Interviewsand Articles


Antidotes for Second-Hand Living

by Richard Whittaker, Jun 1, 2009



It's taken longer getting issue #11 finished than we'd like, but I think you'll find it worth the wait. Nowhere will you find another little collection quite like it. And if you do, please let me know. I'd like to read it myself. Unlike some issues of our newsletter, this one has no discernable theme. In fact, the variety in content is interesting in itself.
       Let's begin with Paolo Soleri. He dislikes being called a visionary in spite of the obvious fit of that description. He'd prefer being taken seriously rather than as a visionary-i.e. as someone promoting unrealistic views. Instead, I'm tempted to call him legendary. Paolo Soleri turns 90 this June and is still at work showing the world how cities ought to be put together.
     I met Soleri about ten years ago. He'd stopped giving interviews, I'd been told. But I drove to Arcosanti in Arizona anyway, where I'd been given a room for a couple of nights. While there, I got to listen to two of his lectures, join in a meal of "frugal soup" and talk with visitors as well as several people living there. As part of preparing for an interview I wasn't likely to get, I also read a number of his books. In the course of all this, one thing became clear: Paolo Soleri has not been given due credit for many of the ideas and practices that are now being adopted in architecture and city planning-like mixed use, strategies for energy conservation through design, density guidelines and conscious use of resources along with voluntary restraint in our consumerist habits. From perhaps as early as the late 1950s Soleri began thinking about the design of cities, the design of buildings and the principles of ecology in terms of their deep and necessary interconnectedness. In his view, and put most simply, without the implementation of such understanding for civic development we, as a species, are not likely to survive for long.
     As it turned out, I did get the interview. If you are not familiar with Paolo Soleri, you will find this conversation a good introduction to his thought. And perhaps you'll even want to visit Arcosanti. I recommend it. 
     Changing scale abruptly, we invite you to meet Audrey Lin, an undergraduate at UC Berkeley in Interdisciplinary Studies focusing on Societal Evolution. Lin is at the beginning of a career and perhaps does not yet see exactly what form it might take. But one does not have to have arrived at a destination in order to take action. In fact, maybe it's exactly a particular kind of action that's essential for finding one's way. As Lin might put it, what's needed for real learning is actual, lived experience. Her story exemplifies this principle beautifully. Instead of driving, she decided to walk-55 miles! She explains her decision for us here. Such acts are the real thing, and entirely within the reach of any of us; they're an antidote for second-hand living.
     And we hear from artist-warrior Leigh Hyams again [see issue #12 for an earlier interview]. What's an artist-warrior? Well, that's not exactly easy to define, but I know one when I meet one. We spoke together last year in Portland as part of the "Artist Speaks" series hosted by Sally Retecki. No program had so inspired her audience, Sally told me afterwards-and there are still ripples in Portland, I hear. Leigh is remarkable in her dedication to the ever recurring struggle to break free from the known in order to make way for another energy, another intelligence at the intersection of paint and canvas or pen and paper. Leigh's long career includes a period when she served as Philip Guston's studio assistant. She was also close with Meyer Shapiro. She talks about these experiences and many other things.
     And there are two other pieces here, both of which I'd call quietly exotic, each like a rare species of plant hidden deep in the forest of media overload. How many hours of bushwhacking would it take to find either of these if you were on your own without your friendly editor-guide? Heavens, one might never be so lucky! Kathleen Cramer confides: I Touch Art. And thanks to another stroke of luck, I came by Marty, an excerpt from a work in progress by San Francisco psychiatrist Peter Newsom. About these two pieces, I've already said enough. Enjoy!


About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founder of works & conversations magazine.


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