It’s the New Year, which means it’s time for lofty resolutions and the annual onslaught of “best of” lists.
Here at Gwarlingo, I thought I’d provide readers with a new twist on the traditional “Best of 2011″ list.
I asked an array of artists, composers, filmmakers, writers, musicians, and performers to tell me about their most memorable experiences in the arts during 2011. I wanted to know which books, concerts, albums, art shows, films, plays, performances, essays, etc. had personal resonance with artists this past year. I gave participants the option to comment on their choice or not.
A critical difference between the Gwarlingo Index and other year-end lists is that the chosen work didn’t have to be created or released in 2011. The Index wasn’t meant to be comprehensive. The idea was to see if any zeitgeist emerged in the responses and to get a glimpse of how the arts impacted our lives in the past twelve months.
There are a few surprises here.
I was particularly struck by the cross-disciplinary nature of the list. Many artists chose works or events from outside their own discipline. (Who, for instance, could have guessed that Moosewood author Mollie Katzen would choose a dance performance as her most memorable art experience of 2011?) Five of the composers and musicians polled listed events in the visual arts, which was a surprise. It just proves that creative inspiration comes from a myriad of sources and that cross-pollination between disciplines is a fertile pursuit for today’s working artists. After all, creative people don’t live in boxes.
Dance was a popular category among the artists who responded. Music, less so. Curiously, no plays appear on the Index, but two literary classics from the 19th century do.
I was pleased to see two controversial works appear in the Gwarlingo Index—Peter Greenaway’s monumental take on Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and Terrence Malick’s polarizing film Tree of Life.
In early June I began to hear all sorts of rumblings about Malick’s film. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. Some people were walking out of movie theaters in disgust. When I arrived in London that same month, where the film’s release date had been pushed back to July, I was amused to read that some British filmgoers were hopping a ferry and crossing the English Channel to see Tree of Life in France, where the film was already showing. Any movie that can incite this much passion, love or hate, must be doing something right.
As for Greenaway’s monumental installation at the Park Avenue Armory, Holland Carter gave the show a scathing review in the New York Times calling the piece “a dud.” “It is, however, a big, expensive, technological-bells-and-whistles-to-the-max dud, which is something,” Carter added. And yet, despite this public drubbing, Greenaway’s installation appears here as one composer’s “most memorable art experience.” It’s a useful reminder that art is exactly that–an art, and not a science. It’s also a reminder to keep an open mind when reading those New York Times’ reviews.
Many large-scale, public events received a mention, including two different art installations at the Park Avenue Armory and an impromptu concert at the Occupy Wall Street protests.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, artists like Rosanne Cash, Bill Powers, and Will Rawls speak eloquently about the relationship between art and solitude. They remind us how rewarding intimacy with a work of art can be. This is one of the benefits of art in the 21st century–it allows us to slow down, to think, to push away those pesky distractions that chip away at our dwindling attention spans, to encounter the world of others.
Singer and Writer Rosanne Cash
The de Kooning retrospective at MoMA had the most profound impact on me in 2011. To see the entire scope of his artistic life, from the small painting he made at age 12 through the complex figures, vast abstracts and sculptures, to the sparse canvasses at the end of his life when his mind was deteriorating, was so moving, heartbreaking, inspiring… overwhelming. I was in tears by the last few paintings.
My friend Laurie Beckelman, who is friends with John Elderfield, who organized the show, arranged for a private tour. Walking through empty galleries with nothing but the art added to the impact. I feel extremely fortunate to have seen this show.
Grammy-winner Rosanne Cash has recorded 15 albums and 11 number-one hit singles. Her most recent albums are The List (Manhattan, 2009) and The Essential Rosanne Cash (Sony Legacy, 2011). Her prose and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Oxford-American, New York Magazine, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and other publications. Her most recent book, Composed, was published by Viking in 2010. For more information visit her website or follow her on Twitter.
Writer William Powers
Last summer, I spent several days alone in an isolated house with no internet connection, dog-sitting for friends. My plan was to do nothing all day but read, and I brought along a novel, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which somehow I’d never got around to. I dove into that beautiful book — it was the Richard Pevear / Larissa Volokhonsky translation — like I haven’t done since college days, and it was glorious. Crime and Punisment is a masterpiece, so in one sense it’s no surprise I had a powerful experience. But the circumstances, a rare chance, in a world of distractions, to focus for an extended period on just one thing, were also a big part of why it was so memorable. Four months have gone by and I still think about that extraordinary inner journey, and fantasize about repeating it with another book, one of these days.
William Powers is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Hamlet’s BlackBerry, which has been widely praised for its insights on the digital future. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times and many other publications. He has been featured in dozens of major news outlets, including interviews with Katie Couric, NPR, Good Morning America, the PBS NewsHour, CNBC and the BBC, and coverage in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Wired, and The Guardian. For more information, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.