2015 was a good year for art & media in my life, though much of what makes my list of year’s best was not created or released in the last 12 months. I’m routinely late to the game for movies, books, artists and shows, and 2015 was no different. Still, these works of art struck me in a way that warrants sharing them, perhaps in part because they transcend their particular moment in time. This list is intended as much as a marker of the year-in-art that I’ve experienced as an offering to you so that, in case you also missed them the first time around, you won’t miss them entirely. Trust me, don’t.
All The Light We Cannot See
This book was stunningly beautiful from start to finish in a totally unpretentious way. I was captivated by the story immediately, and its grip didn’t let up until long after I’d finished the final page. Doerr’s characters are richly but simply drawn in a way that made them credible emissaries from their time in history without slipping into archetype or cliche. Not one for historic fiction, I was completely surprised by how much I loved All The Light We Cannot See.
Tiny Beautiful Things
What to say, sweet peas? Cheryl Strayed is my guru, this book my tome. In her letters, Strayed lays out some hard-won truths with a remarkable combination of deftness and tenderness to answer the hardest questions we face: how should we live, grieve, love, heal, grow? I borrowed this book from the library, but now need to buy a copy so I can mark it up, dog-ear every page, cover it with flag labels and carry it with me wherever I go. Tiny Beautiful Things is my new pocket reference on life.
I was lucky to see Our Town as the first performance of the newly reopened Northern Stage in Vermont. The bare-bones simplicity and natural style of the gorgeous new theater was the perfect setting for this play. Thornton Wilder’s story of every day life in rural New Hampshire, and its delivery by an expert cast, was the most understated kick in the gut that I can remember experiencing. It reminded me to notice the beauty in the mundane, pay attention to the details and open my eyes before it all passes me by. Oof. This play made me want to live a better life.
Coming in at the tail end of 2015, this film left me with my mouth literally hanging open as the final credits rolled. The story of the Catholic church scandal is one that I know, that we all know–I lived in Boston at the time of its revelation; I remember the Globe’s front page headlines making waves as they scattered across my Jesuit Catholic college campus. And yet. This film. The keenness with which the writers and actors of Spotlight perceived, absorbed and delivered this story made clear the power of journalism as a force for justice in the world. Enough said.
The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers’ Pandora station has been a longstanding favorite of mine, one I can listen to for days and days on end. Seeing them live at an outdoor venue one summer night this year was among my favorite moments of 2015. Their music aches and sways in all the right places and makes my heart just about explode for the beauty it reflects in the world. If you love them, you know.
My artist crush of the year goes, without a doubt, to Brandi Carlile and the twins, Phil and Tim Hanseroth that make up her band. It was my great fortune to see them live for the first time in October and then again in December, at small venues with good friends each time. For a folk trio, this clever little band can really blow the roof off any stage and right through your pounding heart with a crashing, rolling riot, then just as quickly recede to a single note. The hurricane and the eye, indeed. This is a band whose studio work and recorded performances stop me in my tracks and whose lives shows kill me dead. That anyone should be so very cool, I just can’t.
Friday Night Lights
My guilty pleasure and least expected love affair of the list, this television drama revolves around a small Texas town and high school football. Still, in watching all five seasons, it showed me how to be a better wife and friend, taught me something about growing up, and gave me a love of the game. It’s the kind of show that has you thinking about the characters between episodes. There’s been a distinct vacancy in my life and my lineup since I finished the last episode of Friday Night Lights, and I’ve yet to find a suitable replacement.
I actually saw this exhibit in November 2014, but it deserves a spot on this list because I’ve been telling people about it ever since. Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartannsson’s exhibit, “The Visitors” fills a huge gallery with ten-foot video screens, each projecting the goings-on in a single room of a rambling Hudson Valley farmhouse. In each room, a musician plays or sings along to an improvised rendition of a poem set to music while listening through headphones to the musicians in the other rooms. To visit the exhibit is to step into the farmhouse and amble through it, traveling room to room, encountering a cello here, a piano there, a bathtub banjo here–each growing louder as you approach and receding into background music as you part. Beyond the video projections, the room is dark, blurring the reality of the gallery experience as you drift among other museum-goers in a part-voyeuristic, part-participatory experience. After some time, the musicians begin to leave their posts and you follow them across one screen into the next, and the next, and finally to the front porch where a collection of people has gathered. The music continues, and the museum crowd coalesces around a single screen, as the musicians step off the porch and wind their ways into the distance of a sweeping summer field. Catch this exhibit if you can. Join in. Sing along. Surrender.
What was the best art and media that you experienced in 2015?