Why Ask Why [on Two Artists Tuesday]

even nature is asking why copy

A rare warm day, walking the Des Plains River trail. I should have been startled when Kerri suddenly jumped off the trail but I’ve grown accustomed to her spring-loaded-photo-impulsive-gambols. I actually love the passion of her image capturing so I’ve learned not to be surprised when she leaps and snaps. There is no danger. There is a photo opp.

“SEE!” she exclaimed, showing me the photo. “Even nature is asking ‘Why?'”

My first thought: Which “why” is nature asking? Why a pandemic?  Why so much division?

Simon Sinek has made a career of teaching people to ask “Why?” before asking “How?” It makes sense: you should probably know why you want to scale the mountain before asking, “How will I do it?” People need an answer to “why.” And, because we are human, the answer to “why” need not be reasonable or rational. “Because it is there,” is an acceptable answer to “why?” I want to. I need to know. I want to feel. I need to see what is there.

“How?” is a question that can only be answered after the fact. “How” is known through reflection. There is the plan. There is the reality that comes when the plan meets the unknown forces. The plan changes. The only honest answer to “how” is: do what makes sense and we’ll talk about it later.

Amidst a pandemic, it is only human to throw up our arms to the sky and demand an answer to our “Why?”  To borrow a lyric from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: “I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I know, darling,  that you do.” In other words, viruses are intention-free. Sometimes, even though we want an explanation, there is no “why.”

There is, however, always a plan, there is a path to “How?”  How do we protect ourselves? How do we deal with it? In fact, there are layers to the question “how?” The first layer of ‘how’ is simple: social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands. Looking back from this vantage point, we know it is the best we can do short of a vaccine. Simple science.

The second layer of the how-cake is more complex and, like all ‘how’ questions, we will only be able to talk about at some point down the broken road. Maybe a vaccine. Maybe herd immunity. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe we will be foolish, like the Philadelphia parade during the Spanish flu and escalate the death toll to the point that we wake up and listen to the first ‘how?’

The virus is a force like a tornado is a force. Why did it take my neighbor’s house and not mine? Why did the forest fire rage through this neighborhood and not that neighborhood?

Here’s the only “why” question we really need to consider: in the face of this virus-forest-fire, why did we rush out to light matches (pack into bars and onto beaches), parade around screaming about our individual rights instead of metaphorically rushing into the fire to save our neighbors in the only way we knew how (social distance, masks) –  as we would have done in an inferno?

I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I do believe in intentional human beings (conscious and otherwise).

Nature need not ask “why?” We do. It’s a sure bet that our answer will make little or no sense at all.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHY

 

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Heed The Thwack [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Have a Drink

It occurs to me now that Marilyn J. was thwacking me on the back of the head. In her comment about my post, AGREE TO DISAGREE, she mirrored back to me something I have taught: without an antagonist there is no story. Without an obstacle there is nothing to drive the story forward. Marilyn was reminding me of two things. First,  the antagonists in my story were giving me fuel for forward movement. Second, that in my post, I was pushing against what I don’t like. She was reminding me that productive movement is toward what I wish to create rather than resisting what I do not want.

We have a new phrase in our lexicon though it feels ancient: social distancing. In thinking about what Marilyn wrote to me I have decided the real social distancing that we are experiencing has less to do with stay at home orders or six feet of space or wearing masks; it is about the distance between the world inhabited by the red and the world inhabited by the blue. They are, I believe, no longer merely divided, they are distinctly separate realities. What makes sense in one reality looks like utter nonsense in the other.

I just took a dive into quotes by E.O. Wilson. He wrote something about brilliant enemies and I wanted to find it: “Without a trace of irony I can say that I have been blessed with brilliant enemies. I owe them a great debt, because they redoubled my energies and drove me in new directions.”

This is point of Marilyn’s head thwack. Redouble your energies. There is no denying that my daily disbelief at the malignant narcissist and his propaganda machine is driving me in new and as yet unknown directions. It has filled me with fear for my family and friends. It is also filling me with energy and it is up to me to live what I believe and use my redoubled energy to move toward what I desire to create rather than become “the thing hate:” an angry absolutist incapable of listening. A resister. An energy eddy.

Or, as Saul-the-Tai-Chi-Master so often reminded me, “Look beyond the obstacle to the field of possibilities.” That is where all of life is truly found.

[note: if you want to feel good about humanity or just need some perspective in the time of pandemic, Google quotes by E.O. Wilson. Or, better yet, since we are in this for a while read one of his books].

 

read Kerri’s blog post on this NOT SO FLAWED WEDNESDAY

 

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Sacred Looking In with color copy 2

Sit Together [on DR Thursday]

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Our cartoon, At The Door, lives in the category of ideas-that-we-knew-would-never-fly-but-wanted-to-do-anyway. In other words, we knew we’d make the submission and the syndicate would reward our good efforts with silence. And, they did just as we predicted!

If conflict is the epicenter/driver of story, then At The Door has a premise filled with great story potential. The dog wants to go out exploring the unknown. The cat wants to stay in his comfort zone. His bowl is the center of his cat-world and he is rarely found far from the bowl. The dog is an idealist, a dreamer. The cat is a realist. A conservative. He enjoys raining on the dog’s parade.

You’d be surprised how much material you can write with such a simple premise. We laughed heartily in the writing of it, especially because we drew our inspiration directly from our crazy Aussie and enormous cat. They share space. Together, they stare out of the door or window, their desires are wildly apparent. Each following their star. Each honest in their pursuit.

In versus Out. Cats-and-dogs-living-together. Oh, my!

Truth? I’d forgotten about At The Door. And, then, watching the news of the day combined with the wave of contention swirling around us, I remembered. I sought the cartoon file more for solace than anything.  I wanted to revisit my belief [my experience] that division need not be ugly. Division need not be disingenuous. Division provides the ripe necessity for collaboration. Two points are a mathematical requirement for the third point to become possible; it’s called ‘perspective.’ Creative tension can be a positive force for forward movement and new ideas if the division serves an honest intention.

If the division is the intention, sitting at the door together becomes, as we’ve seen, altogether impossible.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AT THE DOOR

 

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Play On Empty [on DR Thursday]

hotel art copy

“The artist goes through states of fullness and emptiness, and that is all there is to the mystery of art.” ~ Picasso

Usually in my state of emptiness I stare at my paintings and they stare back at me. It’s like an old Viola Spolin exercise in which the the actors stare at the audience and the audience stares back at the actors. I look at you. You look at me. The question becomes who is audience and who is actor? Who is the painter and who is the painting?

It is difficult when empty to stay clear of self-criticism. It’s easy to look at the archives and think, “I suck. This work is awful!” I’ve learned that this impulse to deride my past work is actually a necessary refueling stage. It’s akin to how a teenager treats their parents when preparing to leave home. Snarky comments make separation easier. And necessary.

In my current state of emptiness Kerri suggested that I play with color and form. Nothing serious is allowed. Smear, pull, scratch,…follow. This is my first experiment while empty. It was fast, fun, and mostly thought-less.

I took a photograph so I could use it on the Melange. I called the photo “hotel art.”  Kerri said that title sounded derogatory. But, here’s the kicker: she asked me if I was going to keep the painting. If I was going to claim it as a ‘finished piece’ or would it live for a while as an experiment until I painted over it?

Smear, pull, scratch, spatter, flick, erase. Jackson Pollock called his splatter paintings a recording of the dance. A map of the movement of making a painting. I look at you, you look at me.

Where is the line between ‘serious art’ and personal experiment, especially in the world of anything-goes-contemporary-art?  The banana is taped to the wall. Banksy dropped his painting through a shredder at the moment it was purchased at the auction house.

Experiment. Play. Intentional. Improvisational. Keeper. Throwaway. I look at you. You look at me.

All I really know is that I am empty and emptiness does not come with silence. It is a fertile ground for noisy, mostly useless, questions.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THIS PAINTING

 

 

wideopenmouths website box copy

 

hotel art ©️ 2019 david robinson [if it is taken seriously or perhaps this copyright should apply equally to messes, play, and fun]

Plan To Try Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

dock copy

20 and I sat in the Adirondack chairs in the sun, eating chips and drinking wine, and watched Trevor and his crew put the finishing touches on the dock refurbishment.They’d been at it for days, leveling and reinforcing the existing structure, cutting pieces and installing a new surface. The final step was the installation of a bench on the far end, a place to sit over the water and enjoy the moon rise. They screwed the bench in place and loaded up their tools. We praised their good work. It was solid. Trevor said he’d be back in a week or so to check on things.

Within a week, the dock became a metaphor.

The storms that rolled through a few days after Trevor screwed the bench into place were intense. The lake looked and acted like the Atlantic Ocean when it is angry. The waves smashed the shoreline and ate great chunks of the yard. The bench that Trevor secured to the dock broke off within the first hour. The waves smashed it to bits.

All of Trevor’s hard work leveling the dock and stabilizing the structure was for naught. After the bench was swallowed, the legs buckled and twisted. The dock surrendered and knelt but the opposing team seemed not to care. The surrender did not stop the pounding. Another storm came. And then another. And then another. The dock is now face down, belly to the sand.

Trevor hasn’t been back yet to check on things. I suspect he already knows that his good work was no match for Mother Nature. The best laid plans…and all of that. He’ll shrug and pull the pieces from the water. He’ll even rebuild it if Deb wants him to give it another try. Trevor is a practical guy.

Gang aft agley!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DOCK

 

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Care To See [on Two Artists Tuesday]

ferry copy

Georgia O’Keeffe was a master of the close-up. I imagine she would have loved this digital age, this era of easy photography. Walking the arroyos of New Mexico with her cell phone, snapping hundreds of photographs of the minutiae. Capturing the tiny beauty that we fast movers are too busy to see. I love that, before cameras were ubiquitous, Georgia was in the habit of walking slow. Looking closely. Seeing.

One evening in London my pal Robert took me to meet Jonathan Miller. We wiled away a long evening talking about art and theatre. Jonathan invited me upstairs to see his studio. He was preparing a series of his photographs for an exhibit and book.  They were an amazing collection of close-ups, textures of peeling paint, gritty brick, rotting fabric draped on walls. None of it was staged. Away on a directing assignment, he would walk the streets with his camera, looking for beauty in the overlooked everyday things. “It’s all around us,” he said, “we just don’t see it.”

It’s true. It takes a wee-bit of intention to be in this life and not run through it. Looking for beauty. It’s all around if we care to see it. Jonathan Miller’s advice: stand still. It is not necessary to seek it; it’s right here if you care to see it.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the FERRY IMAGE

 

PAX morsel copy

a close up of ‘pax.’ looking closely. make an offer. pax needs a home

 

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pax ©️ 2015 david robinson

Mix It [on DR Thursday]

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True confessions: I never clean my palette. I like the messy build up of color. I like the chunky texture. It serves as a gunky history of my work, a genealogy of paintings past. And then, over time, it becomes a tactile work of art in its own right. Unfettered by any of the mental gymnastics or over-ponderous considerations that plague my “real” work, it is the closest to child-mind that I will achieve. It is accidental. It is free.

This might be a stretch but it is, for me, nevertheless true. I love my palette because it is the place of alchemy in my artist process. It is the true liminal space. I begin with pure color. I smashed the pure color together with another color and transform it into a third color, the hue I intend. On a palette, color becomes intention. And then, once transformed, with a brush or knife I lift the color-intention from my palette and in an action that is often more responsive than creative, I place it onto a canvas. It transforms yet again relative to all the color it touches. An image emerges. More color is called for.

And, somewhere in this call and response of color, I become like the palette. The pass-through of alchemy, the door that color passes through en route to something beautiful. And, in the process, perhaps I, too, in my messy build up of life/color, grow closer to that child mind. Unfettered. Accidentally interesting. Free.

“You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough” ~ William Blake

 

read Kerri’s blog post about my PALETTE

 

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Horses FullSize copy

untitled, mixed media 48 x 48IN

 

 

 

 

Use Joy Language

joy-croppedTripper Dog-Dog-Dog has moved through several names in his 3 years on earth. He has a cornucopia of names. For a while I dropped the “Tripper” part of his name and simply called him Dog-Dog. Now, much as a mother might use their child’s middle name, we only call him Tripper when he’s in trouble.

Lately I call him Dog-a-Dog (or doggadogga). He answers to Wag-A-Wag. He is an Australian Shepherd and has a bobbed tail that never stops wagging. He is a happy, happy boy. When I let him out in the morning I call him Fuss Bucket. When he comes back in I call him Poop Sack (for obvious reasons) or Bark Monster or Fur Ball. He sheds like a champion. When he circles through the rooms of our house looking for a safe place to deposit his bone, I (cleverly) call him Bone.

All the variations and derivatives are terms of endearment. Dog-Dog knows and responds in kind. Love is like that. Once, sitting on a train, I watched a grandfather lovingly toss his toddler grandson in the air saying, “You’re just Rubbish! That’s what you are! Rubbish!” The boy squealed with delight. The grandfather chuckled with pleasure and repeated the toss, “You’re just Rubbish!”

Language is a beautiful paradox. It is reductive even as it points to the unfathomable universe and the infinity of love. It is referential; we sometimes forget that the word “tree” is not the tree itself. It is merely an invented-phonetic-pointer toward something too complex to comprehend.

Language is powerful beyond comprehension. We use it to narrate our worlds, both inner and outer. The words we choose create the world we see. The words we choose define the world we inhabit. In my consulting/coaching days I used to love playing with exercises that revealed how easily we come to the language of gossip and blame. It requires almost no effort. Like sugar, hate-speak is addictive. It is the mark of a lazy mind.

The language of love takes some intention and consciousness. It demands conscious effort. It requires paying attention. It requires focusing the energy of the mind and, like any focus (or muscle) it demands exercise to be healthy. And, when exercised, it becomes easy. With great love, the word “Rubbish” can generate squeals of pleasure. The name “Fuss Bucket” will engender a full body joy-wag. And, a full body joy-wag will bring the love full circle. Love is like that. Joy is like that.

In his many books, Martin Prechtel writes beautifully about the power and necessity of speaking beautifully. Speaking beautifully creates a beautiful thinker and a beautiful thinker creates – narrates – a beautiful story, a beautiful world.

Prints/Mugs/Pillows/Cards/Totes

kerrisherwood.com   itunes:  kerri sherwood

 

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Ask Why

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a detail of my painting, Know That You Are Waiting.

Marilyn told me that she spent the day with her 3 year-old granddaughter. The little girl, like most children her age, peppered Marilyn with the question, “Why?” In her reenactment, after trying to answer the multitude of “Why?” questions, she laughed and said, “I don’t know! That’s the way it’s always been done!” It’s a perfect loop! Sometimes there is no answer to the question, “Why?”

Many years ago Peter Block wrote a great little book called The Answer To How Is Yes. A lifetime of corporate consulting left him perplexed by the pervasive leading question, “How should we do it?” None of his clients ever asked, “Why should we do it?” “Why” was nowhere in the equation.

Asking “Why?” takes time. It slows things down and often requires some soul searching. It lives on the vertical axis of experience, the axis that reaches into the depths and knows no black and white answer. Also, asking “Why?” sometimes leads to the scary profit-challenging twin question, “Why shouldn’t we do it?” The question, “Why?” moves a business and the people that populate it out of reactionary practices and into intentionality. With intentionality comes ownership of action, responsibility. The legal department is dedicated to keeping the conversation away from “Why?” Responsibility can be costly.

People are no different than the organizations they create. We avoid the same questions for much the same reason.

In my life I’ve sat through countless meetings while boards-of-directors asking, “How do we get more people to buy/attend/support our art/business/cause?” I finally made it a practice to stop asking the troubling questions, “Why should people buy/attend/support you?” and “Why are you doing what you are doing?” Usually those questions invoked embarrassed silence or worse, a regurgitation of the company’s value statement. We are valuable because we say we are.

Skip used to tell me that a company isn’t valuable until it serves the customer’s customer. I liked that sentiment a lot: value is service as expressed through two degrees of separation. It is also an orientation according to what is given, not what is received. Serve. It’s a loop with a natural answer to the question, “Why?”

Artists of all stripes, churches, politicians, etc. might find a different understanding of value if they (we) applied Skip’s rule to their (our) plays/symphonies/paintings/dances/businesses. Why? To Serve.

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a detail from my painting May You

Maybe we all just need to be three-year-olds and ask “why?” more often. Maybe the best questions, the ones that make the most sense, are the ones that can’t be easily answered but require us to slow down and challenge doing what we’ve always done.

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Cut A New Path

ComfortNow

The latest in my Held In Grace series. This is Comfort Now

It seems to me that most of our days on this earth are spent moving through patterns, conscious or unconscious. These patterns are the rituals of our lives. Some of the rituals are easy to see. For instance, what is the sequence of actions you perform before going to bed each night? What about your ritual of rising each day? The care and feeding of Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog and Babycat are central to my rising and retreating rituals each day. We move through the same actions every morning and evening and I delight in the warmth of the ritual.

Some of the rituals are not so easy to see. Researchers tell us that most of the thoughts we think every day are the same thoughts we had yesterday. We mostly think in patterns (it makes sense once you recognize that language is constructed of category and pattern). We talk to ourselves, cutting paths through the forest of our minds and, once we’ve established a trail, we like to stay on it. Easy is often unconscious. There’s nothing wrong with staying on the easy trail if the path you’ve cut, your repetitious thought-ritual, is self-loving. The rub: ritual paths of self-loathing and self-limitation are also easy, well-worn paths and that makes them both unconscious and hard to leave.

Cutting a new path through the mind forest begins with recognizing that new paths are always available. They just aren’t easy to establish. They require new practices. They require surrender and the first bit of surrender necessary for cutting a new path is the ritual giving-over of needing-to-know-anything; new paths, by definition are unknown.

New paths are not comfortable precisely because they require attention, consciousness.

My teachers taught me that all stories worth telling are stories of transformation. The main character or characters will know something at the end of the story that they did not know at the beginning and the new knowledge will be hard-won. That’s what makes the story worth engaging. Hamlet is a much different character in Act 5 than he was in Act 1. His peace was difficult to come by. He had to learn to surrender. To cut a new path he had to make a practice of peace.

The same ideal applies to the stories we live off the stage.