Life Without Art In A Pandemic – New Haven Independent

Posted: October 9, 2020 at 1:55 pm


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In some quarters - our condo, for example, on Orange Street attacks of mental numbness and weariness have been verified.

There is much, to be sure, that my wife Suzanne and I are grateful for, including that, though as seniors we qualify as high-risk Covid-19 candidates, we are at this moment still breathing. This, I know, is much more in the way of upbeat news than can be said in the abodes of so many other households near and far.

We do our best to keep spirits up, relishing the life around us. For it is only in the New Haven version of Connecticut where one can spot a pedestrian walking while reading a book, and occasionally looking over the printed page to check for any sidewalk peril: an unruly puppy straining on its leash, a sleep deprived new mom pushing her pram or simply a seriously uneven sidewalk. It is here at the outside tables of East Rock Coffee where a patrons stop for a cappuccino can be enhanced by chewy tidbits from nearby conversations about Carl Jung or the history of U.S. and China trade relations. We also know, though, that for all of the differences, there is one matter that has been universal in America: We have been infected by a pandemic of artlessness.

Physiologically speaking, no doctor would diagnose a disease caused by the closing of theaters, art galleries, concert halls, and the like. But there certainly is one. George Bernard Shaw was speaking in a conditional tense when he said, Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable. The question is no longer one of the conditional. We are there. Unbearability is the daily norm. We hate the news, but we are addicted to it, slurping up every morsel. This results in a cycle of heartlessness and even fear, with no art to restore us.

Our tickets, or our intent to purchase them, for Long Wharf, Yale Rep, the Shubert are now just fantasy. Nor do we need to shell out the token entry fee to high school musicals in which, though several members of the cast stumble around the stage, one or two teen prodigies steal the spotlight and remind us of the human miracle of natural talent. Yes, its the standing ovation at curtain call that I miss, when so many tears of joy the most wonderful tears run down my cheeks. Where is there a moment like that compare in the routine of life?

A couple of summers ago, at The Place, the outdoor rustic restaurant in Guilford, I saw at the next table a face I had never forgotten one that brought me tears of joy as a young man. It was the tiny Hollywood and stage performer Jane Powell, whose oversized blue eyes I saw decades ago even from the cheap seats in summer stock, as she played the female lead in Frank Loessers musical, The Most Happy Fella.

Youre not going to interrupt her dinner? Sue asked, guessing the worst, but she hadnt finished the sentence before Id jumped up from the tree stump that served as a chair and gone over to properly gush. Miss Powell, though by then in her advanced 80s, looked youthful, and those eyes were still luminous.

She seemed thrilled to be recognized. I told her that I remembered her performance in the Loesser musical, and she started talking about what a delight it was, and for a moment she and I were in that other world, far away from lobsters and grilled corn, somewhere, if not over the rainbow, at least in the vineyards of an Italian immigrant in the Napa Valley, trying to master English, singing, Happy to make you acquaintance, thank you so much Im a feel fine.

On reflection, our recent and seemingly giant abyss as lovers of art, theater and music is nothing, or course, compared to the suffering of those young and middle age people, who havent yet had the success of Miss Powell, and have few if any prospects for stage work, or even to make do on waitstaffs. There is a ton of muffled talent out there. And, as they suffer, so do we, because we dont have a chance to introduce ourselves to new and powerful art.

In lieu of doing anything else, Sue and I have sent donations to the institutions we love. But even these fall short of helping the neediest. In many cases, large operations are still delivering huge paychecks to the executives who run them, even while actors and musicians have lost wages and, in many cases, health care coverage. The gig economy, on which many industries including the arts depend, has become almost gigless.

Its true, and a good sign, that Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont put into play Phase 3 of reopening which loosens crowd restrictions on performing arts venues, And some museums, including the prominent Yale Art Gallery and Yale Center for British Art, have once again opened their doors, but only for limited hours and limited crowds.

The one art form that has thrived in this pandemic is that of the written word. More people are reading than ever before, and this supports both authors and book stores (including, so sorry to add) the behemoth company run by Jeff Bezos.

During the summer I read or listened to more books than in any season previously, and as a result was often enriched and delighted. Works by Erik Larson, Henry Miller (finally), Stephen Fry, Lee Child, Amity Shlaes, and others. But even reading books, as important as they are, is a process we do alone.

We cant stuff ourselves into RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, as we did so often in years past, to hear readings by the likes of many of the countrys finest authors. We cant even gather to hear a reading by Yales new Nobel Laureate, the poet Louise Gluck. (Though you can watch her above.)

Much of the conversation with friends has been about the comfort of home and access to compelling television series, the kind of writing and acting that threatens the movie theater release, now moot. But these excellent shows give us little chance for communion because we watch them from our respective couches.

I want to finish here with a Hollywood ending. Something uplifting. The best I can do at this point, though, is to point out that when this all ends, we will never again take another night of artful presentation for granted. We will recognize and treasure the way art nourishes us, and gives us the strength and inspiration to carry on.

Lary Blooms biography, Sol LeWitt: A Life of Ideas, is a finalist in nonfiction for the 2020 Connecticut Book Awards. The winners will be announced Oct. 15.

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Life Without Art In A Pandemic - New Haven Independent

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October 9th, 2020 at 1:55 pm

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