Arts, Culture & Entertainment News - May 10

Image: Letters of Note
Writer, illustrator, stage and costume designer and children's author Maurice Sendak has passed away, aged 83. Most famed for one of his earliest books, Where The Wild Things Are (1963), about a boy named Max, a disobedient boy who creates his own world where he is king, his works encouraged children to escape into fantasy lands of their own making. He once said, "Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do." His formative experiences were to play a vital part in his work. 

Born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents who had emigrated from Poland prior to World War I, he was a sickly child, and often home from school. Tragically, at age six, a friend of his was killed by a car when he tried to catch a ball Sendak had thrown. His father's family were killed by the Nazis. In 2003, after working on Brundibar, a book by Hans Krasa turned into an opera staged by children in a Jewish orphanage who were all killed by the Nazis, he felt he had become a "good son of the Holocaust" by paying the people he illustrated tribute. 

His first jobs included drawing for All-American Comics and working for toy store FAO Schwarz. His first book commission was illustrating The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Ayme, and he went on to create his own. He had no qualms with exposing children to the cruel realities of the world through his work. He said: "I don't believe in children. I don't believe in childhood. I don't believe that there's a demarcation. 'Oh you mustn't tell them that. You mustn't tell them that.' You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it's true. If it's true you tell them." Where The Wild Things Are was adapted for the screen by Spike Jonze.

Fellow author, JRR Tolkien explained the fantasy genre in a similar light, writing in his essay 'On Fairy Stories'

"I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which 'Escape' is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all... Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it."

Australian Actress Kerry Armstrong wishes there were more reality in the female characters she's asked to portray on screen. "I have not met a woman in my lifetime who looks like any of the creatures that people are asking me to create.'' And those creatures are "downtrodden fools, miserable half-hearted wives and dullards," she tells The Age

Part of the HEAD ON Photographic Festival 2012, See Jane Run examines issues of gender roles and body image through the photographers' eyes and aesthetic. Established by four female photographers – Emma Phillips, Julie Sundberg, Anna Warr and Fiona Wolf – the aim for this project is to evoke dialogue about how we see and perceive ourselves, and how society and the media influences that perception, especially towards women. Held in support of the White Ribbon Foundation, the event runs from May 14 to 27 at Depot II Gallery, Danks Street, Sydney (opening night is May 15). Friend the ladies at the Facebook page.

William Kentridge: Five Themes celebrates the work of one of the world’s leading contemporary artists. Kentridge studied at the Johannesburg Art Foundation and the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris and was a founding member of the Free Filmmakers Co-operative in 1988. "I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings and films are certainly spawned by and feed off the brutalized society left in its wake," he has said of his work. "I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain endings. An art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay." After premiering at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and travelling to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, then on to Paris, Vienna, Jerusalem and Moscow, the exhibition comes to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image for an exclusive Australian season until 27 May.

Cultural commentator Mark Sayers writes on Adam Curtis' The Century of Self documentary, "One of the most intriguing thinkers that I have discovered in the last year is BBC documentary maker Adam Curtis. Curtis makes documentaries that attempts to explore the way that ideas and theories influence our culture at a macro level. Exploring how concepts in our culture which we think are neutral actually carry worldviews. It is hard to pin down Curtis politically with both conservative and liberal thinking questioned in his documentaries... His series The Century of Self is a fascinating exploration of how Sigmund Freud and his relatives influenced our concept of self."

In his appraisal of the Federal Government's Arts funding commitments, Matthew Westwood writes for The Australian: "The arts initiatives in Tuesday's federal budget will be a disappointment to those who have been awaiting the National Cultural Policy. While the budget contains $64.1 million of arts initiatives, including a boost to national collecting institutions, it disguises an overall reduction in government cultural spending." 

While arts and cultural spending has been cut, money has been allocated to help the sector make the most of the digital economy and the education sector. Rota Dimasi details the Budget's Arts spend for, while the Council for the Arts, which is awaiting the results of an independent review, has welcomed the Budget. While Arts Minister Simon Crean has flagged a delay of the delivery of the National Cultural Policy, media baron Harold Mitchell's report on private sector arts philanthropy was published in March.

With cuts to foreign aid spending, the average Aussie's goodwill dollars are being hotly contested... art or aid? Or art for aid? In a perfect world, there would be no need for escapism... but then we mightn't be delighted by the Maurice Sendaks and JRR Tolkeins. Food for thought.

Girl With a Satchel