Beauty in black and white.


Mississippi, 1963. Martha Prescod, Mike Miller, and Robert Parris Moses do voter registration work in the countryside. Photo: Danny Lyon.

On the last day of our July 4th visit with family in New York, my daughter and I are going to the Whitney Museum to see the show of photographs by Danny Lyon.

Lyon calls his website Bleak Beauty.

But I think his photographs are beauty in black and white.

From his site:

In the summer of 1962, Danny Lyon packed a Nikon Reflex and an old Leica in an army bag and hitchhiked south. Within a week he was in jail in Albany, Georgia, looking through the bars at another prisoner, Martin Luther King Jr. Lyon soon became the first staff photographer for the Atlanta-based Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which already had a reputation as one of the most committed and confrontational groups fighting for civil rights.

Lyon’s gift to us are his photographs of the Southern Civil Rights Movement and the heroes of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee for which he was their first staff photographer.

The Whitney show is called Message to the Future.

Following his time with SNCC, Lyon went on to record outsider motorcyclists, prisoners and mostly not the rich and famous.

May Day in Brooklyn.

Union Square, New York. May Day. 1938.
I Am the People, the Mob.
-Carl Sandburg
I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.

Love and hate at the Guggenheim.


On May Day 2015, members of the Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) unveiled a large parachute in the Guggenheim Museum rotunda with the words “Meet Workers Demands Now” (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

As a retired art teacher and current – can I claim this? – artist, I have always had a love/hate relationship with art museums.


I remember the moment I saw a painting by Vermeer and the surprising physical reaction. I think I nearly buckled at the knees.

I try to visit at least once a year the huge Matisse painting of Bathers by a River at the Art Institute of Chicago.

It was my teaching mentor Leon Bellin’s favorite and now it is mine.


On the other hand, when I am in New York a visit to the Met is almost too overwhelming. No matter how crowded, I never feel welcome. It is like I have been allowed inside some rich person’s house.

Look. But don’t touch.

Once, on a visit to the Prado in Madrid, Anne and I grabbed the three-fold map and guide at the front door and made a game of trying to find all fifty masterworks illustrated with thumbnails and locations, crossing a line through each one as we went.

In under 45 minutes.

I am sure this did not improve the image of Americans in Spain.

On the other hand, one of our favorite moments was when a security guard at the Brooklyn Museum took time to point out the details of a piece in a exhibit of American women’s quilts. She got to look at it every day and knew every inch of it. She loved it and took ownership of it and shared her observations with no less a sense of knowledge than a university degreed curator.

Today I read that the boys who run the Guggenheim Museum have broken off talks with a group they have been negotiating with for nine years.

When most think of the Guggenheim they think of the beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright spiral on New York’s upper east side.

Or the Frank Gehry franchise in Bilbao, Spain.

Few are aware that Guggenheim is opening another branch in Abu Dhabi.

Artists, labor and human rights activists from around the world have joined together to demand that the billionaire patrons of the Guggenheim pay attention to the labor conditions of the workers who will be building the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim.

It is easy to forget that workers built the Art Institute, The Met, The Louvre and the Guggenheim.

We may not know their names like we know the names Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry.

The failure of the talks comes after a roughly yearlong process that began after the 2015 May Day occupation of the New York Guggenheim and the May 8 occupation of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice during the Venice Biennale.

I will be spending some days in New York next week.

I won’t be visiting the Guggenheim.

Trump’s America. The Blue State Cowboys.

Dear Chicago Protesters,

Sorry I couldn’t be with you yesterday at the University of Illinois at Chicago to “greet” Donald Trump, but I was stuck taking a deposition that had been scheduled weeks ago. In any event, congratulations to all of you for letting Mr. Trump know that his race-baiting and bullying won’t fly in Chicago.

After I got home last night, I caught the tail-end of the UIC event on CNN. An hour later, I began recording this song, which I had started writing earlier in the week. My good buddy and longtime music compadre Steve Doyle took time out of his busy Saturday morning to lay down his electric guitar track. (Thank you, brother.)

The spark for this song comes from Mr. Trump’s tired slogan — recycled from a Reagan campaign — “Make America Great Again.”

Whenever I hear that line, I ask myself what period of greatness Mr. Trump wants us to revisit? The Ozzie & Harriet years? The Reagan era? The Dred Scott days?

Depending on one’s skin color, gender, ethnicity and/or sexual orientation, those were not likely wonderful times for everyone. But what the hell, every candidate needs a slogan.

Again, thanks for filling the streets last night, Chicago. I hope you enjoy my song.

In solidarity,

Matt Farmer

Trump’s America
(M. Farmer)

In a Trump t-shirt and a bright red hat
He stopped me outside of the laundromat
And said, “Howdy, brother, would you like to join our fight?”

He said, “We need to take this country back
From those godless gays and the brown and the black,
Can you help Mr. Trump as he tries to make things right?

“He’s gonna build our nation a great big wall
And get Mexico to pay for it all
‘Cause he’s a businessman who knows how to get things done

“He’ll keep out the drugs and Mexican rapists
ISIS thugs and no-‘count papists
And make America safe for everyone”

And then that man in the red hat looked me straight in the eye and said, “Are you with us, brother? Will you help Mr. Trump make America great again?”

Well, I could barely contain myself, but I paused, took a deep breath, gathered my thoughts . . . and then I asked him a couple of questions . . .

Before you make America great again
Can you take a moment and remind me when
That greatness stretched from sea to shining sea?

‘Cause I know all about the Jim Crow years,
The Stonewall raid, and the Trail of Tears
And the strange fruit hanging from a poplar tree

Was our country really at its best
When internment camps filled the Great Northwest
Or when old man Daley busted heads back in ’68?

This nation’s always worked well for some
But it’ll never be great for everyone
If it’s run by a man who encourages fear and hate

Well, that threw him for a loop
But truth be told, I was just getting started . . .

I said your man’s a bully and a carnival barker
Peddlin’ fear of folks whose skin’s a bit darker
Than that crazy shade of orange that he likes to wear

Sellin’ Trump University class online
Along with steak, water, and vanity wine
And Lord don’t even get me started on that yellow hair

And I won’t even bother tryin’ to hide my scorn
About his crazy claim that there’s a Kenyan-born
Man in the office the he’s now tryin’ to win

So if two Corinthians ever walk in a bar
And ask how our nation has fallen so far
Tell ‘em President Trump was the guy who did us in

Before you make America great again
Can you take a moment and remind me when
That greatness stretched from sea to shining sea?

‘Cause I know all about Hoover’s FBI
COINTELPRO and the need to spy
On folks who fought and died just to be free

Was our country really at its best
When you paid a poll tax and had to pass a test
If you were black and wanted to vote in a Southern state?

This nation’s always worked well for some
But it’ll never be great for everyone
If it’s run by a man who encourages fear and hate

So go vote for someone else before it’s too late

Pension song.


Please Don’t Steal My Teacher’s Pension by Glen Brown

(an emulation of John Prine’s “Please Don’t Bury Me”)


G                                  C

Woke up this mornin’, wrote another essay

G                            D

about sustainability

G                          C

And that unfunded liability, of our State’s pensions

G                          D                                     G

And that Committee of Chicago, and their greed


         C                                                       G

So please don’t steal my pension, and make me feel blue


I don’t want to work as a greeter, and meet ‘em ‘til I’m through

       G                                                        C                          G

So lower that fundin’ ratio; make the State pay debtors too;

                C                    G                                  D                       G

Tax the rich and the corporate, and the pensions will accrue

G                                                       C                      G

Don’t be duped by promises, legislators will not keep

G                                                     D

Defined-contribution plans are savings that will seep

G                                                              C                         G

There’s a six-trillion-dollar deficit, for holders of such heap

C                             G                              D                    G

A defined-benefit pension plan, is the only way to reap

(Repeat Chorus)

G                                              C             G

Let’s send our legislators, to Afghanistan

G                                                                D

Let’s hope that their replacements will do what they can’t

G                                        C                        G

I met a rep or two, that didn’t understand

C                  G                                D                    G

So I left her my research; without any cash in hand


(Repeat Chorus)


G                                                       C                G

Let’s generate more revenue, as fast as we can

G                                                     D

A graduated income tax is the answer and best plan

G                                                   C                        G

Let’s redesign the legislators’, lack of attention span

C                      G                       D                            G

Fire all their actuaries, and House’s Confidence Man.


(Repeat Chorus)


G                                                C                    G

I’m singin’ you this song, and I’m about to sigh

G                                                             D

‘cause Illinois pension reform, will likely be disguised

G                                                                 C                               G

We must stand together, against the wealthy and their bids

C                                      G          D                           G

Because-all-parents-need us; so do all of their kids

(Repeat Chorus)

Saturday coffee.



No time to sit over the coffee this morning.

Anne and I are headed to the Printers’ Row book fair. I think it is named for that daily rag in the tower up Michigan Avenue. But I still call it by the original name.

We have tickets to hear a talk with Art Spiegelman at the Harold Washington Library.

Spiegelman is the cartoonist who drew the graphic novel, Maus.

As readers know, I have played with cartoons here over the past year.

But I am not even in the farm system of the league Spiegelman is in.

He is arguably the inventor of the graphic novel form.

Speaking of art.

The treatment of the WPA murals in the CPS schools that will be closed is still is reverberating.

If it weren’t for the parents at Trumbull, artist and friend Ellen Gradman, other parent activists like Cassie Creswell and this blogger, the murals would be in storage this morning.

We made some noise and the big media got a hold of it and CPS had to back down.

But only for the moment.

The options for those fifty buildings are clear.

Sit and fall into disrepair. Or sold for commercial development.

Here is the problem:

Removing the murals from their locations is desecrating them. They were designed for their location. They are site-specific.

The other thing is that their locations, the buildings themselves, are also works of art. Part of our communities’ cultural inheritance.

The architecture critic Lee Bey writes:

How the plan will impact students and families is the stuff of vigorous public discussion for now and for months to come. But the proposed move places another question on the horizon: What will happen to the closed school buildings, many of which–like Ericson–are remarkable pieces of architecture, often done by the city’s best architects, and are worthy of preservation and reuse?
CPS is creating a lousy record when it comes to showing concerns for the culture life of our city.
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s banning of the graphic novel Persepolis is but one example.
The bureaucratic way they handled the murals is another.
The noted conservationist Heather Becker, who has spent over a decade working with CPS to restore and protect the collection of WPA murals, was not given the courtesy of a call-back when she submitted a plan for the murals in the shuttered schools.
And now the buildings themselves.
Bey points out the  Prairie style of Trumbull is the work of Dwight Perkins. Perkins designed the beautiful Schurz High School and ironically, 50 other Chicago schools.
His son founded the famous firm of Perkins and Will.
Do the bureaucrats at the CPS board know any of this?
Do the fat cats who sit on the board?
Don’t tell me I care more about brick and mortar and some old paintings than I do about kids.
This is about the kids.
This is their cultural inheritance we are talking about.