Recognize The Art [on Flawed Wednesday]

The snow was too dry. My snowman fell apart when I put the head on. “It doesn’t have to look like a snowman to be a snowman,” Kerri said to cheer me up.

“Maybe it’s modern art!” I quipped, using my if-it’s-a-mess-call-it-art default statement. As I walked down the trail, away from my unsuccessful snowman, I wondered when incoherence had become included in my definition of art.

I am and have been these many months doing some soul searching and life review. Walking down our snowy trail I remembered working with a dying theatre company. The first step in restoring their health and vitality was to help them face a simple truth: that they made the “art” did not necessarily make the “art” good. In fact, the “art” could not be good until their criteria for “good” wasn’t about them.

The challenge with “art” in the modern era is that it is nearly impossible to define. For purely masochistic reasons I looked up the word ‘art’ in the dictionary and nearly fell asleep before I finished reading the definition. “A diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory, or performing artifacts…” Artifacts? The last lap of the definition reads, “…intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Beauty. Emotional power.

Of course, the contemporary world is awash in conceptual art and I read in my dictionary that this form of art, dating back to Duchamp in 1917, “…abandoned beauty, rarity and skill as measures.” Bananas taped to the wall. Statements.

Beauty abandoned. No emotional power necessary. But still “art.”

Art is, I’m told by historians and other scholars, a mirror of society. It is reflective of the era in which the artist lived. What a society values is made apparent in their art. It’s true.

Art, I believe, has a power and purpose far beyond mere appreciation. It is more than a mirror. It generates identity. It pulls disparate individuals to a common center. It affirms connectivity. It awakens us – and provides access to – that which is greater than any single individual. It bonds. It affirms. It transforms.

I wonder if our art, often so unrecognizable, sometimes incomprehensible, dependent upon curatorial interpretation, not concerned with beauty or rarity or skill or any other discernible measure, is not the perfect reflection of us. Narcissistic. Statements. Each day I am, like you, met by a tsunami of stories in the daily news revealing our collective confusion, our collapse of values, a commons at war with itself fueled by leaders stoking division for personal gain. Bananas taped to the wall. It is – we are – in our daily tales – so conceptual – so void of beauty or rarity or recognizable skill or measure – that it requires an anchor/curator to tell us why it – or we – might have meaning.

And then, just when I wonder if we are hopelessly lost, Amanda Gorman stepped up to the mic. The one true test of artistry is that we know it when we see it. No curator necessary. We are, we were, for a moment, bonded together in a way that no politician, no historian, no concept will ever understand or achieve.

I see it alive in Mike, and David, and Mark, and Chris. It glistens every time Kerri sits at the piano or composes a poem. It is not a mess though sometimes skill meets a happy-accident and, like penicillin, something healing emerges.

When we are washed away into the annals of time, what will be our art-love-letter to the future? What legacy – and art is a legacy – will we leave behind? What will I leave behind?

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWMAN

for kicks, Kerri made a Snowman mug. Go here to get it

Follow The Conversation [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I met Horatio on an airplane. With his wife, Teru, we were seatmates on a flight from Washington D.C. to Seattle. I’d just finished facilitating a workshop at the Smithsonian about story, he was stepping toward directing films, and Teru is passionate about writing life histories. We talked about storytelling clear across the country and our conversation continues to this day.

David and I sat next to each other at a conference. I’d only just moved to Seattle, I knew no one. I saw a sign for the conference and wandered in. It was my good fortune to pick a seat next to a brilliant visual and theatre artist. We started talking about life and art. Years later, every gallery I enter, every play I attend, I have conversations with David in my mind – and hurry home to write him or call him and share what we talked about.

To this day, MM is my greatest collaborator. We used to sit in my office and dream big dreams – and then go out and make them happen. He is the ultimate player-of-infinite-games, playing-to-play. When I need my mind opened, my pot stirred, or my obstacles surmounted, I turn to MM.

I was visiting Tom McK at his ranch. When he asked me to help him tell a story I had no idea that his simple question, the story that he needed to tell, would take more than a decade and would only be possible after his death. His story became my story to tell.

It was Tom’s story that I told to Horatio that day on the flight from D.C. to Seattle. It was multiple good conversations over many years with David about writing plays that finally brought me to clarity. MM was my constant companion. With his band, Mom’s Chili Boys, he composed the music that supported the telling of Tom’s story. He built the world of the play and then, together, we stepped into the world and fulfilled Tom’s request.

Fortuitous seat assignments on a flight. Following an impulse into a conference and taking any old seat. Playing an infinite game. One good conversation, again and again, and nothing will ever be the same.

read Kerri’s blog post about ONE GOOD CONVERSATION

Get Close And Look [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Get close and look. Really look. Raindrops on the screen. Distortions. Light bends. The shock of organic shapes colliding on a grid. “What do you see?” she asked.

Last night, somewhere in the vicinity of 2am, we were wide awake. We ate rice Chex and reviewed the stressors of the year. It read like a biblical plague. We laughed when we realized that there were/are so many stressors that we’d actually forgotten the local riots, the curfew, chaos. and murder that happened a few blocks from our home. “In any normal year,” she said, “that would have been the top of the list. This year it didn’t even make the cut.”

Get close and look. What do you see? Future PhD’s will apply their magnifying glass to our time and find the tail wagging the dog, the greater falling to the lesser. A political party cowering and conspiring with delusion. They would rather see the system fall than risk their power seats. A populace jousting over wearing masks in a pandemic. Many would rather their neighbor die than have their imagined rights restricted. Propaganda networks, posing as news, peddling fantasy as fact. They would rather worship at the altar of the advertising dollar and feed the division (division sells!) rather than hold fast to the mast of journalistic integrity. It’s all entertainment when the necessary is swallowed in a mouthful of superficial. Gossip and conspiracy are so much tasty sugar!

Rome fell when the chief-toga-team guarded their luxuries rather than attended to the essentials. Millions of people line up for food. The market soars.

Really, get close and look. Little miracles are everywhere. “You were plucked out of the snake-pit,” he wrote. “Get the water boiling and get out the corkscrew. It’s time to celebrate.”

We found wine by the front door. Twice.

“I will sit with you in the dark,” she wrote.

“Do you need anything?” they asked.

Slushy came with smiles. “We thought you might need this!”

“Stand above your circumstance,” he suggested.

A special delivery of vitamin c and zinc brought tears to my eyes. True friends emerge from the pack.

The boys join us on the raft every morning for breakfast. Dogga comes running every time tears fill her eyes.

The shock of organic shapes colliding on a grid, raindrops on the screen. Hard lines, soft shapes. “We’re very lucky” she said, stooping to take a picture of a pine cone, a fallen branch with wispy needles. The day was cold but the sun was warm.

“What do you see?” she asked, turning the camera so I could see her photograph. “Really look.”

read Kerri’s blog post about RAIN ON THE SCREEN

Sit In The Sun [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I made a third run at my Polynices & Eteocles painting. Brothers who kill each other over control of the kingdom. Reds and Blues. In the two previous attempts, the brotherly violence morphed into images of shared fatherhood. A quiet unity. On this, my third and last attempt, I grew bored with the image and the statement I wanted to make about these-un-united-united-states.

Kerri avoided my basement studio while the brothers, sketched in charcoal, were killing each other on canvas. With a few swipes of a rag and adjustments of line, the murderous brothers became an angel embracing a dejected soul. And, although Kerri was much happier passing through the studio en route to the laundry room with angels on the easel, I found that I was equally as bored with my feel-good statement as I was with my feel-bad statement. The rag cleared the offending charcoal angel.

I don’t want to make statements.

I know I am in an artistic growth phase when I find myself at cross-purposes. Sit still. Get busy. Get Quiet. Say something. The sitting still and the getting quiet are what’s really required. Germinate. Listen. The getting-busy and saying-something are puritanical overtones. Fear of…

A few years ago, Jonathan told us that a tree must split its bark in order to grow. It seems my bark is splitting.

Yesterday, while moving through my david-yoga practice, I had a wee-epiphany. Every yoga pose is a study of oppositions. The stretch, the balance, comes from oppositional reaching. Inner-space, flexibility, equilibrium are intentional contrast. Contrast need not be combative. I think I am out of balance.

Angels and dejected souls. Brothers warring for control. Combat and consolation. No wonder I’m bored. My statement-subjects are as dusty and old as humanity itself. I think the truth floating to the top in my silent sitting is that I have had too much of darkness. There is a lighter side to poetry and human nature.

I just might need to cross over and sit in the sun for a while.

read Kerri’s blog post about TWO PATHS

Get To Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On page one of the despot’s handbook is this instruction: silence the artists. Mute the intellectuals. Authoritarians have power only when people become sheep. Silence in the face of abuse is tacit agreement. Permission to bully.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve stood before a school board and explained that art is supposed to be powerful, that it plays a very important role in a healthy society, I’d have a lot of nickels. I was generally called to speak when a play or a painting upset the apple cart, when the art made the community confront a truth or look at a reality. Brecht’s Epic Theatre or the plays of Artaud were/are meant to shake the irrational in people, force them into discussion and revelation.

Art can be beautiful, poetry can soothe, but that is only one side of the coin. It can also shine a light and expose an ugly truth. It can give voice to what is not-being-spoken. It can work out problems on the stage instead of sending the violence into the streets. It can ask us to take a hard look at ourselves and our motives. Picasso’s large painting, Guernica, a response to horror wrought by fascists on the people of a town in Spain, is a powerful art-mirror.

The conscience of a community, like the conscience of every individual that comprises the community, lives beyond the superficial, it bubbles in the place beyond words. An artist’s job is to reach into that place, pull the veil for a moment, root or re-root the community in its values.

A despot’s job is to secure a unanimous vote, no questions asked. Sheep.

Art is not superficial. It is not the image or the words on the page. It is what the image, the words, the dance, the music, touch. Hearts. Souls. Conscience.

Without it, what remains is propaganda. Propaganda is never news, it is the opposite of art. It snuffs the question, it prevents the quest for meaning and deep-felt-truth. Without it, communities flatten, lose their center, wither, and fall apart. Silence, eyes downcast or sideways glancing. Permission to bully. Sheep.

It’s time for the artists to get to work.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTISTS

Listen To The Crows [on DR Thursday]

“Sculpture,” they said. “We think you need to do some sculpture.” They were pushing me to get out of my painter-comfort-zone. It was our agreement as an artist collective: help each other grow. Our group shows were driven by a clear intention. Challenge the art-wheels to exit the art-rut.

All of my life I’ve had a special relationship with birds. Owls show up at auspicious moments. Hawks visit when I need to step back and take the long view. The surprise turkey on our roof, harbinger of good things to come. At the time of my sculpture challenge, I was, each and every day, assaulted by crows.

I read that crows have facial recognition so I told myself the daily assault was a case of mistaken identity. I’d never done harm to a crow. Yet, everyday during my walk, I was dive-bombed. Once, a crow was so relentless that I took refuge in a coffeehouse.

The worst was the day, lost in thought as I approached the door to my studio, at the last moment, I saw a baby crow perched on the door step. I heard them before I saw them. An entire murder of crows came to the baby’s defense. I leapt over the baby and into the studio. They pounded the door and pecked at the windows. They circled my studio for hours. Angry cawing. It was a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock.

Crows seemed like the obvious subject matter for my first stab at sculpture.

I decided to use found objects: wood, wire hangers, newspaper, string, a plastic clamp. India ink and glue.

Creating my sculptures became something of a meditation. As I bent the wire and glued the paper it occurred to me that perhaps the crows weren’t confusing me with someone else. Perhaps their attacks were meant for me. Perhaps I needed to listen. In some traditions, crows are the keeper of sacred law. They are heralds of consciousness change, shape-shifting. They thump you on the head when you need to wake up, when you are not living in alignment with your best interests. That was certainly true of me at the time. The crows were literally hitting me on the head.

I loved making my sculptures. I love what they brought me to understand. My artist-friends were more right than they knew; I needed to do some sculpture. I needed to exit my rut and step into a scary void and, in that way, invite new seeing, new forms, and finally, a new way of being.

read Kerri’s blog post about CROW

crow ©️ 2010 david robinson

Leave The Studio [on DR Thursday]

Kerri calls this snippet REACH

One day at the farmer’s market we saw a little girl chasing an enormous soap bubble. She was gleeful, squealing with delight. Looking at the faces of the adults watching the little girl, it was clear that they wished they were also racing across the grass, gleefully chasing bubbles. It was clear that they yearned to feel that carefree. In some distant place, they remembered.

These days I occasionally sit in my studio but I do not touch my brushes. There is a canvas on the easel. It’s good and worn and chunky just as I like them. It is waiting. I am waiting.

I believe, as Tom McK. taught me, that “a writer writes and a painter paints.” There is no magic to it. Well, that’s a lie. There’s plenty of magic when the painting begins, when the artist disappears. But first, the paint has to hit the canvas. Before disappearing the artist has to show up.

Yesterday, Skip sent me this lovely reminder. It’s from a tweet:

“I believe it was John Cage who once told me, ‘When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, your enemies, the art world, and above all, you own ideas – all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one-by-one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.'”

That little girl chasing bubbles, her glee, is what happens when “even you leave.” All of the ideas of who you are or what you need to do or achieve, the expectations, the burdens and worries, the pandemic, the politics, the notions of success and failure, all leave the room. That’s when the bubble chasing begins. That’s when there is ample space for glee and delight.

Kerri chose this morsel for today and I’m so glad she did. “I want to do another version of this painting,” I said. That little girl, so long ago chasing an enormous soap bubble at a farmer’s market, is calling me back to my easel, she’s pointing to the studio door and asking me to leave.

Chasing Bubbles, mixed media, 33.25 x 48IN

read Kerri’s blog post about REACH

reach/chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

Stack It High [on KS Friday]

a shred of hope copy

It’s day 4 of the salmonella blues. We think the offender was the green onion in the tabouli. We made a big batch on Sunday and it was delicious. And then it wasn’t. If it was possible for our world to get even smaller, more constrained, we found the way.

If we wanted to, we would stack the tales of woe one upon the other: pandemic, broken wrists, lost jobs, and today, the top of the woe-stack would be bad onions. We simply do not want to focus on that particular stack. So, instead, we stack our tales of gratitude: we are safe in our home, we have ridiculous amounts of love for our crazy dog and oversized cat, we are healthy (mostly), we have each other, we have incredible family and friends. We live our art. In fact, during the moments we feel sorry for ourselves, all we need do is slide the stacks together for side-by-side comparison. The gratitude stack is a mighty mountain next to the wimpy stack of woe.

This morning, when we felt that we could sit upright, we went into Kerri’s studio. She brought a word to mind and began playing, improvising. My job, as always, was to hit the record-button and stand still. What she played lifted me. I couldn’t help but look out the window, the sun sparkled in the leaves of the tree out front. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that everything was going to be alright. No matter what.

I told her about my feeling and she said, “Oh, that’s good! The word I chose to play was ‘hope.'”

What’s atop the gratitude-stack today? A little shred of hope.

 

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A SHRED OF HOPE

Kerri lingers in Facebook limbo. Everyday I ask with increasing mock-suspicion, “What exactly did you do?” Her indignation resurrects her almost-lost Long Island accent, “Idintdoanything!” she huffs. So, if you desire that I might live another day, consider subscribing to her blog. It will keep me out of trouble and for that I will chuck you on top of the stack of gratitude. The view is excellent up there so give it some thought.

 

 

close-up Arches with website box copy

 

 

a shred of hope ©️ 2020 kerri sherwood

a day at the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson

 

 

 

Touch The Invisible [on DR Thursday]

KDOT sketch copy

a close up of One Chord Ahead (a work in progress)

I started my artist life by drawing people. I was never really interested in landscapes or still life drawing. I was interested in the eyes. As a boy I copied photographs from National Geographic magazine and repeatedly sketched The Colonel from the side of the bucket of chicken.

I understood early on that the surface image was not what I was after, I was on the hunt for what was “beneath.” My dedication to the invisible made me a not-very-good portrait painter though I managed to do more than my share. They were technical exercises and for a while served a purpose.

It’s been over a century since the development of the photograph relieved artists from the necessity of capturing the visible. Optics to Impressionism to Expressionism to all the Neo-phases to pulling it into Cubes and Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism to just plain abstraction and conceptual-what-the-heck-does-it-mean-ism?

It’s an odd admission for a visual artist to declare a dedication to the invisible. Ellsworth Kelly caught the invisible in his Austin. John Singer Sargent captured it in his Lady Agnew. You know when an artist reaches the invisible when the painting/architecture stops you in your tracks. They make you catch your breath. More than once in my life I’ve stood in front of paintings and cried. The artist reached through the veil and touched the “beneath.” Picasso regularly kills me. I’ve spent hours staring at Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series.

At this late date I know that I will not shake the halls of history with my paintings, I am innovating nothing and now working for no other reason than I have to. I need to. There is no other reason. There is no better reason.

A few weeks ago Kerri was leading a rehearsal through Zoom. I caught my breath watching her and thought it might be time to attempt another portrait. Fun. Nothing formal.

Sometimes the circle comes around to shake a complacency or reconnect to the root. I feel as if I’m waking up some long-still muscle memory. I had to do a few drafts to remember how not-to-control. I’m learning in this latest iteration of One Chord Ahead that I’m more and more interested in reducing all things to a simplicity, to use the fewest lines to say the most. It’s the imperative of the pursuit of what’s beneath. A lesson, I recognize, that I learn again and again and again…

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ONE CHORD AHEAD

Kerri remains in Facebook lock up. When you click over to read her post please consider subscribing to her blog.

 

their palettes website box copy

 

columbus

columbus (my dad), circa 1995 or 1996

www.davidrobinsoncreative.com

one chord ahead (work in progress) ©️ 2020 david robinson

Draw A Blank [on DR Thursday]

canvas copy

A white canvas. Or is it a blank canvas? This could be a finished piece of art or a scary beginning. Having the 20th century of art firmly in the books, art historians weigh in, saying “yes,” it could be complete. It could also be inception. As confusing or clarifying as it might sound, the determining factor is the artist’s intention.

In 1918, the Russian artist Kazmir Malevich painted Suprematist Composition: White On White. White, he believed, was the color of infinity. It recently sold at auction for $15 million dollars.

In 1963, Ad Reinhardt painted his Abstract Painting, at first glance a black canvas that reveals itself as a symphony of shades and tones. He called his canvases “pure, timeless, ideal, transcendent.” His paintings sell at auction for millions.

Yasmina Reza wrote a play, Art, that explores the question “What is art? In it, friends debate and debase the $200,000.00 purchase of a completely white painting.

Does this sound crazy? The artist decides the reality? Beginning or end? Is it the artist’s intention or the eye of the beholder that gives meaning and value to art? Both?

It is breathtaking when you recognize that artists do not create from thin air. Artists reflect the society in which they live and work. 1918 was the end of a world war. It was the beginning of a global pandemic. Who could blame Kazmir Malevich for exploring infinity? Of wanting to reach beyond an external reality that was horrific?

I stare at my blank canvas. It is an invitation. A call.

I/We live in a time of absurdity – farcical abstraction from observable reality. Angry bubbles. Insulated information tribes. Data collection more valuable than gold. We are reducing ourselves to so many numbers. What’s your credit score? Your personality rating? Perhaps I should fill my canvas with zeros and ones? What would you see?

Mostly, we constantly weigh our interests against values and values lose every time. Weird calculations creating ludicrous reality. Yesterday, for instance, 3000 young people packed into a mega church during a pandemic – in a virus hotspot – to cheer a demagogue; they were told they were safe because there was a new and special corona virus killing air system.  The pile of farces grows higher and higher. The propaganda machine grows louder and louder. How rich a field for an artist to explore! The most individualistic nation on earth creating lemmings who will believe anything.

What should I paint? Do I want to comment on the ridiculous? The obscene?

I find myself understanding Kazmir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt as I never have before. Look beyond the angry horror story. I do not want to spend my precious few years on this earth meditating on the ugly abstractions, the made-up-in-the-moment divisions. The blank surface of my canvas calls me to look beyond the noise. There is so much to love in this passing moment. Change, real change, is always in this direction.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on BLANK CANVASES

 

 

 

picnic table website box copy

 

 

all my loves/the draw sunsets ©️ 2020/2017 david robinson