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“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”

― Martin Luther


Martin Luther wrote the words above in 1521 in his defense against the Papal Bull from Pope Leo X that excommunicated Luther, condemning him as a heretic for his Theses. They were applicable then as they certainly are today.

He had a clear understanding that we are ever-evolving creatures, that our purpose is to attain depth as humans. To continue to grow and learn. 

To follow a road, even as we know that we will never reach a final destination.

I am not a religious person  so, for me, the purification of which he writes is not a religious thing. I see it more as an attainment of wisdom as one travels their road through life. The purification comes in discarding those negative traits that have been doggedly held close during the whole journey. There is a lot of energy expended in maintaining these negative feelings and losing them allows a shift of energy towards more positive thoughts and feelings.

That sounds like an easy thing to do. But those darker negatives stick tight to us, digging in until they appear as part of us. They won’t be tossed aside easily. 

But it is a noble task for us to consider as we travel our endless roads. 

Here’s a lovely version of the great traditional song, The Wayfaring Stranger. There aren’t many bad versions of this song, it’s that  great a song. I’ve played several here over the years. But for today, I thought I’d share this version from the Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra. Listening to their version, it’s hard to believe they are a Norwegian band and not right out of the Appalachians. Lead singer Rebekka Nilsson has that wonderful plaintiveness in her voice that defines this type of music. Just a great version. 

Enjoy and have a good day on your road.


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“Life Pop”- Now at the Principle Gallery


“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”

― Noam Chomsky


I thought I would focus on being optimistic today.

It’s hard these days but it’s a necessity if you want to ever live in the future of your own desires. Planning and preparation are acts of optimism, carried out with the belief that you will be able to have a say in that future.

I have to admit though that my own optimism, my own capacity for looking and planning forward, has lessened over the course of this year. The future just didn’t seem so sure on most days. 

At least, a future with which I was comfortable and at least somewhat satisfied.

But like the words above from Noam Chomsky point out, you have to have some belief that you can shape the future and make it better, even if only in the smallest way.

This sort of optimism is a statement of responsibility.

It says, “I will.”

And that short phrase is enough to begin the process of moving toward that desired future.


Note: Speaking of planning ahead, a film from one of my favorite creative teams, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is on TCM tonight at 10 PM. It’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, from 1943. It’s a film I wrote about here back in 2009.  Like all of the Powell and Pressburger movies, such as The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, it’s beautifully crafted and thought provoking. The beginning sequence is ahead of its time, feeling like a modern music video. Worth a watch.

Have a good day.

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My Dad, right, with Jesse Gardner


Since my dad died last week I have been thinking a lot about his life and his influence– and sometimes, lack of influence– on my life. Just trying to see if I can recognize those sometime intangible things he might have passed on. It’s not an easy task because he was not a sentimental person in any way and the idea of him trying to consciously pass on words of advice to any of his kids is unthinkable.

I wish he had because he had a lot of traits that, when I really think about it, are worth passing on.

For example, I don’t ever remember seeing him exhibit fear. I am not saying he was fearless. Who truly is? I think he just faced it and reacted to threats in a in a different way than myself. He was more than likely to react to danger with confidence and an anger directed at the imminent threat. Direct with no overthinking involved. More fight than flight.

Man, I wish I had that trait.

And I don’t remember him worrying or, at least, expressing his worries outwardly. He must have had worries, right? But he never sat wringing his hands while wailing about what might come. It was more of a just-take-it-as-it-comes attitude. 

Man, I wish I had that.

There are a lot of other little things, good and bad, that I could go over but I just wanted to contemplate what he might have really said if asked to give advice to his kids. I doubt that it would have looked anything like the list below that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter in 1933, which was coincidentally the year my dad was born.

That’s probably unfair. My dad was obviously no F. Scott Fitzgerald. But then again, I doubt that Fitzgerald could throw a decent knuckleball.

What advice would you pass on to a young person?

Here’s Fitzgerald’s list:


Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Worry about…

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:

What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:

(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

–F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1933, Letter to his Daughter


 

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“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain


These certainly is a time of mental pain.  a It’s time with a lot of moving parts, so many things with so many repercussions all going on at one time. Everything, every emotion and passion, feels heightened.

And that can be overwhelming. After all, most of us devote our lives to avoiding pain and difficult emotions.

Unfortunately, there are times when it can’t be avoided.

This is such a time.

We will all have to dig deep into our inner reserves and call on whatever courage and strength we have accumulated there. And if our reserves feel lacking, don’t despair alone. As C.S. Lewis points out above, mental pain is hard to bear and trying to go it alone makes it even more difficult. Everyone–and I mean everyone–needs help now and then so in these times of super stress, reach out and let someone know.

The exposure is often purifying.

On that note, here’s song from someone who, several years ago, I never thought I’d be playing here. It’s Sign of the Times from Harry Styles, who came to fame as part of the manufactured British boy band phenoms, One Direction. But going out on his own, he has proved himself quite a talent and this song has stuck with me from the first time I heard it a few years back.

Give a listen, reach out to friends and family and have a decent day.


 

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“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson


In my Gallery Talk I spoke about the struggle to go inside myself to create in these crazy days. The outer world and its many problems seems to be keeping me from the inner. It’s a frustration that more or less paralyzes me, requiring me to go put in a lot of extra effort just to get down to work.

I am trying to reconcile this, to somehow get past this feeling.

I came across this snippet above from Emerson and it reminded me that I am the one letting the outer world in. Oh, I know you can’t keep it completely out but I was the one opening the door and inviting it in. I was the one who listened to it as it went on about its problems and thought I could somehow help it out, foolish as that idea seems when I write it out. I went, as Emerson writes, into their confusion.

It also reminds me that I get to choose how I respond to the outer world. And being paralyzed is not a choice. It’s a refusal to choose.

So, I choose to shed the paralysis, to get back to work, to explore those inner paths once more. It’s my choice and what I do.

We all have that power to choose how we react to our own forms of paralysis, fear, anger, frustration and so many other negative aspects of our world. Most likely you don’t need to hear this. You probably know this as well as I. But I know I sometimes fall out of rhythm and have to be reminded once in a while.

The painting at the top is from a few years back and lives now with me in the studio. It’s one of those pieces that really hit high notes personally for me right from the moment it took form on the easel. It’s one of those pieces that surprises me in that it hasn’t yet found a home but also please me because I get to live with it for a bit longer. I thought it echoed with the words of Emerson today. It originally echoed with the words from the Rudyard Kipling poem after which it is named, If.

I was going to include the poem here in print but here’s a fine reading of it by actor John Hurt complete with the words shown. And some powerful black and white images.

Have a good day and choose well.


 

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I was checking YouTube yesterday to see if the videos from last week’s Virtual Gallery Talk from the West End Gallery were being viewed. As I came to my page I saw a strange looking entry among my suggested videos. It was my name as a title appearing to overlay what I could see was my work underneath.

There was lettering above my name that appeared to me to be Korean. Clicking on it, I saw that it was a compilation of my work set to three pieces of music with photos of me along with what appeared to be biographical info, all gleaned from the internet.

It’s a strange sensation to see your work in this way, compiled and used by someone else. I am sure there are those of you out there who feel I should be upset over the unauthorized use of my imagery in this way and maybe you’re right. But I knew that once I began putting my work online as I do, it would possibly be subject to this sort of thing. I felt it was worth the risk in order to get my work out there.

I sometimes at gallery talks tell the story of the great photographer Brassai asking his best known subject and friend Pablo Picasso for advice on selling some drawings he had created. For how much should he sell them, for example. Picasso, who liked the Brassai drawings, told him to put a very low price on them because he needed them to get out into the world where they could be known and be seen. Where they could establish a name and achieve a noteworthiness that might one day make all his work valuable. Picasso claimed that had been his route.

It’s advice I still give young artists.

And that’s how I view this– a result of putting my work out into the world.

Actually, I am happy and flattered that my work has reached across the world and translates well into other cultures. You go into this hoping your work speaks to all people and to get a small bit of proof that it might doing that is gratifying.

There are worst things in this world.

Take a look, if you so desire. I could do without the photos of myself but I like the musical accompaniment’s different moods. Have a good day.

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In Radiance

“In Radiance”- Now at the West End Gallery

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Change the focus of the eye. When you have done that, then the end of the world as you formerly knew it will have occurred, and you will experience the radiance of the divine presence everywhere, here and now.

–Joseph Campbell
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Change the focus of the eye.
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Is that the purpose of art? It makes sense. Through the years, many artists have talked about painting beyond what is there, painting the invisible, the intangible.
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To make the viewer see the ordinary in a new or extraordinary way.
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Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, it can be done but you don’t always find the divine radiance of all things. That can be frustrating and unfulfilling. But on those times when you do, you understand what Joseph Campbell was describing. And it drives you on.
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Change the focus of the eye. It most likely applies to life in general, as well. I will have to try that.

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“Trinity Isle”- Now at the West End Gallery

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I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.

—Lao Tzu

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Too tired today. It’s been a combo fatigue, both physical and mental, that has been building and really hit this morning. That just woke up but want to take a nap fatigue.

I think I am going to take a short break, a few days off to not think about stuff, to not worry about things that are out of my control. To not push. To not write.

Catch up on some reading. Listen to some music. Maybe focus on the words of Lao Tzu.

Simplicity. Patience. Compassion.

Or is it Simplicity- Patience-Compassion-Camera-TV?

See? I need a few days off.

We’ll see how it goes.

Stay cool and take five, okay? Here’s Dave Brubeck with his always cool Take Five. See you in a few days.

 

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Painting and art cannot be taught. You can save time if someone tells you to put blue and yellow together to make green, but the essence of painting is a self-disciplined activity that you have to learn by yourself.

–Romare Bearden

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I came across the quote above from a painter, Romare Bearden, whose work I have admired for some time. It’s something I have known for a long time, the thing that makes this a difficult profession in which to succeed.

You can be taught certain aspects of an art form but there’s no way of learning how to make use of your own perception of things or how to make visual representations of their own feelings and emotions. Or how you react to the world. That is all internal and personally distinct.

What works for me may not work for you.

I always urge young people to try a life in art but there is no way that I can tell if they have what it takes to make a life as an artist. There are few metrics for determining one’s ability to take rejection, to allow their emotions to run free, to persevere, to sense the innate rhythms of the world or so many of the other intangibles it takes to be an artist.

But, even so, it is always worth trying.

Actually, while I believe this and could go on for some time discussing this, this was just a way to get to a short blurb that ran here a few years back.about Mr. Bearden which also acts as an introduction to a favorite song of mine. I am busy, much like when I first wrote this short entry.

Here it is:

Don’t have much of a chance this morning to write a proper post. Busy in a good way. But I came across this image above from the late painter Romare Bearden who lived from 1911 until 1988. I was going to say African-American painter as it does in most of his biographies but that kind of bugged me in the same way that bios often point out that an artist is a woman. Seems like they are creating a distinction and putting them into a sub-category for no reason at all, especially when the person in question is creating great work.

So I am just calling Mr. Bearden a painter.

And a fine one at that, one whose work always jumps into my eyes. Just plain good stuff.

Anyway this image has been sticking in my mind for about a week now and I thought it would be a great companion to some music for this Sunday Music by the one and only B.B. King. Especially since the central figure in the painting looks a little like B.B. King. I somehow have only played one song by him in all these years on this blog and it is definitely time to correct that oversight.

I came across his Live at the Regal album as a teenager and it just destroyed me. It was a live performance from the Regal Theater in Chicago from 1964 and it is one of the great live recorded performances ever put down on vinyl, regardless of genre. It just reels and rocks and is filled with classic after classic tunes from B.B., Lucille–the only guitar whose name you probably know– and a band that kicks it big time. As with Romare Bearden’s painting, it’s just plain good stuff.

Take a listen to the great Sweet Little Angel and have yourself a good–no, a great– Sunday.

 

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Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.

–Bertrand Russell, How to Grow Old

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Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is one of those names I come across whose words seem to always make incredible amounts of sense. That is, the words and thoughts that my pea-sized brain can comprehend. Russell was one of those multiple threats, with great proficiency and expertise in a number of fields– history, mathematics, philosophy, logic and political activism, to name just a few. I guess you might just call him a deep thinker or a great mind.

The words above are from a short selection, How to Grow Old, from a collection of his essays, Portraits From Memory and Other Essays. It’s a surprisingly down to earth collection of observations about facing the aging process.

It was the section featured at the top that caught my eye. I was entranced by this idea of going through life beginning as a narrow, rushing stream that gradually widens and slows into a river that heads to the gathering of waters that is the sea.

It made me think of my own father’s life and how he never actively tried to widen his course, never sought to expand his interests in his later years. If anything, his stream somehow became narrower, even as it slowed.

That might sound like harsh criticism to some but it’s a simple observation and I think if it were presented to him at a point when he could still understand what you were trying to say, he might even agree. He might not like it and might tell you to mind your own effin’ business but he probably wouldn’t argue the point. Not much interested him as he aged and the things that once brought him a degree of enjoyment, such as sports, no longer interested him.

Not much did. His stream narrowed and slowed.

It is one of the things about my dad’s life that sadden me. On Father’s Day, I see all of the glowing tributes to other people’s dads, about all the good traits handed down to them from their dads and I am a bit embarrassed. Because for all the worthy traits I have inherited– and there are a few– it is the object lessons learned from the deficits in his life, behaviors and traits I want to avoid, that I find most valuable.

And while there are more than a few of these from which to choose and which I will not go into here, this narrowing of one’s stream is the one I seek most to avoid. I think I have been able to do it thus far. But, even so, though there are days when some genetic predisposition start whispering to me to stop paying attention, to show no interest.

To just sit and stare into the void. To slow my stream and narrow the banks.

But I fight that feeling. Fight it hard.

Years ago, I echoed Russell’s words, writing here that I sometimes see myself and my interests and knowledge as a river– a mile wide and an inch deep. I am still as shallow but I am forever trying to carve my course wider and maybe just a bit deeper.

I am shooting for two miles wide.

And two inches deep.

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