Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Earth Day…

Today, April 22,  is Earth Day. It’s an annual event to show support for strong environmental protections and actions to help keep this planet a clean and healthy place in which to live. It was first observed on this date back in 1970 and as it nears 50 years of age, it has never been more needed.

We are in the midst of a deep and vast cleansing but it is not taking place in the environment. No, it is happening in the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, where decades of of regulations enacting environmental protections are being flushed down the toilet, all for the benefit of large industries and energy companies.

I am old enough to remember the pollution of the 60’s and 70’s. The thick smog that hovered like a brown blanket above and on the cities. The many rivers so polluted that they were awash with dead fish and the others that were simply on fire. The acid rain that formed from the factories of the midwest and blew east, devastating the Adirondack forests and lakes. Love Canal and so many other Superfund cleanups– paid for by tax-payer dollars– of contaminated sites left by negligent industries. Masses of inefficient cars belching gray smoke and so many other things that contributed to a world that seemed to be built on trash and pollution.

Environmental protections have made huge strides in the past 48 years. If you ever drove through Cleveland in the 60’s and you see it now, you understand what I am saying. These regulations have made great strides toward cleaner skies and waters– outside of the giant Texas-sized islands of plastics that sludge along in our oceans and seas. But this administration has sold the country a bill of goods that says, simply put, that all regulation is bad and unnecessary.

And the gullible among us buy it, as though requiring businesses to operate in a safe and responsible manner somehow impinges on their own personal freedoms, even though there is huge truckload of evidence to the contrary.

There may be some regulations here and there that are not needed or are outdated. But for the most part, each of these arose from a need to stem specific practices that were detrimental to the public good. Are any of us worse off for having cleaner air to breathe, purer water to drink, better cars that get higher gas mileage and spew less smoke, or healthier forests and parks to in which to walk? What citizen benefits by allowing coal sludge to be dumped into waterways?

And as for the argument that these regulations cost businesses more? So what? It is the social responsibility of businesses to operate within our laws and regulations, especially when it concerns the health and welfare of our citizens. It is always passed on to us, the consumer, on a cost-plus basis that actually benefits the businesses. But this added cost passed on to us to avoid pollution and contamination is minimal compared to the bill that that comes due to us when we, the taxpayers, have to clean up things afterwards.

Not only do we have to live with an environment with dirtier air and water, we have to pay for the irresponsible screw-ups that gave it to us.

Okay, I am going to stop now even though I could rant for quite a bit more, especially about the cost analysis of renewable energy versus fossil fuels. I will end by saying that the EPA is doing damage to our regulatory framework and the environment it was designed to protect that may take decades to reverse.

This damage can only be halted by the actions of citizens. Get active. Speak up. For god’s sake, vote for clean air and water and renewable energy. If you can’t vote fot that, then we are in for grimy future.

Here’s this week’s Sunday morning music. It is, of course, the classic plea for the environment from Marvin Gaye, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).

Have a good Earth Day.

 

 

Advertisements

Making Do

+++++++++++++

How often have I found that wanting to use blue,

I didn’t have it so I used a red instead of the blue.

 

–Pablo Picasso

++++++++++++++++

This year’s edition of the Genius series begins this coming Tuesday on the National Geographic Channel. This well done series premiered last year with a season dramatizing the life of Albert Einstein. This year it focuses on the life of Pablo Picasso, with Antonio Banderas portraying the artist. Given Picasso’s knack for pushing boundaries and stirring the pot, it could be an entertaining series.

He is probably the most quoted of artists, though many things are mistakenly attributed to him. It’s a case that if it sounds interesting and you’re not sure who might have said it, you credit him or Shakespeare or Lincoln or some other iconic figure.

But I have a feeling that the quote I chose here today is actually his. I can’t see Lincoln saying it.

I certainly know the circumstance to which he refers.

Been there, done that.

In a pinch, you just make do with what you have because you can’t always wait until you have perfect conditions, all the materials you desire and a moment of inspiration are in complete alignment. Sometimes inspiration is there and you don’t have what you would ideally want to use but you still want to make that mark.

A number of years back, I was having some real back problems. I had to that point always painted in a standing position but the pain forced me to sit. I found that there were points where I would reach for a color that I would normally use in certain instances and find it out of reach, across the room. Instead of straining out of my seat and limping to get it, I would take whatever was within my reach and try to either replicate the color or completely substitute another color.

In many ways, it was a good experience. Where I had used reds before, there were blues or greens. Turquoise tended to turn to purples and maroons.

Because my work doesn’t depend on accuracy in depicting natural color, it actually stretched the work a bit more and reinforced that idea that one must make do with what one has at hand. It’s something I have often tried to impress on young artists, that they should never use not having everything they think they need to start as an excuse to not start.

If they have a real creative urge, then they will make do, they will find a way.

The results may exceed what their mind had imagined.

 

This morning, I am taking the advice below from Ray Bradbury and simply doing things.I can tell you from my own experience that his words ring true. All too may times I have started a painting based on an idea, some novel concept that was I believed to be well thought out. Those paintings are usually the ones that die on the easel. The best work, the stuff that seems to have its life force, comes outside of thought. So, my thinking goes on a hiatus starting now. Here’s a replay of a post from several years back on the subject.
ray-bradbury-on-creativity-famous-quotes

I came across this quote from famed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury on a post on the  TwistedSifter site that featured quotes on creativity. This struck close to the bone for me as I have proudly not thought for years now. I have long maintained that thinking usually inhibits my work, making it less fluid and rhythmic.

It’s a hard thing to get across because just in the process of doing anything there is a certain amount of thought required, with preliminary ideas and decisions to be made. I think that the lack of thought I am talking about, as I also believe Bradbury refers, is once the process of creating begins. At that point you have to try to free yourself of the conscious and let intuition and reaction take over, those qualities that operate on an instantaneous emotional level.

I can tell instantly when I have let my conscious push its way into my work and have over-thought the whole thing. There’s a clunkiness and dullness in every aspect of it. No flow. No rhythm. No brightness or lightness. Emotionally vacant and awkward. Bradbury’s  choice in using the term self-conscious is perfect because I have often been self-conscious in my life and that same uncomfortable awkwardness that comes in those instances translates well to what I see in this over-thought work.

So what’s the answer? How do you let go of thought, to be less self-conscious?

I think Bradbury hits the nail on the head– you must simply do things. This means trusting your subconscious to find a way through, to give the controls over to instinct.

And how do you do that? I can’t speak for others but for myself it’s a matter of staying in my routine. Painting every day even when it feels like a struggle. Loading a brush with paint and making a mark even when I have no idea at hand. Just doing things and not waiting for inspiration.

You don’t wait for inspiration– you create it.

So, stop thinking right  now and just start doing things.

Cezanne- Isolation

If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain.

–Paul Cezanne
+++++++++++++

I spend a lot of time alone in the isolation of my studio. Fortunately for me, it is the place in the world where I am most comfortable and feel completely myself.

It is the place where I can feel unrestrained to free the mind and go wherever it takes me. The place where I can shed the uncertainty I find in the outer world and feel free to daydream. The place where I can summon up pictures that exist only inside myself. A place to study. To listen. To see.

It is my my university, my library, my theatre, my monastery and my place of refuge.

My haven.

When I am out of the studio, I am all the while trying to get back to it.

When others come into my studio, the dynamic of that place changes and I feel myself suddenly self-conscious and a bit uncomfortable, like I am standing in someone else’s home.

The visitors’ eyes become my eyes and I notice things I never see on a day to day basis. The cat hair on the floor that needs to be swept up. The paint splatters on the wall or a fingerprint in paint on the wall switchplate. The windows that need cleaning. The piles of papers that I have been meaning to go through for too many months.  The paintbrushes soaking in murky water scattered throughout the place or the start of a not-too-good painting that will most likely never see the outer world.

In that moment, my perfect castle of isolation becomes a hovel of uncertainty.

But the castle remarkably reappears once I am alone again. The uncertainty recedes and I begin to feel myself once more.

My isolation is my default state of being.

I understand exactly what Cezanne is saying at the top. I have been more comfortable alone than in the company of others since I was a child. I don’t know if that is a strength or just a neurotic peccadillo. But I know that if I ever find uncertainty in my isolation, I will have lost my footing in this world.

But, thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet…

 

 

Sowing Lightning

SOWING LIGHTNING

Seize
Bolts of lightning from the sky
And plant them in fields of life.

They will grow like tender sprouts of fire.
Charge somber thoughts
With unexpected flash,
You, my lightning in the soil! 

― Visar Zhiti, The Condemned Apple: Selected Poetry

+++++++++++++++++++++

This is a newer painting that I’ve been looking at for a while now here in the studio. With its many lightning bolts, it’s obviously different from most of my work even though most of it falls in line with the body of my work.

Most of my considerations have to do with whether I feel there is more to be done on this piece. That’s not uncommon when a new element is added. It takes time for me to accept this new thing being interjected into my quiet little world.

I guess that can be said for most new things.

I can see where a lot of people who know my work might have mixed feelings about this piece that seems so much like an anomaly. It has a feeling of an electrical shock in it, shiny and sharp and harsh. If you’ve ever been zapped by a strong jolt of electricity, you know what I mean.

I know that feeling.

But for now, I continue to consider this painting. It may change in some way before it ever sees the outer world again.

Or may be not. For now, I am calling it Sowing Lightning after the poem at the top from the Albanian poet Visar Zhiti. The idea of lightning planting itself in the earth with each strike is an intriguing one.

I am sure there are plenty of artists who would argue this point made by Jackson Pollock. Like religion, many would most likely defend their chosen means of expression as the best.

But I think he is saying there is no one right way, no one technique that ranks above all others in issuing an artist’s statement. Each artist’s individual voice comes through their own chosen technique. Their statement–their statement of belief, if you will– arrives via that technique.

I know that’s been my experience. I am generally looking for a statement of some sort from an artist in their work, something that displays their own truth regardless of how it is expressed.

Something that makes me feel the need to look at it.

It can be in any style, stretching from the most refined painting created by a classically schooled artist down to an untrained folk artist who uses their local mud as their painting medium because that is all that is at hand. So long as each is earnestly created (and that is an important distinction) and provokes a true emotional response, any and all technique is valid.

To bring it back to the religious analogy, the earnest belief of the lone person sitting in a decrepit hut somewhere may be as valid as that of  a priest in the grandest cathedral.

Art, like religion, is diminished when we fail to see the validity of all other voices.

 

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
–Ozymandias, PB Shelley
*******************

If you have ever been to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, you have no doubt seen the painting above. I’ve only been there once and the image of this painting and its strong presence in the space really sticks in my mind. It was painted in 1863 by artist Elihu Vedder, an American expatriate who lived and worked in Italy for over 60 years.

Its title is The Questioner of the Sphinx and it shows a man listening intently at the lips of the ancient monument with the hope, no doubt, of hearing some eternal truth. The skull in the sand makes clear that the Sphinx will not easily relinquish its secrets. The kneeling listener is said to represent man’s futile desire to find immortality.

With the still sand covered Sphinx and the scattered toppled columns, the painting presents us with echoes from ancient history of once mighty empires that are long fallen and forgotten. It is reminiscent of Shelley’s great poem, Ozymandias, shown above, that speaks to the hubris and folly of those who think they can lord over this world.

This was painted at a time when the US was in the midst of the Civil War and there was great doubt as to whether the county would be able to endure the struggle. The US was not an empire at that point. It was still young and finding its way but we still represented a great triumph of democracy, a country ruled by its people and  not kings or dictators or despots– a rarity in the whole of history. But in that civil war we found ourselves in an existential crisis, a tipping point, that put us in peril of being consigned to the dustbin of history before we even grew into any form of our potential.

I write about this painting this morning because it feels to me that we are again at a tipping point, divided in many ways as a country. It feels like there is going to soon be some sort of revelation that is either going to set us on a course that will either allow us to continue to grow our American experiment or will cause us to plummet into a darker and much more dangerous future.

It all hinges on people who are ethical and principled standing up and doing what is right and exposing the truths of our time.

But in the meantime, I find myself feeling like that man with his ear anxiously pressed to the lips of Sphinx.

 

%d bloggers like this: