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

Look Around [on DR Thursday]

My sketchbooks are punctuated by weird landscapes. It was a practice. When I felt the need to draw regularly, to exercise my artistry, I worked on compositions for future paintings. And, when I had no idea what to draw, no composition in my head, I sketched my weird landscapes. They were fun and I got lost in them.

There was a blowback effect. I’ve never been a landscape artist. I considered my weird landscapes as not-serious exercises. Yet, they were made of scribbles and patterns and it became a game to collect patterns from nature. My not-serious exercises required me to look around. To get close. To look at the edges and splashes and etchings available in nature. To see. My weird landscapes became eye-opening meditations.

There are miracle-patterns in bark. Orchids, I recently learned, are a master-class of pattern, shape, and color. It is impossible to find a hand painted brush and ink painting as perfect or as spontaneous and lively as the strokes on the rattlesnake plant. Go to the garden if color combinations are in question.

I will never invent anything as imaginable, as impossibly beautiful, as what already exists in this world. I will never produce any painting as glorious as the paintings in nature. The best I can do is play. Look and marvel. And isn’t that a great relief?

read Kerri’s blogpost about RATTLESNAKE PLANT

eve © 2006 david robinson

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

Constellate [on KS Friday]

Our 3am banana conversation was about cleaning out. The past few years have, as Skip is fond of saying, tipped the apple cart. Our life-apples are akimbo. So, as we pick them up, we are also sorting. It’s not just the stuff in our closets or the post-water-line-mess-explosion in the basement, it’s also the psychological/mental/spiritual/emotional debris. What bag of trash can we finally toss in the bin? What small treasure was unearthed that surprised us? What will we carry forward into the next chapter that informs who we’re now becoming?

I sat in the basement for a few minutes yesterday, staring at the canvas on my easel. Each day I see a little more of the painting that I will someday paint. I do not now have the time or energy to make it visible. This canvas is becoming a marker in time. It calls. My creative energy is dedicated to other projects and I am careful not to over-tap it. That is new. Knowing my limits. Honoring the creative well is part of who I am becoming. I am in no rush. That’s new, too.

“I’m certain these were my momma’s,” Kerri said, showing me the tic-tacs. She was cleaning out the pantry and found them in the way-back. Beaky was a fan of tic-tacs. Treasure. And, how did they get lost in the recesses of our pantry? No matter, they inspired some good stories, reminiscing. “It makes no sense, but I’m keeping these,” she said. Treasures do not need to make sense.

I learned a big lesson during the decade that it took me to complete and produce The Lost Boy: I started it as a project for Tom to perform and it became a project I had to perform for Tom. His passing was the final piece necessary to complete the story he wanted to tell. His passing made the play possible to perform. The lesson: we cannot see it all. We think we understand “why” but mostly our reasoning is constellation. Dots connected in the vast open sky.

The tipping of the apple cart. 3am bananas. Next chapter imagined and arriving. A tic-tac kiss from the past. Making space for constellation. We are in awe and not in a hurry.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about TICTACS

connected/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Wash And Wonder [on DR Thursday]

I actually like washing dishes. It gives me a sense of completion. Rarely do I finish a day of work with anything that resembles closure or accomplishment. Doing the dishes satisfies my western goal oriented needs. Ask me what I achieved today and I will proudly respond, “The dishes.”

While washing and rinsing the plates and pots I have a terrific view into the back yard. It’s like having a big screen tv into our teeming-with-life sanctuary. The squirrels and Dogga have a game (Dogga does not know that it is a game), the cardinals visit the pond, the rabbits and foxes and the occasional turkey, hawk or owl excite the noisy crows. The chipmunks are masterful ninjas finding ways to access the bird feeders and make off with pouches full of seed.

Sometimes, the window – the actual glass – becomes more interesting than the games unfolding beyond it. During a storm, in the winter cold, crystals form and migrate across its surface. It’s a giant kaleidoscope, especially as the string of lights stretching across the yard pop on. It’s enough to make me pause my dish washing fervor and stare in amazement. Window-wonder satisfies my eastern presence desires. Ask me to what I gave my full attention and I will smile and respond, “The window.”

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WINDOW

joy © 2014 david robinson

Jump Out Of Your Chair [on KS Friday]

If I want to think clearly – or clear my thinking – I walk. Sitting still has always been and continues to be an invitation for thought-log-jams. It was a problem when I was a student. Classrooms come with desks and an expectation that the learner will sit still. I became a master of the controlled wiggle, not because it broke the logjam but because it helped maintain my sanity. For me, sitting still is like a hair shirt with an itchy tag. Sitting still makes my IQ plummet several points. Sitting still interrupts my synapses.

Tom Mck told me that the alternative schools were populated by artists. I intimately understood his observation. Artists need to move to think. They thrive in an alternative to still-sitting.

I’ve made sure that my work throughout my adulthood included movement. Directing plays. Painting big paintings. Facilitating workshops. Even as a teacher I cleared the room of desks. This morning I saw a headline in Forbes Magazine declaring that children learn more through play than through guided instruction. It was curious to me that this was a headline. Sugata Mitra’s been shouting the news for decades. Neil Postman spent his life reading the research and advocating for what the research implied: turn little people toward a passion and get out of the way. Curiosity and desire are an unbeatable team. They will move faster than you might imagine. Move, move, move. Dance. Paint. Sing. Construct. Act. Play. They will let you know when they need you.

I’m learning the lesson again. My work places me squarely in front of a computer for hours each day. Flow. Eddy. Logjam. Wiggle. Move. Sigh, as the synapses start firing up again. Repeat. At this advanced stage of earth-time, you’d think I’d have grasped the full understanding that, for me to be effective, I have to move around. Each morning I review the previous day’s work and immediately know whether or not I found a movement/sitting-still balance.

When we stepped on the trail and entered the woods in North Carolina, my mind was chock-full-of-thought-logs. Like everyone else, I stare at the screen and lose track of time. A day can pass me by and I never leave my swivel chair. I swivel for survival. For months, I’d been swiveling and forgetting to stand up and dance my ideas. Fifteen minutes into our hike, the jam broke free. My mind cleared. I could see the subtle landscape inside and outside. I breathed a deep breath. The forest was gorgeous. My mind was spacious and flowing! I resolved, once again, yet again, to attend to the necessity of movement that keeps my mind and heart flowing. Wiggling is maintenance, merely. Swiveling is not a solution. The real game, the full flow, is only available when I jump out of my chair and move-it.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOREST

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

meander/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Get Lost [on DR Thursday]

We delight in taking Sunday drives. Sometimes we have a destination but most of the time we have no idea where we are going. We head “out into the county,” the farm land, and with great intention, we get lost. “Left or right?” Kerri asks when we come to a crossroads. “Left.”

The goal is to “not know.” Drive down roads we’ve never experienced. There is a direct correlation between “not knowing” and “clear seeing.” When lost, we open our eyes. It’s something that every artist understands, “always-knowing-where-you’re-going” is a killer of the magic. It is the dividing line between art and craft.

I’m currently working with a team of analytical minds. “Lostness” is often interpreted as failure. It’s not welcome. But, to my great delight, even in the most analytic of creative processes, the engineers and entrepreneurs, shaking their fists at the sky when adrift, find their greatest magic arrives only after time spent wandering the wilderness.

After many twists and turns, rolling country roads and, “Which direction are we headed?”, we pop out of lostness and know exactly where we are. “Hey!” we laugh, “How did we get here?”

The art of getting lost. The art of exploration. The art of having an experience without a predetermined outcome. The art of having an outcome and letting it go, making space for something better. It is the art of cultivating surprise, allowing for the bigger idea to come through. “Left or right?”

It’s a practice. Learning-to-see and letting-go-of-needing “to know.” It’s the same thing. And, a great way to practice, is taking a nice Sunday drive.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ROAD

pax © 2015 david robinson

Reach Purely [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Art, as best practiced and understood over the centuries, is a spiritual as much as technical pursuit.” ~ Kent Nerburn, Dancing With The Gods

It was disconcerting. It still is. The illusion was so distinct that I had to show the book to Kerri and ask if she saw it, too. Each morning I read a few pages from Kent Nerburn’s book. This morning, in a chapter entitled The Divine Thread, I turned the page and a single paragraph, just a few sentences, was printed in a font twice the size as anything else on the page. I read it a few times since the author had given the section such obvious emphasis. After the I finished the chapter, I looked back to reread the oversized section – and it was printed in the same size font as everything else. It wasn’t emphasized at all. The shock of it made me dizzy.

“Art, however, does create this touch. It speaks in different voices, different rhythms, different languages. There is no place in the human heart it cannot reach.”

Paul taught his student-actors that they had an obligation to something greater. “When you choose to get on the stage, you have the power to impact other people’s lives. Do not take that responsibility lightly.” Your art, your creation, if purely intended, will reach the heart of another – purely. Even the loneliest painter knows the transcendence of the expansive energy that comes through in the moment of creation. Transcendence is all inclusive.

I have been humbled by the great artists I’ve known. Teachers, mentors, and others. I’ve been humbled by their humility. Tom, a brilliant director of plays and believer of possibility, influenced more artists than any person I know. He was tortured by the size and scope of his gift. At the end of his life, sitting before a fire in his cabin, he was, for a moment lost in thought. I watched his revelation come to the surface. He looked into his wine and said, “I think I did my best work when I was a just starting, when I was second grade teacher. It was pure imagination. I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew that we could have fun telling stories and going on adventures where our imaginations led us. It was pure.”

I met a few teachers who’d been second grade students in that classroom of long ago. They told me that year changed their lives. They touched his heart and he touched theirs. Shrunken heads and planning expeditions to the Amazon. Maps and budgets and “What do we need to bring to survive?” They spent weeks preparing for “blind day,” an exploration of the world through the full scope of senses. “What could we learn if we didn’t rely on our sight? What would we need to prepare to help each other?” he asked. Pure.

For our wedding, Julia made for us a small box with a Klimt’sThe Kiss” decoupaged on the lid. Inside, she placed a few Euros. A metaphor. Great love as a container for great adventure. We placed the box in our sitting room in a spot where we see it everyday.

Kerri knelt on the dock to get this photograph of the water. “The color!” she gasped. Pull up an image of “The Kiss” – or any of Klimt’s paintings for a closer inspection and you’ll see this water pattern. Klimt might have painted it. He studied swirls in water, swimming color on the reflection of the surface. I’m certain of it.

Great love. Great adventure. Tom. Julia. Paul. Art that is pure. My head spins. There is no place in the human heart that art cannot reach.

read Kerri’s blog post about WATER

images of water © kerri sherwood 2021

Learn Where To Listen [on KS Friday]

“Her mother told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted to be so she grew up to be the strongest of the strong, the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, the wolf leading wolves.” ~ Nikita Gill

A long time ago I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about a young fox who had extraordinary abilities. Her talents made her an outlier in the pack, something strange, so they hammered her into compliance. She buried her gifts. The story is, of course, how she came to embrace her gifts despite the court of fox-public opinion.

Lao Tzu wrote, “Care about what other people think of you and you will always be their prisoner.” It is a lesson that every artist must learn. Do your work. YOUR work. Some will love it. Some will hate it. Some will walk by without a second glance. You can never determine what another person sees or thinks so waste no energy in that fruitless cause. Do your work.

It’s a tough lesson, a mammoth paradox, since we are, after all, a pack animal, a social being. An artist has no reason to work if there is no audience or community to receive the work. Traditionally, artists live on the edge of the community so they can both see in and express what they see but also serve as a channel to what lies beyond the spiritual perimeter. The tightrope walk is about belonging while marginalized enough to remain clear-sighted. The artist must step back from the painting in order to see it.

I’m enjoying a slow read through Kent Nerburn‘s book, Dancing With The Gods: Reflections On Life And Art. Master Miller recommended it and I’m finding the simple wisdom of an artist-elder a refreshing daily meditation. Were I to write a sequel to my long-ago-children’s-book, it would be about this: coming back to your gift is not a one-and-done affair. It is a cycle. We embrace it and run from it and embrace it and lose it and find it and smother it and resurrect it and step back and look at it. Again and again. To become the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, is not an achievement, an arrival platform, it is a relationship. Yes, with the community, but it is mostly a walk with your self and what lies beyond that spiritual perimeter. It is ongoing. Never static. Somedays you are the strongest of the strong. And, on other days, you are empty and weak. Full spectrum palette. The only way to know and reflect all of the colors of life is to experience them firsthand. And, so, it is imperative to learn where to listen, where to invest your tender care.

The gift grows as more colors enter the paint box.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HER MOTHER TOLD HER

Kerri’s albums are available in iTunes or streaming on Pandora

Lookit [on KS Friday]

“It was not that he had nothing to say, he just hadn’t realized that what he had to say was enough.” ~ Kent Nerburn, Dancing With The Gods

Kerri practices what Kent Nerburn calls “the art of close inspection.” When we are on the trail or in the backyard or in the kitchen, she’ll suddenly jump, grab her camera, and take a shot of some gorgeous detail. A reflection. A flower. A texture. I would have walked by without ever noticing. She sees detail. And, she is never off duty; she is always looking. Seeing.

I know her images are authentic – meaning that she is not trying to “make art” or make grand statements or be clever – because she is tickled by what she captures. “Lookit!” she exclaims as she shows me the image. Her delight is as pure as her eye-for-composition.

When I moved to Wisconsin and put my studio in the basement, she’d take photos of my paintings. Never the full painting, always a detail. It unnerved me a bit because the composition of her detail-image was always much better than my composition of the full painting. “Lookit!” she’d say, showing me the image. We called them “morsels.” I started studying her morsel-shots. My musician-wife was a secret master of visual composition and I had much to learn. She encouraged me to take photos of my works-in-progress as a way of standing back from the painting, as a way of seeing what my eyes could no longer see.

I’ve been drawing cartoons for months. This series is special because it is simple, pared down. How much expression can I capture in a simple line – in fact, in the fewest lines possible? The art of close inspection is having an impact on me. I’m getting paid to draw this series and am fully aware that they might never see the light of day. And, it simply does not matter. I love them. I know they are pure because, with each new cartoon, I race down the stairs (my drafting table is upstairs) and say, “Lookit!” as I hand them over to Kerri to finish them with her photoshop magic. After she performs her magic, she brings the computer to me and says, “Lookit!” and I smile. “Doyoulikeit?’ she asks.

“Ilikeit.”

read Kerri’s blog post about FALL FLOWERS

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

you come to realize/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood