Make A Mark [on DR Thursday]

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k.dot & d.dot see an owl, mixed media, 24 x 48IN

Every once in a while I paint a chronicle piece, capturing an event from something that happened in our lives. Early in our relationship, sitting in Adirondack chairs in the front yard,  sipping wine, listening  to music, we broke into a spontaneous fit of dancing.  Dancing In The Front Yard was the first of the chronicle paintings.

Picasso said that painting was just another way of keeping a diary. I suppose that makes all of my work or any artist’s work a chronicle. A record. Jackson Pollock’s ‘action paintings’ are considered a record of the artist’s movement, a visual register of the painter’s dance.

I knew a man whose passion in life was rock art. Petroglyphs and pictographs. Human-made markings on stone. He traveled the world to the caves or cliffs – sites – where these ‘records’ are found. We had many conversations about the “why” of it – why people so long ago scratched images in rocks, ground minerals to make pigment and painted walls deep in a dark cave. Ritual or roadmap? Worship or whimsy? Both/and?

A diary? A register? A reaching? A marker? Maybe it is simple: humans make marks. And then give the marks meaning. Or, perhaps more to the point, we make marks and believe the marks give us meaning.

Kerri and I saw an owl in the pine tree in our backyard. It was thrilling. We thought it was a good omen, a gift. We slipped into the house to get the binoculars, careful not to move too fast to scare it away. Later, standing before a blank canvas, all I could think about was the thrill of seeing the owl.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about K.DOT & D.DOT SEE AN OWL

 

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k.dot & d.dot see an owl ©️ 2015 david robinson

Recognize The Riches [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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I moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin with a truck load of paintings. Three canvases, a series I’d painted for The Portland Chamber Orchestra, were too big to fit in our house. “What will I do?” I asked Kerri. Without blinking, she said, “Let’s call Jen and Brad.”

When Kerri and I were developing our cartoon, Chicken Marsala, we needed some honest feedback. “Who will be honest with us?” I asked. The answer was immediate, “Let’s call Jen and Brad.”

When the world seems bleak, the winter too dark, the mountain too steep, the inspiration-well too dry, the wasteland too big, the one sure-fire-spirit-lifting-perspective-giver is a potluck with Jen and Brad.

When the adventure needs sharing, the mischief demands conspirators, the escapade requires companions, we can count on Jen and Brad for a hearty “Let’s do it!”

And so, it was no surprise that for Kerri’s inaugural stomp on snowshoes that our trek was with Jen and Brad.  For a few moments as I followed behind, listening to the laughter and conversation, the curiosity and questions, I was completely overwhelmed by the enormity of friendship.  There is nothing better in life than these two people; they make us rich beyond measure.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWSHOES

 

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snowshoes ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood & david robinson

Find The Kindergartner [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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On a famous day, we drove the entire width of the state of Wisconsin to pick up the puppy that would one day become known as DogDog. On our drive back across the entire width of the state of Wisconsin, Kerri had a moment of panic. What if BabyCat and the not-yet-named-puppy-dog didn’t get along? What if BabyCat felt rejected? Replaced? What if the dog ATE the cat? What if the cat ATE the dog? The horror story variations of dogs-and-cats-living-together ran amok in her mind.

The flip-side scenarios never occurred to her. What if they love each other? What if they play together? What if they are the best of pals, share bowls, look out for each other? Well, there’d be no problem. Nothing to fret about. No horror story to captivate the imagination.

What is it in an adult mind that defaults to the worst possible assumption? Why, when cutting paper with a razor, do I always think, “I hope I don’t cut my finger off.” It could happen. Once, when my dad was pulling the cord on the chainsaw, I heard him say to himself, “I better not cut my leg off.” Sage self-advice!

We imagine. We assume. We project. It is a potent and powerful force, this capacity to story ourselves through imaging. We learn to imagine the obstacles. We learn not to allow the possibilities.

How many times in my life have I asked students or clients to imagine themselves fulfilled? Too many to count but the actual number is equal to the number of times students or clients have responded, “I can’t.”

What? Yes. You can. Dream in the direction of possibility. Remember that once you were a kindergartner and a teacher asked if you were and artist. Your YES was wild and enthusiastic. Your capacity to dream hasn’t gone away. It’s gone underground.

Guts and gore, dogs fighting cats, fingers flying off; the horror-story-imagination is more immediate.  Sometimes it takes a bit of archeology to find the kindergartner.

Oh, and DogDog and BabyCat? Best of friends. We often find them in the afternoon sleeping back to back. Who could have imagined such a thing?!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGDOG & BABYCAT NAPPING

 

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Look For It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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We live our lives diving for pen and paper or whipping out our phones to text notes to ourselves. We dive or whip because someone just said something interesting. We are trying capture something we just heard before it slips away. It is the reason we created Merely-A-Thought-Monday.

Watching an old episode of Life Below Zero, Sue Aikens, living on the frozen tundra, tossed off this yummy phrase and we both leapt. Kerri was faster on the uptake, “I got it!” she said, texting at lightning speed. I was still looking for a pen.

It is a statement of optimism made all the more meaningful because of the extreme challenges Sue Aikens faces everyday. Her bears are real. She can’t afford pessimism.

When you are a collector of phrases, a watcher of behaviors, a student of story, a few things become immediately clear. People generally focus on the negative. Take a trip to the office water cooler or go to the local coffeehouse and eavesdrop. You’ll listen to tales of dissatisfaction and conflict.  Stories of blame. There’s tons of interesting customer experience data about how readily and disproportionately we tell our tales of woe versus how rarely we tell our tales of wow.

Conflict makes for good storytelling. Tales of wow and tales of woe are both conflict driven, both rife with challenges. I dove for pen and paper because this simple phrase, Sue’s mantra, captures perfectly the distinction, the line that defines a tale as wow or woe.

It depends upon where you place the conflict. In most water cooler tales of woe, the conflict is an endpoint. “Can you believe that happened to me.” The main character, the storyteller, is the victim in the story. Tales woe are told and forgotten. They are replaced by the next yummy woe.

In tales of wow, the conflict is a driver, a propeller toward an end that is not yet visible. The main character is a seeker. The challenge is fuel. “I will find it. I will make it happen.” Tales of wow are unique in that they are usually told by others.

It is human isn’t it? A messy walk between woe and wow. Who hasn’t screamed to the sky, “Why is this happening to me?!” Who hasn’t stopped the presses, found a quiet spot, and thought, “I’m going to figure this out.” Not a problem.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SUE’S QUOTE

 

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Give Over The Melody Line [on KS Friday]

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Spiritual teachers across traditions suggest that the reason we suffer is that we focus on what we think should be/supposed to be instead of on what is. The dedication to being someplace other than where you are will split you every time! The notion that you can be someone other than who you are (at this moment) will cleave you in two. And so, we have traditions of mindfulness (be where you are) and acceptance (be who you are) and forgiveness (be at peace with who and where you are). The cliff notes version: stop hewing yourself in two and you will stop suffering.

This is the seed-idea that inspired AS IT IS. This is what is supposed to be. All is as it is, as it should be.

I delight when Kerri tells me the story behind a composition. This morning, as we listened, she asked me to pay attention to the melody line. The flute mostly carries it. The keyboard – what she is playing – is in a support role. She said it this way: the keyboard gives over the melody line. The flute gives it back. The keyboard returns it to the flute.

No resistance. Relationship. AS IT IS. These, too, are spiritual suggestions for mending the hew. I’ll add to my canon as a practice for presence: give over the melody line.

 

AS IT IS on the album AS IT IS, available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AS IT IS

 

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as it is/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Meditate [on DR Thursday]

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It’s a universal theme that I’ve painted over and over throughout my life. Mother and child.  Sometimes the painting is inspired by a dear friend becoming a parent. Sometimes, like this iteration, I look up and find it staring at me from the canvas. When that happens I know I need to follow it.

img_3998I learned when I was a teenager that the act of painting was, for me, a form of meditation. Sometimes the meditation has nothing to do with the image that I am working with. The process becomes an exercise in presence. Sometimes, like this painting, the image has everything to do with the meditation. The image is the meditation.

So. Birth. New life. Possibilities. Life giving. A good meditation for the middle of winter. A good meditation for an artist surrounded by good friends retiring from work, becoming grandparents, asking what is next. A universal theme. A universal symbol.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on MOTHER AND CHILD IN PROCESS

 

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mother & child (in process) ©️ 2019 david robinson

Make The Climb [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Roger and I used to talk about art in terms of levels of sophistication. For instance, no one masters an instrument the first time they pick one up. There are layers of learning necessary before the musician “knows” how to play. The “knowing” has little to do with the accumulation of information and everything to do with giving over to what the body learns. Finally, it is a letting go (of the mind) into an undefended sharing. Flow. It has nothing to do with knowing and everything to do with availability. This ‘availability to experience’ is what we called sophistication.

Both the artist and the audience pass through layers of greater sophistication. The artist wants greater and greater challenges. The audience wants greater and greater challenges, that is, they want to participate in something that demands more from them. It requires that both artist and audience show up, open, give over. Union is the ultimate purpose of art. Participation in something greater than your self. That is how art informs and transforms.

And then, there is the flip side, the anti-art. You can feel it. The absence of the genuine experience. The demonstration of accumulated knowledge. I cringe when a curator launches a three-masted-ship-of-study that tells me what the art is about, what the artist felt, and what I should see and feel. When the actor attempts to control what I see, when the art is so conceptual that it precludes me or anyone save the artist from entering the conversation, when the  knowledge priest stands between me and my god…you’ll know the levels of sophistication have left the building when the conversation is one way, judged, controlled.

Kerri calls this the blah-blah. When a real moment is disrupted by an agenda, when the flow is dammed by an unnecessary display of knowledge. And, the kicker is, we are all guilty of it. I am. It is a necessary step in climbing the ladder of sophistication, slipping back down the ladder of sophistication. To confuse technique with art. To garble the necessity of the open heart with  the realm of the intellectually abstract.  To give a standing ovation to something that put you to sleep. To try to control what the other person sees or thinks or feels; a fool’s errand. The great artist trap. The great life trap.

And, the best you can do (truly, the best thing), is to catch yourself in the moment of blah-blah, laugh at yourself lost in the trap, pull out the ladder, and begin again to climb toward simplicity.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AN UNNECESSARY DISPLAY OF KNOWLEDGE

 

 

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