Monday marked one of the biggest news headlines ever for black art, when the National Portrait Gallery unveiled official paintings of Barack and Michelle Obama. And it gave rise to a Black Art Critic emergency.
The unveiling of the Obama portraits was an emotional event — and for black women, who have so long been cut out of the official canon, the historic gravity of the moment could not be overstated. When the images were revealed, social media feeds immediately flooded with praise and disappointment. Many commentators questioned the likeness of Michelle Obama’s portrait to the woman herself. They asked whether the painting really captured the personality and persona that they had individually … Read the rest
Everyone has their own New York anniversary, and mine was the time in 1998 when I met Louise Bourgeois on Valentine’s Day. I was staying with my friend who lived on St. Mark’s Place, and one day, while walking down West 20th street in Chelsea, he pointed to a brownstone and said, with a little tremble in his voice, “That’s where Louise Bourgeois lives!” Apparently, he’d gone there on a class trip from Stony Brook University and they all had to bring their art and she had been really mean to them. I was intrigued. I remembered someone telling me that all the famous people in New York were in the phone book and … Read the rest
On Sunday night, in thousands of homes across northern Puerto Rico, the lights suddenly went out. A fiery explosion at the Guanacillos electricity station temporarily left San Juan without power.
Five months after Maria, the hurricane continues to interrupt daily life. But these disruptions are nothing new to people who have lived for centuries at the mercy of earthquakes, tsunamis, and cyclones. Our island has its own art form that symbolizes our will to carry on, natural disaster after natural disaster: for centuries, Puerto Rican santeros have carved sculptures of Catholic saints from fallen trees. They stand watch even where there are no churches. Carefully crafted and brightly painted, they … Read the rest
“There is no whole self. It suffices to walk any distance along the inexorable rigidity that the mirrors of the past open to us in order to feel like outsiders, naively flustered by our own bygone days.”
You find yourself in a city you hadn’t visited in years, walking along a street you had once strolled down with your fingers interlacing a long-ago lover’s, someone you then cherished as the most extraordinary person in the world, who is now married in Jersey with two chubby bulldogs. You find yourself shocked by how an experience of such vivid verisimilitude can be fossilized into a mere memory buried in the strata of what feels like a wholly different person, living a wholly different life — it was you … Read the rest
“It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to apply it well.”
“The questions raised by the desire to know are in principle all answerable by common-sense experience and common-sense reasoning,” Hannah Arendt wrote in her brilliant treatise on thinking vs. knowing and the crucial difference between truth and meaning. “But the questions raised by thinking and which it is in reason’s very nature to raise — questions of meaning — are all unanswerable by common sense and the refinement of it we call science.”
What kind of reasoning, then, can we develop in order not only to inoculate ourselves against unreason, not only to arrive at truth, but to access meaning? More than that, in an age of instant … Read the rest
Mathematics and poetry converge in an ode to the “sweet reasonableness” at the heart of a psychologically balanced character.
“We’re all intrinsically of the same substance,” astrophysicist Janna Levin wrote in her exquisite inquiry into whether the universe is infinite or finite. “The fabric of the universe is just a coherent weave from the same threads that make our bodies. How much more absurd it becomes to believe that the universe, space and time could possibly be infinite when all of us are finite.” How, then, do we set aside this instinctual absurdity in order to grapple with the concept of infinity, which pushes our creaturely powers of comprehension past their limit so violently?
That’s what the mathematician and writer Lillian R. Lieber (July 26, … Read the rest