Value It [on DR Thursday]

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“Creativity is a dance where the flow of the eternal gleams through the brittleness of time and the distance of space.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

The arts are so often seen as unnecessary. They don’t pencil out. Hard to make money, yada yada. The budget just submitted by the current administration once again is attempting to cut the funding for and kill the National Endowment for the Arts. “A waste of money,” they say.

No way to measure it. Can’t be reduced to a spreadsheet.

Kerri was recently asked by her employer to calculate how many hours per week she spent working on her music. “What constitutes working on it?” she asked, “I think about it all the time. I’m constantly listening for and searching out good music. Does it qualify as working on it when I sit to play, to compose, to noodle on an idea?” She sighed the sigh that all artists sigh when asked to reduce their artistry to a number. “Maybe 125 hours a week? Does a lifetime playing, composing, conceptualizing, conducting, rehearsing and leading choirs count in my working on it” she quipped. They didn’t smile. The committee got together and determined her value based on their spreadsheet.

We know that when a society disappears from earth it leaves behind art and artifact. We discover what was important to the society by the arts they produced.  The architecture, the pottery, the scribbles on a cave wall. Their values expressed. Their arts – like ours – are the eternal gleam pressed into specific forms.

The arts are nothing less than the glue that keeps a society together. The common story is, after all, a story, and it is told through literature and theatre and dance and music and painting.

One of the necessary first acts of every dictator, after identifying a scapegoat, is to eliminate the artists, the thinkers, and the educators. It is a control strategy: rend the common story. Split the people. Then, make questioning and expressing a crime. Diminish reason. Eliminate the voice of imagination and reflection. Vilify the voice of dissension. Appeal to the reptile brain [that part of your brain that deals with the basic functions but has no reach into higher order thought].

Asking the question “why” and challenging the group-think is the artist’s and academic’s job. To discern between truth and lie. To open eyes. To open hearts. To open minds. Value beyond measure in a free society if the society values its freedom.

Yada yada.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NEW MOTHER

 

 

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new mother ©️ 2017 david robinson

 

Do Like Duchamp [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Roger used to say that Picasso’s paintings determine the shape of our cars. He meant that “seeing” is not passive. Just as audiences in a play wiggle in their seats at seven minutes into the play, the usual time for a commercial break on television, our visual sensibility is also patterned and mostly culturally uniform. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that eye has been conditioned.

One of the great moments of visual conditioning came in 1917 when Marcel Duchamp entered his “readymade” sculpture, FOUNTAIN, in an art exhibit. FOUNTAIN is a urinal. He signed his readymade scultpture R. Mutt. It is possible to spend many days of your life reading about FOUNTAIN, the symbolic meaning of a toilet, the then-new art term “readymade” and the challenges readymade-as-art posed to the art world, how Duchamp came to enter a urinal in an art exhibit. In that moment of time, a whole new genre was born: conceptual art. The idea behind the work is more important than the finished piece.

You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s toilet to the recent banana duct taped to the wall by Maurizzio Cattelan. And, you might ask, just what was the idea behind the banana?

You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s FOUNTAIN to Kerri’s out-door-voice-exclamations in a gallery, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” The idea behind the conceptual work generally needs a curator’s explanation. “I WANT TO EXPERIENCE IT, NOT HAVE IT EXPLAINED!” she gestures wildly, sending other patrons fleeing. In that moment, my wife becomes exquisite performance art.

You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s urinal to my inability to walk through an antique store and not see elegant design worthy of Louise Nevelson. Racks of door knobs. Stacks of suitcases. A wall of bric-a-brac, the wall composition more meaningful and beautiful than any of the individual pieces displayed.

A statement from Captain Obvious: artists live in a time and the art they produce is an expression of that time. Duchamp put his toilet on a pedestal in 1917, the year the world was nearing the end of the first war to end all wars. It was a horror story. The manufacture of stuff was hitting its stride.  The Royal Academy had a lock on determining what was considered art and what was not. The rules of polite society felt dangerous and suppressive. Duchamp, like all change agents, pushed against the norm.

There is composition and design in the everyday. There is human-created beauty all around us. We learn in school that form follows function and form is design. We learn in school that one of the purposes of art is to create beauty. Another purpose is to shock people out of complacency, to see what is in front of them and not what they think is there. Beauty usually lives beyond what we think.

We live in very confusing times. We are asking fundamental questions about truth, about social norms and what is acceptable. We are asking questions about who we are and what we believe. You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s FOUNTAIN to our current confusion. Is it art? Is it not? If the idea is more important than the final expression then what happens when all that is left to see and touch is absent of the idea? What happens when the curator is gone and only the urinal remains? Sense breaks down.

What happens to  the eye and ear that is shocked open but refuses to see what is right in front of them and, instead, retreat behind the fortress of what they think?  What happens when form no longer follows function but things flip the other way around? What happens when form IS function? Propaganda, mostly. A naked emperor and plenty of people passionately swearing that they see clothes. Readymade thought.

We live in those times. Sense breaks down. We tape bananas to walls and issue a certificate of authenticity.

 

read Kerri’s much-less random blog post about DOOR KNOBS

 

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Thank The Muse [on KS Friday]

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She said in jest, “I should take the next two weeks and record an album. I’ll call it Two Broken Wrist!” I would have laughed except she was playing the piano when she said it. Four days after the fall. The day after the cast. Were I blindfolded I would not be able to tell that she has no use of her right thumb and limited use of her right fingers. The fingers on her left will spread as far as the sprain will allow. I muttered in my new role as mother hen, “Don’t hurt yourself.” And then I closed my eyes.

Her playing left me slack-jawed. She has her doctor’s permission to play (“It’ll be good to move your fingers but don’t expect too much and don’t push it.”). I wish her doctor was standing beside me. She’d have laughed at the absurdity of the image. The disjoint of sound and image. I’d ask the doctor if this was what “pushing it” looked like?

It is, of course, what most people do not grok. Artists need to do-the-thing-they-do. If they don’t, they implode. It makes no sense but very few life-callings make sense. There is a deeper imperative at play. A muse must have satisfaction. Monet painted when blind. Was he pushing it?

Kerri played the piano. She had to. Her greatest fear, the largest monster in her closet, is the loss of her hands. She had to approach the keys, to visit the abyss, to see if the monster had her by the wrists or if she could push it back into the dark. Her words, ” “I should take the next two weeks and record an album…” was a celebration. It was a moment of soul-sighing-relief. The monster whined and vanished. I closed my eyes, not to spare myself the image of her possible pain, but to whisper a thank you to the muse. In my estimation, there has never been a more beautiful piece of music played.

There is a long road ahead.

I hope she records that album. The clucking you hear in the background will be me, reminding her to go slow, to take it easy. You won’t be able to hear her eye-rolling reply, but it’s there, too. Trust me.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TWO BROKEN WRISTS

 

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Circle [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Perhaps the most true phrase I’ve read about The Circle is that its symbolism is inexhaustible. It is universal and the ultimate cross-cultural sign. No beginning, no end.

Wholeness. Unity. Infinity. It points to the mystery. Cycles of life. Endless movement.

It also has a meaning-making-flip-side. It can be as vicious as it is virtuous. A closed community. The shape that distinguishes us from them. Loops of reactivity. An energy eddy. An inescapable whirlpool. A widening gyre.

Ask a circle, “What does it all mean?” and the circle will ask in return, “What does it mean to you?”

It is a radically different action to search for meaning than it is to make meaning. And, most likely, the search for and the assignment of meaning are dancing partners. All of us seek. All of us assign meaning.

We can’t help but ask, “Why is this happening?” A few curious scientists and seekers go beyond their circles of understanding and look for answers. They inevitably find more questions. Another loop.

The artists always live on the edge of the circle precisely so they can see in. When the community asks, “Why is this happening?” they scribble lines, make music, write poems, and dance. Communing with what is on the other side of the known. Making meaning. Perhaps incapable of approaching an answer to the question, “Why?” but certainly opening the circle of possibilities to what we might come to understand together. Creating a commons. Another loop.

 

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Give Over To The Music [on KS Friday]

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Kerri earns her daily bread as a Minister of Music. Each week she plays two services. The early service is “traditional” and she plays the organ. The second service is “family friendly” and she plays the piano with her band. Music, I’ve learned, serves as the great mountain range between the traditionalists and those seekers who are friendly as families. Just try and play contemporary music to a traditional crowd. I dare you [wear protective gear].

Partially, I suppose, the great divide makes sense. Music opens the door to the inner life, to memory and musings. It can reach beyond reason and language to the heart.  In other words, if you associate your spiritual life with pews, the pipe organ and a hymnal, then even a hint of a guitar provides reason to snap a lock on your door.

Navigating musical entrenchment is, I think, the hardest part of Kerri’s job. There are a few dedicated complainers dug in on both sides of the divide. They miss the greater experience. Lying in wait to find offense they actually miss the music. The divide, after all, is never in the music. It is the creation of the listener.

More than a few times I have opened the door to the organ and stepped inside while Kerri plays. It’s a very big instrument and there is literally a door on either side. If, like me, you desire to be inside an instrument while it is playing, seek a big organ. You will vibrate with the music (…well, you vibrate with every note you ever hear but the intensity of the inner-organ experience makes it obvious). I used to have pals that played the didgeridoo and standing within a pipe organ has a similar feel. Ancient. Deep rumble. It shakes the gunk from your soul.

And then there is the piano. There is the player. And, in Kerri’s case, the piano becomes an extension of the player. Playing the piano is how she shakes the gunk from her soul. I’ve written about this before so my old-guy-apologies for telling the same story again and again: the first time I heard her play I was standing next to the piano and the energy that came through her almost knocked me down. She is little and she became a giant. Vast. Deep. It was so powerful I had to hide my weeping. The irony is, of course, that, being in the center of all that power, she has no concept of what happens when she plays. These days, all she really knows is that when her heart hurts or she is hurtling into despair, the only parachute available is to stand at the piano and play. It breaks her fall. The magic comes through and provides lift. The gunk falls off. Her personal divides disappear. That is art.

And, that’s also the greater point. Give over to the music, let it come through, and the dedicated divides disappear. The gunk falls off. The door to the deeper place opens. We vibrate.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE PIPES

 

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find all kerri’s albums on iTunes

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Read The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

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When I was flying in to meet Kerri for the first time, she told me that I’d recognize her because she’d be the one holding the daisy. Consequently, were you to scrutinize my paintings these days, you’d find more than a few daisies.

Her daisy-greeting-idea cemented what I suspected before I met Kerri. She is special. This was my thought process/reasoning: This woman has 15 albums in the world.  Her picture is everywhere in the Google-sphere. Yet, it never occurred to her that I should or would know what she looks like. She’s humble.  Also, point #2, I did my research. The maker of extraordinary pianos, Yamaha, consider her a “Yamaha Artist” or [translation] a modern master who performs almost exclusively on their pianos. With that kind of resume, with that size of gift and notoriety, you’d think she’d have mentioned it during those many months of conversation that preceded our meeting. She didn’t. She’s an unassuming artist (the best kind).

Humble. Unassuming.

The second time I flew in she greeted me at the gate with a veritable bushel of daisies.

My paintings are filled with symbols. Some conscious. Most not. I discover them after the fact [like those *#@^! three spheres that populated most of my early work. Jim had to pull out my paintings and point them out to me…] The daisies? I know exactly what they represent. I know without doubt when and why a composition requires a daisy.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DAISY

 

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daisy – all of them ©️ circa 2013

Noodle [on KS Friday]

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It happened again. We’d just finished rehearsal. Kerri began to play and guitar Jim joined. As the non-musician in the group, my job is to listen and bask in their playing. It’s tough duty but I’ve resigned myself to it. I take my role seriously. So seriously, in fact, that I always make the same mistake. I always assume they are playing a piece that they know. They aren’t.

I can be forgiven for my mistake. First, they are effortless. Easy. Secondly, they appear to know where they are in the piece and also know where they are going. They don’t. They are making it up as they go.

There is a guiding rule in improvisational theatre: say ‘yes’ to the offer coming your way. Go with it, not against it. Listening to Kerri and guitar Jim is like witnessing masters of the rule. Their ‘yes’ is so complete, that they cease being two players and merge into one river of sound. In my mind, this merging is  the very reason, the ultimate purpose of art. When the audience falls into the world of the play, the soul of the witness enters into the soul of the painting, the listener gives over and becomes the music. The tribe knows who they are by the stories they tell. Shared experience. Say ‘yes.’

When they play their final note together, I always ask when they last played the piece. I don’t remember hearing it before. They smile and tell me “Never.” They were noodling. Making it up as they go. Playing together.

It’s like a sand painting. here for a moment and then gone. “No one will ever hear that one again,” Jim and Kerri laugh.

I always wish that I had a recorder running and then, I remind myself that point is not to capture it. I am greedy in wanting to share all that I am fortunate enough to experience. The power of the moment, the potency of the sand painting, is not diminished, rather it is increased, when the wind joins and sweeps the sand away.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on NOODLING

 

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go here for all of kerri’s albums though you’ll find none of her noodling in these many, many albums (there are more albums than seen here).

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