Maybe you’re planning to hit the road…

Spectators at an Aviation Meet, c1910

Or maybe you’re daring enough to fly…

A Curtiss Byplane Taking Off, August 1911

Maybe you’re going to help out someone in need…

German Immigrants, Quebec, W.J. Topley, c1911

Or make a child happy…

Christmas Stocking, Frances S. and Mary E. Allen, 1900

Maybe you need some quiet time alone in nature.

Piping Plover, 2016

However you celebrate, there’s no maybes. Fill your holidays with happiness!

Artist Books

The Book as Stage, the latest exhibition at the Yale Haas Arts Library, features artist books. Artist books use books as the form and can vary wildly depending on the artist’s vision. This show focuses on theater and theatrical presentations using the book arts.

So much fun are the books that look like stage sets in miniature or mock ups for the real thing. Here’s the tunnel book format, with pages layered so we’re tricked into seeing depth.

Laura Davidson. Tunnel Vision. 2001.

Look at how this accordion-pleated book creates a construction site stage set, fronted with a nude in contrapposto. Weird and fun juxtaposition.

What you see in the back of the below image is the mirror reflection of the book. Notice the complicated intersections and weavings of strings. Aren’t the doorways of this sculptural book appealing? We can walk right into a Medieval world and join in with the characters.

Susan Collard. Geschichtliches. 2011.

The book is meant to be architectural, just as during the Medieval period, interest in Gothic architecture peaked (all puns intended). Susan Collard, the artist, purposefully included women in contemplation and learning, arenas occupied by men at the time.

This book focuses on the theater of war. It opens up to create the stage set, as you see. The pages are cut out to create theater scrims, layering the space. Newspaper clips and maps are collaged in, focusing on Middle East conflicts.

Maria G. Pisano. Theater of Operations. 2006.

Of course, what I see is the tie-in to the flag and American imagery. And I think of the Southern Connecticut State University students in my class “Shaping the American Identity.” Each made a page, mostly collaged, about their understanding of American identity at the end of the semester. The pages were then assembled into a class artist book. It was a powerful experience for us all, coming after their first election.

Hon 298 Fall 2016 and their Artist Book

Their energy, passion, and political intelligence is an inspiration, as powerful as any of these professional artists.

Perfectly Weird and Weirdly Perfect

If you haven’t seen Ride the Cyclone, get yourself to the carnival and buy a ticket! I now have a roller coaster story to add to my own.

Good theater may take us to a world we know. Great theater creates its own world and pulls us in. And this is great theater. Incredibly clever staging. Incisive and witty book. Recognizable characters who each stop the show with their song, tailor made in style to suit their persona.

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I’m reminded of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Staging you can’t anticipate. Theater like you’ve never seen before. Canadians Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond do it for us here.

Favorite visual moment: when the girls’ white skirts are spread wide, then used as a projector screen, followed by the boy’s white shirt. Perfection.

Wait! Then there was Jane Doe’s eerie aria while she floats then twirls on high. This was no Peter Pan. More like Olympia from Tales of Hoffman infused with magic. Weird. Wonderful.

Favorite lyric: too many to isolate one. Here’s one I can remember to share. The jawbreaker lyric from “Sugarcloud.” “My life is a jawbreaker. I suck and suck and suck and suck. My heart is like a jawbreaker. It breaks and breaks.” Not to worry though. Constance comes out really well, considering she’s dead.

Oh! I didn’t tell you? Six teenagers die when a roller coaster malfunctions. In the carnival warehouse, their purgatory, a world weary fortune teller machine The Amazing Karmak tells them they can compete for the chance to go back to the living. And one will.

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So never fear. This is a comedy thoroughly and completely. It’s not morbid or a downer.

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How could it be with a gay character who channels a cross between Liza Minnelli in Cabaret and Marlene Dietrich in his hilarious lament? Or with Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg wittily skewering her companions in a Broadway style song before learning that the group will have to unanimously vote the winner back to life.

Trust me, knowing this much plot will not inhibit your own wowness with this show. I can’t begin to give you enough spoilers to do that. I will say that the lesson the show imparts is that life, “It’s Just a Ride.” Perfect.

Ah, Love, Beauty,…and Deception

After a pleasant visit with family at The Met, including a decadent stop in the member’s dining room, I stopped in for a lecture on the French Baroque artist Valentin. Imagine my pleasure in discovering one of the speakers was a favorite professor from the University of Delaware, David Stone. A Caravaggio scholar, he was examining the career of this French follower of the big C and looking for references and quotations.

They are all over the place, and I enjoyed having David open my eyes once again. He pointed out the freshness of vision of Valentin, which had been easy for me to miss.

Visiting the exhibit afterward, where did I linger? Over the witty paintings of deception borrowed from Caravaggio’s The Card Sharps.

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Caravaggio. The Card Sharps. c1595.

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Valentin. Cardsharps. c1615.

Note that being lost in the love and beauty of your own music could get your pocket picked. To me, this reads as a metaphorical lesson to look outside oneself.

Valentin. Musicians and Drinkers. c1625.

Music seems to play a role in the deceptions throughout the gallery. It was also dotted with the instruments depicted in the paintings, some unusual to my eye.

Lute and Spinet









Perhaps my favorite work is the fortune teller who doesn’t see the present well enough to know she was being robbed. What Valentin did was riff on the same subject Caravaggio introduced in clever ways.

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Valentin. Fortune-Teller. c1626-8.

The exhibit is dark, lush, and romantic like the paintings. So the bright lightness of the Jean Honore Fragonard drawings and prints exhibit was just right for the cotton-candy Rococo that followed the Baroque. I was still in France but now celebrating the frivolity of love and romps in the park.

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Jean Honoré Fragonard. The Island of Love. c1770-80.

The drawings and prints are delicate and frothy like his paintings. A joy to behold.

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Jean Honoré Fragonard. Draftsman in a Trellised Garden. c1770-2.

Over in the Breuer Building, which The Met inherited from the Whitney, is the joyous look at lobe by Kerry James Marshall. The exhibit is filled with his giant genre paintings of everyday black life, and in the 2000s, he began focusing on love, directly inspired by Fragonard. Edging away from identity politics, he painted masterpiece-inspired scenes of ordinary romance. Normalizing black love was his goal and challenge to a white audience.

I loved so much of this exhibit by the Chicago artist. I felt uplifted by it in this time of racial anger.

Enjoy the sensual love of Slow Dance.

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Kerry James Marshall. Slow Dance. 1992-3.

The delights of two versions of the Fragonard-quoting Wishing Well.

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Kerry James Marshall. Wishing Well. 2012.

Can you tell he uses glitter? Love that!

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Kerry James Marshall. Wishing Well. 2012.

And the complexities of School of Beauty, School of Culture. Like Velazquez’s Las Meninas, Marshall puts himself in the scene, obscured by a camera flash rather than a giant canvas.

Kerry James Marshall. School of Beauty, School of Culture. 2012.

Directly referencing the English Renaissance artist Hans Holbein, he uses the same visual anamorphic trick. When walking from side to side, the image will come into focus and clarity. But instead of a skull reminding us of our mortality, he uses a white beauty icon as a reminder of how dominant white culture ideals distort the black experience of beauty.

The anamorphic trick doesn’t quite work; the blonde would appeal undistorted if it did.


But no matter. There’s so much to love and investigate. Note the toddler peeking around at the cartoonish white face, trying to make sense of its strangeness here.

The enormous painting creates an entire world to step into, and its wonderfully inviting!

As a delicious coda, Fragonard’s 17-year-old sister-in-law Marguerite Gérard (who goes on to a notable art career) copied Fragonard’s drawings as he instructed her in printmaking. She made this rather hilarious (to our contemporary eyes) print featuring Ben Franklin.

Yes, that’s Franklin at center. His face is so unmistakable that the print literally stopped my slow stroll through this French art gallery. What is this? I wondered. Please let me decipher it for you.

Ben is being protected by Minerva and her shield overhead, as he instructs Mars, god of war, to slay the enemies of America! You can’t leave her out of any allegorical scene of the brand new nation. There’s America in her truncated feather headdress, leaning on Franklin’s knee.

If you ever doubted Franklin’s celebrity in Paris, here’s your most exquisite proof!

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Marguerite Gérard. The Genius of Franklin. 1778.


In my first Kaballah study session since the election, I realize how quickly I lost the grounding of this thinking. Fear will do that.

So today, I listened with an ear toward Tikkun ha Nefesh, repairing the soul. The old airplane adage ‘in case of emergency, put your oxygen mask on before your child’s’ applies. We cannot Tikkun Olam, repair the world, until we are actively working on Tikkun ha Nefesh, fixing ourselves.

Today, we talked about three elements for Unification, the soul’s mission of reunifying with spirit. Action, devotion, and contemplation form the Kabbalist’s path.

I’m committing to this path to re-ground in Tiferet, or the Essence, the Heart that balances giving and receiving on the Tree of Life and energizes all action.

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From this place of a grounded Heart, I hope to reengage with the world in a more productive way. Perhaps these strategies will work for you, too.

Take care of your body. Illness, pain, and stress are huge energy depleters. To be able to repair the world, your body has to be strong and healthy.
Exercise not for appearance, but with the intention to energize the body and relieve stress. See the above point.
Appreciate your food for its emotional pleasures and express spiritual gratitude that a vegetable or animal was sacrificed for your nourishment so that you can be strong and heal the world.

You may already be doing all these. You might consider adding a ritual.
Starting your morning with gratitude that your soul has reconnected with your body.
Look at your eyes in the mirror for 30 seconds to reconnect with your soul after its nighttime visit to heaven (love the Kabbalists!).
Take 10-breath meditation breaks twice during the day to be aware that you are aware.
Look at nature for five minutes, even if the weather prevents you from going outside.
At the end of the day, review your day; how can you improve your reactions for Tikkun ha Nefesh and Tikkun Olam?
Read a short spiritual or meditative piece before sleep to connect with your soul before its nighttime journey while your body rests.

Yes, you can pray, but for me, I am going to increase Chesed, loving kindness. I am conscious of doing lovingly kind acts for others and of course, can add more. I want to also add kind thoughts, since mine have been elsewhere since the election.
Rebellion with awareness is also an act of devotion. I am working with this reframe.

Apply spiritual nourishment to your actions. You probably have your own ways to do this. I am thinking through mine.
Meantime, light a candle during this dark season and allow its flame to nourish all levels of your body and being.
I’m going to set my Kavanah, the intentions of my heart. Both inner and outer intentions are sacred. I want to live in a more sacred way through these difficult times.

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What will you do?