Color Theory Paintings

adult learning, Altars, art, color Wheel, Creativity, Faith, Hilma af Klint, Imagination, inspiration, Ministry, mystery, Painting, shadows, Spirituality

Cezanne: Four Apples, 1880-1881, oil on canvas

Cezanne once said, “We live in a rainbow of chaos.” Perhaps he meant we’re surrounded by colors, in various and sundry shades, and through art, we try to find some order to this chaos, even if our resulting work seems outwardly disorderly. In his own lifetime, Cezanne was accused of being a madman, “afflicted while painting with delirium tremens.” His response was to shrug off the guardians of the Academy: “With an apple I want to astonish Paris.” He worked in isolation for a very long time, only gaining financial success in the last ten years of his life.

Jackson Pollock: Number 32, 1949, auctioned in 2018 at Sotheby’s

Another artist who broke ground is Jackson Pollock. When we view a Pollock action painting, we realize there’s actually an order to this chaos. The drips and pours are more like calligraphy and live in tension with one another. They vary in color, size, and energy, not unlike a song. The action paintings are not just “drip paintings,” but energies expressing emotions by means of fluid dynamics. This is why we don’t say, “My grandkid could do this.” People try to forge Pollocks and fail. Even Pollock had difficulty creating these unique works, the best of which belong primarily to a two year period when he refrained from his alcohol habit, which affected his depressive disorder.

As compositions, each of Pollock’s drip pictures simultaneously dissolves into a chaotic jumble of individual lines, while also coming together as a structurally uniform, whole field. We’re mostly used to works best viewed from a single fixed point, such as a High Renaissance painting. Instead, to view a Pollock, we must move across the whole surface, and look deep into the layers. His works draw their audience in to inspect the details closely, passage by passage, and at the same time overwhelm the viewer with their monumental size. Their coloristic and textural richness emphasizes the expansive surface, yet the elaborate and totally visible overlay of multiple layers of paint (and sand, cigarette butts, glass, and other materials) create a very real depth and space. It’s definitely not your grandchild’s artwork.

HANS HOFMANN: Elysium, 1960, oil on canvas, BLANTON MUSEUM OF ART

Hans Hofmann, a 20th C American abstract expressionist, once said, “Colors must fit together as pieces in a puzzle or cogs in a wheel.” Often we use the colors straight out of the tube, or we flail around trying to figure out which yellow and which blue will give us the shade of green we want to use. Experience is the best teacher, for learning how to see the colors of life is like solving a puzzle that doesn’t have a photo for a guide. Once we begin to recognize their composite colors, we begin to see the order in the midst of chaos. Then we have the cogs to the wheel and it will turn the next wheel in good order. Experience becomes our Rosetta Stone for decoding the other mysterious languages of color we hear around us every day.

Color Wheel with Neutral Grey at Center

One of the cues we’ve come to recognize in our painting class is the color of our brush wash water. If it’s a lovely neutral gray, like the center circle in the wheel above, we’ve balanced the warm and cool colors on our canvas. Most of our group in attendance chose colors from this wheel.

Paul Klee: Watercolor Word Study

We saw a number of color theory examples from history, including Paul Klee’s geometric watercolors, which vary from color blocks, landscapes, and written images.

Hilma af Klint: Primordial Chaos, Number 7

A little known colorist is the Swedish artist, Hilma af Klint, who was one of the earliest abstract painters. She developed a language, or visual imagery, to share the spiritual experiences she received during her participation in automatic drawing. As with many others of her era at the turn of the 20th century, she and her friends, in the group called The Five, mixed elements of traditional Christianity with seances and beliefs in a mystical guiding higher spirit. If she lived today, we’d likely call her beliefs “new age.” She also incorporated new advances in science for her time in her explorations.

Hilma af Klint: Altar Piece, Number 1

Her work for The Temple was heroic in size, with each of the 193 paintings measuring about 7 x 9 feet.These were completed between 1906 and 1915. The whole sequence can perhaps be understood as af Klint’s pursuit of an original “oneness,”or the basic unity which she believed existed at the world’s creation. She believed this integrity had since been lost, giving way instead to a world of polarities: good and evil, woman and man, matter and spirit. In her work after 1912, af Klint seemed to move stylistically away from techniques related to spirit channeling, such as the fluid lines of The Five’s automatic drawings. Her use of Christian iconography and geometric forms increased. By 1917, af Klint stopped producing art through a spirit altogether. Her 2,000 plus works are owned and administered by The Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden.

Dusty: Circle in Space

Dusty used a plastic plate to draw his circle. This plate served a secondary purpose as well: it was also his palette to mix his colors. “Art imitates life, even in abstraction.” He used the ruler to measure out equal pie shaped segments, and divided the background planes. I almost stopped him in the midst of his planning, but I wasn’t about to stop that train of thought. I could only admire it for its balance and symmetry. He mixed the shades of the colors, and filled in the spaces. Then he added a few “motion” marks to indicate the movement of the disc in the atmosphere.

Gail: Sun and Waves

Gail pulled a plastic French curve drawing shape out of her toolbox to make the unique shapes in her painting. The blue and green curves are the waves of the sea and the central oranges of the resulting negative shape is the sun above the water. I always appreciate her paintings, which connect to her love of nature and have a sense of order to them.

Lauralei: Geometric Shapes

I think I have this painting right side up. I followed the path of the brush strokes. Lauralei wins the prize for most different number of colors mixed on the palette. So often we get accustomed to using the same familiar colors over and over. Everyone had a café au lait colored interior two decades ago, then we all went white, and gray predominated for a while. Maybe soon we’ll paint our homes actual colors instead of following the crowd.

Mike: Rainbow Cross

Mike had this idea percolating in his mind before he came to class, but didn’t have time to work on it at home. As soon as he saw our inspiration works, he decided to follow his inner guide, which had opened this image to him. He took the ruler to mark off some guide lines, then focused on bringing this idea to life. The radiating energy bolts of dynamic rainbow colors coming from the cross remind us of God’s love in Jesus Christ for all things and all people. We’re also one in Christ and belong to the one family of God, no matter how we worship, or what our understanding of God is.

Cornelia’s First Stage: Light and Dark

I began my little painting as a homage to Klee, but I didn’t get far in the 90 minutes we have for painting. I attempted to leave the negative space for the letters, but my brush was either too large or my painting surface was too small for the text I chose. I brought it home and worked another six or seven hours on it in the following week.

Cornelia’s Final Stage: Light and Dark

In the quiet of my studio, I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the emotions of the words, but only to the technical aspects of mixing the colors. I reread again my text from Luke 1:78-79:

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

At this time, I saw the upper half needed to be light, while the lower part of the painting needed to be in darkness, since the two verses broke in this direction. This also gave my painting a landscape feel, as if the dark earth hadn’t yet seen the dawn of God’s light. As I painted, I began to lose the sense of the letters and the words, and the patches of color became more important than trying to keep the sentence legible.

I’m very impressed with this group, who’ve taken to heart my teaching mantra: Everyone will find their own voice if they engage in creative thinking and do the work. In the spiritual life, we’re saved by faith, but in art, we do find “works righteousness.” Amazingly, we get better the more we practice, especially if we have positive critiques and goal oriented lessons designed to help us grow. This provides fertile ground to awaken the spirit living within each of us, so that we can become co-creators in God’s renewal of the world. Maybe Hilma af Klimt was on to something special after all.

Our next class will be The City. We can either treat this as a lesson in perspective, poster design, abstraction, or a close up view of a building. Vacation photos are a good resource to bring, if you have a special place you want to remember. Antique photos are good too. Till next time, keep your hearts full of

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

The Fascinating Physics of Jackson Pollock’s “Drip” Paintings
http://hyperallergic.com/526383/the-fascinating-physics-of-jackson-pollocks-drip-paintings/

Jackson Pollock’s Paintings: Characteristics of Drip Painting Technique
http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/jackson-pollock-paintings.htm

Paintings for the Temple | The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation
https://www.guggenheim.org/teaching-materials/hilma-af-klint-paintings-for-the-future/paintings-for-the-temple

Hilma af Klint The Paintings for the Temple 1906–1915 ARTBOOK | D.A.P. 2021 Catalog Bokförlaget Stolpe 9789189069114
https://www.artbook.com/9789189069114.html

Pomegranates and New Life

adult learning, Altars, art, change, Creativity, Faith, greek myths, Habits, incarnation, inspiration, Israel, mystery, New Year, Painting, Persephone, pomegranate, renewal, shame, vision

Pomegranates are one of those seasonal fruits which show up at my grocery store along with tangerines and other Florida citrus fruits. When I was young, these were rare and extraordinary foods, unlike today, when we have fresh fruits from all corners of the world all year long. The only difference is the cost: if they come from nearby, they cost less than if they come from afar. When my daddy was a boy, fresh citrus at Christmas were a treat indeed.

Those that want to go back to the “good old days” often forget food was sometimes hard to get, for earlier generations also had supply chain disruptions as well as economic collapses. In the Depression Era, food became a gift, for it was often hard to come by. Oranges had a secondary meaning, for since they had segments, they could be shared. The lesson was all gifts were meant to be shared with others.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Proserpina, 1874

In art, the paintings of the saints follow a certain iconography, or visual images and symbols used in a work of art. Once we learn this language, we can “read the icon” and understand its meaning. The pomegranate typically stands for the Christian church, for it has many seeds within one fruit. In earlier Greek and Roman mythology, the fruit stands for Persephone/Proserpina, the daughter of Demeter/Ceres, the goddess of harvest and agriculture. Pluto, the god of the underworld, abducted Persephone for his wife. Ceres became despondent and nothing above ground would grow. The Olympian gods arranged Persephone’s   release, but she eaten a few seeds of a pomegranate. Therefore, she could spend only part of the year above ground. This is how the ancients explained the seasons.

Pomegranate from Torlonia Catacomb

This story illustrates how Persephone became connected to the idea of dying and rebirth, so her symbol, the pomegranate,  also transferred over into Christian art as a symbol of immortality and resurrection. The term for appropriation of another culture’s symbol is syncretism. In a similar manner, in mythology, the dove was an attribute of Aphrodite/Venus; but in the Old Testament, Noah’s dove signified God’s covenant with mankind; and in the New testament, John the Baptist likened the dove to the Holy Spirit, which descended upon Jesus at his baptism. Painted pomegranates can be found on the frescoes of the Roman catacombs of Torlonia.

5th century CE church mosaic with pomegranates and fish, Israel

The imagery continued into the 5th century in a floor mosaic with a cross, stylized fish, pomegranates, and three chevrons representing Golgotha. Death on the cross is connected with the resurrection appearance of Christ and the disciples’ meal on the beach at Galilee.

Fra Angelico: Virgin and Child with Pomegranate, c. 1426

Fra Angelico’s Virgin and Child with Pomegranate is a beautiful example of a late icon. The Virgin of the Pomegranate takes its name from the pomegranate held by the Virgin and which attracts the attention of the Christ Child, who touches it. In this context the fruit has a double meaning: in the Virgin’s hands it refers to her chastity, while by touching it the Christ Child prefigures his own death and resurrection. It reminds us of Ephesians 5:25-26–

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word.”

This iconography of chastity, cleanliness, and sacrifice was widely used in 15th-century Florence, where it interested artists such as Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci.

Unknown Artists: Unicorn In Captivity, 1495–1505

The unicorn, a mythical animal to all but eight year old girls (and those of us who retain our eight year old hearts inside our full grown bodies), is a creature of fantasy, both then and now. From the same era as the Virgin of the Pomegranate is the beautiful tapestry of “The Unicorn in Captivity,” now at the Metropolitan, which may have been created as a single image rather than part of a series. In this instance, the unicorn probably represents the beloved tamed. Tethered to a tree and constrained by a fence, we see he could escape, for the chain isn’t secure and the fence is low enough to step over.

Clearly, however, his confinement is a happy one, to which the ripe, seed-laden pomegranates in the tree—a medieval symbol of fertility and marriage—testify. The red stains on his flank don’t appear to be blood, for we see no visible wounds. Instead, they represent juice dripping from bursting pomegranates in the tree above. Many of the other plants represented here, such as wild orchid, bistort, and thistle, echo this theme of marriage and procreation; they were acclaimed in the Middle Ages as fertility aids for both men and women. Even the little frog, nestled among the violets at the lower right, was cited by medieval writers for its noisy mating.

Botticelli: Madonna and the Pomegranate, c. 1487, Uffizi, Florence.

Botticelli also painted his version of the Madonna and the Pomegranate about 1487. This painting now hangs in the Uffizi, in Florence, Italy. The Virgin seems aloof, reserved, or far away, as does the Christ child. The angels in attendance also seem not connected to one another or engaged with the viewer. They carry roses and lilies, flowers connected with purity. One angel has the Latin words of the beginning of the rosary on his clothing, which is notable since this prayer became popular in devotions in the 15th century. The baby holds a pomegranate, cut open to reveal the multiple seeds of suffering.

Botticelli was influenced by the loss of his patrons, the Medici family, and the rise of Savonarola, a Dominican monk, who wanted to not only reform a corrupt church, but also redeem a materialistic and humanistic society. He was the very opposite of the trade oriented and culturally progressive Medici family. Moreover, as the year 1500 approached, Savonarola preached an apocalyptic message of the end of the world. Botticelli’s delightful Birth of Venus would give way to the 1497 Mystical Crucifixion. Things didn’t end well for Savonarola, who was tried, convicted of heresy, hanged, and burned in 1498. Florence then returned to the city’s prior communal ideals, led by the next generation of the Medici family.

Lorenzo di Credi: Madonna and Child with Pomegranate

Often attributed to Da Vinci or Verrocchio, this Madonna and Child with a Pomegranate by Lorenzo di Credi, now in the National Gallery of Art, was painted in 1475-1480. He and da Vinci apprenticed under the same master, so their styles show some similarities. He’s better known for his portraits.

Lucy’s Italian Movie, 1951

I brought the pomegranates to art class because the new year deserves a new start and a new way of thinking about our lives. In the sacrament of holy communion, we recognize “many are made one,” for how many individual grains are ground for the bread and how many grapes must be crushed to fill a cup? I keep thinking of that Lucy and Ethel skit from I Love Lucy—you just knew walking in a circle in a grape vat would not end well, but you held your breath waiting to burst out laughing. Lucy’s comedic genius never failed us.

Mike’s Pomegranate

The joy of abundance jumps out in the bold brush strokes and colors of Mike’s painting. He loves coming to class, for it’s a time when he’s free. No one’s life depends on him in this time. He can give expression to this sense of freedom.

When we elevate the elements over the altar, we remind ourselves, “the one loaf is broken for all, just as the one cup is offered for all.” The pomegranates have many seeds, but they’re one fruit. The pomegranate reminds us of the mystical body of Christ, which we call the church. When we take communion, we receive the symbolic body of Christ, but we also receive the mystical body. We often limit ourselves to thinking the body of Christ is his actual body or perhaps only our church fellowship. We often forget there’s a greater body of Christ beyond our doors, and it’s not just formed of all the believers. The greater body of Christ is all of humanity, for we all share the same incarnation of his  spirit.

In several ways we can open our eyes to the “many within the one.” We can trace the history of the symbols we use to communicate our hopes and dreams with one another. Some of these are positive and worth keeping, but others might need retirement, under the “it’s good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble” (Romans 14:21). We get attached to the visible symbol, failing to realize others see the same symbol as harmful. For instance, some are so attached to their “authorized version” of a scripture translation, they idolize it above all other translations. In doing so, they make the vehicle more important than the content. No one would ever make an Amazon Prime delivery truck more important than its content, but we sure get distressed when our package gets mangled in shipping. I personally use an ebook for my Bible now, since it has more recent and multiple translations plus a Greek New Testament. Nevertheless, the God revealed is more important than the object itself, as we’re reminded twice in Exodus 20:2-3 and Deuteronomy 5:6-7:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

Gail’s Pomegranate

Gail is always careful to look closely for the details in everything she paints. Naturalism is her calling. In our brief time together, she might not finish her work, but finishing isn’t the goal. Learning to see is our goal and the secondary goal is making a likeness. The detail on the crown of the pomegranate is superb.

Sally’s Pomegranate

Sally has a good rendering of the pomegranate, yet she was unhappy with the background. We solved part of that together by identifying how the horizontal line dipped down at the intersection with the outer edges of the fruit. It’s a straight line now, because she fixed the places where the Hulk had hit the table behind the pomegranate. (If only we could do this in real life, disaster recovery would be a piece of cake). She has a circular pattern working, since she’s working on another piece with this same idea. It’s another example of how art is a continuity, not an isolated moment in time.

Cornelia’s Pomegranate

I went home to finish my painting. I took a photo to have a reference, rather than just painting from memory. As soon as I was in my quiet place, I realized my perspective was off—I could tell because the plate on which the fruit was resting didn’t break at the right height of the fruit. White overpainting fixed that problem. Our blue table cover, which has paint stains on it, became my background. As I told the class, my painting is brighter because it’s a primary color scheme: red, yellow, and blue. I also painted the juices, the secondary shadows, and the highlights of the nibs. Adding earth colors or black to a painting darkens its tone considerably.

Can we break old habits right away? If those who start a diet in the New Year have anything to teach us, restricting our eating lasts for about 10 days at best before we begin to cheat on it. Strava, a fitness brand, named  January 19th “Quitter’s Day,” since most people ditch their fitness resolutions then. Our question then becomes, how do we learn something new? How do we make progress? Perhaps, are we teachable, or willing to grow beyond what we know? The last question calls us to step out of our safe places, as Peter did when he stepped out of the boat onto the storming waves. When he was frightened, he called out, “Lord, save me!”

The good news about art class is no one will drown if we struggle to make what’s in our mind come out on our canvas. Sometimes our ideas are ahead of our technical abilities. Some days we’re tired or distracted. If I’m coming down sick, but not “sick sick” enough to be home, my work looks dead. It’s a sure sign I need to visit the doctor soon!

Next week we’re going to do color theory. We need to revisit the color wheel and make some of the interesting colors that don’t come straight from the tube. We’ll paint in squares, so this is a “entry level” class. Actually, all classes are entry level. Like a one room schoolhouse, you enter at your own level and progress from there. Your only competition is you. There’s no grades, no pass or fail. We come to give our best self a chance to grow and shine.

We’ll also be wearing masks again, due to that pesky omicron variant.

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

Signs & Symbols in Christian Art – George Ferguson, George Wells Ferguson – Google Books

https://books.google.com/books/about/Signs_Symbols_in_Christian_Art.html?id=GF4XDp-eSTwC

Jewish Catacombs: The Jews of Rome: funeral rites and customs – Elsa Laurenzi – Google Books

https://books.google.com/books/about/Jewish_Catacombs.html?id=PmKBBj_qRbwC

Vaults of Memory—Roman Catacombs

http://archives.catacombsociety.org/vom/vomframes.html

Why We Put Oranges in Christmas Stockings

https://www.thekitchn.com/heres-why-we-put-oranges-in-stockings-at-christmas-holiday-traditions-from-the-kitchn-213985

Sandro Botticelli | Biography, Paintings, Birth of Venus, Primavera, & Facts | Britannica

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sandro-Botticelli

The Museo del Prado acquires The Virgin of the Pomegranate by Fra Angelico for €18m 

 

A Study of 800 Million Activities Predicts Most New Year’s Resolutions Will Be Abandoned on January 19: How to Create New Habits That Actually Stick | Inc.com

https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/a-study-of-800-million-activities-predicts-most-new-years-resolutions-will-be-abandoned-on-january-19-how-you-cancreate-new-habits-that-actually-stick.html

Guido di Pietro, known as Fra Angelico: Virgin and Child with Pomegranate,  or The Virgin and Child with two Angels, or The Virgin of the Pomegranate, c.1426. Tempera on panel, 83 x 59 cm, Prado, Madrid.

Unknown Artists: The Unicorn Rests in a Garden (from the Unicorn Tapestries), weaving, Made in Paris, France (cartoon); Made in Southern Netherlands (woven), Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts, 1495–1505, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937, Accession Number: 37.80.6.

 

 

STARS AND THE WINTER SOLSTICE

adult learning, art, Astrology, chocolate, Christmas, cosmology, Creativity, Faith, Family, greek myths, grief, holidays, hope, Icons, Imagination, incarnation, Marcus Aurelius, Ministry, nature, Painting, Philosophy, poverty, Spirituality, Stonehenge, trees, winter solstice

Stonehenge at Winter Solstice

This is a time of year when we look to the night sky for a sign. It’s not for nothing the depths of darkness are the beginnings of hope and our desire for the return of the healing light. People around the world and over the generations of time have celebrations of feasting, family reunions, and honoring their culture’s gods on the darkest day, or the Winter Solstice. The term solstice derives from the Latin word “sōlstitium”, meaning “the Sun stands still”. On the Winter Solstice, the sun reaches its southern-most position, shines directly on the Tropic of Capricorn, and seems to stand still there.

We’re all familiar with Stonehenge, a Neolithic stone monument in England built about 4,500 years ago to track important moments in the solar year. A later custom is the blazing Yule Log, a Norse tradition. The family would drag a huge piece of wood into their house, set it into the main fireplace, and let it burn for several days. It was a type of sympathetic magic to encourage the distant and faint sun to return, reinvigorated. The family often wrote down their desires for the new year as an offering to the gods. These were then burned in the fire. Afterwards, the family scattered ashes from the fire in the corners of every room in the house for good luck.

Hiroshige: The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō

The Chinese also have a Winter Solstice festival, which once was a new year’s festival. The family gathers to eat traditional foods, and they honor their ancestors, as well as the old ones still living among them. This poem by Ruan Yue, in the late Northern Song Dynasty speaks of this:

罗袜新成,更有何人继后尘。
The socks for elders are newly woven;
the custom should be handed down.

A later poet of the Song Dynasty, Fan Chengda, had a more optimistic outlook on the dreary and dark days before the Winter Solstice, or perhaps he was using “positive pep talk to reframe his grumpy mind.”

休把心情关药裹,但逢节序添诗轴。
Don’t be thinking about medicines all the time;
write a new poem at the solar term.

I can relate to Fan Chengda, for I find I have difficulty waking up without the sun streaming into my bedroom windows. I’m also more irritable and mopey on these dark days. It’s probably Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of depression related to the lack of light in this season. I tend to think dark thoughts, feel more pain, and lose my appetite, except for medicinal chocolate, which I consume under the Tim Allen mantra, “If some is good, more should be better!”

For Medicinal Purposes Only

When I get this type of mood on, the commercial Christmas we see on television and in the movies strikes a discordant note in my soul. I think about the ancient text, which reminds us when the parents of Jesus went to Bethlehem to be counted in the census: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

What most of us glide right over is Joseph had kinfolks galore in this town, but none of them opened their home to Mary, for she was pregnant before he married her. The innkeepers in town weren’t going to risk their reputations for these two either. Only one innkeeper took pity on them and let them stay with the animals in the stable. This marks the birth of the Christ child as an outsider to his whole extended family, the House of David.

Botticelli: Nativity, 1475

The Magi, or Wise Men, came from the East to visit King Herod, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”( Matthew 2:2)

Herod was worried he would be deposed, so he sent the Magi to find this child, then return and report to him. The Magi followed the star until it stopped over the place where the family was staying. They offered their gifts and returned home, without telling Herod where the baby was. Jesus was an outsider to the Roman occupation which propped up the local kings. He was a threat to the way governments rule the world.

Shepherds are the epitome of outsiders in the Bible, for they live outdoors among sheep and goats, neither of which are clean. In fact, anyone who’s gone camping knows how hard staying clean is. Glamping isn’t camping, and neither is RVing. My youthful experiences in Girl Scout camps of pitching tents and digging rain gutters is the closest I’ve ever been to living on the land. Even then, we had outhouses and cold water showers. The biblical city folk who could keep the ritual rules of cleanliness looked down on the shepherds as a lower class group, or outside of society.

Imagine a group of shepherds sitting around a nighttime fire, eating a simple meal, and chatting about their day or their families at home. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:9). I’d be terrified also, as I imagine you would be too! There’s a good reason the first words out of angels’ mouths are “Do not be afraid!”

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Giotto: Nativity at Padua

If ever the outcasts of the world needed good news, if ever the hopeless needed a savior, if ever the least of all needed one just like them, it was these lowly shepherds, who went to find a newborn child lying in an animal’s feeding stall. No fancy crib for the newborn king, no royal robes or golden crown, just ordinary swaddling clothes. He looked just like any other child, except his birth was proclaimed by angels, honored by Magi from afar, and given a place through the grace of a kind innkeeper.

Those of us who will celebrate Christmas with our families, our extended friends, and our relations in a wild, chaotic buzz of coming and going, feasting and drinking, and perhaps exchanging of gifts, don’t know the quiet and holy night when the light of the world entered “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79)

We keep our homes lit inside and out with megawatts of electric lights, both colored and white. Some of us even cue our lights to blink to seasonal music. Those of us who live beyond the great urban areas, can better see the stars at night, since there’s no light pollution. This is one reason we need to keep our national parks as close to nature as possible, for one day, these may be the only places people can marvel at the bright stars against the dark canopy of the sky above.

Gail: Stars across the Sky

Gail brings her love of the outdoors and her experience as a park ranger to her work. Over the trees, a floating band of stars become a pathway across the night sky.

Mike: Sun, Moon, and Stars

Even if our assignment was stars, that never means “only stars.” After all, the sun is a star, which is very close to us, astronomically speaking. If you’re going to have the sun and stars, you might as well have the moon also. I always say, “Why not?” The Tim Allen rule sometimes applies in art class: “More power!” When you go too far on the Tim Allen scale, that’s when his sidekick Al reminds him, “Sometimes less is more.” Mike certainly captures the energy and joy of the celestial bodies in this painting through the bold colors and strong brush strokes.

Sally: The Cosmos

Sally had an idea in her mind, but no image to look at. She wanted to show the cosmos in motion, as if God were looking down upon it. In her mind’s eye, she imagined this from memory. As she worked on the small canvas, she’d add more paint into the areas which weren’t quite dry and got somewhat frustrated at the paint not bending to her will. As a matter of technique, painting into a dry area is better than continuing to add color to a wet area, since the wet brush picks up the wet layers below that. Mike and Gail, having many sessions under their belts, have already crossed this particular bridge. She also learned something significant. It’s easier to paint something when you can look at it. I think it’s a good start and it holds promise: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:41).

Cornelia: Starry Night

I’m not a fast walker, nor do I get down the road quickly. I’m too busy noting the color of the sky, thinking what colors to mix to get the grey trees of a late December day, or how to paint the towering cumulus clouds of summer. I file these thoughts away in the treasure house of my mind, for one day I’ll need them. I look at the shadows of the leaf clumps on trees, but not at each leaf alone. The tree leaves are communities, not individuals. They exist as groups, so the artist treats them as such.

I’m not sure about others, but many walkers are fixed on their personal best speed, or going a half mile longer. Some people drive to the grocery store and make their list in their head as they go. In the store, they make a new to do list for the home, and once that’s done, they make another list for the next day. The cycle starts all over again. They never once raise their eyes to greet the stars, to note the cycles of the moon, to enjoy the sunset colors, or the sunrise either. They’re probably more productive than I am, but I take time to reflect deeply on the “why of things” rather than repeating the same rhythms over and over. Most people like the familiar rhythms, however, while I question if they still have meaning in today’s world.

Today I saw the Winter Solstice Dawn

In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans thought the stars had a power and energy to determine the fates of human beings. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and stoic philosopher of the 2nd century, wrote in his Meditations: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” From his privileged location, he could identify with the heroic persons in the astrological figures of mythology.

Some people are “born under a bad sign,” or are unlucky in life. Of course, some say we make our own luck, but people born into harsh circumstances lack the same resources to make choices for good. The deck is stacked against them, from living in trauma filled neighborhoods to a lack of quality foods due to a paucity of grocery stores. As Albert King, the great blues artist once sang, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

The good news is the bright light of the Christmas star points to the new light, which has come into the world. We hear, amidst the cacophony of commercials and piped in musical carols, the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (60:1).

As a gift, you can listen to the great Albert King sing “Born Under a Bad Sign,” by copying the link below to your browser.
https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=F2IqJtBL6yk&list=OLAK5uy_kRTT9VaZ7Ht_pjIoBhtqhS_99sMi_D5a4

Our art class returns Friday, January 4, 2022, at 10 am. I hope to bring pomegranates, if I can still find them in the store. We’ll make a fresh start in the New Year, so if you want to join, you’ll start where you are. We are a “one room schoolhouse,” so there’s no grade levels with us. We’re all learning and improving from where we are at the moment.

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

How to Make a Yule Log
https://www.learnreligions.com/make-a-yule-log-2563006

5 Most Beautiful Chinese Winter Solstice Poems to Appreciate
https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/winter-solstice-poems.htm

The New World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness | CIRES
https://cires.colorado.edu/Artificial-light

A Map of a Changing World View

art, change, cognitive maps, cosmology, Creativity, Faith, Healing, Icons, mappa mundi, nature, Painting, Pantocrator, renewal, Spirituality, vision

Jesus and The Cosmos

When our world is changing “faster than we can say Jack Rabbit,” sometimes life can get overwhelming. My dad often used this quaint phrase when he wanted something in a hot minute, like a bowl of ice cream just before bedtime. Or when he wanted us kids to get a move on and not dilly dally. Usually we were messing around and goofing off when our parents had time constraints, so the tone of his voice sometimes sharpened with the promise of consequences if we weren’t front and center right now. My parents were usually in hurry mode, while we kids never quick unless the destination was the local Dairy Queen. We all screamed for ice cream in my family.

This clock knows which way the wind blows

Grownups have a different sense of time than children do. Adults know from experience how short lived is the human existence, for they’ve lived long enough to have loved and lost. Children, who’re generally protected from such harsh realities, live in worlds in which time both stretches into eternity and seems to stand still. I call this variable sense “rubber band” time, since it can both stretch to the moment of breaking, but also snap back to inertia or non movement. For children, especially at year end, Christmas comes on lumbering feet, but for parents, the season is far too brief. The day blows through on a wind from the north, like a polar front charging into the Deep South on a mission to freeze every fragile magnolia blossom before the new year can make an appearance.

Treasure at the end of the rainbow

Children’s worlds are different from adults, for they still have a sense of wonder and all things are new to them. I remember seeing my first rainbow high up in the sky. I put up such a clamor on the front porch as I called for my mother, she was sure I’d seen a snake or some dangerous animal. She was put out I’d called her away from her household tasks “just to see a rainbow.” To this day, I still think rainbows are wondrous writings in the sky and meant to give us joy for our mundane lives. Seven decades later, the child in me still celebrates rainbows.

Our sense of time changes as we age, for everything a child sees is a first and a best. This is why we can have such deeply imprinted memories from our childhoods. Later on, we’re doing the same things over and over, so unless these events stand out for some different reason, they all tend to blend together. We also tend to think of these as “this is the way life is,” or they become the “model” for our world. This is also known as our cognitive map.

Some people can give good directions to their home, while others wouldn’t be able to get someone to their place even if they lived in a teacup. Those “others” lack good cognitive maps, for they don’t have a good mental image of the landmarks on the way to their home. Today, our cognitive maps are undergoing rapid change. The world we used to know doesn’t exist, mostly because of COVID. Once we had a service economy, but now we don’t do face to face experiences because of the pandemic, so we buy goods. We’re buying so many goods (can we ever buy bads?), we have supply chain problems trying to provide them all. We’re so used to same day or next day delivery from our pre-pandemic lives, we think our world is coming to an end if it’s going to take a week to get our cherished gifts delivered.

That old world existed back in 2005, when Amazon Prime partnered with the US Postal Service for its packages’ last leg of delivery. Today we have on demand groceries ordered through the app for immediate pick up or delivery, as well as restaurant foods for the same. This was unimaginable just a decade ago. It’s still so new, some folks won’t use it, even if they were on their death bed. Their cognitive map won’t let them try a new thing, for these new places and experiences aren’t encoded on their mind maps.

British Library: Mappa Mundi

The ancient world maps, dating from the peak of the Middle Ages, take their cartography from both faith and geography. One of the earliest is the Map Psalter, which takes its name from its full-page illustration of a map of the world. It’s design shares close parallels with the famous Mappa Mundi, now housed at Hereford Cathedral. The manuscript was made in London during the latter half of the 13th century but after 1262, as the Psalter’s calendar commemorates on 3rd April the feast day of St Richard of Chichester (d. 1253) who was canonized in 1262.

The image shows Christ holding the orb of the world, flanked by two angels. The map itself is highly detailed. Jerusalem is marked in the center, with Rome appearing slightly below it. Major rivers, such as the Ganges and the Danube, are drawn in blue, and the Red Sea is also included. Representations of the so-called ‘Marvels of the East’ line the right-hand side of the painting. The British Isles are found to the lower left.

Hereford Mappa Mundi

The Hereford Mappa Mundi is unique in Britain’s heritage. An outstanding treasure of the medieval world, it records how 13th-century scholars interpreted the world in spiritual as well as geographical terms. The map bears the name of its author, ‘Richard of Haldingham or Lafford’ (Holdingham and Sleaford in Lincolnshire). Recent research suggests a date of about 1300 for the creation of the map. An unknown artist drew the Hereford Mappa Mundi on a single sheet of vellum (calf skin), measuring 64 × 52 inches (1.58 × 1.33 meters), tapering towards the top with a rounded apex.

The geographical material of the map is contained within a circle 52 inches in diameter and reflects the thinking of the medieval Church, which places Jerusalem at the center of the world. Drawings of the history of humankind and the marvels of the natural world are superimposed onto the continents of the world. These 500 or so drawings include around 420 cities and towns; 15 Biblical events; 33 plants, animals, birds, and strange creatures; 32 images of the peoples of the world; and 8 pictures from classical mythology.

We all make maps in our minds, otherwise we’d get lost going from our easy chair to the kitchen to get a snack on a commercial break. This is because our hippocampus is working well. Some of us have a talent for getting lost in a proverbial tea cup, especially when landmarks aren’t visible. When I lived in Colorado, I always knew which way I was headed as long as I could see the mountains. At night, I had no idea, so I could get lost easily.

T shape map, East at top

The ancient western world oriented their maps with east at the top and Jerusalem at the center because the sun rose in the east and faith was primary in their world view. The Chinese, who were the first to invent the compass, often drew maps with South on top because they always thought the compass pointed to South. South was their sacred direction, for in any religious or royal ceremonies the kings faced south. This perception may have come because the northern parts of China were cold and dark.

The Islamic maps of the era also drew the south on top, since the initial Islamic habitations were north of Mecca. Therefore, South-oriented maps would show the followers looking up towards it. Yet, our maps today orient north instead, due to Mercator, the noted mapmaker of the 16th century. By this time, sailors were navigating not only by the North Star, but also with the compass. Their sailing records were complete and detailed. Mercator used these to create the first Mercator Projection map, which was more correct than any map beforehand. After this map, all western maps set North as the top of the map.

Columbus managed to find the Americas in 1492 with the map he had at the time, but he was convinced he’d found islands outlying Japan or Asia because he’d traveled the distance the map had indicated was necessary to find the Asian continent. This is a classic case of cognitive dissonance, for the map Columbus had in his mind and in his hand didn’t correlate with reality. This disconnect can cause us discomfort or cause us to make decisions or conclusions based on a reality that no longer exists or doesn’t fit the facts in hand.

All of us have this problem, to one degree or another. As we grow up, we discover our childhood myths are just stories, and the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Rabbit, and Santa Claus aren’t real, but just our parents acting in secret to bring magic into our childish world. As the oldest child in my family, I recall the Christmas I realized Santa Claus wrote in the same distinctive script for which my father was known. Unlike many doctors, my dad had elegant and legible handwriting. At the tender age of five, I made the choice to keep the secret of Santa Claus safe for my younger brother’s sake. Besides, as long as I believed, I would get presents from both my parents and Santa. Keeping the Santa secret safe had its advantages.

These old maps also remind us how our point of view determines our world view. If we see the world with the eyes of faith, we’ll observe the world through a different lens than the person who looks through a microscope or telescope. A person of faith can look through these tools and see the wonders of God in the smallest or most distant bits of creation, but without faith, these views will be unique, but not inspiring.

In ancient times, while sailors navigated with their eyes fixed on the Northern Star, they also depended on the written records of previous sailors. They depended on the capricious sea gods to protect them and their cargo from harm. Sailing was a dangerous occupation and goods were often lost at sea. The apostle Paul was caught in a storm on the Mediterranean for two weeks, when the crew finally threw the cargo of wheat overboard to lighten the load. Even in the first century, there were supply chain issues in the grocery business (Acts 27). Afterwards, Paul met and healed people on shore and the ship finally got under way with new supplies to replace the old ones.

Today, our settled lives have been upended by a tiny virus that seems to mutate and persist. What we used to know as normal now feels strange. I grew up hand washing dishes at the kitchen sink, but since COVID and the demise of my garbage disposal, I’m back to hand washing them until the plumber can rotorouter my drain and I can put Mr. Dishwasher back to work. I’m not sure my dishes are clean or sanitary. Of course, I obviously made it to a ripe old age without a dishwasher, but the pandemic has changed my worldview. I see germs everywhere now.

“‘Adjusting our expectations to account for unpredictability, uncontrollability, and the fact that our lives may be disrupted on and off, and building that into our expectations, would be good for our mental health,’ said Karestan Koenen, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “As humans, we don’t have as much control as we think we do. The virus has just made it very clear.” Many of us have a world view that puts us in charge of all things, when in truth we aren’t the captains of our fate.

First Stage, Map Icon

The first stage of my icon map followed the original map fairly well, but I let it rest next to my easel for a long time. This was a sure sign I wasn’t happy with it. The old map was a world view which belonged to a different age, but not to me. When I thought of my own world view, Jesus still had priority as Lord and Ruler of creation, but the world over which he reigned wasn’t merely the earth, but all of the known universe.

After a vacation, I decided to repaint it. The central swath of color represents the Milky Way in the night sky, as seen from earth. The warm golds and reds are the energies of all the planets and the stars in our universe, as well as the heat of all the life on earth. If we are all one, and Christ is lord of all, we humans have a particular responsibility to care for life in all its forms. As John 10:10 reminds us, Jesus said:


“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

Cognitive Map – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/cognitive-map

Map Psalter, British Library
https://www.bl.uk/british-library-treasures/articles/maps-and-views

Mappa Mundi | Hereford Cathedral
https://www.herefordcathedral.org/mappa-mundi

No, It’s Not Just You: Why time “speeds up” as we get older – Science in the News
https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/no-not-just-time-speeds-get-older/

Why maps point North on top? – Geospatial World
https://www.geospatialworld.net/blogs/why-maps-point-north-on-top/

The Washington Post Analysis | This is how America is responding to Omicron
By Olivier Knox and Caroline Anders
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/12/03/this-is-how-american-is-responding-omicron/

Autumn Leaf Prints

adult learning, art, autumn leaves, Carl Jung, Christmas, coronavirus, Creativity, Faith, grief, holidays, inspiration, nature, Painting, renewal, shadows, Spirituality, trees, vaccinations, vision

As the days grow shorter, the pile of leaves grows larger. This is Einstein’s equation for autumn. I know “Energy equals Mass times the speed of Light squared” isn’t really congruent with all those bags of leaves accumulating on the edge of the streets of the front yards in your neighborhood. It just seems that way. When I bought my first little stucco, flat roofed house back in my hometown, the former owners reminded me at closing, “Be sure and rake the roof every autumn.”

Of course I forgot about this, until the twenty something major trees around my little flat roofed house dumped all their leaves on my roof. How did I know? When it rained, those leaves blocked the drainage holes, so water came inside the ceiling light fixtures of my kitchen in the back of the house. As soon as the rain quit, I had the ladder out and was filling the big, black garbage bags with soggy leaves. If you only fill them half way, they’ll stay intact when tossing them over the parapet. I was younger then, and trainable. I didn’t forget when autumn came the next year.

Gail’s Leaves floating on Water

I’ve always thought leaves “fell” off the trees or the wind blew them off, but I asked Mr. Google, “Why do leaves fall?” Turns out, the trees cut them off with scissor cells. The leaves are only useful for making food for the tree. They are the seasonal kitchen staff, so the tree lets them go for the winter and brings in a new crew in the spring. The changing light and cooler temperatures triggers a hormone that makes this happen.

The scissor cells are stained red and mark the boundary between the branch (left) and the leaf stalk.
University of Wisconsin Plant Image Teaching Collection

If the leaves stayed on the tree, they’d wake up during a winter warm spell, start their food production work, and then get frozen when the cold inevitably returns. The tree knows the lifespan of the leaf, and this is the natural course of the life cycle. New growth will come in the spring, after a period of rest and recovery.

Lauralei’s Memories of The Leaves that Were

Our holiday season coincides with darkening days and marketing excess. Most of the commercials show happy families with lots of presents in heavily decorated holiday environments. Statistics show 25% of people are estranged from their families, and one out of every 463 Americans alive at the beginning of 2020 has since died of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. About 1 in 8 Americans say that a member of their family died of the virus; another fifth say that they lost a close friend, according to YouGov polling. These are staggering numbers, for in the US alone, 779,293 people have lost their lives as of November 30, 2021. One too many Thanksgiving tables had an empty place setting for a loved one no longer among us, and this will be a blue Christmas for many families.

If this were a war, maybe folks would get all excited and consider good health practices such as mask wearing , hand washing, and vaccinations their patriotic duty. Instead, they throw themselves into the breach of a thousand tiny viruses as if they were seeking the congressional gold medal for valor, and end up leaving their families with nothing but medical bills, grief, and the loss of their presence. Into this weary season comes Omicron, yet another variant, but an expected event due to the lack of worldwide access to vaccines and the virus’s ability to mutate in immunocompromised individuals. The enemy keeps evolving and the battles continue, whether we’re weary of the struggle or not.

“The Falling Leaves,” by Margaret Postgate Cole of England, is one of the first anti-war poems from a woman’s perspective. It was written in November 1915, during the First World War, when from 1914 to 1918, Flanders Fields was a major battle theatre on the Western Front. A million soldiers from more than 50 different countries were wounded, missing or killed in action there. Entire cities and villages were destroyed, their population scattered across Europe and beyond. The tradition of poppies on Veterans Day came from the red flowers given life from the blood spilled on this battlefield. COVID today is exacting it’s own cruel battle toll, with children left orphaned and spouses left without their mates. The adverse affects on this generation may be equal to those who went through the great flu pandemic of 1918 or the Great Depression.

War may be necessary in some instances, but it’s never to be glorified. There’s always a sadness related to the loss of life, regret over the great expense poured out that might have been used to build rather than destroy, and the cruelties that attend actions when we make others into evil enemies and refuse to see them as human as we are. Her poem speaks poignantly to this human loss:

Today, as I rode by,
I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree
In a still afternoon,
When no wind whirled them whistling to the sky,
But thickly, silently,
They fell, like snowflakes wiping out the noon;
And wandered slowly thence
For thinking of a gallant multitude
Which now all withering lay,
Slain by no wind of age or pestilence,
But in their beauty strewed
Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay.

Source: Margaret Postgate’s Poems (1918)

If we want to treat these end of year days as “days of denial” of all that’s grim in the world to focus only on the good and the light, we’s be like people who claim we have no shadow. Carl Jung believed the shadow included everything in the unconscious mind, good or bad. Also, the shadow might include only the part of the personality that you don’t want to identify as self, but still is a part of your unconscious mind. This dark side of your personality contains everything your conscious mind can’t admit about itself.

When we read the birth story of Jesus, we often focus on the angels and the gifts of the magi. We forget these heavenly hosts are God’s armies and the magi came to meet the new king. These were revolutionary acts that caused King Herod to feel insecure and threatened, so he slaughtered the innocent babies born at this time. The Bible never forgets this shadow side of life, for this is why Christ came into our world:

“to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” ~ Luke 1:79

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

Why Leaves Really Fall Off Trees : Krulwich Wonders… : NPR
https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114288700

The Depths Of Estrangement: Why Family Rifts Happen And How To Heal
https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/12/24/family-estrangement-holidays

[The Washington Post] Analysis | A third of Americans say close friends or family have died of covid-19
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/10/13/third-americans-say-close-friends-or-family-have-died-covid-19/

Visit Flanders Fields | VISITFLANDERS
https://www.visitflanders.com/en/themes/flanders_fields/

Rabbit! Rabbit! Welcome to December!

art, Christmas, coronavirus, Faith, Family, Food, grief, Hanukkah, holidays, Imagination, Ministry, nature, pandemic, purpose, vaccinations, winter solstice

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” my daddy was fond of saying. We often long for the “way things used to be,” as if the Golden Age of the past was the best of all times. Yet, that past often exists only in our memories, but not in the lived reality of all persons. This is the classic story of the young prince, who while sheltered within the confines of his sumptuous palace never knew want, but once he walked among his people, he saw suffering and need everywhere. Today we know him as the Buddha, or Siddhartha Gautama. Many over the centuries have wondered why suffering exists in the world, or why they themselves must suffer. The Buddha saw all life as suffering, or rather our inability to accept the impermanence, change, and dissatisfaction with the present moment.

Rabbit Buddha

The Golden Age is a myth and poetic concept, as well as a political and philosophical construct. It began in Greece and was fixed in people’s minds by the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus. The Golden Age is a dream of an “earlier time when people lived peaceful, untroubled lives, and the earth supplied all their wants.” Those who read the Bible can easily find a parallel story in the first humans, who lived in the Garden of Eden. Of all the high and holy days in our cultural calendar, Christmas rates number one for nostalgia, both the personal kind and the universal type.

Nostalgia is the state of being homesick, or a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning, either for the return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. It can be a salve for those who suffer, or it can be more salt poured into an open wound. It just depends on how one frames the experience. We feel “homesick “ in the worst possible way, for we yearn for the security of the familiar and the safe. Mostly we yearn for the people we love and are kin to us.

Happy Rabbit Family

I remember the year I divorced my husband. It was necessary, for I couldn’t trust him to care for our daughter due to his alcoholism. The first Christmas was hard, for his family chose him and shut me out, as did all his friends. Decorating the Christmas tree was always a family affair in the Golden Age of my memories of Christmas. If this year I had no family, I would bring friends to decorate my tree. Just because I’d always celebrated one way before, I wouldn’t let my circumstances keep me from finding joy this Christmas. I called my young mother friends, invited their families to my home, and we decorated my tree within an inch of its life. It was my best tree ever! And then we ate and drank a toast to our creation. My friends were salve for my suffering, and helped me create a good memory, which still gives me pleasure to this day, four decades later.

Big Holiday Family Dinners

Christmas brings families together, but this is a double edged sword. While we all want to be with our families, we also know oil and water don’t mix. After both my parents died, I often ate with some of my clergy pals’ families. I was glad to know they had relatives who also wore their crazy pants to dinner. If I ate with congregation members, they were often on their best behavior, as if I were some sort of god on earth. You’d think after six months at a charge, I’d already have disabused them of that notion, but some people never see your true nature, but only the image of every pastor they’ve ever known before. More often, I’d get pastoral calls of family crises during holiday seasons, so after years of this recurrence, I finally learned to plan for it. I eventually realized we all have a Golden Age of Christmas in our minds, but in real life, we live in the Age of Iron. When reality hits our delusions, the disconnect is palpable. We feel it in our very bones.

1896 Thomas Nast illustration in Clement Clark Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

For many Americans, images of Victorian Christmases include memories of “children all snug in their beds with their visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads,” which we recognize as one of the opening lines of Clement Clark Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” a.k.a. “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” These sugar plums aren’t sugared fruits, but are more like candy covered peanuts or almonds. Jelly beans also are made by this same process. Whatever these treats were, the children dreamed of a world of happiness, sweetness, and delight.

As my Depression Era mother would say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would be kings.” That outlook never stopped me or my brothers from wanting everything in the Sears Christmas catalog, even though we knew these were just suggestions for Santa. Yet we never felt deprived, for whatever we received was a gift, plus it was more than we had before. On Thanksgiving day this year, consumers spent at a pace of at least $3.5 million per minute on line due to stores being closed for the holiday. This year, the average household is pegged to spend $924 for online shopping, more than double the $440 expected for in-store.

December 15 is Wear Your Pearls Day

The National Retail Federation (NRF) projects November/December retail sales of $843.4 billion to $859 billion, up 8.5% to 10.5% from 2020 results. NRF said its forecast — excluding automobile dealers, gas stations, and restaurants, and covering Nov. 1 to Dec. 31— tops the previous high of $777.3 billion. This total is up 8.2% over 2020, as well as the average gain of 4.4% over the past five years. This increase is in spite of supply chain hiccups, rising gas prices, and the pockets of as yet unvaccinated individuals, who continue to be the greatest number of COVID admissions to our hospitals. It’s as if we’re trying to replace the suffering of our present with presents for those we love. This also accounts for our desire to donate to charities at this season.

Scrooge of Christmas

Yet the Scrooge of Christmas continues to be COVID, for as an Augusta University Medical analysis released in May of 2021 revealed, which looked at COVID-19 related deaths in vaccinated versus unvaccinated individuals—only .8% (150) of vaccinated people accounted for the 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May. If you want to give someone the gift of life this Christmas, take them to the local pharmacy and get them started on their vaccinations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found both infection-induced and vaccine-induced immunity are durable for at least six months — but vaccines are more consistent in their protection and offer a huge boost in antibodies for people previously infected. Unfortunately, unvaccinated persons are also the prime hosts in which the virus can mutate, so the Grinch has already brought us the latest variant of concern, Omicron.

This variant was first identified in the South African peninsula, due to their excellent testing facilities. Of course, now the nations of the world have isolated the countries there, so they now feel punished by these bans. Travelers arriving in major world airports already have tested positive for for this variant, so we can expect disruptions and quarantines worldwide to follow. During this holiday season of restoring relationships, COVID keeps breaking our ties instead of rebuilding them.

DeLee: Found Objects find a home in the No Room Inn

We can long for the Golden Age of light from our younger days, when our parents took on the big worries so we could have the pleasant memories of an untroubled childhood, or we can fix our sight on the lights of our faith. The great star of the east which announced the birth of Jesus was a pale light compared to “The true light, which enlightens everyone, (which) was coming into the world.” (John 1:9) His was “The light (which) shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5).

Colorful Menorah

Our Jewish friends meet the darkness of this Hanukkah season with prayers and menorahs, nightly lighting candles to disperse the darkness of hopelessness against great foes. They remember doing battle against spiritual powers, with God empowering their weakness. God never comes for the strong, but has a special kindness for the poor and weak. This is why we should feel blessed, no matter our personal experience, but especially during the holidays. The ceremony begins on November 28 and ends December 6, since it’s set by the lunar calendar.

So also are these December celebrations light filled: Burning the Yule Log on the 4th, St. Lucia on the 13th, the Winter Solstice on the 21st, Kwanzaa on the 26th, and finally, New Year’s Eve. Our good earth will bring its tilt back towards the sun gradually in the days following the winter solstice. This darkness too shall pass, whether it’s our personal grief or our universal suffering.

Winter Solstice brings back the Light

We’ll keep walking until we meet the better land beyond the horizon. If this isn’t yet the Golden Age of our memories or the Golden Age of our sugar plumb dreams, let’s work together as we walk to build a better world for all people, “for we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my Bunny Friends!

May you have a mindful holiday, full of joy and peace,

Cornelia

Dukkha: What the Buddha Meant by ‘Life Is Suffering’
https://www.learnreligions.com/life-is-suffering-what-does-that-mean-450094

Reckford, Kenneth J. “Some Appearances of the Golden Age.” The Classical Journal, vol. 54, no. 2, The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, 1958, pp. 79–87, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3294223.

Wynne Parry: Why We Feel Nostalgic During the Holidays
https://www.livescience.com/17571-nostalgia-holidays-memories.html

Sugar Plums: They’re Not What You Think They Are – The Atlantic
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/12/sugar-plums-theyre-not-what-you-think-they-are/68385/

U.S. Thanksgiving Online Shopping Spending to Set Record
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-11-26/u-s-thanksgiving-spending-to-set-record-as-shoppers-move-online

U.S. holiday retail sales outlook brings good tidings
https://www.supermarketnews.com/consumer-trends/us-holiday-retail-sales-outlook-brings-good-tidings

The Washington Post: CDC finds immunity from vaccines is more consistent than from infection, but both last at least six months
https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/11/01/what-works-better-vaccines-or-natural-immunity/

Staggering COVID-19 Statistic: 98% to 99% of Americans Dying are Unvaccinated – AU/UGA Medical Partnership
https://medicalpartnership.usg.edu/covid-19-staggering-statistic-98-to-99-of-americans-dying-are-unvaccinated/

Night before Christmas, Creator: Moore, Clement Clarke, 1779-1863 ( Author, Primary ), date: c1896, The University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries, Donor: Egolf, Robert
McLoughlin Bros., inc ( Publisher )
Nast, Thomas 1840-1902 ( Illustrator ) https://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00085407/00001

All of the versions of Clements’ work can be found at the UF Library site. The illustrations are telling of the age in which they drawn.

Dreams of Trees and Butterflies

arkansas, art, butterflies, coronavirus, Creativity, Faith, Forgiveness, grief, Healing, Historic neighborhood, holidays, hope, Imagination, inspiration, nature, pandemic, renewal, vision

The saying is true: “If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.” Yet how hard do we humans hold to the past, even if we need to move on into the future? As an artist, I’ve always been caught between my desire to honor the traditions of the past, but also to move into the the unknown realms of the future. Artists already have a vocabulary and boundaries to describe the works of the past, so we can tell if our current works “meet the criteria for excellence.”

Found Object Butterfly: roadside debris, wire, scrap cloth, and metallic beads

When we go beyond this known world into the uncharted territories, we’re like Columbus, who landed in the Caribbean islands, but thought he was on the continent of North America. I wonder if the monarch butterfly, just emerging from the cocoon, has any idea it soon will begin a 3,000 mile migration to its ancestral winter home in Mexico. The butterfly has the innate ability to navigate this path, whereas we humans are like Abram, for we’re going to a land our God will show us. We have no idea where we’ll end up, but we do know we’ll travel by stages and God’s guiding inspiration will always be with us.

During this current protracted COVID pandemic, with cases beginning in mid December 2019, we’ve now lost over 766,206 persons in the US alone and over 47,390,239 individuals have had COVID. Worldwide, the numbers are far greater: over 5 million have died and nearly 255 million have contracted COVID, mostly because vaccines and health care services aren’t available to the extent they are in America and the European Community. Not only has our world as a whole suffered a great grief, but each of us individually have lost friends, neighbors, or loved ones. This adds to our collective grief.

Airport Road at MLK Hwy Intersection, empty lots

When we see the rest of our world changing around us, we feel another loss, and this becomes the grief leading to the death of a thousand tiny cuts. Just as in our workplaces, when the ideas of the young, the female, and the ethnic individuals aren’t valued, their dismissal leads to devaluation of their perspectives as well as their personhood. When we devalue nature and treat creation as an arena for humanity to restructure for our purposes alone, we can fall into the trap of thinking only for our immediate future, but not for the generations to follow. This is why building lots inside the city get cleaned off and offered as a blank slate, since this makes them valuable to the greatest number of buyers.

Death by a thousand cuts was supposedly a form of torture in ancient China. It was reserved for the most heinous crimes, such as matricide, patricide, treason, and the like. From all the tiny slices, the accused finally bled to death. It was a cruel and unusual punishment, rather like flogging the back of a law breaker until the flesh was raw, but this punishment was intended to cause death because the executioner kept at it until he succeeded.

Most of us are blissfully unaware of the loss of a few trees here and there in our neighborhoods. Sometimes we even want to cut down the trees on our own property because we’re tired of raking leaves every fall, or if we have a magnolia tree, we’re tired of our year round duty of leap reaping. Of course, if you want a high strung, classy tree to show off in your front yard, you also need to sign onto the high maintenance these trees require. “Those that wears the fancy pants has to take care of those fancy pants,” my mother always reminded me.

Yard work is a type of infrastructure most of us can understand. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, those of us hosting the feast are also getting the house and yard ready for family and friends to visit. Infrastructure has been in the news lately also, with politicians debating whether soft or hard infrastructure deserves the most funding.

In Hot Springs, we have “Green Infrastructure,” which includes all the natural assets that make the city livable and healthy: trees, parks, streams, springs, lakes and other open spaces. These assets are ‘infrastructure’ because they support peoples’ existence. For example, tree canopy keeps the city cooler while also absorbing air pollutants and mitigating flooding. The Hot Springs National Park forest area is also an important resource for a variety of reasons. The mountain area is in the recharge zone for the hot springs and the forest provides other important ecosystem services.

Hot Springs is Very Green

In urban areas, we can evaluate the landscape on a smaller scale, so even small patches of green space become important, since together they can make a greater large cumulative impact. Smaller urban spaces, such as linear stream valleys, or even pocket parks, can add up to a connected green landscape. When evaluating the ecological health of an urban area, urban tree canopy is a key green asset. For instance, Hot Springs has 57% tree canopy coverage and an additional 12% green space coverage. This adds to our quality of life, for this isn’t only pleasing to the eye, but the trees and grass convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, thus improving the air we breathe.

Cities are beginning to recognize the importance of their urban trees because they provide tremendous dividends. For example, city trees are a strategic way to reduce excess stormwater runoff and flooding. Even one tree can play an important role in stormwater management. For example, estimates for the amount of water a typical street tree can intercept in its crown range from 760 gallons to 4000 gallons per tree per year, depending on the species and age. Taken city-wide, the trees within the city provide an annual stormwater interception of 1.2 to 1.5 million gallons which equates to 7 to 9 million dollars in benefits. The loss of one tree is worth so much money, replanting our tree cover is an investment in our future wellbeing.

I often heard an old proverbial poem growing up, which may not be repeated much today:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

My nanny would remind me of the same principle in other words, “A stitch in time saves nine.” My daddy was from the school of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While those two schools of thought still persist today, I think making a small, inexpensive repair, rather than a costly replacement, is a better choice, but too many of us live in a throwaway society.

Wisterias among the Trees

When we lose one small thing, we brush it off as no matter, but after a thousand small losses, we just can’t take it any longer. We look around and wonder what happened to our world, why didn’t we take action sooner, and now we might be in a hole so deep we can’t see the top. When I first painted the trees on this vacant lot, the little coffee kiosk had closed shop and moved on. It was springtime and the violet wisteria vines were bright against a sunlit cerulean sky.

As I was taking a few photos with my iPhone last spring, the local policeman pulled into the circular drive to check on me. We chatted a bit, but he wanted to make sure I was OK. I’m at that age when silver alerts go out for others, but I’m not there yet. I guess “old gal taking photographs of trees” still looks suspicious in my small town. I’m thankful my town is this quiet.

When I told the officer, “These trees called to me,” he might have had second thoughts about my state of mind. Then he realized he was talking to an artist. I was rescued when his radio called him off to take care of some real trouble. I find I do my best work when I feel called to a subject, for I have a spiritual connection with it.

That was this past April, and here at year’s end, this lot is up for auction, with a commercial use zoning. It has easy access to the bypass and would be good for a food place or a fuel stop. Things change and we can’t hold back progress. I know people who buy a vacation home to visit while they still work, but as soon as they retire to this same place, they grouse about all the weekenders who come and spoil their solitude. They put up with it a year or so, griping daily, and then sell and move on. Life changed for them and they didn’t adjust to their new normal. I wonder why they never realized Hot Springs was a vacation destination. We think we need an infrastructure just for the 38,500 people who live here year round, but we actually need an infrastructure to support the over two million visitors to whom we offer the hospitality of our hot springs, our hotels, our fine dining, our attractions, and our natural beauty.

When I saw the trees were gone and the lots had been plowed level, I wondered if the trees had a swift death, or if they had brief dreams and fantasies while the saws pierced their outer skins. I thought of the butterflies encased in their cocoons, and the deep sleep of their transformation. Do butterflies dream in this stage, or do they even dream like we do? I wondered if next April I would see wisteria growing near the ground, for as a weed, it’s hard to kill. I always hope, for I’ve learned over time, if I’m a prisoner of hope, this is better than seeing only the loss.

Stage One

After traveling and recovering from an autumn sinus infection, I decided to destroy an old mobile sculpture of a butterfly made from found materials and attach it to a canvas. I took some scraps of cloth from some mask projects, and glued the whole to the canvas. Maybe I crammed more than I should have onto the small surface, but I was going with it. This work might be more catharsis than art, or more process and possibility than success. It doesn’t matter, for sometimes art is more therapeutic than anything else.

The first layer held all the colors and shapes of the original Google map. The second layer began to make sense of the shapes and textures, for I started to pull together the small areas into larger spaces. By the third layer, I’d lost most of the color areas and turned them instead into linear shapes. The primary colors of the background I subdued beneath an overall gold tone. The lines now are like an automatic writing or glyphic writing, which might be the language spoken either by the trees or the butterflies, or by all natural living beings.

Stage Two

When we confront suffering in nature, in our lives, or in the world, we often ask, “Where is God in all of this?” In the days past when I suffered, I held on to the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans:

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (8:18-21)

Dreams of Trees and Butterflies

Often we suffer because we can’t change our past, or we think we can’t affect our future. At some point in our lives, we come to accept our suffering. We don’t have to continue to suffer, of course, but we need to accept that what happened to us is over. We can forgive ourselves for not leaving a bad relationship earlier, or being too young to know we were being harmed. Some of us may have survivor guilt from our nation’s wars, and suffer moral injuries from acts of war. Only good and decent human beings would feel this guilt, and they can heal with Christ’s forgiveness. We can be changed and then begin to change the world, even if we begin only with our own selves.

After all, the Psalms promise us God is faithful both to us and to the creation also: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.” (104:30)

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

Vegetation Community Monitoring at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, 2007–2014
Natural Resource Data Series NPS/HTLN/NRDS—2017/1104
https://www.nps.gov/articles/upload/HOSP_VegCommunity2007_2014r-508.pdf

GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE LANDSCAPE STUDY AND PLAN
City of Hot Springs, AR
Green Infrastructure Committee
https://www.cityhs.net/DocumentCenter/View/6245/Hot-Springs-AR-GI-Study-and-Plan-Final?bidId=

Hot Springs General Information: Hot Springs National Park Arkansas
https://www.hotsprings.org/pages/general-information/

KISS Principle and The Six Degrees of Hydrangeas

adult learning, art, Bartram’s Nursery, brain plasticity, butterflies, Creativity, Faith, flowers, garden, inspiration, Ministry, nature, Painting, purpose, renewal, righteousness, risk, Spirituality, Travel

These dried hydrangeas, a gift from North Carolina, traveled home with me from my vacation back east to see my youngest nephew marry the love of his life. My childhood friend cut them from the bushes in front of her beautiful retirement home in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Lake Junaluska, the famed Methodist Retreat Center. Her home is about an hour away from the Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home. I’ve now been to both historic places, known for their hospitality, and enjoyed the hospitality of two friends’ homes, who live not an hour apart. I knew both of these gals growing up back home, and now they know each other through me.

Hydrangeas and Coffee on a Cloudy Carolina Morning

Hydrangeas are native to America. Two well-known hydrangea species, among others, grow wild in North America — the H. aborescens (smooth leaf) and H. quercifolia (oak leaf). Their actual cultivation began in the 1700s. An historic trifecta of our forefathers’ estates is proof: Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier all cultivated these hydrangeas.

Bartram’s Garden, possibly drawn by a young William Bartram

William Bartram, of Bartram’s Nursery in Philadelphia, provided the seeds and plants for these historic homes. James Madison’s home, Montpelier, in Vermont, still has the creamy white heads of H. arborescens as a border for his garden wall. The Bartram Gardens were a natural history project begun by his father John Bartram and continued through the generations, with William’s love of travel and exploration leading to a four-year collecting trip to the American Southeast and the publishing of an account of his travels in 1791. It became a classic text in the history of American science and literature.

Documents from Mount Vernon record how in 1792, George Washington planted a native hydrangea, H. arborescens, on the bowling green at his home. Nearby, when Thomas Jefferson was designing his gardens and walkways at Monticello, he also included these new shrubs. Today, gardeners can purchase heirloom H. quercifolia seeds from the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants in Monticello.

The notion everyone is connected by just six stages of separation gained popularity in the early 2000’s based on scientific studies done in the 1960’s. The game Six Stages of Kevin Bacon was based on this idea. Today, due to social media and the internet, some people have only 3 or 4 stages of separation. Our founding fathers ran in the same circles, so their stages of separation were small.

Hydrangeas also come from Japan, where they’re the subject of many brush and ink paintings. The flowers hold a solid role in Japanese culture. The Japanese celebrate the hugely popular Ajisai (hydrangea) festivals in the blooming seasons of late spring and summer. Pink hydrangeas are given on the fourth wedding anniversary. Hydrangea gardens often grace the grounds of sacred Buddhist temples. People enjoy amacha, or tea from heaven, on April 8, Buddha’s birthday. Amacha is brewed from leaves of the Hydrangea serrata.

Steps ascending to Meigetsu-in Temple

While western churches are sited in lawns, as if they were sheepfolds to shelter the sheep within and protect them from the outer world, eastern Buddhist temples incorporate nature into their design and sites. This reminds us everything is one. As Father Richard Rohr reminds us in his book, The Universal Christ, the author of Colossians 1:19-20, puts this idea plainly:

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

A classic example is the Buddhist Meigetsu-in Temple, which was founded in 1160 as a Rinzai Zen temple of the Buddhist Kenchō-ji school. Located in Kamakura, Japan, its nickname is the hydrangea temple, for from the end of May through July, thousands of hydrangeas bloom during the rainy season. The temple is a Japanese national historic site.

When I first brought in the dried flowers to class, the first reactions I heard were, “Wow! You brought those all the way from North Carolina intact?” and “This is gonna be hard!” I’ll let you figure out who said what!

My answer was, “Sure, I’m an old art teacher, and I’m prepared for anything. I had a travel box in my SUV trunk, so they nestled quietly there on the journey home. As for hard to paint, remember what I always tell you, don’t paint the eyelashes before you get the shape of the face. The KISS principle always applies.”

“You mean keep it simple, stupid?”

“Mike, the one who wants to learn and stretch their mind is never stupid. KISS stands for KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUDENTS.”

They all laughed. Most of us can’t see the big forest because we’re looking at all the individual trees. If we step back and get a sense of the whole first, we can see how the parts relate to one another. This helps us put the basic sketch onto the surface of our work. It also gives us a moment to observe the subject before us and catch that moment of interest, which we can then emphasize.

Image Ball in Shadow and Light

As I reminded folks, “This looks difficult, but the basic shape here is a big ball. We’ve already done geometric balls. You thought those were boring, but they had a purpose. You needed that skill to be able to see the same shape in nature and recognize the same pattern of light and dark shadows.”

They nodded their heads. Teaching often is just reminding people what they already know or reinforcing previous skills from a different viewpoint. We went on to the slide show. It helps to see how other artists have handled the subject of the day. I’ve always enjoyed show and tell time, for it gives us inspiration and education both. Every time we learn something new, we have a new wrinkle in our brains. At a certain age, this is the only place we want to get wrinkles!

Inuzuka Taisui: Butterfly and Hydrangea, 1930, Woodblock print

This lovely Japanese woodblock print is from the era when Japan moved from its historic monarchy into the beginning of its new democratic government. The old emperor was confined to the palace due to illness, so the western educated prince regent Hirohito was the default leader. During this time, the people favored western art styles, such as this romanticized Shin-hanga print, instead of the older artists’ works of the floating world, or Ukiyo-e. The Japanese continued to prefer the works of the floating worlds, with the dancers, actors, musicians, and tea houses.

Of course, Taisui and the other artists of the Shin-hanga movement were producing for a distant audience, who may never have set foot upon the island of Japan. What we think we know of a place is one thing, but until we experience it first hand, we won’t know its truth and its power, except by word of mouth. Taisui was active for only a decade, as far as we know, from 1920 to 1930, but he made numerous prints of plants, insects, and birds, which still bring joy to us today.

T. Adams: Hydrangeas and Lilacs, palette knife technique

I found this painting on Pinterest. I pointed out how the artist didn’t paint every single flower petal, but still got the message of “hydrangeas” across. This is a palette knife work, so it builds up the shapes from back to front. An artist can’t just throw paint on the canvas like some piece of spaghetti against the wall and hope it sticks. We always have to put our thinking cap on and build up the shapes from back to front and from dark to light. We also have to pay attention to the direction of the light if we’re doing a realistic image.

Allison Chambers: Yesterday (Hydrangeas), oil on canvas, c. 2017-21

This second rough image by Allison Chambers is another example of not painting all the minute details, but getting the main idea across (KISS). This is why billboards don’t use small print and politicians use sound bites. We’re moving too fast on the highway to read the fine print and our attention spans now are less than a goldfish! Sad but true, a goldfish can focus for nine seconds, but the average human only for eight seconds.

We can blame phones, social media, and our desire to be connected all the time. Once we were content to call once a day, but now we have to check in twice a day or more. Some of us find that much contact interferes with getting things done, but then self starters don’t need anyone checking up on them. These folks tend to think frequent callers need to find another hobby to fill their time. Everyone needs a purpose in life, so those who’re trying to micromanage others might need to spend that energy helping the poor with food distribution or expending that excess energy doing good elsewhere. Then again, maybe those frequent callers are just lonely. They might need to use those dialing fingers for good as part of a community prayer chain. Then they can connect in prayer and feel useful too.

Doris Joa: Hydrangea with Ivy, watercolor on paper, 2015

This last image does have many details. It’s a watercolor built up in thin layers of washes to get the desired result. When working with washes, we have to have time and patience, and channel our inner goldfish, so we can manage our attention spans. Our first inclination is to work wet in wet, over and over, but that just muddies up our colors in that space. We need to let that spot dry, move to a new spot, paint it, and keep painting and moving, until we get the whole first layer done. Then we can come back and lay in darker tones in certain areas, once again moving about the canvas, for if we repaint too soon, we’ll just lift up the underpainting.

This takes focus and intent, as well as the ability to reserve judgement on our work, since it takes time for it to come into being. This isn’t a simple skill, for delayed gratification isn’t practiced often today. Even when we work our plan and execute our technique to the best of our ability, the end result may seem lacking. Yet, we’ve grown, or else we wouldn’t realize our struggle didn’t meet our expectations. When we want more, we can see how far short our efforts fall. This should encourage us to continue the challenge.

As Philippians 3:12-14 reminds us about the spiritual life:

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

After show and tell, we sat down to paint. We’d done enough talking and presenting of models. We had enough to chew on for the short time our class meets. If we have two hours, we use the first 15 minutes on presentation and the last 15 minutes on cleanup. This gives us about 90 minutes to paint. We don’t make large works, but sometimes we take an extra day to finish what we started. I’d call most of our work “studies,” since they’re quickly done.

Gail’s Hydrangeas

Gail chose to do color exploration and deeper, more saturated applications of paint, rather than her usual washes. This was a bold experiment for her. Art is a risky business. We can’t always control what the brush will do. Most of us have been trained since childhood to “color within the lines.” Once the paint gets loose, we’re in uncharted waters, sailing out into the deep ocean and out of sight of familiar landmarks. We can either turn back and hug the safe shore, or sail out to discover the unknown land. Taking risks is how we grow.

Mike’s Hydrangeas

Mike’s love of texture is apparent in his painting, as well as a variety of color. While the colors aren’t natural to the subject, he chose the colors which made him feel good. His is an emotional response to the beauty of the flowers. He wasn’t happy with the opening of the vase, but he got so carried away with the flowers, he forgot his perspective principles.

We might need to reteach that lesson once again. Some lessons need reteaching multiple times. This is why Jesus spoke in the gospels about God 264 times and love 44 times. Money rated 24 mentions, riches 2, the neighbor 10, and the poor 25. If we ever wondered what Jesus was focused on, we might look at what he emphasized in his ministry.

Cornelia’s Hydrangeas

I noticed we each gave our flower pots a different look when we painted our canvases. None of us are dedicated copyists. My color scheme tilts toward the red-orange, yellow-green, and blue-violet. This is a secondary triad, rather than a primary triad of red, yellow, and blue. The mixed colors give the flowers their muted look.

Secondary Triad on Cornelia’s Hydrangeas

By adding white to some of the brush strokes, and darker tones to others, I was able to suggest individual flowers as well as shapes. It’s just a quick sketch, a work I would do in preparation for a larger painting. Doing this would help me get some ideas down and help me solve some problems in advance, as if I were training for a competition. I would know if my color scheme was working, or if I needed to change the values or tints. I might want to choose a deeper color, or certainly a larger canvas.

So we come back for another day and another try. We can “see the promised land,” but like Moses, we don’t know if we’ll ever reach it. Artists have to be incurable optimists, for they keep trying again and again, even though we know human perfection in art will always be out of reach. Yet as Paul reminds us in Romans 3:21-24, if perfection in art eludes us, we can still have “Righteousness through Faith:”

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

May we all go onto perfection, with God’s help—
Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

Hydrangeas: A History
http://thehouseandhomemagazine.com/culture/hyndrangeas-a-history/

Taisho Democracy in Japan: 1912-1926
https://www.facinghistory.org/nanjing-atrocities/nation-building/taisho-democracy-japan-1912-1926

William Bartram – History of Early American Landscape Design
https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php/William_Bartram

Kamakura’s Famous Hydrangea Temple: Walk Among Flowers in Japan’s Ancient Capital
https://livejapan.com/en/in-tokyo/in-pref-kanagawa/in-kamakura/article-a0001996/

Science: You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish
https://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/

The Science Behind Six Degrees
https://hbr.org/2003/02/the-science-behind-six-degrees

The Autumn Colors

adult learning, apples, arkansas, art, autumn leaves, change, Creativity, Faith, inspiration, nature, Painting, perfection, photography, shadows, trees, vision

Robert Frost, in his poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” speaks to the transitory nature of fall colors:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

When I was in North Carolina recently, I was a tad early for the best colors of autumn, but I didn’t miss the Apple Festival in Waynesville, where I bought a half peck of apples fresh from a local orchard. Every time I encounter the word peck, it it brings back memories of my dad and his older brother schooling us children on the tongue twisters they learned in school. Back in the Stone Age, proper elocution was emphasized, along with cursive writing. To this day, l still hear their dulcet duet:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;

A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,

Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

Don’t get me started on sister Suzy’s seaside seashells or the amount of wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. I’d much rather talk about autumn leaves!

Here in Arkansas, our colors up north are about spent, but near and south of the I-40 corridor, peak leaf change generally takes place in early November. The colors usually don’t last long because as soon as the leaves change, strong cold fronts tend to knock off the leaves quickly as we head toward Thanksgiving.

Of course, with climate change, our first frosts are occurring later in the season. In fact, some climate scientists think we could be on the path to two main seasons—winter and summer—with transitional short shoulders of temperate weather we once knew as fall and spring. This will affect not only agriculture’s growing seasons, but also insect populations, flower blooms, and the wildlife dependent upon them, not to mention our utility bills.

Waynesville, NC Trees

After a three week hiatus from art class, I was excited to return. While I was gone, Gail has had many sleepless nights helping with the new grand babies and Mike has been extra busy, as is his normal usual. I was glad to see Erma and catch up with her to give condolences in the passing of her dear husband. COVID has kept us apart and out of touch, so I was late to know this. Others were sick or out of town, so Mike, Gail, and I looked over some art works for inspiration.

Georgia O’Keefe: Leaves, 1925

The Georgia O’Keefe Leaf painting treated these single shapes as unique objects, a radical idea in its day. This allowed her to limit her color palette and focus her design on the positive and negative spaces. A somewhat similar painting is Norman Black’s surrealist Autumn Leaves. It differs in feeling because the individual leaves are isolated, floating in space, rather than being layered one upon the other like cozy coverlets.

Norman Black: Autumn Leaves

One of the aspects in painting we often overlook is the source of light. Light is what gives our work sparkle, just as the light makes the world visible. As we wake to darkness now, we’ll appreciate the light more and more when we come home in the dark, for the days gradually grow shorter. Most artists pick one direction as the source for their light in the painting. This allows them to control the shadows of the objects in their canvases. They prefer the afternoon or morning light, not just because the sun is lower in the sky, but also because these times have distinctive temperatures. The morning has cooler colors, while the afternoon has warmer colors.

Paige Smith-Wyatt: Autumn Sunset

We looked in our cell phones for images of autumn leaves. This is when we discovered our phone search systems aren’t all created equal. While my phone will turn up every single yellow, red, or orange tree or leaf photo, plus a few pumpkins thrown in for good measure, other peoples’ phones list photos by month and date. Technology frustrated us right off the bat. Rather than waste half our class time looking for an image, Gail and I decided on one.

Sometimes the perfect is sacrificed in favor of the good when the time is short. Perfection is a goal, not the necessity to begin the journey. This is why we Methodists say we’re “going onto perfection,” rather than we’ve already arrived.

Gail’s Red Leaves

Mike chose the first one that popped up in his phone. He went straight to work. Gail likes to find the best before she starts. Sometimes we need to accept what is before us and make the best of what we have. The perfect isn’t always available. Also, she was working on too little sleep. Newborn babies will do that to grandmas. We can take a halfway good image from our phone and use it as an inspiration or jumping off point. We don’t have to recreate the image.

Beacon Manor Landscape Photoshopped

When working from a photo, it’s good to crop the image to the same scale as the canvas. This helps you get the proportions of the subject true to form. I also photoshop the colors, sharpness, and contrast. This preparatory work helps the mind sort out the important shapes. Once these decisions are made, drawing the basic shapes on the canvas starts and colors start happening.

Cornelia’s Autumn Landscape

Mike got out of the class to get back to the office before I could set a photo of his tree, but I recall it was an overall image with multicolored leaves. I worked from an old autumn photo from the grounds of my condo. I’d pushed the colors past realism in my computer software program, so it was already bold. I eliminated much of the extraneous details and painted just the simplest elements of the landscape. This is called “artistic license.” We don’t have to paint every leaf, but we can paint the shape of all the leaves in the mass together.

Artists and poets both seek to strike a chord in the hearts of their audience: one uses colors, light, shape, and form, while the other creates their images and emotions through word and metaphors.

Song for Autumn by Mary Oliver

If we remember nothing about this glorious autumn, let’s remember John 8:12, in which we hear Jesus proclaimed as the Light of the World:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Fall Foliage Dates

https://www.5newsonline.com/article/weather/when-is-peak-fall-color-across-the-usa-state-by-state-foliage/527-c4986dff-ffb9-4b27-9335-65ead54a1c10

History of Tongue Twisters

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/513952/history-behind-famous-tongue-twisters

USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 1515 pp. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.

https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/chapter/19/

Portraits in the Style of the Modern Masters

adult learning, art, Creativity, Holy Spirit, Icons, inspiration, Matisse, Ministry, Painting, picasso, risk, Spirituality, vision

“ Good artists copy, great artists steal,” Pablo Picasso once said. If we’re going to learn art, we should learn from the masters, and not from ordinary purveyors of paint. In art school, we often copied the old master paintings and drawings to learn their techniques and develop those traditional styles of execution so we could “break the rules” later on if we so chose.

Learning to paint and draw is a process. In ancient times, young people were apprenticed out to a master. In this workshop, they would learn their trade from the ground up, from cleaning brushes and sweeping the workshop floors, to later mixing colors, and then painting backgrounds. Later on they’d be drawing figures, so when they were competent, they would fill in the lesser people in the painting. By the time they achieved master status and were able to leave and establish a studio of their own, they could paint faces, hands, and the complete figure with appropriately draped clothing. This was about five to ten years of full time work in their master’s workshop and included the journeyman designation by the local guild.

When I taught art in the kindergarten through eighth grades at a private school, I always reminded the high achieving parents, “Your children’s art is an exploratory and experimental exercise. It may not look like a beautiful finished product, although it might have gone through that stage at some point in the process. If it’s a picture of daddy cutting the lawn, but all you see is black circles covering the page, that’s the sound of the lawnmower engine and the smoke it makes as it crisscrossed the yard.” For children that age, the story is more important than the image. For the parents, the image is more important, but parents have to learn where their children are in their development.

Icon of Christ

We can’t judge a book by its cover, nor can we judge a painting done in a weekly art class the same way we look at a painting in a museum. Still, we look to the better image for our inspiration, rather than to a lesser image, as 2 Corinthians 3:18 reminds us:

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

DeLee: Repainted Icon with fabric and multimedia embellishment

Edgar Degas once said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” The past two weeks our group has been working with faces and master artists. We looked at Picasso in his multiple styles, along with Matisse and his more decorative style. We also painted portraits from our own photos in the styles of these two masters. Both Picasso and Matisse transitioned through several different styles during their artistic lifetimes, so we weren’t limited in our inspiration.

MATISSE: THE DREAM

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep,” said Scott Adams, the American cartoonist who created Dilbert. Or as the late Bob Ross would say, “There’re no mistakes, only happy little accidents.” Most of us can’t bring ourselves to make mistakes, however, even though mistakes are how we learn. Falling off the bicycle is part of learning how to find the proper balance to stay upright. We take tests in school to discover what we need to restudy. Tests aren’t a measure of our worth, but a measure of our learning. This desire to “appear faultless” often keeps us from trying something new, for fear we might not be good right out of the gate. Mature people know life isn’t a horse race, but everyone has their own gifts and graces to hone and embellish. If we don’t try, we might always be a diamond in the rough. We’ll never rise to our best if we don’t extend ourselves beyond our safe places.

Mike: The Indian

Mike took a look at an image and went to work on his painting. He worked mostly from memory, adding designs and colors as he felt moved to place them on the canvas. “Likeness” wasn’t his goal, but the joy of playing with color and shape instead.

MATISSE: WOMAN WITH HAT

Matisse’s portrait of his wife caused a scandal at the 1905 Salon Exhibition. Matisse’s studio colleagues asked the painter, “What kind of hat and what kind of dress were they that this woman had been wearing which were so incredibly loud in color?” Matisse, exasperated, answered, “Black, obviously”.

Cornelia: Green Portrait

“The chief enemy of creativity is ‘good’ sense,” is another Picasso quote. After all, those who always stay within the lines and always color the sky blue won’t be able to imagine sunsets or sunrises. This is why James Whistler said, “An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.”

Picasso: Double Face
Gail’s Grandfather

What is vision in the world of art? We’re familiar with visions from God, or the lack thereof in certain times, as when Samuel was called:

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
(1 Samuel 3:1)

In God given visions, the prophet is open to God’s word, hears God’s voice, speaks for God, calls God’s people back to God, and reminds people of the consequences of their actions, both good and bad. Like a prophet, an artist needs to be open to the same move of the Spirit in the natural world, for the light calls and the trees speak, and the waters whisper of the deep mysteries of God’s Providence for God’s creation. Perhaps we need still hearts and quiet minds to receive these messages, but thankfully nature has a way of renewing the life of the human soul.

Gail’s Double Face Portrait

As we become more our true selves before God, we begin to find our artistic vision. Cezanne called Monet, who was famous for his Waterlilies, “only an eye, but what an eye!” If the eye is the window into the soul, we also reflect outwards what we are inside. We keep working on both our inner selves and our outer talents, with the thought one day the two might intersect. As Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” He could learn all the art techniques in a short time, but to become his true self, without pretense before others, took him a lifetime.

We Methodists should have a good jump on this goal, since we have the spiritual tradition of “going onto perfection.” This is one of our classic grace teachings. Prevenient grace brings us to know the saving grace of God before we’re even aware of God’s working in our lives. Justifying grace is the work that lets us understand Christ’s gift on the cross for our salvation, and Sanctifying grace empowers our works to renew us in the image of God.

Gail’s Matisse Portrait

If God’s grace is available for our spiritual development, it’s also there for our personal development. Is art a frill, or a necessity? Those of us who make art, find our lives are enriched by our creative endeavors. Neuroaesthethics is the emerging field in the science of how art affects the brain. These scientists define creativity as “the generation of something new,” and art as “the most homogenous form of total creativity.” However, we still have no understanding of how the brain generates new ideas, despite a tidal wave of neuroscientific research. This is why my art classes have always had learning environments with projects with no one right answer, but rather multiple possible solutions. All art comes from a true self, not from a stockpile of manufactured and multiplied standardized reproductions.

Cornelia: Yellow Portrait

Recent thinking suggests art should be regarded as a cognitive process in which artists engage the most perplexing issues in their present experience and try to find a way of symbolizing them visually so they can bring coherence to their experience. As a result, the definition of art is constantly changing. Understanding how we symbolize our experience, how we use symbolic form to organize our thinking processes, and what are the neuroanatomical corollaries to these processes will have obvious implications for future learning. Additional neuroscience research supports the idea of enhancing transfer of learning abilities from the arts to other cognitive domains. More importantly, as Yayoi Kusama, the painter of polka dotted pumpkins says, “I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live.”

One of the best reasons to pursue art is for our spiritual and mental health, rather than to make salable products. Improvement is a goal in itself, as is persistence. Also, concentrating on creating an object that has no real purpose, but to allow the artist to express their inner emotions and solve the challenges of a three dimensional world on a two dimensional surface. “Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one,” said Stella Adler, the American actress. In the studio, we find our true self, not who others think we are or what we do for a living. We can be children once again and paint because we want to.

In art class we lift up “studio habits of mind” or the skills we teach in painting class. For every painting or project, we always first

  1. Observe—to see with acuity
  2. Envision—to generate mental images and imagine
  3. Express—to find their personal voice
  4. Reflect—to think meta-cognitively about our decisions, make critical and evaluative judgments, and justify them
  5. Engage & persist—to work through frustration
  6. Stretch & explore—to take risks, “muck around,” and profit from mistakes
  7. Develop craft skills and
  8. Understand the history of art.

These are thinking or reasoning skills anyone can apply to any area of their lives, even if they’re improvising or “working in the Spirit.” We all can build resilience for our lives through our experiences in art. For some of my former students I taught in the classroom, art class was the only place they were well behaved, for they didn’t have to come up with one right answer, but had the opportunity to discover their own answer within certain boundaries. Also, they were graded on improvement, as well as their work ethic. “Practice makes perfect, or at least improvement, so keep working.”

Just remember what Salvador Dalí said: “The reason some portraits don’t look true to life is that some people make no effort to resemble their pictures.”

Excellent discussion of Matisse and Cezanne here:
T.J. Clark · Madame Matisse’s Hat: On Matisse · LRB 14 August 2008
https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v30/n16/t.j.-clark/madame-matisse-s-hat

The Salzburg Global Seminar: The Neuroscience of Art
https://www.salzburgglobal.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Documents/2010-2019/2015/Session_547/SalzburgGlobal_Report_547_FINAL_lo_res.pdf

Art, Creativity and Learning
June 11-13, 2008 National Science Foundation

https://www.nsf.gov/sbe/slc/ACL_Report_Final.pdf