Sunday, February 24, 2013

"Let's Go See the Art!"

As I approached the crowded Matisse exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I heard two comments, within seconds of each other.  A kindergarten-aged girl, pulling her grandmother by the hand, said, "Hurry up, Gramma, let's go see the art!"  Passing in the opposite direction were two teenage girls.  One turned to the other and said, "The only way I'll go see those paintings is if I get extra credit."

How sad, I thought. What had happened to that child-like enthusiasm, interest, curiosity about art? Perhaps the teenager had never been much of an art lover,  had rarely been exposed to art, thought that her comment was cool, in a (stereotypical) teenage "let's-put-down-everything" sort of way.  Or, or. . .

The question resurfaced last week when I attended Léman Manhattan's Upper School Art Show (where Drew is Head of School.)  The hallways and café were lined with creativity. Students, family members, teachers, and a hodgepodge of art supporters (like me) walked and stopped, gazed and commented, took pictures, celebrated. Children/ young adults, grades 5-12, had created it all.  It was stunning, joyful!  How had that happened?

Enjoy a few of the pieces on display.

Tristin Brown, Aisha Nelson, and Emiliano Begne


Olivia Montalto
Alex Reilly

Elizabeth Serge-Lawrence

Emily Finnerty

Eason Xu
Sadie McClelland


Erin Pacholke


Collective Tribute to John Lennon

From across the room, I saw Gary Schwartz, Head of the Visual Arts Department, and teacher of all the students whose work was so proudly displayed.  

No time for a philosophical discussion that evening, I caught up with him a few days later to tell him my  kindergarten/teenage art story. "What do you make of that?" I asked.

"We're born with an innate creativity," he began.  "We go for the crayon before we learn penmanship. We're using color; we're using design before we learn our alphabet. There's such a beautiful uninhibitedness about  children as they do art, no societal pressures, no peer pressures.  But I've pinpointed it, around age 12 or 13 - we lose it.  It's when society gets in the way and says it's not as important as something that will make us a lot of money or popularity. Art is not necessarily a cool thing at that age."  

"I've been very blessed here at Léman," Gary continued, "because my middle school students are willing to go back to that place, that safe place of. .  it's OK to draw a purple tree. My job is to be an excavator, to get at the core of that innate creativity.  By the time the students are in high school, they're coming to the table with their creativity rising to the surface.  I guide it along - their tour guide, so to speak." 

Pointing toward the exhibit, he added, "In this exhibit, I want people to see the endless possibilities of a young person's creativity, their individuality, the joy in the creative process."

I wish I'd had an art teacher like Gary.  I wish I'd had one art class in school. I came to art later in life, on my own, one museum at a time.    

As I reflect on the story at the Met, I realize that there was another character besides the girls. . . the grandmother.  I may never have experienced art like the eager 5-year-old, or the indifferent 13-year-old, but neither am I the grandmother who needs to be pulled along to the art exhibit.  I'm a grandmother who is trying to "excavate" her own innate creativity, and appreciate it in others.

Gary and his students bring me one step closer, as they continue their own lifelong love of art. 



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Grand Central Terminal - An "Aha! Moment" of Colossal Proportions

Grand Central Terminal 1904
"Excavation and Construction"   

I stood before the picture, attracted to it more than all the other photos, artifacts, maps, videos, memorabilia spread throughout the terminal's Vanderbilt Hall.  Grand Central's "Grand By Design" exhibit tells the building's story, celebrates its 100-year-old opening, traces its history.  But it's this one picture that, for me, is the grandest of all. The beginning.

When nothing was there to signal what would follow.  A clean slate. A gigantic, blank piece of paper. A pile of dirt.

I wondered. . .

Who thought of a terminal. . . the original terminal, completed in 1871?  Was it Cornelius Vanderbilt, himself, puffing on a cigar and sipping brandy one evening after dinner?

And whose idea sparked the demolition of that terminal and the construction of the 1913 Beaux-Arts beauty?  Was it J. P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, or one of Vanderbilt's grandsons, Cornelius II or William K., at a Directors meeting of The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad?
Did one of them suddenly stand up and announce, "It's time to tear down that antiquated excuse for a railroad terminal.  Let's move on with the times.  By God, we need bigger, grander!  It'll only cost a few million."

Or did the creative force behind the terminal begin more quietly, but no less dramatically?

"It came to me in a flash of light.  It was the most daring idea that ever occurred to me," said William J. Wilgus, New York Central's chief engineer in 1902.  He presented his bold idea in a three-page letter to the railroad's president. Within six months, the Board of Directors (men who could smell progress and money from miles away) authorized the project.

A flash of light.  Of course.
Isn't that where all ideas start?
Out of the blue.
Unknown one minute, inevitable the next.


Grand Central Terminal - 100 years old.  Much to celebrate, including the precious seed of a creative thought.

(The Grand Design exhibit continues until March 15 in Vanderbilt Hall.
Celebratory events extend throughout this 100th year at the Terminal.)




Friday, February 8, 2013

Downton Abbey meets The Heiress

(photo credit - Jennifer Broski)
(This posting contains a spoiler for the finale of Downton Abbey's Season 3.  If you don't know, and don't want to know what happens, read no further than the Playbill image.) 

I admit it.
The main reason I wanted to see The Heiress was Dan Stevens.
What can I say?
I'm a  Downton Abbey fan.
One among millions.

Dan is Jessica Chastain's suitor in the Broadway revival, which ends its limited run on Saturday, February 9.
Yes, that Jessica Chastain, winner of this year's Golden Globe for best actress in Zero Dark Thirty and Oscar nominee in the same category.

Whether his character (Morris) is truly in love with hers (Catherine), or with her fortune, is the question.

It is the all-consuming question for Catherine's father, played by David Strathairn.
Yes, that David Strathairn, Secretary of Sate William Seward in Lincoln, Oscar nominated film for Best Picture.

The theatre was full on Wednesday night, surely with others like ourselves, drawn in by the star-power.  To celebrate our recent birthdays, Drew and I splurged on front row seats, so close to the Victorian living room set, that the tips of our shoes could touch the stage.  So close that I stifled a sneeze as Jessica gently placed a silver tray on a table, feet away, for fear of distracting her. So close to the drama that we could have been guests, sipping tea and joining the conversation.

For me, however, the true drama of the evening, came after the play.
Drew and I were on the subway when a man seated across the train spotted our Playbill.

"I've been meaning to see that myself.  Was it good?" he asked.
We were effusive in our praise of the acting, sets, costumes.
Then, in one sentence, he ruined the remainder of Downton Abbey's season 3, perhaps Downton Abbey forever, for me.
"I read that Dan Stevens was killed off in Downton Abbey so he could do more things like this."

"What?" That can't be!  Not Matthew (Dan's character)," I shouted, above the screech of the train as it slowed to a stop at the 28th Street Station.

Am I the only clueless fan in America who doesn't already know that Matthew Crawley, the dashing, down-to-earth, decently honest and principled heir to Downtown will die (has already died in the UK airings)?

As soon as we got home, I googled what had to be a mistake.  The man surely did not know what he was talking about.  He was thinking of someone else, Bates perhaps, killed in prison.  But there was the headline, "Dan Stevens Leaving Downtown Abby." With heavy heart, I closed the computer.

Alas, Downton will never be the same.
Poor Dan will never be the heir to that fortune. . . as he will never be married to The Heiress.


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