Peek Behind The Scenes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I’ve tried to keep notes on my computer. I know that typing my notes into the digital world will make them searchable. Easier to find. It just doesn’t work for me. If I write with a pen on paper, I remember. Marking an important page with a Post-it note makes finding my notes faster than a search engine. It’s not that I am old school. I’m kinesthetic.

I’ve always kept notebooks. At this moment there are two within my reach. The Melange notes. On the desk in my office a is a notebook and three yellow pads. The yellow pads are a task-capture strategy. The notebook is idea capture. Quote capture. Thoughts-in-progress. The notebooks are like my sketchbooks, a place to work out my thought-compositions. They are the history, the breadcrumb trail of a project. For me, the riches are never in the outcome. The real treasures are alive in the notebook process paths.

I’d rather look at an artist’s sketchbook than the finished painting. I have a book of Picasso’s sketches that I treasure. Spend a few moments in Leonardo’s sketches or Michelangelo’s scribbles and you’ll forever toss away the notion of a mistake. Look behind the scenes at the process. A dancer will spend hours in repetition to incorporate a move into their body. The playwright will write hundreds of pages to arrive at a few, yet, those hundreds of pages are nothing less than reduction to essence. Refinement on the path of saying more with less.

Look behind to see the structure. Turn it over to see the pattern. I am, to this day, in awe of the Wayan Kulit master. I looked behind the shadow puppet screen to see the artist at work and, what appears in simple two-dimensions in front of the curtain, is a symphony of structure and improvisation. The man wore an oil lamp on his head to cast the light for the puppets, held a rock between his toes to tap, keeping time for the musicians seated behind him, all the while manipulating and voicing multiple characters, telling with simple clarity an epic tale. A lifetime of trial and error, complexity made simple, like a dancer, the story was deeply choreographed in his body. I wished I could have seen this elder storyteller-priest when he was young and developing his mastery. I’d love to see his notebooks.

I’ve recently had cause to return to my old notebooks. I marvel at the thought cycles coming back around. I’m taken again and again by the questions that still linger, and by those that seem antiquated. “How could I have not seen it!” I smile, knowing in just a few more drafts, a notebook or two down the road, the clarity would arrive.

A peek behind the scenes. It is for me, where the real beauty shines.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FLIP SIDE

Note The Beautiful [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

There is a genius in simplicity.

Lately, one of the conversations swirling around me, a conversation I very much appreciate, is about beauty. What is a beautiful building? What makes a software beautiful? Certainly, beauty is subjective though I suspect a sunrise over the ocean is beautiful to all. A baby’s smile. A first kiss.

We are surrounded by noisy advertisements telling us what is (and what is not) beautiful. By this standard, most of us fall into the not-beautiful category. Though, deep down, we know, that the real test of beauty is not in what is concealed but in what is revealed. A warm heart is more potent than skin creme or make-up.

My niece had a birthday yesterday. She is on this earth to help people. She is creating a beautiful life. She probably doesn’t know it – and, that’s a mark of true beauty – it doesn’t need to call attention to itself.

Every collaboration I’ve had with MM was beautiful. We had fun. We explored ideas. We have nothing but respect for each other. We’ve made each other better people, better artists. When I revisit any one of the many projects we created together, I smile and feel rivers of gratitude and pride. A memory that inspires a smile is the very definition of beauty. It brings the goodness of the past into the present moment. Light travels.

20 is a master of the beautiful because he knows the power of simplicity. A heart shape torn from a piece of paper – acknowledging grief that goes beyond words. A construction paper bow. He’s not forgotten the lessons he learned in kindergarten. Laughter, he knows, is the most beautiful gift of all and we receive it from him weekly.

What makes a design beautiful? Aspen leaves shimmering in fall. I’ve stood in front of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, John Singer Sargent…and cried. They were so beautiful. I’ve held Kerri’s hand, walking on a trail, and wanted the moment to never end. Simple.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOW

Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Last night we watched a documentary on the launch of the James Webb telescope, The Hunt for Planet B. One of the scientists said (I scrambled for a pencil but didn’t get the direct quote), “There’s something deeply human that needs to connect.” True. So true. So, we launch a miraculous telescope into space, far beyond the moon, and aim it at planets that might, just might have life forms capable of looking back at us. Not science fiction. Science. To connect.

There’s a prerequisite to connecting: an intentional step into the unknown. It is as true when shooting telescopes into space as it is when trying to grasp “Who am I?” “Lao Tzu wrote, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

Our ancestors painted the walls of caves, not for decoration, but for connection to “something greater”. It is the same reason folks fill up synagogues and mosques and churches and temples. To connect.

Art, science, and religion all serve the same deeply human impulse. To connect. To reach across time, to reach across space, to plumb the depths of inner and outer space, in order to connect. Legacy and imagination. Identity, tradition, progress toward…connection to something bigger, something better. We reach to grasp and breathe life into our best ideas, both future and past.

The first step of the entrepreneur, the artist, the scientist, the explorer, the dreamer…the human, is a step into the unknown, to question the limits of the known. What else? Leeches were once believed to be good medicine until some bright inquiring mind observed and asked, ‘I wonder it that is really true?”

Einstein dreamed a dream and, so, he reached through the math to connect to the inconceivable: light is the only constant. Time and space are malleable. Picasso, initially, hid his first cubist painting, not yet ready risk ridicule. And then, needing to connect to “what might be”, he turned it around, stepped into new unknown territory, and invited the world to see.

read Kerri’s blog post on the UNKNOWN

Remember The Single Story [on KS Friday]

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

When Kerri took this photograph I thought Van Gogh would have loved to paint it. I read that most of his 860 paintings date from the last two years of his life. The romantic in me wants to believe that he knew his time was short and he let all of that imperative spill out onto canvas. He died never knowing success or imagining that his work would in any way impact the world. I doubt he cared. His frenzy was not driven by success or status. He painted because he had to.

Waning time brings retirement to some. To others it brings fire and fuel. The need to bring what is inside to the outside. To compose, to write, to dance, to paint, to build, to design. Michelangelo was driven by his waning time. Some of his final sculpture was 500 years ahead of its time. At the end of his life, his work would have shown well with Picasso.

There simply isn’t enough time to say it all, explore it all. Last night, sitting in a circle with my family, multiple conversations resonating throughout the activity hall, my conversation pod began talking about regrets. When we were younger, we made vows to live lives without regret and now, at this end of the road, we see how foolish was our vow. Life is a series of choices and choices always leave unexplored paths. We laughed at our folly and relished the beauty of a life full of regrets. Paths not taken seed gratitude for the paths we ultimately chose. There is intense beauty in regret.

The morning dawned cold. Autumn has arrived in Colorado. The energy abandons the leaves and goes to the root. Columbus’ passing has brought energy to the root. He would be pleased. There are members of my family that I have not seen for years. In gathering, we bring together our separate stories and for a few days remember that we are also a single story.

A single story. The beauty of regret. The gift in loss. The waning of one season affirms the promise of the new.

All of Kerr’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about WANING SEASONS

part of the wind/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Refresh [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s been true since we met. People stop us in airports and on the street, they give us thumbs up or take a faux paparazzi-photograph. They tell us that we are cute or “lookin’ good!” Once, a shopkeeper came out of his store to tell us that we made him smile. When we walk the neighborhood, we are often met with people who tell us that we make their day. It always takes us by surprise and it always makes us smile.

What are people seeing? We are older and link arms when we walk. We hold hands. Our clothes are unintentionally the same. Black on blue jeans. We walk slowly. We talk to each other. We stroll; a walk without a destination. We don’t know what inspires the comments but always appreciate them.

Kerri always coos when she sees a horse. In our imaginary life, she has horses, a donkey, and an old truck. We were walking on the trail in our flip flops (that always gets a raised eyebrow or two) when the cowboy came around the bend. “A horse!” Kerri whispered, and squeezed my arm. The cowboy sat up in his saddle, nodded as he rode passed, then said, “You look like you like each other.”

“We do.” I replied.

Perhaps it is that simple. We like each other.

We’re fortunate. Our work allows us to be together all day. Every day. That would, I’m sure, be the end of most relationships. We like it. When I need feedback on a painting, she is my best wise-eyes. “What do you see?” I ask. We read our posts to each other before we publish. We edit together. We cook together. We create together. Our list of joint projects is growing. Lately, our once-weekly-cartoon about…well…us, Smack-dab., is giving us tremendous energy. It is fun. We poke fun at ourselves. We capture the ridiculous and the poignant. We pay attention to the marvels of simple relationship.

Picasso said that, “Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” He also said that, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Those thoughts, placed side-by-side, I believe, holds the reason a cowboy sat up in his saddle and a shopkeeper ran into the street. We are refreshed. We practice the elimination of the unnecessary – on canvas, at the piano, and in life.

We didn’t try to make 24/7 togetherness. There was no rule or expectation. It’s what we wanted. It’s what we want.

I am on jury duty this week and was at the courthouse most of the day. When she came to fetch me I got in the car and we said at the same time, “That was weird!”

“Tell me everything!” she said.

“No. You first! What did you and Dogga do?” Our conversation took us deep into the night. There’s so much life and so little time. Perhaps that’s it. We know this day is precious and fleeting and act accordingly. It must show.

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU MUST LIKE EACH OTHER

Ask The Simple Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Simplicities are enormously complex. Consider the sentence “I love you”.” ~Richard O. Moore, Writing The Silences

I’ve been told again and again that, at the heart of every complexity, there is a simplicity. And, of course, at the heart of every simplicity, there is a complexity. So, either way you go, there you are.

I find that I am yearning for greater and greater simplicity. I appreciate quiet. I avoid crowds, not “like the plague” but because of it. I’d rather be in my studio or on a trail than almost anywhere else. I wish I could go sit in a museum all by myself, in the quiet for an hour or two, with a Chagall or Picasso. Intentional beauty. I feel like the world is so full of extraneous noise and dedicated bloviating that I’m having trouble hearing the simple essentials.

And, perhaps because my desire is for simplicity, I find that I am, like Frankie, projecting simple solutions on to everything. Yes, 9 million dollars in my bank account would solve everything!

Almost.

Do you remember Rodney King? I was in Los Angeles when he was beaten, when the city was aflame after the acquittal of the officers who beat him. Do you remember what he asked? It was the ultimate simplicity: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

I think it would take something more than 9 million dollars to solve the complexity to which Rodney King spoke. There probably isn’t enough money in the world. But, here in my dedicated simplicity, I think the opposite should be true. Rather than cost anything, getting along would probably save all of us a lot of money, and time, and heart ache. Getting along would profit all of us.

It costs nothing to open a door for someone. Put a price on gratitude. I can’t. How much does it cost to tell the truth? What about making sure everyone is safe and well fed, that everyone can walk safely down the street, that people are paid fairly, that the rules apply equally to all, that, if you’re injured or become sick, you will be treated and not lose your house in the process?

It doesn’t seem like that should be so far out of reach.

There I go again. At the heart of every simplicity…

read Kerri’s blog post about 9 MILLION DOLLARS

Get To Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On page one of the despot’s handbook is this instruction: silence the artists. Mute the intellectuals. Authoritarians have power only when people become sheep. Silence in the face of abuse is tacit agreement. Permission to bully.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve stood before a school board and explained that art is supposed to be powerful, that it plays a very important role in a healthy society, I’d have a lot of nickels. I was generally called to speak when a play or a painting upset the apple cart, when the art made the community confront a truth or look at a reality. Brecht’s Epic Theatre or the plays of Artaud were/are meant to shake the irrational in people, force them into discussion and revelation.

Art can be beautiful, poetry can soothe, but that is only one side of the coin. It can also shine a light and expose an ugly truth. It can give voice to what is not-being-spoken. It can work out problems on the stage instead of sending the violence into the streets. It can ask us to take a hard look at ourselves and our motives. Picasso’s large painting, Guernica, a response to horror wrought by fascists on the people of a town in Spain, is a powerful art-mirror.

The conscience of a community, like the conscience of every individual that comprises the community, lives beyond the superficial, it bubbles in the place beyond words. An artist’s job is to reach into that place, pull the veil for a moment, root or re-root the community in its values.

A despot’s job is to secure a unanimous vote, no questions asked. Sheep.

Art is not superficial. It is not the image or the words on the page. It is what the image, the words, the dance, the music, touch. Hearts. Souls. Conscience.

Without it, what remains is propaganda. Propaganda is never news, it is the opposite of art. It snuffs the question, it prevents the quest for meaning and deep-felt-truth. Without it, communities flatten, lose their center, wither, and fall apart. Silence, eyes downcast or sideways glancing. Permission to bully. Sheep.

It’s time for the artists to get to work.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTISTS

Touch The Invisible [on DR Thursday]

KDOT sketch copy

a close up of One Chord Ahead (a work in progress)

I started my artist life by drawing people. I was never really interested in landscapes or still life drawing. I was interested in the eyes. As a boy I copied photographs from National Geographic magazine and repeatedly sketched The Colonel from the side of the bucket of chicken.

I understood early on that the surface image was not what I was after, I was on the hunt for what was “beneath.” My dedication to the invisible made me a not-very-good portrait painter though I managed to do more than my share. They were technical exercises and for a while served a purpose.

It’s been over a century since the development of the photograph relieved artists from the necessity of capturing the visible. Optics to Impressionism to Expressionism to all the Neo-phases to pulling it into Cubes and Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism to just plain abstraction and conceptual-what-the-heck-does-it-mean-ism?

It’s an odd admission for a visual artist to declare a dedication to the invisible. Ellsworth Kelly caught the invisible in his Austin. John Singer Sargent captured it in his Lady Agnew. You know when an artist reaches the invisible when the painting/architecture stops you in your tracks. They make you catch your breath. More than once in my life I’ve stood in front of paintings and cried. The artist reached through the veil and touched the “beneath.” Picasso regularly kills me. I’ve spent hours staring at Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series.

At this late date I know that I will not shake the halls of history with my paintings, I am innovating nothing and now working for no other reason than I have to. I need to. There is no other reason. There is no better reason.

A few weeks ago Kerri was leading a rehearsal through Zoom. I caught my breath watching her and thought it might be time to attempt another portrait. Fun. Nothing formal.

Sometimes the circle comes around to shake a complacency or reconnect to the root. I feel as if I’m waking up some long-still muscle memory. I had to do a few drafts to remember how not-to-control. I’m learning in this latest iteration of One Chord Ahead that I’m more and more interested in reducing all things to a simplicity, to use the fewest lines to say the most. It’s the imperative of the pursuit of what’s beneath. A lesson, I recognize, that I learn again and again and again…

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ONE CHORD AHEAD

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their palettes website box copy

 

columbus

columbus (my dad), circa 1995 or 1996

www.davidrobinsoncreative.com

one chord ahead (work in progress) ©️ 2020 david robinson

Imagine It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

we deserve better copy

This is a tale of two schools, both in the same school district. It is the story of the very day when the younger version of me grasped with both hands the absolute importance of the arts, when I understood to my bones that art was not a luxury but a necessity in a healthy world.

As the manager of the theatre conservatory, I sometimes went to observe the actor outreach programs in the schools. On this particular day, two schools were on the schedule. At the first school, I followed a team that went into the younger classrooms, 1st graders. They played imagination games with the students. I saw princesses and dragons and superheroes reach into wild possibilities.

We left the first school and literally drove across the tracks to the poorer side of town. I decided to follow the same team. They played the same imagination games with the same age group but, at the this school, the children played “Where will the rent come from?” This time, instead of flying into possibilities, these children hit an imagination glass ceiling. The hard realities of life already had a strangle-hold on their creative minds. The actors had to work hard to break through the glass ceiling. I realized that, for these children, it was not safe to entertain possibilities.

Picasso once said that, “He can who thinks he can, and can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” We dream ourselves into being. That is the point and the power of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. That is the purpose of art, to open our imagination so we might create  a better, more expansive version of ourselves. To intend and give shape to what we imagine.

This inexorable, indisputable law applies to nations and communities as well as to individuals.

We have always been a nation divided. There have always been tracks to cross. Our history is of a two party system tug-of-war. We’ve espoused equality while practicing slavery; even our rhetoric is at odds with itself. The new wave of immigrants have been subjected to unspeakable cruelty from the previous generation of immigrants. There has always been “haves” and “have-nots.” The question of whether of not we can unite in the face of diversity is at the epicenter of the American experiment. Can we imagine ourselves whole? Can we create opportunity for all? It is a question with no definitive answer because it requires us to engage with it again and again and again. We must imagine ourselves anew each and every day.

We unite when we are at our shining best. We pride ourselves on the dream of creating a new world where all people experience the freedom to create what they can imagine. Creative tension, competition on a level playing field, invites innovation and invitation. We can.

We divide when our imagination fails us. Fear always fills the void left by vapid imaginations. We are – like people of all nations in all times – easily manipulated when we lapse into fear and turn our angst on each other. It is, after all, a strategy. Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book used by dictators and emperors to fracture an otherwise powerful populace.  It will play out as it always has and always will – a weakened nation. A collapse. People who turn in and cannibalize each other.

We-the-people are telling ourselves a miserable story. The pandemic is merely exacerbating our real dilemma. Divide and rule is filling the void, installing hard glass between us and our best imaginings. We are eating each other alive.

We are better than this. We deserve better.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WE DESERVE BETTER

 

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InstrumentofPeace copy 2

an instrument of peace

Do Like Duchamp [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Roger used to say that Picasso’s paintings determine the shape of our cars. He meant that “seeing” is not passive. Just as audiences in a play wiggle in their seats at seven minutes into the play, the usual time for a commercial break on television, our visual sensibility is also patterned and mostly culturally uniform. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that eye has been conditioned.

One of the great moments of visual conditioning came in 1917 when Marcel Duchamp entered his “readymade” sculpture, FOUNTAIN, in an art exhibit. FOUNTAIN is a urinal. He signed his readymade scultpture R. Mutt. It is possible to spend many days of your life reading about FOUNTAIN, the symbolic meaning of a toilet, the then-new art term “readymade” and the challenges readymade-as-art posed to the art world, how Duchamp came to enter a urinal in an art exhibit. In that moment of time, a whole new genre was born: conceptual art. The idea behind the work is more important than the finished piece.

You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s toilet to the recent banana duct taped to the wall by Maurizzio Cattelan. And, you might ask, just what was the idea behind the banana?

You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s FOUNTAIN to Kerri’s out-door-voice-exclamations in a gallery, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” The idea behind the conceptual work generally needs a curator’s explanation. “I WANT TO EXPERIENCE IT, NOT HAVE IT EXPLAINED!” she gestures wildly, sending other patrons fleeing. In that moment, my wife becomes exquisite performance art.

You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s urinal to my inability to walk through an antique store and not see elegant design worthy of Louise Nevelson. Racks of door knobs. Stacks of suitcases. A wall of bric-a-brac, the wall composition more meaningful and beautiful than any of the individual pieces displayed.

A statement from Captain Obvious: artists live in a time and the art they produce is an expression of that time. Duchamp put his toilet on a pedestal in 1917, the year the world was nearing the end of the first war to end all wars. It was a horror story. The manufacture of stuff was hitting its stride.  The Royal Academy had a lock on determining what was considered art and what was not. The rules of polite society felt dangerous and suppressive. Duchamp, like all change agents, pushed against the norm.

There is composition and design in the everyday. There is human-created beauty all around us. We learn in school that form follows function and form is design. We learn in school that one of the purposes of art is to create beauty. Another purpose is to shock people out of complacency, to see what is in front of them and not what they think is there. Beauty usually lives beyond what we think.

We live in very confusing times. We are asking fundamental questions about truth, about social norms and what is acceptable. We are asking questions about who we are and what we believe. You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s FOUNTAIN to our current confusion. Is it art? Is it not? If the idea is more important than the final expression then what happens when all that is left to see and touch is absent of the idea? What happens when the curator is gone and only the urinal remains? Sense breaks down.

What happens to  the eye and ear that is shocked open but refuses to see what is right in front of them and, instead, retreat behind the fortress of what they think?  What happens when form no longer follows function but things flip the other way around? What happens when form IS function? Propaganda, mostly. A naked emperor and plenty of people passionately swearing that they see clothes. Readymade thought.

We live in those times. Sense breaks down. We tape bananas to walls and issue a certificate of authenticity.

 

read Kerri’s much-less random blog post about DOOR KNOBS

 

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