What we learned this weekend at the Chicago Humanities Festival | Bleader

Monday, October 29, 2018

What we learned this weekend at the Chicago Humanities Festival

Posted By , and on 10.29.18 at 06:00 AM

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Jerry Saltz is happy to pose for selfies

click to enlarge Saltz at the 2018 Pulitzer awards ceremony - FUZHEADO
  • Fuzheado
  • Saltz at the 2018 Pulitzer awards ceremony

Jerry Saltz says he’s so withdrawn, he hasn’t gone to a sit-down dinner for 20 years. But give the 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York magazine art critic an audience of 400 or so, and it’s SHOWTIME.

Last Saturday, on the stage of the Art Institute’s Fullerton Hall (a platform he says he’s wanted to occupy since his student days there), Saltz—cannily self-deprecating, shamelessly endearing, and, above all, funny—gave in once more to the demons that tell him to "dance naked in public."

Which is something he clearly loves to do. "Like Bruce Springsteen," he announced early on, "I will play until there's nobody alive in the audience."

In a sold out Chicago Humanities Festival lecture (funded by the Terra Foundation's Art Design Chicago), Saltz, an SAIC dropout, recalled how he "stopped making art in this beautiful city,” moved to New York, and spent 10 miserable years as a long-distance truck driver before figuring out—at the age of 41—that he could be part of the art world as a writer.

Writing is "the worst thing ever," he added, "but I did not fucking know that at the time."

Saltz called for a five-year moratorium on white men's work in museums and galleries, and described museums as "worm holes, ecstasy machines," and his favorite places to be. He advised aspiring artists to "make an enemy of envy," and "have elephant skin." It's always hard to make art, he said: "Grow a pair of whatever. Woman up, man up, be willing to be radically vulnerable."

Most of all, Saltz said, "You have to show up in your work."

When his hour in the Fullerton auditorium was over, he invited everyone to trek downstairs, where he positioned himself outside the restrooms, happily mugging for selfies with anyone who asked. An hour later, as museum-goers streamed by to the toilets, he was still inviting questions and answering them. His crowd had finally dwindled, but he was still going strong.  —Deanna Isaacs

Alex Ross wants to make the fantastic stuff more real

alex_ross.jpeg

If you know comics, you know the work of Alex Ross. His comic book covers and limited series runs for Marvel and DC are iconic in the genre. Ross' superheroes live in a Norman Rockwell world with no exaggerated musculature or unrealistic bodily proportions. His Marvel work is anthologized in a new book called Marvelocity!, a collaboration with Chip Kidd who joined Ross in a conversation on the graphic medium at First United Methodist Church.

An alumnus of the American Academy of Art in Chicago, Ross was always obsessed with drawing things realistically, and as a kid, he would draw objects with all the details he could note. It was at art school where  his work turned a corner. "Asked to draw live models every day of the week was a jumpstart to my system," he said.

Ross appreciated the art of legendary comics artists like Jack Kirby and Neal Adams who depicted heroes like Superman and Spiderman as idealized versions of the male body. But Ross said he wanted to "understand the frailty of humanity, the unideal nature of the human body" through his own art.

Ross is somewhat of an anachronism in that he draws everything by hand, doesn't have an email address and isn't comfortable typing on a computer. He said his projects take some time to complete but it’s all in an effort to "make the fantastic seem more real." —Emmanuel Camarillo

It's totally OK to be angry right now

click to enlarge At the October 2018 March to the Polls - AIMEE LEVITT
  • Aimee Levitt
  • At the October 2018 March to the Polls

Rebecca Traister and Brittney Cooper both published books this year about women and anger—Traister's Good and Mad came out earlier this month, while Cooper's Eloquent Rage was published in February—and on Sunday they met up at Northwestern's Pick-Staiger concert hall to talk about it. Women, they agreed, have always been angry, but most of their anger has been smoothed over by history because it has been seen as divisive and women are supposed to suffer nobly. Case in point: Rosa Parks, who did not sit down on that bus in Montgomery in 1955 just because she was tired that day.

The reason that history has been smoothed over is because when women and people of color—that is, people who traditionally have not had power—get angry, it is seen as divisive and disruptive. When white men get angry, their anger is seen as righteous and the sign of leadership. Case in point: Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh.

When people suppress their anger, they remain isolated. But when they express it, they may find other people who are similarly angry, and then they can begin organizing and perhaps enact change. Case in point: a group of women in suburban Atlanta Traister has been following who channelled their post-2016 anger into supporting progressive candidates like Jon Ossoff and now Stacey Abrams. Many white women, she said, are beginning to realize that the benefits they've been given by the patriarchy are not enough. Cooper pointed out that black women have been angry about injustice for, oh, forever.

"When we were told the iniquities of the past were over," Traister concluded, "we were lied to. What's now underway is the erasure of all of that."

If that's not enough to make you act on your anger, what will? —Aimee Levitt

Richard Nixon is starting to look pretty good to American historians

click to enlarge Oh, that face! A sight for sore eyes? - NATIONAL ARCHIVES
  • National Archives
  • Oh, that face! A sight for sore eyes?

Historian Jill Lepore took an informal survey of her colleagues recently, and several of them told her that at least Nixon understood the Constitution. He just didn't think it applied to him. He also didn't call for people to be assassinated, even in his private White House tapes. All these things distinguish him from the current president of the United States, in a good way. In her authority as the author of These Truths, a new one-volume history of our nation from 1492 to the present day, Lepore assured a member of the audience at Northwestern's Cahn Auditorium that Donald Trump is, indeed, a political aberration. But whether he will remain one depends on who comes next.

Lepore began the hour with a brief slideshow of maps and political cartoons that showed that imperialism and political division are nothing new in our country; they existed even before the United States was a country.

"The United States was founded on ideas," she told Eric Slauter, the U. of C. history professor who was interviewing her onstage. "It wasn't founded on a shared ethnic heritage, a shared language, or even a shared history. Those ideas are political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people. Without those ideas in common, we have no nation." —Aimee Levitt

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