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

Find Your Motley [on KS Friday]

“Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.” ~ Horace

There is a famous photo of a gathering of the world’s religious leaders. Readying for the photographer, poised with their serious, “I’m-a-religious-leader” faces, the Dalai Lama turned trickster, and the group burst into laughter. Instead of a wall of stony import, the photographer caught the humanity, the real people hiding behind the official masks. The silly revealed the real.

We are not well represented by our walls of respect, our certificates and degrees and resumes. The letters after our names are often layers of obfuscation.

Although I am not a religious person, I went to a Catholic college. Some of my fondest memories are the moments sitting on the barracks steps with Father Lauren talking about life and personal belief. I knew the road to a rowdy conversation was to bring up the topic of reincarnation. Father Lauren, a Franciscan, always took my bait. He could only maintain his official-priest-role for a few moments and then the real guy, the man full of laughter and curiosity, came out to play. Inevitably, we’d talk into the evening of choices and dreams and plans and roads-not-taken.

Sometimes I think of fall color as a jester’s motley. The world explodes into vivid fuchsia and gold set against the green. Nature’s play, a silly dance meant to make us gape and coo and laugh. I’ve read that the only person in the court that dared speak truth to the king was the court jester. Truth is available if it arrives in foolish clothes. Thus, Stephen Colbert.

Quinn was full to the brim with laughter. He was a master of tossing the silly into the serious so the truth might be heard. Skip initially hired me to draw cartoons. A serious product that speaks to a serious problem. It’s very possible that the only way it will be heard is though a silly message, a quirky stick poking the bear. The overriding lesson I am learning at this stage of my life is to not-take-it (I am “it”) so seriously. And, so, each week, I lob silly bombs into serious camps – my own camp and others.

I’ve taken special delight this fall. Kerri’s photographic eye is on high alert. We walk and every third step she says, “I’m sorry,” and stops to take a picture. I’ve stopped asking, “What are you apologizing for?” Now, I simply watch and wait for the moment she looks at the screen, scrutinizing what she’s just captured, turns to me with silly glee, saying, “Lookit!”

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

read Kerri’s blog post about FUCHSIA

every breath/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Know The Value [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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