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Pandemic Reading Lists, Walks, and Lots of Wine

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

Just some of what I've been up to during these surreal coronavirus days.

"Pandemic Robot" seen recently on a walk in my neighborhood.

When I started the MFA program at Lesley Art + Design almost two years ago, I made a promise to myself that I would do at least one blog post a month in which I wrote about either my studio practice or about anything else that was art related going on in my life. I have found that by having these simple parameters it's easier to get started on a post, to know what to write about, and to keep to a schedule.

Truthfully though, I never imagined that I would particularly enjoy writing a blog. After all, why in the world would I want to make my journal writing public for anyone to read? In actuality, the posts have been a handy way to keep myself on track for school and to update my academic advisors about my progress. They also help me to think through and process what I am creating in the studio, as well as to understand what I think about the exhibits, artist talks, art documentaries, museums and gallery openings that I experience.

The posts have proven as well, to be a valuable source of information for me now that I am in the throes of writing my graduate thesis (which is due in June). While they tend to take me an inordinate amount of time to write (mainly due to my mediocre proofreading and editorial skills, which necessitate multiple read throughs and rounds of corrections), I have actually enjoyed immensely the mental process of writing and illustrating my posts with photographs that I take.

Blogging also gives me a place to express my inner thoughts in a way that I don't always feel I can in other areas of my life. Or maybe it's more about feeling that even when I do express myself, that I think no one is actually listening to what I have to say. In a blog post, I suppose that neither of these really matter. I am my main audience for these musings, which means I can say what I think and I can think deeply about anything that I want to consider.

So it seems, that this platform has now become part of my creative process. The part that allows me to analyze and think deeply about my art and the art world at large. To borrow from a short piece in this past Sunday's New York Times Style Section on the value of the written letter (a lost art but similarly reflective form of communication), it allows me to "frame my cleverest self, to pose both questions and answers, to make myself known as I wish to be known." My blog has become "a means of expressing my ideal self." I don't think I would ever be able to express this version of myself in any other way than through the written word, because unlike face-to-face conversation, it gives me the breathing-room and time to think of what I want to say. And if you want your thoughts to be truly known, finding the correct words to say really matters.

My pandemic reading list.

As a whole, I have done a pretty good job of keeping to the "monthly blog post promise" that I made to myself. But, after returning from my fourth residency for my MFA program this past January, I have not written anything except one short post that contains links to some of my papers from the previous semester.

This radio silence has been due in part to the fact of the aforementioned thesis, and the amount of time and energy I was initially putting into writing the first few drafts. Then as February turned into March, and the subtle chaos from the impending pandemic set in--impacting schedules and routines all around--before I knew it I had let my monthly blog posts lapse. Now it is late April and although I have thought many times about sitting down and writing something, until today, I have not been able to muster the intellectual or creative energy for it.

What finally got me back to the computer to post, was this photo (above) that I took of my "pandemic reading list." It contains some books that have been on my "to read" pile for months. Some that I am revisiting for a much needed dose of inspiration and others that I have recently added to the stack. I am about halfway through the pile and have been thinking about how reading has always been a refuge for me. It is something that I could not only retreat into as an escape, but also something that I consider a core part of my identity. If you were to ask me what my hobbies are, reading would probably be the first thing I would list.

Collaged color wheel made directly on the pages of an old book that I use for my art journal.

I have been thinking about reading a lot lately, and not just because I am an avid reader, or because I like to use old books as collaged elements in my work and as my actual art journals (like the one in the photo above). I have been thinking about it because it is a habit that can be so useful during difficult times like these. It's a healthy form of escape and it works the imagination. It can be educational and entertaining. Reading can take you on a trip to other worlds and cultures, and the visual imagery of an unillustrated story is always unique to you alone. When you are reading a good book, hours can pass unnoticed and you will never be bored or really feel alone. Getting engrossed in a really good book is very similar to the flow state an artist can get into while working in the studio.

There have been a few articles recently about a trend towards the loss of this form of "deep literacy." Something that can only be achieved by becoming engrossed in a long, complex book. Adam Garfinkle wrote about this in an article entitled "The Erosion of Deep Literacy" in the spring 2020 volume of National Affairs. He states that "deep literacy has wondrous effects, nurturing our capacity for abstract thought, enabling us to pose and answer difficult questions, empowering our creativity and imagination, and refining our capacity for empathy. It is also generative of successive new insight, as the brain's circuitry for reading recursively builds itself forward. It is and does all these things in part because it touches off a 'revolution in the brain,' meaning that it has distinctive and describable neurophysiological consequences. Understanding deep literacy as a revolution in the brain has potential payoffs for understanding aspects of history and contemporary politics alike."

Unfortunately, there has been a troubling trend in which there has been a measured loss in this form of "deep literacy." And the consequences are dire. George Will, in a recent op-ed piece for The Washington Post entitled "What We Lost When We Stopped Reading" comments on Garfinkle's article when he writes, "because of the displacement of reading by digital, usually pictorial entertainment and communication, 'something neurophysiological' is happening to individuals, and especially to the 'neural pathways' of the young. And [because of this] something vital to democratic culture is waning." And Garfinkle worries that “cognitively sped-up and multitasking young brains may not acquire sufficient capacities for critical thinking, personal reflection, imagination, and empathy, and hence will become easy prey for charlatans and demagogues.”

All of this is troubling to me as both a mother of a teenager, who spends way too much time on digital devices and not enough reading books. But also for the larger political implications, which are those meted out by a majority of people who, in part and possibly because of this cultural phenomenon no longer have the intellectual capacity to think critically about the important issues and who therefore can more easily fall pray to fake and biased news coverage, as well as to politicians who blatantly mislead the public. This is even more worrisome during a time when having truthful and accurate information about public health can literally be the difference between life and death.

Detail from a page in my 2020 art journal.

Really, it all just makes me want to disappear into the pages of a lengthly and engrossing book while sipping a nice glass of Rosé!

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