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Today, being the day of Christmas Eve, is a stressful day for many folks. Factor in a load of general busyness and pressing obligations, last minute shopping among throngs of other stressed out folks and worrying about if you’ve done enough or too little and you’re left with a high stress situation.

It creates a pressure that sometimes takes away from the desired spirit of good will and cheeriness we normally associate with the season. And that’s a shame. We have enough stress already.

So, today I am taking it easy. Reducing my load. No pedantic lectures on generosity and giving. Just extending a wish that you have a relaxed and happy holiday. Take a breath today and try to just be in the moment.

Here’s Ella’s version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Ella usually makes everything a little better, even these stress-filled days. Give a listen. It’s a great first step towards reducing the tension.

And then have yourself a merry little Christmas.

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I’ve played this song, Must Be Santa from Bob Dylan, a couple of times over the past decade. It’s a great song, a polka with a klezmer feel that takes Dylan back his Jewish roots and in the the entertaining video you get the bonus of seeing Dylan dance. Good fun for the day before Christmas.

The last time I ran this song I included a group of photos of Santa that were less than jovial and maybe a little menacing. Creepy Clauses. While looking for an photo or two to accompany that post, I browsed through masses of images of Santas from the past and was amazed how many of them crossed that line into outright creepiness. It made me believe that Santa is just about on par with clowns in Creep Factor. You might see a rogue clown in the woods but Santa is, simply put, a bearded home intruder and flamboyant dresser who crawls down your chimney in the dark of night.

He knows when you are sleeping, for god’s sake!

When I was kid I had time going to sleep on Christmas Eve because of the excitement and anticipation that Santa was on his way. Now, after looking at those photos of Psycho Santas, I won’t be able sleep for fear that he actually might be on his way!

For that first post with the borderline Santas, I picked a few that were pretty strange but there were plenty more of them out there, some which just made me a little queasy. I have a feeling that many of them are also in sort of police registry somewhere.

I thought I would include a fresh batch of Kreepy Kringles this year. I kept the one from the original, at the top here, because he just weirds me out on multiple levels.

Anyway, enjoy the song and have a good holiday. And don’t worry about the weird old man hovering around your home tomorrow night…

 

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YCAC Student Work 2019

Well, my annual workshop up in Penn Yan has come and gone for the year.

Phew!

I don’t know why but afterwards I inevitably feel like I have been beaten with a sock filled with nickels– bone tired and a little achy. Most likely it’s because running around, talking and painting, in front of a group of people all day is way out of my comfort range. I am not used to that much interaction with people without a break. I think I told the group that  my normal day was actually not far from standing on the lawn of my studio and shaking my fist and hurling profanities at an empty sky.

So having to rein that in and be a civil human who is trying to assist someone takes some effort.

But this year’s group, like every group, has been absolutely wonderful. They were (and are) kind, smart, humorous, generous of spirit and outgoing, though there is a bit of shyness about their painting sometimes. They make my job much easier than I think it is. By that I mean they would probably be just as happy if we accomplished half  of what we do in those two days.

And we do a lot in those 12 or so hours of painting which is remarkable for a group that has many folks who paint maybe once year and have little, if any, experience with painting. Plus, they are learning a pretty idiosyncratic style that requires the touch and understanding of the materials that can only be obtained with long periods of practice and repetition. It can seem pretty frustrating for them at points in the two days. My job, as I see it, is to impart what knowledge I have and to help them in any way to make them feel less frustrated, with the hope that they will try to keep going on their own after the workshop ends.

This year’s painting could have easily brought about a great deal of frustration. It was a fairly complex composition with multiple beds of flowers that required lot of intense painting. It was a whole bunch of work for such a condensed period of time.

And they did absolutely great with task. It took a torrid afternoon session on the second day but their work really popped and each painting made it to a satisfying completion. I am always amazed at how well the work comes out and how, though they share the basic composition and color selections, there is a great deal of individuality to each piece.

I am proud of their work and I certainly hope that they are equally as proud. They should be. If not, they fooled me because they seemed happy enough when they left.

And though I am tired and will no doubt soon regret the decision, I have already agreed to return next year, this time returning to the wet work with inks that marked my earlier work. Sounds lie a lot of work with new materials but most of this year’s attendees are already planning on coming. I have no doubt that it will be fun.

So, thank you to each and every one of you folks who came and worked so hard. Thanks for your efforts and your welcoming spirit. I could not possibly appreciate it any more. Hope you’ll come back again.

And with that, let’s listen to a little Long John Baldry with, of course, Come Back Again.

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If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Only have a minute before I head out to Penn Yan to lead a two day painting workshop. I am a hesitant teacher, not really ever wanting to teach for a number of reasons. It’s hard work, for one thing. I never feel qualified to teach, for another. There are plenty more. But I have done this for the past five years now because of the folks that come and what they claim they get out of it. It can be fun and it’s always gratifying to see them complete a real painting, one beyond they expected from themselves.

But the quote above  from the author from the The Little Prince  reminds me that what I should be imparting goes beyond technical instruction and copying forms. I should be trying to get them to recognize their deepest emotions or strongest reactions and putting them in the paint.

Make them long for the endless immensity of the sea…

Well, got to run. Hopefully, that task is within my reach.

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If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.

–Emil Zatopek

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The words above are from Emil Zatopek, the immortal Czech runner who was called the greatest runner of all time by Runner’s World Magazine.  Zatopek wowed the sports world at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki by winning both the 5000M and 10000M races then entering at the last minute and winning the marathon. It was the first marathon he had ever competed in.

I think he must be correct in his quote. Running is one thing, something most of us can do for short intervals. But committing to and running marathons are a whole different thing. It takes real focus and dedication– a compulsion — to run marathons at a high level. It requires altering your diet to get the most from the least. It takes the willingness to sacrifice the time for training, putting in endless miles running alone. Mastering that solitude is a special skill in itself.

I know that it’s something I will never do which is perhaps why I admire those that take on this hard task.

One person I know who does this is my nephew, Greg. He’s been running most of his life in some form. A little cross country in high school. Running just to stay fit as he aged. Casual stuff for the most part. He trained for and ran his first NYC Marathon in 2005, I think it was. He was in his early thirties at the time and his time was respectable.  In the years since, with some time away from competitive running to be a great dad to three active sons, he has slowly become a committed marathoner, doing all the things I described above.

Fittingly, the work and time he has dedicated have shown up in his results. His times have consistently improved even as he has aged. At age 47, he is consistently in the top 2% of both all runners and his age group. In yesterday’s NYC Marathon, he established a personal best for that race coming in at 2:56:16.

It’s been fun watching Greg’s continuing progress as a runner. Seeing his dedication and hard work rewarded is a lesson that I hope his sons absorb and use in their own lives. I am pleased for Greg and proud of his hard fought efforts.

Great run, Greg. Keep up the good work and looking forward to you establishing a new personal best in Boston in 2020, if that’s in your plans.

Here’s a favorite of mine from the Velvet Underground in honor of your race. It’s, of course, Run, Run, Run.

 

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Game 7 of the World Series last night.

What was there not to like?

For me, the shocking victory by the underdog Washington Nationals over the Houston Astros seemed like the universe was setting things right in a karmic sense.

The Nationals, the oldest team in major league baseball with the youngest superstar in Juan Soto, made an improbable run through the later part of the regular season and into the playoffs, becoming the first team to win all of their World Series victories on their opponent’s home field. That in itself goes against all the odds.

Just like the odds in May from the bookmakers in Las Vegas that had the Nationals chances of winning the series as 1.5%.

Maybe it was a gift from karma for them getting rid of Bryce Harper?

Or maybe it was a nod from karma for the Nationals crowd loudly booing the president* both at his appearance in game 5 and at a viewing party at Nationals Park in the rain last night?

I believe that was just a case of the crowd adhering to the old baseball adage that says: I calls ’em like I sees ’em.

And they got that call right.

Or maybe the karma came in the fact that the pitcher who got the final three outs was the Nationals’ Daniel Hudson and not Robert Osuna, the controversial Astros closer.

Hudson missed an earlier playoff game so that he could be with his wife as she gave birth and Osuna was arrested last year for domestic violence for beating the mother of his child. He was passed over by a number of teams but the Astros picked him up.

But the karma payback might have come in response to the Astros’ earlier defense of one of their executives, Brandon Taubman, who, in the clubhouse after the Astros won the American League pennant, taunted some female reporters, one who had written about domestic violence in sports, with an expletive filled rant that invoked Osuna’s name. The Astros’ management at first defended Taubman and said that it was totally misrepresented in the public accounts. But the Astros were later forced, after several witnesses to the event came forward, that they had been wrong and fired Taubman.

That might have been too late for the Astros– karma was already in motion.

My faith in humanity might not be fully restored yet but my faith in baseball and karma certainly has returned. It makes me believe that karma is now ready to move on from baseball and clear up some other pressing matters.

And it’s coming with a heavy hammer…

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I am prepping for my annual two day workshop next week in Penn Yan at the Arts Center of Yates County. Below is a post I wrote just before the first workshop. I have to say, after the first four years, they have been both a lot of fun and pretty stressful for me. Every year, I am not sure I can do another one. But I keep coming back, mainly because of the kindness of the folks that come, the many laughs we share, the fact that I think they are taking away some small bits of knowledge, and the hope that they getting more than they expected when they signed up for the workshop. So far, I think that has been the case.

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Why does one not hold on to what one has, like the doctors or engineers; once a thing is discovered or invented they retain the knowledge; in these wretched fine arts all is forgotten, and nothing is kept.

Vincent Van Gogh, Letter to his brother Theo 1888

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When I read this quote from Van Gogh, I flashed back to a conversation I had several years back with an artist friend who was urging me to begin filming my painting process. He said that a deer could jump in front of my car going home from the gallery that night and nobody would ever know how my  paintings came about. He thought would be a loss.

That made me think but I still didn’t follow his advice and protected my process, except for small glimpses here and there, for years like an alchemist greedily withholding their found knowledge. It was one of several reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for teaching.

But time normally changes all things. I began to realize that it was a fool’s mission in keeping my process to myself. The  process was simply a tool for expression– it was not the expression.

An artist often has individual expression that transcends subject, material and technique. For example, an artist painting exactly like me– same trees and process– would produce work that would be different than my own. It would have a different soul, if it had one at all. If this artist’s purpose was mere copying, it would not. I can say this because I’ve seen this before.

So, after a bit, I came to understand that showing or teaching my process would not diminish my work in any way. In fact, I began painting the way that I do because I initially wanted to see paintings that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else. Wouldn’t it be great to spur that same thing in others?

To that end, as I announced earlier, I am teaching my first two day workshop,  September 17 & 18 [2015],  at the Arts Center of Yates County in Penn Yan, NY.  It’s a lovely town sitting at the end of scenic Keuka Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, famed for their beautiful vistas and multitude of wineries.

I am pretty excited about this and am starting to put together just how I want to teach this. I don’t want to spend any more energy hiding my process and I plan to fill each of the two days with as much info as I can get across while still making it entertaining and educational. So if you want to spend a couple of late summer days in a beautiful setting learning a form of expression that might spur other good things for you, contact the Arts Center of Yates County.

Hope to see you there.

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