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Gratitude

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“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” 

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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I thought for this installment of Gratitude Week, I would start with the quote above from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The name might be familiar. I featured him a post last year, On Stupidity, that has been pretty popular, consistently getting quite a few views each week. He was the German pastor who spoke out against the Nazi regime throughout the 1930’s, later being sent to a concentration camp before being sent to his death on the gallows in the last days of the war. On Stupidity described the sort of blatant ignorance that led to the rise of the Nazis and seems to exist here today in forms. Bonhoeffer also coined the term Cheap Grace which also seems abundant these days. It’s a post that is worth another look.

But the words above from Bonhoeffer offer a different and positive thought, that when  receive much more from this life than we ever give in return. Understanding this concept and living with a sense of gratitude gives our lives a richness beyond material wealth.

In that vein, I want to point out that there is a political/economic philosophy that has been out there for some time now, one that has led to the increasing disparity of wealth between those at the top and those in the middle and at the bottom.

It basically labels people as Makers and Takers. In the eyes of those at the top, the Makers are those who control the wealth and means of production and the Takers are everyone else. They believe that no matter how integral a person might be in assisting the Makers amass their wealth, they are only there to take from them.

They see the world as a zero sum scenario where there are only winners and losers. Those at the top are winners and anyone below them are losers. The loser Takers are tools at best to be used in their view. When their usefulness has went away, they are nothing more than dead weight.

It’s a distressing idea, one that I would love to say couldn’t exist, but there is ample evidence to support that this belief is flourishing.

I would like to offer a counter-thought.

In my eyes I see the Makers described above as the real Takers. By doing all they can to gain and gain at the expense of others, they extract joy and compassion from this world, along with dignity,respect, and honor. They take away from the humanity of all people with an extreme selfishness that creates a world of solely winners and losers.

But in my worldview anyone can be a Maker because wealth is not the only factor that makes for a better world. Anyone who acts to better people’s lives is a Maker. Those who inspire, those who teach, those who heal, those who put their own lives on the line to rescue those in harm’s way, those who come to the aid of others in need, those who give what little they have until it strains their budgets, those who volunteer, those who work to least the least among us a voice, those who stand up to power so that our air is clean and our food safe, along with so many others—these are the people who make this world a better place, who bring a sense of dignity to all people.

These are the true Makers. These are the people who create the richness of this world.

Please understand that what you have in this world is the result of being assisted by others. You may be the most fabulous, self-sufficient being in the universe but you have done nothing absolutely on your own.

We are the beneficiaries of the work and care of others.

Let us acknowledge that and be grateful. Be a Maker.

 

In Gratitude

 

Thanksgiving has long been a favorite holiday of mine. So, for the next few days leading up to that holiday, I thought it might be a good idea to have the blog’s focus be on the subject of gratitude. Instead of Shark Week, it’s kind of like Gratitude Week on the Art Channel. To start, I am running a post from a couple of years back that deals with the idea of thankfulness.

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True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.

Seneca

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This new painting, which is about 4″ by 15″ is a bit of a rarity. It is done on plain watercolor paper without the benefit of the texture from the gessoed surfaces that I typically use, much like my very earliest works. It was a nice change, reverting to working on the smooth surface of untreated paper. There’s a sense of purity in the way the colors flow on and set to the paper’s surface.

Very clean. Crisp.

I call this piece In Gratitude.

The words at the top from the Roman philosopher Seneca very much capture the spirit of what I see in this painting and aspire to in my own life– to be always conscious of and grateful for that which I do have in my life.

I talk and think a lot about gratitude. Gratitude for where I am in the present moment sets me free from dwelling on the past or fretting about the future, both things out of my hands. Gratitude also makes me recognize the importance of those who have played key roles in my life.

Recognizing that one depends on the help, the love and the recognition of others in their life is a key element in finding a level of contentment in one’s life.

We do nothing totally alone.

I may claim that my work is my creation alone but it is, in fact, a compilation of the interactions of my life with those who I have encountered along the way. They have formed my sight, my perception of this world, and given shape to the hoped-for world that shows itself in my work.

And for that alone, I am so grateful.

So, this seems like a simple small painting but for me it speaks volumes.

Some California Dreaming

Looking out the studio window this morning with the snow softly falling. It’s a cold wet out there in a setting of shades of gray and forest green. Looking at it now, all I can think is that I wish I could send all of it out to California so that it might extinguish the fires that have devastated so much of the state.

My home and studio are nestled in the forest and, while we generally have wetter weather, in dryer periods I often find myself worrying about what might happen if the woods caught fire. It’s a scary thought so I can only imagine the mindset of those who have lost everything or those who are still looking for friends or family possibly lost in the fire’s fury. The horror and hopeless desperation they must be experiencing is far beyond the bounds of my limited imagination.

 Unlike a certain person who serves as the titular leader of this country, I have a soft spot in my heart for the people of California, having met so many warm and caring people who call that place home. I have always been impressed by the friendly openness I have experienced there. The lack of empathy shown and the sheer buffoonery of this person’s comments about the cause of the fires or how they might be avoided with a little raking –as though the forests were no more than a patch of trees between the fairways on a golf course– is a distraction from the real world tragedy happening before our eyes, one that deserves our full attention and support.

For this Sunday morning, I thought I would share a couple of California themed paintings and play a couple of versions of California Dreaming, the classic song from The Mamas and the Papas. It’s a great song and has been covered, as most great songs are, by a huge variety of artists from all sorts of genres. Sia does a fine version. The first is my favorite from Jose Feliciano and the second gets the deep soul treatment from the late and little known Lee Moses who only recorded for a short time in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Give a listen and think a bit about our fellow citizens in California. With Thanksgiving coming this week, be thankful for what you have and consider what you can do to help others who might be experiencing darker days.


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Practically all great artists accept the influence of others. But… the artist with vision… by integrating what he has learned with his own experiences… molds something distinctly personal.

-Romare Bearden

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This morning, I came across this quote from Romare Bearden, a favorite of mine. It reminded me of a conversation I had with another artist last night at the opening for the Masterpieces exhibit at the West End Gallery.

This artist, who has a formidable talent level that was obvious to see in their past work, is in the midst of breaking loose creatively in a way that is establishing a distinct voice. It’s exciting to see the work blossom, thrilling to see an artist take their toolbag of acquired skills and transform them into something unique and personal, something that moves them out and away from their teachers and influences.

It is interesting to witness this artist’s enthusiasm for the new work balloon in a way that creates even more enthusiasm. Each new piece pushes the next forward and forms more and more energy. And that personal voice becomes stronger.

It’s a rare thing to experience and a hard thing to describe. But it is certainly fun to watch when it does happen.

To go with the Bearden piece at the top, Jazz II, from 1980, I thought I’d share the Miles Davis classic So What. Seems like a good way to start yet another dark gray Saturday.

It’s a busy morning. Unfortunately, the busy part comes in clearing the 12+ inches of snow from my driveway that feel overnight. Thankfully, I did a preemptive plow last night on our quarter mile drive or my poor garden tractor would have been overmatched this morning. Oddly enough I came in this morning and stopped in front of a print that hangs on a studio wall. I hadn’t really looked at it closely for a while and it struck a chord this morning. I wrote about it back in 2010 and thought it might be good to run that post again. Hey, I have snow to move.

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This etching hangs on my studio wall, near my painting table. It’s titled The Devil and the Messenger and it’s from Grant Silverstein, an artist from rural northern Pennsylvania, not far from where I live. He is self-taught and has worked for many years now in intaglio etching, which is engraving the image on a copper plate with a sharp needle.

I’ve always liked the look and feel of etchings and have great admiration for those who can translate their vision through this medium. I don’t know if I would have the patience. Grant has his own look and feel, often dealing in the allegorical. Whenever I come across his work I have to stop and look with great pleasure.

My eye often drifts up to this piece and fills me with a lot of different questions and feelings, outside of the satisfaction of the viewing the composition itself. I am curious as to what the messenger is carrying and to who is he taking it. Is the Devil is taking the message or replacing it as the messenger sleeps. Is the messenger merely sleeping normally or is it the result of the Devil’s work?

I see it as a reminder that one is always vulnerable in some way, that there is always the possibility of some Devil tinkering with you while you least suspect it. A little vigilance is required. I don’t mean that to sound paranoid. What I mean to say is that it’s best to view strangers you encounter in a dark wood a bit warily, particularly if they just happen to have horns.

And to be careful where you sleep.

To see more of the etchings of Grant Silverstein click here to go to his website.

Sendak’s Salvation

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Art has always been my salvation. And my gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart. And when Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can’t explain — I don’t need to. I know that if there’s a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart. Or if I walk in the woods and I see an animal, the purpose of my life was to see that animal. I can recollect it, I can notice it. I’m here to take note of. And that is beyond my ego, beyond anything that belongs to me, an observer, an observer.

–Maurice Sendak

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Amen to these wise words from the late great Maurice Sendak.

Thought it might be nice to share some of his work beyond Where the Wild Things Are. It is equally as wonderful.

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The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges, because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become.

Alphonse Mucha

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You most likely know the work of Czech painter Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) for his extremely popular posters that set the style for and were the epitome of the Art Nouveau movement. It was beautiful and graceful work much like the piece shown here on the right.

That was definitely the extent of my knowledge about Mucha’s work. And that alone would be a worthy enough achievement for most artists. But his greatest work may well be his monumental Slav Epic series.

The Slav Epic is comprised of 20 large works that depict the history and the mythology of the Slavic people. It was painted over the course of 16 years with the aid of financial support of American industrialist/philanthropist Charles Crane. The works are all painted on a grand scale with some of them measuring 20 feet in height and 25 feet in width.

They somehow survived Czech occupations by both Nazis and Soviets who both saw the work as being counter to their ideologies. Mucha died soon after being interviewed by the Gestapo in 1939. The paintings are now in possession of the Czech government who are in the process of creating a museum to permanently display this magnificent work. I am sharing a number of images below that show them with viewers so as to give  an idea of the sheer scale of the works.

Pretty amazing. Good reason to get to Prague.

Alphonse Mucha- Slavs in Original Homeland

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