It is difficult to do anything worthwhile. If we can overcome fear, inertia, and distractions long enough to engage the world with our work or efforts, it seems like there ought to be a self-congratulatory moment somewhere along the way. But the truth is that our accomplishments and best practices are just as much the fruits of the inspiration, love, support (and sometimes even the resistance) we get from others as the natural consequence of our own struggles. Here are a very few* of many who have lit my way, made me laugh, blocked my path, revealed mysteries and truths, and helped shaped me and my understanding of the world. I celebrate them as my pathfinders. LOVE TO ALL TEACHERS WANDERERS AND SEEKERS. [p.s. this list was made in 2008 and unfortunately not updated since. The list of people who inspire me has become far too long to categorize. But as a snapshot of a place in time, let this list live on!]
I admire her fearlessness. I admire her ability to find and reveal some of the essential mystery at the core of our humanity, and when I write this I am thinking of her 'Untitled' series completed shortly before her death. The overwhelming grace of these pictures seems to me the fruit of all the work that came before.
His book, "The Poetics of Space" resonated strongly with me - it was the first I've read that so directly explores the psychological and spiritual impact of the physical spaces we live and work in, and how these forms and experiences echo deeply into our thoughts and dreams.
Prolific collector, archivist, and sharer of obscure pop culture imagery and information. It was through her site that I began to understand the wonder that is tumblr. There have been many wonderful tumblrs I've followed since, but hers was one of the first, and led me to many of the rest.
Viewing her work at the MOMA QNS retrospective in 2004 was a seminal art experience for me - one that astonished me, moved me, and changed me. Seeing work of this caliber and strength convinced me that I needed to arc my life closer to one entirely devoted to the challenges and rewards of art appreciation and art making. The works themselves were powerful, sometimes agressively so, but for me the most profound were the suspended sculptures that seemed to embody so many contradictions within them - fragile yet tough, vibrantly dynamic yet monkishly still, simple yet deeply complex. It is this mastery of complexity and contradiction that holds a lasting appeal and influence over my energies.
Of all the prophets, saints, seers and teachers who speak to us about how we might better live and be in the world, the teachings of Buddha seem most relevant and resonant to me, and my experience of the world and the universe. Of course I say this from a point of almost total ignorance about Buddha and all the prophets, saints, seers, and teachers who speak to us about how we might better live and be in the world. But still, I say it, feel it, believe it.
Another seminal art moment in my life: September 2, 1973. I was seven years old and visiting my grandparents in Cooperstown, NY. My Grandfather was reading a profile about Chris Burden in the Sunday New York Times. In the profile, there was a photo of the piece 'Shoot' where Burden had himself shot in the arm by a friend with a 22 in front of 12 people. I could not believe it. I was bewildered at the madness of it, and the fact that this was called 'art' The insanity and horror of this act filled me with questions about life, actions, work, performances, and art - questions I've never really answered and never stopped asking either. While 'Shoot' may have been the violent excess of a young man looking to make his mark on the world, Burden himself was no one shot wonder. His work continues to impress me to this day.
Joseph Campbell studied all the world's myths to find the common threads - the teachings about our journey through life and the challenges we face that all peoples seem to share regardless of birthplace or culture. This core common knowledge is a profound and rich resource that he took evident joy in sharing with all of us. I may not have found my bliss yet, but when I do, part of my gratitude will go to Joseph Campbell for reassuring me that it is out there if I just keep looking.
Despite studying film history in college, I didn't know Cassavetes films until Samoa introduced them to many years later. His films, and the characters in them, are the most real and the most true I have ever seen in fictional films. Seeing his work for the first time was electrifying and mind blowing. There are things I know about how the world works, and how people are that I never would have really seen without Cassavetes.
Nick Cave is a dancer, performance artist, and sculptor. His 'Sound Suit' costumes bring the ritual, magic, and power of traditional and primitive African dance costumes into a contemporary context, and in doing so, suggest, to me at least, that costume dance and ritual are still a vital conduit to both the deepest corners of our psyche, and a means to explore our relationship to the universe at large.
Roz Chast is a cartoonist whose work most commonly appears in the New Yorker magazine. All I can say is that more than any other cartoonist, her work nails me. She sees through all my insecurities, foibles, absurd defense mechanisms, preposterous justifications and silly thinking, and makes me laugh out loud at how ridiculous I am.
Alice Coltrane was a jazz harpist, devotee of Vedantic philosophy, and wife of John Coltrane. Her music, which mixes jazz harp with indian and eastern music traditions is mystical and profound. More and more I am devoted to music that imparts spiritual sustenance for the soul along with sounds for the ear, and her music is among the finest I know in this regard. If you do not know her work, start with 'Journey to Satchidananda'.
Joseph Cornell built little wood boxes that opened windows to other worlds of dreams and memories and longing. His work is enormously influential, and particularly so for me, although not without some ambivalence. I think in moments of dreamy reveries that we are kindred spirits - and I suppose this is both comforting and a little disturbing. Still, his work was an encouragement and an imperative to me, and I'm grateful to have seen so much of it first hand.
I've enjoyed R. Crumb's work since I was a little kid, and the 'Keep on Trucking' t-shirts some kids wore were the coolest things around. Later, I got into his musical work with the Cheap Suit Serenaders, and later still was fascinated to learn more about this iconic artist from Terry Zwigoff's documentary Crumb. These days I am back to just enjoying his comics, and appreciating, more than ever, his tremendous skills as a draftsman.
Henry Darger's artworks, seen in person, are some of the most profound, beautiful, and moving works of art I have ever seen - and not for the ostensible content which is notoriously strange, shocking and disturbing, but for the incredibly orchestrated compositions which swoop armies of figures, colors, and forms back and forth across long horizontal scrolls in complex fugues that are as perfectly balanced and uniquely imperfect as nature herself.
Fear is one of my greatest enemies. Fear of looking ridiculous, of making a fool of myself somehow, of being an ass. Fear of unnecessarily bring a mortifying moment into my life. Larry David is a wonderful foil to these fears. His motto might as well be, 'Embrace the Cringe'. And by embracing it, and embracing it with intelligence and fearlessness, he's given me endless laughs, and sometimes the courage to Embrace my Own Cringe.
Democritus was an ancient Greek philosopher who helped to develop the idea that the material world was formed from atoms. For this and other work in a variety of fields of scientific pursuit some have given him the title of 'Father of Modern Science'. To me, he represents my love of science, and, paradoxically, my sense that much of what science proves originates as much as matters of intuition and faith as of rationality and fact.
My mother used to quote The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock at sunset - 'When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherised upon a table'. In high school I recited 'The Hollow Men' in forensics competitions. These simple and almost frugal inoculations from Eliot's sharp pen have since grown into a lifetime appreciation for the beauty, truth, power and influence of poetry.
Terunobu Fujimori is a Japanese architect whose buildings seem to straddle the border between our world, and the more fantastical one that lives in our imagination. His crooked teahouse that balance precariously on stilt like tree legs seem like something conjured up by a marvelous children's book writer, and yet they also have an elegance, sophistication, and harmony with nature that brings them fully into the adult sphere... They are architectural spaces that ignite our capacity for dreaming.
Joe Frank is one of my all time heroes. He uses the medium of radio to make radical radio dramas. I remember the first time I heard his work and the best way to describe my response is that it was some mixture of how it must have felt to hear Jimi Hendrix for the first time crossed with how the original listeners of HG Wells 'War of the Worlds' must have felt. Bizarre, unreal, revolutionary and maybe even a little scary all at once. His works mix the real, with the fantastic, with the mundane, and the surreal to create the most richest and most unique body of compelling stories that I have encountered in any medium. To those who do not know his work, I strongly encourage a visit to joefrank.com where you can sample some of his stories and find out the times his work is played on public radio stations.
Ira Glass is the man behind the popular 'This American Life' radio series. The show brings the power and strength of traditional storytelling to the specificities and unique arrangements of our modern life, and it does so with great sensitivity and impeccable standards. I have been listening for years and in all that time I don't think he's delivered a single show that made me feel I had wasted my time listening. The entertaining shows are charming, the poignant shows touching, and the informative shows really teach you something.
Philip Glass music unfolds organically in arpeggios that grow, extend, circle back, wind down, and start again. It is music that is both strictly patterned, and yet exceeds the bounds of all patterns. I think there is something of a universal truth about growth and life being revealed in the structure of his music.
When you were a kid did you ever dig around in the dirt, making holes and little structures out of twigs and leaves? Or build canals in the creek? I did, and these activities form some of my happiest memories of childhood. Andy Goldsworthy has taken the joy of this sort of play and made it into (literally) groundbreaking artistic works that explore man's relationship to nature, the ephemerality of all things, and the innate beauty of life in balance. And he does it all with no more than the natural materials on hand in the environments in which he begins to make art. For me, his work represents one of the most pure and authentic expressions of creativity that I have ever seen, and a model for any creative endeavour in intent, process, and result.
Ernest Haeckel is a good representative of a type of person that I greatly admire - the artist scientist. As a scientist he discovered, named and classified thousands of species. His work in biology was foundational and fundamental to many subsequent advances. But what is most exciting to me are the insanely detailed and glorious drawings he made of his discoveries. In their compositional organization (based on scientific principles he believed in), and the brilliant, almost glowing way they are rendered, they are some of the most blindingly beautiful expressions of mystical revelation that I know.
Alice first introduced me to the work of her dear friend Daniel Higgs several years ago, and as I have slowly learned more about his work with Lungfish, and his solo work under his own name, my respect and appreciation has grown and grown to the point where I now can't help but view him as something of a mystic or at the least an honorable and generous citizen of Old Weird America. He's influenced me in terms of the way that I understand music, how I listen to music, and how I see my own contribution to our musical world. Here's a direct link to a wonderful interview with Daniel - a great introduction to the man and some of his work.
Matt is the founder of metafilter and associated websites (like ask metafilter). His websites consume a great deal of my time because the content, linked to by the community, commented on by the community, and generated by the community is consistently fascinating and compelling. As the name suggests, it's a filter with the stated goal of pointing users to 'the best of the web'. Using both community and administrator moderation it achieves and exceeds its goal on a regular enough basis that it's difficult for me to imagine the web without it.
I was introduced to Carl Jung's book 'Man and His Symbols' in college, and it was one of those encounters with ideas that change you forever. His concepts of archetypes, individuation, synchronicity, and collective unconcious are powerful ideas that still animate the way that I see and understand my fellow beings and the shared paths we travel through life.
Maira Kalman's illustrated essays on life and history for the New York Times are pitch perfect mixtures of whimsy, naivete, sophistication, and poignancy that seem to get right to the heart of some very deep and complex matters. This kind of work is real high wire act, and she never seems to lose her confidence or balance.
Charlie Kaufman is a screenwriter, director and musician, and the creative genius behind three of my top ten movies of all time - Synecdoche, which he wrote and directed, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkevich which he wrote. I think I respond to his work so forcefully because his films seem to express a feeling I have that absurdity is a fundamental characteristic, and maybe even a force in the world, like gravity. Charlie Kaufman is brilliant at honing in on an absurd idea in an otherwise rational world, like the idea of an organization that has literally found a way to get inside someone else's head, and then he fights for these ideas the way one fights for one's most cherished beliefs. Everything about his movies are as grounded and rational and sensible as one could imagine - except for the essential idea, which is utterly insane and mad. And I think that is where the power of his movies are generated - that a lot of the madness and suffering of the real world we live in are the consequences of rational actors and interactions that are utterly absurd at their center.
Imp Kerr is a mystery wrapped inside an enimga, but an inspiration all the same. She has an important role or roles (founder? contributor? designer? advisor?) with the New Shelton wet/dry, my favorite internet anthologizing website. But Imp is here less for that than for her facebook page which redefine the form and possibilities of the social media medium in a way that I find both fascinating and excellent. Poetic, beautiful short stories as status updates, artful verbal dives from the very high to the very low, reflections on philosophy, science, art, crass asides, sharp insights, etc. When Imp's light dazzles it shines bright. (I think she said it better herself in one of her updates). Her work here proves venue doesn't matter. A poet is a poet wherever they put words together. Who is Imp Kerr? What is she? Who knows? Who cares? An Impful life is much better than an Impless one.
His speeches go into my head, and then take some special turbocharged trip from mind straight into my heart. I am grateful to live in a country where his works are celebrated and people still fight passionately to make his dream a reality.
Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist teacher and lecturer. I first heard him speak through excerpts of his lectures that were mixed in to Joe Frank's radio dramas. Kornfield is funny, down to earth, and offers a form of spiritual teaching that is both wise and reasonable.
Murakami's novels often start quietly - cooking pasta, or ironing shirts and yet even these mundane activities slowly start to intrigue you as Murakami describes them. Before you know it you are under his spell and you fall from normalcy into a deep well of dreams, ambiguities, mysteries, and otherworldly connections and passages. I love his work for the easy and friendly way he ushers me into his world, and even more for the odd and lingering effect his world has on mine long after I finish one of his books.
Upon seeing the succesful test of the first atomic weapon Oppenheimer said that he thought of this line from the Bhagavad-Gita 'Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' There seems to be something very profound and important in the idea that at that apex of western rational scientific achievement one should turn to Eastern spiritualism to express one's feelings. In that moment, and others during his complicated life, Oppenheimer embodies the inevitable moral dilemmas and philosophical questions that must accompany the vast powers man has gained through advanced science.
I was visiting my friend Alice in Oakland, and she took me to an amazing little record and magazine shop in her neighborhood called Issues. I told one of the owners of Issues, Joe Colley, that I was getting into drone music, and he said that I had to own 'Trilogie de la Mort' by Eliane Radigue, a French electronic music composer. I'm very grateful for his recommendation. This hypnotic work, like others in her ouvre is based on her study of Tibetan Buddhism. It's music that is slow, beautiful, profound, and deeply moving and spiritual. It may not be the same as going to church or temple but listening to her music is one way I reach for the divine.
Malick Sidibé is a Malian photographer who created a phenomenal series of photographs of the stylish culture of Bamako, Mali's capital city, in the 1960's and 1970's. Mostly portraits, these photographs are simple, graphic, joyful, and completely unique. There are so many cultures and worlds out there - it is rewarding and humbling to catch a glimpse of one you have never seen or even imagined that can so easily and powerfully enlarge your own.
Flattery will get you everywhere. J.D. Salinger's books talk to you like you are wise to the game just as they are, that you appreciate and understand the true seers and mystics just as they do, that you are just about as smart and just about as jaded as they are. And maybe you are. And maybe that isn't saying all that much. All I know is that his books have been long time friends, and I enjoy them everytime I pick them up, even if has been years. I'll be grateful if I ever learn to write so easily and charmingly to an unseen audience of my own.
David Shrigley is a fine artist who has made humor an intrinsic part of his artworks. His artworks have a simple, naive style that disarms you just enough to let the humor hit its mark every time. What I really love about his art and his humor is that it points out the commonalities between both - That art and humor can allow you to see the the world, or a simple truth about the world, in a new way.
Sarah Sze is a sculptor who uses the most prosaic materials imaginable to fashion the most extraordinary and complex assemblages. Toothpaste caps, plastic bottles, plastic tubes, rulers, matchbook-size pieces of wood, lightbulbs, fans, photographs and wood clamps are connected in such a way that the final result is complex not chaotic, dynamic, yet in balance and strikingly beautiful despite the ordinary and utilitarian materials. It's an inspiring creative alchemy.
Krista Tippet is the host of NPR's 'Being' radio show. This show interviews our contemporary seers, mystics and religious women and men to gain their perspective both on their own religions, and on some of the important moral, ethical, and philosophical issues of our day. In country where religion is used again and again to polarize us, her voice is a welcome and intelligent effort to find commonalities, build bridges, and understand the differences between people of different faith traditions.
Adrian Tomine is a cartoonist and illustrator best known for his Optic Nerve comic series, and illustrations and covers that he has created for The New Yorker Magazine. He has my love and respect for mostly one reason - his drawings have the most beautiful and expressive line work of any artist I know. His lines model complex forms and gestures and expressions in a manner that is succinct, accurate to reality, and moving. I celebrate his lines for their economy and their beauty.
Cy Twombly is the artist whose work seems almost designed to provoke the tired cliché, 'My four old could do this!' It's abstract and chaotic and obsessive looping swirling lines and mark making. Some of it really does look like a child could do it. On the other hand, if one can get past the clichés, if somehow one's encounter with the work all of a sudden turns from passive to active and the energies start flowing between art and viewer, well, then, there is no artist more richly rewarding. For if this happens, and I don't neccessarily know why or how it should, all of a sudden these crazy lines and scrawly marks seem like the universe and life itself.
I enjoy and admire Andy Warhol's art from his early monoprints as an illustrator right through to his final self-portraits. I admire his work ethic, his curatorial eye (and ear), and perhaps most of all I admire the collaborative approach that was so central to his practice. A good example of this are the paintings he and Basquiat created together on shared canvas. Andy's contributions to these artworks seem almost humble given his stature and more designed to kindle Basquiat's mad energies than define or assert his own. And it's this view of Andy I hold in mind - one who created a great deal of amazing work on his own, but perhaps more importantly sparked creative fires in so many others.
Alan Watts is an all time hero to me. He was a philosopher and educator who spent much of his life writing and teaching the tenets of Asian Philosophies to a Western / mostly American audience. His recorded lectures, mostly made between the late 1950's and early 1970's are consistently witty, erudite, and empathetic. I first started listening to his work when it was rebroadcast on WFMU radio back in the early 1990's, and still listen regularly for the tremendous sustenance and joy his teachings continue to give me.
When we were growing up we used to take family vacations to Telluride, CO, where my father had purchased a small mining cabin back when he worked in the area as a geologist. At the time (late 1970's), and in the summer, Telluride was still a hippy town, and its bookstore reflected the demographics. For example, I first came across Ram Dass's proto Eckhart Tollean book, 'Remember Be Here Now' in Telluride's bookstore. But much more influential than Ram Dass's work was the 1978 paperback edition of 'Cosmic Trigger, The Final Secret of the Illuminati' that I purchased at that bookstore. I was 12 years old, and I devoured it. Whatever worldview I had formed in my young mind by that time was pushed and pulled by RAW's book which suggested that our ways of seeing the world and the truth, are just that - ways. Some have greater advantages than others for specific tasks in the world, but none are the thing itself, what Huxley calls 'absolute reality'. In college, this book re-surfaced with some dark associations, and now it's just a book, but one that has played a key role in my life.
I have always loved an eclectic mix of music and sounds, but for most of my life these eclectic songs and sounds came to me in more or less haphazard fashion - basically whatever was on the independent radio station on any given day. And while a song might touch me in a profound way, I never really questioned it - emotional connections were just something music did. In recent years, I've come to see that music can have a much greater and more important role. I now believe in music as sacrament - an expression and transmission of the energies of the universe. To the degree that it is as I see it is, it's also perhaps the most important sacrament in my generally secular life. When you start to engage with music this way, I think you are naturally inclined to seek music that resonates with this philosophy - music that is off the beaten track. Searching. Pure sound. Drones. Primitive. Ritualistic. Mysterious. Sublime. Beautiful. Inexplicable. And if this is what you are looking for, there is no better place to find communion and bliss than the archived podcasts of Joshua Zucker's Roadside Picnic. I view his podcasts as a graduate level education in transcendent music and I cannot recommend them enough.
From bringing Ultimate Frisbee to Fairfax in the 1980's to his current position convincing Colorado's Mesa County landowners and stewards to protect and preserve their lands for future generations, Rob has always found a way to not only share his passions, but also to convince other, sometimes intransigent viewpoints to see things his way. He's been a good friend and inspiration to me, and he's worked hard to make a better world for all of us.
Tricia has been a good friend for many years, and it's always been a great pleasure to know her, to laugh with her, and to see her life unfold so creatively and productively. Tricia is an Art Historian - someone who deals in the very rarefied and sometimes elitist arena of the art world where theory and jargon are often valued more than plain talk. But the reason Tricia is so wonderful and perfect for her work is that she is perhaps the most grounded and down to earth people that I have ever known. She's able to take the theory and the history and the myth and the bs and distill it down to what's actually important - the truth, and the story, and she tells these stories with humor, grace, honesty and charm.
In the postcard announcement for Alfonse's last show he quoted Pope Benedict, '...Next to the saints the art which the Church has produced is the only real apologia for her history.' While I don't agree with the Pope on much, this is one point I do - the art of the Catholic church is without question some of the most glorious and inspiring art in all of art history. From the humble Santos and shrines of rural Mexican churches to the dazzling ceilings and domes of Italy, the art is universal and personal, humble and dominating, dynamic and still. The history is so intimidating it is no wonder that the tradition has fallen fallow in a period where the church itself is in transition. But like the monks in Medieval times who carefully guarded books and learning for future generations, there are still some who work to make certain this remains a vital branch of art making, and Alfonse is one of those few. I am grateful and inspired by the glory of his contemporary spiritual visions and insights.
I would not be where I am today without Sue - her joining me to move from DC to NYC made my dream of living in New York real, and I've been here ever since. Sue's fearless sense of adventure and possibility have remained part of her life and are visible in everything from her New York scientific work, where she almost cured AIDS, to her current work teaching classes in science and classes in dance to the children of her community. Sue is also a strong advocate of animal rights, and that highlights another common thread to her life - the desire to reduce the suffering of others, and to bring joy to those around her.
Adam's a noted contemporary painter and thinker, and a good friend to my family. There is a large mural he once painted of a suburban house suddenly freed from the constraints of gravity beginning to float both gracefully and chaotically into the air. In some ways it's not a bad metaphor for Adam whose creativity and intellect unleash tumultuous forces that can only be returned to earth through hard work, talent, and the ability to communicate rationally and articulately. I appreciate and value his gifts and am inspired by the sense of respect and responsibility that he shows them.
Many of Jeff's landscapes often deal with the perception of light in dark places - moonlight, streetlight, the light of setting suns, or the light that emerges out of stormy skies. Not only are the paintings themselves luminous, hopeful, and beautiful, but they are also a good metaphor for the kind of friend Jeff's always been to me and others - A trustworthy and reliable beacon of light no matter how dark things get.
Jason and I worked together at Modeworks in the late 1990's. I was always impressed by the fluidity and grace of his line, and by the fact that his work always had a high degree of polish and refinement no matter how casual or relaxed Jason seemed as a person at the time. It does not surprise me that he is achieving a lot of success with his series of 2D and 3D artworks that imagine the anatomies of toys and other childhood icons. For many people, toys are not purely inanimate lumps of plastic - there's something very alive about our toys and our relationship with them. Jason's anatomy artworks add a convincing scientific realism and healthy sense of humor to this common feeling.
Marcelo and I worked together at Silver Hill. I was instantly captivated when first shown his portfolio which included graceful watercolors of the natural world as Charles Darwin might have drawn in his sketchbooks. (If Darwin was on the Starship Enterprise as opposed to the HMS Beagle. And maybe tripping too.) Marcelo is a man to watch for his hugely imaginative artwork, and a man to befriend for his dry wit, good soul, and ability to throw a great party.
Tyler Gore has a way with words. Not only as a published writer whose has been singled out three times for special commendation by The Best American Essays yearly anthology, but as a talker as well - someone who can expound extemporaneously with wit and erudition (ok, and sometimes a dash of bs) on any topic you throw at him. To those lucky enough to know one like Tyler you know that in this age of twitter and FB update, a person of his verbal dexterity is a rare breed, and rare treat. I've always enjoyed and valued the time I've spent with him.
Kelly Homolka is a woman who knows how to build a house, start a party, raise a family, and most recently, bring a community together to start a school that is devoted to ensuring our next generation of children are the well educated American citizens our country needs. Lots of people dream big. Few seem to have the practical knowledge and perseverance to turn their dreams into reality. Kelly is one of those special people, and as much an inspiration to me as I'm sure she is to the students of the her school.
Alice is one of my dearest friends, and one I've known since I first entered college. Throughout our long friendship she has been a teacher, mentor, shining example of right life, and a rock solid pillar of support. This is the kind of friend Alice has been to me, and this is the kind of person she is to all. As an artist her work often incorporated craft well before its current vogue, and in this artwork you can see her concern for authenticity, her avoidance of elitism or preciousness, and her devotion to art as practice and process. As a writer, her novels and short stories were daring, cutting edge, transgressive, and courageous. In her latest incarnation, Alice is the owner and a teacher of Loka Yoga in Oakland, CA where she teaches yoga and shares lessons from her life journey (which included a year in India studying yoga under the founder of Ashtanga Yoga, Pattabhi Jois). Alice is another friend for whom dreams are not ephemeral abstractions but eventual realities to be implemented and shared. Perhaps that is a key for making your dreams come true - If you are going to dream, do not dream alone. She is a great inspiration to me.
Anne, my former sister-in-law, is an artist whose paintings depict common New York City subway scenes as if we could see not only the reality before us (a man, for example, sitting quietly in his seat) but also the social and political realities that may have brought this man to this subway seat from his home country. In doing so, they not only depict the extra dimension that we all sometimes imagine as we gaze at the strangers who share our commuting patterns, but also the way that events across the world are searing the hearts and minds of those around us.
I worked with Charlene for many years and have always admired her artistic talent, creativity, and grit. Beyond that, she was usually about a year ahead of the rest of us in whatever cool stuff was going on. Like the social media - Charlene had about ten thousand friends on myspace when most people like me thought friends were relationships you had in real life. Now working independently, Charlene paints, makes music, and splits her time between globe trotting and New York City.
David Newcomb is an artist, designer, and craftsman who I had the pleasure of working with for many years. On his website he quotes Oscar Wilde as saying, "Talent is the ability to take infinite pains". I love the quote, although perhaps I would change the word 'talent' to the word 'art', but either way it is an accurate reflection of the workmanship, care, attention, and leadership that I saw Dave pour into all his projects which included mural design and painting, model making, sign-painting, decorative painting, and many more. Beyond his professionally employed talents, David is also a talented actor, puppet maker, style setter, east village historian, raconteur, and cocktail companion. In short, he's the kind of die hard creative that makes New York such a fantastic city to live in.
Nicole Pierce is the founder and Principal of EgoArt, Inc. a multimedia dance theater company based in Boston. In addition to her work with the company which involves choreography, dance, installation art, spoken word performance, and video, she's also a classically trained pianist. And super funny. And a dog lover. In fact, she loves her dog so much it makes her stomach hurt. And I am convinced that somewhere in that fact is the key to why Nicole is such an amazing person - her love for her work, friends, and family is fierce and unsentimental and a little extreme in a good way. It is not about banalities, motivational posters or baby ruth bars. It's a love that hurts her stomach sometimes. But not like a baby ruth bar. For real.
William is a good friend, writer, and poet whose works have ranged from a novel based on a year he spent in Thailand to a reimagining of Dante's Inferno from an American historical perspective. William is also a master of the art of the letter - an undervalued skill by many but treasured by me. I have been privileged to engage in lengthy correspondence with William, and no matter what the topic - his life in Japan or Istanbul or the Iraq war, William always writes with insight, detail, intelligence and empathy for the world as he sees it, and with the humble understanding that he is just one soul looking at a large universe.
Michael and I have worked together on and off until one or the other of us has hit the eject button on our office chair or artist stool. He's a talented painter and an artful writer who in his travels for the company sent back the best travelogue writing I ever received from the company's overseas outposts. I am privileged to own one of his paintings - a portrait of a young zen monk, and this luminous water color painting says more about the awakened joy and peace possible through Buddhism than anything I could ever write about it.
Jes Scannell Rooks is one of those people who has literally dedicated their life to making the world a better place. Not tangentially, or abstractly, but practically, concretely, and effectively. She's identified certain terrible problems in our society, and she has dedicated her life to helping to ameliorate these problems. They are not new problems, or particularly glamerous ones. They're just basic problems that cause a great deal of suffering. The without things. People without literacy. People without jobs. The ignored things. Like what do you do with an ex-prisoners who were ignored for their time in prison. The environment. The numerous problems with our dysfunctional correctional system that imprisons far to many, and rehabilitates far to few. She has worked on one or another of these issues for her whole career, and is now in a position which looks holistically at all of these issues together - She's Director of the Green Jobs program for the Osborn Association. Her program is aimed at training and helping people recently released from correctional institutions find jobs in the green economy. The world's a better place for the efforts of Jes and her colleagues.
Victor is a great friend, master conversationalist, a partner and dancer in Nicole Pierce's Ego Art Dance Company, a gourmet chef, political and cultural analyst, adventurer, junior accountant, friend to outsiders, confidante to insiders, book reader, good music lover, hard worker, and easy laugher. His love and friendship are not so much inspiration as reassurance that if someone as excellent as he considers you a friend, you must be doing something right in life.
Costa was my most influential teacher at the Art Student League, and under his tutelage I made my greatest strides drawing, and perhaps even more importantly, how to see the world through an artist's eyes - a skill that has helped me in all my artistic endeavors, not just drawing. Costa is a great teacher, and the improvements I made in his classes (great) were matched by any student who listened and worked. In his own work, Costa is a master contemporary realist portraitist. His artworks have an intensity and focus that immediately establish an authority that compels your sustained attention as you view them. If there is a way to eternal life through art, he and his subjects have a chance of achieving it.
Michael and I worked together for many years. As a co-worker he was a pleasure to work with - Intelligent and efficient. But I suspect the real reason Michael and I got along so well was his love and obsession with music of all types. He has the most encyclopedic musical knowledge of independent and experimental music of anyone I know, and he was willing and enthusiastic to share it with me. Michael not only expanded and informed my musical taste, but also rekindled my love and appreciation for live musical performance. In addition to being a music guru, Michael's also an excellent photographer with a natural talent for street photography - a gift most on display September 11 when he had the presence of mind to take a devastating but phenomenal photograph of the moment of impact of the second plane into the South Tower (2 WTC).
Escapee from Nazis, immigrant, Harvard Graduate, Geologist, Diplomat, senior US Government Official and possible CIA covert agent - my dad has just about seen and done it all. One common thread to all his pursuits, covert or otherwise, is travel, and he has visited more than 150 countries. He is also a photographer (who gave me the shutter bug) and he documented much of his travels, some of which are featured in his flickr page linked above. In addition to the above accomplishments, he also knows the answer to every question, and is usually quite personable in his answers. My only caveat is that you engage him in politics at your own risk.
My brother George is a poet, novelist, and non-fiction writer. His highly regarded study of Freud's impact on American psychology (and vice versa), Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology was fascinating on the merits, and also taught me a great deal about my own family history that I was only vaguely aware of prior to reading his book. His second book, In Pursuit of Silence, was a fascinating tour through our sonic culture and a powerful argument for making silence and quiet as accepted an ingredient to healthy life as good nutrition and exercise. While I love to read his words, I think I am most proud of him when I am listening to him talk, whether at a lecture, or just over dinner. It's then that I can most clearly discern the common thread to all his words - a gentle intellect, care, a sense of humor, and a deep love and respect for others in all that he says.
My sister-in-law Rebecca is a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of One Perfect Day, a critical examination of the wedding industry and how it has jacked up the price of the average wedding to absurd levels. Her writing is illuminated by her astonishing eye for finding the story in the microcosm of its details, her fearlessness as a reporter, her incisiveness as an analyst, and her wit and candor with her readers. On top of all this, she makes an insanely delicious blackened cat fish, tells the best stories at dinner, and is one of the most hospitable people I know.
My brother Ethan is an emmy award winning director, screenwriter, and currently an executive producer for the History Channel's Shark Wranglers. He's also an adventurer who went to Afghanistan shortly after 9.11 as an independent journalist, and to Iraq as the war raged in 2005 to produce a show about the Georgia National Guard. His adventures are not just geographic either - they're also intellectual, and physical, and he approaches these explorations with the same fearlessness and enthusiasm that he devotes to his day job. The practical experience he has gained from facing fears, hardships, and obstacles in dangerous spots around the globe have made him my 'go to' brother whenever I get in a jam, and an inspiration for facing the fears and dangers of my own life.
Amber is a true force of grace in the world, always working towards balance, harmony and the goodness of life. In her professional life, she is both a model and a gerontologist, two professions that I greatly admire individually, but like peanut butter and chocolate seem uniquely awesome in combination. In her personal life she is a fearless adventurer, a dog lover, a happy laugher, an art lover, and a radical free style ma roller.
My sister Elisabeth is a Clinical Social Worker who conducts clinical interviews and assessments with mentally ill clients to determine the efficacy of new psychopharmaceuticals. Plus she makes cupcakes. Her cupcake company is called Cupcakes by Sugar. Lately I have been trying to convince her to combine her two fields of expertise into a new business, 'Cupcakes and Counseling'. I'm convinced this would be a big hit. While her interests and occupation hint at it, neither really captures her generosity and selflessness which is legendary amongst her friends and family. Having Elisabeth on your side is a guarantee that you will get through whatever hardship or trial life throws at you. Granted, you will be several pounds fatter, but that is a small price to pay. And if the weight starts to really bother you, she will buy you fancy jogging gear.
Art Students League is an inexpensive NY art school where you can enroll in classes on a month to month as needed basis (they have degree programs as well). They have been around since 1875, and are famous for their notable faculty and students who include people like Norman Rockwell, Georgia O'Keefe, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, and many, many more. When I decided to get serious about my art education I took tons of drawing classes there, and they were fantastic. Probably the best learning environment I have ever experienced. The Art Student League is not about learning art movements or theory. It is about practice, i.e., you learn to draw by drawing for hours under an instructor's tutelage, and amidst students of different skill levels who also help to show you what can work. It's an amazing place.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of New York City's most beautiful spots. I used to go there after work on late spring days, ususally with a camera, and it was remarkable how quickly the environment would dissolve the stress and crazyness of the work day and I would find myself completely engrossed in the smells, sounds, and stunning visual beauty before me. It is a sacred and therapeutic place for me.
The best art museum I have ever been to, and one designed to reward repeated visits. Their permanent collection is astonishing, vast, and rotates surprisingly frequently. Their special exhibitions bring the best from around the world. It is an enormous place with lots of quiet and less frequented areas to explore. You don't have to pay more than a nickel to get in. Their cafeterias have reasonably priced good food to sustain you on longer visits. If you register at the desk you can use a tripod on some days of the week to take detailed photos of the artwork in the permanent collection. The Met is everything an art museum should be, and is the New York City attraction where you are most likely to find me.
The architecture of their new space is gorgeous, their permanent collection is phenomenal, and they have some amazing special exhibitions. It's a perfect size - you can hit most of the rotating exhibits in the museum in one day without completely exhausting yourself. Some of my most heartfelt and even life changing experiences with art have been in MOMA's galleries. My only reservation about MOMA is that tickets and auxilliary services are expensive.
I used to be a magazine junkie, subscribing to news stands worth of magazines. Much of the content I used to enjoy in magazine form is now available on the web, but the New Yorker is one magazine still worth getting in the US mail no matter where you live. Consistently fascinating journalism, powerful short stories, and of course, the cartoons. It's the best education you can get on contemporary American and global culture for around $40.00/year. You just have to read it.
This is the best professional resource for artists in New York City. Job listings, calls for exhibitions or proposals, and a number of other educational resources and grant opportunities.
I worked with SHA and associated companies for many years. SHA is a company that makes custom 2D and 3D art for hospitality and residential clients. The experiences of helping to make unique art features for architects and designers under the crucible of intense time and budgetary constraints was consistently challenging and rewarding. Those experiences, and the artists and designers I met there were invaluable, life changing, and key to my embracing the arts as a lifetime vocation.
The word 'seminal' comes from the Latin seminalis meaning semen or seed. In other words, the work of a seminal artist has all the seeds for later development. If I trace back the music that I most enjoy, it almost all leads to The Velvet Underground and the different ways they found to create music. (The roots of their music is another story.) Some of their music still sounds cutting edge to me today. So as far as my taste in music goes, The Velvet Underground are the seminal artists.
UbuWeb is an amazing web resource for avante garde and artist made film, video, and audio recordings. If I am ever feeling bored or depressed I just click over to UbuWeb for a shot ethnopoetics and a chaser of obscure field recordings. It's like a MOMA level art museum that you can fully access from the comfort of home. Amazing site.
I've been listening to WFMU regularly since 1991, and I'm convinced it's the best radio on earth. WFMU is the most eclectic, the most rare, the most excellent, the most obscure, the most eccentric, the most consistently interesting music radio that I have ever heard. It also happily has a fantastic web presence with the opportunity to listen to any show you missed at least for a week after it's original air date, and sometimes longer. Check out my sound connections pages for more info on some of my favorite DJs.
*This is a 'list in progress' and weighted towards those who have a web presence, a shortcoming particularly noticeable with friends and family that would of course otherwise be included above. If you have a website and I have left you off my list, let me know, and I will add you in asap.