technology, community, time, and limitation. (If you want to read the entire series, be sure to sign up for a free email subscription to Gwarlingo).

Over twenty years of working with artists and arts nonprofits, I’ve noticed an intriguing disconnect. At openings, cocktail parties, and readings, the artist’s life appears glamorous and carefree: fascinating, talented, creative people hobnob with equally “fabulous” collectors, patrons, and members of the public, gawking at bad fashion choices and discussing the weather, real estate, and recent art news. (One of the best gallery conversations was recently overheard at Thomas Beale’s opening at Honey Space when a middle-aged man was spotted walking around completely naked other than his shoes and socks: “Is he part of the art,” a visitor asked, “or just here for the opening?”).



But what do artists talk about once the collectors, patrons, critics, visitors, and naked men have left the building? What do artists discuss when they’re amongst “their own kind?” Sure, they talk about politics, relationships, and literary agents. But they also discuss their struggles to make a living, to overcome self-doubt and creative blocks, to meet deadlines, to keep distractions like email and social media at bay, and to make time for creative projects, in addition to a fulfilling personal life. In other words, real artists discuss real concerns whenever the opportunity presents itself. (This is the beauty of artist retreats or arts and writers groups or simply spending time with like-minded friends — all of that flashy veneer is stripped away and we can dig deeper into subjects that really matter).

It may not be fashionable or hip to publicly own up to weaknesses or self-doubts; it may not be in keeping with the mainstream’s mythology of the inspired, confident artist, but it’s the reality. Why should there be a sense of shame surrounding these struggles when they’re something every artist experiences? Why in heaven’s name aren’t we discussing these topics with sincerity, openness, and intellectual vigor instead of suffering in isolation?

I blame the self-help industry and the touchy-feely, new age gurus who talk about process in terms of “the muse,” “the creative flame,” “the inner goddess” (no offense, but I personally find such a framework exclusive instead of inclusive, while also devoid of practical advice).

Professional artists understand that the best art emerges from good work habits, not from some elusive muse. As the painter Chuck Close once said:
Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.


One of the most popular posts in Gwarlingo’s short history is a letter I posted from the artist Sol LeWitt to his friend Eva Hesse (shown above). Hesse was going through a creative crisis at the time of LeWitt’s letter. Here’s an excerpt:
Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO!
…If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant [sic] approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end.” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!
Make the work. This is the phrase that the poet Walt Whitman posted above his writing desk. It’s so obvious, and yet it can be misery-making to accomplish. Whether we’re an emerging artist, a student, or an established professional, we all hit roadblocks in our creative work.



One of the central problems of starting, continuing, or finishing a project is that too many of us suffer from what I call “If-Only Syndrome:” If only____________, then I would ____________.
If only I didn’t have to work this terrible job, then I would have time to finish my documentary.
If only I could write like Nabokov, then I would have the guts to attempt a novel.
If only the carpet weren’t covered in cat hair, then I could concentrate on my play.
If only my health were better, then I would have the energy to go to art school.
If only I had more money, then I could afford to buy the new camera I need to start my next project.
If only my family weren’t so judgmental, then I would have the confidence to screw the status quo.
If only I had my own studio, then I would have the peace and quiet to compose.
If only I knew someone famous in the art world, then I would be featured in ArtForum.
You get the idea. (I’ll let you fill in your own blanks.)

One of the biggest problems with If-Only Syndrome is that it robs us of the present moment and all of the present’s potential. We aren’t thinking of the person or task in front of us. Instead, we’re allowing our mind to live in the future or past. Our mind and body are wasting precious time and energy stewing, time and energy that could be used for a better purpose (perhaps even to start the very project we’re talking ourselves out of tackling). Instead of focusing, we’re waiting: waiting for the perfect moment to act.

I have some bad news: there is no such thing as the perfect moment. The ideal conditions we’re waiting for are never going to happen. If we don’t stop worrying and waiting and start doing the thing that is most important to us today, we’ll never fulfill our full potential as artists.





Artistic perfection is an illusion, a myth we impose on the successful artists we envy most. Artists don’t arrive into the world like some visionary Adam and Eve, fully formed and at their creative peak. Do you think Chuck Close began his art career by creating large-scale, highly memorable portraits? Was the first story Jane Austen wrote a masterpiece? God no. (Like many writers, Austen kept a few early unfinished novels “in the desk drawer,” including Lady Susan and The Watsons; Chuck Close’s earliest paintings were still lifes and landscapes).

Many artists destroy their early work out of embarrassment, an act that only perpetuates the notion that they were talented geniuses from the get-go. But this is rarely true. (The Mozarts and Picassos of the world are in short supply.)

When the acclaimed painter Agnes Martin first saw the mountains of Taos during a residency in New Mexico from 1946-1951, she was moved to capture the scene in representational paintings like this one…



“I used to paint mountains here in New Mexico and I thought my mountains looked like ant hills,” Martin wrote in “The Untroubled Mind.” Through the process of painting, Martin realized that a representational style couldn’t capture the essence of the New Mexico mountains as she experienced them. Martin was in touch with nature in a way that most people are oblivious to. She realized that what she was trying to convey in her art was not the mountain itself, but the feeling of transcendence she experienced when she saw the mountain. Here is Martin writing about her epiphany in “The Untroubled Mind”:
I saw the plains driving out of New Mexico and I thought
the plain had it
just the plane
If you draw a diagonal, that’s loose at both ends
I don’t like circles — too expanding
When I draw horizontals
you see this big plane and you have certain feelings like
you’re expanding over the plane
Anything can be painted without representation
I don’t believe in influence
unless it’s you, yourself following your own track
Eventually, Martin would reject her early representational style for a minimalist approach — a unique and original style that would make her one of the most respected and famous artists in North America. Here is a New Mexico mountain as Agnes Martin imagined it in 1960…


I have great respect for artists who include their earliest works in presentations and catalogs because it tells the whole story about how their art evolved, not a carefully edited version. To see the entire arc of a career is especially important for students. Young artists need to understand that being a professional artist is a process that unfolds over time and that there is no way to get there without going through the painful phase of producing crap. The awful first drafts, the embarrassing early paintings, the horrible first songs are a fact of life. The gap between good taste and skill can only be closed through the process of making more work, painful or embarrassing as it may be.


The Sunday Poem : Judith Kitchen

By |09.08.12|



(Note: Today’s Sunday Poem is part of Ted Kooser’s “American Life in Poetry” series and is made possible by The Poetry Foundation This one is for all of the gardeners out there!)


By describing the relocation […]

An Exclusive Peek Inside Keith Haring’s New York City Studio

By |09.05.12|



On a recent trip to New York City, I had a chance to visit the studio of the late Keith Haring. The fifth-floor space, located on Broadway between Bleeker and Great Jones Street, is now home to the Keith Haring Foundation. Haring first rented the studio in May of 1985, and it was his workspace until his untimely death in 1990 at the age of 31. He also owned an apartment on LaGuardia Place, only three blocks from the studio.
Haring was born in 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, and grew up in the nearby town of Kutztown. Inspired by Walt Disney and Dr. Seuss, he learned to draw cartoons from his father at a young age.
The artist is best know for his graphic drawings and paintings of dogs, children, and dancing figures. “He was one of the most astonishingly unique talents of recent times,” gallery owner Tony Shafrazi told The New York Times. ”In a short time after he arrived in New York at age 20, he practically took over Manhattan with his subway drawings, which were an instant series of signs and pictograms that everybody became familiar with.”
Between 1980 and 1985, Haring produced hundreds of public chalk drawings in the New York City subways. According to the Foundation, he could create as many as forty subway drawings in a single day. Commuters would often stop and talk to Haring while he was working. The subway became, as Haring said, a “laboratory” for creative experimentation.










Haring believed that art should remain accessible to people of all ages and income brackets, and he was always looking for new ways to make his work available outside a gallery setting. He conducted art workshops with children, created logos and posters for public service agencies, and produced murals, sculptures, and paintings to benefit health centers and disadvantaged communities.

Haring’s 1986 Crack is Wack mural has become a famous New York City landmark on FDR Drive. He also collaborated with 900 children on a mural for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, and he painted a mural on the western side of the Berlin Wall three years before its fall.

In 1986 Haring opened the infamous Pop Shop in SoHo, a retail store that sold T-shirts, toys, posters, buttons and magnets bearing his images. As the Foundation explains, “Haring considered the shop to be an extension of his work and painted the entire interior of the store in an abstract black on white mural, creating a striking and unique retail environment. The shop was intended to allow people greater access to his work, which was now readily available on products at a low cost.” Many people in the art world criticized him for becoming too commercial. “I could earn more money if I just painted a few things and jacked up the price,” Haring said in response. “My shop is an extension of what I was doing in the subway stations, breaking down the barriers between high and low art.”








The Sunday Poem: Natalie Diaz

By |09.01.12|



New poetry publications have been piling up in my post office box, a sure sign that the fall book season is here. One of the best surprises that’s appeared in my mail in recent weeks is Copper Canyon’s When My Brother Was an Aztec by poet Natalie Diaz.

Diaz, a member of the Mojave and Pima Indian tribes, began writing poetry in college. Many of her poems deal with the harsh realities of reservation life: poverty, teen pregnancy and meth-amphetamine drug addiction. There is violence, as well as tenderness in her work—a brutal honesty that is both personal and  far-reaching. Her ideas and descriptions of reservation life come from a deeply intimate place, but are also panoramic in scope. Diaz acknowledges the larger social and political ills that have led to poor health, drugs, and poverty on the reservation, but she prefers to focus on how these issues play out in her own life and the life of her family and neighbors. While her language is visceral and unstinting, it never falls into the trap of didacticism or self-pity.

“I guess, when we see someone’s heart ripped out,” Diaz told Ploughshares magazine, “we tend to look away—we question why we had to see it. I do not deny that violence, not in real life or in my work. I cannot unsee what I’ve seen. But I hope my poems also remind people of the humanity that exists in the midst of it.”

We can hear Diaz’s dark, humorous voice in her poem “A Woman with No Legs,” which she wrote about her great grandmother, Lona Barrackman, a double-amputee. “The image of the amputee haunts many natives,” Diaz explained to Ploughshares. “The parts of her that were gone turned the parts of her that were there electric. Through her, I learned to see the body as a blessing, an altar, even. I know how to appreciate its presence because of her.”



Two years ago, Diaz felt a calling to return to the reservation to help preserve the Mojave language, which is rapidly being lost. “Mojave language work is empowering,” Diaz told Ploughshares. “It is a reversal of sorts. It is like rounding up a bunch of English words at night and tying them together behind a horse and dragging them away (which was done to our Mojave people). It looks like stripping them down, cutting their hair, and demanding, What do you mean? Shouting, We don’t understand you. Then, starving them, until we can see their bones, then asking, Is that what you mean? But we don’t wait for their answer. We answer for them, You aren’t who you say you are. You are who we say you are, or you are nothing. Finally, we relearn what our Elders have meant their whole lives: birds cry instead of sing, kissing is falling into the mouth of another, making love is a hummingbird, the Milky Way is the trail of the Mojave salmon across the night.”

I simply couldn’t be satisfied with a single poem from Natalie Diaz’s knockout collection, so I’ve selected four of my favorites to share with you. If you enjoy Diaz’s work you can also hear her read two poems on PBS’s NewsHour in the below video. I’ve included the NewsHour’s story about Diaz and her work with the Mojave tribe, as well. The seven-minute piece is an excellent introduction to the the Mojave language program she’s started and is well-worth watching.

Enjoy your Sunday and your Labor Day. Thanks for reading.




Why I Hate Raisins
And is it only the mouth and belly which are
injured by hunger and thirst?
Love is a pound of sticky raisins
packed tight in black and white
government boxes the day we had no
groceries. I told my mom I was hungry.
She gave me the whole bright box.
USDA stamped like a fist on the side.
I ate them all in ten minutes. Ate
too many too fast. It wasn’t long
before those old grapes set like black
clay at the bottom of my belly
making it ache and swell.
I complained, I hate raisins.
I just wanted a sandwich like other kids.
Well that’s all we’ve got, my mom sighed.
And what other kids?
Everoyone but me, I told her.
She said, You mean the white kids.
You want to be a white kid?
Well too bad ’cause you’re my kid.
I cried, At least the white kids get a sandwich.
At least the white kids don’t get the shits.
That’s when she slapped me. Left me
holding my mouth and stomach—
devoured by shame.
I still hate raisins,
but not for the crooked commodity lines
we stood in to get them—winding
around and in the tribal gymnasium.
Not for the awkward cardboard boxes
we carried them home in. Not for the shits
or how they distended my belly.
I hate raisins because now I know
my mom was hungry that day, too,
and I ate all the raisins.
Downhill Triolets
The phone rings—my brother was arrested again.
Dad hangs up, gets his old blue Chevy going, and heads to the police station.
It’s not the first time. It’s not even the second.
No one is surprised when my brother is arrested again.

The guy fell on my knife was his one-phone-call explanation.
(He stabbed a man five times in the back is the official accusation.)
My brother is arrested again and again. And again
our dad, our Sisyphus, pushes his old blue heart up to the station.
Ring, ring, ring at 2 a.m. means meth’s got my brother in the slammer again.
God told him Break into Grandma’s house and Lionel Richie gave him that
feeling of dancing on the ceiling.
My dad said, At 2 a.m., God and Lionel Richie don’t make good friends.
Ring, ring, ring at 2 a.m. means meth’s got my brother by the balls again.
With God in one ear and Lionel in the other, who can win?
Not my brother, so he made a meth pipe from the lightbulb and smoked
himself reeling.
Ring, ring, ring at 2 a.m. means my brother’s tweaked himself into jail again.
It wasn’t his fault, not with God guiding his foot through the door and
honey-voiced Lionel whispering Hard to keep your feet on the ground 
with such a smooth-ass ceiling.
The tribal cops are in our front yard calling in on a little black radio: I got a
10-15 for 2-6-7 and 4-15.
The 10-15 they got is my brother, a Geronimo-wannabe who thinks he’s
holding out. In his mind he’s playing backup for Jimi—
he is an itching, bopping head full of “Fire.” Mom cried, Stop acting so
crazy, but he kept banging air drums against the windows and ripped
out all the screens.
This time, we called the cops, and when they came we just watched—we
have been here before and we know 2-6-7 and 4-15 will get him 10-15.
His eyes are escape caves torchlit by his 2-6-7 of choice: crystal
Finally, he’s in the back of the cop car, hands in handcuffs shiny and
shaped like infinity.
Now that he’s 10-15, he’s kicking at the doors and security screen, a 2-6-7
fiend saying, I got desires that burn and make me wanna 4-15.
His tongue is flashing around his mouth like a world’s fair Ferris wheel—
but he’s no Geronimo, Geronimo would find a way out instead of
giving in so easily.