American Art – Part I of III: Laura Owens
Artist Statement: “I am not interested in making people uncomfortable, but at the same time I don’t have an interest in paintings that are truly passive. The best paintings are ones that require an active, discerning viewer.”
A Poem for Today
“Women’s Prison Every Week”
By Jill McDonough
Lockers, metal detectors, steel doors, C.O.
to C.O., different forms, desks—‘mouth open, turn’—so
slow I use the time to practice patience,
grace, tenderness for glassed-in guards. The rules
recited as if they were the same rules every week:
I can wear earrings. I cannot wear earrings. I can wear
my hair up. I cannot wear my hair up. I dressed
by rote: cords in blue or brown, grey turtleneck, black
clogs. The prisoners, all in grey sweatshirts, blue jeans,
joked I looked like them, fit in. I didn’t think about it,
until I dreamed of being shuffled in and locked
in there, hustled through the heavy doors.
In the dream the guards just shook their heads, smirked
when I spelled out my name, shook the freezing bars.
Instead of nightly escorts out, I’d stay in there
forever. Who would know? So I went to Goodwill,
spent ten bucks on pink angora, walked back down those halls
a movie star. When I stood at the front of the class
there rose a sharp collective sigh. The one
who said she never heard of pandering
until the arraignment said ‘OK, I’m going
to tell her.’ Then she told me: freedom is wasted
on women like me. They hate the dark cotton, jeans
they have to wear, each one a shadow of the other their
whole sentence. ‘You could wear red!’ she accused.
Their favorite dresses, silk slips, wool socks all long gone,
bagged up for sisters, moms—maybe Goodwill,
maybe I flicked past them looking for this cotton candy pink
angora cardigan, pearl buttons. They can’t stop staring, so
I take it off and pass it around, let each woman hold it
in her arms, appraise the wool between her fingers,
a familiar gesture, second nature, from another world.
From the Music Archives: Johann Sebastian Bach
24 March 1721 – Johann Sebastian Bach dedicates six concertos to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, now commonly called the Brandenburg concertos.
Fancies in Springtime: Chuang-Tzu
“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”
Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838-1904) was a British painter of the Pre-Raphaelite school.
“The true secret of happiness lies in the taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” – William Morris, English writer, artist, Socialist, and textile designer, who was born 24 March 1834.
In the words of one historian, “As an author, illustrator and medievalist, (Morris) helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, and was a direct influence on postwar authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien. He was also a major contributor to reviving traditional textile arts and methods of production.”
Some quotes from the work of William Morris:
“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
“I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few.”
“A good way to rid one’s self of a sense of discomfort is to do something. That uneasy, dissatisfied feeling is actual force vibrating out of order; it may be turned to practical account by giving proper expression to its creative character.”
“History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created.”
“Not on one strand are all life’s jewels strung.”
“Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization.”
“With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.”
“Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making, or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.”
“We are only the trustees for those who come after us.”
“It is the childlike part of us that produces works of the imagination. When we were children time passed so slow with us that we seemed to have time for everything.”
“I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.”
“Do not be deceived by the outside appearance of order in our plutocratic society. It fares with it as it does with the older norms of war, that there is an outside look of quite wonderful order about it; how neat and comforting the steady march of the regiment; how quiet and respectable the sergeants look; how clean the polished cannon … the looks of adjutant and sergeant as innocent-looking as may be, nay, the very orders for destruction and plunder are given with a quiet precision which seems the very token of a good conscience; this is the mask that lies before the ruined cornfield and the burning cottage, and mangled bodies, the untimely death of worthy men, the desolated home.”
A Second Poem for Today
By Mark Jarman
To lie in your child’s bed when she is gone
Is calming as anything I know. To fall
Asleep, her books arranged above your head,
Is to admit that you have never been
So tired, so enchanted by the spell
Of your grown body. To feel small instead
Of blocking out the light, to feel alone,
Not knowing what you should or shouldn’t feel,
Is to find out, no matter what you’ve said
About the cramped escapes and obstacles
You plan and face and have to call the world,
That there remain these places, occupied
By children, yours if lucky, like the girl
Who finds you here and lies down by your side.
Fancies in Springtime: Lao Tzu
“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.”
In the words of one writer, “Dorothy Napangardi is an Australian Aboriginal artist, one of the three thousand or so Warlpiri speakers who live in or are originally from the Tanami desert region of Central Australia. She now lives in Alice Springs and Sydney. She was born circa 1956 in the area called Mina Mina and grew up in the settlement town of Yuendumu where her father is still a senior lawgiver. She had little formal schooling, but was instructed in the historic Dreaming of her people.”
As Napangardi puts the matter, “When I paint, I think of the old days, as a happy little girl knowing my grandfather’s dreaming.”
A Third Poem for Today
“The Cricket in the Sump”
By Catherine Tufariello
He falls abruptly silent when we fling
A basket down or bang the dryer shut,
But soon takes up again where he left off.
Swept by a rainstorm through a narrow trough
Clotted with cobwebs into Lord knows what
Impenetrable murk, he’s undeterred—
You’d think his dauntless solo was a chorus,
This rusty sump, a field or forest spring.
And there is something wondrous and absurd
About the way he does as he is bidden
By instinct, with his gift for staying hidden
While making sure unseen is plainly heard.
All afternoon his tremolo ascends
Clear to the second story, where a girl
Who also has learned blithely to ignore us
Sings to herself behind her bedroom door.
Maybe she moves to her invented score
With a conductor’s flourish, or pretends
She’s a Spanish dancer, lost in stamp and whirl
And waving fan—notes floating, as she plays,
Through the open window where the willow sways
And shimmers, humming to another string.
There is no story where the story ends.
What does a singer live for but to sing?
“The very purpose of a knight is to fight on behalf of a lady.” – Thomas Malory, English writer and author/compiler of “Le Morte d’Arthur,” who died 14 March 1471.
Some quotes from Thomas Malory:
“Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England. Then the people marvelled, and told it to the Archbishop. I command, said the Archbishop, that ye keep you within your church and pray unto God still, that no man touch the sword till the high mass be all done. So when all masses were done all the lords went to behold the stone and the sword. And when they saw the scripture some assayed, such as would have been king. But none might stir the sword nor move it. He is not here, said the Archbishop, that shall achieve the sword, but doubt not God will make him known.”
“Now, said Sir Ector to Arthur, I understand ye must be king of this land. Wherefore I, said Arthur, and for what cause? Sir, said Ector, for God will have it so; for there should never man have drawn out this sword, but he that shall be rightwise king of this land”
“In the midst of the lake Arthur was ware of an arm clothed in white samite, that held a fair sword in that hand.”
“The sweetness of love is short-lived, but the pain endures.”
“Ah Gawaine, Gawaine, ye have betrayed me; for never shall my court be amended by you, but ye will never be sorry for me as I am for you.”
“For I have promised to do the battle to the uttermost, by faith of my body, while me lasteth the life, and therefore I had liefer to die with honour than to live with shame ; and if it were possible for me to die an hundred times, I had liefer to die oft than yield me to thee; for though I lack weapon, I shall lack no worship, and if thou slay me weaponless that shall be thy shame.”
“They both laughed and drank to each other; they had never tasted sweeter liquor in all their lives. And in that moment they fell so deeply in love that their hearts would never be divided. So the destiny of Tristram and Isolde was ordained.”
“Enough Is as Good as a feast.”
“And thus it passed on from Candlemass until after Easter, that the month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in like wise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May, in something to constrain him to some manner of thing more in that month than in any other month, for divers causes. For then all herbs and trees renew a man and woman, and likewise lovers call again to their mind old gentleness and old service, and many kind deeds that were forgotten by negligence. For like as winter rasure doth alway arase and deface green summer, so fareth it by unstable love in man and woman. For in many persons there is no stability; for we may see all day, for a little blast of winter’s rasure, anon we shall deface and lay apart true love for little or nought, that cost much thing; this is no wisdom nor stability, but it is feebleness of nature and great disworship, whosomever useth this. Therefore, like as May month flowereth and flourisheth in many gardens, so in like wise let every man of worship flourish his heart in this world, first unto God, and next unto the joy of them that he promised his faith unto; for there was never worshipful man or worshipful woman, but they loved one better than another; and worship in arms may never be foiled, but first reserve the honour to God, and secondly the quarrel must come of thy lady: and such love I call virtuous love.
But nowadays men can not love seven night but they must have all their desires: that love may not endure by reason; for where they be soon accorded and hasty heat, soon it cooleth. Right so fareth love nowadays, soon hot soon cold: this is no stability. But the old love was not so; men and women could love together seven years, and no licours lusts were between them, and then was love, truth, and faithfulness: and lo, in like wise was used love in King Arthur’s days. Wherefore I liken love nowadays unto summer and winter; for like as the one is hot and the other cold, so fareth love nowadays; therefore all ye that be lovers call unto your remembrance the month of May, like as did Queen Guenever, for whom I make here a little mention, that while she lived she was a true lover, and therefore she had a good end.”
“Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place; and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the holy cross.”
Below – The Great Book; “How Sir Bedivere Cast the Sword Excalibur into the Water” – an Aubrey Beardsley illustration for “Le Morte d’Arthur”; “Arthur’s Tomb: The Last Meeting of Launcelot and Guinevere,” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; “The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon,” by Edward Burne-Jones.
Fancies in Springtime: Toni Sorenson
A Fourth Poem for Today
“Bless Their Hearts”
By Richard Newman
At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add
“Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say
whatever you want about them and it’s OK.
‘My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,
she said. He rents storage space for his kids’
toys—they’re only one and three years old!’
I said, ‘my father, bless his heart, has turned
into a sentimental old fool. He gets
weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting
on our voice mail.’ Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate’s heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.
“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.” – John Wesley Powell,
American soldier, geologist, ethnologist, professor, director of major scientific and cultural institutions, explorer of the American West, and leader of the 1869 Powell Geographic Expedition, a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado rivers, including the first known passage through the Grand Canyon, who was born 24 March 1834.
In the words of one writer, “Jockum Nordström’s work, according to New York Times critic Roberta Smith, ‘is a more or less truculent crazy quilt of images, styles and events. Past and present are one, and the subconscious is present.’ Nordström was born in 1963 in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden. He grew up watching his mother sew, and has always been interested in textiles. He has made drawings as long as he can remember. He studied art at Stockholm College of Art and Design, and began showing his work in Sweden in the late eighties. It was not long until Americans found out about him. He was included in a group show at the Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco in 1999, and then in 2000 joined the David Zwirner Gallery in New York”
In Nordstrom’s words, “I like the way—when I make the prints, when I see different plates come to the paper—I see images in a way that I have never done before. It is a new way of seeing.”
“I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder.” – Lawrence Ferlinghetti, American poet, painter, social activist, translator, co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, and author of “A Coney Island of the Mind,” who was born 24 March 1919.
“Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15)”
Constantly risking absurdity
whenever he performs
above the heads
of his audience
the poet like an acrobat
climbs on rime
to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
above a sea of faces
paces his way
to the other side of day
and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
and all without mistaking
for what it may not be
For he’s the super realist
who must perforce perceive
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
to start her death-defying leap
a little charleychaplin man
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spreadeagled in the empty air
By Jorge Evans
Fair season and we’re tent pitching
on holy grounds in central Illinois,
busting through pavement with jack hammers,
driving home a stake that will be pulled two months
from now. One of us holds, the other presses
down, grease shooting between cracks
in the old hammer’s worn shell
to our hands and faces—one slip and we’ve
lost our toes. I’m from the warehouse,
not the tent crew. I haven’t ridden around
in tent haulers across the nation
popping tents here and there, but for this,
the state fair, the warehousers are let out
to feel important. Around us a silvered city
has risen, white vinyl tents at full mast
and clean for the first time in a year. It’s August.
It’s the summer’s dogged days when humidity
doesn’t break until midnight, an hour after
the fair’s closed down. We’re piled on back
of a flatbed with our tools, our tiredness.
We’re a monster understood best
by Midwesterners, devouring parking lots
and fields, our teeth stained by cigarette
and chew, some of us not old enough, some
too old. All of us here for the overtime.
Fancies in Springtime: Stefanie Brook Trout
A Sixth Poem for Today
“Crossing Shoal Creek”
By J. T. Ledbetter
The letter said you died on your tractor
crossing Shoal Creek.
There were no pictures to help the memories fading
like mists off the bottoms that last day on the farm
when I watched you milk the cows,
their sweet breath filling the dark barn as the rain
that wasn’t expected sluiced through the rain gutters.
I waited for you to speak the loud familiar words
about the weather, the failed crops—
I would have talked then, too loud, stroking the Holstein
moving against her stanchion—
but there was only the rain on the tin roof,
and the steady swish-swish of milk into the bright bucket
as I walked past you, so close we could have touched.
“The greatest escape I ever made was when I left Appleton, Wisconsin.” – Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz), Hungarian-American illusionist, stunt performer, and escape artist, who was born 24 March 1874.
In the words of one historian, “In the 1920s Houdini turned his energies toward debunking psychics and mediums, a pursuit that inspired and was followed by latter-day stage magicians. Houdini’s training in magic allowed him to expose frauds who had successfully fooled many scientists and academics. He was a member of a ‘Scientific American’ committee that offered a cash prize to any medium who could successfully demonstrate supernatural abilities. None was able to do so, and the prize was never collected. The first to be tested was medium George Valentine of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. As his fame as a ‘ghostbuster’ grew, Houdini took to attending séances in disguise, accompanied by a reporter and police officer. Possibly the most famous medium whom he debunked was Mina Crandon, also known as ‘Margery.’
Houdini chronicled his debunking exploits in his book, ‘A Magician Among the Spirits,’ co-authored with C. M. Eddy, Jr. These activities cost Houdini the friendship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle, a firm believer in Spiritualism during his later years, refused to believe any of Houdini’s exposés. Doyle came to believe that Houdini was a powerful spiritualist medium, and had performed many of his stunts by means of paranormal abilities and was using these abilities to block those of other mediums that he was ‘debunking.’ This disagreement led to the two men becoming public antagonists and led Sir Arthur to view Houdini as a dangerous enemy.”
The worthy tradition of debunking psychic claims is carried on today by many champions of sanity, including James Randi, author of “Flim-Flam!,” and Michael Shermer, author of “Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.”
A Seventh Poem for Today
By Rigoberto Gonzalez
I am not your mother, I will not be moved
by the grief or gratitude of men
who weep like orphans at my door.
I am not a church. I do not answer
prayers but I never turn them down.
Come in and kneel or sit or stand,
the burden of your weight won’t lessen
no matter the length of your admission.
Tell me anything you want, I have to listen
but don’t expect me to respond
when you tell me you have lost your job
or that your wife has found another love
or that your children took their laughter
to another town. You feel alone and empty?
Color me surprised! I didn’t notice they were gone.
Despite the row of faces pinned like medals
to my walls, I didn’t earn them.
The scratches on the wood are not my scars.
If there’s a smell of spices in the air
blame the trickery of kitchens
or your sad addiction to the yesterdays
that never keep no matter how much you believe
they will. I am not a time capsule.
I do not value pithy things like locks
of hair and milk teeth and ticket stubs
and promise rings—mere particles
of dust I’d blow out to the street if I could
sneeze. Take your high school jersey
and your woman’s wedding dress away
from me. Sentimental hoarding bothers me.
So off with you, old couch that cries
in coins as it gets dragged out to the porch.
Farewell, cold bed that breaks its bones
in protest to eviction or foreclosure or
whatever launched this grim parade
of exits. I am not a pet. I do not feel
abandonment. Sometimes I don’t even see you
come or go or stay behind. My windows
are your eyes not mine. If you should die
inside me I’ll leave it up to you to tell
the neighbors. Shut the heaters off
I do not fear the cold. I’m not the one
who shrinks into the corner of the floor
because whatever made you think
this was a home with warmth isn’t here
to sweet-talk anymore. Don’t look at me
that way, I’m not to blame. I granted
nothing to the immigrant or exile
that I didn’t give a bordercrosser or a native
born. I am not a prize or a wish come true.
I am not a fairytale castle. Though I
used to be, in some distant land inhabited
by dreamers now extinct. Who knows
what happened there? In any case, good
riddance, grotesque fantasy and mirth.
So long, wall-to-wall disguise in vulgar
suede and chintz. Take care, you fool,
and don’t forget that I am just a house,
a structure without soul for those whose
patron saints are longing and despair.
Fancies in Springtime: Paul F. Kortepeter
American Art – Part II of III: Joan Nelson
“Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things, a renewal of our link with our ancestors and a contribution to generations yet to come. Our breath is a part of life’s breath, the ocean of air that envelopes the earth.” – David Suzuki, Canadian academic, science broadcaster, environmental activist, and author of “The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature” and “The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for Our Sustainable Future,” who was born 24 March 1936.
Suzuki co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990, to work “to find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world that does sustain us.”
Some quotes from the work of David Suzuki:
“We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.”
“If we humans are good at anything, it’s thinking we’ve got a terrific idea and going for it without acknowledging the potential consequences or our own ignorance.”
“Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism.”
“The way we’ve set up corporations, even a majority vote of stockholders cannot demand that a corporation’s policies reflect the public good or preserve the environment for future use. That’s because profit is the one and only motive. It’s up to government and it’s up to people to protect the public interest. Corporations are simply not allowed to.”
“Our identity includes our natural world, how we move through it, how we interact with it and how it sustains us.”
“The environment is so fundamental to our continued existence that it must transcend politics and become a central value of all members of society.”
“‘Eco’ comes from the Greek word oikos, meaning home. Ecology is the study of home, while economics is the management of home. Ecologists attempt to define the conditions and principles that govern life’s ability to flourish through time and change. Societies and our constructs, like economics, must adapt to those fundamentals defined by ecology. The challenge today is to put the ‘eco’ back into economics and every aspect of our lives.”
“Virtually all of the extremely important services that nature provides are completely ignored by conventional economics. The ozone layer, for example, shields all life from DNA-damaging ultraviolet radiation.”
“Corporations easily bully governments by threatening to deprive even democratic nations of their wealth. If we try too hard to control them, they say they’ll leave and take their jobs with them.”
“A balance between sustainable ecology and sustainable human life, on the one hand, and the unfettered drive for profit, on the other, is just an oxymoron.”
“Benjamin Franklin, said: ‘Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.’”
“As we distance ourselves further from the natural world, we are increasingly surrounded by and dependent on our own inventions. We become enslaved by the constant demands of technology created to serve us.”
An Eighth Poem for Today
“Off A Side Road Near Staunton”
By Stanley Plumlee
Some nothing afternoon, no one anywhere,
an early autumn stillness in the air,
the kind of empty day you fill by taking in
the full size of the valley and its layers leading
slowly to the Blue Ridge, the quality of country,
if you stand here long enough, you could stay
for, step into, the way a landscape, even on a wall,
pulls you in, one field at a time, pasture and fall
meadow, high above the harvest, perfect
to the tree line, then spirit clouds and intermittent
sunlit smoky rain riding the tops of the mountains,
though you could walk until it’s dark and not reach those rains—
you could walk the rest of the day into the picture
and not know why, at any given moment, you’re there.
Fancies in Springtime: Theordore Roszak
Back from the Territory – Art: The work of artist Shane Lamb
In the words of one writer, Over the past 25 years Shane Lamb has become one of Alaska’s top artists and photographers.
Shane received his formal art training from Brigham Young University, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1990. Since then he has dedicated his professional life to the Alaska he knows, drawing inspiration from the land he considers one of Nature’s most beautiful. His works are the culmination of many hours spent in the field studying and experiencing each subject. Through his use of beautiful color, combined with a strong sense of light and composition, he captures work with a mood and realism that sets it apart.”
Back from the Territory, I share this with you, before I light out again.
A Ninth Poem for Today
By Molly Fisk
How valuable it is in these short days,
threading through empty maple branches,
the lacy-needled sugar pines.
Its glint off sheets of ice tells the story
of Death’s brightness, her bitter cold.
We can make do with so little, just the hint
of warmth, the slanted light.
The way we stand there, soaking in it,
mittened fingers reaching.
Fancies in Springtime: Rachel Carson
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.” (Taken from her speech when accepting the John Burroughs Medal.)
American Art – Part III of III: Nathan Oliveira (1928-2010)
Artist Statement: “Given all the technology that we’re in the middle of, I would be so pleased if someone would look at one of these prints and say, ‘You know, I feel like that.’ What I’m concerned about now is creating a metaphor for what the figure really is.”