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Archive for the ‘Quote’ Category

Autobiography

Three-Musicians-By-Pablo-Picasso*****************

For those who know how to read, I have painted my autobiography. 

-Pablo Picasso

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The image and quote above ran here several years ago with just a few words from me. I am going to run it that way today as well. It’s a simple statement that I agree with so why muddy the waters with unnecessary verbiage?

Now, I have to get to work on the next chapter of my autobiography so have a good day, okay?

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“Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.”

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

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I call this painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, At the Edge of the World. It’s included in my annual solo show Social Distancing which opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria.

It’s an odd thing to promote a show during these strange times. While I know there will be a show, we still don’t know if there will be a reception. And even if there somehow is a reception, we don’t know what the logistics for it would be. I am pretty positive that I would not be attending in either case  which is odd as this has been an annual keystone event for me for the past 20 years.

Like many things these days, everything for the show has seemed out of rhythm and discordant.

I know getting into the groove for this show was difficult in the earlier part of this year as the pandemic took hold. I am not the kind of painter who can just fall back on my built in process and trust that it will carry me through. My process is always changing and is often quite different, even from day to day. The process used is often simply whatever is at hand that best allows me to express whatever the emotion well inside is gushing out on that given day.

For me, painting is almost always about the emotion of the moment. So, at a time when my emotions are flying all over the place, finding a painting groove took a while to locate. Before I found it, I felt like I was always fighting against myself. But now I’m in that groove and it feels good to create work that consistently meshes with my internal feelings.

We’re in a time that has shaken our rhythms and forced us to look at things in different ways, to reexamine what forces have brought us to this point and where we will be when this is all over. I think the work for this show distinctly reflects this time of social distancing and the air of anxiety and uncertainty that surrounds all of us. While some of it feels darker at first glance, there is most always a duality in the work that brings a feeling of hopeful possibility and endurance.

I know that is what I am seeing in this painting. It reflects the fact that we are at a place and time that we have never encountered before. We are at the edge of the world now. We don’t really now for sure what is in store for us beyond that visible edge. We fear the worst and hope for the best. The reality most likely is somewhere between those two poles but nobody can truly predict that future with any degree of certainty.

In this painting, I believe the focus is on the positive aspects of this near future that dwells over that edge. Much like the short snip from Murakami’s novel at the top, there is the possibility of that which is new and unknown to us. New chords to hear. New patterns to see. A new way of thinking.

This is about seeing this time as a moment of reinvention, with the possibility to forge a future that is markedly better than the past.

That’s my reading. You may see it differently and that is just as it should be.

Take care and have a good day.

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Yesterday, on Mother’s Day, I was wondering how my own mother, who has been dead for 25 years now, would react to this current crisis. While she was not an educated person, having dropped out of school in the ninth grade, she had intelligence and strong survival instincts. I would like to think she would not have fallen into that group of conspiracy driven, Fox News watching folks who have seemingly given up most of their independent thought processes. My mom was definitely not a pack follower and was not shy about calling out BS so I think she would have avoided that fate.

But these past few years, and this crisis in particular, have exposed the vein of stupidity that runs through this nation. It is fed by steady streams of misinformation and outright lies in order to prop up the agenda of those who hold the ultimate power at the top of our government.

It all reminds me of the post below that I posted here back in the early days of this administration. Titled On Stupidity, it has been one of my most popular posts, pulling in quite a number of views each week. I thought at this time, when the uncertainty surrounding this crisis has people grasping for anything that somehow rationalizes it in their mind and has them falling behind ill-informed conspiracy movements and losing the ability to think independently, that it might be worth another look at this post. It’s a longer post but there is a lot of information and what I believe is wisdom here, including the following which neatly sums up the stupidity we are witnessing:

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.

Give it a look, please.

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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 think 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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“In the life of each of us, I said to myself, there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or a day; we understand our fellows of the cell to whatever age of history they may belong.”

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

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I’ve been looking at the work for my upcoming Principle Gallery show, Social Distancing, and as the title implies, much of it is concerned with isolation. There is distance and a lot of singularity in the elements of each piece. A lone house. A single tree, One chair alone. There are landscapes without a tree or person or structure. Just the still emptiness. And even in the cityscapes of this show that seem busy and crowded with buildings and lights, it is the emptiness of the streets and the lack of figures in the lit windows that mark them.

It’s familiar territory for me, places and themes I have explored for a long time. However, this current situation brings my familiarity closer to what has become a new normal for some of us.

It will be interesting to see how people react to the work now as opposed to how they have in the past. After all, each of us relates to our isolation and solitude in different ways. For some it is maddening with the sense of imprisonment. For others, it is liberating in a way, freed from social obligations and niceties, free to do things for themselves without guilt.

Unfortunately, for both there is a dark cloud of potential danger hovering always nearby. It’s creates a strain that is difficult in human terms but, in the artistic sense, this adds a desired tension, one that evokes some sort of emotional response.

And in the piece above, Sequester’s Moon, it is the slate blue darkness of the sky and clouds that evokes this tension. With a different sky, this piece might feel pastoral and idyllic. With this sky, some might see it as the scene as ominous. Or they might see the house as a safe place amidst the dangers.

Myself, I see it as a safe place. A place to expand, not contract. I am much like Sarah Orne Jewett’s character above who, in their isolation and solitude, identifies easily with the hermits and recluses of past ages.

So, here in my hermit’s cell of isolation, I am going happily back to work now.

Have a good day.

 

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“A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

Jorge Luis Borges, Twenty-Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983

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Marilee Shapiro Asher

Interesting article in the Washington Post yesterday about DC artist Marilee Shapiro Asher who at age of 107 is successfully recovering from a rough bout with covid-19. It was so rough that her doctor called her family saying that she would most likely not last twelve more hours. But the doctor underestimated Marilee and probably wasn’t aware she had already beaten another pandemic, having contracted the Spanish Flu in the Pandemic of 1918 at the age of 6.

That’s a great story in itself but for me, I was as interested in the fact that Marilee is still working as an artist at age 107. She began her artistic career as a metal sculptor in her 20’s and had her first show in 1938–82 years ago. Over the years she has worked in sculpture, painting, photography and now in digital art. In her late 80’s, when the physical demands of working with the large metal sculptures she was known for ( she has work in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian) became too much for her she enrolled in a digital art program. Her fellow students were almost all in their early 20’s.

She had her last show of her sculpture at the age of 100 and is looking forward now to a possible new show of her digital creations. At 107.

It’s obvious that art gives her a purpose that fuels her drive to live. It’s not an unusual story. I have encountered a number of stories of artists who have seemingly prolonged their lives through the purpose they find in their art, many productively working into their 100’s.

I find this encouraging.

Marilee had someone in the family to follow in taking up her late interest as a digital artist. Her mother, Bonnie Harris, took up painting at the age of 79 and worked at it until her death at age 92. Self taught, her folk art paintings garnered much notice and are in the permanent collection of several museums, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Collection of American Art, The Phillips Collection and the Folk Art Museum.

Like I said, I find this encouraging. And these days, when there is so much happening that want to make you worry, it’s nice to know that these artist found purpose in their work and used lives that spanned the awfulness of pandemic, war and social upheaval as the inspiration and raw material for their work.

Get well, Marilee, and keep on working. Thanks for the inspiration.

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“He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words.”

― Elbert Hubbard

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The painting above is called Endless Time, from back in 2008. It’s what I might call one of my Big Quiet paintings. Just color and forms. No central objects to garner the focus. No Red Trees or Red Roofs or Red Chairs. Not even a far point that seems like a destination.

I am not passing through, not heading anywhere past this point nor concerned with paths to follow.

In this piece, I’m just there. Now.

It’s a place without words. Pure silence.

The Big Quiet.

I would try to describe it further but unless you know or seek the Big Quiet yourself, as Elbert Hubbard points out above, you probably won’t understand.

Silence and quiet is a subjective thing as our recent isolation has proven. For some, it is a glorious thing without the sounds of traffic and crowds. For others, it is horrifying, maybe a reminder of the stillness of the grave.

We all experience the silence differently.

I think you know where I stand on the Big Quiet.

Enough said.

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Art is interested in life at the moment when the ray of power is passing through it.

—Boris Pasternak

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I think Boris Pasternak (author of Doctor Zhivago) is really spot on with with this terse definition of art. Art at its core is, for me, an attempt to affirm our existence and the existence of that life force within us.

I really like that term that Pasternak uses here– ray of power. That description of the force that drives all living things jibes well with that animating force that I try to find in my own work, that indeterminate quality that makes a static thing seem to take on a life of its own.

How and if it comes through in the work is the interesting thing for me. Sometimes, despite my extreme efforts, I cannot find that life force. Maybe I should say I can’t find force this because of my extreme efforts instead of despite. Sometimes it seems as though trying to consciously find that thing prevents it from being found, as though the energy expended in searching creates a cloud that somehow obscures that which is sought.

It often finally appears when I finally let go of the search and don’t focus on finding anything. I just let my mind wander free and lose myself in the process of actually painting– the colors, lines and forms before me.

And suddenly there it is.

It’s as though you don’t find it. It finds you.

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The bit of writing above is from five years ago but I thought I’d share it along with a glimpse at a corner of my studio from this morning. The 18″ wide by 36″ high canvas on the easel was started yesterday and reminded me of this post. It is obviously a work in progress not nearly close to any sort of finish. But even as it was forming in its earliest stages, it was displaying a strong life force.

That is not always the case. Sometimes a piece takes days, going through several frustrating stages where it flattens and has all the life force of a dead fish before finally bursting to life.

Bit in this case, it came together quickly and without a lot of thought or wringing of hands. It just pushed itself onto the canvas. Maybe it is the slashing strokes that make up the sky. There’s a lot of energy in those slashes and the way their colors react to one another.

Maybe this piece will be called Rays of Power?

We’ll see.

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