Be Us [on KS Friday]

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It is times like these that the grand illusion of every man/woman for themselves drops away. It doesn’t take long in a crisis to reveal how interconnected and interdependent we really are. As New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, said this morning, what I do impacts you and what you do impacts me. There is, in essence, no such thing as you and me.

This is true in good times, too. It is true in all times. It is simply true. What I do affects you. What you do affects me. What I do is often a ripple of what you’ve done and vice versa. We are not nearly as separate nor independent as we like to pretend.

The delusion plays itself out. The run on TP. We’ve all seen the lines at the gun store. Sooner or later it will occur – as it always does – that the best form of self-protection is participation in community. Participation is protection.

Ironically, it is the sturdy fabric of the interconnection – in good times – that allows us to delude ourselves into thinking that – in bad times –  we can do it all by ourselves. Stop for a moment, look at the food on your plate and ask yourself how many people were necessary for you to enjoy your meal. The rings of interdependence will run farther than your capacity to imagine. That is always the case.

An article shot crossed my email this morning. It was from an artist sharing her realization in the midst of this pandemic that she does not create art for audiences, she creates with audiences. Like her, my paintings are not complete until people engage with them. People are not complete in the absence of art. Listening to Kerri play is more life-giving than any of the news broadcasts we’ve been glued to. There are levels to meaning making and the heart level rarely requires data but always requires other people and their gifts.

This morning we are hearing of the real difficulty of social distancing: mental health is stressed in isolation. We do not do well in quarantine. We, do, however, get creative. Jen prompted us to text images of all things green so we are looking around the house for green things. Emails and phone calls are on the rise. Mike reminded me last night that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine for the plague. He meant it as a challenge, “Any takers?” he winked.

Rob wrote, “In times like these we NEED art.” Yes. We need art because we need to create with people. To experience with people. To story our experiences with people. To grieve with other people. To laugh with other people. With. Always. Us.

 

 

ALWAYS WITH US from the album AS IT IS available in iTunes & CDBaby

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ALWAYS WITH US

 

 

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always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Visit [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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All this week I’ve been lost in memories of childhood. Nothing indoors, my remembering is outside. Running through fields. Aspen trees. The sound of snow. The smells of coming spring in Colorado. The intense blue sky. Standing against a brick wall, face to the sun to drink in the warmth on cold day. These memories are more sensual than story. It’s as if, this week, I need to remember the feeling of being a child.

I’ve always loved to draw and paint. I’d spend hours drawing eyes and faces. I drew portraits of Colonel Sanders from the empty chicken bucket. I spent hours inside of National Geographic magazine drawing the figures I found there. I drew again and again and again a cabin in the woods that lived only in my imagination. I knew the place the first time I scribbled it on paper. There was a period of time in my mid-life that I thought I might someday happen across the cabin-of-my-imagination.  I forgot the feeling of being happily lost inside the world of my imagination. This week, I remember.

Up north, walking on a frozen lake to see the eagle’s nest, we passed this stand of birch trees. Andy Goldsworthy could not have placed them better. White and fragile against the forest, they glowed in the afternoon sun. They shocked me into presence. I was surrounded with people I love, the sun was warm on my face, the creaking of the ice, the smell of pine, Kerri’s delight. “Remember this feeling,” I told myself. Remember this moment. Someday, after you’ve long forgotten this day, you will reach back and be thankful to have this place in memory, this feeling, to visit again.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BIRCH TREES

 

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Scream Into The Mic [on KS Friday]

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During the healing time of Wristgate, as Kirsten called it, Kerri and I have been spending much of our time on the raft [our bed – it is where the broken wrists are most comfortable].  We work from the raft. We eat from a tray on the raft. We plan life from the raft. And, because it is cold winter, we reminisce on the raft. We talk about what might have been, what choices we’ve made, what storms blew in, wreaked havoc and gave shape to our lives.

No Balloons. It is one of the first studio recordings of Kerri. It is from 1980, smack dab in the era of Joni Mitchell, when a cassette tape was the latest and greatest technology. I recognize her very young voice, shaky and not yet rooted, trying to find itself. Sitting on the raft, although I’ve heard the backstory of the song before, to hear it again made me weep.

No Balloons is a song about rape. Kerri’s rape. A young woman, hopeful and trusting, trying to find her voice, a violent storm that blew in, a man twice her age that altered the course of her life. When she sought help she was met with a solid male wall of See-No-Evil-Hear-No-Evil.

We live in the #metoo era. Even though it’s still very hard for young women – any woman – to get the world to listen, to be taken seriously, it was exponentially harder in the 1970’s. The woman, so our sad history goes, was to blame for her own violation. Kerri did what most women did in that time. She internalized it, swallowed her bile, and covered it up. She ran from it, ran from her attacker, ran from a man-world that couldn’t be bothered to listen. She candy-coated her ruin and made it a shameful secret.

After listening to the recording, the sweet quaking voice, the flute floating over the top of the band, the disjoint between the composition and the lyric, Kerri gazed into a dark corner that I could not see and said, “I should have been screaming into the mic.”

Had I not been holding space for her I might have said, “It’s not too late. Maybe the mature woman needs to do what the young woman could not. I suspect there are a legion of young women out there who need you to scream into the mic.”

 

NO BALLOONS

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NO BALLOONS

 

ks website header copykerri’s music is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

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no balloons ©️ 1980 kerri sherwood

Listen To Chicken [on DR Thursday]

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The original conceit behind Chicken Marsala came during a road trip. Kerri and I started talking about what life might have been like had we met when we were younger. Our conversation wandered into the question of mutual children and then became utterly hysterical when we started tossing possible names back and forth. Chicken Marsala, the imaginary child of two people who met late in life, was born.

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Chicken had friends. Chicken went to school. Chicken had a full blown imaginary life. Chicken terrified his parents, making them do and say things that they would not have otherwise done. Chicken became the inner and outer voice of two artists trying to make their way in a world where they do not necessarily fit.

All of my life people who have cut themselves off from their inner artist have asked me, “Where do I begin?” They build studios for themselves, buy supplies, and then sit, frozen. Tom McK used to tell me that there was only one answer to that question: a writer writes and a painter paints. There is no magic. The muse can’t help unless you pick up the clay and throw the pot. Write many, many bad pages and soon you will discover that you are following an impulse rather than grinding “it” out or making “it” up.

One day, someone asked Chicken’s mom a question about composing. “How do you do it? What’s your secret?” It was a question from someone desperate to uncover their long buried inner artist. What’s the secret charm, the divine key? Chicken leaned into his mom and whispered: Sometimes you just have to put your fingers on the keys and follow the music.

It is no mystery, after a few years banished in the drawer, that Chicken is suddenly pulling on my sleeve. I haven’t been active in the studio for months. ‘A dry spell,’ I tell myself. ‘All of my creative energy is going to other things.’ ‘I’m bored with my work!’ ‘I’m blank…’ Yada Yada. Chicken shakes his head. ‘Not again!’ He giggles.

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Put your fingers on the keys. Pick up your brush. Use that great imagination to play rather than plague yourself. Follow the music. It will always lead you home.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FINGERS ON THE KEYS

 

 

 

 

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

play 2 play illustration ©️ godknowswhenprobablybeforeyouwereborn david robinson

 

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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