Perhaps a smile

Every year I go into the holiday season hoping it will go smoothly, and that no one will flame out. It’s a modest dream, and sometimes it comes to pass.

no longer strive for “picture perfect,” or anything even close–that way lies madness (trust me: I know this for a fact). The less I try to control things, decorate things, schedule things, and be all things for all people, the happier I’ve found that I’ll be. 

It’s not that I’m the Grinch . . . well, sometimes my inner Grinch does come out. Too much Christmas music, especially before Thanksgiving, will nearly always do it.

But I’d rather do a little judicious decorating than turn my house into a sparkling holiday jewel box. I’d rather check out Costco’s holiday dessert aisles and take home a few prize items than spend days on end baking 58 different varieties of Christmas cookies.

A Christmas tree glows just as beautifully in the dark when it has a moderate number of ornaments on it, as it would if you loaded it with every ornament you’ve ever acquired or been given.

And I’d rather laugh than write a long post. So perhaps you’ll enjoy this small collection of smiles (or perhaps wry grins) about the holidays.

I just had to throw in at least one “writer” comic. This is certainly what hope for, each year!

IMAGES: Many thanks to Eat Hard, Work Hard for the “Stressed” meme; to Love This Pic for the “Christmas Tree in the Dark” photo; to Brian Gordon for the Fowl Language comic, and to Shoebox Greetings for the Santa-on-Facebook comic–BOTH Kansas City-sourced! I deeply appreciate the wonderful Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and her “Will Write for Chocolate” comics.

For the Arts

Day Seven: Gratitude for the Arts

I suppose it is not terribly surprising that an artist, writer, and career art teacher would be grateful for something that has been such a vibrant force throughout her life, but I realized that I’ve heard very little being said, recently, about the value of the arts in our lives.

I think we’re missing something important, by such an omission. There’s a quote from C. S. Lewis that I’ve seen popping up with fair frequency: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art . . . . It has no survival value; rather, it is one of those things that give value to survival.” For me, this quote encapsulates the problem I see.

I believe it is being circulated because people think it affirms the value of art. But to my mind, it understates and diminishes the value, not only of art, but also of friendship and philosophy.

I may decide I need to get into the particulars of this argument someday, but here’s the short version:

Lewis’s unrecognized devaluation of of friendship, philosophy, and art comes from a narrowed definition of these concepts:

  • The preposterous notion that any man could be an island.
  • The idea that philosophy is only conceived by the most abstract (or famous) of introspective thinkers.
  • An elitist assumption that true art is only created by those operating as high-level professionals in creative fields.

Unfortunately, this understanding is far too widely shared, to the detriment of us all. I think this is part of the reason why the arts have been under siege for years, in this country.

Even as we repeatedly discover that a vibrant arts community is as important a business asset to a city or region as excellent public schools, it remains a dual lesson that painfully few in KansasMissouri (where cuts have impacted all aspects of education, and arts often are cut first), or our national government seem to have mastered.
Certainly the importance–and the powerful positive results–of teaching the arts in schools has been amply documented.

But the power of the arts to continue connecting people with their true selves doesn’t stop when they graduate. The arts are a lifelong enricher of souls, giving depth to the lives of all who are willing to embrace them.

Yet the arts continue to be considered as “frills,” unnecessary, or “a side issue,” by all too many people. If art is understood only to be a grace-note in life, it can safely be ignored (and need not be publicly funded). I think Winston Churchill had a better grasp of the issue.

We live in a bitterly divided society, here in the US. All too often, we seem exclusively focused on the ugly, the evil, and the terrifying. Granted, the tenor of politics, the upward spiral of natural disaster occurrences, and the number of mass shootingsterror incidents, and other violence we’ve seen in the daily headlines recently seem designed to drag us down. In such an environment, it’s easier for nationalist and authoritarian movements to gain a footing.

I think the rise in nationalism and authoritarianism in recent decades is largely to blame for the trivialization of the arts (noted above as “part of the reason”) that has come to characterize many funding battles in the public sector.

Authoritarians have a natural distrust of free-thinkers (who are everywhere in the arts), of empirical research, which is less amenable to ideology than other approaches (hence the all-too-common contemporary negative views of science), and of critical thinking in general (because it too readily pokes holes in authoritarian dogma).

The arts lift us beyond our immediate struggles. They can show us other points of view, new ways of thinking and seeing. They give us a rich context for meaning-making and help us build more complete understandings.

The arts, in their best expressions, build bridges of understanding rather than walls of division. They heal us and grant us a wider vision, so we can see–and therefore seek–a better way forward. That’s the most important reason of all, why I give thanks for the arts.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. So is the design for the Eve L. Ewing quote, for which I gratefully acknowledge the BBCWikipedia, and Reuters, via the BBC, which provided the vintage photos. If for some reason you’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. Many thanks to AZ Quotes for the C.S. Lewis quote image; to The Artful Parent, for the Ananda Coomaraswamy quote image; to The Keep Forever Box, for the Sydney Gurewitz Clemens quote; to Jen Bissou’s Pinterest page for the Churchill quote; and to Brainy Quote, for both the Picasso and Degas quote images. I am deeply appreciative to all.

For my Callings

Day Four: Grateful for my Callings

The idea that one has a “purpose” or a “calling” on one’s life is another one of those universal thoughts that many different spiritual traditions have identified. I’ve connected to mine through my Christian faith, but you don’t have to be a Christian to know you have gifts and talents, or passions in life that call to you.

I think it’s part of human psychology, deep-rooted in our social-animal nature, to want our lives to make a difference in the world. We find our reason for being in what we perceive to be our life’s purpose.

Conversely, I don’t think I’ve ever met any more unhappy kind of person than those who don’t think they have any particular purpose, no reason to exist. They swell the ranks of the suicidal, because they really don’t believe they matter–even when they very much DO.

My faith-tradition tells me that I was uniquely created by God, and placed here in this moment and location for specific reasons–with tasks set before me, which I was specifically crafted to do well. It is part of my faith-walk to seek out my callings (we all come with several), and fulfill them as faithfully as I can.

That means I must know myself, in as much honesty and fullness as I can. I must look at myself critically, and evaluate my strengths and weaknesses to the best of my ability, nakedly before God (God already knows, of course; there’s no fooling, or faking God out).

What am I drawn to do? Where do my skills, talents, and natural abilities lie? If I was created by God to fulfill certain callings as faithfully as I can, then I must also believe that God has attuned my heart to them (why else would they be identified as callings, after all?). When I am fulfilling the best uses I can find for the callings I feel most passionate about, then I believe I am operating at the heart of God’s will for me.

I don’t know any other way to faithfully answer my calling. Some things–some causes, some works–resonate more deeply for me. Throughout my life, it has been the same: Writing; artwork; teaching; giving; nurturing the animals and people entrusted into my hands. God and I have pretty much reached an understanding, six-plus decades on. I do the work as I understand it; God provides the way to sustain it.

So far, that’s working for me. I hope you’ve found your own path–the one that works for you. Blessings come, along your calling’s paths. Follow your passion, when you think you’ve lost your way.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post.  Many thanks to Chellyepic on Instagram, for the “things that excite you” quote image; to Heart and Soul Coaching for the Mark Twain quote image; to The Soul Purpose Project, for the Picasso quote image; and to Awesome Quotes on Tumblr for the “purpose and passion” quote image. I deeply appreciate all of you!

How’s the writing coming along?

The Artdog Image of Interest

We’re about halfway through Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month). Time to check in, again . . .

Whether you’re participating in Na-No-Wri-Mo or not, I hope your creative endeavors (whatever they may be) are going well. The creative process always involves frustration–but don’t let that stop you! Keep going!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Debbie Ridpath Ohi, her ongoing comic “Will Write For Chocolate,” and her Twitter feed for this image. It’s always a pleasure, “Inky Elbows”!

Characters

The Artdog Image of Interest 

Think of it as a casting call . . .

As a tribute to all the writers brave enough to take the Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge, I’ve dedicated most of this month’s Quotes and Images of Interest to observations about the writing craft.

IMAGE: Many thanks for this week’s image to Tom Gauld, a wonderful comics artist whose work I encourage you to explore!

Renewing the floors–the hard way

The Artdog Image of Interest

Note: due to events beyond my control, we missed the Image of Interest last weekend. Therefore, this week, we get two!

The Floor Scrapers, by Gustave Caillebotte (1875), currently in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France.

Today’s Image of Interest is Gustave Caillebotte‘s The Floor Scrapers (1875), regarded by some scholars as “one of the greatest genre paintings of the 19th Century,” and also a masterful realist work.  Genre paintings, in contrast to paintings of classical or heroic subjects, sought to portray scenes from everyday life.

Rejected by the Salon for its “vulgar subject,” this painting moved Caillebotte more firmly into the Impressionist school, and placed a spotlight on the urban working class, just as Gustave Courbet‘s The Stone Breakers (1849) and a host of others had focused on rural workers a generation earlier.

Some commentators have made a point of linking the nude torsos of the workers, the sensuous lighting, and the speculation that the artist himself was homosexual. This may indeed have been a factor, but as many others have pointed out, the dynamic approach to a previously unattended subject, the use of light, and the sympathy demonstrated for the workers and their labor all deserve recognition.

IMAGE: Many thanks to “Art and Labor in the Nineteenth Century,” by Alice J. Walkiewicz, edited by Amy Raffel for this image.

Diego Rivera says it with flowers

The Artdog Image of Interest

The Flower Carrier, by Diego Rivera

Throughout time, artists have often turned to workers in various industries for inspiration. I’ve been spotlighting a few examples this month, in honor of Labor DayHokusai’s rice farmers and the bakers and brewers immortalized by the ancient Egyptian modeler for the Tomb of Meketre all worked with grain, to produce an indispensable staple for their societies.

But not every trade focuses on society’s most basic needs. Today’s artist, Diego Rivera, was a prominent painter and muralist in the first half of the 20th Century. He was trained in Mexico and Europeworked in Paris, was a great friend of Amodeo Modigliani and other members of the artists’ group at Montparnasse, and explored cubism at roughly the same time as PicassoBraque, and Gris. His mature style also drew upon the imagery of the Mayan stelae of his native Mexico.

Rivera also was a dedicated atheist, socialist and supporter of communism. Many of his murals and paintings celebrate the common working person. The Flower Carrier, painted in oil and tempera on Masonite in 1935 (original title: Cargador de Flores) is one of several works Rivera created, focused on workers in the Mexican cut flower trade. It was a recurrent theme, often featuring calla lilies and female workers. This painting is currently in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Other Rivera paintings that feature flowers and the workers who collected, carried, and sold them include Flower Day (1925), The Flower Seller (1941), The Flower Vendor (1949), and another Flower Carrier (1953).

Khan Academy has collected many of these flower paintings in a short video. I discovered it after I’d written most of this article, but the writer of the Khan Academy piece and I are definitely on the same page about the message of these paintings. Rivera has used the beauty of the flowers to call attention to the arduous lives of the workers.

IMAGE: Many thanks to the Diego Rivera website, for this image.