Don’t Blame Me, My Teacher Did It

photoThe drawing professor responsible for mentoring me in my undergraduate specialization in drawing and printmaking had no idea he was creating a monster. Safe to say there was nothing especially distinguished about either my skills or my scholarship in those days; he may be forgiven if he thought there was little hope of my passing his classes, let alone succeeding in being an actual artist at any point in the future. But for whatever reasons of commitment and kindness and selfless dedication to his pedagogical efforts, he took it upon himself to tutor and nurture me in my studies besides working wonderfully hard in the general studio sessions he taught.

Like any teacher, he had his characteristic methods and terminology, to the degree that any of us who took more than one semester of classes from him had our own favorite little catch-phrases and loving parodies of his work. One of the most frequent phrases (so we thought then, at least) to leave his lips was ‘texturally rich’—and you can bet your sweet pencil sharpener that any of us giving any imitation of him was bound to quote that one.photo

No surprise at all, then, that as soon as I started teaching, which thanks to his intervention and my subsequent hiring I did for the first time out of grad school in the very classroom where he’d taught me, it was as though I was instantly possessed by his spirit. I think I may have visibly started when I heard myself say that mystical phrase, standing there in the very spot where he’d once stood and repeated it to my classmates and me, never having remotely suspected that I would ever quite understand the term let alone use it so glibly and with such conviction a mere few years later. In my turn, I found it became a true favorite topic of study and tool for art-making and there were undoubtedly students of mine who thought it a funny catchphrase of mine and parodied my use of it.

That’s the way this stuff works, isn’t it. We become our teachers. First we find ourselves imitating our parents and siblings and playmates, learning from them both the persistent bad habits and, if we’re lucky and perhaps not too dumb, the worthy and useful skills and knowledge that will stay with us as we grow. Then we turn to teachers outside of the walls of home and neighborhood, as we get to school and move forward, and learn to imitate them too. This, not to put too fine a point upon it, is what helps us create for ourselves our texturally rich lives.photo

In art, it is the visual or tactile form of texture that I most often seek, finding in the wide variety of possible touchable or perceptible patterns and surfaces worlds of ways that I can shape and delineate and describe whatever subject I choose. As I work to make the art deeper and more complex, the textures I seek include less concrete, more metaphorical and philosophical ones that lend further meaning and impact to it. And that is where it begins to intersect with the learning and growing processes of life in general. A life well lived will be inherently texturally rich. I had no idea of the magnitude and import of this when my professor was saying that simple little phrase. But I’m very glad he said it often enough that I did internalize it, ponder it, carry it with me, and eventually, find a wonderful and purposeful truth in it.

Perhaps even fine teachers like him can’t make me into what I never was, a great teacher myself, but there was clearly a place in my heart and mind that resonated to the phrase ‘texturally rich’ happily and hungrily enough for it to take root and teach me good and useful things long after the echo in the classroom had faded away.photo

Messengers

I admire real journalists and documentarians. Now, I do think that they are a very rare breed among news-people, the rest of whom are too driven by their corporate sponsors’ and their own biases by a long shot, no matter where on the spectrum of politics, religion, personal philosophy or other conviction they fall, but there are those honest characters who, if they do consistently let their beliefs steer their messages, at least recognize those prejudices and are quite open about them and still manage to give air time to opposing or differing points of view.

Still, the ones I really find compelling are a different sort of message bearers. They are harder to recognize, because they can be quite ordinary seeming mortals or wholly incorporeal, quotidian or fantastical, intentional or entirely, serendipitously accidental in their delivery of important news in our lives. Are they strangers we meet by happenstance and happy crossing of paths, like the townspeople in Germany who saw my older sister and me debarking a train after dark and looking around to orient ourselves? The kind couple approached us, told us that Celle (however lovely) was a very small town indeed and that there were few places for visitors to stop overnight but they’d help us find one, gave us directions and set us on the path to a very cozy little bed and breakfast before disappearing into the dark like a mist.

Are the messengers those outstanding teachers who have acted not only as educators in our lives but also as inspiration, as mentors, counselors, guides and friends? Mrs. Willis, Mr. Cunningham, Prof. Keyes: I salute you! Teachers have done as much to bring light to my life as to the dim corners of my mind over the years, and I am grateful for the news and stories and messages they bring. Are there other beings among us able to protect and direct us without our even being aware of it? Of course there are. Some of them are simply gracious fellow humans whose good deeds and kindness will never be seen or fully known and recognized in our lifetimes, either because we are too dim-witted and self-involved to notice as we should or because they merely do their mitzvahs without fanfare, without expecting or needing any recognition and recompense. These we should imitate and their message should be spread further by our going out in turn to do kindnesses for others and requiring no attention or glory.

And I think that–given how beautiful and rich life can be when we do pay attention–there must be others in our midst too; angels or aliens, I don’t much care what we name them, but there must be Love looking out for us to make even the tiniest good possible, let alone the many graces that fill our days if we only look. Their message, I suspect, is nothing more or less than that we are being well looked after, and our little lives recorded no matter how small they may seem to us.pen and ink

‘Social Activist Art’ is *New*, You Say???

drawingA recent New York Times article reminded me that, no matter how I might classify myself as anything but an activist, I have always been one, of a sort. It’s true that I’ve always assiduously avoided conversation, let alone physical action, tied to politics, religion, social policy and pretty much any ‘hot topic’ you can name unless I sensed I was in the safest possible environment to do so–generally, amid a comfy flock of like-minded partisans. The article is chronicling the US uprising of a relatively new breed of American artists and their support systems dedicated to, as the title bluntly states, social activism; the author gives appropriate reference, of course, to the practice being a long-standing one in other parts of the world, but shares the view that it’s still rather fresh and new here on American turf.

I’ll grant that the forms and formats may well have changed, and that there might be a larger collective sense among those who would embrace this title of being dedicated to the purpose more specifically than others, but I will step right out on my own tiny soapbox now and assert that, insofar as art is seen as a form of communication–and this might well include virtually all art except that created and performed in private and without any wish or expectation than anyone other than its maker will know it exists–it is inherently activist. The decision to create something I intend to be art and allow it to be known to others says a whole lot of things about me, the subject of my work, and my general worldview, and if I am allowing others to experience these in the art, assumes that they will respond through and with their own worldviews to it, effectively in a social interaction, whether we converse directly about it somehow or those who have interacted with my art turn around and respond to it in the continuation of their lives.

Who knew I was such a rabble-rouser? But truthfully, even by making those ‘meaningless’ little doodles that don’t turn into full-blown drawings or paintings, I am making something of a statement, am I not? I scribble, therefore I am. By doodling, I am not only using my energy to do that rather than anything else, I am also creating a portal through which my thoughts can emerge; if they turn, via this scrawling, into a concrete idea it may lead to the completion of an artwork expressing it more openly. This, in turn, suggests that I have a thing or two to say and I’m willing for others to hear it, see it, feel it–to interpret it and respond to it, even. I never think of myself as daring, but I think it’s fair to say that letting my inmost thoughts and imaginings be seen and analyzed by others through their own filters is at least a little brazen, if not occasionally foolhardy.

One of my late mentors, Lawry Gold, wrestled with the supposed divide between art and function, and he was anything but shy about being an outspoken activist, albeit a very kindhearted and generous one. He was a boldly countercultural person in a great many ways, and yet he seemed to me to reach the peak of his own overt rebelliousness when he began working on a body of art that was deliberately and unabashedly functional (beautifully art-covered, distinctively designed tables, lamps, clocks and the like) for sale through his gallery agents. This was something I know he enjoyed at least a little as cheery cheekiness to tweak artist snobs who were apparently so benighted they couldn’t accept the marriage of form and function thus, or so rich they could afford to sit around waiting for other equally rich people to buy their non-functional work, no matter what the state of the economy. Besides that these were among his most gorgeous and sophisticated works, to me they spoke of the recognition that art, besides taking so many different forms, speaks to us in many different ways, and that breadth and depth has great value.

At the same time, my friend never stopped making ‘non-functional’ art, because he of all people also had a tremendous desire to communicate, whether it was by visual storytelling in his often humorous, whimsically imaginative artworks or by making a more specific point with his illustrative and symbolic works. And he never hesitated to engage in the discourse that followed anyone’s viewing of his work. He and I had a joint exhibition of our artwork once, and as I was curating and installing the show I objected to one of his pieces that he wanted included, thinking it was not in keeping with all of the others we had selected, and he patiently steered me toward a clearer understanding that it was indeed very well suited; even though I never liked that piece as much as the others, I found that it carried an important part of the ‘conversation’ made up by the whole of the exhibition, and in fact that one interaction changed the way I curated many an exhibition of others’ work in the years that followed.

Ultimately, I see in the creation of art–of any form–an act that if it isn’t in open defiance of the social norms, allows or even invites the examination of and discourse on them. So even though much art is not made, like Lawry’s, to function in an obviously practical way, it all serves a purpose; ‘merely’ being beautiful or compelling may be purpose enough in adding layers of pleasure or relief or catharsis, but many works go far beyond that in opening new vistas to our contemplation, influencing our beliefs and even challenging us to change our behavior. All art is potentially advertisement or propaganda, for good or ill. And if that isn’t social activism, I think my encyclopedia needs some new illustrations.

digital illustration from drawings

Is all art crowd-sourced?

Curtseying & Polishing My Tiara Madly

digitally-painted photo

Now, there's really no need for you to go putting up any monuments in my honor or installing any statues of me . . .

photo

. . . and while I love a good concert and the after-parties are outstanding, it's not necessary to write compositions in my honor and get the marching band ready for a parade . . .

photo

. . . and while I do love a good monetary recognition, it's hard to explain any sums sizable enough to be really impressive when our fine friends from the Internal Revenue Service start paying attention to the numbers . . .

photo

. . . so I think I'll just say that my heart is warmed immensely by the kind light you've shone on me, and that in return I hope that I can be a little brighter and a little more generous with my light to the rest of you, and that you will all pass it along as well . . .

Once again I have been receiving kind and generous notices of recognition over the last few weeks from my gracious blogging friends, and I’m overdue to say appropriate thanks in response. So here I am at last, with another lovely gift-basket filled with Genuine Blogger, Versatile Blogger, Sunshine, and Kreativ Blogger Awards and feeling overwhelmed as always at the munificence of the online community. These latest are conferred upon me, regardless of my deserts, by my fellow poets, artists, foodies, gardeners, essayists, music lovers, travelers and others with whom I’ve so fortuitously crossed paths out here in the ether and am enjoying the marvels of mutual entertainment and discovery.

It is with a humble and happy heart that I thank Meg, Susie, Mark, Mars, Kofegeek and Tamara. Some of these have been friendly correspondents of mine for a lovely while now, and others are quite new to me, and I highly recommend that you have a look at all of their blogs! Meg is a veteran traveler for her relatively few years’ opportunity, and always posts marvelous pictures and original thoughts and ideas about places visited and things done there. Susie writes with great good taste, artful illustration and photography, and shares stories and samples of fabulous food and outside-of-kitchen adventures, too. Mark, an outstanding graphic designer in the UK, sometime DJ and constant educated music listener, gardener and traveler, always has a wise and witty twist to his posts. Mars has lived a rather cosmopolitan life but keeps a grounded and sensitive point of view, traveling, writing moving and insightful observations about life’s vicissitudes, and seeking beauty and light in the world. Kofegeek brings ingenious humor and insightful discourse to matters of science and math, cats and coffee, and much more. Tamara is a marvelous gardener from Ljubljana who is working to create intergenerational conversation about that earthy art.

Meanwhile, I am required by the rubrics of these awards to do a little personal sharing with you, my readers, and to introduce to you other worthy bloggers, and so I am going to combine my efforts and ask that you have a good visit to some truly worthy sites elsewhere as well. Share the love!

First, 10 blogs and bloggers worthy of your attention:

Cynthia @ http://lesplaisirssimplesdelavie.wordpress.com/ (photos, thoughtfully captioned with brief yet expansive and often lyrical text)

Natasha @ http://comeduemaiali.wordpress.com/ (seriously, how can you not enjoy eating ‘like two pigs’? I know I do, oink oink) Important update announcement: I am clearly not as smart as even one little piggy, because I completely missed that Natasha had been one of my award benefactors in the first place. But I’ll pretend I Meant to Do That just so that I could pass on the other awards back in her direction! Because, and I am not making this up, she really deserves them anyway!

Becky @ http://beckyfrehse.wordpress.com/ (a longtime friend, Becky is a tremendously versatile mixed media expert, visual artist, collaborator, teacher and all-around cool person)

Lorelei @ http://incidentallearner.wordpress.com/ (rediscovering her incredible painting gifts, she’s a watercolorist and storyteller extraordinaire)

Bente @ http://bentehaarstad.wordpress.com/ (no, I’m not prejudiced just because she’s from my ancestors’ homeland, Norway–she’s a really fine photographer!)

Sue @ http://suellewellyn2011.wordpress.com/ (another distinctive and fine photographer, capturing other parts of the world, caught my eye)

Pat @ http://rantingchef.com/ (making all sorts of stellar and luscious foods sound and look fairly simple to make, and worth the effort even if not so easy)

Maggie @ http://thelittledesignstall.wordpress.com/ (a Pinterest-style blog full of gleefully over-the-top and often spectacularly inventive and gorgeous design images from all over)

Maenamor @ http://antiquityandadventures.wordpress.com/ (guiding us around scenic bits of England and Wales and sharing special local events with their fascinating stories)

Robi @ http://kabyahe.wordpress.com/author/robijiz/ (introducing cultural and natural beauties of the Philippines in outstanding journalistic and artistic photography)

Meanwhile, back to talking about myself, because I’m so incredibly exciting!

I think almost anything could be improved by the addition of browned butter (beurre noisette), possibly including a plain spoon about to be stuck in my mouth;

&   I have rather excellent printing (lettering) skills because my cursive handwriting, though perhaps interesting to look at, is almost indecipherable even to me;

&   If I don’t sleep at least nine hours a night I am not very likeable company;

&   Classical music is often my go-to choice, but there are others that have particular allure for me at different times or under varying circumstances, i.e., Blues music during physical labor, vintage ZZ Top, Oingo Boingo and Van Halen on road trips, reggae on a beachy sunny day, jazz and swing for hanging around people-watching in a cafe, and so forth;

&   The smell of coffee is heavenly to me, but I don’t drink it often and then only as flavoring for lots of cream and sugar;

&   Perhaps because of my temperate Northwest upbringing, I think of green as a perfect neutral color, just as much as the traditional black-white-grey-brown palette;

&   I’m not particularly girly (in the ruffles and bling and pink sort of pop-culture way) but I am fond of being female and even sometimes live up to sex stereotypes, if accidentally;

&   Not much of a crier (maybe I tend to try to be stoic when genuinely sad), except at the most silly sappy stuff, but I am an inveterate hugger and hand-holder;

&   I’m so old that I went to a school where there were no lockers, only a cloakroom; that the houses and cars in the neighborhood were all generally left unlocked; and that the older kids piled loosely in the backseat of the car while the baby sat in Mom’s lap up front;

&   I’m so young that I think Bucket Lists are for people thousands of years older than me because I have all the time in the world and naively believe that I will get around to anything that matters enough, eventually.

On that note, I really must finish this up for today and get it posted, because despite my limitless future I find that blogging is a time-consuming joy and can easily eclipse numerous other activities that may well turn out to be worth the doing if I don’t get too obsessed and distracted leaping around the meadows of the Internet in the grand company of my many admirable blogging playmates and mentors and companions.

“Thank You” is an Excellent Exit Line. Or Opener. Oh, Both, of Course!

So I shall begin with a resounding Thank You. To another three gracious and inspiring bloggers who have nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. Thank You, amazing Eve and marvelous ‘Nessa and sweet Peaches! Eve’s poetry and prose move me so deeply I sometimes think she reads my mind–but with better compositional and editing skills than I have. ‘Nessa inspires me with her old-soul attitudes and resilience in the face of committed creative work in such a public forum as a blog at what seems to this aging lady like a tender age indeed, putting out fine and fiery writing as well. Peach Farm Studio is a lovely land whose mistress creates fabulous letterpress art and, as inspiration and adjunct to that, plays with beautiful and wonderful text, music, imagery and any other ingredients that can be combined to make the Studio’s output a joy.VBAAnother heartfelt Thank You to the incredible Cecilia. She who presented me with my first VBA has now passed the Reader Appreciation Award my way as well. There is probably no irony at all in the fact that one of the rubrics for proper reception of this award is that one should pass it along to one’s own six most faithful commenting bloggers, but not to anyone who’s already received the award–and you guessed it, she’s been easily among the six most frequent and thoughtful and uplifting commenters here from Day One. One of my first frequent-flyers, period. And a constant source of gracious good-humored help and outsized compassion and good sense to push me ever upward and onward.Reader Appreciation AwardNow, in case I needed an extra boost, ‘Nessa popped back over to my place to tell me she’d also nominated me for the Kreativ Blogger Award, and that deserves yet another moment of humbling contemplation of my embarrassment of riches and the great aid lent me by all of you, to which I add Thank You again, no less joyfully and with equal amazement at my good fortune.Kreativ Blogger AwardAll of these are among my cloud of muses and angels, my support and drive and comfort in the form of family, friends, and teachers–all of whom are represented among you, my gracious and ever-encouraging, in the deepest sense of that word, readers. So I Thank You all particularly and sincerely for all of the strength, wisdom and joy you have shared with me since I began this blogging adventure. It seems far more than mere months ago that I began to meet you all–you have become so much a part of my world that I move through my days buoyed by the mere knowledge that you are ‘out there’ thinking up innumerable ways to brighten and improve my life, even when you don’t quite know it. That, you might well note, is what family and friends and mentors do, and oh, you do it very well indeed.

photo

Thank You for providing a Safe Harbor where I can be myself both at work and at play . . .

At the end of the year I can look back and be thankful for so many fine things, and one of them is clearly the great experience that my dive into the untested waters of the blogiverse has turned out to be. Thank you for making it not only painless but a great pleasure, a steeply upward learning curve, and generally smooth sailing to new and delightful places. I cannot begin to tell you how much I look forward to seeing those places with all of you.

For the moment, I shall wrap up here by recognizing those others who have so sustained me with their commentary. There’s the wonderful ChgoJohn, who also has already received this award himself because he’s always out offering wit and succor and freshly-sauced pasta to everybody around these parts; the sweet cfbookchick, so tender-hearted, poetic, quick with praise and generous with clever commentary as well as being a fellow ooh-sparkly-objects human magpie; the gentle, celestially-inclined Barb of Just a Smidgen, who consistently provides far more than a smidgen of encouragement and sunbeams and shared love of music hereabouts; the warm and open-handed Marie in her Little Corner of Rhode Island, who nurtures all while slyly tickling our ribs and funny-bones, stealthily adding bits of great practical advice all the while; and the self-effacing fairy godmother of Ireland, Our Lady of Just Add Attitude, who eschews awards (luckily for me this one officially doesn’t require her responding to it at all unless she so chooses) despite producing award-worthy posts of her travels and thoughtful ruminations on all sorts of good food and pretty things and then turns around complimenting everyone else as though she’s never heard of such talent. All of you, whether you know it or not, have been an amazing and unexpected joy in your sharing yourselves with me here.

It could but most certainly should not go without saying that these are all joined in my field of heroes by such fine characters as Ted and Nia, the two bardic Dennises, Raymund and Caroline, Desi and Lindy Lee, Anyes and Bella, Neil and Geni and oh so many other worthy and outstanding blogger colleagues and friends. And of course there is that particular fella who patiently shares me with my magical laptop kingdom and who works to keep the roof over our heads as well as still making me glad every time he spontaneously yells out “I LIKE YOU!” and gives me a big goofy wink.

Farewell, good 2011. Come on in, great and glorious 2012! And to all of you out there reading this, may you have a year full of peace, love, joy and ridiculously fun creative living.

digital collage

Thank You for helping me discover yet another Happy Place . . .

There is Not Enough Chocolate in the World

photo collage

This is the anniversary of one of the truly important days in world history. No, I’m not as confused as you think. (Not in that way, anyhow.) I’m not referring to Christmas and getting the date all wrong (nor Hanukkah or Ramadan or Eid or the Chinese New Year or Samhain and getting the date that much wrong-er). December the twenty-second is, in fact, the anniversary of the birth of my Number One Sister. And that is a very big deal.

Believe me when I tell you that there are not enough superlatives in the world to describe how fortunate I feel to have followed in her footsteps, even if I make up really cool sounding words for the occasion.

My big sister paved the way for me. She test-drove our parents through child-rearing for nearly a full two years before entrusting little me to their care–and hers. She trained them in the ways of infants and toddlers admirably, and continued to lead the way right through our developmental (emphasis on the last two syllables) years, both for the parental party and for her pesky little sister. Why, in fact, she didn’t “accidentally” lose me, sell me to a traveling circus or bump me off on certain occasions remains a complete mystery.

Instead, she was a great playmate and co-conspirator. She was both a good enough student to set up positive expectations of the family lineage when I followed her into her former teachers’ lairs and also enough of a strong-minded individualist that they dared not assume we should be compared–thank goodness, as not only were we always distinct in our personalities and tastes but she was easily a more natural scholar than I was and I’d have drowned in those expectations. And she was Firstborn enough to assert her right to test all boundaries and, occasionally, the parental patience, just enough to make my follow-up look that one necessary shade paler by comparison. That’s us in succinct terms, one might say: I’m pretty good at life’s tasks in general–learning, adventuring, inventing, enjoying–and she’s always a notch more substantively and colorfully so. The great thing from my perspective is that I never felt this as a shortcoming on my part but rather that I’ve lived in the presence of a fine example of levels to which I can aspire. I am working on it.

Meanwhile, back in the land of sisterhood, I have this amazing friend who was waiting for me the day I showed up for my first public appearance and has embraced, cajoled, guided, teased, taught, humored, chastised and entertained me ever since. The exemplar of Big-Sisterhood. One I can say anything to and ask anything of, and she still loves me. Even when I’ve been utterly unlikable (I know, it’s hard to believe I’ve ever been a stinker, isn’t it!), she’s stuck by my side. Or at least waited somewhere backstage to reclaim me when I finished my big scene.

Now, I won’t immerse you in treacly lies and say that I think anyone is perfect, not even my sisters, as fabulous as they all are, but I wouldn’t dream of changing a thing. When I showed up on the scene I was immediately gifted with a built-in mentor and companion, and that has never altered. So when I say Happy Birthday to my big sister, it’s always doubled by my sense of having received her as my own first birthday present too.

From that point forward, she has been coaching me in all of those skills and arts most meaningful in living a full life: curiosity, assertion of self, living by one’s convictions, passion for those people and things that matter, playfulness, generosity and a good appreciation of the ridiculous. She taught me, more than anybody else, how to laugh until my face aches and my lungs are bursting and tears are shooting out of my eyes as though I’d had a squirt-gun transplant. And she taught me the proper respectful adulation of all-things-chocolate.

How’s that for a long way of saying there aren’t enough words! But you know what I mean, especially if you have been lucky enough to have a sibling (let alone three) so worthy of hyperbolic paeans. Yes, I think it’s grand that all of those other marvelous and perhaps more widely recognized holidays and celebrations are right ahead, but I have every reason to celebrate this date with elation and a great deal of gratitude, so if you feel like raising a toast or hugging your sister or setting off some nice fireworks or sending my sister a chocolate cake (with chocolate filling and chocolate frosting and hot chocolate on the side) or anything, feel free to join right in and consider this a very worthy day for such things. Happy Twenty-second of December!digitally enhanced photo