Matthew Raley

Ross Douthat’s column on Sunday asked, “Can the Left Regulate Sex?” One of the sharpest divisions on the Left is over the place of sexuality in society. Is society supposed to liberate all sexual expressions, including those of pedophiles? Or should society instead regulate sexuality as potentially abusing vulnerable people? It used to be that the Left could focus on destroying the Christian moral consensus that regulated sexual behavior in Western culture. Now that Christianity has lost that moral influence, Douthat says, the Left is having to confront the problem of whether to regulate sex. On what basis would the Left do so? What is its vision for sexual flourishing? Whatever the resolution, our society is looking into an abyss of dehumanization.

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James McNeill Whistler, “Walter Sickert,” 1895, Metropolitan Museum.

Under great painting is confident draftsmanship. This drawing by Whistler, made in 1895 but printed in 1903, is done almost entirely by hatching — making lines of varying thickness to create shadows. In skilled drawings like this one the image seems to haunt the paper, coming to life in the negative space. The technique of drawing is quick, economical, and evocative. You can’t fake it. Every move counts. Whistler is known for paintings like his famous “Mother.” But his command of simplicity, as in this sketch of fellow artist Walter Sickert, is what gives his paintings life.

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Ivry Gitlis died recently — the wild man of the violin. He gave the impression of complete indifference to whether anyone was listening, having some of the strangest mannerisms in the already eccentric world of classical music. This film captures all of it, with the cameras trained solely on Gitlis as if the orchestra and conductor weren’t there. And why would you want to see anyone else? The man was fascinating. His performances, in my opinion, were uneven. Sometimes his playing was hoarse, rushed, even bizarre. However, his performance here is commanding, with an edge to his tone, a yell in his vibrato, and a chiseled precision in his attack that are all addicting.

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Piet Mondrian, “Farm near Duivendrecht,” c. 1916, Art Institute of Chicago.

Many years ago, a bulky envelop came in the mail from my Aunt Jan. Inside was the arts section of the San Francisco Chronicle with a large, front page reproduction of a painting by Piet Mondrian (1872–1944): white, red, and yellow squares and rectangles outlined in black. Mondrian was having something of a moment in the art world then. Aunt Jan attached a note, the upshot of which was, “Will somebody please explain to me what is so great about this stuff?!” I’m not sure why she thought of me as the person likely to offer an answer. Anyway, Mondrian did make realistic paintings before he merged into his abstract lane. I had never seen one until I stumbled across this image today. I think it’s wonderful. His squares and rectangles have grown on me too.

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Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775–1851)
Long Ship’s Lighthouse, Land’s End, about 1834–1835, Watercolor and gouache, scraped by the artist

There are many artists I’ve had a hard time connecting with instinctively. Sometimes I sit with a work by one of these artists, in this case Turner, and look it more carefully. It’s pretty rewarding. Today, what I saw first in this watercolor was its intense and violent movement. Then, I spotted the lighthouse referred to in the title. You might be forgiven for not noticing it, which is part of the narrative power of this image. Probably the pilot of the wreck in the foreground didn’t notice it either. Finally, I saw the birds soaring away as if nothing very important happened here. All at once, I connected with Turner.

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