Care Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is my broken record moment: a system will do what it was designed to do. Sitting as I am in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the latest national flashpoint, I feel I have a front row seat to the system activating in response to a challenge.

Our system was designed to prevent “the unity of the commoner” in order to keep the focus off of the ruling aristocracy. This morning I read this sentence in the news: The president is fanning the flames of violence and dividing the country for political gain. The implication of Trump’s attacks is that there is a binary choice between law and order, and offering understanding and a path to justice for Black Americans.

A binary choice. A false choice. The commoners can EITHER have law and order OR they can stand for equal justice for all Americans. With equality comes the possibility of unity and unity is a threat to the system. In other news, just as you might suspect, vigilantism is on the rise. The system is responding exactly as designed.

Here’s the conundrum: we believe that protest and civil unrest are the path to real systems change and yet protest and civil unrest always split the community (prevent the unity of commoners). The path to social change in the USA cannot come from division. It might start there but it has to transcend the designed divide.

While the pandemic rages and the commoners are fighting each other on the streets, the stock market has soared. The United States has the highest level of income inequality among the countries in the G-7 and the gap is growing. It is not an accident that Fox News has its Henny Penny followers running around screaming “Socialism!” at the very time that America boldly steps toward an oligarchy.

My dad used to tell me that I’d educated myself into stupidity and I’d shake my head. Why would anyone choose to be uninformed? An ignorant populace is easily swung by the nose. An ignorant populace might have guns but they are unarmed where the real danger lurks.  It seems a good many of us are happily manipulated, hungrily eating anger and hate rather than asking a question or bothering to scratching the paint to discover if what we’re being sold is true or a con. It’s easy to check a fact or a source but you first must want to do it. That is where we fall down. We simply do not care. We opt for tribal division and easy blame over communal health – again, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Caring enough to question. That, too is an option. Caring enough to question is a possible path forward but requires us to look beyond the spoon-fed-rhetoric, the misinformation campaigns, and the intentionally stoked fires of division. It requires us in our questioning to shift our focus from the fight to the workings of “the ruling aristocracy.”

There’s also this: the businesses in downtown Kenosha and beyond are boarded up. The people of the community came out to paint them with messages of hope and support. Stamped on the hood of a burned out car is an appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans.

The impulse for change and a better world is there. A river of hope is there. The voices from the angry fringe will always shout loudest but I have to believe the vast majority, the quiet people who come out to paint, are looking for a common ground. There is hope, lots of hope, if we can take a look in our national mirror and see that we are doing exactly what the system is determining that we do. If we see it, we might be able to care enough to question, to deny the divide. We might be able to come together. We might be able to find a way to do better, to be better humans.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

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Mourn The Loss [on KS Friday]

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28 years ago, on this day, Kerri’s older brother, Wayne, died of lung cancer. If you want to know how she feels about it, you need only listen to LAST I SAW YOU. Grief made utterly beautiful in its yearning.

It is the gift of the artist to transform, to turn the darkest day, the breaking heart, into something bearable. It is the gift of the artist to communicate what cannot be captured in language, to transport us, in a safe way, into and through the hurt so we might touch the unfathomable depth of love. It is the gift of the artist to open new pathways and possibilities, to guide communities into and through impossible conversations. To point the way to a new story, a new perspective growing from an old and ancient root.

In my mind it is the greatest loss when an artist turns against their artistry. The entire world loses on the day an artists says, “Why bother.” There’s no money in it. The artist loses most of all because they’ve bitten the poison in the American apple. They wither and die. Not everything is or should operate like a business. Education is not nor ever should be a business. Worship is not a business. Healthcare is not nor ever should be a business. Run them that way and the priorities flip. The greater is lost in the lesser. When making money becomes more important than health or care or spirit or the expansion of minds, we lose our way. We send our kids back to school during a pandemic to open the economy. Sacrificial lambs. Throw them into a volcano to make it rain.

What we value in this nation is abhorrent.

And then there is Kerri. What a gift. What a loss. She read today that someone is now making silverware out of old CDs. “Look,” she said, showing me the article. “We have a basement filled with CDs! Maybe we should have gone into the silverware business!” Proving to herself once again that her gift is less than worthless. Worth less gift. No business.

Great! I thought but did not say. A world filled with forks but void of your music. No one to lead us through the dark, no way to reach the truly beautiful.

“My paintings,” I said, feigning alliance, “are destined for a thrift store.” I’ve given up the fight with her (though, by this post you can see that I am a liar).

I continue to paint with no illusion about “sales” or “showing” or the other necessities of “business.” It’s for me, now. Transformation of dark to light can be selfish, too. Personal. After all, for me, it’s always been a spiritual path. Business necessities pale in the comparison.

If you want to know what I [and Wayne] feel about Kerri turning her back on her artistry, you need only listen to LAST I SAW YOU. Listen for the strings. It will break your heart.

 

LAST I SAW YOU is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LAST I SAW YOU

 

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last i saw you/this part of the journey ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

meditation ©️ 2015 david robinson

Put Down Your Straight Edge [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I just wrote a “Statement of Philosophy of Teaching.” It’s for an application to teach at a college that emphasizes experiential learning. If I had a dime for every time I championed experiential learning or used that phrase on a crowd of wooden educators, stony-faced business types, or boards-of-directors, I’d have no need to write statements of teaching philosophy. And, truly, think on it for a moment, what is the opposite?

Andy’s phrase: experience equals knowledge, knowledge equals confidence, confidence equals success. In other words, the only way to learn to ride a bike is to get on the bike and ride. There will be falls. We call that learning. And, the really great thing about getting on the bike and riding is that one day, after a few more falls and many more miles, you might compete in the Tour de France. You will be pursuing something other than your balance skills. Learning is like that.

The problem with shorthand phrases like Andy’s, although accurate on one level,  is that they describe a straight line. Life, I’ve learned from experience, has rowdy roller coaster phases that nearly fling you off the planet, awkward backward stepping to get out of wrong choices, chapters wandering lost in the forest, days spent sitting on the rock stripping off the armor before another step can be taken. Life is not lived in a straight line. Experience is a windy road. It only looks straight in the post-mortem. Knowledge gathering en route to confidence is no walk in a meadow. Andy will tell you that, too.

We make meaning out of our experiences after the fact. We have experiences first and story them second. It is why learning is circular. It is why a rich life is circular, why life lessons come around again and again.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WINDING TRAILS

 

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Know The Value [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“What’s it worth?” This seems to be the least answerable question of our times. Its cousin question, “Is it real?” is under assault and so qualities like ‘value’ or ‘worth’ are less and less discernible.

For instance, I laughed heartily recently when I listened to a podcast Horatio sent my way. It was about the billions of dollars spent on our educational system of testing that has produced minimal results. It doesn’t work. Data, brain science, and common sense have known this for years. I can hear Tom now (and see his famous sigh-with-eye-roll), “It has to be real. It’s about relationship. It needs direct application.” Do the tests make for better education? No. Of course not. The opposite. And, we knew that before implementing the system of testing. So, what is real? What was it worth? The system consumes itself.

A few years ago, Kerri and I went to the Chicago Art Expo. We came upon a gallery installation, a single piece. It was priced at $40,000.00. A line of twine stretched across the booth. Clipped to the twine was a single household sponge. It had been dipped in paint. Kerri, using her outside voice, said to all who could hear, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” It was purchased. What was it worth? Was it real? It was the precursor to artist Maurizio Cattelan’s recent piece. He duct taped a banana to a wall. He’s now sold three versions for $120,000 apiece.  What is it worth? What is real? Art commenting on art. The system consumes itself.

Politics in America. It’s all about crowd size regardless of what the photograph reveals. [sorry, I couldn’t help myself]. There are so many that we actually keep a running tally of the presidential lies. We are slack-jawed at those who nod their heads and bellow their agreement with the demonstrably untrue. What is real? What’s it worth? The country hungrily consumes itself.

We haunt antiques stores. We rarely buy anything but enjoy the exploration. At School Days Mall, one of our favorite adventure antique grounds, Kerri turned and gasped. A paint-by-number landscape wearing a Minnie Pearl tag. “I recognize this painting!” she said, wide eyed. Her mom, Beaky, liked to paint and had a paint-by-number phase. The painting evoked a good story. It evoked a momentary possibility that this might be THE ONE Beaky painted. Kerri sent a text to her sister. They shared a memory. They reached through time and had a moment with their mother. Priceless.

Watching Kerri, so excited, text with her sister, it occurred to me that one reason we go to antiques stores is to touch stuff that comes from a time when value and worth were better understood. We go to the throwaways to find some substance. What is real is not in question.

Banana taped to the wall or paint-by-number landscape? What’s real? What’s it worth?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAINT-BY-NUMBER

 

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Huck It Up [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Look closely. It’s not a flock of butterflies or a strange strain of ceiling-sitting-grasshopper. It’s money, greenbacks, tacked to the tiles. It’s how the community of Sister Bay collects money for local causes. Go to Husby’s, chuck money into the air and hope it sticks.

Kerri was on a rant. She was reading about the obscene amounts of money being raised for political campaigns. Power is big business! As she was ranting about the better use of so much money, I scrolled passed an article, 12 States Spend Less On Schools Now Than Before The Recession.  For all of our grand rhetoric and dedication to the showmanship of testing-for-excellence, we have a very hard time putting our money where our mouth is. These days, teachers everywhere are on strike because they have chosen what once was the most noble of careers, but now it takes two or three jobs to make ends meet. Her rant met my eye-roll. It’s upside down.

It was the middle 1990’s when I was a teacher, sitting at my desk reading the paper before my day was to begin. I was browsing an article about the starting salaries for city workers. I should have gasped but I was not really surprised. A starting garbage collector salary was vastly more than a tenured teacher. I like my garbage to be collected so don’t mistake my comparison. We express value through the exchange of money. It was impossible for me not to get the message. It’s upside down.

I understand that we are in a booming economy.  It’s a pervasive story. It’s trumpeted everyday. And yet, there is this headline ripped from the news: Almost 80% of US Workers Live Paycheck to Paycheck. I shake my head in disbelief every time I hear the fearmongering tale about the raging perils of socialism knocking on our door. Even a quick peak at the reality will reveal that social equity is not the monster that threatens us. Upside down.

Imagine my surprise when I entered Husby’s! In this small bar nested in this tiny town on the beautiful peninsula known as Door County, I found a community that recognizes the topsy-turvy nature of our economics! Good causes in an upside down world require an unusual strategy. Put a tack through your dollar bill. Fold the bill and tack around a quarter. Huck it up and hope it sticks. The kids and good causes will receive a bit of money-love from their community when the ceiling gets full. The money, the spare change collected from community love and caring, will come down. I suspect the money will matter but the community-that-cares will matter more. The empty ceiling will inspire new bills to fly up. The cycle will start anew.

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read Kerri’s blog post about MONEY ON THE CEILING

 

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Wait [on DR Thursday]

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morsel of the painting They Wait

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

My studio often serves as a retreat, a place to escape the noise and nonsense-of-the-day. It is a quiet place. A sanctuary. I recoup perspective when I step into it.

Lately, when I am painting, I find myself pondering the paradox of living in the time of Google. I rarely have a conversation these days that doesn’t include a quick dip into Google to check a fact, pull up a statistic, check spelling or a date or data. We rely on it. We can investigate or verify anything in an instant. Yet – and here’s the paradox – no amount of data or information seems to put a dent in people’s beliefs. In fact, we’ve learned, that confronting a belief with data that contradicts it will serve only to reinforce the belief. Information threatens, and so, is useless.

My dad once told me in a fit of frustration that I had educated myself into stupidity. I question everything. He grew up in a simpler time, in a smaller town. I understand the opposite to be true, the path out of stupidity IS education. The capacity to question, to doubt, to consider, to compare what is said with what is provable, is what makes us powerful. Propaganda is only useful in a society that does not or will not question what it is being told.

Collaboration, cooperation, the capacity to organize, to contemplate and pursue possibilities, to unify disparate points of view is only possible in a mind that doesn’t fear being wrong – in a mind that opens (chooses to open) and isn’t constrained by fear of what it doesn’t understand. Fear makes us stupid. To be educated doesn’t mean to be rigid or buried in knowledge. It means the willingness to question, the ability to look, experience, to see, to reach. To learn.  Fear blinds. Curiosity illuminates.

This painting tumbled out of my Google meditation. It is a sketch, a quick gesture. I used to tell my students that daydreaming was an essential skill. Looking out the window and pondering, imagining,…daydreaming is the first step of invention. Waiting, too, is also an essential skill. It is invaluable when entertaining a thought….

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THEY WAIT

 

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they wait ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Believe In The Impossible [on Chicken Marsala Monday]

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All of my life I’ve been surrounded by people who believed in the impossible. At a school for developmentally disabled children, there were therapists who believed against all odds that they could help a child catch a ball. And, one day, after ten thousand tries, extraordinary therapies on frozen muscles, endless encouragement for the child and for each other, those little hands closed around the ball at just the right moment. A catch. Cheers, celebration dances and tears erupted, this feat greater than winning a Super Bowl. The impossible became possible. And then, as if there was not a moment to waste, the next impossibility was named: ball catching could become routine!

Artists, who go day after day to the studio or the stage, their lives an impossibility of economic headwinds and community disinterest. They create. They find a way. They keep the doors of deep humanity open, mythology alive. In this age of dedicated differences and echo-chamber-information, they reinvigorate the experience of a shared story. The impossible becomes possible, even if only for a moment. And the next day, they do it all over again, refreshed with inspiration and improbability.

Teachers who walk into classrooms every single day, their budgets cut, their student load swelling, their hands tied with standardized-testing-madness, and yet they reach. They try. They inspire. Like icebreakers, they cut new paths through impossibly frozen circumstances to locate and nourish the minds and hearts of their students. To free them from disbelief. To embrace the challenge of an obstacle. To encourage discovery of self and other. The impossible becomes possible. And, the next day, they do it all over again.

Inspiration. It’s all around us. It makes people do crazy things.

 

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inspiration makes people do crazy things ©️ 2016/18 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Chicken Marsala Monday

fallingdown WITH EYES jpeg THIS COPYIf blocking  your creative arteries is the goal then there is no better illusion to consume than trying to be perfect. Eating the idea that you can be free of flaws or experience mastery without mistakes is guaranteed to clog your capacity to move. Notions of perfection turn the imagination toward the fear-monsters and breeds an especially severe  inner critic. Perfection is like the Medusa, give her your gaze and she’ll turn you to stone.

Imagination, creativity, learning, growing,…are words of movement. They are experiences of free flow. If investments like perfection crimp flow, then granting simple graces like trial and error, or “seeing what happens” will inevitably open the channel. Creative flow, like profound learning or wild imagination happens when inner-judges retire; it happens when nature is allowed to take its course. Nature is movement. Falling down is a necessary form of movement. Perfection is about appearances. Learning is about process.

From studio melange on this Chicken Marsala Monday comes this simple reminder. Try. Remove failure from the gallery of options. Get on the bike and ride. Expect to fall down. It’s the only way to learn how to stand up.

FALLING DOWN IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF LEARNING merchandise

chicken falling down mug     chicken falling down pillow

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check out Kerri’s thought’s on this Chicken Marsala Monday

falling down is an essential part of learning ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

 

 

 

Look For The Two Points Of View

My latest. As yet untitled. It’s about dreams and angels.

It is the time of thanks giving in these United States and this week when I say my quiet thanks I will include Horatio in my list. Our conversations are life-giving and art-inspiring. And, best of all, tracking Horatio’s thought path is an utter delight. He is an expansive thinker! Here’s an example from our recent call:

“I’m the last person to really see my work,” I said. “Kerri routinely stops me from ruining paintings. She forces me to leave them alone until I can actually see what I’ve painted.”

Horatio said, “You have a parallax problem.”

I thought to myself (who else would I think to?): Parallax is a great word! The last time he flung that word at me I looked it up. In essence, divergent perspectives when looking at the same thing from two different points of view. You might say our political parties have a parallax problem.

Horatio continued, “All religions say, ‘Love your neighbor.’ All religions say it. Love your neighbor.”

What!? I thought. How did we get to neighbor-love from parallax? Grab the reins and hold on!

“The fundamental human problem is to know yourself.” Horatio said. “And artists confront that problem every moment that they stand in front of the canvas or sit down at the piano. Every moment is an exploration of the self, what you see, what you believe.”

From parallax to loving your neighbor to knowing yourself.

“Self. Other. That’s it!” Horatio continued: “That’s all there is! Isaac Bashevis Singer said that the purpose of literature [he was a writer but you can insert any art form] is to 1) entertain and 2) to educate. IN THAT ORDER! You cannot educate first! Playing matters! Fun matters! You must engage the heart first. It opens the path to the other thing.” [take note all ye test makers and proponents of head-driven education].

Parallax: differing points of view. Love your neighbor: a universal aspiration amidst the raging parallax. Know yourself: the fundamental human problem and the singular pursuit necessary to approach the universal aspiration. Heart first: the only route to all of the above.

“An artist has to play. Experiment. Step across the knowns into the unknowns. Question all of those assumptions. Doubt what they see,” he said.

It’s a beautiful paradox, isn’t it? The route to knowing yourself, the route to loving your neighbor, is to doubt what you think. In fact, it is to realize that the river of nonsense incessantly running through your mind is nothing more than a deflection from actually coming to know your self. It is not to be believed. It is the ultimate fake news. It is a great day when you recognize that your inner monologue is entertainment and not education! It’s a great day when you recognize that you need another person’s perspective in order to know your self. You need it precisely because it differs from what you see. Clear vision requires two points of view. It’s called perspective.  Having two points of view opens the door to questioning. It makes probable the birth of a possibility.

“It’s all about relationship.” Horatio concluded, “Now, the only real question surrounding the artist is, in the midst of all of this navel gazing, in the thick of all of this dedicated pursuit of the self, boundary-crossing-questioning, will your neighbors want anything to do with you? Will they want to have you around at all?!”

Oh, yes. Parallax.

Learn To Question

My best place for asking questions

My best place for asking questions

20 (aka John) tells me that his coworker, Amy, aged 22, will have answered all of life’s questions within the next three years. He assures me that she will share her answers when she has them. “We just need to hang on for another three years,” he quips, “…and it’ll all make sense!”

The admitting nurse at the surgery center feels like a threshold guardian. She said, “People who pass through here learn just how little they actually control in life. Surgery is humbling. I’m here when their illusion of control bursts. That moment is hard.” She was quiet for a moment and added, “What gets me is all these people in the world who think they have all the answers – and they think their answer has to be the answer for everybody. All these rules made up by all these people who think they have the right answer for everybody! That’s why people are killing people everywhere.”

“It sounds like more people ought to have surgery!” I tease.

“You got that right,” she said, handing me my gown, hairnet and blue booties. “Put one of these on and you realize how little control you actually have; in this place none of your answers matter and none of your rules apply!”

It should be a mantra for educators and the only argument necessary to dismantle a test-driven system: Life is always found in the direction of the question. At best, answers are relative – and the best answers, if understood, are simply doors to more questions. Learn to question.

The best art follows the same mantra. It steps into big questions, wanders into unknowns and complexities. It tests and tries, explores and experiments. It leads us to explode our answers and like a good trickster does not allow us to hold our gods too tightly. It begs us to question.

“Shall we tell Amy that there are no answers?” I ask 20.

“Nah. Why spoil the surprise.”

From the archives. This one often calls to me

From the archives. This one often calls to me

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