Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Crucible of Creativity

Living in New York City both limits and liberates. The limitations
occur at the ground level of a skyscrapered metropolis that dwarfs
you, restricts your vision, and impedes your forward progress. As you
move through the city, you usually can glimpse only a tiny piece of
the sky and are often caught in a circle of towering structures that
prevent you from peering more than a few feet ahead. Contrast this
with, say, New Mexico, where the vistas seem endless and your eye
follows mountain slopes and sunlit horizons for many miles. If you are
walking in the New York, you are stalled constantly by traffic lights,
slow moving and stationary pedestrians, and by the countless
construction projects that detour you on to makeshift sidewalks.
Everything feels closed in, tight, hunkered down, constrained.

But New York City also liberates by virtue of its unstoppable energy,
soaring ambition, and breathtaking vision. Maya Lin, the architect
who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well as many
other remarkable projects, has lived for years in New York. She
has said there is something about the city’s pulsating rhythms,
its constant activity, that pushes her to do better, more original
work. Of course, Lin is hardly alone in this assessment, as it is
probably the artists, more than any other group, that give
New York its distinctiveness and its drive. And in some cases,
the very thing that seems to constrain also unleashes. Those
buildings that tie us down also raise us up, offering, at their best,
an awe inspiring view of what is possible both functionally and
aesthetically. The aptly named New York School – that
remarkable group of painters, poets, dancers, musicians,
architects, designers, novelists and essayists who shaped
American culture in the 1950s and 60s – embodies the
freedom that Gotham’s creative artists felt to experiment
with bold new subjects, themes, materials, and methods. Frank
O’Hara, a quintessential New York School poet, captures here
something of that experimental spirit, the energy, the humor,
and the juxtaposing of unexpected things that is New York
City at its best.

By Frank O’Hara

I'm going to New York!
(what a lark! what a song!)
where the tough Rocky's eaves
hit the sea. Where th'Acro-
polis is functional, the trains
that run and shout! the books
that have trousers and sleeves!

I'm going to New York!
(quel voyage! jamais plus!)
far from Ypsilanti and Flint!
where Goodman rules the Empire
and the sunlight's eschato-
logy upon the wizard's bridges
and the galleries of print!

I'm going to New York!
(to my friends! mes semblables!)
I suppose I'll walk back West.
But for now I'm gone forever!
the city's hung with flashlights!
the Ferry's unbuttoning its vest!

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