The last book I bought my grandmother, before she died on the eve of Shavuot, was Sarah Bakewell’s “How To Live, or A Life of Montaigne.” She hadn’t asked for this book, but she was under the impression I might have borrowed her French copy of Montaigne’s essays (she was always overestimating me), and I wanted to get her something Montaigne-like while we figured out who had pilfered les essais.
One thing that often turns people off from art is that they can’t figure out what it means. The lack of fixed meaning frustrates them. The more abstract the art form — poetry, for instance, but even more so with dance, music and fine art — the more serious this problem becomes. But the cultural critic Charles Rosen makes an important point about art’s essential ambiguity — its inherent lack of fixed meaning — in his astute new collection of essays, “Freedom and the Arts.”
When I was in college, a professor blew my mind when he explained the birth of modernism this way: In the old days, when artists looked out a window, they saw a garden. Today, when they look outside, they see the window.
In other words, the process of looking — or the presence of the “frame” — is what now captured people’s attention.
If you ask secular, well-educated people how well they know the Bible, odds are you’ll be met with blank stares, possibly even sneers. This is perfectly understandable. And it may not even stem from anti-religious sentiments — after all, there is only so much time we have, and there are so many other worthy texts to read.
At a recent program at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center on the new digital landscape, a rabbi and three prominent writers debated whether our current “Digital Overload” — as the panel was titled — is leading to a more interesting cultural environment for our children, or whether we are going down a rabbit hole of apocalyptic distraction. Unsurprisingly, no answer was declared. But the conversation was notable for several reasons.
The culture wars in Israel these days makes you pine for the ones we had here, in the States, some 15 years ago. In America, it all seemed like grand theater--Giuliani, for instance, catering to hard-core Christians aghast at a painting of the Virgin Mary covered in feces. But in Israel the state has a far stronger hand in culture. So when the current Likud Culture Minister, Limor Livnat, threatened to withhold money to artists who refused to perform in the Ariel performing center, in the occupied West Bank, it meant something.
I don’t know about you, but I made a lot of mistakes this past year. I forgot to pick up my kids at school once. I gained weight in all the wrong places. I was consistently late in writing this column — and in just about everything else of importance in my life.
This is par for the course, and most of the time, after purging myself on Yom Kippur, I can make it at least to Sukkot before a new mistake haunts me — usually in the form of an injury to myself or a small child during the construction of the sukkah in our backyard.
In the new film “Higher Ground,” there’s a scene where Vera Farmiga, the film’s director and star, fitfully tries to pray in her bathroom. She’s trying out a method — speaking in tongues — that she recently saw performed by her close friend. Like the friend, Farmiga’s character is an oddity in their Christian fundamentalist group: a free-spirited iconoclast with a highly inquisitive mind.
Computer-based games like Farmville or Angry Birds or Grand Theft Auto, available on laptops and phones and game consoles, have become almost as ubiquitous as social media sites like Facebook.
Whether you are a teacher or principal, a parent or grandparent, a marketer or consumer, a smartphone user or a paperback-reading commuter, you can’t help but notice how these games fill the downtime minutes of millions of people, and increasingly are the first thing they connect to when they boot up their machines.