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

 

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).

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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!

Profligate Kindness

February 12, 2017

Valentine's Day card

Valentine’s Day card

Be Kind
by Michael Blumenthal, from No Hurry

Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind— but
because it’s good for the soul, and,
what’s more, for others; it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there’s
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one, so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust’s certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

 

The Primrose Path

February 11, 2017

Primroses are making a late-winter appearance in grocery stores around here.  They are a welcome splash of saturated color and hold the promise of Spring and gardening.

Watercolor sketch of yellow primroses

Watercolor sketch of yellow primroses

Ink sketch of primroses (primula)

Ink sketch of primroses (primula)

Watercolor vignettes from Tasha Tudor's Garden

Watercolor vignettes from Tasha Tudor’s Garden

 

The Power of One

February 10, 2017

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“Here’s how we count the people who are ready to do right:  ‘One.’  ‘One.’  ‘One.'”
— William Stafford

Feet to stand upright

Feet to stand upright, with compassion

“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate.  Hope is the one thing left to us in a bad time.”
— E. B. White, Letter to M. Nadeau, March 30, 1973