Read A Tiny Note [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I was still in shock. It was late, beyond midnight. The roosters were watching for the sunrise. The ritual I’d witnessed that night blew the metaphoric wheels off my car. Wave after wave of knife-wielding priests ran at the Rangda, a priest chosen for the evening to wear the mask, to enter the trance and become the demon. The priests stabbed the Rangda but to no avail. The blades bent. They were repelled. Eventually, all entered the trance and turned the knives on themselves, taking the energy, the protection of the Rangda, into their bodies. Into the community. No one was injured. Peace was made with the Rangda. Balance was affirmed.

I held one of the knives after the ritual was complete. It was not a stage prop. I could not have bent the blade on my chest without doing injury to myself.

Budi explained it all to me. I had so many questions. In his culture, the dark forces are not to be resisted or banished. There is no hell separate from heaven. Evil and good are not compartmentalized. There are energies, some dark and some light. There is no need to make peace with the light. The necessity is to face and make peace with the dark. Balance is created, an intentional relationship with a dynamic whole. It’s a dance of responsibility, a balance of dark and light. The middle way.

Balance.

I loved this photo when Kerri showed it to me. Clover. You can’t tell but it is tiny. It is bursting from beneath the stone that serves as the step onto our deck. It made we wonder if the fairy people were close at hand. They serve, in the western tradition, a similar role to the Rangda in Bali. Nature spirits. It was most important to keep in the good graces with the Fairies. Honor their places. Respect and maintain the balance. According to tradition, they went into hiding, they left because we assaulted their spaces; we came to value the path of resources, mining, deforestation, fracking, damming…over the path of balance.

This tiny breath of clover. I sat on the stone last night. The air was cool after a humid and hot day. DogDog was doing his rounds. I had not thought of the Rangda in years. A tiny community on a tiny island. The “mayor” of the town introduced the ritual to us as their art. “We have so little to offer you,” he said in his broken English, “but we bring you our most prized offering, our art.”

Art. A prized offering. The dance of energies, an intentional relationship with the dynamic whole. An ongoing ritual of balance. It was the first time I witnessed a community that had yet to exorcise its art from the sacred. It bent knives. It restored balance. It belonged and gave deep meaning to every member of the community.

Tiny. Like the Fairies or the community on the island. A simple respect for what is good for the whole. Balance is expressed in the tiny things, the choices of where to walk, what to say. What helps in the long run. What does not. What gives meaning and cohesion to a community. What does not.

Budi would caution us with COVID and guns and a globe that is weirding and warming, “Rangda is ignored,” he’d say.

“Yes,” I’d reply, “the fairies have gone into hiding.”

But, all is not lost. They left a tiny note at our back door. Balance, it reads, is a relationship, an intentional act. It is an ongoing ritual, a tiny sacred thing.

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

Balance [on Two Artists Tuesday]

prayer flags 1 copy

Each day we sit on the deck and watch the personality of the lake change. We are witness to the power of the elements at play. Wind drives wave. Wave evaporates and moves wind. Lighting hits earth. Rain feeds the plants. Too much rain, too much wind, too much fire, devastates.

Balancing the elements. It is the central thought in many traditions. The cardinal directions are associated with a color and an element. North, south, east, west. Air, fire, water, earth. People need associations in order to talk about things. In order to know where they fit.

The colors differ from tradition to tradition. Sometimes black, white, red, and yellow. Sometimes blue, green, yellow, red. Sometimes there is a fifth element. There is always a center. When there is the understanding of center point there is also an acknowledgment that separations, experiences like north, south, east and west, are illusions.

Balance is a radically different intention than dominance. Taming-your-nature is not the same as balancing-your-nature. In the tame-your-nature idea, nature, your nature, is corrupt and needs to be controlled. In the balance-your-nature idea, your nature is neither good nor bad, it is a dance of energy, a push-pull of wind and fire, air and earth. In the balance-your-nature idea, there is no such thing as “wild.” because there is no intention to “tame.”

As you might imagine, the artist that explores the tame-your-nature mindset understands their artistry much differently than the artist that explores balance. I was born into and oriented toward the culture of tame-your-nature and so I divine through brush and story the push-pull between goodness and badness. Combat, combat everywhere. Right/wrong. Us/Them. Good enough/lacking.

I desire to see through the other lens. I suspect this desire is the epicenter, the driver behind my paintings. To understand the world I inhabit as energies at play, to know beyond an intellectual understanding that the distinctions don’t really exist; wind is not separate from water, earth is not separate from fire, people are not separate from planet. Illusion. Our division is a play of shadow puppets at best.

I think it is why we hang prayer flags at our littleislandhouse and at our home. Surrounded by combat, we are drawn by the desire to balance, we are enticed by the possibility of harmony.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER FLAGS

 

 

 

 

skylake website box copy

 

island prayer flags photograph ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

Turn It Around [on Merely A Thought Monday]

narcissistic world copy

There are moments in your life when you suddenly realize that the world has changed. One of those moments for me happened many years ago in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. My introduction to selfies. I watched with confusion as people waited in line to take a selfie with Van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night. Most of the selfie-takers didn’t actually look at the painting. The painting was secondary to the desire to be photographed with a famous thing. At first – this is a true story that seems ridiculous from a 2019 vantage point – I thought I was watching a piece of performance art, a brilliant statement of personal inflation and value reduction. Instead, my head spun as I realized I was, in fact, witnessing a museum full of people fundamentally missing the art in pursuit of a look-at-me-moment. It was my very own personal harbinger of the coming narcissistic tsunami.

Kerri showed me an article in the news. People wading into the waters of a toxic lake to take selfies. The water is aqua blue, made so by the industrial chemicals poured into the lake. Even though the lake water can burn skin, getting the selfie is more important. What impressed me most about the article was how dulled I was to it, how completely ordinary it seemed.

Culture is blind to itself. We live in the age of the Tide pod challenge, Facebook and Instagram streams, media echo chambers. Narcissism normalized and celebrated. Consumed by self. Image.

‘It is a strangely narcissistic world,” Kerri said, closing her news app. Yes. It is. Strange. And, it turns out that I was right all those years ago. It is a performance art piece with everyone producing and broadcasting their own image.  Image inflation. Value(s) reduction. Made up importance. And the art? Andy Warhol had it almost right. Everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes, one post at a time, but the world in which they celebrate their fame will be of their own creation.

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A NARCISSISTIC WORLD

 

hanginglake website box copy

guilty as charged! we, too, are expressions of our culture.

 

Coexist and Thrive [on Two Artists Tuesday]

co-exist copy

Kerri told me that this was an image of coexistence. Cultivated plants sharing space with the wild ones. What-has-been holding court with what-just-popped-up. Intention linking fingers with the spontaneous. Stop me before I over-analogize myself!

Diversity is what makes nature tick. Googling biodiversity, I came across this phrase-that-says-it-all: greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms. Nothing, truly nothing, is independent. No thought, no being, no creative impulse is without precedent or ancestry. Great sites of innovation are – and have always been – found at the crossroads of culture. Life feeds life.

Picasso stepped onto the shoulders of Cezanne and painted his first cubist masterpiece in the same year that Einstein published his theory of relativity. These are not accidental statements.

Great artists, like great scientists, know that they are more discoverer than originator. They carry forward traditions, explore variations, rather than invent entirely new paths. Curators like to propel the story of ‘original’ because it makes a better story. Being the first to step on the moon is a better story than being the second but it is always wise to keep in mind that neither invented the moon.

Cultures that isolate are doomed to wither. Fear of otherness forges nationalist and moralists alike. Purity is a nice word, an abstract that may exist in a laboratory but is not found anywhere in nature.  Innovation, growth..all of life, yes, even economies, need rich diversity in order to thrive. Just like dandelions in a cornfield.  The evidence is all around us and all we need do is open our eyes.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about COEXISTENCE

 

spring shadow website box copy

 

Don’t Ask Why

DR 002

From my archives. I call this painting Alki Beach.

When I woke up this morning, researching the color blue was not on my to-do list. Did you know that in Belgium blue is the color associated with baby girls? Pink is for boys. To be blue in the German-speaking world means to be drunk rather than the English assignment of depression. Color associations are cultural.

I jumped down the rabbit hole of color symbolism and meanings because I’ve been building a new catalogue for my paintings. I’ve been revisiting the eras of my work, looking at every painting I’ve done (those that I documented…). A few days into my cataloguing Linda asked me why I never paint with the color blue. Linda loves the color blue. She is a veritable celebration of blue in earth, air, and water. “You never use blue!” she exclaimed. “Why?”

BlanketOfBlueSky

A Blanket Of Blue Sky

“I always use blue,” I sputtered, convincing no one. Since my move from Seattle to Kenosha my paintings have been more earth tones, umbers and sienna. The blues are there but certainly not dominant. Linda has never seen the work from my blue period.

“Why don’t you use more blue?” she laughed.

‘Why’ is one of those words that can either bring you to clarity or will drive you crazy. Knowing ‘why’ is useful in a Simon Sinek seminar or valuable in the pursuit of a purpose driven life but is near-to-impossible when attempting to articulate an artistic choice. The top two responses are conversation stoppers: 1) I don’t know, and 2) It feels right. I suppose there is a third response, the anti-why: 3) why not? It, too, leaves no room for discourse and is generally a lousy explanation.

IslandDreaming

This one is called Island Dreaming

“Why don’t I use more blue?” I asked Kerri. Without looking up or missing a beat she responded, “Why don’t I use seventh chords?” Leave it to my wife to hit me with a musical-zen-koan.

Horatio often reminds me that to enter the studio is to also enter stillness. Working in and from stillness precludes all questions of why and how.

Did you know that blue is the most commonly used color in corporate identity and that it is a color rarely found in fruits and vegetables? It has more complex and contradictory meanings than any other color. Among the seven billion people on earth, roughly 4 billion of them prefer blue to any other color.

This morning while entering images into my catalogue – most were predominantly blue – I heard the echo of Linda’s question. “What’s up with blue?” I asked myself. Abdicating all responsibility for internal answers, I did what we all do at such moments: I turned to Google.

Did you know that blue is generally embraced as the color of heaven?

Why?

 

Shared Fatherhood

My latest: Shared Fatherhood.

 

Everyone Has Their Heaven

TODAY’S FEATURED PRINT FOR HUMANS

everyone has their heaven

FOR TODAY’S FEATURED PRINT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

i.magine

680. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Skip told me that the innovation of the app store changed the world. We can design our access to information, we can design how we locate and inform ourselves in our daily travels, we can customize how we organize, shop, play and how we connect with our friends. We can design our products before we purchase them. Our options have options.

We look more at our screens than at each other.

In the age of the app the user is not necessarily the customer, the seller is not necessarily the producer. Our buying habits and travel patterns and preferences and impulses are tracked and sold and re-tracked and resold. Advertising is personalized to our computer-generated preferences. The impersonal identifies the personal.

Any 12 year-old with a modicum of computer savvy can construct an app and enter the marketplace. Access to information, to communication, the modes of creation and sharing have never been this limitless, varied or non-local.

Above all, it is fluid, ever changing in form, always expanding. The single most important skill in this geography is how to tell the gold from the dross. What has merit and what does not? Often, the answer to that question is personal.

Design. Options. Personal. Access. Limitless. Fluid. Ever Changing. Ambiguous. Shape shifting. Self-Organizing. Self-Directed. It is an infinite space. It is a way of being.

This is the world that exists right now. I just had a conversation with Sylvia about organizational culture change and the pressures all systems are experiencing to adapt to this changed world. It is a culture change, a perspective shift. Imagine what our education system might look like if it understood the world that existed today – not to mention the world that our students will live in and navigate tomorrow! 680. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Skip told me that the innovation of the app store changed the world. We can design our access to information, we can design how we locate and inform ourselves in our daily travels, we can customize how we organize, shop, play and how we connect with our friends. We can design our products before we purchase them. Our options have options.

In the age of the app the user is not necessarily the customer, the seller is not necessarily the producer. Our buying habits and travel patterns and preferences and impulses are tracked and sold and re-tracked and resold. Advertising is personalized to our computer-generated preferences. The impersonal identifies the personal.

Any 12 year-old with a modicum of computer savvy can construct an app and enter the marketplace. Access to information, to communication, to modes of creation and sharing have never been this limitless, varied or non-local.

Above all, it is fluid, ever changing in form, always expanding. The single most important skill in this geography is how to tell the gold from the dross. What has merit and what does not? Often, the answer to that question is personal.

Design. Options. Personal. Access. Limitless. Fluid. Ever Changing. Ambiguous. Shape shifting. Self-Organizing. Self-Directed. It is an infinite space. it is an art space.

This is the world that exists right now. I just had a conversation with Sylvia about organizational culture change and the pressures all systems are experiencing to adapt to this changed world. It is a culture change, a perspective shift. Imagine what our education system might look like if it understood the world that existed today – not to mention the world that our students will live in and navigate a decade from now! Can you imagine it?

Buy The Man A Coffee

651. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I was all night at the studio. When I spend the night in the studio I become gushingly grateful for the Starbucks that opens at 6:30am. It is only a few blocks away and I staggered the distance and collapsed on the counter. They know me so I didn’t have to speak – a good thing because I was desperate beyond words – and the nice baristas tilted back my head and poured the rejuvenating elixir into my mouth. My dad used to call coffee “the nectar of the gods” and on mornings like this I am certain that there is nothing more true in the entire universe. Soon I was sitting upright at the corner table, holding my enormous coffee cup with both hands, watching the early morning commuters’ bustle in on their way to work. “How can anyone bustle at this time of day?” I pondered feeling vaguely assaulted by the brisk pace of business.

In the far corner of the café, slightly hidden by the holiday products display, a man was sleeping. Like me, he was holding his cup with both hands but I could tell, even from across the café, that he’d pulled a used cup from the garbage, maybe several days ago; his cup hadn’t seen coffee in some time. His head had fallen backwards, his mouth was wide open, and he was snoring. The other customers pretended he wasn’t there. A barista tried to wake him but he was sleeping the sleep of someone, like me, who’d been up all night but unlike me, he’d been out in the cold and freezing rain. He believed his paper cup gave him admission to be inside; if he could not afford to be a patron he’d pretend to have coffee and hope no one would notice – at least until he was warm. I’m certain it was not in his plan to sleep but the truth of his exhaustion took over.

The police came. They were about to call the paramedics when the exhausted man blinked open his eyes and, confused, not knowing where he was, so deep was his sleep, that he jumped up. The police tensed as if facing a threat and almost as an act of unconscious surrender, the man sat back down. Then he recognized where he was, groaned and looked for his cup. It was gone, and with it, his hope for staying warm. “Are you alright?” the cop asked. He was kind. The man nodded his head, “I fell asleep I guess,” he said. The cop nodded his head. “Do you need some help? Can we take you somewhere?” The man shook his head, apologized to the police, pulled his coat around himself, and walked out into the wet dark morning.

“Is he alright?” a barista asked. The cop wanted to say, “No!” but instead looked out the door and said, “I guess so. He’s gone.” The cops went to their next call. The bustle resumed. Genuine concern eclipsed only by the needs of commerce. None of us transcended our inability to connect with the real human need even in the midst of this season of giving. We betray so much in the actions that we do not take and the things we do not say.

Sitting at my corner table I remembered a phrase that I learned last week from Kevin Honeycutt. He was talking about doing anything and everything to change the culture that produces bullies. He called it – us – The Mean Culture. Bullies are not the aberration that we like to pretend; they are an expression of cultural value, dog-eat-dog-business-is-business and all of that. Sometimes the beating is subtle, more public, and so commonplace as to be invisible amidst the hustle and bustle. Sometimes changing the mean culture can begin with something as simple as buying a man a cup of coffee or perhaps simply letting him sleep.

Pop The Bubble

489. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

A few years ago I asked Carol what was the one thing I needed to know before going to Alaska. Her answer took me by surprise. She said, “Oh, that’s easy. When you go to Alaska you re-enter the food chain.” She was right. I had the same impression: a walk in the woods is never just a walk in the woods. Being lunch for a bear is not an abstraction. It is amazing how your priorities shift when you recognize that your position atop the food chain is an illusion. It is amazing how you come alive.

Sean told me that we are always in the food chain but society acts as a kind of bubble; it buffers us from the nature of things. Besides, within the bubble with our natures buffered we are highly efficient at killing each other and ourselves (with stress, cigarettes, etc.). A buffered nature spawns unnatural acts. A buffered nature – or a “culture of comfort” as Martín Prechtel would call it – distorts our story to the point that we forget we are part of and not on top of nature. The “on top” idea is lethal. It is the mother lode of comedy. It is not bears we need fear but the neighborhood watch, the rival gang, the other political team, the police, the banks, and those who are supposed to be governing and protecting our interests. I think I prefer the bears; they are upfront in their intentions.

I suspect the point of having a bubble is to feel safe within it. A city is nothing if not one big campfire. We are supposed to be safer together than alone so why does our bubble, our mega campfire, engender so much alienation and loneliness; all these individual bubbles walking around within the larger bubble? How many times have I met with groups in urban settings who want to “create community?” Too many – apparently proximity to millions of other humans does not a community make. Life within the bubble, buffered from nature, alienates us from…our nature and each other. Bubbles create smaller bubbles.

Outside the bubble, when I was aware that I looked like coleslaw to big furry animals, I wanted other people around. I wanted a lot of other people around. I like my big Seattle campfire – and I wonder what it might be like inside the bubble if we put down the ridiculous notion that we are separate from the natural order of things and stopped pretending that we were somehow above it all.