New writing by Emily AbendrothRead More
My friend Tom runs a blog called The Good Men Project. He was putting together a edition of the blog on race. And he asked me to contribute.
I should say that Tom and I have been friends for well over a decade. I've held his children, he's seen me cry, we've have very similar experiences with mental illness in our families and have had to come to terms with a lot of our dreams and limitations as men. He's a great guy and I love him a great deal. So when he asked to me to write about race I knew that he was asking me, his friend, to write. He wasn't asking his "black" friend to write. He knows me, knows the range of my interests and thoughts and values that.
Tom may certainly look white, but he's never acted white. I will leave it to my hero, James Baldwin, to explain what I mean.
As a policy, I don't usually talk about race. It's too difficult. But as I said, Tom is my friend and because he asked me to, I figured I would tell him, in an unvarnished way, why I don't want to talk about race.
There's been a pretty wild response to my letter to Tom. I am really grateful to him for the opportunity to say things that I have been thinking for a long time. My friend Patrick sent me a link on tumblr that had "reblogged" a section of it over 300 times. I am sort of amazed that so many people are reading it. As of now, there about 700 reposts on Facebook. I know that isn't "viral" but people are sharing what I wrote. I didn't upload a cat video, I wrote a polemic and people are interested in it. That is really wild to me. The comments have been pretty interesting. Some people really don't get what I am saying and some people really need to not sit at the computer all day writing responses to blog posts. I have seen the same guy on a bunch of blogs. He really makes me glad that my home address isn't published with the article.
One of the reasons I started this blog, or rather why I came back to this blog, was to really start to try to write. I wanted to dismantle the notion that an artist is purely a visual person, that somehow I lost my voice because I make images. A lot of the artists I admire were terrific writers about art and culture. Fairfield Porter was the art critic for The Nation, at a time when the flavor of art had very little connection to his practice as a painter of the observed world. I always loved that he loved art so much that he could write about it as well as make it. I aspire to that.
I had a moment at Topkapi's Hall of Relics where I got a little worried. I was in line to see the mantle of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) when I felt this man looking at me. I turned and he said "Where are you from?" I usually start speaking French at this point (and I thank my mother for making me take 5 years of the language) but this time I answered in English that I was from the United States. He glared at me said "I hate your President." I said that I understood. "Bush wants to kill all the Muslims," he said. "Well, we won't let him," I said. Then we both stood in front of the window that looked into the golden room, with the golden stand, holding the golden box in which was a piece of cloth worn by Mohammed. We shook hands and departed each other. My friend Michael made me promise that I would stop telling people I was from the United States after that. I didn't, but I did speak french in public a lot more.
I have a sketchbook that I take with me everywhere. I really pride myself on having a daily practice, but I gotta say I have not made a single drawing since I have been here. I have been so completely overwhelmed visually that I can't even conceive of how to make a image right now. I think I am intimidated by the glory all around me. My friend Linda tells me that I have to let the experience sink in - that I should not be too hard on myself. For a workaholic painter like myself, that is easier said than done.
- The "Splendid Door" at Hagia Sophia is a character in its own right. I want to make a painting called "Boys at the Splendid Door."
- I understand the effect the bleached marbles of Turkey (Ephesus, Afrodisias, Pergamon) had on LeCorbusier (Chromophobia, chapter 2), but the fact that he found an absence of color is truly astounding.
- The grid can be divided endlessly.
- Pattern works because you see the pattern before you see the individual elements that make it up. This leads to hidden meaning in patterns that become clear through longer term investigations.
- Simple tessellation results in complex patterns.
- Reconsider blue (Aegean, Iznik, sea, sky, ocean, salt, heavy, hard, electric, air, invisible, protein, mavi, denim, headscarf, endless).
- Intersecting patterns look more complicated than they are.
- Iznik tile is impossible to replicate but I have to try.
- If a pattern has an effect on the viewer, does the viewer change because of the pattern?
- The amount of ornament is secondary to its absence. (Palace vs. Mosque)
- Is ornament a sign of overindulgence? Amazing design show at Istanbul Modern about this very issue. Adolf Loos Ornament and Crime is noted and I haven't read that in years. I don't even think I can remember reading it. Did I read it? Well, now I have to read it.
- If the grid can hold anything, what does it hold?
- Can the grid hold anything? Does it have to hold anything?
- I want to paint the light from the chamber of relics at Topkapi.
- "The Arm of the Baptist" is a great title for a painting.
- I want to remember that a photograph is just an index. I have no responsibility to the photograph. I am responsible to a painting.
- The grid is the situation.
- Small things in a big space can be as awesome as the space itself.
- I want to make paintings of tourists looking at nothing.
- I want to make paintings.
Let me reiterate: cops are the same all over the world. My friend and colleague, Noel Ignatiev says "All over the world cops beat up poor people; that is their job, and it has nothing to do with color."