State Of The Arts

State Of The Arts

by Barbara Isenberg


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If California is a state of mind, Barbara Isenberg's interviews with more than fifty of California's prominent painters, writers, composers, architects, directors, and performers help explain why. They include Dave Brubeck, Joan Didion, Clint Eastwood, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Frank Gehry, David Hockney, Randy Newman, Maxine Hong Kingston, Luis Valdez, Larry Gelbart, Matt Groening, Robert Graham, Carol Burnett, Michael Tilson Thomas, and many others. Some were born in California; others came from afar for its light, space, natural beauty, and opportunity. In these conversations, they talk about how they became artists and how living in California influences their work. They offer a kaleidoscopic view of the many ways that environment affects and nurtures the creative process.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781566636315
Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
Publication date: 04/25/2005
Pages: 382
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.15(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

Barbara Isenberg has been writing about the arts for the Los Angeles Times since 1976 and is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Author of the critically acclaimed Making It Big: The Diary of a Broadway Musical, she has received a Distinguished Artists Award from the Los Angeles Music Center and has been a Getty Visiting Scholar. She lives in Los Angeles where she is associate director of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities at the University of Southern Califorina.

Read an Excerpt

bella Lewitzky
The choreographer Bella Lewitzky was born in 1916 in a Mojave Desert colony not far from Los Angeles. Raised on her father's chicken ranch in San Bernardino, she studied dance as a child and was performing at the Hollywood Bowl with choreographers Agnes de Mille and Lester Horton by the thirties. Horton's principal dancer from 1934 to 1950, she worked briefly on Broadway and in films but primarily as a modern dancer. The first dean of the California Institute of the Arts Dance School, Lewitzky formed the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company in 1966, leading it on tour throughout the United States and abroad to great acclaim before disbanding it in May 1997. She has been married to the architect Newell Reynolds since 1940 and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I think I must feel about the light in California the way the painters did about the wonderful light in Provence. Ever since I was a child it has been an important part of my awareness of my environment.

I lived in a valley surrounded by high mountains, and that suited me just fine because it meant you didn't know what was on the other side. This made it wonderful and exciting and mysterious. Having a place to go over formed part of my philosophy of life. You could throw your arms out as wide as you wanted wherever you were in the valley and never touch the mountains. They were all still very far away.

I spent my first two years at Llano del Rio, a socialist colony in the Los Angeles environs. My father was the political cartoonist, and he was also the baker. Everybody did as many jobs as they felt they could undertake.

My father, who came to theUnited States from the Ukraine, moved here from Philadelphia because it was suspected that he was consumptive. He had nothing actually wrong with him at all. Poverty was the only thing that ever really troubled him.

My father bought a chicken ranch in San Bernardino, but he had studied art and continued to paint. Always. That was the first real lesson I learned about life and probably the most important: You work at anything to earn a living, but only if you have already found a way to make your life worth living. He never taught it. It was by example, which is probably the most passionate, strong, and long-lasting way that one can learn anything. I learned that my father remained a full man. I learned by my own cognizance, looking at him, watching him, knowing what he chose. Never by lecturing.

The only thing my father did that was close to lecturing was when I would trail him through museums. He would say, "Look at that mountain and see in it how many colors there are." He just pointed out what moved him. He was a wonderful liver of life, which made him an absolutely splendid teacher. So I learned life lessons when he talked about the art he loved. His paints, his easel, his charcoal-that's what enriched him. That's what described his life.

None of this did he ever tell me. All this I learned by watching and by listening. When I was quite young, he treated me as an adult. All children are really adults-they're just less experienced adults. One reason I became such a good teacher is that my father was such a good teacher. He taught children as human beings-they had fewer experiences but they were not less intelligent or less capable of seeing the world.

My sister and I used to guard his paintings. It was the act of making the painting that was complete for him. He had no need to keep it or have somebody else look at it. Since my sister and I were not complete in the act of making them, our completion was to have them to look at. We were the appreciators. Canvas was very expensive, and he would paint over his paintings to save canvas. We learned to grab the ones we loved and hide them somewhere so we'd have the paintings, and he'd have the act of painting.

We were of humble origins. Richer than anyone could possibly be but poor in terms of actual monetary worth. He would set up a still life on our dining room table, and people would come in and would reach to take some food on the table to cat. My sister and I then had the job of yanking the food away from them because we knew it was a still life, not something to eat. My father would never say, "Don't eat that." He was hospitable, kind. I never met anyone who didn't love my fatherhe was that kind of person. Even to his own destruction, he would let them eat his still life.

My father was an admirer of certain painters who lingered from his life into mine. Cézanne was one of his heroes and remained one for me also. In my mind Cézanne was the forerunner of modernism and the art we knew later. I've always had a love for those people who ran ahead of their time by a little bit, and Cézanne was for me that kind of painter. I think that was why I fell in love with Satie's music. I never used any of Satie's dance pieces--I thought they were very contrived-but I adored his other material.

As early as I can remember, I was a mover, in ways you don't consider dance. They're movement experiences. I would try to fly, and if I ever met anyone who'd never tried to fly, I'd say, "Go back. Your life is missing something."

I learned about motion when I was quite young, maybe seven, and many a bruised bone did I have lumping off our chicken ranch roof. I was sure what was wrong was merely timing. I had not put my arms and legs in the right places at the right time to sustain myself in the air. Otherwise, of course, I could fly. Other times I was positive that if there was a good strong wind and you knew how, you could sit in it and the wind would support you and carry you forward. Many a bruised bottom came from this assumption. But those were important movement experiences. I knew I could fly if I got it right. I knew I could sit down in the wind, and the wind would support me if I got it right.

The thing I learned, probably from my father, was: Dream it, then bring it into practice. I still use that, I realize, except now I know better how. I don't fall down, and I don't break my neck trying to jump off the roof. State of the Arts. Copyright © by Barbara Isenberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Studs Terkel

Even as a non-Californian, I find great delight in reading this book, and in the richness and contributions its heroes have made in life.

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