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The artist performs only one part of the creative process. The onlooker completes it, and it is the onlooker who has the last word.

Marcel Duchamp

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I can’t say I have always fully appreciated or understood all of the work of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). The French born artist is best known for his Nude Descending a Staircase #2 (above) which was the center of the fabled and highly influential Armory Show of 1913. The Cubist painting was considered a shocking departure from the norm, breaking the human form and its motion into abstracted blocks and lines. For an art world that was still basically reeling from the push of Impressionism against traditional academic style painting, it seemed like a gateway to total chaos.

Perhaps it was the notoriety from  this show and the effects of World War I that pushed Duchamp even more away from the art establishment of that era. His work became more and more provocative, as he became associated with the Dada movement which rejected all the norms of traditional art. You may know his 1917 sculpture, Fountain, which was a urinal signed with the pseudonym R. Mutt. Shocking the world at the time, it is considered a Dada masterpiece and one of the most influential works of the 20th century.

The thing I find interesting is that after the late 1920’s, Duchamp, still a relatively young man, more or less gave up the making of art and focused on playing chess. He viewed the game as more pure than art in that it was beyond commercialization. He did little art making in the time until his death in 1968.

But while Duchamp, with his contrarian nature, remains an enigmatic character for me, I do heartily agree with his words above. Art is not completely in the making of it. It is the viewer and the impression of the work that they carry with them that completes the artwork. Regardless of how or why the artist created the work, it is the impression that the work makes on the viewer that matters. A deeply personal piece that is that is beautifully crafted may not have the same impact as one that is rough and crudely executed.

That remains the last word of the viewer and what the see and feel in the work.

And that will always be a mysterious and sometimes confounding thing that is beyond the control of the artist.

 

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Loving Truth

Blaise Pascal Death Mask

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Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

–Blaise Pascal

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We live in a time of falsehoods. It is a time where some choose to deny the obvious truth and instead believe the desired lie.

Their opinion, their own sense of belief, has more value to them than all the mountains of truth and evidence that could be stacked against them.

How do you change such people? How do you make them see truth where they see only falsehoods?

You don’t change them.

You can’t change them.

You can only maintain a love for truth and continue to shine a light on it.

Then you must use that truth to defeat those who believe in the current false reality.

No persuasion will ever convert these people.

It must be defeat. Complete and devastating defeat.

A defeat so absolute that some will, in time, begin to understand how far they had veered off the path of truth and reality.

Some will never see the truth and will forever see themselves forever as victims.

Victims of a conspiracy. Victims of circumstance.

Always victims.

How this defeat comes about, well, that is yet to be determined.

But defeat must come.

Sounds harsh, I know.

And in the end, it may turn out to be harsh.

But to let truth be obscured by falsehood, to accept and live in a world completely based on lies, would prove to be far more severe and brutal.

The truth must continue to be loved and spoken.

Truth must prevail.

Amen.

Thus ends today’s sermonette.

Thanks for letting me vent and special thanks to French mathematician, theologian and general brainiac Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) for today’s quote and all of his various and many contributions to truth and the betterment of mankind.

 

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‘Nuff Said

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“he had nothing to say and he said it”

― Ambrose Bierce

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Take that any way you wish. But for those of you who endured that tortuous hour or so last night, you know what I am talking about.

‘Nuff said.

And just to make this post worthwhile, Ambrose Bierce may be one of the greatest American writers that that is unfamiliar to most of us. He was a renowned journalist, prolific short story writer– his An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is considered one of the best ever American short stories–and a pioneer in the genre of horror writing. His The Devil’s Dictionary is one of the classics of humor. He disappeared in Mexico around 1913-14 while traveling as an observing journalist with Pancho Villa’s rebel forces. Pretty fascinating character that is worth the time to look into a bit further.

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“The price of greatness is responsibility.”

― Winston Churchill

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I saw an idiot* on television yesterday say, “The buck stops with everybody.”

Inspiring stuff. A new chapter in Profiles in Courage.

But, even though this pains me to say, the moron* was right.

Well, right in a way, not in the instance of which he was speaking, where he was trying to relieve himself of all responsibility for the particular situation in which he finds himself. No, the fool* is the primary bearer of the responsibility for that.

I am saying the buck stops with us all right now. We have allowed and enabled this whole ugly situation to take place. We have willingly given a looter a flamethrower and we are now witnessing how much damage can be done as he flees the scene.

And he* is very much a looter.  Think about it.

A looter comes riding in on a wave of chaos and confusion, grabbing whatever he can as he runs through the mayhem. He thrives on the bedlam taking place around him because his only concern, his only focus, is on himself alone. He carelessly pushes people aside to get where and what he wants. Not a bit of care for the damage being done or the losses suffered from his actions. Not a single thought for those hurt as he tramples through.

And when it looks like the authorities are closing in, the looter* uses his flamethrower and sows even more confusion. When the whole city is ablaze, you focus on putting out the fire. The looter* focuses only on moving himself to safety.

It is now time for us all to understand that this is our responsibility to end this chaos, to extinguish the fires and take the flamethrower out of the tiny hands of the looter*. We must make our presence felt and our voices heard. Hit the phones and keyboards. Take to the streets and do it now. We can’t depend on anyone else doing it for us.

It is our responsibility.

If we want to continue to be considered a great nation, this is the price we must now pay. Because as Winston Churchill states above, responsibility is the price for greatness.

Or as a reality TV show nitwit* once said, “The buck stops with everybody.”

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I came across this post from back in 2011 that was about how empathy was in short supply back then. Things certainly haven’t changed. If anything, empathy is an even rarer bird to see these days. I wanted to replay this post for the story of my fellow co-worker from years ago who I see as my personal symbol for how the poorest among us need our assistance.

But I also wanted to play this Woody Guthrie song again with the hope that there is indeed a better world a-comin’ soon. Listening to it, I wish that we could have a do-over, could go back to points in our past before the powers-that-be had yet to learn how to manipulate and divide the less informed among us. The time of the union movement was a point where the working masses were a powerful voice in our political landscape, one that built a foundation that gave many an opportunity to move beyond the limitations set upon them by their place in society.

It’s power and success made it a target and in the decades since, corporate power has sought to divide and destroy. Destroying the idea of the union, the idea of one person watching out for the other, was the mission. Empathy became a thing that the common man began to believe was a thing he could not afford. 

It seems on may of these days that they have achieved their mission. But I like to believe there is still an opportunity, that empathy and selflessness can overcome greed and selfishness. I might be foolish to think that but I cannot accept that we have lost the ability to see ourselves in others.

From December of 2011:

Woody and His Weapon of Choice

A couple of things stuck out recently for me when following the mass media. On The Daily Show, comedy writer Merrill Markoe appeared this week and during her interview made the statement that there are now so many socially acceptable ways to exhibit a pathological lack of empathy. I knew this  already but it was so succinctly put that it stuck in my mind, especially when listening to the GOP presidential candidates such as Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich basically attack the poor in recent appearances, blaming the poor’s own lack of initiative for their condition.

I do not disagree that there are ways for some to dig out from the depths of poverty. But for some it is a pit that can’t be escaped. I often think of a man I worked with for a number of years at the Perkin’s Restaurant where I worked when I first started painting. He was a few years older than me which put him around forty years old at the time.

He worked as a dishwasher and busboy making around six dollars an hour. I can’t remember what the minimum wage was at the time since I was a waiter and was only paid $2.35 per hour. This fellow’s wife was ill with some sort of chronic disease and it was constant struggle to stay afloat without assistance for their medical bills. To me, he remains the face of the working poor.

Now this man had no escape routes in his life. He had little education and it was painfully obvious. His prospects for doing a lot better than his current position were slim, at best. The jobs that once might have paid more in the factories and plants of our area were gone and probably weren’t coming back anytime soon. He couldn’t leave. He didn’t know where to go and if he did, he couldn’t afford to move what little he did have. He made a few extra dollars helping a friend pick junk but he was unfortunately near the top of his potential. This was a man who worked hard and did the right things, all that he knew, but still found himself at the very bottom.

He deserves our empathy. He deserves a hand extended.

Instead he and many thousands, maybe many millions, like him are categorized as merely lazy slackers who suck on the public teat. The hubris displayed by these politicians and  their failure to see the singular humanity of these people makes me angry. They anxiously seek to protect the wealthiest among us whose fortunes have been made possible by the blood and sweat of people like this dishwasher, who have been both the primary workers and customers for their businesses. Yet do they feel a tinge of empathy for anyone other than the so-called job-creators?

I don’t think so. At least, it’s not something they dare to exhibit in public. And if they display any empathy, it is because they seek to use these folks as pawns to be played for their own political benefit.

Maybe I’m wrong in talking about such things here. Maybe I should stick with art. I don’t care. Too many of us have remained silent and on the sidelines or have started to buy into that Ayn Rand-ish tenet that selfishness is a virtue that these people spout at every turn, as though it somehow acts as justification for their amoral activity. Maybe someone will not like what I say here and suddenly find my work not to their liking.

So be it. I have to believe that people who find something in my work  also have high capacities for empathy towards others. Those are the people for whom I want to paint. People who believe there’s a better world a-coming, as Woody Guthrie sang in his song many years ago. When I see how forcefully he stood up for his beliefs and the rights of others, I am ashamed at how little I have done myself.  Here’s his song:

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In a way Winter is the real Spring – the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.

Edna O’Brien

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Today is the Winter Solstice. It is the day in which the Earth, tilting on its axis as it makes its way around our sun, reaching its maximum tilt, giving us the shortest, darkest day of our year here in the northern hemisphere.

It is a day that fits well symbolically into our current state of affairs. At the moment, I am not sure that it will not spin right off it axis.

Here, the darkness of the day fits, as well. While unseasonably warm, it is exceedingly dark and rainy. Grim, really. Especially here in the woods where I have reverted from being a creature of ice into once again being a mud person.

Every move outside is a trek traveling through are what seems like endless trenches of mud. Even the trail through the grass that chipmunks have made through the years from a nearby rock pile to our bird feeders has turned into a muddy trench.

But despite the absolute criminal lunacy (this solstice does comes with a full moon, by the way) of what is taking place within the executive branch of our government, despite the grimy and endlessly gray muddiness surrounding me, despite the anxiety of an upcoming holiday, despite it all– I am comforted by the day.

Perhaps it is because, as the great Irish novelist Edna O’Brien says, it is the time when the inner things happen. For me, this has been the truth of my life for the past twenty years or so. I am comforted by knowing that once I get past the next week or two, I will be willingly locked in a creative cocoon. It is very much an internal period, one that has generally been a highly productive time for my work.

So, in the darkness of the solstice, I gird myself for what new horror today’s news cycle will reveal and for the distractions and responsibilities that comes with the holidays, prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.

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Yesterday, I watched a man painfully talk about his son being shot down in the massacre at the Borderline dance club in Thousand Oaks, California. It was painful to witness the form of pure and primal grief he was expressing with his cries and his heaven-sent moans.

It was a moment that most of us hope with all our souls we would never have to share on a national platform.

He wasn’t alone. 12 died, mostly young people along with a 29-year police veteran who quickly responded to the shooting. All of their families were forced to go through that same gut wrenching agony and sense of loss.

It was the deadliest shooting in–wait for it– 12 days. 

It had been only 12 days since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 11.

I am hoping the death total from this latest shooting stands as the most for the rest of our lives. But this America so I am not confident in saying that it will even last another 12 days. I may not be exact in this figure but I believe it is reported that there have been 307 mass shootings here in the 314 days of this calendar year.

American exceptionalism, my ass.

Then I wake up this morning to see the tweet from the NRA where they tell doctors to “stay in their lane” and stop talking about gun control.

Yeah, the doctors who are often wrist deep in the blood and gore of gunshot wounds should shut their yaps and do their jobs

Patch’em up or sign the death certificates.

Perhaps they should thank the NRA for job security they provide in the form of the multitude of victims coming their way?

American exceptionalism, my ass.

I can’t offer any answers. I am just angry and tired of the carnage. And especially tired of those who say more guns are the answer and that grade school teachers and rabbis and bartenders and dishwashers and cabbies and every other person in this goddamn country should be packing sidearms.

I just know we can do better. When I think of American exceptionalism I am saying that we have that ability to rise up and do better.

That is, if we want to. And maybe we won’t have the desire and will to do something truly tangible until this scourge touches every family, every school, every church, and every public place.

Until we all experience the sheer and awful agony of that father yesterday.

Maybe then we will be better, will do what is right and necessary. Then we might be able to see ourselves as exceptional.

Until then, I say American exceptionalism, my ass.

Here’s the title song from the 1993 album Across the Borderline from Willie Nelson. I chose it because it’s a beautiful song but mainly because it contains Borderline to honor those folks who died in that club. The song was written by Ry Cooder and has a message and tone that is so pertinent for these times. The phrase broken promised land just jumps out at me.

Give a listen. Maybe tomorrow we can get back to art…

 

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