Curious about meditation?


Ever since The Beatles sat peacefully in flowing garments with a bearded sage guru, the popularization of meditation has grown each decade. No longer the sole territory of robed monks chanting on a mountaintop, the valuable secular practice of developing greater mindfulness is available here and now to anyone with interest.

Scientific study has shown evidence that the practice of mindfulness meditation is linked to numerous physical and emotional health benefits. Meditation connects us with a natural state of the human mind—at rest, open, and alert. A steady practice allows the mind to relax and settle to cultivate inherent qualities of stability and clarity. Anyone who aspires to greater health, fitness, and well being might consider including a contemplative practice, such as of meditation, along with the usual emphasis on diet and exercise.

“Live your life as an experiment,” encouraged teacher Chogyam Trungpa. Learning to sit quietly with your open heart and mind is a good place to begin this challenge. 

Looking for a contemporary introduction to mindfulness and meditation? Find a copy of Walk Like a Buddha. The author, Lodro Rinzler, explains that we live in a time when “multitasking is the new black.” The practice of meditation helps us to experience one thing more fully.


The book investigates how tending to the moment at hand is especially useful in the face the complexities of daily life. An enjoyable read for anyone with a questioning mind, discover how mindfulness can be a useful tool for life. The author addresses work, relationships, social life and social media, loneliness, doubt, and impermanence.

The late Zen master Suzuki Roshi once told his students: “All of you are perfect just as you are…and you could use a little improvement.“ Slowing down to observe and listen is a practice explored at weekly Thursday evening open house meetings at Shambhala Meditation Group of Buffalo. Anyone is invited to join the groupfor an hour of sitting and walking meditation, followed by a brief contemplative reading and tea. Mindfulness meditation is an experiential practice that is known through doing. A few times each year they offer Learn to Meditate, a three-hour program that is suitable for beginners or anyone who wishes to refresh their understanding of the view and practice.Basic instruction is also available at the Thursday evening meetings.

Find out more at

September 2014

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A couple months ago, I read in The New York Times about an installation by artist Sophie Calle on view at an upper east side Manhattan church, a sacred location for artwork created as a eulogy in honor of the artist’s deceased mother. The woman named Rachel selected the inscription, “I’m bored already,” for her own tombstone. She also left parting words to those gathered around her at the end: “Ne vous fruites pas de souci.” This translates to English as “don’t worry." 

Concurrently, I had been playing around with a new mixed media piece, mounting and altering a battered painting by an unknown artist I confiscated from the trash. The curious "outsider art” beckoned to be re-purposed. After taking away and adding bits, I stenciled the pinwheel form that called out for Rachel’s words.

What is more human than worry? After all, there is no shortage of things to fret over–the mind can’t help itself. Worry does not seem to improve problematic situations. Or does it? Maybe the ongoing thought about the hows and whys may lead us to uncover conclusions and solutions otherwise hidden.


Spoken words offered before or after a last breath connect to the mystery of life. I am now reminded that after reading Mona Simpson’s memoir about her half-brother, Steve Jobs, I painted his parting words…


My “Do Not Worry” painting has me wondering about famous last words.


A bit of research has turned up a few good ones…

Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.

Oscar Wilde Writer, 1900


Get my swan costume ready.

Anna Pavlova, Ballerina, 1931


Nothing matters. Nothing matters.

Louis B. Mayer, Film Producer, 1957


Why not? Yeah.

Timothy Leary, Professor, 1996


I must go in, the fog is rising.

Emily Dickinson, Poet, 1886


Love one another.

George Harrison, Musician, 2001


I hope the exit is joyful and hope to never come back.

Frida Kahlo, Artist, 1954


You see, this is how you die.

Coco Chanel, 1971


What is the answer? In that case, what is the question? 

Gertrude Stein, Writer, 1946


Sometimes the need for words dissolves. Musician Lou Reed left us last year with only his gesturing hands practicing the “water-flowing 21-form” of Tai-Chi.

July 2014

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#lastwords, #art #patpendleton

A work in progress...ART STUDIO

A place for materials, work surfaces, and inspirational objects—a place with walls to display, chairs to sit upon, books and images to read (just finished Austin Kleon’s SHOW YOUR WORK: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered) and look at. A place with windows helps. Although my first studio was a dark tiny sewing corner in the basement of my childhood home, I had a spacious basement studio decades later that always felt too dark and unappealing. 

Social commentator, Fran Lebowitz, sums up the history of art as “sitting in bars smoking cigarettes.” I’m adapting that to say…for anyone still engaged in the tradition of paint, paper, and canvas, spending a lot of time inside the studio is the only way to get anything done. It helps to like being in the room.


After creating new work for three shows during the first part of this year, I was left with the need to clean and rearrange my studio—throw away stuff to make room for something new—clear space to store the returning work. The dark side of the artistic process is the accumulation of physical stuff–storage.


What is the environment where art comes from? Seeing an artist’s studio is like peeking behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain. Sometimes the art reflects the place where it is made–other times, there is incongruity. I saw my first artist studio during an art department field trip to New York in 1974. We visited the spare, clean room where Agnes Martin created her minimalist paintings. This was not work I understood or aspired to, but I had an important glimpse into the relationship between workplace and art that had to soak in for a long time.

The next year in San Francisco, I created my own studio in the bedroom of my Mission District flat using wood fruit crates. I began to see all kinds of enviable art studios, places of mystery and possibility. In 1980 I walked through Cindy Sherman’s downtown Manhattan loft with a mutual acquaintance who was staying there for awhile. I was struck by all the cool vintage items laying about, including the black and white photos of a doctor and nurse in a pair of hinged dime store gold frames that were  her art at the time–a soulful mess of a place that was miles apart from the recent Architectural Digest spread.

My fifth floor walk-up in the East Village was a fine art studio until my boyfriend moved in…so for $1 a square foot I rented 300 in a newly renovated building of studios on lower Broadway. I eventually discovered that I need to live and work in the same place. For a year in Denver I lived in a very nice loft with art studio space and windows overlooking the city, but paying the rent required working 60 hours a week so there was little art made there.

I have moved a lot and always manage to carve out a work area, but it has never been quite right until landing here a few year after moving back to Buffalo nine years ago. It’s not perfect, but it is quite good. Patti Smith has been telling artists to forget New York. Find other cities like Detroit or Buffalo where space is more affordable. She is right.


Some artists need little space to do their work. More and more contemporary artists use what they have, create on the computer, or on the streets. The idea of the lone artist toiling away in a special room is kind of old fashion, but the romantic image of that remains appealing. I saw the play “Red” when it appeared in Buffalo a couple months ago. The production furthers the archetype of the tortured painter in his studio before a beckoning canvas. In this case, we find abstract expressionist painter, Mark Rothko, in constant dialogue with his earnest assistant. Rothko told him that art is about thinking. The artist ponders and prepares–the action is not the whole story.


Anthropologist Joseph Campbell wrote: “To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.” Essentially, this is the function of the art studio.

June 2014

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Starlight Gallery

April 29 - May 23, 2014

Sara Zak states: “The concept and execution of these paintings is realism with abstraction woven into its fabric; or alternatively, it is the memory of a reality that is constantly altered by newly formed thoughts and experiences – an abstraction of reality necessitated by the condition of living in a forward motion.“

Ever since action painters of the post-WWII years rejected representation in favor of non-objective art, others have insisted upon both. While some view the abstract canvas as a residue of an active painting process, others use the gestures of mark and drip to stretch the known language of art history to express new personal narratives. Zak takes inspiration from painters Richard Diebenkorn and Philip Guston, who both turned away from pure abstraction to invite figuration and representation into their work during the 1960s.

A leader in the local arts community as a frequent contributor to group shows, an organizer of exhibitions and events, and a founding member of the Painting for Preservation group, she is known for proficient works of post-industrial urban environments. An instructor of oil painting and portraiture at Buffalo Arts Studio, the artist features here her evolving works of figurative abstraction in oil paintings on canvas and framed mixed media works on paper.

Even Jackson Pollock argued against descriptions of his work as non-figurative and claimed that all his marks are figures. Whenever modern art has taken a turn away from representation, artists seem to gravitate back there. We find meaning through the forms of our phenomenal world. After a period during the 1970s when much of the contemporary art scene had been focused on minimalism, performance, and conceptual art, New Image painting emerged as primitive figures began turning up in the work of Neo-Expressionist artists.

Post-modern contemporary artists draw upon all the earlier traditions and add ingredients as they wish into the alchemy of their art practice. Zak works with medium, motion, and image in painterly canvases of creamy fields of subdued color and line–shadowy areas that are never dark or muddy. The process of discovery is apparent, as if arriving at these destinations by surprise.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” wrote 19th Century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Sometimes the speed of that forward motion keeps understanding away—first we must stop. The Futurism art movement of the early 20th Century was marked by an effort to give formal expression to motion. This is exemplified in “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash,” an interpretation of the walking motion of a dog on a leash, a painting by Giacomo Balla that is frequently on view at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. Similar suggestions of moving figures are seen in Zak’s suspended motion works. Some depict children engaged within uncertain environments. The provocative and poetic titles direct the viewer toward a way of seeing, such as “a circle is not absurd” or “the world was waiting.”


The largest canvases are dreamy industrial views. “This is the time, laid bare, coming into existence” presents an ominous blue and brown industrial interior of massive columns, deep hallway, and reflective watery floor.


The mixed media series “Buffalo Roma I-IX” are bright bold works that seem to promise more. The artist departs from literal figuration in these primordial expressions of energetic moments. They are easy to imagine on a large scale—possibly pointing to the direction of future Sara Zak canvases.


April 2014

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Interior Realities:

Paintings and Monoprints by Jane Bergenn at C.G. Jung Center Gallery through March 4th

The exhibition statement includes a quote from 20th Century Swiss artist, Alberto Giacometti:

“Art interests me very much but truth interests me infinitely more.“


………………….PURE BEING (Detail)

Jane Bergenn’s paintings point to the essence (truth) of things as they are. Upon entering the gallery rooms housed in a Victorian flat on Franklin Street by the oldest tree in Buffalo, you will find a sense of comfort and peace. The walls glisten with color and light. At first glance, the  large rectangular paintings may appear to be tiles, stained glass, quilts, or ancient remains. She paints expressionistic renditions of elemental forms on playing card or postcard sized papers. Each canvas is mounted with several dozen of the tile-like paintings to create a whole of repetitive imagery–geometric mantras of vessel, statuary, pyramid, circle, and spiral. The artist’s "Interior Realities” seem to embrace chaos in a process of methodical order.


…………………….TOWARD THE ONE (Detail)

“Happiness is the longing for repetition,” wrote author Milan Kundera. There is something innately pleasing in the balance and harmony found in the repetition of triangles, circles, squares and rectangles. Chaos is a form of order that lacks predictability—pattern offers the comfort of knowing what’s ahead. Geometric art has been employed by artisans since Greek and Roman antiquity. Repeat patterning and ornamentation is found in abundance in the art of Islamic cultures. Minimalist and conceptual artists since1960 have utilized repetition and geometric forms. The work of sculptor, Eva Hesse, humanized the precision of this approach. Her introspective process of repeating and accumulating basic shapes became a way to consider the relationships between forms and enlarge an idea for the purpose of expressing an interior state. Bergenn’s work is aligned with this lineage.

It is also informed by many years of contemplative practices, such as meditation, yoga, and qigong. She explains her work as an attempt to document how contemplative practices require her to “pattern into” herself a state of surrender. The paintings may appear to be an assembly of similar creations, yet a closer look reveals an array of difference. Each individual work is built with layers of vibrant tones, metallic sheen, and texture—watery hues bleed from the edges to stain the mounted canvas.


………………SOUND OF THE BELL (Detail)

The artist’s process of painting the same image over and over bestows it with weight, but there is no hidden trickiness. The imagery simply appears and dissolves in her variations on a theme, as if decaying in time. She incorporates figures found in statuary forms of Buddha (the awakened one) and Prajnaparamita (representative of the highest form of wisdom). The painting titled “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form” reflects a fundamental point of view found in eastern Buddhist culture. Jane Bergenn’s brush chants this theme in other titles, such as “Dissolution of Form,” “Emanating from Within,” and “Tides of Being.” The paintings tap into the magical hum of ordinary existence that is human life.


February 2014…

Flash Fiction...BREAKING EGGS

6th Annual Members’ Writing Contest & Reading


February 6, 2014

“Paleo was the most googled diet of two thousand thirteen. Did you hear that show on NPR?”

Claire tends to a pan of sizzling bacon as Dean ponders a crossword puzzle.

“I’m all for more bacon and eggs.”

She removes items from the refrigerator and imagines curried egg salad and Fritatta made from the Alice Waters cookbook. He fiddles with the radio antenna to ease the static and turns it off.


“What is an odorous residue—seven words ending in V-I-A-L?”

Claire never liked crossword puzzles, but likes helping him while doing other things.

“Stench? Of course not.”

“No. E-F-F-L-U-V-I-A-L. That’s it. There was an effluvial quality in the Army Navy store my Dad took me to as a young boy. I still remember that smell of men—a mix of gunsmoke, tobacco, and gasoline.”

Dean has a habit of reading out loud to Claire from the newspaper, books, magazines, or food labels. The ongoing journey into all this information is both enjoyable and draining. “Skinny paper this week–listen to my horoscope. ‘You know what the greatest tragedy is in the whole world? It’s all the people who never find out what it is they want to do or what it is they are good at or who they can be. Take heed if that description applies to you even a little bit, Libra.’ No, Mr. Astrology. The real tragedy is not getting paid to do what you are good at. Otherwise, maybe it’s best not to know in the first place. Some will never be paid for any work at all. Don’t get me started.”

The growing income gaps is one of their pet gripes and frequent topics of conversation—all roads seem to lead back there. Claire moves about the galley kitchen of the loft like a dancer. She leaps from stove to sink to fridge and back again. Listening to him read from the other side of the oak table, she lifts an egg from the green foam dozen pack. Dean has moved on to the local news page and recites:

“Here comes the egg-breaker, the entrepreneur. His job is to crack the handout paradigm.”

Claire grabs a paper towel.

“Crack it with ‘Basic Income Guarantee.’ Everybody gets $1500 at the start of the month—like in the Monopoly game. Wait…Did you just say egg-breaker?”

“Yeah, talk’in about the richest guy in Buffalo.”

“What is an Egg-breaker?”

“Somebody willing to take a risk.”

“Look at this, Dean. I broke an egg just as you said the word egg-breaker.”

He put down paper and glances under the table at the blob of yellow with white chips of shell on the wood floor.

“What are the chances of that?”

Claire mops up the mess with a paper towel and cracks another into the bowl. “I can’t remember the last time I did that. The egg slipped out of my hand just as you said egg-breaker.”

She dishes out the sautéed cabbage, crisp bacon, and scrambled eggs.

“Here’s your caveman food. Too bad the only things that we hunt and gather are found at AmVet’s or Goodwill.”

Dean places his palms together as if to pray and offers up their usual grace.

“Bon Appetite!”

Claire could not let go of this egg-breaking moment. She would have to unravel all the possible threads of meaning and synchronicity.

“If our lives were woven into a movie, we would see ourselves in flashback scenes as two strangers circling the same territory of Manhattan during the 1980s…sitting on the steps of The Met, drinking Rolling Rock at Puffy’s, eating blintzes at Kiev. The scenes would dial forward through your time in Texas and my time in Colorado to arrive at our unlikely alignment in Buffalo. The flashbacks would always return to this table with shots of snow flying across the window in the background. What do you think about the title, Sixty-Something?”

He pushed aside his plate to flip open the android notepad.

“Okay, Melanie Mayron. The title makes me nostalgic for Thirty-Something. Two wives and five kids later—way too much to slog through before winding up in this moment.”Claire wonders about the precise motives for doing anything. She loved the beauty and light of Colorado–the exact reasons for moving back to Buffalo have become vague. Back then, she suspected that she was literally dying, a perception that has proven to be mistaken. More likely, the particular arrangement of the life she found herself in had lost relevance.

“We say someone ‘winds up’ somewhere. Is it wind up like a toy or old watch that simply ticks out the minutes? After all, there is cause and effect. We act and the universe responds. Somebody actually brought you here, Dean, and you stayed. I brought myself back to a place I had no intention of ever returning to.”

Dean looks up from the screen and grabs the crossword puzzle.

“Help me get this last one. What is destiny—four letters ending in an E?”

Claire carries plates to the sink.

“FATE–synchronicity’s lazy cousin. When you believe that life is either predetermined or random, happy coincidence is nothing more than serendipity. Synchronicity is a play of energies—thought, intuition, intention, and action. Look at us. Our lives moved in parallel lines until they crossed and overlapped. Then I broke an egg and entanglement ensued.”

Dean shook his head as he gets up to pour more coffee into their yellow mugs.

“Hmmm. You broke an egg?“

“I invited you over for dinner.”

“Well, that was pretty unexpected.“

“You see, cause and effect.”

“Highly effective…and I am still here.”

February 2014

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Book Review...THE NEW NORMAL

Republic of Outsiders: The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers, and Rebels

By Alissa Quart

The New Press, New York/London, 2013

The lexicon of the English language seems to include new terminology each week—locavore, selfie, bitcoin, hacker, hashtag, buzzworthy, and so on. Discover a collection of new terminology that is entering the language stream as literary journalist, Alissa Quart, takes the reader on a tour of various movements that have emerged in recent years. This growing “counter public” has found a voice and sense of belonging through special interest groups that have flourished through online communities. Strong alliances have evolved due to the explosion of blogging as a tool for self-expression and resistance. She weaves together her conversations, interviews, and research to paint a vivid picture of how the popularity of these movements re-frames ordinary life to include the entire range of all that resides between the edge and center of the mainstream. Once invisible outsiders, these individuals have found a place in our culture that is no longer beyond the fringe. 


The vision of a nomadic seeker who did not fit into society was the popular view of an outsider years ago. A character in Anne Rice’s “Exit to Eden” asks:

“What does all this mean finally, I kept asking like a college kid. Why does it make me want to cry? Maybe it’s that we are all outsiders, we are all making our own unusual way through a wilderness of normality that is just a myth.”

The now out-of-date term, subculture, originated during the 1930s when those seeking a different way of life under the radar simply accepted their minority status—the identities of hobo, drifter, and beatnik followed this model. By the late 1970s, the world had seen the radical, hippie, and punk. Those on the fringe were identified as having “subcultural style.” Unlike mainstream style, SS was readymade for public consumption, it was a creative fabrication—an act of self-expression. There was an underground of experience that was not easy to find out about–you just had to be there. Now, curiosity seekers can be a voyeur of blogs and vlogs without diving into the pool of experience–find their own level of belonging.The author investigates several counter-publics in chapters titled Beyond Sanity, Beyond Hollywood, Beyond Mass Market, and other beyonds.

The Icarus Project, Mindfreedom, and other groups that refer to themselves as Mad Priders refuse  to be defined by mental health diagnoses, such as Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. These unlikely agitators claim that peer counseling is akin to the solar power of mental health. Their motto is “friends make the best medicine.” They aim to navigate the space between brilliance and madness. Greek mythology tells about a boy named Icarus flew to great heights (brilliance), but came too close to the sun and hurled to his death (madness). Given the rapid growth of mental health diagnoses among one in four American adults and an increase in antidepressant prescriptions by forty-eight percent between 1995 and 2002, these communities promote healthy skepticism and community instead of pharmaceutical solutions.

Quart’s chapter, Beyond Feminism, examines the activism around gender rights as gender-variant and gender-fluid individuals have gained attention on college campuses. Some insist upon being defined as gender-neutral. Transwomen have aligned themselves with the history of women’s rights as transfeminists.

The2013 edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” has altered the way Autism and Aspergers Syndrome are viewed. Once considered two distinctly different conditions, there is now Autism Spectrum Disorder, a continuum of symptoms that merges both. An Autism blogger explains: “I don’t have Autism, I am autistic in the same way as I do not have femaleness—I am a woman.” These so-called neurodiverse individuals have highly overwhelming sensory experiences. They are not ill or disabled. They prefer to be recognized as having useful qualities, despite any perceived weirdness. People with autistic qualities are found in geek career fields, such as engineering, mathematics, and computer programming. Often confused with artiness, shyness, and introversion—autistic qualities are often confused with compulsive and anxious behaviors–assessments do not properly capture the mind of the autistic individual. Although twenty-five percent of those diagnosed with Autism have no language ability, the author investigates how the other seventy-five percent of the autism community favor acceptance for being different over a push for any kind of cure.

Outside the mainstream of blockbuster filmmaking, the world of independent film includes “termite art,” a phrase coined by critic, Manny Farber. “Termite, tapeworm, fungus, and moss art goes always forward eating its own boundaries—it leaves nothing in its path other than signs of eager, industrious unkempt activity.” The crews on these projects have no top-down hierarchy.  They have disdain for auteurism and the idea of a single visionary working alone. They favor unconventional storytelling using new filmmaking software, cheap DSLR cameras, non-professional actors, video-sharing sites, and transmedia.  An example of this aesthetic is the movie, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Quart also examines more do-it-yourself movements throughout music, craft, and agriculture. A decade ago, Steve Jobs proposed to have every piece of music ever recorded available on Apple’s iTunes store. The abundance of recorded music now available for online streaming is good for the consumer, but less so for the artist. Many are protecting the integrity of their work by saying no to copyright and compensation infringement issues by embracing a DYI approach. Fans of the Grateful Dead once entered into a collective experience with the band. Deadhead fans spread the word about upcoming shows—they gifted one another mixed tapes, bootlegs, badges, and buttons in a grassroots form of sharing economy that has simply been upgraded through technology.

Today, singer Amanda Palmer symbolizes the new power of fans to fund an artist’s work using the quiet revolution occurring in the sharing economy of Kickstarter. There is no need to allow the lack of financing to stop you when friends, fans, and supportive others are willing to donate small amounts that can add up quickly. Palmer raised $1.2 million dollars to record an album. Folk rock artist, Jill Sobule raised $75,000 in just fifty-four days. “I’ve turned my stalkers into people who work for me,” she explains. Those who donate $5000 receive a concert performed in their living room. Givers of $500 are promised the mention of their name in a upcoming song.

Visual artists and crafters find independence within a capitalist model on sites like Etsy, where the producers of cool original handmade items are connected with consumers. Urban farmers, beekeepers, cheese makers, and all manner of the “agriculturati” are breaking down the borders between making and consuming to a place where it is all fun.

The urge to communicate has never been greater during this time of 24/7 forums available on the screen. There are no outsiders in Alissa Quart’s view of counter public of amateurs, rebels, or dreamers. Anyone with a particular agenda is invited to unite and gain strength within empowering groups that offer an elevated identity and place in the world.

November 2013

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Alain de Botton and John Armstrong

Phaidon Press

London/New York, 2013

239 pages

Google the phrase “What is art for?” and there are close to three million essays, quotes, and attempts to address this question. The authors of this book propose that art has a clear function as a therapeutic tool to help us lead more fulfilled lives. De Botton is known for his previous nonfiction book, “How Proust Can Change Your Life.” While the themes of that one are centered around the discovery of wisdom through personal journey, “Art as Therapy” aims to shorten the long tedious process of self-understanding into a magic bullet cure. Part coffee table art appreciation book and part self-help manual, it exemplifies a post new age culture that delivers quick-fix bromides of positive thinking and pureed dollops of wisdom.


Anyone who has read pop psychology books or other personal development guides is familiar with the format of breaking down ideas into small bites by  naming three of this or five of that—seven of anything is especially common. De Botton and Armstrong favor the number seven. They define “Seven Functions of Art” and the “Seven Psychological Frailties” that harness the particular issues of the mind and emotion that people have the most trouble with. Seven Functions of art are identified as remembering, hope, sorrow, re-balancing, self-understanding, appreciation, and growth.

When I was training to become an art therapist, we read Shaun McNiff’s 1992 book, “Art as Medicine: Creating a Therapy of the Imagination.” The message of this approach encourages individual self-expression as a tool for healing—using the art making activity as a process for self-awareness. During 2011, well-known painter, Alexander Melamid, opened a Soho storefront called Art Healing Ministry. While this venture appeared to be a spoof, it was both conceptual art and healing practice. He placed the fine arts alongside alternative healing approaches, such as religion, yoga, or astrology. Melamid presented his methods to the public with all seriousness. He offered Art Evaluation & Immersion, as well as Art Rejuvenation & Maintenance. This was not a method of becoming a creative artist—rather, it utilized existing artworks as elixirs.  Feeling down? The cure might be a projection of Vermeer’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” onto the palm of your hand. Allow art into the bloodstream—invite art into the psyche.

De Botton and Armstrong are not so clinical. They are simply concerned that too many people leave museums and galleries feeling bewildered and inadequate. They are not offering art as medicine so much as providing an educational view that is designed to instill greater self-understanding and maybe even improve one’s love life. In fact, Botton suggests a modern gallery floor plan that addresses human emotion by asking the curator to wear the Shaman’s hat–arrange works in groupings to address suffering, compassion, fear, love, and self-knowledge.

The notion of “art for art’s sake” rejects the idea that there might be anything to take from visual art beyond mysteriousness. I have always subscribed to this view, knowing that there is also meaning available for the taking, but the viewer may find something quite different than the artist. The authors regard art as a tool to extend human capacities and compensate for inborn weaknesses–a therapeutic medium to guide and enable us to become better versions of ourselves. The book features sections on how to identify good art, how to study art, and how to display art. The authors review how to read art for technical value, political value, historical value, shock value, or therapeutic value.

The book contains 141 images of artwork spanning the centuries to illustrate how to think about art as therapy and defend their premises. They emphasize the importance of looking at art as a way to bolster our feelings of cheerfulness and hope to counteract the onslaught of troubles and bad news that we are subjected to daily. Hopefulness might be generated by looking at Matisse’s “Dance II,” a familiar 1909 painting of nude figures dancing hand-in-hand in a circle against a blue and green background.  Sorrow might be pondered as an emotion built into the construct of life by viewing Richard Serra’s “Fernando Pessoa,” a massive dark steel sculpture from 2008.  Art has the potential to change us us by arousing enthusiasm. The antidote for a tightly wound schedule may be a bit of gazing at the colorful, emotion-packed, self-reflective paintings by Frieda Kahlo. Qualities of universal mind and character may be found in looking at collaged and assembled boxes of Joseph Cornell. Practice appreciating the mundane through a 1960 sculpture called “Painted Bronze,” by Jasper Johns, featuring two Ballantine beer cans.

An exploration of “Love” is given fifteen pages of attention. Leonardo deVinci’a “Studies of a Fetus” from 1512 point to the curiosity required in order to love. Look at Manet’s lush 1880 painting, “Bunch of Asparagus” to be reminded that there is good and beautiful beneath the layers of habit and routine. Other explored topics are nature, money, and patience. Why is the Mona Lisa so compelling? She has the face of vast experience and serenity and gives off the sense of a human being who is aware of all sorts of eventualities and dynamics in other people and still be fond of them. Isn’t this the kind of affection most of us long for? Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait has haunted people since 1506, a reminder of human emotion.

Why do we need this approach to art? The authors are articulate in their explanations, but will their point-of-view really lead to greater self-understanding? Will this wisdom lead to greater happiness or greater confusion? The authors assure the reader that cultivating appreciation for objects of art will lead to appreciation of oneself (self-knowledge) and likely even a better world. Culture keeps us human. “Art as Therapy” is a high-quality publication that might hit just the right note for anyone yearning to find a better connection to their art-viewing experience.

While instructive and interesting, the tone may feel patronizing to experienced art lovers. Still, anyone who frequents art exhibitions will likely take away some insights. Consider the wide field of art in 2014. We seem to have more artists than ever due to the popularity of college Fine Arts programs during the last thirty years. Assigning greater value (art as therapy) to the vast collections housed in museums and galleries is timely. Works by individual artists can lose appeal over time, especially now that so much of our daily experience is mediated on a screen of visual overload–public art, murals, and community-based participatory projects are immediate and user-friendly. Redefining what art is good for is a worthy task. De Botton and Armstrong show us that added value and purpose may be found at the therapeutic crossroads between art object and personal psychology.  

January 2014

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A Crowd of Small Metamorphoses:

New Work by Sara Zak at 464 Gallery

Opening December 27, 2013 for just one week…

Buffalo has been gifted with a chance to visit the grand paintings of German artist Anselm Kiefer at the Albright Knox. At a time when contemporary art is media-oriented and works on canvas have fallen out of favor, we are reminded that there is a reason that painting remains vital. At its best, the act of looking touches your nervous system—not your brain. Picasso claimed that “some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.”  Sara Zak captures this kind of aliveness that invites a long gaze.


………………………………………………..YELLOW AS MUD

While aligned with the tradition of painting that is hundreds of years old, her point-of-view is clearly of the 21st century. She recently posted online a quote by Alyssa Monks:  “I chased realism until it began to unravel and deconstruct itself. I am exploring the possibility and potential where representation and abstraction meet—if both can co-exist in the same moment.” Zak’s new work is an investigation of this challenge.

Since completing a BFA degree at SUNY Buffalo, she is has been an active participant and leader in the local arts community as frequent contributor to group shows, an organizer of exhibitions and events, and a founding member of the Painting for Preservation group. Known for proficient works of post-industrial urban environments, her approach ranges from classical realism to pure abstraction.

Some artists prefer to remain within in the safety of a successful style–Zak is not afraid to experiment. Many of us peered through her interactive site-specific viewing station made from an assembly of coffee cans at ELAB’s City of Night in August. Last year, she created a remarkable replica of the famous Odalisque by 19th century painter, Ingres, in order to splash it with a wash of white paint for her piece in the annual Hallwalls Artists and Models show.

The work on view later this week has been inspired by “Nausea,” a book published in 1938 by the philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. The main character embodies the quest for truth and a feeling of angst that arises as he searches for meaning and discovers only the existential shape-shifting nature of human experience. A multitude of small changes within can lead us to a condition of internal revolution. Sara Zak is painting her way through this process. She is an emerging artist to watch.

December 2013

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Ghost Dreams: Poems by Trudy Stern

2013, 33 pages

Local Color Editions/Buffalo

 Local Color Editions designs and publishes artful broadsides that feature poems by the Buffalo literary community. Last March, a 33-page chapbook of 13 poems by Trudy Stern was introduced at the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair.

A frequent contributor to poetry anthologies and a known reader at local events, her “Ghost Dreams” opens to a memoir of verse that paints a picture of family, friends, and the seasons of domestic life. A few classic mid-century childhood snapshots of the poet add a visual sense of the girl behind the words happily engaging with her world—playing cowgirl, walking on Elmwood, carrying a pink purse while pedaling a tricycle.


Each of the 100 limited edition copies is signed and numbered by the author. I finally purchased a copy at a recent afternoon reading in Indigo Gallery during the Infringement Festival and asked a friend to read it aloud to me during one sitting. I heard the language of the poet filtered through the ghosts and dreams of memory, heart, and time as the details of loss and gain stand whole.

Western New York is rich with family, place, and history. Many weave their lives in and out of parental homes, rooted in the various neighborhoods that give our city character. Ms. Stern’s storied decades capture this tradition in reflections about growing up in North Buffalo. The influence of her expressive family comes alive in the fine points of celebratory gatherings in the pink kitchen, piano lessons, show business, and spaghetti picnics.  

The ghostly muse is everywhere–in the garden, the wind, and all the intersections of daily life. Featured in the book is “Karen Neuberger,” the first poem I ever heard her read a few years ago at Hallwalls. The humorous rant poses curious questions about an unknown woman whose name appears on the white satin label of cotton underwear once purchased at Marshall’s discount store.  

The book dedication reads “For MM, My True Love.” The author has collaborated with Michael Morgulis since the 1970s when she was known as Trudy Dreamer. The pair illustrated and published folios of broadsides for the inaugural Just Buffalo readings. Some of the early works were included last winter in the Albright Knox exhibition,“Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970s.”

Hand-bound with red thread, the beautifully-crafted artist book was designed and printed on creamy textured paper by Morgulis in his Hertel Avenue shop. The cover features one of his colorful prints suggestive of a female figure. The pages are delightful. Don’t miss the hidden photo under the cover’s back flap, a shot of the poet and her collaborator taken in 1975.

August 2013

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Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir

By Cyndi Lauper and Jancee Dunn

2012, 352 pages

Atria Books

Anyone who has ever stepped onto a dance floor in the last 30 years has likely moved to sound of Cyndi Lauper’s anthem for post-feminist girl-power. The 1983 breakout hit was actually inspired by her mother and aunts who never had a chance to follow their dreams. “Girls Just Want to have Fun” was just the first of her many hit songs themed around not giving up and self-acceptance. The way of the artist is to keep “dreaming up things,” she says. Known as a flamboyant tough-talker with an  squeaky New York accent, Lauper has clearly lived her philosophy throughout her evolving career. Her style has been toned down a bit as she traded in her cartoonish and offbeat fashion for tasteful and classy clothing more in line with old Hollywood glamour than funky bohemian. Her most recent accomplishment at age 60 is receiving a Tony award for the music and lyrics she wrote for the long-running Broadway musical, “Kinky Boots.”


A well-written personal story has universal truths and a point of view from a particular time in history.  I have a fondness for baby boomer celebrity memoirs, but I was slightly embarrassed to be caught by an acquaintance as I checked this one out at the Crane Library on Elmwood. Surprisingly, the book is more than the amusing summer read I expected. A complex story of a woman who began like many of us and grew up during the cultural changes of the 1960s, Lauper’s tale unravels her ordinary girlhood in Ozone Park, Queens through the twists and turns of an artistic life and enduring career.

Her mother worked as a waitress, but shared a love for music, art, and drama that became Lauper’s lifeline. She began her studies at the High School of Fashion Industries with plans to work in the garment district, but dropped out early when she left home to escape an abusive stepfather. In 1970, Lauper was a budding feminist artist. She departed Queens with just a few personal items and a copy of “Grapefruit,” Yoko Ono’s radical instructions for living. She read Thoreau’s “Walden,” traveled in Canada, and lived in Vermont. Through all of it, she played her guitar and wrote songs as she cultivated her signature sound.  A fan of the same music of many other young people of that time–Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Motown Lauper began her performing career in a short-lived folk duo called “Spring Harvest.” This led to many late nights singing with rock cover bands–too many nights singing “White Rabbit.” Back in New York, her first “real” band was called Blue Angel. They played at Gildersleeves, a club she describes as “a corny rock place,” but it was just down the street from the infamous CBGB’s.

She had an apartment on the Upper East Side and worked at a five & dime store. During this era of the late 1970s, Lauper began to craft her vintage fashion style by shopping at the well-known thrift shores, Trash & Vaudeville and Screaming Mimi’s, where she had a job for awhile. She attributes the clothing of her childhood as a big influence on her style and sound. At her aunt’s home on Long Island, the women wore mumus by day and cocktail dresses by night at boisterous neighborhood barbeques in backyards decorated with strings of paper lanterns—music blasting. “We lived large in a way that people who really live large don’t,“ she says. "There’s a spice, a richness, a joy that working class people have–even though we were products of misery, we still had vibrance.”

Blatant sexism was alive and well in the music business during the 1980s. She recalls Bob Dylan giving her a compliment about a recent performance and told her “I would have you in my band and that’s saying a lot because I don’t like chicks in bands.” Her motto became “Surround and conquer” when she began diversifying as a survival tactic to secure her success. Partnering with pro wrestlers may have appeared to many as a strange career move, but it expanded opportunities that paid off.  She explains…”If you just stick to one thing, whoever the gatekeepers are in that field have the power to stop you.” This strategy has been adopted widely and remains good advice for today. Lauper has had numerous top-selling recordings through the decades, including True Colors, Change of Heart, and Memphis Blues. She created elaborate videos for MTV that included family and friends—even her mother. Eventually, she was replaced on that channel by the younger up and coming acts. Lauper has appeared on television and film–won an Emmy for her role on “Mad About You.” She has been married to actor David Thornton since the 1990s after meeting him on the set of a 2009 film, “Here and There.” The arrival of a child during her mid-40s was an unexpected joy. Their son, Declyn, was named after Elvis Costello (aka Declyn McManus)

Despite her celebrity, Lauper remains a bit starstruck for other performers she has worked with, such as Tina Turner and Cher. They all appeared together in a VH1 2000 special called “Divas Live.” As an established diva, she is openly supportive of younger performers, such as Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj who follow her lead in making themselves into paintings with their costumes and poses.  Her audience has always been “the sad people,” underdogs and quirky types. She has aimed to offer a bit of healing to them through her songs. Lauper is most proud of activism work for AIDS and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community in conjunction with her older sister. She has become a tireless supporter of fundraising and helped establish The True Colors Fund and residence for LGBT homeless youth in Harlem.

Her recent work with the broadway show, “Kinky Boots,” the story about a drag queen who joins forces with a family shoe business to design footwear for cross-dressers has been her most meaningful creative work to date. I never owned a Cyndi Lauper record or CD. I did own music by Madonna, but I always appreciated her Lauper’s individuality. Included in the book are a number of snapshots of Cyndi Lauper as a child and young woman before her hit songs—photos much like anyone else’s family pics from that time. She is a real person, down-to-earth and experienced, a woman with a good story to tell…and it is fun to read.

August 2013

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I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography

Richard Hell

2013, 304 pages

Ecco/Harper Collins Publishing

Writer and musician, Richard Hell, is most known for his punk rock anthem, “Blank Generation,” lyrics that suggest many things, but evade explanation. The title was partially inspired by words of the poet, Andrew Wylie, “I’m a tramp—a trap—I’m a trap.” The author tells a story of self-invention and becoming, not only a recollection of events, but a rich point of view from the other side of the decades that defined the late 20th Century.


The Baby Boomers are turning out shelves of memoirs these days, but this one marks an art movement that continues to have an impact. His favorite form of play as a child was “running away.” Many of us can identify with the fantasy of other places and ways of being. Those of us who began life in the uplifted time of America during the late 1940s and early 1950s share a set of experiences specific to that time. Living through 1960s rock and roll, social unrest, and the Viet Nam War marked us. We observed the rise and fall of the peace and love youth movement. Exposed to a growing awareness of political corruption and an increasing flow of drug use, we entered adulthood in a time of alienation and numbing that wore away all illusions. Pop culture named the youth of the 1970s “The Me Generation.” Yet, according to the author, remaking oneself and the world was the imperative of our time.

Richard Hell takes the reader on a journey through his early days in Kentucky as Richard Meyers, the son of academic parents, to the discovery of himself as a unique individual through a series of self-fashioning moves.The author explains, “We know that we are constructed of time, not of sequence. I didn’t want to write about a person through time, but about time through a person.” Does our time shape us—or do we shape it? There was a window of time between Woodstock and MTV when soft rock and disco dominated the airwaves—a time when an actual underground was still possible. Although there was plenty of media pointing the way, immediacy was still lacking. The alternative music scene of that era was announced through word-of-mouth and mimeographed  posters pasted to walls. It was a time of original creativity outside the commercial art world.

The book is primarily a story of how Richard Hell became a defining creator of the 1970s punk rock music in New York. Malcolm McLaren credits him as the source of inspiration for his British punk band, The Sex Pistols. Richard Hell is also responsible for the rising notoriety of the Bowery nightclub, CBGB (Country, Blue Grass, and Blues), as he initiated the stage as the top venue for punk and new wave bands, such as The Ramones, Television, The Dead Kennedys, Patti Smith, The B-52s, Blondie, Talking Heads, and others.The memoir reviews the author’s early life with his family—then paints a picture of the time just before the East Village was gentrified, a time when a unique assembly of artistry erupted.

At age 17, he ran away from prep school with his good friend, Tom Miller. After a bus journey to Florida and a bit of trouble, the boys were home with their parents. Richard never returned to school, though. Later that year in 1966, he boarded a bus to New York City and rented a room on Irving Place and picked up a job at a bookstore in order to begin his career as a writer. After completing high school and trying out college, Tom joined Richard in New York three years later. They shared an apartment and went out to hear the music of the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, and Modern Lovers. Eventually, Richard and Tom began to form their own band, Neon Boys—changed their names to Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine, chopped off their shaggy hair into short spikes, and dressed in clothing that was ripped, wrinkled, and pinned. The fashion trend that they haphazardly created continues to be mimicked 40 years later, a form of stylized rebellion. Neon Boys evolved into Television, and later on, The Heartbreakers. Eventually, Tom went his own way—Richard Hell and The Voidoids emerged. He reflects on that time with new awareness. “I look back at my behavior, my self-regard, and self-centeredness, as evidenced in interviews, and I am embarrassed. I took myself pretty seriously. I thought I was so smart. In my defense, I did try to be honest, and I questioned everything. But I was full of myself.”

The book has plenty of name-dropping and details about various musician-band relationships, friends, jobs and apartments—a dinner with Susan Sontag.  During the late 1970s, he appeared in feature films, “Final Reward” and “Blank Generation.”  A few years later, Susan Seidelman cast him in “Smithereens” and “Desperately Seeking Susan.” The story is spiced with a great number of girlfriends, including two years with Patty, an older and wiser woman, the ex-wife of pop artist Claes Oldenburg. He was married briefly to rocker Patty Smyth during 1985. They have daughter named Ruby.

His increasing dependence of drugs is the back story of this memoir, but the details of all that do not become tedious. He describes how by 1977 things stopped being about anticipation and potential. A fixed reality set in. His career was going well, but he was struggling with the addiction and reflects upon the reality: “Addiction does have an effect on an addict’s work. It reduces production and increases self-indulgence. A narcotics addict doesn’t demand as much of himself as he would if he were straight. If an interesting artist is very, very interesting, a reasonable amount of good work can be done, but it will be fragmentary and rambling and chances are there will be far more unrealized or abandoned projects than there would have been otherwise.”

He found his way to recovery when he began attending Narcotics Anonymous in 1984 and quit the music business. Richard Hell continues to write and live in the East Village of New York with Sheelagh Bevan, his wife of 12 years. He has published several books of essays and poetry, including two novels, “Go Now” (1996) and “Godlike” (2005). The book is thoughtful, well-written and engaging. Although the appeal may be limited to those with a special interest or connection to the downtown New York art and music scene of the 1970s to early 1980s, anyone who wishes to live vicariously through the pages of an artist’s experience will also enjoy taking a look.

June 2013

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Architecture as Art...THE WAY OF ELEGANCE

An “art-in” on the East Side of Buffalo with Painting for Preservation

Touching the beauty of weathered and worn places is an exercise in the practice of wabi-sabi, an ancient form that acknowledges three things–nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished. I experienced a bit of this at a saturday morning art-in. 

Walk a few houses east on Utica from the lively hub where the Metro Rail and Family Dollar converge on Main. On the north side of the street stand three queenly homes of the Victorian era. A wide driveway leads into an expansive shared back area. Numbers 36, 44, and 50 have faded paint in basic house paint colors–Sky blue and white, brick red and white, sandy beige and brown.


An assembly of artists and curiosity seekers surveyed the area around the three homes for picture-taking, painting, drawing. This was a time to appreciate what was and what might be again—capture some of the richness. Scaffolding and legal permits posted on the windows indicate that someone has staked a claim on reviving the residences. Perhaps they will once again be elegant “painted ladies” with colorful contrasting hues.

Large homes are not in demand anymore. They require constant maintenance. They are expensive to heat. We do not have families of eight children anymore. Affordable housing is what we need now. There are so many reasons why these grand homes have fallen into a state of disrepair. But step back a moment to see them in their glory–imagine a time when horse-pulled carts of ice and home goods frequented the premises. Inhabitants from large prominent families filled the rooms with voices, music, and laughter. They sat out on the porches in wicker rockers during warm months. Flowers bloomed in the beds below. Fragrant scents of baking and simmering wafted from the open kitchen windows. Fruit pies cooled on window sills. The back yard was a lush garden of tomatoes, corn, beans, and berries. A manicured lawn invited games of croquet and horseshoes. The family sat for summer meals on wooden benches around a long table under shady trees. They packed picnic lunches and loaded their Model T automobiles for day trips to the surrounding waters and countryside.

I wonder about the large boulders that edge the driveway. Who hauled them to Utica Street? Where did the pink-streaked rocks come from? Abandoned now, the surroundings are scattered with shattered glass, food wrappers, hypodermic needles, discarded personal items–glove, sock, jacket, pink plastic sunglasses. Squatters likely took shelter there once the renters left.


Satellite dishes mark the facades like a disease—evidence of dwellers during the past decade or so, a time of decline. Neighbors recall the scene of a brutal murder in number 44.

The morning event was a gathering of bicycles, folding chairs, easels, wide-brimmed hats. A

Chilly Billy Ice Cream

truck parked in front of the houses. Neighborhood children explored art materials offered by visiting artists. Minglers watched as artful renderings took shape.  

This Painting for Preservation art-in was an invitation to the community to recognize the character, beauty, and history in an unlikely block of the city. A chance to engage with the architecture and people is also a time to notice the endless array of invisibles—the details that are easily overlooked.

Quiet and serene at 8:30am, by noon, the block was bustling with the ordinary activity of dog walkers, baby buggies, strollers, and a stream of traffic moved along Utica. The morning resulted in a variety of artwork, new understanding and associations.

The row of empty houses received a good dose of attention through appreciation. They stand full of possibility. I took photos, sketched a bit, and took a few field notes–spent several hours on a block I previously might have avoided.   

April 2013

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Human Rights, Consciousness, Change

The highly-charged atmosphere at UB Center for the Arts on May 1st was a celebration and fundraiser to mark the 80th year of Planned Parenthood of Western New York. The large crowd was populated by men and women of all ages, but many were women of my era who witnessed the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and beyond.


The audience greeted the legendary featured speaker to the stage with a standing ovation. Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, editor, and feminist activist—an icon of the second wave of the women’s rights movement. She is most known as co-founder of Ms. magazine in 1972. The publication translated the feminist movement into print at a time when assumptions about the role of women was being challenged.

Feminism is many things, but it is generally concerned with a commitment to offering women the same rights as men and reorganizing society so that the well-being of people takes precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires.

I began to tune into this idea as a SUNY Oswego student in the early 1970s. For the first time, young women had an opportunity to step away from of the boundaries of traditional roles. Without a map, that was often confusing. Following traditions simplifies life—discovering personal freedom requires invention. Ms. magazine and feminist authors provided guidance. While marriage and motherhood after college was still the norm during the mid-1970s, the feminist view offered alternatives. Pursuit of personal development, work, and pleasure was suddenly an option.

The central issue then continues to be challenged today. Steinem’s talk revolved around reproductive freedom, as she considers this to be the most important human right—one that is not yet realized. The headline “Without Access, There is No Choice” sounds like one from 40 years ago, yet this appears on the cover of the Winter 2013 issue of Ms.

Margaret Sanger established the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn during 1916. The Family Relations Institute opened in 1933 on Niagara Street. The name was later changed to Planned Parenthood Center of Buffalo. Planned Parenthood of Western New York has now grown to offer preventative health care in five locations across the region and a mobile clinic.

“It’s not about biology—it’s about consciousness,” Steinem emphasized. Raising awareness is always the beginning of intentional change.

She touched on many topics during her brief time on stage, but she was especially hopeful about this very moment. She marks this as a historical moment. As the population continues to diversify, we are about to be free of white male hierarchy. The potential for hostile responses to this change also makes this a dangerous time.

“We are linked not ranked” seems to be the takeaway message from the evening talk.

During the Q&A, a “politically incorrect” question was posed in jest—something about how she manages to look so good. Focusing attention on the superficial appearance of an accomplished woman (or anyone) is highly unfeminist. The audience laughter indicated some shared curiosity.

At 79, Steinem maintains her signature mane of hair and youthful urban style. “I do what I love,” she answered and told the audience that she aspires to live to be 100.

“I live in the future,” she explained. “If we understand the why of things, we can change it.” Living with purpose is clearly good for longevity.

Gloria Steinem’s humanist and holistic view is refreshing. The audience buzzed with an uplifted mood as they streamed out into the balmy spring night.

I would have enjoyed hearing more insights and stories from “the battlefront.”What might she have to say about the impact of reproductive choice on a generation of women who are now aging? How are young women  (and men) integrating feminism into their 21st century lives?

The evolution of how we live together on the planet will continue to be an ongoing question for each one of us.

May 2013

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I took this photo of a Betty Woodman vessel from the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art a few years ago.


After viewing a recent exhibition,

The Four Woodmans

, at Nina Freudenheim Gallery in Buffalo, I wanted to know more about the curious family. After watching a documentary called

The Woodmans,

I wrote this piece…

The master potter said
If you have beautiful things to use,
it changes the kind of person you are.

Betty Woodman’s ceramics
inspired me
back in the 1970s
when I was learning
to turn lumps of clay into vessels.

She was married to George,
an abstract painter.
They raised their two children
in an artful world.
Early on,
they recognized the talents
of their precocious youngest child
when she picked up her first camera
and took off…
a fully-formed creator.

By the early 1980s,
I had traded clay
for pictures and paint.
As I floundered about
on the lower east side of New York
I began to see
that the life of an artist is fraught
with psychic risk.

Betty’s daughter lived just blocks away.
She was a few years younger,
but already a prolific photographer.
While the rest of us searched and discovered,
she had arrived at the heart of her work.
Haunting and mysterious portraits…
some nude–others draped
in flimsy dresses,
all floaty and disappearing
into dreamlike atmospheres.

At 22, Francesca Woodman’s work
embodied the spirit
of a young woman’s
creative life.
Ambitious and full of desire…
for romance and recognition
that did not come fast enough.

In 1981, she left behind her beautiful pictures
and a mountain of grief
when she leapt
from a window
to the other side.

The Woodmans were stunned,
but they had each other.
They had their son
and a strong work ethic…
enough to carry on.

George put aside painting
and read all 1200 Emily Dickinson poems.
Then he picked up a camera.
etty began crafting wall reliefs
in cheerful color and pattern.
Art healed the Woodmans
and they thrived
as this new work emerged.

the memory of Francesca
continues to burn bright
like a rock star
or movie icon.

A couple years ago
I dreamed that I was gathering
my belongings
to escape from a smoke-filled room
when I noticed
that pages of usernames and passwords
had been cut out from a notebook
by my laptop.

I looked out the window
and saw
the building across the street in flames.
A woman in a white nightgown
flung herself from an upper window
and drifted down to the pavement below…
a dream image in black and white
like a Francesca Woodman photograph.
No password required.

All art is about remembering and memory,
explains Betty Woodman.

She spent a year creating a masterpiece
for the American Embassy in Bejing
to celebrate the Olympics.

83 now,
Betty embodies lastingness
through memory and art.

Once again,
I am inspired.

April 2013

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