Call It Realism [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This garlic could have been painted by Jan Vermeer. To my eye it looks like the work of a Dutch master, an artist more concerned with realism than the ideal.

Art that reveals the beauty in the ordinary. For a few weeks in my surly youth I studied with a realist painter. I was wowed by his technique but could not yet grasp his dedication to capturing the everyday. Only later did I come to understand that his art was not about the technique but about bringing attention to the experience of the everyday. He rejected the aloof and desired to pull art down from the pedestal so it might reflect the lives of the “common people.” He believed that people needed to literally see themselves in the paintings to have access to the painting. They needed to see their hardship and toil as well as the objects that surrounded them.

Bertolt Brecht believed the opposite. In order for people to have access to the deeper messages of a play, they needed to be removed from their circumstance. So, in his way of thinking, people are more capable of seeing themselves in a piece of science fiction than in a reality-mirror.

David is working on a re-imagining of Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of an Author. One of the questions of the play is, “Who is telling your story?” And, how are they telling it. I reread the play and was struck by how relevant it is to our times.

The beauty in the ordinary. The turmoils and struggles of the everyday. Ours is a time of tumultuous story tug-of-war. I wonder, in a hundred years, what historians will write about our time. I wonder what aspect of artistry – if any – will be considered “realism.” As defined by Vermeer and Pirandello, it’s to reach across a social line, from the privileged to the working class. For Brecht it is spatial: step out to look in.

One thing is constant, while reaching across time and artificial boundary, it is always the role of the artist to help their community ask the questions: Who is telling my story? Whose story am I telling? What is the story that we are telling?

I imagine those someday-historians will write tomes on our messy struggle to sort out what is “real” and what is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GARLIC

Try To Disappear [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

“There will be days that you know you simply cannot win. The best thing to do when you find that you are standing in a no-win situation, is to vigorously wave your white flag and surrender to your fate as gracefully as possible.” ~ Quinn (not an exact quote)

“To keep your mouth closed and say nothing is trouble for sure. To say anything in this moment – anything at all – is the road to tribulation. There is only one thing to do. Feign a slipped disk. Crumple to the ground in desperate pain. Seek theatrical escape!” ~ the only advice my inner Confucius offered in my moment of need.

“This world is crazy. It makes no sense.” ~ Sterling Brown, This Is Us.

read Kerri’s blogpost on this Saturday Morning Smack-Dab.

smack-dab. © 2021-2 kerrianddavid.com

Make It Beautiful [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The media center was in the basement of the library. I left behind the bright New Mexico sun each day as I descended the stairs to my work-study assignment. In the days of cut-and-paste layout, 5 years before I touched a computer, part of my duties included readying the weekly campus newsletter. X-acto knives, glue sticks, blue non-photo pencils, liner tape were the tools of my day. I loved my work-study, not because of the work, it required hyper-attention to detail and ask anyone, I am not a detail-guy, but I knew my life was being changed under the careful tutoring of my boss, Brother Bill. His instruction had little to do with media and everything to do with orienting to life.

Each day at 3:00, Brother Bill would push a cart into the workroom laden with fresh strawberries or cookies and a pot of tea. “Tea time!” he’d announce and we’d stop work. We’d enjoy a cup of tea together.

It wasn’t the tea or the break in the day or even the laughter and enjoyment of each other’s company. Brother Bill was teaching us to make an event of the ordinary moments of our lives. To attend to the quiet beauty available in the details. Presentation mattered. The plates we used for our snack mattered. How we oriented ourselves to each other mattered. It wasn’t the grand gestures but the attention to the daily routines that transformed a life.

Occasionally he took his work-study students to dinner. Always to a fine restaurant so we might have the experience of – an experience of dining. Linens and wine pairing. Food to savor instead of snarf down. Lingering over coffee with laughter and conversation. Being no where else. Taste the moment. It was his single lesson, offered without instruction but by simple demonstration. Feel the sun. Take the time to fully fill out the experience. Fully attend to your moments and your attention will fully fulfill you.

Kerri and I end our work day with happy hour. A glass of wine and crackers and cheese, maybe a pear. Tapenade. One evening we realized that we had a cupboard full of beautiful plates and trays. “Why aren’t we using these for happy hour?” we asked. “What are we saving them for?”

I heard the voice of Brother Bill, “Make it beautiful,” he said. “It matters.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BEAUTIFUL PLATES

Shape The Vessel [on Two Artists Tuesday]

George Ohr was one of the great ceramic artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. Like Van Gogh, he died unknown, never experiencing the success of his work. Robert reminded me of George Ohr’s story and I reminded Robert that Ohr would be a terrific story for him to tell through a one-man play.

What is it to follow your art-call with heart and dedication with nary a hint of financial reward or success on the horizon? Vincent Van Gogh would have been called an amateur during his life since the making-of-money is the flag we plant in the sand marking the line between being a professional and a dilettante. Those lines do not exist for artists with a deeper call. The money does not the artist make.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, quite a journey for the unseen work of George Ohr’s life to find so much vibrant admiration after his passing. Had he known it would have changed nothing. He’d have spent his days at the potter’s wheel either way.

“Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut out doors and windows from a room; It is the holes that make it useful. Therefore, profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.” ~Lao-tzu

Profit and usefulness. Shape and space. Mary Oliver asked the question: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? It hits the nail squarely on the head. It was not the pots that George Ohr made or the paintings that Van Gogh painted, it was the space they entered while throwing pots and painting paintings. It was the world they entered through their artistry, more expansive than financial success, more necessary than renown. A wild and precious life lived wildly and with avid appreciation.

Standing amidst the brilliant orchids, some of the flowers were in their last days. Their beauty fading, they cared not a wit. It is not in their nature to stretch their faces and pretend that the cycle of life is more valuable in the early bloom than it is in the late retreat. All is treasured, beguiling. Every last moment, not to be stalled or held onto. The root as necessary as the bloom, the winter as indispensable as the spring.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FIREWORKS

Look At You Look At Me [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s taken me this long to discover the source of all cartoon characters: orchids. I’m not kidding. At a recent field trip to the Chicago Botanical Garden’s Orchid Exhibit, I was surrounded by brightly colored fantastic faces, playful and chuckling. “Look at this one!” Kerri exclaimed. “It’s the Imperial Margarine guy!” I thought it was a whacky Pope or funny Cardinal, but the idea was the same.

“The earth laughs in flowers.” Emerson’s quote was stenciled on the wall as we exited the exhibit. And the laughing flowers made me laugh. Truly. I felt like a little kid at Christmas. Surrounded by color and delight and whimsy, I found myself more than once pointing, “Look at this one! Oh My God!” And, I felt like the colorful faces were staring back at me, thrilled to tears by the odd looking human standing before them. I-look-at-you-look-at-me. “Look at that face!” they snickered.

The thought stopped me in my tracks and filled me with wonder. We personify everything, projecting our humanness into everything. The art of animation, the world of Disney, is rooted in our desire to project ourselves onto and into the world. Talking mice. Dancing candlesticks. Humpty Dumpty. Wise old trees. Wouldn’t it be lovely, and isn’t it hopeful, to think the world projects itself into us? I want the orchids to fill me with color and awe. To project themselves into me. I know the forests I walk through infuse me with quiet. I know Dogga pulls love from my deepest soul.

Participants. Relationship, rather than controllers. Dancers rather than dominators. Would we be so invested in killing each other for imagined supremacy if we allowed ourselves to laugh the laugh of the flowers? If we actually understood that nothing is forever, that our warmongering was at best delusional? That the single trait that makes us human is to turn and help someone in need? The very capacity that allows us to project ourselves into the orchids is the same capacity that makes it possible to stand in the shoes of the other. Empathy is a two-way street.

If the earth laughs in flowers, these days it certainly cries in humans. Yet, standing amidst the orchids, I looked at all the human faces, hundreds of people wide-eyed with wonder and alive with astonishment. The laughing orchids looking back at the astonished faces, open and vulnerable, and they were evoking those qualities from the crowd. Earth’s tears. So hopeful, these faces, drinking in each other’s beauty.

read Kerri’s blog post about FACES

Look Down [on DR Thursday]

To all the rugged individualists out there living under the grand illusion that you are blazing a new trail, I have only one thing to say: look down. Someone has been there before you. It’s why there’s a path. And, more to the point, someone – a crew of someones – worked very hard to make and maintain the trail you now tread. It’s true in the forest. It’s true in the big-bad city. Every time we flick a switch and the lights come on it might not be a bad idea to recognize how many people were – and are – involved in the maintenance of our comfort and our self-reliance-fantasies.

On the Pink Bed trail there’s a boardwalk that elevates hikers over the swampy sections. I stopped in utter admiration at the section that took a hard left. Someone – a crew of someones – spent a long time making my corner not only easy to walk but beautiful. Certainly there are more efficient ways to build a turn in a boardwalk and they could have chosen any number of simpler solutions but they didn’t. They took the time to make their work functional, sturdy, AND aesthetic.

Daniel was building a house on the lake. He only builds one a year these days, mostly for fun. He invited us in. Far from being finished, the craftsmanship was exposed. The joints were meticulous. The lumber he chose was solid. The materials mattered. There was beauty in the structure and he was proud to point out the love taken in every step, even the roughest stage of the build. The eventual buyers would never see or know the care alive behind the drywall. They might never fathom the depth of effort and design involved in making their comfort – their triumphant lake home – a possibility.

Horatio and I talk often of the deep philosophical divide in these un-united-united-states. The every-man/woman-for-him/herself camp is at odds with the I-am-my-brother/sisters-keeper folks. I understand the appeal of the self-made-man/woman story but I also recognize it to be mostly a fantasy. Sir Edmund Hillary understood that standing atop Everest, celebrated as the first, was only made possible by the efforts of hundreds of Sherpa, months of expedition planning by John Hunt and team, financing, travel arrangements, government officials, 8 previous unsuccessful expeditions, and the good graces and guidance of Tensing Norgay.

We’d be better off if periodically we stopped and simply looked down.

read Kerri’s blog post about the BOARDWALK

prayer of opposites © 2003-4 david robinson

Note The Beautiful [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

There is a genius in simplicity.

Lately, one of the conversations swirling around me, a conversation I very much appreciate, is about beauty. What is a beautiful building? What makes a software beautiful? Certainly, beauty is subjective though I suspect a sunrise over the ocean is beautiful to all. A baby’s smile. A first kiss.

We are surrounded by noisy advertisements telling us what is (and what is not) beautiful. By this standard, most of us fall into the not-beautiful category. Though, deep down, we know, that the real test of beauty is not in what is concealed but in what is revealed. A warm heart is more potent than skin creme or make-up.

My niece had a birthday yesterday. She is on this earth to help people. She is creating a beautiful life. She probably doesn’t know it – and, that’s a mark of true beauty – it doesn’t need to call attention to itself.

Every collaboration I’ve had with MM was beautiful. We had fun. We explored ideas. We have nothing but respect for each other. We’ve made each other better people, better artists. When I revisit any one of the many projects we created together, I smile and feel rivers of gratitude and pride. A memory that inspires a smile is the very definition of beauty. It brings the goodness of the past into the present moment. Light travels.

20 is a master of the beautiful because he knows the power of simplicity. A heart shape torn from a piece of paper – acknowledging grief that goes beyond words. A construction paper bow. He’s not forgotten the lessons he learned in kindergarten. Laughter, he knows, is the most beautiful gift of all and we receive it from him weekly.

What makes a design beautiful? Aspen leaves shimmering in fall. I’ve stood in front of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, John Singer Sargent…and cried. They were so beautiful. I’ve held Kerri’s hand, walking on a trail, and wanted the moment to never end. Simple.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOW

Attend To Beauty [on Two Artists Tuesday]

We are fans of ornamental grass. They line our walkway and populate the area along the fences. DogDog’s round-about sign is now nearly obscured, standing in the middle of tall grasses.

Some folks cut back their grass plants at the end of the season but we let ours stand through the winter. The reason has nothing to do with the health of the plant and everything to do with aesthetics. There are few things more beautiful than ornamental grasses aglow in the winter sun. I have been brought to tears watching the dance of the grasses, alight in pink and orange against the cold blue of a snowy afternoon. Magic beings swaying. [My grass-inspired-tears brought Kerri to consider that my heart just might not be made of cardboard (single ply) after all].

We attend to beauty, not because we are artists but the other way around: we can’t help but attend to beauty and that is what makes us artists. Yamaha paid Kerri a great compliment when she said of our home, “Everywhere I look I see something beautiful.”

Saturday, while raking the leaves, the air was crisp and birdsong, so unexpected, called to me to listen. As I stood listening to the birds, a breeze caught the grasses and they bristled, caught the wind and swayed. I dropped my rake and watched the performance, birds singing to the modern dance of grasses.

Our mail carrier broke my revelry with a greeting. She said, “I’d rather be doing my job than yours. I hate raking leaves!” I laughed. The color of the leaves, the sound, the fall smells. The performance. At that moment, I felt like the luckiest person alive.

“Oh, I don’t mind it,” I replied. “Actually, I’m enjoying it.”

“Well,” she said, “It’s a good thing then. I think I’ll stick to the mail.”

Yes. It’s a good thing. A very good thing, indeed.

read Kerri’s blog post about GRASSES

Walk With Samuel [on DR Thursday]

“The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.” ~ Samuel Beckett, Endgame

When is something finished? Beckett wrote Waiting For Godot in 1953; characters waiting for what will never arrive. A finish. A completion. Beckett’s life spanned both wars-to-end-all-wars, Korea, Vietnam. He wrote about humanity’s dedication to nonsense. His work has been called bleak and dark. His work is shelved with the canon of The Theatre of the Absurd. And, yet, given the news of the day, these days, who doesn’t feel as if they are living in a Beckett play?

What is often missed in his absurdist plays is the beautiful human capacity to keep walking, to keep trying. Waiting and walking through tragedy, mostly of our own making, with unwavering hope. We story ourselves with nobility even when wrapping ourselves in a lie. We make rules and laws that apply to some but not to all and then we set about to justify the inequality. Money and morality are not the same thing though there’s plenty of storytelling meant to have us believe that wealth only flows to the worthy.

Art is not supposed to make sense because life doesn’t make sense. We make sense of life through the stories we concoct. Emperor’s buried with thousands of statues to keep them company in the afterlife, an artist painting the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel, gods and angels and saints. How many people died building the great pyramids, tomb for a pharaoh? Who would possibly spend their life in abject poverty smearing color on canvas? Van Gogh. A legion of others not known. Are we better for it? I cried the day the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, 6th century statues that I had not seen in person and was likely to never see. Were my tears more or less absurd than the Taliban’s animosity toward carved stone?

Matters of the heart. When are they finished? Where do they begin?

It was a gorgeous day, perhaps the last warm day of the season. We met our pals at the Chicago Botanical Gardens. Throughout the gardens, preparations were being made for the annual holiday light exhibit. A tree of shiny stars. Giant flowers. Faux candles floating in the waterway. Strings of colored lights were being placed along the walkways. Even during the light of day it was impressive.

In this time of transition, many of the gardens were being prepped for the winter, the pathways were packed with people cooing at the wave of the grasses, the shape of the trees in the Japanese garden. I was gobsmacked by the color of the moss on trees, the shock of red leaves against vivid green. No matter which direction I looked, someone, some special gardener and designer, had crafted beauty. They knew that their work would stop me in my tracks and allow me to whisper, “Unbelievable.”

Winding our way back to the Visitor’s Center, I told Brad that, seeing so many people out enjoying the gardens, excited to walk in beauty, filled me with hope.

To walk in beauty. Dollars and cents can’t reach the reason. Data can’t touch the impulse. There is so much light in this theatre of the absurd. Beckett knew it, writing about the stories we tell, the relationships we create, waiting for something – a beauty – that by definition, will never arrive because we are surrounded by it each and every day.

read Kerri’s blog post about RED SCULPTURE

www.davidrobinsoncreative.com

Listen To Claude [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In his 60’s, the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet went blind. Cataracts were removed, restored his sight, but also changed his capacity to see color. He painted in blues because he couldn’t perceive red and yellow. He was not fond of the paintings that he produced. He painted what he could see. Historians, on the other hand, credit his blue paintings as an important link to abstract painting.

We never really know the impact of our actions or our work.

The path paralleled a stream. As we walked up the mountain, she stopped often and took photographs. The sun on the water was enticing so she aimed her camera at the stream. “Look!” she said, showing me. “These look like abstract paintings!”

“They look like Monet,” I said. “Gorgeous.”

Whether they know it or not, artists are always having conversations with their artistic ancestors. I was amused at the idea that Kerri and Claude were having a chat. The world of a master painter, living before ubiquitous photography, meets they eyes of one who sees and quickly captures.

I was also amused that, through Kerri’s picture, Claude and I were having an exchange. “I love your blues,” I say. Claude responds, “Ah, but it’s the reds and yellows that make the blue so vibrant. Contrast principle,” he winks.

Excited, she returned to the stream to take more photos.

I turned my face to the sun. I breathed in the mountain air, the aspen leaves fluttering. I have not finished a painting since the pandemic began. “I feel empty,” I say to Claude.

“We paint what we see, ” Claude whispered. “Sometimes we simply cannot see.”

“Yes,” I said, “I am blind. But my cataracts are not in my eyes.”

“No,” Claude replied. “You are not blind, you see well enough. You’ve closed your eyes.”

“Lookit!” Kerri smiled, “These are so cool!” She shows me more water close-ups, a symphony in orange, blue and gold.

“Don’t worry,” Claude smiled. “When you are ready, you’ll open your eyes again. You’ll see a whole new world. New colors and shapes. More than blue.”

“You think so?” I ask.

“Isn’t it beautiful!” Kerri glowed.

“Do you see?” he smiled and faded into the photograph.

“Yes,” I laughed and nodded, “It’s really beautiful.”

read Kerri’s blog post about MONET WATER

images of water © 2021 kerri sherwood