Welcome to the first issue of conversations.org’s newsletter.
While it’s the beginning of something new, our newsletter takes its place in the context of a hopeful undertaking begun sixteen years ago and which evolved into the magazine works & conversations.
But there’s a second perspective. Just as easily our story might begin: eight years ago a young man working for Sun Microsystems set out to discover if there wasn’t a more satisfying goal in life than making money. Nipun Mehta and three like-minded friends began an experiment in service: CharityFocus, which continues to grow today in a constantly evolving form.
This newsletter begins thanks to my meeting with that young man—via Paul Van Slambrouck—a year ago. As Nipun would say, the universe conspired. It engineered one of those moments that bring a change. We joined forces. Nipun has written, “I work on projects where money isn't the central currency”—and that’s just one of the places we recognized deeply shared values. While funds are needed to keep the magazine going, money has never been close to being “the central currency” in either of our undertakings.
The more compelling aspects of art, as in life, always seem grounded in a realm beyond money or anything that can be conjured and manipulated directly by ordinary efforts. I’d hazard to guess that nearly all artists have experienced this truth. Putting it simply, an appreciation of the non-material aspects of life was quickly sensed between us and, when Nipun suggested I consider joining him in an experiment in service, I agreed. So here we are.
A Little Background
In the early 1980s, as an artist myself, I was dismayed by the jargon and technical prose typical of the critical writing about art I was encountering. As a philosophy grad, I wasn’t intimidated as much as angry. This wasn’t what art was really about, as far as I was concerned. Eventually it seemed the best way to deal with my objections was to attempt to provide another voice. This led to the publication of works & conversations. I found that talking with artists themselves was the best way to go about it. It has never seemed to me that art is a world reserved for experts. A K Coomaraswamy’s statement that “the artist is not a special man, but rather each man is a special kind of artist” is closer to the way I see it.
So the magazine is grounded in conversations with artists. And although most of the interviews I’ve done have been with people recognized as artists, increasingly I find myself talking with others not conventionally seen that way. Let me leave you with another quote, this one from Joseph Beuys: “Creativity isn’t the monopoly of artists, this is the crucial fact I’ve come to realize, and this broader concept of creativity is my concept of art.”
Sent every couple of months, the newsletter will help bridge the gap between the twice-yearly appearance of the print magazine. Each issue will contain a mix of interviews and articles and, from time to time, we expect to have guest editors adding new perspectives. Through this we hope to provide an introduction to the magazine itself as well as to open a space for new conversations in the spirit of creative response to life.
I have to add that we are not equipped financially to send out hard copies of the magazine to everyone, especially to those living overseas, as the postage is prohibitive. For now, we're going to offer forty new subscriptions to works & conversations per issue of the newsletter [ten per week]. Meanwhile there is a great deal of material on the web site for those not getting the magazine, and more will be added as we go.
Launching the newsletter is an exciting event. One is never able to predict all the consequences and possibilities that attend new endeavors; we begin with a sense of hope and optimism.
Richard Whittaker is the founder of works & conversations magazine.
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