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I Will Dare

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It is very dangerous to go into eternity with possibilities which one has oneself prevented from becoming realities.  A possibility is a hint from God.  One must follow it.  In every man there is latent the highest possibility, one must follow it.  If God does not wish it then let him prevent it, but one must not hinder oneself.  Trusting to God I have dared, but I was not successful; in that is to be found peace, calm and confidence in God.  I have not dared: that is a woeful thought, a torment in eternity.

–Søren Kierkegaard

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It is a shame to be afraid of trying to do big things, to envision and implement big ideas. To doubt and fear to venture beyond our comfort zones is a recipe for regret.

I know it in myself.

I dislike myself immensely when I fail to think bigger, when I have lost the confidence that I can overcome the failure that might come with risking much. I feel cowardly when I settle for being less than I know I can be. I feel weak when I rationalize away my own potentials for the sake of feeling safe, even though I know there is no satisfaction in that safety.

To stay the same, to deny possibility for the sake of the perception of security, is not a victory in any way.

The fear of risk outweighing the desire for what great good might be attained and the contraction of one’s potential to be less than one knows is possible is a grave danger for any person.

And I believe I sense it in this country.

Maybe that’s my own projection. What do I know?

Anyway, here is this Sunday’s musical selection. It’s from a favorite album of mine, Let It Be. No, not the one from the Beatles. It’s a 1984 album from The Replacements, a Minneapolis based band who was highly influential on bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. This song is I Will Dare.

 

Romare Bearden – Vampin’ ( Piney Brown Blues)

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The artist confronts chaos. The whole thing of art is, how do you organize chaos?

–Romare Bearden

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I think the beginning of this quote from the late artist Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is an important statement and observation.

The artist confronts chaos.

That really speaks to me. It better defines a bit the purpose and necessity of art, both in a general and personal sense.

Maybe the purpose of art is to bring clarity and order to the world that confronts us, to illuminate the hidden or overlooked elements of our existence.

I don’t know for sure but these few words and my own experience make me believe it to be so.

For me, art is a way of distilling the torrent of information and sensations that flow through each of us every day down to a single manageable expression. An expression that helps me better understand and tolerate the chaos before me.

For me, it usually boils down to familiar forms and expressive colors. Found order and harmony above the chaotic rhythm of the texture below.

Like hearing a language you don’t really know but seem to somehow understand and trying to translate it to others.

It is different for every artist, no doubt. The idea of organizing chaos might seem totally foreign to some. I can’t say for sure what drives every artist or what purpose they derive from their art.

I can only speak for myself. That, in itself, might be a valid definition for art.

To that, I answer with my mantra: I don’t know.

And that is undoubtedly the driving force behind art.

Here’s  Big Joe Turner and his Piney Brown Blues, the song that Romare Bearden references in the monotype at the top of he page. Have a good day.

 

The Frog in the Pot

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“Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’… must someday lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing – each act is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.

You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father could never have imagined.”

Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)

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Yesterday, like the day before that and the day before that and like nearly every one of the 1001 days since Trump– yeah, I wrote that freaking name– took over our government, was a day filled with outrages.

It was a day that saw Trump crowing ( in his typical word salad comprised of baldfaced lies, the bombast of an ultra spoiled eleven year old and a level of stupidity that so far exceeds any other world leader that it borders on being a form of art) about a faux ceasefire that gives Turkish president Erdogan everything he wanted with absolutely no ramifications and was a final and absolute betrayal of the Kurdish people.

It all but assures an ethnic cleansing of some degree.

It was an Orwellian performance, one where the words are so far removed from the reality of the situation that one is left to wonder if they have somehow stumbled on a new dimension in time and space, some new place that they do not know from any of the life they have led to that date. It was also a remarkable display of profound weakness and defeat on his part even though he tried to sell it as a victory.

If that had been all for the day, it would have been momentous but it was only one small part of the day. There were several other instances in the day, all so outrageous that would have set any other presidency on fire in a way from which they could never recover.

But here , it was another Thursday.

It reminded me of the evolution of the evil that overtook the German people in the 1930’s, culminating in the atrocities of the Nazis during WW II. We in the present tend to think that that thing they became was there in that same form from the very beginning. But it wasn’t. It started in an innocuous, political way. It came in small, subtle changes that involved the normalization of behaviors and thought processes that would have been unthinkable in the not so far past.

Journalist Milton Mayer went to Germany after the war and interviewed a large number of ordinary Germans who lived under the Third Reich. It resulted in the book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, published in 1955. The small excerpt at the top captures the spirit of the book, describing an environment in which each day pushed a bit further towards the evil end but in such small, baby steps that one didn’t even notice the changes taking place, both in the country and in themselves.

This situation is often described by a frog being put in a pot of warm water on a stove. It is comfortable at first and nothing seems out of the ordinary as the temperature of the water slowly increases. It swims as it always did and adjusts easily to the temperature increases, so gradual are they, until it is too late and it finds itself being cooked alive.

It feels like the water in our pot is nearing a boiling pot.

I am not alone in believing this. I urge you to read the op-ed, Our Republic Is Under Attack From The President, in yesterday’s New York Times from Admiral William McRaven, the former Commander of the United States Special Operation Command and the architect of the Osama Bin Laden raid. He tells of many senior military leaders as well as regular troops who are alarmed at what they are seeing from this president, witnessing as they are the betrayal of our allies and our long stated national mission. They see Trump’s actions as an attack on our republic, feeling that they are under fire from within.

This is not a partisan political attack from a liberal pundit. This is a man, battle tested and committed to serving this nation, who can see the clear and present danger. It is a stunning statement from a lifelong soldier committed throughout his career to being apolitical.

He can feel that the water is boiling in the pot in which we swim.

And we’re nearly cooked because it’s boiling right now. Not weeks or months or years down the road.

Now.

We must get out of that pot.

Now.

Please read the Admiral McRaven editorial. I also urge you to read a larger excerpt from Milton Mayer’s book which can be seen here.

 

 

I was contacted a short time ago on Facebook from stained glass artist Annie Fatica in Erie, PA. She told me in a few short sentences that she had been a fan of my work, having a small painting obtained at the Kada Gallery in Erie, and that she was inspired by it in her own work. She included a photo of the stained glass piece shown here adding that she had created for a fundraiser for the Democratic Party her aunt was involved with.

I was very pleased to see the work and immediately could see that she had “borrowed” a little from my work. I think it’s a fine piece of work and am honored to have had any part in its inspiration.

I naturally thought the local fundraiser was in or around Erie, where Annie lives. Even though I live 230 miles away, that was fine with me. I am happy to help in any way that gets more people involved in the political process and raise awareness of how they can use it to affect real change.

It turns out that the local fundraiser even more local than I had thought, being right in my own backyard in the form of a Grass Roots Get-Together to benefit our local Chemung County Democratic Committee. I was totally surprised and even more happy that this work would benefit the local party.

Small worlds.

And it takes place tonight, Thursday,from 5:30-8:00 PM at the Hill Top Inn, overlooking the Chemung Valley and the city of Elmira. For my friends not familiar with this area, the Hill Top is but a few miles on the same hillside from where Mark Twain spent many a summer, writing some of his best known works at Quarry Farm.

This piece of work will be part of a silent auction and I am hoping it raises a bunch of cash for the local party. If you’re going tonight, hope this gives you a bit more of a background on this particular work from Annie Fatica. I checked out some of her other work and was totally impressed by her skill and vision. Great stuff! Below is a favorite of mine.

[Because I knew I would not have any time to write this morning, I wrote this post yesterday before. After witnessing the absolute traitorous madness that our president* displayed yesterday at several separate instances, I am more pleased than ever to have this work support a party that stands in stark opposition to him. This must stop now.]

Imagination

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Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.

–Richard Feynman

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I was thinking recently about the importance of imagination and came across the words above from the late physicist Richard Feynman. His thought really meshed with my own thoughts on the imagination, which focused on the importance of it not only in art or literature but in so many aspects of our lives.

Actually, my thoughts were more about the lack of imagination I was sensing in all too many people. They seem to not be able to see beyond what is immediately in front of them or to extrapolate what might happen in potential situations beyond the next few minutes. I guess you would call it being short-sighted, a condition that often leads to fear and cynicism. Fearful of the new and cynical of anyone who dares to see beyond tomorrow.

You see this in how people react to many of our current events. This lack of imagination makes them willing to accept only what they can see now, blocking out any vision of what the ramifications might be into the future. This lack of imagination also makes these same folks blind to the patterns that brought us to this current condition.

Their shortsightedness tends to go hand in hand with a short-term memory, one that easily discards facts– and often their own words– that don’t coincide with what they see in the present moment. As a result these folks tend to fall prey to leaders offering them hollow promises and easy answers.

And scapegoats.

Because besides shortsightedness and short-term memory, a lack of imagination also often leads to a lack of empathy and compassion. These folks lack an ability to envision people different than themselves living in different situations. They can’t imagine the hardships or injustices that affect the lives of others. It’s all too easy to turn these people with differences into scapegoats for those lacking in imagination.

I am not writing this because I feel I have any special amount of imagination. I certainly have at times limited my life through my own lack of imagination and the fears and cynicism that it enables. I am sometimes small when I could be large and large when I should be small.

I just want to know how to communicate clearly with those folks who seem to have this lack of imagination, to get them to see possibilities and potentials beyond their own noses now and years into the future. This chasm between those with and without imagination seems to me to be the dividing line in this world right now.

I can still, against the evidence of the present, imagine a better world. But I can also imagine a much worse world. I believe it all depends on inflaming the imaginations of those who have refused to use them to this point.

At this point, I don’t know what or who can do such a thing.

My imagination is still hopeful.

Dare to Know

I used the beginning paragraph from an Immanuel Kant essay as an intro when I first wrote the blogpost about the painting below, Dare to Know. Recent events sent me back to the 1784 essay, What is Enlightenment?, from which they were taken. I found that the rest of the essay was equally as compelling as that first paragraph, describing how the vast majority of people are willing to relinquish the choices in their lives to others. It seems to say that people are  basically fearful of taking responsibility for much of anything and will gladly sacrifice the freedom to think and decide for themselves to anyone willing to tell them what to do, even when it is not in their best interest. This essay urges people to step forward into the light, to question things, to think independently, and accept responsibility. That is how enlightenment can be found.

It seems to me that this describes the current divide in this nation and throughout the world. There are those willing to blindly believe that those in positions of trust, such as our leaders or clergy or captains of industry, will act responsibly, doing what is best for the vast majority of the population without self interest. They choose the path of least resistance, believing hollow promises that require little from them.

And then there are those who question, those who seek truth and clarity, those who demand that trust be earned. They want take responsibility for the decisions in their lives, even those that are difficult and require sacrifice. They desire accountability for themselves and for those others who claim to know what is best for them. 

While it is not always an easy path, that willingness to dare to know may well lead to enlightenment, as Kant indicates. Myself, I prefer that path.

Here is the original blogpost:

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“Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude!- ‘Have courage to use your own reason!’- that is the motto of enlightenment.”

― Immanuel Kant,  What Is Enlightenment?

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Sapere Aude!  From the Latin for Dare to Know.

I came across the passage above from the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant and felt immediately that it was a great match for this new painting. In fact I am calling this piece, 11′ by 15″ on paper,  Dare to Know (Sapere Aude!)

The Red Tree here is removed away from the influence and shading of the other trees and houses in the foreground, out of darkness and into the light. There is a light about the Red Tree and a sense of freedom in the openness of the space around it. It is free to examine the world, free to seek the knowledge it craves, and free to simply think for itself.

It’s a great idea, this concept of enlightenment and one that we definitely could use today. Too many of us form our own base of knowledge by relying on the thoughts and opinions of others, often without giving much consideration as to their truthfulness, motives, or origins. Or we shade our base of knowledge with our own desires for  how reality should appear, holding onto false beliefs that suit us even when they obviously contradict reality.

In short, there is no enlightenment based on falsehoods, no way to spin darkness into light. Enlightenment comes in stepping away from the darkness of lies and deceptions to see the world as it is, with clarity. It means stripping away our own self defenses and admitting our own shortcomings, prejudices, and predispositions.

It may not always be what one hoped for but it is an honest reality. And maybe that is enlightenment, the willingness to face all truths with honesty.

To dare to know.

Sapere Aude!

I came across a short quote from the late Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, that I wanted to share here:

“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.”

I found that these words came from his speech given at his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. But while researching this quote, I came across this other poem that really spoke to me. I thought I would share this as well. It was written in Warsaw, Poland in 1944 in the midst of the German army’s destruction of that city.

Basically, he is saying that though the world might seem to be in chaotic and deadly turmoil, that the world for some is ending, there are those who will not notice it. The sun is shining  as it always does and the moon will rise soon after as it, too, always does. Birds sing and fish swim as they always do. People go about their days, working and playing, as they always do.

How can this be the end of the world if such things go on unaffected?

But the end he may be describing may not be the actual end of the world, though for some it surely does. The world is always changing sometimes in small ways and sometimes in large swipes. Every change means the end of one world and the beginning of another. Perhaps, while he is surely pointing to an actual ending of worlds for his neighbors in WW II Warsaw, he is also referencing a symbolic ending to worlds of innocence, of worlds of gentleness, replaced with worlds of violence and treachery.

I don’t know for sure but that is how I am reading it. Take a look and decide for yourself.

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A Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

–Czeslaw Milosz   (1911-2004)

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