Friday, September 30, 2011

Why Art Education Is Crucial

Sierra Art Trails begins today and I'm delighted to be part of this annual open-studio and meet-the-artists event here in the Sierra foothills.  This is my first year of participation and I decided to use it as a way to give something back to the community, so I will be collecting and contributing to a fund for school art supplies for local schools.

As I look at the artists who are part of Art Trails, I see a mature group of people, most of whom have had non-art-related careers.  Accountants, teachers, engineers, entrepreneurs ... a whole spectrum of backgrounds ... with the common thread that somewhere along the line we fell in love with art.  Most of us went to school in a time when art was part of school, a time when crayons, paper, finger paint and other art supplies were taken for granted.  

Those days are gone.  Time for art has been squeezed out by various mandates, and over-taxed budgets have made art supplies almost non-existent.  The truly sad part of this is that we may be killing our own golden goose.  In our zeal to improve our schools, we're eliminating the arts which have been proven to stimulate creative thinking, innovation, improved problem solving, teamwork and appreciation of the world around us.  

Edutopia, the website dedicated to promoting what works in education, offers an article on "Why Art Education is Crucial" which states in part (and it's worth reading the entire article): 
"Art does not solve problems, but makes us aware of their existence," sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz has said. Arts education, on the other hand, does solve problems. Years of research show that it's closely linked to almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.
Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation about the visual arts argues that the intrinsic pleasures and stimulation of the art experience do more than sweeten an individual's life -- according to the report, they "can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing," creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion.
"If they're worried about their test scores and want a way to get them higher, they need to give kids more arts, not less," says Tom Horne, Arizona's state superintendent of public instruction. "There's lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests."
Yet some districts have made great strides toward not only revitalizing the arts but also using them to reinvent schools. The work takes leadership, innovation, broad partnerships, and a dogged insistence that the arts are central to what we want students to learn. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dakota 38

Special thanks to Maureen at Writing without Paper for sharing the trailer to a documentary that tells the story of the largest mass execution carried out in our country.  It is a brutal story from our past, a time when hunger for land overwhelmed our humanity, a true time of madness.  It opens with the statistic that the Native American population which was once estimated at 60 million is now down to less than one million.  But it isn't a story of blame or revenge but rather a call for healing and reconciliation.

Watching this trailer made me wonder what madness we're playing out now, where we have lost our humanity, what future generations will say about us.

Here's a link to Maureen's post which includes the trailer and more about this story and the journey it prompted.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Artist Perspective

Not everyone is born with great talent.  Not everyone is born with an artist's eye.  Not everyone is born with the compulsion to translate the world into art, song, dance or theater.  But, everyone can develop more of an artist's perspective.

Recently I realized how much of my time is spent actively looking for things that inspire and captivate me.  My camera is always with me and I'm constantly on alert for interesting shapes, textures, colors or iconic items.  It wasn't always that way.  Before subcompact digital cameras, taking photos usually meant going on a trip or to an event and involved finding my camera and making sure I had film and batteries.  Almost literally, I put on my photography hat.

Before deciding to become an artist, I wondered what inspired painters, sculptors, musicians and artists of all makes.  Now I know that it can be anything and everything.  Gradually, I am learning to be on alert to everything around me.  I am beginning to see things differently, things that I never noticed before as well as the interplay of light and shadow, color and shape, texture and meaning.  And, this new awareness seems to spiral outward pulling more and more things into my consciousness, revealing amazing things about the world around me.

Slowly, I've realized that artistic talent is a gift given to each of us in varying degrees but developing the perspective of an artist is a choice each one of us can make.  And, for me, the payoff for making this choice is in the discovery of a world of detail and beauty that I had overlooked before.  Joseph Campbell once said, "One looks, looks long, and the world comes in."  How delightful it is to see the world slowly coming into focus.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Milton Glaser Monday: Secret #3

This is #3 (and one of my favorites) in reposting Barney Davey's blog post of Milton Glaser list of "10 Things I Have Learned - The Secret of Art."  It is a great post but each one of the 10 items is so powerful and thought provoking by itself that I've decided to repost them one at a time, one per week at the beginning of the week.  See post #1 for Davey's words about Glaser.

This is a subtext of number one. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blog Post #500

500.  What a number!  500 blog posts and about two years ago, I was mired in the muck of confusion and doubt, truly alone for the first time in my life and experiencing an existential pain that I did not know what to do with.  A new friend told me my cup was empty.  When she showed me her beautiful blog and artwork (Contemporary Photography), I didn't see words and beauty, I saw a lifeline and grabbed it.  Two days later, Peaceful Legacies was born with post #1.

Step-by-step, post-by-post, my life changed, expanded and made room for miracles.  Gradually my cup filled and overflowed with beauty and gratitude.  Little by little, I began to hear my own voice and find my own path (this reminds me so much of the last part of Mary Oliver's powerful poem "The Journey" that I've reprinted it below).  Doors that I thought were shut forever opened and new possibilities danced before me.

What I have to wonder as I contemplate and give thanks for the journey that played out in the first 500 posts is "What will the next 500 posts reveal?"  There is such fun and awe in knowing that the journey continues one blog post at a time and that, most likely, I can't even imagine what surprises, delights and challenges await me.

Thanks for being my companions on this journey.

The Journey by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save. 

Spontaneous Combustion at the Yosemite Flute Festival

Sometimes live music spontaneously combusts into magic.  That happened last night at the final concert of the Yosemite Flute Festival.  Something about the venue, the audience, and the night enchanted the musicians and they left the realm of performance and entered the world of playful collaboration.  On the small, intimate stage at the Sierra Sky Ranch, the three main performers danced in and out of each others acts, generously called up other musicians to join the growing tapestry of music, and wove the audience into the musical energy.

For those of us whose only job was to receive and appreciate the music, it was an overabundant feast.  Technically, there were three acts:  Rona Yellow Robe, a beautiful musician and songwriter whose voice, flute and lyrics were simply mesmerizing; Rafael Bejarano, a real-life energizer bunny who blows the blessings and stories of the ancestors through his didgeridoos; and Ron Korb, a flute shaman who took us on a whirlwind tour of world flutes.  However, the acts began to morph and mingle as Joe Young, Rick Dunlap, and Randy Granger supported, inspired and riffed with the headliners.

The final number burst into musical chaos as all of the performers spontaneously joined Ron Korb on stage for a number that had the audience clapping, dancing and adding their voices and energy to the mix.  The stars shone brightly last night and gifted all of us there with a unique and memorable experience.  

The Yosemite Flute Festival is the brainchild and labor of love of Rick Dunlap and Linda Angel.  The festival supports and is generously supported by the Positive Living Center.  All of them deserve another round of applause.

Here are some YouTube samples of other performances by the headliners:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Let Your Heart Be Broken

Last night Rafael Bejarano played didgeridoo and did a sound healing ceremony for a group gathered at the Positive Living Center.  Surrounded by dozens of flutes, didgeridoos and other instruments, Rafael often looked like a one-man shamanic band.  Some of the didgs he played were huge, decorated, iconic instruments and the music was at once primal and stirring.  He circled the room blowing the sound vibrations and scent of sage into the heart of each attendee.  It was not just listening to a musician perform, it was a whole-body, vibratory experience.

Between songs, Bejarano talked about love:  being love, loving others, loving every aspect of our selves, even the imperfections.  At one point he played a three-chambered clay pipe that he had made himself and told the story of the first time he broke it.  Devastated at its loss, he gathered the pieces and later glued them back together and found that the sound it made was even more beautiful.  Later, at a Japanese tea ceremony, he was told that if a tea master broke a tea cup, he would glue it back together with gold so that the broken cup would be even more valuable than the original one.

I was so taken with that image that I wrote the following poem:
Fall in love.
Let your heart be broken.

Fall in love.
Let your heart be broken a thousand times.

Fall in love.
Let your heart be broken so often that it becomes pure gold.

Fall in love.
Let your heart be broken so often
that a river of gold pours from it.

Fall in love.

Here's a short experience of Bejarano:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Milton Glaser Monday: Secret #2

This is #2 in reposting Barney Davey's blog post of Milton Glaser list of "10 Things I Have Learned - The Secret of Art."  It is a great post but each one of the 10 items is so powerful and thought provoking by itself that I've decided to repost them one at a time, one per week at the beginning of the week.  See post #1 for Davey's words about Glaser.

One night I was sitting in my car outside Columbia University where my wife Shirley was studying Anthropology. While I was waiting I was listening to the radio and heard an interviewer ask ‘Now that you have reached 75 have you any advice for our audience about how to prepare for your old age?’ An irritated voice said ‘Why is everyone asking me about old age these days?’ I recognised the voice as John Cage. I am sure that many of you know who he was – the composer and philosopher who influenced people like Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham as well as the music world in general. I knew him slightly and admired his contribution to our times. ‘You know, I do know how to prepare for old age’ he said. ‘Never have a job, because if you have a job someday someone will take it away from you and then you will be unprepared for your old age. For me, it has always been the same every since the age of 12. I wake up in the morning and I try to figure out how am I going to put bread on the table today? It is the same at 75, I wake up every morning and I think how am I going to put bread on the table today? I am exceedingly well prepared for my old age’ he said.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Artist's Statements: Both/And

A friend sent me excerpts from a threaded discussion on artist's statements ... some people thought they were really important, some thought they were a waste of time.  It reminded of me of my days in innovation when I often repeated the mantra:  "It's never either/or but always both/and."  It's not really whether to do an "Artist Statement" or not; it's about how to make a connection with a potential collector in a few microseconds.  

One way of doing that is through a compelling statement about the work and the artist's process.  Some people really like reading the backstory to the art; some people don't.  Here's the kicker to the either/or approach - the people who don't want to read it won't but, if it's not there, the people who do like to read them can't.  Part of the "both/and approach" is to write an interesting story for those who want it but make it easy for those who don't to skip over it.

But, that's just the beginning of the "both/and."  The intent is to connect with the viewer, to help them slow down, to really see and feel the art ... without making them feel restricted or imposed upon.  Some artists are "purists" and do not even title their works, wanting people to make their own interpretations of the artwork.  I think suggestive titles that leave room for mystery and ambiguity help most viewers connect, especially with work that is abstract or impressionistic.  In the current show, "Singing the Blues," at Timberline Art Gallery, Janet Morita has a piece of abstract art with the title "Fractured Rhapsody."  It is a beautiful abstract piece but I noticed that when I read the title, I slowed down and noticed more of the details and looked for the fractures.

"Fractured Rhapsody" (complete with reflections from other works):

Timberline puts brief artist statements with each artist's work.  As I was writing this, I circled the gallery reading them.  Most, I have to admit, were straightforward (hometown, education, awards) and didn't make much of a connection.  But, two stood out:

"Zyg Zee is a computer geek, photographer addict and digital junky.  How he got this way is a study in kinky karma.  Keeping himself fed and gainfully occupied has led him through scad of experiences and learning escapades."  Don't you feel an instant connection with him and an interest in how this plays out in his art?

David Caris: "Living peacefully among the cedars, pine and oak near Bass Lake, California, Dave Caris is a yogi who works with clay much like a sculptor--except his iconic masks, faces, totems and vessels are not of actual people, but rather express deep feelings three-dimensionally, some very whimsically."  Again, this statement invites the viewer to connect with him not just as an artist but as a person.

Some people will never read these statements ... or even the title of the work.  But, for people who are drawn to the work, these additional connecting points can be the difference between a passing glance and the beginnings of a relationship.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Time for Creativity

The other night I went to meditation at Judy DeRosa's Creativity Center.  She was working on an art book and was surrounded by baskets of colored pencils, jars of bright paint, brushes, and bowls of brilliant embroidery thread.  She lives and breathes creativity and surrounds herself with the most colorful chaos imaginable.  No wonder her art is always so vibrant. 

The color and shapes inspired me so much that I grabbed my camera and took several photos.  Those pictures continued to call to me so I've spent most of the past two days playing with them and this is the result.  Thank you, Judy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why We Need Artists

I think you might find at least one new thought and a smile or giggle in this video with Kate Hartman.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sierra Art Trails Supports Young Artists

Sierra Art Trails is an open, artist's studio tour through the Sierra foothills celebrating it's ninth year.  It is a wonderful way to spend a fall weekend, meet a lot of artists and see where and how they create their art.  It is also a generous program that shares a significant part of the proceeds with local organizations.  This year, one of their donations went to Minarets High School for art supplies.  I asked Carol Gordon, the art teacher at Minarets to tell us what the donation meant to her and she replied:
Minarets High School is so excited to be the recipient of Sierra Art Trails $500 "Annual Community Awards" program.  I have been teaching art in the Chawanakee Unified School District for over six years.  Art used to be supported by a State sponsored grant which supported art and music for the entire district.  It provided much needed art supplies, which can be very expensive. Because of the recent budget restraints, the arts and music has little to no budget.  I know of many art and music teachers who have been pink slipped because of the budget cuts, so I am grateful to be employed. It is very difficult, however, to conduct worthwhile art experiences without decent art supplies, so I am very grateful for the support of Sierra Art Trails.
And, I am very proud to be part of a program that generously supports the arts and our communities.  If you're in the area September 30 through October 2, please join the fun.   Click here for more information.

About this image:  "Compassion," a revision of the one posted a few days ago.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Milton Glaser Monday: Secret #1

I just started following Barney Davey's blog and found an old post from Milton Glaser that lists "10 Things I Have Learned - The Secret of Art."  It is a great post but each one of the 10 items is so powerful and thought provoking by itself that I've decided to repost them one at a time, one per week at the beginning of the week.  Here's what Davey says about Glaser:

Milton Glaser is...well, words nearly don't do him of the most important, prolific and profound leaders in visual and graphic arts in your lifetime and his. He is personally responsible for the design and illustration of more than 300 posters for clients in the areas of publishing, music, theater, film, institutional and civic enterprise, as well as those for commercial products and services. The image above and the essay below are reproduced here with permission. Read on to discover his sage advice with words that ring as true today as when written in 2001. Peruse his bio and work on his Milton Glaser Web site for more essays and insights into this man's creative force, remarkable accomplishments and matchless oeuvre.

And, here's Glaser:

This is a curious rule and it took me a long time to learn because in fact at the beginning of my practice I felt the opposite. Professionalism required that you didn’t particularly like the people that you worked for or at least maintained an arms length relationship to them, which meant that I never had lunch with a client or saw them socially. Then some years ago I realised that the opposite was true. I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Meeting Jack Lantz

A few days ago I posted a Post-It note sketch that one of my fellow members of Timberline Art Gallery left on the gallery computer.  Last night I ran into the artist, Jack Lantz, at the reception for Sierra Art Trails and mentioned the note to him.  I'm in awe of people who can draw ... and especially people who can capture a likeness in a rapid sketch like the one on the small, green note.

During the conversation, he explained that the note attached to the sketch had gotten lost.  The reason why he left the note and the sketch there was because the DVD of the movie "The Ward," directed by John Carpenter had just been released.  In this movie about a mental hospital, there are scenes in the ward lounge where one of the patients is sketching other patients.  The sketches being shown were done by Jack who is a remarkably flexible and talented artist.  One thing he does are still life oils which are not my favorite style of art but there is something about his that amaze me.  They are meticulously detailed and yet somehow feel a little wild.

It reminded me how much creativity lurks around us.  In this small town there are so many uniquely creative and talented artists and most of them never make a big deal about their work.  They leave a tiny sketch here or there, and only when we ask, do we realize the depth of their talent and experience.

Meetup: a 911 story

I have attended quite a few Meetup group meetings but never knew the background of Meetup.  Immediately after posting the last story of Cantor Fitzgerald, I found this in my inbox:

Fellow Meetuppers,

I don't write to our whole community often, but this week is 
special because it's the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many 
people don't know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.

Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles 
from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought 
local community doesn't matter much if we've got the internet 
and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I 
hoped they wouldn't bother me.

When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors 
in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to 
neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they'd normally 
ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each 
other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being 

A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring 
people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was 
born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet -- and 
grow local communities?

We didn't know if it would work. Most people thought it was a 
crazy idea -- especially because terrorism is designed to make 
people distrust one another.

A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months 
after 9/11.

Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it's 
working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups, 
Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups... a wild variety of 
100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common -- except one 

Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to 
neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me. 
They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and 
motivate each other, they babysit each other's kids and find 
other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace 
together. They make friends and form powerful community. It's 
powerful stuff.

It's a wonderful revolution in local community, and it's thanks 
to everyone who shows up.

Meetups aren't about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it 
weren't for 9/11.

9/11 didn't make us too scared to go outside or talk to 
strangers. 9/11 didn't rip us apart. No, we're building new 
community together!!!!

The towers fell, but we rise up. And we're just getting started 
with these Meetups.

Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)
Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup
New York City
September 2011

Stories of New Growth

Ten years ago, tragedy torched the heart of NYC and sent shock waves rippling around the country and the world.  But, life is resilient, and from that devastation sprung thousands if not millions of stories of new growth and hope.

My favorite story is about Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial firm that occupied four floors in the Twin Towers and lost all of its employees who were in the office that day, 658 of the 960 total employees.  The CEO and Chairman, Howard Lutnick was late to the office that morning because he had taken his son to his first day of kindergarten.

New York (AP) article states:
"My goal after 9/11 was to take care of the families of the people we lost, and that was the most important thing," Lutnick said. That translated into a big financial commitment — 25 percent of Cantor's profits for five years were set aside to be distributed to the families, which in the end amounted to $180 million. Their health care costs were to be covered for 10 years. And the company marked every Sept. 11 as a day for charity, a day when every dollar made would be given to good causes. 
With a new sense of purpose, Lutnick and the remaining employees of Cantor Fitzgerald have rebuilt the company and it is stronger than ever with a total of 1500 employees.   Tomorrow Cantor Fitzgerald will recognize the day by donating all of it's profit to charity as they have every year since the tragedy and as for Lutnick himself, he will spend the morning putting his kids on the bus to school, as he does every day in a small personal rite that reminds him of his own luck in surviving.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Story Making and Story Telling

As Missy and I walked out the door for our walk, a philosopher's hat fell on my head and sent my mind spinning like an errant pinball bouncing off walls. It finally landed in the well-worn rut of "two types of people."  

You know the one ... there are two types of people ... introverts and extroverts, people who garden and those of us who have brown thumbs, people who adore Sarah Palin and those who think she has horns under her perfect hair.  Of course no one is all one thing or the other ... even though I was thoroughly befuddled by John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate, I admire her chutzpah and energy.  After all, who among us would be willing to open up our darkest corners to the scrutiny of the press and public the way any political candidate has to do these days?

Anyway, my mind started running down the "two-types" of people channel and wound up with:  some people are story makers and some people are story tellers.  Occasionally, of course, someone combines both into a charismatic and enchanting combination and we wind up with a Steve Irwin, Bill Bryson or Oprah Winfrey.  We all make stories and tell stories but I've observed a shift ... young people seem more focused on making stories.  Everything is new to them so their lives overflow with stories told and untold.  Those of us of a "certain age" seem to grow increasingly focused on telling stories, often stories from ten, twenty or thirty years ago.  Sometimes it seems like we're repeating and retelling the same stories with minor changes in characters, places or details.

I think it's perhaps the balance of story making and story telling that keeps us young, at least in mind and spirit, perhaps even in body.  As we have experienced more and more of life's wonders and hazards, it becomes more challenging to make new stories, since, by definition, that means discovering and experiencing something new, something that might be outside our comfort zones, something that might actual rock our well-crafted world.  

Yesterday I met a woman who reminded me that new stories still wait for me.  ReAnn Scott (check out her blog) wandered into Timberline Art Gallery where I was the curator of the day (fancy word for sitting there greeting people).  ReAnn and I fell into a conversation, discovering a few common connections ... writing (she is a travel writer for AAA and AARP), art and life ... and a few less common connections such as her re-entry to the world of the Peace Corps and her life since losing her husband eleven years ago.  ReAnn is a story maker and winds up trailing a bushel basket of fresh and funny stories behind her.

What normally would have been a brief encounter in the gallery turned into a 24-hour gab fest as she accepted an offer to spend the night in my spare bedroom.  ReAnn is an adventurer and I heard about her Peace Corps time in St. Kitts (it's not an inspiring story for this almost-Peace Corps volunteer but you can read about it at her blog Re's Adventure in St. Kitts/Nevis. The title of one post probably summarizes the bottomline:  "Don't let the Peace Corps ruin your Peace Corps experience").  

She also told me about teaching English to businesspeople in Spain, work-camping at various places around the country, her part-time work demonstrating tablet computers, living with her high school sweetheart as an ex-pat in Mexico, her mother who got married for the third time in white leathers at Sturgis, and her plans to sell her house, buy an RV and travel "until I can't drive any more."

Visiting with ReAnn was liking drinking from a fire hydrant but it reminded me that life is not over till it's over and time is mine to make of it what I will.  I'm going to make a new piece of art to remind myself to Make More Stories!

What new stories are you making?

About this image:  "Compassion."  The Buddha sitting in the midst of a passion flower holding the most delicate symbol of transformation reminds me of the importance of compassion ... for others, for ourselves, and for change that seems almost incomprehensible at times and yet leads us into a completely new stage of existence.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Singing the Blues" at Timberline

Timberline Art Gallery just opened its new show with the theme of "Singing the Blues."  It's a fun show and the theme stimulated a lot of creativity ... from a blue dog to blue buffalo and a blue macaw with a flash of gold ... to a misty urban blues scene as well as blue skies, blue water and a medley of musical interpretations.

This image, "Hot Harmonica on a Cool NIght," is my contribution to the show.

Elemental Fire

Just planted "Fire" in my Garden of the Elements.  It is shown next to "Wind" and the unstarted "Water."  Next time I think I'll take on a smaller project.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Burning Man Art

I've always wanted to go to Burning Man but the thought of the heat and sand and crowds daunts me.  Now apparently, it is the place to go to see really amazing art.  Check out this gallery offered by the Huffington Post.  Maybe next year.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jaume Plensa's "Nomade"

David Leroy, a new Twitter friend as well as story teller and artist, introduced me to Jaume Plensa’s Nomade, a giant statue of a man of letters in Antibes.  The hollow statue is literally made of letters, a skin of text.  It is such an amazing piece of work, I wanted to share it and found a remarkable blog post by Yves Peters with pictures and a video that will give you an up-close experience of it.

Here are just a few of the author's words about this work:

I always imagined that our skin is permanently tattooed with text – our life, our experiences – tattooed, but with invisible ink. And then suddenly, somebody is able to decipher these tattoos; that person becoming a lover, a friend. That is probably why I work with sculptures like this, this human form composed solely of letters, like cells. It’s almost biological.


Sausalito Art Festival Lesson #2

Generous Creativity:  Many of the booths at the Sausalito Art Festival asked people not to take photos.  It seems like a reasonable request; artists put their creative soul into their work and they don't want others to copy or steal their ideas.  But is it?

As I wandered through the rows of artwork, I was particularly struck by the work of Armando Pedroso which included gorgeous abstracts somewhere between painting and sculpture with luscious colors and a finish so deep you felt like you could fall into it.  (He tops his paintings with 60 coats of lacquer!) 

I stopped to ask him about the process of coating he used and he proceeded to tell me in detail what to use and how to use it.  We talked for quite some time and I raved over a particular piece that called to me even though it was out of my budget.  As I was starting to leave, he invited me to take pictures.  When I expressed surprise and mentioned all the "No photos" signs I had seen, he told me that his philosophy was to share as much as possible because so much had been shared with him.

I like the idea of generous creativity.  Nothing is truly original anyway, we all build on what has gone before us, or what nature has been doing for millennia.  And every idea or piece of information that pours through us is processed through our own filters, experiences, skills and perspectives so it all comes out unique anyway.  There are people who will copy and steal but if we spend our time and energy trying to block them, we'll only derail our own creativity.  Better to just keep moving forward and stay three steps in front of anyone trying to mimic us.

Anyway, check out Armando's work.  Only after I returned home and went to his website, did I get a little more of his backstory.  He states:
After September 11, 2001, I was laid off from my corporate sales job of 18 years. It was at that time I "thought" I  heard a voice within myself which told me to paint. Strange as the voice was (I have never painted before), I listened and gave over all my future corporate energies to make a bold move and pursue my new dream of being a self taught artist....risky, eh? Well, much to my surprise (as well as that of my family and friends), my art career took off in ways unimaginable. I say,  “if you don't believe in the voice of God or being connected to your inner spirit...we need to talk.”  I have seen first hand countless doors of opportunity fly wide open for me, what laid beyond those doors was this new person, this artist inside I never ever knew existed... all because I took the chance of listening to that small crazy voice inside myself.
I deconstruct and reconstruct layers of roofing tar, plaster, found objects, metals, symbols, rich acrylic colors and words to create an inspirational and emotionally driven paintings. My focus is to encourage the viewer to act upon their hidden passions and dreams.
Sometimes playful, gritty or with an urban feel, my paintings capture the essence of what an individuals dream might look like if inspired to take that leap of faith.
The attached image is the one I fell in love with.  I tried to get rid of all the reflected images but obviously I didn't.  Makes me wonder what those folks with the "no photos" signs are so worried about.  Unless someone came along with professional lighting and gear, the conditions would have made it very hard to take a commercially useable photo.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sausalito Art Fair Lessons #1

I spent yesterday at the Sausalito Art Festival, considered one of the top ten in the country. It was a beautiful day for walking through the colorful minds of a few hundred successful artists.  I saw material combinations that surprised me, bold colors, humor, passion and exquisite craftsmanship.  And, learned a few lessons that I will share here over the next few days.

On the macro level, what struck me was the prevalence of three elements:  color, size and surprise.  

Bold colors were everywhere, pushed to the absolute maximum, even in materials such as ceramics which normally feature more muted colors.  Here's Fred Stodder's teapot. 

Size leaned toward BIG with many 6, 7, or 8 foot pieces in some of the galleries.  This echoed what I've been hearing, that big, expensive pieces are selling better than moderately priced and sized works.  Of course, I don't know what will wind up selling at this show but the big pieces were definitely dramatic.  Here is one 6'x4' piece by Red Wolf  that was particularly beautiful and dramatic.  The way he layers color together gives this almost colorless piece great depth and warmth.

Surprise came in a lot of ways ... blending of process such as the ceramic collages offered by Sara Post  to the painting on recycled materials offered by South African Fortune Sitole  but my favorite was Kue King who blurred the line between making art and being art.  Kue combines the soft fragility of feathers with hard, twisted metal wire to form whimsical trees that wave in a gentle breeze.  But Kue is himself a work of art, unique and engaging. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Questions in an Art Warehouse

Yesterday I visited the Institute of Mosaic Arts which was everything I wanted it to be:  fun, inspiring, friendly.  It's located in a wonderful arty, industrial neighborhood and after filling myself up with mosaic, I walked around the area taking pictures of rusty pipes, old car parts and colorful stuff in dumpsters.  It was glorious.

Then I happened across an open warehouse door and when I looked in, it was stacked floor to ceiling with art.  Huge pieces of art framed in faux leather and gilt, representing many genres ... colorful impressionist landscapes, nudes, abstracts, florals.  Pallets of plastic-wrapped frames waited on the sidewalks.  The past few years have been a challenging time for artists, but here were stacks of paintings waiting to be delivered.  It boggled my mind so I wandered into the warehouse trying to find someone to talk to but it was quiet, no one but me and hundreds, maybe thousands of frames, framed canvases and those waiting to be framed.  I youhooed and finally a woman appeared, cell-phone in hand.  She was friendly, apparently middle eastern from her accent, and, when I asked, she said they sold to businesses, hotels and interior designers.  

Her phone rang again before I could ask more so I wandered around for a few more minutes and noticed the "Made in China" signs on most of the boxes.  After I left, that warehouse haunted me as I thought of the thousands of artists toiling away in their studios, unsold canvases stacking up, while this warehouse delivers cheap art into the waiting arms of hotels and businesses who want the impression of art on their walls.  Then I also thought of the thousands of people in China working most likely in sweat-shop conditions making "art" on an assembly line.

The topic of "what is art?" is a popular one and this experience made me wonder about it once again.   The company name on this warehouse was Garber Corp with a tagline of "Fine Art & Accessories," apparently claiming the designation of "art" for their product.   It also made me  wonder about our values.  It's easy to be irritated at the businesses across the country that are buying cheap art instead of supporting their local artists.  But that made me remember a walk through WalMart where I saw an aisle rack of sparkly $5 shoes.  

Do we really need fake art and throw-away shoes?  What happens to us when we fill our lives with cheap knock-offs?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Alchemy of Art

It's so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.
-- Paul Cezanne 

I've been thinking recently about the blank canvas, the blank page, the untouched lump of clay.  In a roundabout way it reminds me of Rene Magritte's "N'est pas une pipe."  It would be easy to look at all the different permutations of a blank canvas and say ...

this is not a painting,
this is not a novel,
this is not a song,
this is not a sculpture,
this is not a building,

This is nothing.  

Yet it is the beginning of everything.  Everything forms and comes forth through this stark nothingness, this blank slate of pure potential.  There is a moment of alchemy when that open field of possibility connects with the dark matter within us ... the thoughts, feelings, insights, knowingness that we may not even aware of ... and suddenly becomes something.  Whether or not that something is useful or worthwhile is beside the point, that instant of connection is pure gold.

The lovely part of all of this is that it is given to each one of us.  We all have our blank canvas.  Every day is a clean slate waiting for what we will make of it.  Every moment a potential connection between potential and something new.  What a gift!