Reflect [on DR Thursday]

This reflection spiraled me into a fond memory. A long ago chance dinner in London with Jonathan Miller. He was kind and funny and took me upstairs to his studio to show me photographs he was readying for a gallery show. I could have talked with him all night. As I left he gave me a copy of his most recent book, On Reflection. Questions of reality and identity in the arts and beyond, explored through reflections. I had the book for years and lost it in a loan.

Reflections. I have crossed paths with many brilliant artists. Some, like Jonathan Miller, a single evening, a passing glance. Others, I had the good fortune to spend many years assisting and watching and learning from their work. James Edmondson. If I ever delude myself into the notion that my artistry is unique and truly individual, I only need stop for a moment and track the people who shaped me, who inspired me, who challenged me, who passed to me their traditions, who gave me an hour of their time to share their work and thoughts with me. I am a reflection of those many, many people.

My work in the world is made better by the reflections of Horatio and David and Master Marsh, people who give me their time by reading my work and sharing their thoughts. People who have jumped into my mad projects and made me and my work better.

I am the luckiest man alive. Each morning I get up early and sit next to my wife. We drink coffee and write. She edits my posts. We read to each other and offer advice or talk about word choices. I take her hand and bring her into my studio and ask, “Will you tell me what you see?” Lately, as I draw in pencil cartoons for work, she digitizes them, dumps them in Photoshop, cleans up my messes and makes them better. She makes suggestions. She offers reflections. She formats them for publication. They are transformed from my work to our work.

And, that is the secret I learned from my many master teachers. A unique perspective, an artist’s eye, is the blossom of many, many wise eyes coming together, expressing through a single moment, an opportunity. It’s all collaboration. Artistry is nothing more than a hologram of reflection.

read Kerri’s blogpost about REFLECTIONS

pax © 2015 david robinson

See The Exact Center [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Kerri took this photograph a week ago. We’d set up our pop-up table in the middle of the woods. We had a small cooler with cheese and crackers, tabouli and chips and wine. It was cold. We needed to take off our gloves to eat a bit of our snack and then put them on again, fingertips stinging. Since she is a photography maven, I knew to stand back after setting up so she might take shots of our snack-laden table. She finished, sat, and then pointed her camera to the sky.

Despite what you see in the photo, the trees did not reach to a common center. That is an illusion. Perspective as taught in art school. The point of view of a lens. “Lookit!” she said, red fingertips holding the camera so I could see the image. “We must have found the exact center of the forest,” I thought and smiled.

I often feel like that these days. We must have found the center.

Last night, on an all-too-rare warm evening, we sat with friends on their deck. The Up North Gang. We ate dinner. We laughed. I had my first ever sip of salted caramel whiskey. Dessert as a drink. Time stood still for me and I studied the moment. I wondered if anyone on earth was as fortunate as Kerri and me.

Perspective as taught in art school. Points converge creating the illusion of distance. At one time in history, a crossroads of art and mathematics, this simple recognition was a revolution. Linear perspective. A unique point of view. The accurate portrayal of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface was powerful – the creation of illusion, shape and distance, produced new intentions and mathematical rules.

It also changed forever the viewer. To see the illusion one must occupy the illusion of a unique center. A new psychology. It’s possible to draw a direct line of descendancy from the hard perspective of the Renaissance to our abstract expressionism. The artist’s point of view, unconscious expression without limit or rule, is all that matters. Two ends of the same pole.

I told Horatio that I am, at long last, learning to keep quiet. To share what I see when asked, and not before (he says as he writes a blogpost about what he sees). I have made a career out of too adamantly trying to get people to see what I see. My adamancy might be traced to the Renaissance and the notion that I occupy a unique center, a specific point of view that makes my illusion of shape and distance somehow privileged and necessary.

Age is helping me challenge and release my investments. It is also a grand teacher of movement and moments. Nothing stands still, especially time. The best we can do is savor the spaces between, always shifting and moving. Children become parents become grandparents. A warm night. A cold day on the trail. It matters less and less what I see and sense-make with my unique hard lines and more and more that I taste the tastes and see the colors, my lens aimed at a common center, sharing the passing moments with others.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE WOODS

View The World [on DR Thursday]

Dogga is a wrecker of backyards. He’s a destroyer of pristine spaces. His joyful enthusiasm propels him in rapid circles and his circles have become etchings in our smallish yard. Initially, we tried to cover his etching path in stone. Were you to visit you’d find flat stones covering a wide spiral around the pond, his first velodrome. To no avail. He is a living Spirograph, a dervish of delightful circles. Viewed from the air, I’m certain our backyard smacks of alien visitation, mysterious crop circles.

We’ve learned. Rather than resist nature, attempt to control it or cover it up, it’s a much better plan to work with it. I knew we’d crossed a thought-bridge the day Kerri suggested we install a round-about sign. We had to be direction-correct so we bought one for right-sided drivers. The details matter. If Dogga was to suddenly switch and run in the opposite direction we’d have to issue a citation or get a new sign.

If there is a devil in the details there must also be an angel. As I’ve previously noted, I am not naturally a detail-guy; my head is at home in the clouds. I’m conceptual and can see great distances. It’s why metaphors are my currency, movement and pattern my friends. Please do not ask me to write a grant or make sense of the world through a spreadsheet. I can. I have, mostly out of necessity. But the cost to my soul is mighty. Luckily, as this great world spins, and the draw to a comfortable center is the force-at-play, I’m currently surrounded by teachers-of-detail, Kerri and Dogga are my favorite two but there are many in my circle. Angels, all.

Kerri runs to show me the photo she’s just taken. A close-in shot. A texture. A bud. An entire world in minutiae. See the beauty in the detail. For me, that’s the passage to the center. There’s entire universes to be found in the smallest detail. The up-in-the-clouds and close-in are relative terms. There’s a whole other worldview available from the grasses.

Lay on the ground and the Dogga will run circles of joy around you, his center point. There’s nothing better and that’s the kind of detail that’s not to be missed.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FROM THE GROUND UP

face the rain © 2019 david robinson

Dream [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

When does a dream turn into a goal?

Lately, I’m having conversations that confuse me. Business thinking, engineer minds, make models for creation. Creativity plans as action templates and guides.

Screen writers make plans, too. Step outlines. The difference is in the process. A creative mind makes models and plans with full intent to throw them away. To discover the best story, their plan involves making space for the better idea. Open up by tossing the model. Clear the deck by shuffling the plan. Sketches and rough drafts. It’s a conversation with the muse. Muses are notoriously structure resistant until the story makes an audience sit forward. Movement first. Then, the structure begins.

The engineer mind works in the opposite direction. The dream must wear the mask of a goal or it is considered invalid. Too squishy. Construction begins immediately with targets and tasks. Order. It is, in fact, the same process as the creative mind, only it is less forgiving of space. It forces the muse to move. Time is of the essence. Structure first. Then movement. Efficiency is a tree with shallow roots.

It confuses me. Dreams do not wear ties or leather shoes, yet, scrape the blueprint and you’ll find a dream every time. Perspective requires stepping away from the canvas. Standing too close for too long and loss of vision is the result. Every time. It’s not a mystery or voodoo. It’s physics. Great ideas and idea-break-throughs happen in the shower or walking on the trail. A clear mind. A different focus creates space. Too tight thinking, too close in for too long, sucks energy.

Once upon a time I worked with organizations and educators. They also confused me. Squeezing the air out of their space they’d gasp, “We can’t breathe.” A little bit of space, some play, a refocus on the relationships was good medicine. Fresh air. Step back and see the painting. The point of perspective is to see. The secret: permission to remove the status games and need to be an authority and, for a moment, reconnect the players to their dream.

At the nucleus of every goal beats the wild heart of a dream.

read Kerri’s blog post about DREAM

Gaze At The Seam (on KS Friday)

Some things are hard to grasp. When that’s the case, it’s a good time to look at the sky. You’ll not find many explanations up there but gazing at the seam between us and the infinite-universe can, in moments of clenched fists, bring some perspective. As Kerri says, “It just keeps rolling.” No problem can remain large when measured against the seam, that fragile ozone layer that makes breathing and every current dilemma possible.

Sometimes when I look at the sky I wonder how many people across the ages have engaged in seam-gazing.

I imagine, one day in Kansas, 1932, as his fields turned to dust, a farmer looked to the sky. All his appeals for rain exhausted.

I can’t imagine how many women looked to the sky over the 100 years of protests and parades before being afforded the right to vote.

Can you imagine how many African-Americans looked to the sky as slaves in a nation that boasted to the world about its freedom and equality?

I look to the sky every time another state in the union passes legislation prohibiting discussions about our history, so fearful are we of critical race theory and the equality that we profess.

I find nothing in the seam that explains anything, but the clouds remind me that it just keeps rolling and, since I believe we tend toward wholeness, I catch a whiff of hope in all the blue and moving puffy white.

Someday, somewhere down the historic road, someone will look to the sky, in a post-nonsense era, and will, perhaps, imagine me staring back. To them, from their perspective, my unanswerable questions will have found resolve. They will have questions of their own, no doubt, but won’t it be nice to have a new set of questions to thrust at the seam?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SKY

Little By Little (©2022 Kerri Sherwood featuring Dogga)

Call It An Art Piece [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When the ancient television antenna tower fell in the windstorm, it snagged on the neighbor’s fence and tilted precariously above their garage. We did not know what to do – so we did what we always do in similar circumstances: we texted our tribe with a rousing, “HELP!!! And then we asked, “What do we do?”

No one had a clue. This was a first. The insurance company was certainly clueless. Their advice was to (I’m paraphrasing and scrubbing for courtesy) let it fall. The fire department didn’t know. We called a contractor friend who recommended finding a crane. We called tow trucks. We called antenna companies who told us that this problem was out of their league.

A single, sensible, and fantastic piece of advice came as it always does, from Master Marsh. “Just leave it and tell the neighbors it’s an art piece: The Death of Broadcast Television.” Had it not been dangerous, I’d have taken his sage advice. I’d have gone so far as to make a plaque for the base. I’d have sent out a press release. Our art piece might have one day been moved to the permanent collection at The Chicago Art Institute or been featured at Biennale Arte 2022. It would be necessary to compensate the neighbors for a piece of their fence – since it is a crucial element of the statement – but that is a minor detail and certainly worth sorting out for such a prestigious end to our dilemma.

It did make me wonder how many of my life’s tribulations would have been better solved with a bit of rebranding? Call it an art piece and make it all better with plaques emblazoned with clever titles. I laughed when I imagined moving through my life’s calamities as a gallery show. Children asking their grandparents, “What is broadcast?” The raging waterfall through the ceiling would be fantastic!

In the end, rather than art, we opted for a tree service. These amazing guys came, sawed up and carted away our precarious antenna in less than 30 minutes. An entire era of technology disappeared in less than half an hour.

As they say, in our times, the only constant is change and, if you keep asking the right question, “What do we do?” a proper answer is certain to find you. And, if not, there’s always the art route.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BROADCAST TELEVISION

Disagree [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Months later, she* is still angry with me. I asked her to “stop blowing me off.”

Some things need to be discussed and necessarily require entertaining differing points of view. Finding middle ground or considering alternate possibilities requires hearing what others have to say – and giving others the courtesy of hearing what you have to say. Her standard phrase of choice, when faced with an opinion or idea not her own, is this: “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

No. I don’t agree to disagree. Especially at the onset of a dialogue. I want to talk about it. I want to hear what you have to say and more importantly why you hold your point of view. I won’t agree to not hearing or being heard.

Opposing points of view, differing opinions, need not be conflicting. They can be highly generative. Mind opening. Thought provoking. “I’ve never thought of that,” is an expression that results when considering a different point of view. In ideal, our nation is based on the notion of two opposing points-of-view extending to each other the courtesy of listening and considering possibilities not yet seen. Yep. And, we are witness to what happens when one side (or the other) rejects the basic premise. Dismissiveness is the strategy of an empty suit.

Why assume conflict?

She followed “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree,” with the real statement, her actual aim: “You do what you want. I’m going to do what I’ve always done and follow my plan.” In other words, she had no intention of hearing anything that did not support her plan. Why, then, I wondered, did she invite conversation?

When the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. When the only door you have is a closed door, then every knock sounds like an intruder.

I laughed aloud when I read Bill Murphy’s article in Inc. Magazine about his pet-peeve phrase: “Look, I get it.” He writes, ‘”Look, I get it,'” is almost always inherently untrue…Even worse for our purposes, it’s woefully ineffective.”

It’s dismissive. Just as is “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.” The agreement she wanted was for me to agree to be dismissed. An agreement of silence. Why would I – or anyone – agree to that?

[* “She” is not Kerri. We hold each other in high esteem. It’s why the sign in our kitchen reads, “You are my favorite pain-in-the-ass.” We welcome our differing perspectives. Neither one of us dismisses the other nor tolerates being dismissed.]

read Kerri’s blog post about “LOOK, I GET IT.”

Sing, “EEE-AAAWWW!” [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Drive across the country with Kerri and one thing is certain to happen: the moment she sees a donkey, she bursts into a rousing chorus of “EEE-AAAWW-EEE-AAAWWW!” She loves donkeys. She wants one. Or two. “They’re like big dogs,” she assures me. I have my doubts but I confess to picking up her quirk. Now, if I spot a donkey before she does, I point and launch a festive “EEE-AAAWW!”

Bill and Linda have two donkeys. We arrived after dark so had to wait until morning to go to the barn for a donkey-confab. She wiggled all night with excitement. “Smack-dab material,” I thought. I’ll be drawing cartoon donkeys soon. I can’t wait to figure out how to make the Kerri-cartoon character wiggle in anticipation.

Linda knows of Kerri’s donkey-love so she had donkey treats ready. I stood back and watched. “This is my future,” I thought. “Can I have another?” Kerri asked and Linda smiled, handing over the plastic container of orange donkey-cookies. Those lucky donkeys hit the cookie lotto.

Donkey cookies. Who knew! There’s more amazing wonders in this world than any of us can comprehend. Stand outside of anyone’s world, peer in at their passions, and you’ll have to try hard not to drop your jaw in fascination. From inside their world, the quirk seems boringly normal. I try to remember that when people stand agog at something in my world that seems normal-to-boring. “What’s the big deal,” I think.

People are great at reducing the magic in their lives to seem insignificant. I’m a “people” so, like all people, am guilty of my own diminishment. Beware of the word, “normal.”

Bill and I bumped fists. We are brothers-in-quirk. While Kerri and Linda stuffed the donkeys with cookies, Bill and I talked about the-things-that-come-out-of-our-mouths that get us into trouble. We think they are obvious. Ordinary. But, the response to our commentary indicates otherwise. He just retired from a board position and, his peers, in their farewell speech, described him in two words, both beginning with the letter “o”: outspoken and opinionated. All laughed. “It’s true!” he said, “And I’m proud of that,” and added, “No one wants to be a rubber stamp.”

What a perfect summation. EEE-AAAWWW-EEE-AAAWWW. Donkey cookies! Magic-in-the-ordinary. No one wants to be a rubber stamp.

read Kerri’s blog post about DONKEYS!

Gain The Force [on KS Friday]

It seemed appropriate, in order to conclude our year of water, that we travel to visit a region of the country with 250 waterfalls. Of course, we didn’t know about the waterfalls until we arrived. Water, water everywhere. I howled with laughter and secretly affirmed that our unintentional pilgrimage to the waterfalls might appease the great WHATEVER and finally release us from water-resistance into the watercourse way.

I will someday look back at our journey to the falls and realize the extent to which we “let go.” It already serves as a marker, a breaking through the resistance and fight of the last chapter and into the next. The new chapter.

Yesterday, at work, I had the opportunity to tease apart a question en route to asking a better question. I am fortunate to have a team of collaborators that, instead of rejecting my alternate perspective outright, even amidst the frustration of my challenge of the norm, ask me to lean into it. My assignment was to return next week with a better question. I am a firm believer that the form of a question – the way that it is asked – determines the answers that are seen or – more importantly – not seen.

Better questions are like the watercourse way. They show up when, instead of swimming against the current, against “what is,” the swimmer/questioner turns and allows the current to carry them. Wu-wei. Natural action. Every creator knows the moment of frustration when trying to force something into being. More force can only produce more frustration. Or, it breaks something. The best thing to do, when force can only produce an eddy, is put down the brushes, step back, and look at what-is. Force never produces a better question. Stepping off the mountain so it becomes visible – or acknowledging the direction of the river’s flow and giving into it, always reveals new possibility.

It is what I remembered for myself at the waterfall. It made me chuckle, then, when my first moment back at work, I was doing for my team what I’ve done all my life: attempting to flip or free a perspective by lobbying for flow; acknowledge what exists-in-the-moment versus what we want to exist. The better question – for me – and others – is always found when we turn and gain the full force of the river.

[I can’t imagine a better piece of music to carry us into 2022. Give yourself a treat – truly – and listen to Riverstone]

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WATERFALL

riverstone/as it is is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

riverstone/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

See The Dance [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“You can only push the truth down for so long, and then it bubbles back up.” ~ Cassandra Clare

“Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul.” ~ D.H. Lawrence

Last night we made a fire in the fire pit. We decided to have a pop-up dinner by the fire so we set up our table, lit candles, poured some wine, and brought our dinner out under the stars on a chilly October night. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so we looked at the stars. We wondered if the brightest lights were planets.

There are many, many works of art from a genre in the Middle Ages known as the Dance Macabre. Dance with death. The scary images were meant to remind people of life’s fragility, its passing nature. They were also meant to point out the obvious: we are all united in our final destination. No one is better or worse than any other in the grand scheme of things, in the Dance Macabre. In the Middle Ages, the allegory was meant to suggest it was best to aim your focus at the afterlife. Do good works as an investment in your future or go to the fiery place below.

Were I to paint a series of Dance Macabre images today, my intent would be the exact opposite: aim your eyes at this moment. There is nothing more precious or wonder-full than this moment. If there is a heaven, it is now. And, it will go unnoticed if the dance is not acknowledged. There is no sadder phrase on earth than, “Same-old-same-old.”

According to some cultures, I am now in sacred space. I’m seeing all things relative to my dad’s recent passing. Sitting by the fire, our dinner complete, we talked about his death and my inability lately to invest too much emotional energy in anything. Things that would have upset me a few months ago barely register. I’m watching the usual list of anxieties and worries drop off. Why would I give an ounce of my wonder to something so…small? Perspective is the gift of the dance macabre. Clarity of sight and intention comes with this kind of perspective.

We clinked our glasses, the cold night and the heat from the fire colliding around us under the stars. DogDog slept on the deck, a few feet away. We realized our moment. Fully. Magic was alive, bubbling everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about BUBBLES