Claudia and I just returned from another long weekend in D.C. Say what you wish about the creatures that do business at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue, but the city itself is amazing. The food scene is great and the neighborhoods unique, but the main attraction for us is the free Smithsonian galleries, which brings me to the point of this missive: art.
The National Gallery featured a retrospective on Philip Guston. I was not familiar with his work prior to our visit so I entered unsuspecting. This show was indeed powerful. I am far from an art critic but a total luddite, I am not. I live with an artist and my life experience and travels have exposed me to a wide variety of art forms so, subsequently, I have developed definite tastes, but this show gave me pause. Since returning I have been informed that Boston’s MFA was embroiled in controversy over the work which delayed the opening of the show before it traveled to D.C.
Guston’s work is not aesthetically pleasing, and I don’t believe it was meant to be. It is politically charged and he makes the viewer uncomfortable. His depictions of fascist and racist violence in reverse and counterintuitive images forced the MFA as well as the National Gallery to sequester some of his work in a separate space with advisories posted that read “some may find these images upsetting.” What I found upsetting were those notices.
Scenes in movies and novels, rap lyrics, cable news for that matter all make people upset so why sequester Gaston’s pictures? The power of the images found a place in the viewer that made the curators uncomfortable, which I come to believe after seeing them, was the artist’s intention. So why not remove or sequester Caravaggio’s John the Baptist or Picasso’s Guernica? A severed head on a platter or the indiscriminate slaughter of a population is not for the squeamish.
Claudia and I have had a few dinner discussions since our return and they circle around the definition of art. Is it to please the viewer? Is it only for the artist to please themselves, viewer be damned? Must it be pretty? Must it make the viewer think and react?
We have not as yet come to any definitive answers, but we stop when the bottle of wine is empty.
I have stood in front of Edward Hopper’s painting NIGHTHAWKS for long minutes wondering who those people were and creating different life scenarios for each one. I have been stupefied by Kandinsky and his incomprehensible canvases, then read the long meanderings of an art historian who offers unseen meanings to his bizarre shapes and colors as if I was from Mars. I have smiled and laughed at Joan Miro’s fanciful images that float and dance in seemingly 3D and have scratched my head at a pile of found objects placed randomly on the gallery floor.
I don’t believe that just because someone made it therefore it is art, nor do I think all expressions must be pleasing or based on historical technique. Mediums for creativity seem to be boundless and I am constantly amazed and entertained by how our fellow sapiens express themselves, as well as by what method and objects they chose to use.
There have been times, and last weekend was one where an artist via the work, conversed with me about something important, subsequently initiating a mental conversation. Maybe that is why the curators were uncomfortable as they could not control the dialogue between artist and viewer. But why should they? Here is where Claudia and I have found common ground. If the artist has made a connection, no matter how and with what, that is art.
Ever since man made a handprint on a cave wall, the need to express ourselves has been a driving force in the development of civilizations. The artists’ expressions have enhanced our lives and our environment. They have defined the cultural aesthetic and its identity. They have moved people to react to injustice as well as to violence.
The artist has been described as society’s heart and conscience. Artistic expression has been prescribed as a medical treatment. Art is also a commodity and delivers status. Moved by what others have created I have taken a few drawing classes over the years.
I take my sketch pad along on vacations and enjoy the act and the focus it gives, but although I have tried, I cannot draw a horse.
This was always a crowd-pleaser at Republic. It is flavorful and the heat from the peppers offers a poor man’s air-conditioning. I have heard it said by more than one guest as they were wiping the sweat from their brows “It’s a hurt, but it’s a good hurt.” Also I have discovered that on Tuesdays a few of the local groceries offer mixed chowder fish after they have portioned Mondays’ delivery. It’s inexpensive and offers a good variety of white fish. Another key to the recipe is the fiery Calabrian Chili peppers. Again readily available in any number of local stores.
- 1.5 pounds of mixed chowder fish
- 2 12 oz cans of crushed tomatoes
- 1 12 oz can of fish stock
- 2 (or more if you dare) diced Calabrian Chilies (save the oil for other recipes)
- 1 onion diced
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 small fennel bulb diced
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup red wine
- olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
Cut the assorted chunks of fish into 1-inch pieces, season with S&P and set aside.
In a pre-heated pot add the olive oil (a teaspoon of the oil from the chilies adds an additional kick) and the vegetables. Cook for 3-4 minutes then add the red wine. Let the alcohol burn off then add the fish and incorporate with the vegetables. Add the fish stock, lower the heat and bring to a simmer then add the tomatoes. Cook over medium heat until the fish begins to break apart, add the parsley and turn off the heat. Let sit for an hour or longer to allow the flavors to develop.
For service reheat and serve with toasted bread.
Send questions, comments and recipe requests to Ed at email@example.com .