See The Series [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The closing moment of the film Love Actually is a wonderful montage of greetings at the arrival gate at Heathrow airport. The Beach Boys sing God Only Knows to images of children greeting grandparents, husbands rushing to their wives, friends opening their arms to friends. Hugh Grant’s voice over: “Love actually is, all around us.”

For reasons I’ve never quite understood, we human beings have an uncanny ability to focus on the negative stuff while completely missing the love all around us. We famously study ourselves and the data is overwhelming: we yammer on and on to all who will listen about the “bad” thing that happened in our day. We share the “good” stuff less and with far fewer listeners. There’s something about a fight that draws our eyes while a kiss will make us look away.

Stand on any street corner and  watch the world go by and one thing becomes immediately clear. There are far more acts of generosity than there are acts of violence. The kind hearts outstrip the mean spirits by far so why do believe the opposite?

Krishnamurti famously said that “Life is a relationship. Living is a relationship. We cannot live if you and I have built a wall around ourselves and just peep over that wall occasionally.”

Violence and division make for better ratings because it’s profitable [and easy] to focus the feed on all things negative. Low hanging fruit. It’s profitable to keep the eye off the thousand tiny miracles. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening all around us, every minute of every day.

What might it take to pull down the wall so we might more than periodically peep over it? So that we might see that love actually is all around us? To borrow a phrase from The Beach Boys, “god only knows.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A THOUSAND TINY MIRACLES

 

 

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Tickle Open The Closed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It used to be one of my favorite exercises to facilitate. Ask one person in a small group to tell a story of blame. Ask the rest of the group to invest in the story. In no time the small groups would be indignant, talking over each other in disgruntlement. A klatch of agitated victims, howling.  They’d laugh in their aggravated frenzy. They’d devise clever revenge or ways to torment the object of their blame story. They’d grow a monster.

Blame stories are like sugar. They are easy to eat and highly addictive. There’s rarely any real substance, so much gossip-cotton-candy, but there is an odd pleasure in playing the role of  “the injured party.” The groups would always reflect that the exercise was fun. So much so that they’d often forget it was an exercise. Commiseration and validation, after all, are the point of a blame story. That, and making someone else responsible for how we feel.

Ask the same groups to tell a story of choice or opportunity and most times, after only a minute or two, they’d sit in silence. Their, “Great. That’s really great,” support would dwindle. Feeding an idea is not nearly as easy as feeding a story of blame.

Quinn used to tell me that creativity is not for the faint of heart.

The groups were always shocked to discover how much of their lives were spent chewing the gristle of discontent, of feeding the notion that someone else was to blame for their choices or their circumstance. They’d generally comment on how easy it was to commiserate and how difficult it is to question, challenge or stop the blame-game. Mostly, they were shocked to discover how little of their time they dedicated to feeding ideas, theirs or another persons.

Blame stories are easy because they are reductive. They engender tight little balls of closed minds and closed circles. They close hearts. They take almost no energy at all to spark but, once burning, like a wildfire, they are capable of consuming entire forests.

Idea exploration is expansive. Seeing possibilities requires eyes that look up and out.  It takes much more energy to imagine, to question, to ponder. To try. To experiment. To ask. To challenge what you think you know. Opening minds, opening circles and hearts requires a deep sense of self-responsibility. It requires an even deeper sense of responsibility to others.

One of the purposes of the artist is to open closed circles, to tickle open closed minds. To help their community see anew and entertain never-before-imagined possibilities.

It takes more effort and courage to sail to the edges of the known world than it does to hang out around the water cooler and complain about others. Great minds do not have more capacity than any other mind, but they do require a very different focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GREAT MINDS & IDEAS

 

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FaceTheRain

feel the rain, mixed media, 2019

Snap Your Fingers [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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When I was roaming the world working with corporate types, tilting at windmills, I would tell my be-suited crowd that words matter. I’d relay a story I heard from Don Miguel Ruiz. He told his audience that people in the United States completely misunderstood the word, “spell.” He said, “You think to put a spell on someone is magic, like hocus-pocus. But, that is not it at all. Tell a little girl that she is fat and you will have spelled her forever.”

She will hate her body. That is a powerful spell.

Words matter. Tell the nation that the “Democrats are vicious” or that the news is “the enemy of the people” and the enchantment is undeniable, angry.  Push the spell through a propaganda machine and it magnifies in intensity. Like a ritual drum, the thump-thump whips the glassy eyed adherents into a red frenzy. Insist that long debunked conspiracies are real or that the deep state is out to get us all and the spellbound will see demons threatening everywhere.

The nation body splits and just like the little girl looks with hatred at the other part of itself. A powerful spell.

‘Hoax’ thump-thumped in the face of undeniable fact and the mesmerized fall into line, repeating what they are told to repeat. “Cluck like a chicken!” the hypnotist suggests and the sleepers dutifully cluck. Common sense surrenders to the spell.

Teachers of consciousness use different techniques but are in general agreement about how to awake from a nasty spell. Step back. Doubt what you think. See what is there and not what you think is there. Detach from your attachment to what you want to believe, to what you are being told. The salesman always wants you to buy the car. He is not your friend. He does not have your best interest in mind. He will use his words tell you anything. Despite what you are told, this car will not make you happy, it will not solve all of your problems. It will not make you sexy or powerful or complete. Uncouple from the words, the spell being woven, and see.

If she is lucky, the little girl one day wakes up and realizes that the hatred she experiences is not her own; it was planted in her with a word. The hatred she wields against herself and turns on to others is not of her creation. She learns that she must snap her own fingers and call herself awake. The hypnotist, she understands, only has authority if she continues to cluck and sleep.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WAKING UP

 

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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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Decide To See [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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When you come to our house, pay attention to the small things. You will find many, many, many hearts. Heart shaped rocks, heart shaped leaves, shells that are the shape of a heart. This is not an accident. It’s also not a collection of “things” – like a collection of shot glasses or figurines. No, it is altogether different.

Kerri looks for hearts. Often on our walks she will gasp, pull out her camera and take a picture. I know that she has seen another heart. Usually, she engages with it and walks on. Sometimes she picks up the heart and it comes home with us.

To be clear: she doesn’t buy hearts from the store. She is not a collector of heart shapes. Kerri looks for hearts. When we are out in public she will gasp and move toward someone, striking up a conversation. Soon there is laughter; always there is a story. Usually, she engages with the heart and walks on. Sometimes she picks up the heart and  it is in our life forever.

Since seeing the recent Mr. Rogers movie, we’ve been talking a lot about intentional thinking, about focus placement. We’ve been talking about what we look for when we go out into the world – what we decide to see. Everyone decides what they see but very few people know that they have that decision. Everyone decides what they think but very few people know that they have that decision. It’s what made Mr. Rogers so special. He knew he  had decisions and he talked about it with children. Children are capable of listening.

It’s very easy to see the gunk. The dark is an easy choice; fear makes it so. It takes some intention to see the light.  Hearts are always present but they require some attention and resolve to see. They ask that we look beyond the superficial gunk to see the heart-substance. That’s why Kerri picks them up and plants them around our home. It’s a practice. She’s built a practice of seeing the hearts. She goes into each day looking for the hearts.

It turns out that hearts are everywhere. You can see them, too, if you decide to see them.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HEARTS

 

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Help Yourself See [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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In a particularly dismal period of time in my Seattle years, I decided I needed to focus on the good stuff. I made a game of writing on small bits of paper things in my life for which  I was grateful. And then I left my small gratitude notes around the city as I moved about my day. I left them at bus stops. I rolled some and tucked them in crosswalk signs. A few were tucked into menus or left on coffeehouse tables.

My gratitude notes had an interesting blow-back. They inspired me to seek things that I was grateful for so I might write a note about it. Not only that, but they made me pay attention to the infinite acts of kindness that I saw everyday. People were helping people everywhere! I was blind to it until I started paying attention; until I got out of my misery-head and opened my eyes.

I was struck by the vast difference between the story I was being told about humanity and the story I was witnessing on my daily walks across the city. I could count the acts of aggression. I lost track of the acts of kindness and generosity because there were too many to capture.

When you stop and think about it, isn’t it always the case that the the good stuff, the potential-pool-of-gratitude-possibilities is vast yet the gunk gets all the focus. What is it in us that hyper-focuses on the flaw, sorts to the wound, while the river of beauty roars by unnoticed?

Kerri designed these cards for another project and they made me remember my notes. Encouragement of gratitude. Give it a try. Download the blanks. Scribble a note or two of thanks-giving and leave them behind somewhere. Be prepared for some eye opening blow-back.

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about GRATITUDE

 

 

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Hear What You Say [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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A deep dark secret: we write the melange for ourselves. It makes us pay attention. For instance, Two Artists Tuesday is always an image, a photograph of something striking or beautiful that we’ve seen. The necessity of having an image each week to write about makes us practice seeing. We are always on the lookout for the simple beauty that surrounds us. And, each week (this will not shock you), we find too much of it. There is so much beauty available if you make yourself available to seeing the beauty.

In addition to images, we’ve given ourselves the necessity of listening to language, hearing the odd phrase, the ridiculous statements we make or that spill out of the mouths of others. And, like the images, there are always too many of them. We never know where they will come from. We are constantly scrambling for a pen or speaking to Siri so we won’t loose a phrase. Choosing the material for the melange is generally an act of sifting through an embarrassment of silly riches.

We had a 24 hour turn around trip to Kansas City. On the way back, too tired to drive another mile, we stopped in a rest area somewhere in Iowa to catch a nap. In my imagination there are travelers all across this nation with photographs of our sleeping faces smashed against the window of our car. Swimming out of our most recent roadside snooze, Kerri said, “That was a good nap! I was dreaming and everything.”(note: I’m not sure what “everything” refers to but that is definitely a post for another day.) I remarked that, if you can dream at the rest area, you were supposed to be there. Kerri jumped for the phone, “Hey, Siri…”

Siri, ever the grammatical maven, had a few suggestions. Think about it: a silly phrase inspired silly-phrase-correction-recommendations from a mechanical device (with a name) that is capable of speaking back-at-us (in “her” preprogrammed schoolmarmish voice). It’s a wonderful, confusing world. Unhinged. An embarrassment of riches.

[my personal favorite and almost the winner of this week’s melange: if you can dream OF the rest area you’re supposed to be there. The implications of this Siri-suggestion are ominous!]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DREAMING AT THE REST AREA

 

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