‘How to Live’ in 2012

BY Jeffrey Brown  January 4, 2012 at 12:25 PM EST


Click to enlarge. Photo by Etienne De Malglaive/Getty Images.

No, we’re not making Art Beat into a “how to” or life advice blog. But I began the new year reading a delightful book: “How to Live, or A Life of Montaigne” by Sarah Blakewell — part intellectual history, part biography and, yes, part philosophy of how one might live a better, fuller, richer life.

Chapter One: “Q. How to Live? A. Don’t worry about death.” Chapter Two: “Q. How to Live? A. Pay Attention.” And then there’s Chapter Four, a personal favorite: “Q. How to Live? A. Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted.”

In fact, I DO forget most of what I read, visited, watched and heard in 2011 — a factor of aging, personality and/or the nature of the never-ending, wake-up-and-do-it-again, daily news business. But I know I enjoyed and was moved by a great deal in various moments along the way. And people and places keep returning: the remarkable poets of Haiti chanting and singing amid the rubble; the people picking up their lives and those tornado-sheared trees in Joplin, Mo.; the artists and writers who helped connect us to the news of the world, such as Khaled Mattawa on Libya, Billy Collins and Nancy Mercado on 9/11; visits to the “stars,” this year including Paul Simon, Cate Blanchett, Wynton Marsalis and Sonny Rollins, and the up-and-coming stars at the Iowa Writers Workshop and elsewhere; and the many “real” people along the way, including those who stop to say hello on the street or in an airport and offer thanks for what we’re doing.

What else? Stephen Mitchell proving that one can make a life out of translation and caring for words; Marina Abramovic proving that one can be both scary (this is a woman whose art often involves doing violence to herself) and charming; A.O. Scott proving that one can be a terrific reviewer but still have occasional lapses in judgment (“Tree of Life”?). A personal high in theater-going: Seeing Mark Rylance in “Jerusalem.” And a truly high travel experience: a vacation in Glacier National Park, an argument in itself for the preservation of public space that all can enjoy.

Art Beat suffered major losses this past year: Molly Finnegan went west to Los Angeles, while Lauren Knapp went east to Mongolia. Hello to both: You’re much missed! We’ve continued on, most of all with the energies, talents and contributions of Tom LeGro, Mike Melia, Saskia de Melker, Annie Strother, Imani Cheers, Murrey Jacobson and others– my great thanks to all.

What now? As resources tighten here as everywhere, we’ll have to do more (well, perhaps, the same volume) with less. But we’re hard at work dreaming up new features for Art Beat for 2012. All ideas and suggestions are welcome. What would YOU like to see? Let us know and we’ll try to give it a shot. In the meantime, we continue our eclectic approach, with interviews coming soon with Joan Didion, Doc Watson and ukulele virtuoso (that’s right) Jake Shimabukuro.

A final thought: My wife and I recently moved and there was a lot of packing and unpacking of books. Taking a break while reshelving and opening a few volumes randomly, I came on this from Wallace Steven’s “Man with the Blue Guitar”:

“I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero’s head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If to serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,

Say that it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.”

Q. How to live, 2012: A. “I cannot bring a world quite round, although I patch it as I can.”

Great thanks to the Poetry Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Joyce Foundation, who help make our arts coverage possible. And great, great thanks to all of you who join us on Art Beat.

Happy New Year,

Jeff