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The last few details are getting done and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am talking about the final preparations for my show that opens next Friday, June 2, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. These last days before I deliver the show are always hectic but also exciting in that the whole of the show becomes apparent in its finished state. Seeing how the different pieces play off each other, enhancing and reinforcing their individual strengths, is invigorating for me especially when the show reaches that level of satisfaction I am seeking.

And I feel this show reaches that level easily.

The name selected for this show is Truth and Belief.  It is also the title of the painting at the top of the page, which is 16″ by 20″ on panel. I have written a number of times here about how the chasm that has been widened in recent times between what is true and what is believed by so many people has preyed on my mind. It seems that while the truth may set you free, unfounded belief is a bear trap that holds you in place, unable to move or see anything beyond your current viewpoint. Even though you’re told information that would free you from that trap, you refuse to place any belief in it because those who set your current trap have instilled a sense of fear in you that there is a bigger trap waiting just beyond what you can see.

So you stay in your bear trap and, despite the pain, you continue to hold onto what you believe. And hope that it is true so that one day you might be free.

I don’t know if this analogy works. It’s early.

But I do think this painting works. I see the Red Tree on the hill in the distance as being Truth and the nearer one being Belief. Truth stands on higher ground overlooking everything, including Belief. It can see all. Belief has a more limited point of view but it feels like it can see everything it needs. It feels like Truth, in its own way.

But there is distance between Truth and Belief. You have a ways to go from Belief until you reach Truth.

But it’s a journey that must be made.

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I have written a number of times here about the events that are taking place in this country and my frustration at how little effect reasoning and factual evidence have on the followers of the current president. Their stubborn stupidity seems impenetrable to even the most glaring truths.  I am sure that there are many of them out there who still, faced with an ever expanding list of acts of malfeasance, refuse to see anything other than a conspiracy against the leader of their cult.

It turns out that this phenomenon is nothing new. It can probably found in every major movement based on political power or religion. One of the most enlightening essays on the subject of the stupidity of the follower came to us in a letter written in a German prison during World War II by theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Boenhoeffer. The first paragraph of the essay is shown above.

Dietrich Boenhoeffer was a pastor and theological writer who stood in direct opposition to the Nazi regime and spoke out against its programs of euthanasia and genocide. He had an opportunity to stay in the US in the late 1930’s, safe from the reach of the Nazis, but he insisted on returning, believing that if he were to rebuild the German church in the war’s aftermath he must endure it with its people.

He was imprisoned in a German prison in 1943 and later transferred to a concentration camp.  He was implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler and he was hanged in the waning days of the war, in April of 1945.

Dietrich Boenhoeffer’s story is most interesting and his writings live on and have great influence to this day.  One of the terms he coined was cheap grace which also has great meaning today. I’ve included an apt description of this at the bottom of this page..

The following essay is taken from a letter written while in captivity.  I urge you to read it. It may help you understand better your own frustration wit what you see today. And if you are one of those who fail to see what seems so clearly evident to most people, perhaps you should read it then ask yourself how you allowed yourself to be swept up in this grand wave of stupidity.

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use  of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings  at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

‘If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who lives in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other.The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

‘Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in must cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really thing are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

‘But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from peoples’ stupidity. than from their inner independence and wisdom.’

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from ‘After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works/English, vol. 8) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010

 

Cheap Grace-

“But there is another, uniquely religious aspect that also comes into play: the predilection of fundamentalist denominations to believe in practice, even if not entirely in theory, in the doctrine of “cheap grace,” a derisive term coined by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as before. Cheap grace is a divine get-out-of-jail-free card. Hence, the tendency of the religious base of the Republican Party to cut some slack for the peccadilloes of candidates who claim to have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and reborn to a new and more Christian life. The religious right is willing to overlook a politician’s individual foibles, no matter how poor an example he or she may make, if they publicly identify with fundamentalist values.”

Mike Lofgren

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Part of me wants to explode this morning at the sheer horror show taking place in our White House and at the fools who believed the obviously hollow promises made on the campaign trail by a creature with a past built on lies and deception.

Or even worse the politicians and so-called evangelicals who sacrificed every principle they ever had in the belief that they could manage this amoral beast to achieve their own goals.  And still continue to stand by this dangerous and undisciplined manchild.

Well, the fact is that the ends will never justify the means when the means is a raging tornado of crap and razor blades that might easily engulf us all. Even if we survive, everyone is slashed and covered in blood and crap.

Yeah, I think you can see I want to explode.

But I went to this little video that mixes the paintings of Norwegian painter Harald Sohlberg (1869-1935) with a Bach organ piece. I had featured Sohlberg’s paintings last year here on the blog and was captivated by them.  There was a wonderful stillness to them that I found immensely calming.

Which I need this morning. And this short slideshow is a wonderful elixir for what ails me. I watched it and immediately felt myself slow down internally as the images and music blended.

I think I’ll watch it again. And again.

Hope it works for you, if you feel the need.

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Well, it’s Mother’s Day.  I am not going to wax sentimental here today except to say that I will think of my Mom today, just like I have nearly every day since she passed away nearly 22 years ago. I miss her in so many ways.

The painting at the top is called Days Like This and is a little 6″ by 12″ canvas that will be in my Principle Gallery show in June.  The hanging Red Chair here represents, as it often does for me, a deceased ancestor. Maybe my Mom on this day.

The title is taken from the Van Morrison song of the same name that fits right in with the day and is my selection for this week’s Sunday morning music. Instead of the warnings of bad days and lost loves ahead that The Shirelles offered in the early 60’s hit Mama Said, Morrison’s mother in his song let him know that there would be good days ahead as well.

Hope you have a good day. Be nice to your Mom and if she’s no longer around, remember some good times with her.

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Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable. 

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

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This is another new painting that is headed to the Principle Gallery for my solo show that opens on June 2. The name I chose for this show is Truth and Belief, two concepts that often, especially in this past year of confusion, get jumbled up in our minds

At least, that’s what I believe. It might be true. Or not.

You see, that’s the thing.  We often claim to want to know the truth but what we want is validation. We want a truth that confirms what we already believe to be true.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

And in the face of a truth that contradicts their beliefs, some will hang onto their misguided belief with even greater tenacity.  They view the truth at this point as an adversary, something to be overcome or at least pushed aside to make room for their belief.

But truth is always there, like it or not.  It will at some point come into view for all to see, believers and non-believers alike.

And that’s what I see in this piece.  The path going into the picture separates with one branch heading into the forest  where the view will be limited by the trees and the terrain. The other branch follows a route that takes it to a higher point where the view is unobstructed. The truth of that time and place is clear and undeniable despite what one might believe.

Now a disclaimer: I don’t know if any of this is actually true.  But I do believe it to be so. As much as it can be for a schlub sitting in the woods in front of a computer at 6 in the morning. Once I climb to a better vantage point I might think otherwise.

This piece is titled Seeking Truth and is 12″ by 12″ on canvas.

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Watching the video the other day of the Rose Garden hullabaloo with the faces of the wealthy and predominantly white men all gleefully gloating the mere passage of a House bill that has the potential to do far more harm than good made me angry and ashamed for this country.  To see them so wildly exulting something that does nothing to address the very real problems that exist in the availability and delivery of healthcare to our citizens is an abomination. They shift around some money to the advantage of those already well endowed and they celebrate like they personally defeated an alien force hellbent on overthrowing the Earth.

What drives these people? I am sure that if asked, they would spew the requisite “they’re there to serve the people“nonsense. But they seem to believe, if their actions are evidence of any sort, that the people they must serve the most are the people who need their assistance the least.

Do these men in congress really know the true extent and face of poverty or is it just an abstract notion, anonymous and in the distance? Personally, I believe they should be speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, that they should be acting in order to lift those in need. Instead, they seem quite content in enriching their own bank accounts and those of their cronies while they do little, if anything, for the greater good.

Maybe they should take a few minutes and look at some of the photos of Lewis Hine, the photo-journalist and social activist.  His powerful photos taken around the turn of the century brought to light the plight of working children and spurred on the union movement that brought about great reforms for workers across the nation. Perhaps if they studied the faces of the children in these photos, they would get a better understanding of what should be their own purpose in their positions of responsibility. Those faces can still be found today, if they would only take the time to look.

Here’s a nice slideshow of some of Hine’s photos set to the Gary Jules version of the Tears For Fears song, Mad World.

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“Can anything be imagined so ridiculous, that this miserable and wretched creature [man], who is not so much as master of himself, but subject to the injuries of all things, should call himself master and emperor of the world, of which he has not power to know the least part, much less to command the whole?”

Michel de Montaigne (1532-1592), Apology for Raymond Sebond

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Dominium is the title of this new painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas that is part of my annual solo exhibit at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. The show opens June 2.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking at this painting in the last several weeks and have found that it is an easy piece in which to withdraw. Even though there are paths coming into the picture, which normally denotes the presence of people, it is the absence of humans that is the message that I get from this piece.

We have no dominion over this world. It is the land that holds sovereignty for no matter how badly we abuse and squander the bounty that this world provides, it will no doubt persist in some living form well beyond the very short time our species will litter its surface. We are not the owners of the land or its creatures nor treat this planet as though we were. No, we should act only as caretakers and custodians of this world, for that is the only way we can extend our tenuous time in this bountiful place.

Maybe this is snapshot of a time beyond ours. Or maybe it is a hopeful example of how we should coexist with our environment.

I don’t know which. I do know that it makes me feel better to just stare at it for a while and that’s a good thing these days. It’s far too easy today to cynically believe that the hubris, stupidity and selfishness that is so prevalent in our species will prevail. All available evidence points in that direction.

But this piece gives me a bit of peace of mind and with that comes the possibility for hope. And that hope at least makes possible the opening of one’s mind which leads to the possibility of obtaining wisdom. And wisdom gives us a chance to use our limited knowledge and abilities to the greatest benefit, to possibly avert destroying our world.

Save the world. That’s a lot to ask of a simple painting. But maybe that is a major purpose of art– to save us from ourselves, to bring light to the darkness.

Okay, in that same vein, this week’s Sunday morning musical selection deals with the ecology.  It’s the classic Mercy Mercy Me from Marvin Gaye. That’s two Sundays in a row for Marvin but it just felt so right.

Give a listen, have some hope and with that, a great day.

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