Uhhhh. Oui??

What is art? Can it exist by ignoring the legacy from the past ?

L'art existe-t-il en dehors de celui d'autrefois? Des peintures appartenant à l'histoire de l'art sont traitées délibérément de manière traditionnelle, sous forme de clin d'il critique à l'art contemporain.

Avec mes meilleures salutations,

Marc Verat

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Shop Locally

Self-fulfilling prophecies are a dangerous, dangerous thing.

This time last year, we were subjected to political rhetoric and forces that were predicated on a forthcoming recession.

Sure enough: we got one. Or at least a "downturn."

Then came September 11.

Then the stock market - already erratic - toppled. (Though one could argue it was long overdue for a complete housecleaning, given that minor corrections had in no way balanced its top-heavy volatility.)

And so the spiral began.

After September 11, I was the first to say that I resented the "Be an American: buy this car" campaigns. (Two weeks later, the head of Advertising Age showed up on Good Morning America to say the exact same thing, only in a far more articulate manner.) I thought it was exploitative, shameful, and manipulative.

I still think that.

But I'm also a little befuddled by the complete culture of fear that we seem to be held hostage by - and that seems to me to be just one more casualty of terrorism.

I see polar extremes: people buying $2000 bottles of wine because, well, who knows what tomorrow will bring (if there is one)? And then there are others who'll deny themselves a pair of shoes they need because. Well, again, who knows what tomorrow will bring (if there is one)?

The thing is: we don't know.

But we never did.

Not before September 11, and not now.

I would argue that buying a $2000 bottle of wine is a little obscene, in any economy, in any social climate.

But if you can afford it, knock yourself out; it's certainly none of my business.

Surely there's a happy medium in here somewhere though - a balance to be found.

Fear feeds on itself, and it damages everybody.

I spend a lot of my time with fellow small business owners these days, and many of them are hurting.

That's painful to hear on several levels.

First, I like them. I know their businesses. I know they're good at what they do. I know the value they provide to their clients and customers. I'm always happy to see them succeed.

But as much as we hear that "holiday sales are down," I sure don't see any available parking spaces at the mall.

And how many CEOs of how many monster chains have tightened their belts lately?

Every year, we introduce every Gift Guide with some glib patter about how we should all shop locally.

Of course we should. We all know that. It's not new, and it's not news.

This year, it doesn't feel so glib.

Will I spend less money this holiday season than I did last year? Maybe a little.

Will I make TWICE the effort to make sure that every dime I spend is a dime that stays in this community? You bet.

I may eat out a little less - but I rarely eat anywhere that I don't know the owners, their spouses, their kids, and usually, the servers, and the chef (or the cook - depending on the venue).

I may not have a lot of money, but what I do have resides in a bank where every single person knows my name.

I've got a lot of books and CDs on my gift list - and I'll buy every one of them from local establishments where they know literature and music. If I need help, I can be sure I'll get it. If I need a special order, I'll get that too.

Sure, I have a vested interest in small businesses - they're a vital part of our client base. (But big tobacco is our biggest annual spender, and you won't see any valentines to them in this issue.)

In truth though, my rabid support of buying local is the same passion felt by any consumer and citizen who wants to live in a sustainable community - isn't that all of us?

If that's true, shouldn't we all be willing to put our money where our mouth is?

And in next week's annual Charity issue, we'll be talking about that even more.