NOTE: This post was originally crafted for Jun 13, but I found out later that some electronic mishap or other wiped out most of the text and links leaving only the partial draft unpublished, so I’ve tried as best I can to remake it.
If you haven’t seen The Carters’ (Beyoncé & Jay-Z, after the latter’s surname) new video, “Apeshit,” it’s a wonderful and powerful repurposing of The Louvre for the video. I’ve seen some shade thrown and trash talked about their lack of formal education, but Jay and Bey’ are avid art collectors and clearly know what they’re doing.
There are plenty of breakdowns online about the art and symbolism, but I wanted to point out a couple things I saw that I haven’t seen noted. The video takes place almost entirely within The Louvre, as staid and haughty an institution as exists in the art world. Its unmoving structure, for the most part consisting of neutral and white surfaces, is subverted by movement and color, mostly women of color, at that. Dancing in front of the Coronation of Napoleon by David is defiant, for sure, but also resonates with Beyoncé’s oft-labeled nickname, Queen Bey. She and Jay-Z lay claim to all the cultural heritage of the West, while simultaneously calling out the white-centric focus of canon past. Movement and music are not parts of the art world often celebrated by museums, and here we see a beautiful correction.
The final scene, too, is stirring, as the two artists join hands in front of the Mona Lisa, in effect declaring themselves “in,” members of the art world as much as any other. It’s a measure of their success and confidence in their considerable abilities that The Carters could rent out The Louvre to make this video. It’s a greater measure that they take pride in showcasing, critically examining, and paralleling the art inside, too.
A fair bit of the internet is being charmed by this video of two girls who are meeting for the first time in person. It’s true that real friendships are forged and nurtured on the ‘net (as the kids no longer say), and that some connections wouldn’t be possible at all without it. But the joyous intensity of emotion on these girls’ faces as they touch for the first time is a level above where they were just minutes before they saw each other.
We need each other, but we need each others’ physical presence, too. The idea so many of us had of staying home and reaching out to the world from safety and comfort isn’t what we need. It’s nice to do that and have interactions across world-spanning distances. But standing across from you and your body next to me is deeply and essentially part of what makes us human. I’m moved to tears and I’ve had not a single previous moment with either person above, ever. It’s deep and it’s touching. “Are you real?” is going to stick with me for some time.
I’m a fan of hers, but I didn’t think I’d want to listen to more than a snippet of Juliana Hatfield’s Olivia Newton-John covers album. But I did! It’s a lot of fun, and good to hear these songs interpreted by a musician I’ve long admired and respected.
I just started watching Civilizations on PBS, and it’s already a marvelous wonder. In the very first minutes, the horrifying story of Khaled al-Asaad‘s murder by ISIS members for refusing to divulge the hidden whereabouts of the art he spent much of his life caring for is starkly told. But the big picture is that of how important art is to our humanity.
A lot of us spend our days talking about art—I doubt very much if very many of us are prepared to lay down our life for it. For Khaled al-Asaad, the stones and statues and columns of Palmyra were more than simply an ensemble of antiquity, they were the expression of what the creative imagination could do to make a city home.
— Simon Schama
A bit later, there’s this, about the earliest sparks of artistic impulse—at least, the ones left behind and found, so far—that speak to the definitive nature of art’s place in making us what we are.
Other kinds of animals make tools. Other kinds of animals may have some kind of language. We know that other animals have extremely complex social organizations. But what about art? I think we can see art as being maybe one of the only ways that we can imagine humans to be distinctively different.
There are few things I enjoy more online than a really great YouTube vlog. No other visual format gives me the same sense of visceral connection to another person’s life. Writing is the ultimate form of being inside someone else’s head, but ironically, that tends to abstract their reality and recontextualize it. If I feel I’m inside someone’s thoughts, they become, in some sense, part of my own. Videos put me in front of and in the physical place of another human.
And for the past few—several?—years, no one has given me that feeling more than creator Myles Wheeler, better known on the YousTubes as itsamemyleo. His twist on the classic British vlogger style is often to craft a metanarrative over his footage, which can be a massive pool of clips filmed over months. He’s expert at taking disconnected shreds of his daily existence and getting them to fit these wonderful blends of melancholy and humor.
All this to say that after a long absence, he uploaded the vlog-to-end-all-vlogs, a massive 85-minute wonder.
As I expected. Mary Poppins. Practically perfect in every way.
Speaking of Mary Poppins, I was thinking about that film, and how much I missed when I first saw it as a kid. Two scenes are the heart of it, and Julie Andrews isn’t in either one. It is, of course, the not-so-perfect people Mary spit-spots among who are the emotional center of the movie.
Once you get past Dick Van Dyke’s awful accent—which may not have been his fault—it’s a series of moments in which a generous, simple, kind man who knows what’s important 1) brings two children to a new understanding of their father, and 2) gently coaxes the opposite for their father who finds he was wrong about what he thought was important.
Never heavy-handed nor confrontational, Van Dyke nonetheless shows the Banks kids the only-too-human side of their father.
Dick Van Dyke eases off the ham for his scene with Mr. Banks, and David Tomlinson, nearly entirely by expression showing a man’s heart rending with the realization, acts the veritable shit out of it:
The slow walk to the bank and his certain doom, followed by a return to goofballery—albeit still really enjoyable—is almost an afterthought for me. The heart of the film is really Mr. Banks beside the fireplace and his slow epiphany over what has real meaning in his life.
Reflecting on possibilities is an essential part of being human. Imagining leads to art of all kinds. It’s not just the impulse to make something new, it’s what guides that impulse and allows us some kind of starting condition. Art from a void is really hard.
I’ve always liked this moment from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s finale, when Q, the (allegedly) nigh-omniscient/nigh-omnipotent being, shares an almost tender moment with Picard. His curiosity about humanity has, at this point, been joined by a kind of admiration. But it’s the glimpse into another, larger universe that’s the most fascinating thing to me. In a series with a hundred instances of imagination writ large, here is one that could transcend the show and say something about what we might potentially find. And be.