Is Art Justified?

February 25, 2017

Pot of yellow primroses

Pot of yellow primroses

“There is not a significant artist in the world who is not asking himself whether his art is justified — not on account of the quality of his talent, but on account of the relevance of art to the demands of the time in which he is living.”
— John Berger, from “Revolutionary Undoing,” Landscapes: John Berger on Art

“There is vitality, a life force, energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.  And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.  The world will not have it.  It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable or how it compares with other expressions.  It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.  You do to even have to believe in yourself or your work.  You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you.  Keep the channel open.”
— Martha Graham, from Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham by Agnes de Mille

Quotes like these help me to feel better about making art.  I sometimes feel my paintings are frivolous when each morning the news is full of serious and worrisome threats to a peaceful world.

 

 

Starlings: Metallic Rainbows

February 24, 2017

Starling

Starling

Ink sketch of starling

Ink sketch of starling

“From a distance he looked black, but from up close he glistened in sheens of metallic green, purple, and blue.  The feathers on a starling’s breast, head, and neck are purple, and those on its back are green. . . . just below the purple of his neck the feathers were tipped with light yellow, as if individually dipped in cream. . . . he looked like a metallic rainbow.”
— Bernd Heinrich, One Wild Bird at a Time

“To be a starling is to perform airborne dances with myriad others, tracing elaborate syncopated flight patterns in the sky.  We call these gatherings ‘murmurations.'”
— Bernd Heinrich, One Wild Bird at a Time

Starling

Starling

Ink sketch of starling

Ink sketch of starling

“Starlings are painted like oil slicks, layered with shining purple, blue, magenta, and green.  Iridescence in feathers is created through structural changes in the feather surface that makes them appear vibrant at certain angles — microscopic bumps and ridges on the barbs and barbules refract and scatter light. . . . When starlings molt in the fall, many of their fresh iridescent feathers are tipped with white, giving the birds their celestial pattern. . . . the starling’s white tips wear off in winter, leaving the birds glistening black in the spring.”
— Lyanda Lynn Haupt, from Mozart’s Starling

Starling portrait, ink sketch

Starling portrait, ink sketch

Lynda Lynn Haupt’s new book, Mozart’s Starling, will be released April 4th.  It is true that Mozart lived with a pet starling, and this became the idea for Haupt’s book.  She adopted a 6-day-old starling orphan and lived with it as part of her household in order to better understand what it meant for Mozart to live with this particular bird.

Starlings are almost universally reviled by birders and ecologists, as they are non-native to the United States and are an invasive species.  And yet, the possibilities of kinship and love do happen at the individual level, as Haupt discovered when her starling became a beloved pet.  She said, “Starlings are shimmering, plain, despised, charming, collectively devastating, individually fascinating.”  Her story and discoveries show that “these individuals are not ends in themselves but a kind of window onto the totality of existence.”

Starling in watercolor and ink

Starling in watercolor and ink

 

Pacific coast

Pacific coast

“Men go forth to wonder at the heights of mountains,
the huge waves of the sea,
the broad flow of the rivers,
the vast compass of the ocean,
the courses of the stars,
and they pass by themselves without wondering.”
— Saint Augustine

What are we passing by?

Finding the Right Words

February 22, 2017

img_1313

img_1312

img_1311

“Little by little, the desire for all things
which perhaps is not desire at all
but undying love which perhaps
is not love at all but gratitude
for the being of all things which
perhaps is not gratitude at all
but the maker’s joy in what is made,
the joy in which we come to rest.”
— Wendell Berry, “XII” from Sabbaths 2007

Pussy willows

Pussy willows

“One ought never to forget that by actually perfecting one piece, one learns more than beginning or half finishing ten.  Let it rest, let it rest and keep going back to it and working at it over and over again until there is not a note too much or too little, not a bar you could improve upon.  Whether it is beautiful is and entirely different matter, but perfect it must be.”
— Johannes Brahms

I’ve been trying to paint pussy willows, and after several iterations, I still haven’t managed to capture them perfectly.  Not all of my attempts are pleasing.  With watercolors, I find that working it over generally muddies things, and it is better to slow down and make a new beginning.  I’m still not satisfied with my results, so I need to try again (and again).

img_1540

img_1546

img_1548

 

Sweethearts candies for Valentine's Day

Sweethearts candies for Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day card

Valentine’s Day card

I like the following paragraph about love, which reminds us that Love is a sacred responsibility, a sacred trust.  It seems appropriate to reflect on the duties of loving well on this Valentine’s Day 2017 because given today’s political climate, we feel called upon to fight fiercely to protect what we love and value.

“It isn’t enough to love a child and wish her well.  It isn’t enough to open my heart to a bird-graced morning.  Can I claim to love a morning, if I don’t protect what creates its beauty?  Can I claim to love a child, if I don’t use all the power of my beating heart to preserve a world that nourishes children’s joy?  Loving is not a kind of la-de-da.  Loving is a sacred trust.  To love is to affirm the absolute worth of what you love and to pledge your life to its thriving — to protect it fiercely and faithfully, for all time.”
— Kathleen Dean Moore, “The Call to Forgiveness at the End of the Day,”  from A Sense of Wonder:  The World’s Best Writers on the Sacred, the Profane, & the Ordinary, ed. Brian Doyle

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine card

Valentine card

Take Love for Granted
by Jack Ridl

Assume it’s in the kitchen,
under the couch, high
in the pine tree out back,
behind the paint cans
in the garage. Don’t try
proving your love
is bigger than the Grand
Canyon, the Milky Way,
the urban sprawl of L.A.
Take it for granted. Take it
out with the garbage. Bring
it in with the takeout. Take
it for a walk with the dog.
Wake it every day, say,
“Good morning.” Then
make the coffee. Warm
the cups. Don’t expect much
of the day. Be glad when
you make it back to bed.
Be glad he threw out that
box of old hats. Be glad
she leaves her shoes
in the hall. Snow will
come. Spring will show up.
Summer will be humid.
The leaves will fall
in the fall. That’s more
than you need. We can
love anybody, even
everybody. But you
can love the silence,
sighing and saying to
yourself, “That’ s her.”
“That’s him.” Then to
each other, “I know!
Let’s go out for breakfast!”