Catch The Glimmer [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday a treasure arrived in the mail. Mike sent it for my birthday. It is a painting, a study for class that her father, DeMarcus, did when he was a young art student. He was learning to see and use color. This painting hung in her hallway. More than once I stopped and studied it, his color swatches carefully placed at the bottom of the page. She must have noticed that I was drawn to this painting.

Many years ago, Mike gave me DeMarcus’ notebook from this same class on color. It is from a time before it was possible to go to the drugstore and buy a notebook. DeMarcus cut the paper, made a cover from old Levi’s, starched for strength, and stitched it together. The pages, a hundred years later, are tender, so I am careful when I read them. Reading his notes always buoys my spirit since they are a record of his revelation, of training his eyes to see.

During the bitter cold of the past few weeks, an entire ice-age played out on the top of the awning over our backdoor. A creeping ice shelf moved slowly down the awning, crawling over the side. One evening, the long fingers of the ice-age reaching for the deck below, became brilliant with the winter colors of the sky. Kerri grabbed her phone, flung open the door, frigid air blasting into the warmth of the room, she stepped out and snapped photos of the fingers.

“Look!” she said, showing me the screen. “I love this picture!”

Just above the center of the photograph, a glimmer of electric blue. Amidst the suspended bubbles and greens and purples and light-reflections, a tiny beacon of vibrant blue. I could almost hear DeMarcus laughing.

read Kerri’s blog post about ICICLES

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

Turn Around And Look [on KS Friday]

When we were at the other end of life, Roger and I often discussed the “bodies” of artists’ work. The overview of their lifetime of work and what it revealed. We speculated about what our bodies of work might someday reveal. He is, and always has been, singular, a director of plays, certain of his path. His body of work would be – and has become – the plays he’s directed and the actors that he’s instructed. It’s an impressive body of work. I am, as Horatio calls me, a polymath. My body of work has never been certain. As Roger knew with clarity the destination of his path, I knew with curiosity that I would be a wanderer. The path was and continues to be my destination.

In other words, I’m all over the map. It’s visible in my paintings. I dare anyone to make linear sense of my resume.

Tom Mck hired me because, in his words, I was a “Johnny Appleseed.” When he was old, he told me that he turned me loose in the schools to see what I’d stir up and also what I’d plant. It was one of my favorite “jobs” because it came without a description. I followed the fires. I found the need. I brought art and stories to hearts and minds grown arid from the pursuit of dusty answers.

Tom was a brilliant theatre artist and teacher. His body of work was immense. I was surprised, at the end of his life, when he told me that he rarely thought of the plays he’d directed. He believed his best work, the work that he most loved and defined him – his real body of work – was at the very beginning of his teaching career. He was assigned a 2nd grade class and had no idea what to do with them. So, his curriculum was to invent stories with them. They traveled the world as pirates, went on safari, designed and priced supply lists and mapped routes. Math and history and geography. For weeks they prepared for a day of being blind. What would they need to do to spend an entire day safely learning what it was to be without sight? Curiosity and discovery. Empathy. Inner and outer worlds. He ignited and followed their imaginations. Tom was a polymath, too. He was a Johnny Appleseed.

Today marks Kerri and my 156th week of consecutive posts. 3 years, 5 days a week. My wife is a poet and composer and pianist and teacher and singer/songwriter and recording artist and business owner and photographer and designer. A polymath. After breakfast each morning, we write. It occurred to me recently that my body of work, when all is said and done, will be my posts. I’ve directed many plays, performed many plays, written some really bad plays and a few good ones, consulted with corporations, performed stories at conferences and with symphonies, painted and shown paintings, written children’s books, taught and facilitated workshops and dug ditches and delivered warm bread to grocery stores. I started an experiential learning school, a diversity and inclusion training company, and coached people from all over the world. All of my wandering has provided a rich field of experiences to pull from, to ponder and reflect.

Sometimes (more times than I care to count) I ask myself, “How did I get here?” These days, in the pandemic era, I have plenty of time to look back on my road, on my body of work. “How” is a question that can only be answered after the fact. ‘How do we do it?” tops my list of most useless questions. How did I get here? What is my body of work? I turn around and look where I’ve traveled, where I’m from, and write myself into coherence.

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s post about WHERE I’M FROM

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Conceal To Reveal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was tilting at windmills, one of my favorite things to facilitate was mask work. I brought masks to lawyers, to CEOs, to teacher’s, government workers, elementary school students, corporate trainers, business coaches and sometimes to actors. There’s nothing better than a mask to pop open possibilities and challenge petrified thinking.

Masks conceal and reveal. They serve the paradox and, therefore, are tapped into the root of truth.

It’s impossible to work with masks for long before realizing that the faces we wear everyday are also masks. We “put on” a smile. We attempt to hide what we feel by the mask we manufacture. Some faces freeze in masks of indifference or masks of disdain. We perform ourselves, and craft our masks accordingly.

Many cultures around this world believe the mask opens a communication with the gods. Don a mask and something bigger-than-you speaks through you. When I paint I often have that feeling. Artistry sometimes means getting out of the way so the creation can flow.

It’s why I brought masks to lawyers and CEOs and corporate folks and teachers. To introduce them to the fields that bloom beyond their need to control. So much of their lives, so many of their problems and challenges were wrestling matches of control. They were actively creating the obstacles that they desired to remove.

What do we actually control when we harden our faces over what we feel? What do we gain by attempting to control what others see or think or feel? We are makers of our own prisons. We are deluded by our fantasy that we have the capacity to determine what others see. The only control we exert is upon ourselves.

The mask work makes abundantly clear that control is not power. Power – creativity – flows. It is the dance of the artist to master technique, to learn control, and then transcend it. To get out of the way.

My favorite moment, with every group, in every circumstance, came when the masks released the people and they slowly, respectfully said goodbye and removed them. Their faces was also mask-less. It was like seeing infant’s faces. Bright. Open. They would, for a few brief moments, look at each other, unmasked and unprotected. Simply astonished at being alive, together, in the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK

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

Do It For Yourself [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I have been writing long enough to know that there are sedimentary layers to my themes. The top layer, the most superficial, is the political layer, current events. I am not above shouting into the storm. When I run to the keyboard and ring the alarm or presume that my point of view is relevant enough to roundly criticize others, I know that, above all, I’m breaking the first rule of happiness: I can never determine what another person thinks or does or feels. On my superficial days, in my ranting, I write for myself.

When I was at my saddest, I set about looking for goodness. I walked the streets of Seattle with the single intention of counting acts of kindness. As you might suspect there were more than I could count. In this world where we story ourselves as aggressive, unthinking and unkind, we are remarkably compassionate. Good will is simply more difficult to see. It is not the focus. The deeper layers of my writing-archaeology emerge when I direct my attention, when I exercise the artist in me and attempt to see beyond what I think. Since these are the layers where I desire to live and work, I suppose it is also true that on those days I also write for myself.

It is a looping life-lesson for me: I have the capacity to choose where I place my focus. I will see in the dark ocean where I decide to shine my light. I will author myself according to what/where I decide to give my focus. It is, among other things, why the film ABOUT TIME is among my favorite movies.

Lately, as one of our get-through-the-pandemic-winter-strategies, we’ve taken to assembling jigsaw puzzles. Entire evenings disappear into our intense pursuit of pieces. Our puzzle sessions require absolute focus – all of the other nonsense and monsters that vie to plague our brains are banished. Our focus is so thorough that we rarely speak. We do, however, listen to the soundtrack of ABOUT TIME. Again and again. When it finishes, one of us walks to the CD player (yes…we play CDs) and play it again. Sometimes we don’t make it past the first track, Ben Fold’s THE LUCKIEST. “Do you mind?” one of us asks. It’s a rhetorical question. It warms us so a repeat is always welcome.

Sitting at the dining room table, hunting for bits of colored cardboard, with the soundtrack playing, all things come into focus. While the surface-layer is on fire with a circus of instability, a pandemic, a climate that is changing, all jobs gone, a broken wrist that is not mending,…the deeper layer beckons: DogDog sits under the table, BabyCat is asleep on the chair, 20 just called and made us laugh, a postcard from Jen made us cry, my phone dinged with a text from a dear friend. I look across the table at my wife, pursing her lips as she plucks a piece of the puzzle from the table and attempts to make it fit, and I know to my bones that I am the luckiest.

To see it or not to see it; it’s my choice.

read Kerri’s blog post about REPEAT

Witness The Generosity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

You know the ritual is over when the sacrifice is made. Sometimes the sacrifice is literal, an offering of thanks to the greater powers. A life given for life received. It’s the elemental story cycle with gratitude as the final act.

Sometimes the sacrifice is unconscious and, therefore…unconscious. Unseen. Not felt.

In the weeks before the holiday, the delivery trucks were ubiquitous, zipping this way and that. The deliverers-of-packages worked overtime to ensure all good things arrived on time. We tracked the good people hauling our packages to remote destinations, a luxury of the modern world. As I stroll down my street this week I see, post-holiday, the garbage collectors are working overtime, mechanical arms groaning and methodical, clearing the mountain of debris, boxes, empty bottles (I contributed my share), wrapping paper and remnants of our ritual. Our offering of thanks to the greater powers leaves a mighty litter trail.

The day after Christmas, at the mouth of the lot where we park to hike our trail, the discarded trees were already stacking up. Kerri speculated that the people who enjoyed the trees must certainly be going on travels. Why else would they discard their trees so fast? “Or,” she speculated, “maybe they’ve had them up since the first of November. Maybe they are ready to move on.”

The sacrifice is too easy. It’s piled on the curb. It’s hauled away.

Despite how this reads, it is more meditation than criticism. This holiday season was one of my favorite precisely because we could take nothing for granted. 2020 was brutal for us as it was for many. With our patterns blown to bits, with our security nowhere to be found, our community fragmenting, with no easy choices, we were – and are – conscious of every single step. We are grateful for every moment of heat in the house, for every kindness that has come our way, for every small kindness we’ve been able to offer. We imbue our meals with a deep thankfulness that we did not a scant one year ago.

Why is it that gratitude is so easy when everything else is hard – and why is gratitude merely lip-service when everything is easy? It is, I suspect, why our congress can’t move to help a struggling populace; they have it too easy to identify with the people they represent. We are too easily taken to the curb, to readily swept away.

It has been my role in this lifetime to walk the margins and look inward at the mechanics of my community. To see. It’s the role of the artist to see the patterns, the shapes and colors of their culture and reflect them back, to make conscious what is too easily ignored. To bring the heart, the eye and the mind to the ugly as well as the beautiful.

By the backdoor of our house are bags we’re filling with crackers and peanut butter, socks and sweatshirts. The bags are for the army of people appearing on our streets with signs that read “Homeless” or “Hungry.” It’s not that I am a fan of hard times, I am not, but I’m grateful for what these times are evoking in me – in us. It’s waking us up, helping us reach to others rather than push them away. It’s moving us to see and wildly appreciate our simple abundance.

In the early days of this new year, with the glitter all but swept up, the champagne bottles hauled away, I am moved to tears at the acts of generosity I’m experiencing and also seeing pop up all around me. The holiday is over, the sacrifices made, but the generosity-of-spirit continues. It’s rising in hard times. It’s there. It’s everywhere, if you care to see it.

read Kerri’s blog post about DISCARDS

Train Your Doubt [on DR Thursday]

tango with me, mixed media, 39 x 52IN

The other night I dreamed I was giving a commencement speech to a class of young artists. I stared at them, looked at my prepared notes, folded them, and told the crowd of curious faces that I had absolutely nothing of value to say. I asked them what advice they would give to me? What would they tell an artist on the other end of the life-road? What wisdom would they share with me? What could they tell me about the artist’s path?

The caps and gowns stared back at me.

Rilke wrote in his Letters To A Young Poet that, “…your doubt may become a good quality if you train it. It must become a way of knowing, it must become critical. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it,…”

My father is in his last lap. Each day, when I get angry or scared or upset or frustrated, I imagine myself sitting at his bedside. I ask him, “Did anything you were ever afraid of really matter?” He doesn’t need to say anything. He knows I already know the answer.

What would I say if, sitting at his bedside, he looked at me and asked, “What can you tell me about living life?”

read Kerri’s blog post about TANGO WITH ME

tango with me ©️ 2018 david robinson

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