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“On Memorial Day 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, a short drive from the White House. He was accompanied on this visit by John Kelly, who was then the secretary of homeland security, and who would, a short time later, be named the White House chief of staff. The two men were set to visit Section 60, the 14-acre area of the cemetery that is the burial ground for those killed in America’s most recent wars. Kelly’s son Robert is buried in Section 60. A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29. Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?

— Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, 3 September 2020

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There is a new article in The Atlantic from Jeffrey Goldberg that carries the heading Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’ that I urge you to read. It details a host of incidents over the last several years under our current president*** where this creature displayed a total lack of respect for the service and sacrifice of those who have seen duty in our military forces. The reports in this article have been subsequently corroborated and verified by multiple news agencies and their sources.

Without going into all of the details of the article here– again, please read it for yourself– he calls those American troops who were killed overseas and are buried in the military cemeteries in those places ‘losers‘ and ‘suckers.’

It aligns pretty much with his words for the late John McCain who he claimed wasn’t a war hero because he was captured.

There was another incident during talks concerning a potential military parade, one of his fixations, where he asked that the parade not include wounded veterans, particularly amputees, saying, “ Nobody wants to see that.”

This man sees everything as being transactional. You only do something for something in return. The idea of doing anything out of a sense of duty or honor is a foreign concept to this creature. After meeting one high ranking general, he is said to have remarked to aides that this general was a very smart guy and wondered why a guy with that kind of smarts went into the military. To him, if you have the ability to enrich yourself, sacrificing that ability in order to act in service to others is a sucker move.

I was watching The Godfather 2 not too long ago, having not seen it for a number of years. There a scene near the end, a  flashback to most of the members of the Corleone family along with the family attorney (Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen here but think of Michael Cohen, okay?) sitting around the dinner table before a birthday party for patriarch Don Corleone. Future boss Michael ( Al Pacino) reveals that he has enlisted in the Marines in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

The responses from his brother, Sonny, and Hagen were illuminating. People who do something for strangers were ‘saps.’

You only do for yourself and family.

Sound familiar? It has been said that this president*** operates in much this same way as a mob family, right down to the attitude that you only help those who can help you in some way. The others are all saps and suckers and losers.

You might ask why this matters. It is important because it shows that he sees everything around him in terms of how it serves him. The military and its veterans are seen as props and pawns to be used. I believe that if he had to sacrifice dozens or hundreds or even thousands of troops in an action that would help him stay in power.

And this extends to law enforcement, as well. He sees cops as a tool to be employed on his behalf. And even then, he only sees cops who are willing to compromise their oath or break the very laws they are charged to enforce as being capable of helping him. A good cop, someone who entered a dangerous field with relatively little financial return, would fall under the category of sap or sucker. Or even loser if they were to call out the bad cops among them.

You may not care.

You may not give a shit ( excuse me for my plain language here) about his constant lies and deceptions. Or maybe you don’t give a crow’s fart for his total refusal to accept any responsibility whatsoever for the citizens that he is supposed to represent during a worldwide pandemic. You may not give a tinker’s damn for the 190,000 dead from covid19 and find these numbers, no matter how high they climb, somehow ‘acceptable.’ You may not care about the damage being done to our future economies by his fiscal policies. You may not care about weakened position in the world, one that makes the world much more dangerous for all.

You just might not care. You got your stupid red hats and your confederate flags and Fox News. And your own beliefs, however misguided and misinformed they might be.

But make no mistake about it, this creature is the ultimate looter and he’ll burn down this whole shitshow to stay in power and to keep from ever being held accountable. If you or me or a million other saps, suckers, and losers have to die, it won’t bother him one damn bit.

And unless enough of us stand up now and vote him out in numbers too large to be disputed, I believe that is exactly what he will do.

So check your voter registration. Vote early.

And vote like your life depends on it because this might be the one time in our lives when that is actually true.

In the meantime, read the article in The Atlantic. And, here’s that scene from The Godfather 2. See if it sounds familiar to you, as well.

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A Year of Augusts

pablopicassoskeleton******************

Your willingness to wrestle with your demons

will cause your angels to sing.

August Wilson

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Aah, September 1, 2020.

In most years, this would be a day where I begin to feel some sort of relief from the grim cruelty of August, my least favorite month. That is putting it mildly because, truth be known, I hate August. It’s something I’ve written about before here on the blog, as seen in the enclosed posts below. It seems to seep out every five years and since its last appearance there have been several more other awful Augusts to further make my case against it.

The funny thing is that this year I wasn’t even cognizant of my deep hatred for August. Oh, it was as difficult and stressful as all Augusts are for me. Instead, I realized that my recognition of it was hampered by the fact that this entire year has been comprised of Augusts. Every month has been filled with the same sort of tension and uncertainty that normally mark Augusts for me.

March was an August, April was an August and so on.

So, though we have passed the threshold into September, I don’t feel the same sort of relief it might bring in a normal year. This is obviously no normal year. It might say September on the calendar, but this year it’s just another goddamn August.

Man, what I would give for a year with one August. Or better yet, none.

From August 12, 2015:

As the post below from back in August of 2010 points out, most years I struggle with the month of August and this particular one is no different.  The doldrums set in and I am filled with an anxiety and a stifling restlessness that combine to create a sense of desperation within me. If I hadn’t experienced this before, this feeling would seem unbearable.

But it’s not something new so I realize that it’s just a matter of hanging on and letting it pass, all the while trying to pull something from it that will show itself in my work. I have found that such keen desperation is often the source of great work, much as playwright August Wilson a fitting first name!— points out so eloquently in the quote above. So, while I find myself fighting through the cruel days and demons of August, I do so as I listen for the song of angels to begin.

And from experience, I know they will begin soon enough. Sing, angels, sing!

From August 18, 2010:

This print from Picasso [ Above] very much sums up my feelings for the month of August. 

I have never been a fan of August. Memories of the so-called dog days of summer spent as a child. Hot from a relentless sun. Bored. Burnt grass crunching underfoot. The coming school year hanging overhead like the sword of Damocles.

August has always had a faint aura of death around it for me. I remember the death of my grandfather in ’68. My beloved dog Maggie years later. Several friends over the years, from a variety of causes. Elvis. The bright glare of the August sun seeming to taunt the grief of the moment.

August.

We were watching something on television the other night, perhaps Mad Men– I can’t really remember. Anyway, the character in the scene that was on said, “I hate August.” 

It made my ears prick up and I couldn’t help but mutter, “I’m with you there, brother.”

August.

Well, I’ve got a lot to do this August  morning. It takes a lot of work to keep busy to ward off the cruelty of  August…

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“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories

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I have things that have to be attended to this morning so this will be short. I have watched the first three episodes of HBO’s Lovecraft Country and am still trying to decide whether I like it or not. I am not a horror aficionado nor a big reader of H.P. Lovecraft so I don’t look at it from that aspect. But it has been interesting enough to keep me coming back thus far. So we’ll see, I guess.

That brings me to the snip above from Lovecraft. It sort of reinforces my own belief that most things– civilizations, technologies, movements, etc– eventually evolve and grow until they reach an untenable point, Basically, that comes down to meaning that there is a beginning and an end to everything.

Nothing lasts forever.

Lately this thought fills me with dread and it may be that this feeling comes about because my fear of our desire as a people to enter into, as Lovecraft put it above: flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

I was hoping to not be around when that happened again. Bad timing, I guess.

Anyway, this is just a prelude to sharing a song from Shilpa Ray, who I introduced here last week singing Pirate Jenny with Nick Cave. Here’s her song, Morning Terrors Nights of Dread. It caught my ear and the video has a cheesy appeal for me. I have caught myself humming the tune every so often this past week so I figured it must be worth sharing. Give a listen and have a good day. Got to run  now. Bye!

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Homer

I’ve been editing the video of my Virtual Gallery Talk over the last day or so, cutting away some of the rougher sections. I am not an experienced film editor so it’s going slow. Plus, it takes time because it’s so painful to watch myself on the recording that I can’t do it for too long at once. But there should be a version available within a day or so on YouTube, if you’re interested.

The first will just have the beginning monologue. The second will be more complete, with a look at some of the work in the show at the West End Gallery and the questions put to me by the participants.

Because the viewer knew that we shared a love for baseball, he posed a questions that had to do with a piece of public art from artist Red Grooms that resides beyond the centerfield fence at Marlins Stadium in Miami. Called Homer, it’s an epic piece, 73 feet tall, comprised of colorful rainbows,  flamingos, swaying palm trees, and marlins jumping from the waves. It even goes into motion with water a-gushing whenever a Marlins player hits a home run.

It’s a pretty gaudy piece with it cartoon-like imagery and bright colors, which are a Grooms trademark. As a result, it has become somewhat controversial. People seem to either love it or hate it. I was asked for my thoughts on it.

Hey, if I were in the ballpark, I would love it. Why not? It’s loud and celebratory. It’s fun. It serves its purpose ideally. Nobody goes to the ballpark to see Botticelli paintings or Rodin sculptures, as enticing as it might be to see a homer dinging off The Thinker.

Would I want it in my front yard?

Nah.

Art serves different purposes in different settings. Epic public pieces can seldom speak in intimate terms though there are certainly those that do. The sitting Lincoln at his Memorial, for instance, has a feeling that is inward and seems to reach out to the viewer in personal terms.

As powerful as it is, I don’t want that in my yard either.

Or out in centerfield. Though I hear Lincoln was a helluva fielder.

All glove, no bat, as they say.

To sum up, Homer is the art it is meant to be. Have fun with it. It’s baseball!

Thanks, for the question, Dave.

Here’s Mabel Scott with her wonderful Baseball Boogie.

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“Bold Run”- Now at the West End Gallery

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“Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.”

― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

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Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no

Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobby McGee:

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What is real freedom?

I can’t say for sure. Wish I could.

Lately, I have been thinking about the 1941 book from Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom. In it, Fromm writes about that we actually have a fear of freedom.  Real freedom requires personal responsibility for our decisions and actions and creates an almost unbearable anxiety in man. Real freedom means living without a safety net, where we decide who and what we are, what we want from life, where we are held accountable for each decision we make.

Put that way, freedom sounds much more perilous.

As a result, we have fostered a desire to be told what we should be and what we should do. Fromm makes the point that we want someone to make the decisions that guide our lives while maintaining the illusion that we have freely made them.

“Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows ‘what he wants,’ while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve. It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.”

A life of real freedom is scary and difficult so it is always tempting to just fit in, to accept a bit of comfort and security in exchange for losing a large degree of that freedom. Doing this make us susceptible to falling prey to those with less than honorable intentions.

“Escape from Freedom attempts to show, modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.”

The concept of this book seems to be playing out in real time lately.

I don’t know that we, myself included, understand the concept of real freedom. I have tried to shape and live a free life but have I succeeded?

I don’t know.

I will continue to look for an answer but in the meantime, here’s this week’s Sunday Morning Music. It’s I Want to Be Free, an old Leiber and Stoller hit first sung by Elvis Presley in the 1957 film Jailhouse Rock. While Elvis does a fine job with the song, I much prefer this version from Robert Gordon who had a nice run as a rockabilly artist with several memorable albums in the 1980s. Here, I think he fills in the blanks that Elvis left in his version.

Give a listen and have a good day. And take a minute to think about what you think real freedom is.

 

 

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“Blue Moment” – Now at the West End Gallery

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The true person is
Not anyone in particular;
But, like the deep blue color
Of the limitless sky,
It is everyone, everywhere in the world.

— Eihei Dogen, 13th Century Japanese Buddhist Priest/Poet

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Every color has its own feel, its own set of meanings that it forever carries with it. It reaches out and forms a bond with the viewer based on these sensory associations. I know, for myself, that blue carries a wide and deep set of such meanings with it, almost all positive by nature.

Soothing. Eternal. Placid.

Limitless.

I could go on with a list for quite some time. That’s probably why I usually find myself always returning to it in my work, find myself just staring not at the subject of a painting but at the color of the surface. The feel of it on my senses.

As Dogen saw in the blue of a sky, maybe there something Zen in the color, some connection to an infinite field of energy that is omnipresent, everywhere.

I don’t know for sure but I am willing to ponder the color blue a bit more this morning. Here’s a song from a while back from Chris Isaak that focuses on one facet of the blue spectrum.

Here’s Forever Blue. Have a good day.

 

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“Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.”

–Wendell Berry

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Man, I want to rage this morning.

It would certainly be easy to do so. We are going through multiple serious crises right now in this country and the ship of state which would normally lead and assist us through this is being steered by a creature whose attitude towards his duty is self-serving and neglectful, at its best, and traitorous, at its worst.

Maybe even treasonous, given yesterday’s revelations.

But I don’t want to go that route. Like the poet Wendell Berry’s words above, this president*** willingly lives his life in the realms of rats and roaches. Today, let’s focus on the flip side of that coin, the human side that lives under the laws of justice and mercy.

Where most of us are privileged to live.

Let’s have some hope that truth will overcome the many falsehoods and lies. That intelligence will prevail over stupidity and science over ignorance. Let’s hope that a sense of community and good will shall sweep away the hateful and selfish behaviors exhibited so often these days.

Let’s just keep a little hope alive and remember these days when they finally come to an end so that perhaps we can avoid them in the future.

That’s asking a lot, I know. For this Sunday morning music here’s a classic song from the great American songbook. It was written by Stephen Foster (who has local connections to this area) in 1854 at a time when America was going through equally hard times in those years leading up to the Civil War. This is Hard Times Come No More as performed by Mavis Staples. It’s such a great tune that there is a multitude of  wonderful versions out there but I just felt like Mavis’ version fit the moment for me.

Give a listen. Keep your head up and have a good Sunday.

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Hard Times Come No More

Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears
While we all sup sorrow with the poor
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears
Oh Hard times come again no more

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door
Oh hard times come again no more

While we seek mirth and beauty and music bright and gay
There are frail forms fainting at the door
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door
Oh hard times come again no more

Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave
Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more

— Stephen Foster

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“Inner City Blue”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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Wake up everybody no more sleepin’ in bed
No more backward thinkin’ time for thinkin’ ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be

–Wake Up Everybody, 1975, written by McFadden & Whitehead

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Another quickie this morning. As much as I love to spout off, I much prefer spending my time in front of a piece of work and there’s some work that is calling out to me for attention even as I write this.

Thought I’d pair the painting above, Inner City Blue, a favorite of mine from my current Social Distancing show at the Principle Gallery, with a song from back in the day that has a message that resonates to this very moment. From 1975, it’s a prime slice of vintage Philly soul, Wake Up Everybody, from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with Teddy Pendergrass on vocals. Great, great song.

It feels like we have been on the cusp of meaningful and sweeping change for a long time but there has always been a violent reaction that keeps us from achieving it. And the closer we get to real change, the more violent and desperate the reaction from those who cling to a fading past. I think the last four years are evidence of that. Hatred and ignorance never rests. This song is a reminder that if we want to overcome it, we must keep up the pressure, keep thinking forward and keep our eye on the prize– a better and more just future for everybody, not just the few.

No time to rest now, no more sleepin’ in bed. Wake up everybody.

Have a good day.

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I am a child of America.

I was raised believing in the promise of America.

Land of opportunity. Land of second chances.

Rags to riches. Log cabin to the White House.

The land of the free and the home of the brave.

Equal rights for all and all are welcome.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…

The Melting Pot, where our great diversity of cultures, beliefs and ideas are a source of strength.

Shining city on the hill. The beacon of hope for the rest of the world.

The Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…

One for all, all for one.

I was this child for many years. I held on to these ideals, these beliefs, with the hope that the promise of America would someday be fulfilled. That hope has sometimes felt within our reach as a nation.

But this morning, I am a child no more.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Yesterday, we witnessed things we never thought we would see in this country. People who were expressing their freedom of speech in a most peaceful and lawful way outside the white house were set upon by mounted police and pelted with rubber bullets and tear gas. The Secretary of Defense spoke in terms of the need for the military to dominate the battlespace when speaking about our citizens and the president*** later authorized use of that military force against our own people.

I have written here about the dangers many people saw in this presidency from long before the election of 2016. I have often worried it was all too hyperbolic, that I was misinterpreting the signs I was seeing and was simply wrong. I can admit to having been wrong in the past so I always have a bit of uncertainty even when what I am seeing seems clear in my mind.

But, yesterday was the culmination, the proof that the warnings that so many of us had been issuing over the past four plus years were not mere hand-wringing.

The threat to our democracy and freedom is real.

We are nearing that point where we will not be able to ever fulfill the promise of America. That point where we are only America in name only.

If you think this is a time to just be quiet, to try to ignore what is happening not pick a side, you are making the wrong choice. And make no mistake, silence is a choice here, one that puts you firmly on the side of those who are trying to steer this country into some sort of military dictatorship.

At this moment, silence is the ally of brutality and oppression.

Silence authorizes atrocity. It has been this way throughout history and we are at a critical crossroads in history.

Will you remain silent?

Believe me when I say that I do not relish writing this post this morning. I know that I am a simple artist, a person who smears paint on surfaces for the enjoyment of others. You most likely come here– especially if you have read this far– for a diversion from the world, a break from the sheer hardness of it.

This week I am normally trying to stir interest in my work for my show that opens this Friday at the Principle Gallery. So writing this is a bit of a tight rope act for me, trying to balance my own self interests with the need to speak up about what is happening in this land right now.

I guess I could at least talk about the painting at the top, The Durable Will, from the show. There is, after all, a certain relevance between what I see in it and the current situation. This is certainly a painting that, for me, speaks to ideals. It is about strength and endurance, about weathering all that comes while still maintaining an air of grace and beauty.

It might well serve as a symbol of what I desire for this country. That we stand up, speak the needed truth, take the blows and endure. That we grow into a better future based in grace and beauty.

Part of that child still resides in me.

And I am glad for that this morning, on a day when I am filled with darkness.

So, for those of you who believe I should just be quiet or that you just want to ignore the situation and remain silent, I leave you with the words of the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, a man who definitely refused to turn a blind eye to injustice or remain silent:

“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.”

 

 

 

 

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The_Torment_of_Saint_Anthony_(Michelangelo)

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A man paints with his brains and not his hands.

-Michaelangelo Buonarroti

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I am a little intimidated in quoting the words of a man who is believed to have painted the piece shown above, The Torment of Saint Anthony, at the tender age of 12 or 13. Pretty amazing. It’s obvious from this, and almost everything created afterward over his lifetime, that Michaelangelo had both brains and hands– the highest degree of craftsmanship along with thought and feeling that brought his work to life.

But his words ring true for any painter. Painting should not be mere craft, not formulaic process nor exact replication of the reality before them. No, it is beyond that. It is how the artist imbues the work with their own thought and emotion, their own spirit, their own essence that elevates the work above craft. It requires a total investment of the self.

Doing that is the trick. At first glance, it seems both a tall task and a simple one. Giving what you think is 100% of yourself seems easy, right? But not holding back something, not sharing every bit of yourself, makes it a Herculean effort. In the end, it comes down to simply feeling emotion in what you are doing and being willing to openly display it without reserve.

Now, maybe I am misinterpreting Michaelangelo’s words to fit my own subjective view of painting. Perhaps in these ten spare words he was speaking about taking a more scientific or mathematical approach to painting and composition. That I don’t know. But when I read it, it made sense to me because the differentiating quality I see in painting, from self-taught rough-hewn outsiders to the highest level of traditional representational painters, is how much of themselves a painter is willing to invest in their creations.

An investment of the self.

It is the thought process of the artist that makes the painting, not the mechanical process.

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This post is from five years back. and is shared again because I love this youthful piece from Michaelangelo along with his words. Whenever I see this painting, or for that matter, anything from Michaelangelo, I am humbled beyond description. And that’s not a bad thing. 

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