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Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

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“The world concerns me only in so far as I owe it a certain debt and duty, so to speak, because I have walked this earth for 30 years, and out of gratitude would like to leave some memento in the form of drawings and paintings—not made to please this school or that, but to express a genuine human feeling.”

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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Thought a good way to kick off this week might be to share a few paintings from Vincent van Gogh along with a quote from one of his letters that speaks very much to my own feelings about my own reasons for doing what I do. These are not his better known paintings, though some of you may well know these pieces. They’re pieces that speak to my own personal inclinations. You might notice that most of these paintings have his ball sun/moon.

The idea of feeling a need to leave a memento behind that expresses one’s gratitude and one’s expression of self is one that is not foreign to me. I often think about how my work will speak for me after I am gone. Actually, if it will speak into the future at all and if so, will it be an honest reflection, a true representation of my voice.

I know that an artist, for all of the ways they try to guide the narrative about their work and life, have little control on the future.

What will be, will be.

Their voice might echo but it is always just that, an echo, a one-sided conversation from the past. Hopefully, what is said in that echo reverberates and speaks to someone of that future time so that they can fully understand and connect to the feeling behind it. And if so, with the hope that they might respond to that voice in some small way that continues to give life to it.

As I said, an artist has little control over this outside of doing their work with honest efforts and emotions. It’s obvious this was the case in the work of van Gogh and we continue to have a conversation with his echoes from the past, his mementos of 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 we 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.

 

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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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Feels like we’re kind of in the calm before a storm. There’s a sense of pent up energy just waiting to be unleashed and the only question is how it will all unfold in two days, what kind of damage will be done.

Or undone.

It’s a schizophrenic time filled with high moments of excited hopefulness followed by lows that are comprised of doom and gloom. I dislike both the highs and lows of this time. The highs because I fear I am just kidding myself in thinking that the best thing might happen and the lows because of the future the worst case scenario presents.

All in all, it leaves me, and I think a great many others, exhausted from walking this ragged edge of social/political schizophrenia.

So finding this video this morning was just what the doctor ordered for me. I don’t exactly know how I got to it. I started with watching Lola from the Kinks, moved to a Spanish group named Cafe Quijano doing a song called La Lolagreat song, kind of sexist video–then took a couple of turns and there was this.

It’s from a group called Too Many Zooz. It’s three guys– Matt “Doe” Muirhead on trumpet, Leo P on baritone sax and DavidKing of Sludge” Parks on percussion– who started performing as subway buskers in NYC. Their call their genre of music brass house, a mix of house music, Afro-Cuban, and jazz. I think we can dispense with labels and just say that it is high energy.

They have taken off in recent years as a result from a video that went viral that was shot by someone watching them perform on the Union Square platform in NYC. They have performed around the country and in Europe and Leo P, now widely known for his frantic dance moves, even did a performance on the BBC Proms with a full orchestra. They are currently on a European tour but will be back in the states next month. I see they are appearing not too far from me at The Haunt in Ithaca in December.

This video is called Bedford and was shot on the Bedford subway platform in Brooklyn at 3:33 AM. If anyone was thinking about going to bed at that point, this most likely woke them up.

So, if you find yourself in need of a pick-me-up, take a look at this.

As John Lee Hooker once said, “If you can’t dig this, you got a hole in your soul– and that ain’t good.”

Then take that energy and get out there and vote. Vote. Vote. VOTE.

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Looking through some older work, I came across this piece from January of 1995. It was from a time just before I first showed my work publicly. It seems like just yesterday in some ways but a hundred years ago in others. I was just finding voice in my work but still had some work to go before I  could fully utilize it.

This is called Outside Shakeytown and it’s obviously watercolor on paper. Shakeytown was the name I used sometimes at that time for a mythical dark and dank town that hovered under dirty gray skies and sooty foundries and factories. It is a name that could be used in place of any number of small Rust Belt cities and towns that have seen industries disappear over the past 40 or 50 years. These often impoverished towns often still have shuttered factories that stand like ugly monuments to a long gone past as they struggle to find a new identity in a modern world.

It can be a compelling setting, one filled with deep darkness that give rise to startling and dramatic contrasts. One of the birthplaces of art.

This piece is a favorite of mine, one that checks a lot of boxes in a list of what I want to see in my work. It always sends off sparks within me when I pull it out. For me, it acts as sort of a creative terminus from which all sorts of paths depart.

And like the beginning of any journey, it fills me with excitement and a bit of dread.

And those are good starting points for new work.

While I never had plans of showing this publicly, I had to laugh when I looked this morning and noticed that I had signed it twice. The one on the left is the original and the one on the right is from what I think is a much later date when I must have not noticed the other signature. They are both in pencil so I could just erase one but I am going to leave it as it. That way, a couple of hundred years in the future maybe someone will stumble across it– in a gallery or a junk shop or a junk heap, who knows?–and will wonder what was meant by the two signatures.

I won’t be there but I can chuckle at the possibility of it now.

And these days, here in Shakeytown, that’s a good thing.

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I had a dream a week or so back.

It wasn’t particularly odd. I didn’t feel like I was somehow out of place and didn’t recognize my surroundings. I had no strange abilities. No, it all seemed very normal. In fact, I was still a painter in this dream.

The gist of the dream was that I feeling a bit down about my work. Then out of the blue I received a phone call from a person identifying themselves as the editor of a large national magazine who wanted to do a story on my work. I was excited in the dream, as would be expected.

The dream ended with me asking what this magazine was that so wanted to do a big story on my work.

The voice on the other end replied, “Finger Painting Magazine.”

I woke up at that point and I began chuckling in the darkness.

My big break!

Womp womp.

I thought about that dream again yesterday. It still made me chuckle but I thought maybe I should try painting without a brush, using only my fingers, at least once. Maybe there is something to this finger painting stuff.

So I grabbed a canvas and got at it. I decided that I should keep it simple while I work on my strokes so I went with my most basic of compositions. Sky. Ground. Path. Red Roof.

Using only my fingers definitely gave it an immediacy and excitement. The piece changed quickly with a smear here and a daub there. The quickness of the process seemed to require more boldness. I used a couple of higher toned colors in more prominent roles than I normally would when using a brush. And I think it worked in this piece.

I began to realize that my hand was a combination of many brushes. Each finger had its own size and quality so there five brushes right there. Putting two or three fingers together made a couple more. And my palm was a broad brush as well.

Actually, as I got toward the finish of the painting I began to realize it didn’t look much different than my normal work. A little more ragged on the straight edges but that is not necessarily a bad thing. And it was not as messy as you might think. I actually ended up with less paint on my hands than I normally do when using a brush.

Maybe I have been wasting my time with brushes.

I did a little research this morning. There is no Finger Painting Magazine but there are several painters who use only their fingers. Some are quite striking and one was written about in an article I remember seeing not too long ago. She paints icebergs and other frozen landscapes on a grand scale. Great work.

Maybe there should really be a Finger Painting Magazine.

 

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