Saturday, October 31, 2009

Suffering (haiku)

All encounters bear
Traces of sorrow, destined
To end in parting.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Medicine and Art

Print by Vesalius

For those of you lucky enough to be in Tokyo in December through March, visit the Mori Arts Center in Roppongi Hills. It is one of my favorite museums in the world. Back in 2005, I saw several wonderful exhibits including one with scale miniatures of several major cities including New York, Singapore, and Tokyo (at least a portion of it). Also, since the museum is perched at the top of the Roppongi Hills complex/high-rise, you can see miles and miles out over Tokyo. It was almost surreal to be looking at a miniature scale model in front of you (the model was so detailed that it even had the trees lining the avenue outside our apartment building) and then to look out the window and see the city itself as if in miniature. Their exhibitions are constantly changing and I wish I could be there for an upcoming exhibit on Medicine and Art. Looks really interesting... exploring the connection between our bodies, disease, and art. We owe credit to medicine and science for some of the most beautiful and intriguing works ever created. If you should go, just know I'm envious....take me with you!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Statue of A.E. Housman in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England

I've struggled with spirituality and religion for most of my life. My family practiced Buddhism/Taoism to the degree that most Chinese families do. We prayed to our gods, burned incense to our dead, performed rituals to ward off evil. And had I been born in another time or place, perhaps I would never have questioned my beliefs. I knew nothing of Judeo/Christian traditions until one day in school we were asked to analyze a poem. When I look at the poem now, I think how clear the imagery is, but back then I had absolutely no clue; thus I embarked on an endless quest. Learning about religions, beliefs, and spirituality has been a rocky road; at times I wonder if it is all a farce. Yet it cannot be. We have a spirit...that is why we anticipate death. That is why we create, in order to leave a part of ourselves behind, to say we do exist, though it might be a dream after all. Here is the poem by A.E. Housman:

'Here the hangman stops his cart:
Now the best of friends must part.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads and I will die.

'Oh, at home had I but stayed
'Prenticed to my father's trade,
Had I stuck to plane and adze,
I had not been lost, my lads.

'Then I might have built perhaps
Gallows-trees for other chaps,
Never dangled on my own,
Had I but left ill alone.

'Now, you see, they hang me high,
And the people passing by
Stop to shake their fists and curse;
So 'tis come from ill to worse.

'Here hang I and right and left
Two poor fellows hang for theft
All the same's luck we prove,
Though the midmost hangs for love.

'Comradeds all, that stand and gaze,
Walk henceforth in other ways;
See my neck and save your own:
Comrades all, leave all alone.

'Make someday a decent end,
Shrewder fellows than your friend.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.'

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dear Diary...

Writing has always been therapeutic for me. I'm not a writer. There are real writers out there who have a way with words, their writing is capable of transporting you to places unimagined, allowing you to experience life through their eyes. As for me, I keep journals. Off and on since I was 12... which was an awfully long time ago. I have volumes filled with teenage angst, betrayals, secrets, loves, dreams... and long periods of complete silence. I think putting disjointed thoughts onto paper forces me to follow a line of reasoning, to flesh out a problem... maybe to argue myself out of my insecurities. It has helped me to grow as a person... maybe in a way, writing has allowed me to stop turning over phantoms in my head so that I can just let go. My journal is my companion, my most trusted, listening friend with whom I can be totally and completely naked and never fear judgment or a harsh word. To my dearest diary, I thank you for my sanity.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Le Mouton

Untitled, Richard Watson

There are many artists out there who advertise themselves as "self-taught" or "outsiders." There are several implications here. First, that their work is unaffected by dogma and is therefore better because it is more emotionally "pure." Second, that their skills as artists are natural talents endowed by nature or god and not by schooling. And, third, that "schooled" artists are elitists. To the first and second argument, if one is to look at art from a historical perspective, art, as with all endeavors, can never exist without influence from the past... that is, art has a linear progression; one can trace the influence of art forms of one period to another. For instance, the invention (or maybe discovery would be more accurate) of linear perspective led artists to draw and paint realistically, imitating nature, giving us artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Or, conversely, artists may rebel against academic painting and seek movement and light... and we have the Impressionists. Or, emotion might suddenly be of primary importance and we have the Expressionists...The point is that nothing comes from nothing. To the third argument... that "schooled" artists are elitists... this goes to the modern American culture of anti-intellectualism. In fact, you could say that this entire self-taught, outsider phenomenon is a form of anti-intellectualism. It's sort of like saying, one is proud to be ignorant, proud to spew obscenities, proud to be uninformed, proud to be led... proud to be sheep... which ironically is antithetical to what it means to be an artist.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Time (Haiku)

Lend me your spirit.
Let us walk through gardens green
Heed not, seasons pass.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Playing god

K is my hero. He is a terrific artist and my mentor. I'd like to promote him here on my blog, but I kind of like him to remain anonymous. He does these wonderful night scenes, very Hopper-esque, yet uniquely his own. More than that, he is humble, insightful, and uncompromising when it comes to his art. A certain department store once asked him to produce a giclee of one of his paintings to sell at a silent auction for their grand opening. He politely refused and was a bit horrified that they could even suggest that... Once I asked K why he became an artist. He said he liked playing god.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chimps, Tools and Us

Cave Painting at Lascaux

I've been thinking of this for a long time, but have never put it to words. Why did people develop art in the first place? Why do we have a creative impulse? Initially, one would surmise that it is not a survival skill; the ability to draw something is not very useful during a hunt. But, what about the ability to create tools? Until recently, it was thought that people were the only beings that made tools (2007 Washington Post article, Chimps Seen Making Tools). The theory is that toolmaking was the primary skill that propelled the human species to "leap forward"... that it was this skill that led us as a species to where we are today... to cities, skyscrapers, cars, computers, etc. Toolmaking is a skill, but creativity is the source. (Interestingly enough, in the Washington Post article, it was the females that did the toolmaking; researchers believe that females are more creative than males...) So, when we think of "creativity" it should not have only the narrow definition that people give it today in the sense of imagination, but it should have a broader definition that includes the very act of bringing something into being, also innovation, seeing possibilities unseen... for instance, a branch is not just a branch, but could be a weapon, or a fishing pole, or an implement for writing. I once posed this question to a friend of mine and he said that maybe artistic skill (from an evolutionary standpoint) was a sexual trait in that it enhanced a potential mate's desirability. And so through the eons of human development, human beings self-selected this creative impulse. It's an interesting theory. This brings us back to the female/male question. If females are the creative ones, then it is the male who selects the most creative female... yet historically male artists greatly outnumber female artists. Does civilization so encumber women that their natural creative tendencies are stifled?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Another Use for Pencils

My friend A, a fellow artist, lives in France. We tend to think of France as this idyllic romantic place, but as with all places, there are good and bad people. She was walking down the street, large handbag on her shoulder... where else to keep all the paper and pencils?... when suddenly a man on a motorbike grabbed her bag. Being the defiant (and eerily strong, I would say) person that she is, she held on. As she was being dragged down the street, she pulled out a sharp pencil, and stabbed the man in the hand. Bleeding profusely, he finally released her bag. She had a few scrapes, brushed herself off, and went home. There was nothing of value in her bag... just a few sketches...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Meditation (haiku)

Silvery veils
In meditative repose
Lift. Worlds unseen, seen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend?

By now, you must think I'm a zealot... but you see my point? Suppose you are thinking of marrying your sweetheart and want to purchase a diamond ring. Hopefully you do your research, go to a reputable jeweler, learn about the 4Cs... and after all is said and done, make an informed purchase... beautiful setting, beautiful cut... for your future wife. But suppose instead of doing all of the above, you simply, on a whim, walked into "X" Jewelers in a seedy part of town and said, I want that one; it's the biggest one... so the salesman boxes it up and you go home, present it to your fiancé, and she loves it, marries you and it's all roses and cake. But years later, she decides to get her ring cleaned and appraised for insurance purposes. The jeweler tells her that it's a poorly cut piece of crap with a big hunk of black carbon inside... your wife... she's a bit upset, but she loves you like mad, so it doesn't matter in the end... Still, though, wouldn't it have been better to do your research?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Art 101: Lesson 2, Greed

Gustave Dore, Inferno Canto 7, Pushing Rocks

Not all the gold that is beneath the moon,
Or ever hath been, of these toil-worn souls
Might purchase rest for one.
Canto VII., lines 65-67.

Money screws up the world. Money is potential... potential food, potential shelter, potential security... potential Louis Vuitton bag. People become fanatical in their pursuit of money because it represents their potential possessions. Perhaps they falsely believe that money buys happiness. They kill for it. They die for it. They start galleries in the H*lt*n in order to obtain it. I'm raving mad today... I passed by said gallery last night on the way to dinner (grumbling to myself about those damned giclees). One of their artists was sitting in the middle of the room, painting a small painting. A family was inside admiring the work on the wall. A salesman pitching. When there is an artist actually working on a painting in a gallery surrounded by giclees, what is the buying public to think but that those paintings on the wall, for sale, are all originals done by him? The galleries have these artist nights for this very reason... to draw people in, to make them think that those cheaply done "fine art prints" are actually originals... they are liars... they are deceitful... they are slick. For them, art is not art. Art is a business, nothing more. Avoid commercial galleries in tourist areas like the plague. And, not let possessions possess you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Insanity Revisited

Mona Lisa Through Glass

Whenever I visit a new city, I head for the art museum. In Chicago, I had the flu, walked 10 blocks in the blistering icy wind without a good winter coat just so that I could see Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. In Washington D.C. it was Whistler's Peacock room and a small hidden Vermeer. At the Louvre, it was La Joconde... the Mona Lisa. I'm just a giddy tourist... as my fellow travelers will attest, I'm not very pleasant on museum outings. I'll lose people, guards will kindly tell me to step back from the painting!!!! I'll spend two hours staring at one work of art. With the Mona Lisa, I guess it was more the fame of the painting... and besides, who goes to the Louvre and doesn't see the Mona Lisa? As you may know, the Louvre is insanely huge and labyrinthine. And with my bad map-reading skills...and leaving it for the very end of the day just as the museum was closing... well, but, I can walk pretty fast, zipped by the Venus ... beautiful... should stop to ad..mire.. a Caravaggio... must keep going...up stairs... elevator too slow. And when I finally did get there, there was an insipid velvet rope with a million people there... so I took a deep breath, and admired two gorgeous da Vinci paintings not more than 20 meters from the Mona Lisa... all to myself. And, I saw the Mona Lisa too, from the side (it's behind glass)... as people are exiting... and the guards... eh, non!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bliss (haiku)

More I do not seek
Than to lay upon your breast
In eternal bliss.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Finding The One

Gustave Klimt, Danae

Love at first sight... it exists. My roommate in college once went to a lecture given by an enlightened Buddhist monk. His theory of life (and I'm not sure if all Buddhists believe this) was that we meet the same people in this life as in previous lives. He said that there are "threads" which connect us to one another and sometimes draw us together, even if temporarily. But most people cannot recognize the people they once knew because it is a special kind of knowledge. Maybe it can be likened to that feeling of knowing a person whom you have just met. Or maybe it is the concept of the kindred spirit or soul mate. This monk said that he was at the theater once and walking through the crowd he caught sight of a woman... they looked at each other, and in that instant he knew that she was his wife from a previous existence. Reluctantly, he let her walk away because in this life he was a monk. Can we not liken this to art? Sometimes, oddly, we see a piece and it is love at first sight. It invades our thoughts, gives us no peace... it speaks to us... requires that we possess it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Muse (haiku)

Fuels my obsession
Possesses my intellect
Destroys to create

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Art 101 at Walmart

Okay, I've been going on and on about giclees being terrible. Yesterday I was on updating my list of things I want to do and I happened upon a post about buying original art. There are people out there that truly want to support young, aspiring unknowns. They're willing to give them a chance and wanting that really interesting piece, yet they did not know where to start. So, how do we find young, up-and-coming artists? How can we buy original art? The first step is to educate yourself. This means learning the difference between an original and a giclee (pronounced JEE-clay). So, go to Walmart, Target, Costco, Pictures Plus... Frames 'R Us... your neighborhood frame store where they sell framed art. Pass by the obvious prints on paper and walk towards the paintings. They will look like oil paintings because oil paint was indeed used to print them. They will be on canvas, true canvas, same type that artists paint on. Now, look closer. There will be no brush strokes, it will seem almost too perfect. It will look "thin" because it is just a thin layer printed on. This giclee that you are staring at only costs maybe a few dollars to make. For an artist to have a giclee printed, let's say, just one giclee, may have cost maybe $20. Now look at the price tag... and faint... no, turn away in disgust. But, wait, this is supposed to be educational. Okay, now go visit your local art museum. Look at the paintings hanging on the walls. Note the texture, the depth of color (particularly in the darker areas), notice the sensitivity of the brush strokes or the boldness (depending on what you're looking at). Enjoy a nice leisurely day really looking at just one piece. It's not a waste of your day. Note the expression, the life. Now go back to Frames 'R Us. Look at the giclee again. See the difference now?