Art Heals, Again
Visuals convey information; sounds convey emotion. Reflections on the role of art in crisis.
News of Milton Glaser’s death yesterday was a much needed reminder of resilience and rebirth. Glazer was a 90-year-old graphic designer, artist and most famously, the creator of the iconic I ❤️ New York logo. The design was mimicked and ripped off for years and grew nearly invisible due to its glaring ubiquitousness on everything from plastic bodega bags to that tourism campaign jingle that I now can’t get out of my head. That logo carries much more weight than its four characters.
My most potent reminder of this design is from the days following September 11. As the city lay deep in mourning, Glaser lovingly updated his design, which he’d dreamed up in the back of a taxi in the midst of another crisis in the ‘70s.
The singed heart served as a reminder that we had made it through bad times once before and would again, changed, but possibly stronger for it? Hope that as with forest fires, devastating destruction is often replaced with new beneficial growth and health.
I’ve thought a lot about the city on September 11 during this age of Coronavirus and on-going and multi-layered tragedy. I keep looking back on that time to remind myself of the city’s resilience, of my resilience, and what it took to heal and move forward. I am still searching for that answer. It’s hard to be clear about trauma when that trauma is on-going.
What I do remember is that moments of great art were central to that healing process: Glaser’s heart, the Twin Tower Tribute in Light shining their beams for the first time six months after the attack, a balm for all five boroughs and beyond; Philippe Petit’s memorial chalk tightrope walk in Washington Square Park a few years later. I nervously gave him a poem I’d written about him and the Towers in a tiny envelope as a thank you gift.
Another was when Paul Simon performed The Boxer (starts at 2:26) on Saturday Night Live later that month. His voice went straight to the raw anxiety and grief at my core and gave me hope that NYC would survive.
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains
~ Paul Simon
Maybe this will soothe you too. For those of you still at home, even as the city slowly begins to reopen, try this out tomorrow (inspired by a friend’s therapist)*: Put on your work clothing. Do your hair. Put on some perfume. Wear something that makes you feel alive and in your body. Then slap on your headphones and begin your commute while vibing to this playlist. Who did you see on the street? What did you smell? How did you get to the entrance of the subway, your bus or your car? Whether you physically take this journey outside or enjoy it in the confines of your home, I hope these sounds soothe your racing minds and frantic hearts as you pop open your laptop at your makeshift work-from-home desk one more time.
*Special note for my dear Maria Jose, whose visit from Buenos Aires had to be postponed: I promise this will transport you to NYC.
Last month, the New York Times Style section included a special section that features 14 writers and illustrators riffing on the topic of joy. I loved how Jenna Wortham’s essay references poet Ross Gay who rounds out the collection with a beautiful prose poem at the end of the print edition. The online version features animated illustrations and is delightfully quirky in its own way.
For the writers out there, this 2014 Publishers Weekly essay on how to write a personal essay by Leslie Jamison is a gem. I’m working on one and IT IS KILLING ME. Please send help.
Things I Have My Eye On:
Swim holes and lakes not too far from the city. So far, I’ve marked these down to explore. Enders Falls in Connecticut. The Quarry Swim Club. Canopus Lake in Fahnestock State Park. Lake Tiorati in Harriman Park.
What I Wish For You:
A cool summer. Lisa says this fan I recommended converts hot air into cool air. We used to be a Lasko family, but happily switched to Vornado last summer and it’s making our non-central AC NYC apartment livable.