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

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

Creativity Challenge

adult learning, art, beauty, coronavirus, Creativity, Faith, Icons, inspiration, Ministry, Painting, Pantocrator, Philosophy, photography, Plato, purpose, Reflection, Spirituality, vision

I was an art major before I attended seminary at Perkins, where I had the great privilege to take Philosophy from Dr. Billy Abraham. Of course this privilege was extended to me because I failed my one and only philosophy class in undergraduate school. I had taken it pass fail, but hit a terrible depression after my art teacher died. I had no energy to even hand in a paper with my name on it, even though the professor offered this as an act of grace to pass me.

“I’ve not done the work, I’m in over my head, and I haven’t understood any of these concepts in this class,” I said. “I don’t deserve to pass.”

“It’s a pass fail class. It doesn’t count toward a grade average, but it can count against you. Just turn in the paper,” he pleaded.

It didn’t seem appropriate to me, or honorable to take this option, but that could have been my depression coloring my decision making process. Still, I wasn’t raised to take credit for haphazard efforts, and providence ensured my F didn’t count against me when I transferred to art school the next semester, so that F didn’t affect my ultimate grade average after all.

Raphael: School of Athens, Vatican City

I speak about this because in seminary, Billy Abraham daily stretched the brains of every one of us first year students. First we heard one Greek philosopher say this was “true and real.” Then the philosopher who was his student came along and directly contradicted his old master, saying, “No, instead, something else is true and real.”

We all were in hair pulling mode, not to mention Dr. Abraham’s favorite description, “getting our underwear tied into knots.” I’ve always heard there’s a Rosetta Stone, which can unlock the meaning of an unknown language for those who have the eyes to see it. Perhaps only the creative ones, those who can see the patterns and the similarities, or what the mathematicians call the “sets” and the biologists call the “modules,” can suddenly see the key in plain sight.

Rosetta Stone

I admit I too was floundering until I had the eye opening realization I already held the key in my hand. I’d met this same question before in my art studio and history classes: “What is beautiful and what is truly art?” This definition had changed over the centuries, so why should the ideas of what is “reality and truth” remain fixed? This is a great example of “transfer of learning,” a well known educational concept, which resulted in my “lightbulb moment.”

Leonardo: Mona Lisa

As I explained to a fellow student, “Think of these as distinct historical ideas, not as your individual truth. It’s like looking at a fashion show from the ancient times to the present: no one expects those clothes to look like what we wear today. Just memorize what each of these styles look like. You don’t have to wear a toga to know what these Greeks thought. We just have to know how these old ideas influence later trends of thought fashions.” This is teaching by analogy, which is familiar to Bible readers as “parables.”

Coffee Bean Madonna

Most people can get over that intellectual hump. Seminary is designed so persons who aren’t agile thinkers will reconsider their educational choices. Philosophy and theology will winnow those who need to be told what to think, rather that learning how to think and understand deeply. Biblical studies will sort out those who aren’t able to interact with more than one voice of biblical interpretation. Then the internships and clinical pastoral settings will further sort those who don’t play well in groups. Finally the supervisory process we all go through toward our ordination into one of the orders of the annual conference is a long period of discernment, for all concerned.

The good news we can all do ministry, for we’re ordained by our baptism into the priesthood of all believers, not only reflect the Christ who lives in us, but to be the Christ in service to our neighbors. As we read 1 Peter 2:9—

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Minion Madonna

This is why it’s important we consider such concepts as truth, beauty, and the good. The Greek adjective kalon only approximates English for “beautiful.” Kalon has more of an ethical tone, but doesn’t mean the same thing as agathon or the “good, ” but rather is a special complement to goodness. At times kalon narrowly means “noble,” or “admirable.”

What was true for Plato were the forms, and everything here on earth were mere reflections or imitations of these ultimate truths. The true beauty and the good existed beyond this world, but everything and everyone could aspire to that ideal. Plato thought art and poetry were the arenas of greatest beauty, as Simonides, the Greek poet, drew an explicit analogy: “Painting is silent poetry and poetry is painting that speaks.”

While some say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” for Plato imitation is found in the appearance of things, rather than in reality (the forms, which exist in an ideal world elsewhere), so judged on its own terms, the product of imitation has an ignoble pedigree (Republic 603b). Therefore, the imitative arts direct a soul toward appearances and away from proper objects of inquiry, which are the forms. While a mirror reflection might prompt you to turn around and look at the thing being reflected, an imitation keeps your eyes on the copy alone. Imitation has a base cause and baser effects.

Festival Madonna

Plato also believed poets created their works under irrational conditions, with inspiration arriving sometimes spontaneously, as if it were from the gods, a “divine madness,” as it were. Even today, people think creative types are more likely to be mentally ill, but science doesn’t bear out this romantic notion. Illness isn’t a prerequisite for creativity, even though many artists have suffering in their life histories.

Another Coffee Madonna

Creativity of any kind—making a collage, taking photographs, or publishing in a literary magazine—tends to make individuals more open-minded, curious, persistent, positive, energetic, and intrinsically motivated by their activity. Those who score high in everyday creativity also reported feeling a greater sense of well-being and personal growth compared to those who engage less in everyday creative behaviors. Creating can also be therapeutic for those who are already suffering. For instance, research shows that expressive writing increases our immune system functioning, and the emerging field of post traumatic growth is evidence we can turn adversity into growth.

Realism was the primary purpose of painting until the 19th century, when the invention of photography took over this task. This freed painters to engage in the higher search for what is beautiful and what is true, rather than to limit a painting to reproducing a likenesses or the mere imitation of nature. Yet many people still judge a work of art by how close it resembles the natural world. Of course, we also say the say the same about the embalmer’s art as we view the deceased in the casket: “My, doesn’t so and so look natural! So lifelike, as if they were asleep.”

Source

For our first lesson back in art class, we worked on seeing the familiar in a fresh way. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. We’re so used to recognizing faces in the ordinary way, to see them in a different way is a struggle. Take the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s an icon or representative image of the renaissance portrait. No matter what an artist does to it, we still recognize it as the Mona Lisa. Our goal was to take a photo of of someone we know, and push the limits of the facial expression and shapes so it wasn’t like the image we worked from originally.

Mike’s Painting

Mike copied the cover of the Bad Girls of The Bible, and made a good likeness. In between calls from work, he focused on replicating an image he could see. After several years of sincere efforts to paint what he sees, it’s hard to break this habit and paint something beyond his vision.

We’ll take a shot at this again. I a similar lesson early in the group’s existence and I remember it was distressing to them to draw without seeing. We were feeling the objects inside bags, and they didn’t like not looking. Bring out of control was disconcerting.

Gail’s grandchild isn’t really a zombie

Gail took her grandchild’s photo and stretched it into another dimension by treating the image as if it were a Night of the Living Dead character or the Scream from the German artist Munch. She had the most success of any of us in terms of breaking the norms of “portrait.”

Sally’s painting

Sally, new to our group, began a lyrical study of a woman’s head. I confess I never saw the image from which she drew her inspiration. It’s her first try, and we’re glad she got paint on the canvas. We’ll keep working on it together. All art, as is life, a work in progress.

Russian Icon of the Pantocrator

I worked from an icon of Jesus, which I knew would test me to break the form I saw before me. As it turned out, I too couldn’t break it on this first day. When the Platonic Ideal Form exerts its pull on the mind and hand, the artist keeps making the reflection of that form as a work, which exists as an imitation or a window into the true reality where the Holy is found.

Low Blood Sugar Painting

After a long summer break with all the Covid isolation a person could stand, I quite forgot how much energy teachers expend in explaining new concepts and in the excitement of the first day back. I noticed about 11 am I was struggling for words and not making good choices with my brush, but I ignored it in the thrill of being back with people. After cleaning up, I always check my blood sugar before I drive home. It was 45. I’d never seen it that low, but I was paying attention to other people, not to my body. I ate the crackers I always carry for just such an emergency.

The Wisdom of Solomon (7:26) speaks about God’s Wisdom personified:
“For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.”

In Hebrews (1:3), the writer describes The Christ:
“He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”

This long discussion on Plato, the true forms elsewhere and the imitations and reflections here help us to realize how much debt Christian spiritually and art history have to Greek thought. Art isn’t just “I know what I like and that’s all that counts.” We can all experience making art and enjoy it on any level. Having the depth of understanding to see how art connects us across the human community will give us a greater appreciation for our common spirit.

I promise I’ll bring a healthy snack to eat during class next Friday! I’ve learned my lesson on this, if nothing else! We’ll work on faces for two more weeks, then we’ll take a short break and come back in October and decorate cookies one week for Day of the Dead and paint an autumn themed subject for the other week.

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

Simonides on poetry and painting—Plutarch: The Glory of the Athenians 3.1, 346f-347a.

Plato’s Aesthetics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-aesthetics/

Creativity and Rationality on JSTOR
The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
Vol. 70, No. 3 (SUMMER 2012), pp. 259-270 (12 pages)
https://www.jstor.org/stable/43496511

Mathematical Biology Modules Based on Modern Molecular Biology and Modern Discrete Mathematics
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2931670/

The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness – Scientific American Blog Network
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-real-link-between-creativity-and-mental-illness/

Springtime Is A Golden Age

adult learning, arkansas, art, beauty, brain plasticity, change, cosmology, Creativity, Evangelism, Faith, flowers, Health, Ministry, nature, Painting, pandemic, photography, quilting, renewal, shadows, Travel, trees, vision

Every nation has its Golden Age. Usually, it’s a bye gone time, located in the dim past, and remembered faintly only by the oldest of the old. My Golden Age is my childhood, for I spent much unfettered time out in nature, whether it was in the backyard, the neighborhood, or at camp. I was so excited about camp, I would lay out my clothes for day camp, and pack my dad’s old army duffle bag a whole month in advance for week long camp. Mother would see this overstuffed cylinder, and laugh, “What are you planning on wearing between now and then?” My excitement and my planning didn’t always get all the facts together.

Going out into nature has always revived my soul, even as a child. Walking under trees, beside a lake, and sleeping with the sounds of the wild places instead of civilization has always appealed to me. If I have a choice between traveling on a major highway or on a back road, I often choose the back road. Today with GPS, we know how far the next gasoline station or rest stop will be. The back roads often have the most interesting sites and sights. The main highways are efficient, but the little roads retain their charm.

The Great Goat Encounter in Efland, NC

Whenever I longed for the gentler days and the healing powers of nature, I would seek out the back roads of Arkansas. Sometimes I would get into my car and drive until I found the solace of the natural world. If I got lost, it didn’t matter, for I had no particular place to go. I would find the place I was meant to discover, as Aldous Huxley, the English writer said, “The goal in life is to discover that you’ve always been where you were supposed to be.”

 I’ve always trusted the word of the prophet Isaiah (58:11):

The LORD will guide you continually,

and satisfy your needs in parched places,

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water,

whose waters never fail.

Of course, those who know my navigating skills might question how I ever found my way anywhere. The secret is all small roads lead to a larger road. Also, if I ever grew concerned, I’d stop and ask for directions back to the big highway. I’ve met some interesting folks by getting lost, just as I’ve found some beautiful landscapes. I’ve never been in such a hurry I can’t stop and take a photo. These images I use for inspiration for future paintings. I took this photo by the roadside off interstate 30 west, near Texas 44 west, near Simms, Texas, in 2014.

DeLee: Wildflowers near Simms, Texas

While the flowers by the side of this road were only yellow, I decided to add in notable reds and blues, since those are well known colors from Texas also. These primary colors represent lazy Susans, Indian paintbrush, and bluebells. The wind and light in the trees were beginning to freshen up, a true sign of spring on the plains. The whole is full of light and has the promise of the new life and hope, which every spring brings to those who find renewal in nature. William Allingham, an English Poet of the 19th century, wrote a poem called “Wayside Flowers.”

DeLee: Texas Wildflowers

Pluck not the wayside flower,

It is the traveller’s dower;

A thousand passers-by

Its beauties may espy,

May win a touch of blessing

From Nature’s mild caressing.

The sad of heart perceives

A violet under leaves

Like sonic fresh-budding hope;

The primrose on the slope

A spot of sunshine dwells,

And cheerful message tells

Of kind renewing power;

The nodding bluebell’s dye

Is drawn from happy sky.

Then spare the wayside flower!

It is the traveller’s dower.

When we speak of a dower, this is a treasure or endowment gifted to a future visitor who passes by. Because of this, all travelers should respect the wildflowers and leave them in situ. All living organisms need to reproduce. Digging up wildflowers, picking wildflowers, or collecting their seed will reduce a plant’s ability to reproduce and will adversely affect its long-term survival in that location. Removing wildflowers from the wild can have a detrimental affect on pollinators and other animals that depend on that species for food and cover. Removing wildflowers from our national forests and grasslands prevents other visitors from enjoying our natural heritage. Most wildflowers when dug from their natural habitat do not survive being transplanted.

Every nation has its Golden Age, an idyllic past in which all her citizens were supremely confident, filled with energy and enthusiasm and utterly convinced that their country provided the heights of artistic, scientific, and civic achievement for all. The Greeks had their Golden Age after the Persian Wars with the building of the great architectural monuments on the Acropolis, the morality and philosophy of Socrates, Plato, and their followers, as well as the physician Hippocrates, who’s considered the father of western medicine. “Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now,” remarked Pericles, the Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens during the Golden Age.

The Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens

America had her Golden Age also, that period time we know as the post-World War II economic boom when manufacturing and employment were at their peak. Many people my age wonder why these present times don’t continue the past prosperity, but most forget our world economy has changed, especially since the 1980’s. To give an example, I had friends in the oil business back in Louisiana. They let the roughnecks go and they went out into the fields to take their place. At the same time, when oil prices were so low, the private school where I taught art let me go, since they considered my subject an elective. The art classroom was the only place some students could achieve and find positive affirmation during the school day, but the school would oversee the increased discipline needs. Even during this decade, employers were cutting jobs and asking employees to do the work of two people. Labor has taken a beating in the decades since.

In the forty years since, our whole life has changed. When I was young, a high school education was sufficient for many entry level jobs. Back in 1941, less than half the U.S. population age 25 and older had a high school diploma, while today, 90 percent has that achievement. When my dad was a young man, an 8th grade education was more than sufficient for blue collar jobs. Today at least two years at a community college is the new  “Union Card” for employment. Why is this, you ask? Our young people need to know more than we did! Our adults also need to keep learning! This is why I keep teaching myself new things, going to seminars, and writing blogs that require research.

I’m very proud of our class members who attend the Friday Art Experience at Oaklawn UMC. Work can sometimes take a priority over this enrichment experiment, and we went on hiatus for part of the pandemic. One of the goals I gave the group was to find their own voice and not to copy mine or someone else’s. We can learn from each other, for we all have a unique perspective on life and how we interact with the world. When we stretch ourselves, we create new pathways in our brains, a process called brain plasticity. A new activity that forces you to think and learn, plus require ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy, since eventually our cognitive skills will wane.  Thinking and memory will be more challenging, so we need to build up our reserves.

Much research has found that creative outlets like painting and other art forms, learning an instrument, doing expressive or autobiographical writing, and learning a language also can improve cognitive function. A 2014 study in Gerontologist reviewed 31 studies that focused on how these specific endeavors affected older adults’ mental skills and found that all of them improved several aspects of memory like recalling instructions and processing speed.

I don’t know about you, but I was born with only two brain cells and one of them seems to travel regularly to the planet Pluto. I need to be in the studio as often as possible if I’m to call that wandering cell back from its journey elsewhere. Art for me is life, just as a walk among the trees or beside a creek renews my soul. As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 19:1, The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Artist’s logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe.

Gail was the only one attending this week. Graduations, which  were happening in various academic settings, kept others away. She brought a photo of a field of yellow flowers, with a house up on a hill. In the middle ground was a pond and on the crest of the hill were a windrow of cedars. We discussed the formal elements for a bit. I showed a series of wildflower ideas as a slideshow to give a sense of the varied way artists across history have approached this subject.

Then we got down to work. Note the sense of light and air in Gail’s painting. The windrow of trees shows the direction of the sun and we can sense the breeze coming from the same side. This is an unfinished painting, so we can’t tell if the yellow meadow will have more varied colors, but the first layers of the wildflowers in the foreground give us the sense it might.

Gail’s unfinished wildflower painting

Sometimes we can finish a painting in one sitting, but other times, even a small work takes another session. Life is a work in progress. We can’t hurry it. When we finish a work, we often find flaws in it. This is because we’ve learned new skills, and we judge our work by our new abilities, rather than by those skills we had when we began. Artists aren’t like those who look to the past for a Golden Age. Instead, they look to the future.

Benjamin Franklin said, “The Golden Age was never the present age.” Usually the Golden Age is a fondly remembered past, but only the best parts of it are treasured by those who benefited most by it. We need to remember, as William James, the American philosopher reminds us, “There are two lives, the natural and the spiritual, and we must lose the one before we can participate in the other.”

Or as 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, so aptly puts it:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

If we do this, we can bring the Golden Age into the present for all people.

 

Ethics and Native Plants

https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/index.shtml

The Golden Age of Greece

https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/civil/greece/gr1050e.html

Train your brain – Harvard Health

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/train-your-brain

 

Spring Trees Renew Our Hope

adult learning, arkansas, art, butterflies, coronavirus, Creativity, Faith, Forgiveness, hope, Imagination, Love, nature, Painting, pandemic, picasso, Spirituality, trees, vision

Greenway Trail, Hot Springs

Picasso is often thought to have said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” However, just as we tend to view anything on the internet as true, along comes a meme from Abraham Lincoln reminding us of the exact opposite proposition. As one of my old debate team mentors in high school used to say, “Consider the source. Use a verified source. Use a trusted source. Use a legitimate source. Facts, not opinions, count in the argument.” This is the flag we raised, put a light on it, and saluted every day in speech class. This also limited my library quest, for my search engine of choice in those low technology days was the card catalog at my neighborhood library and rummaging through whatever national news magazines came on subscription there.

Abraham Lincoln said it, so it must be True!

As much as I love this quote, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” and resonate with it, it doesn’t sound like Picasso. He’s also purported to be the source of “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.” It’s not too different from “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?” This latter is a famous line paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw’s play Back To Methuselah, and was spoken at Robert F. Kennedy, Jr’s funeral elegy.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter we aren’t original thinkers, but only that we stretch our thinking beyond what we already know. In 1982, futurist and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller estimated that up until 1900, human knowledge doubled approximately every century, but by 1945 it was doubling every 25 years. By 1982, knowledge doubled every 12-13 months. Today, knowledge doubles about every 12 hours! For some people, this is absolutely too much to bear, and for others, it’s a reason to yearn for simpler times. However, I’m not willing to give up the GPS and maps in my vehicle, for I have a tendency to be chronically lost. I do find some interesting backroads along the detours I take in error. I just get lost less often than I once did.

Art and other creative ventures are the means by which we deal with our anxieties of this world, for if we have pain and troubles there, we can either create a world of beauty to balance our struggles or we can let all that pent up energy out so it doesn’t eat us up from the inside out. If we’re making landscapes, we might have butterflies or forest fires, depending on how we process our soul journeys.

Margaret’s Butterfly Landscape

Margaret’s landscape has the breeze blowing through the trees and flowers. The clouds are also carried along by these same winds. She was wanting to paint a flittering butterfly, and wondered out loud “How does a butterfly fly?”

I didn’t know exactly, and wasn’t into acting out my inner butterfly, but Apple Music has a wonderful tune by Ludovico Einaudi called “Day 1: Golden Butterflies.”

I found it on my phone and played it for her. Art class calls upon all the senses, just as reading a biblical text does. How can we get into a mood or intention of a writer or an artist if we don’t use every one of the senses the good Lord gifted us with? Art isn’t just for the eyes, but we should appreciate the textures even if we don’t actually touch them.

In our Friday art class, I always show examples of how other artists have approached our theme for the day. I collect them in my Pinterest account. For Spring Trees, the goal is to use the cool side of the palette, with a variety of greens, and add spring colored flowers of white, pink, or yellows. Blues and violets also show up with wisteria and bluebells. As I showed the group about a dozen different artists’ works, I reminded them: “You can’t go wrong! Every one of these artists solved spring trees in a different way. Some painted only the tree, some painted just the reflection in the water, others painted the whole landscape. Some focused on the people more than the trees. If your colors stay cool, if we can tell these shapes are trees, and if you use your own ideas to elaborate on this basic format, you’ll do a great job! We can always improve on the next one.”

People are so worried about pleasing others, or not measuring up to some standard. What standard are we setting for ourselves anyway? If we want to shoot baskets like LeBron James or Stephen Curry, we’d better be prepared to work. Curry shoots around 2,000 shots a week: He takes a minimum of 250 a day, plus another 100 before every game. It’s a counterintuitive fact that a player with the supplest shot in the NBA, whose overarching quality is feel, has the hands and work habits of a woodchopper. Likewise, LeBron works out even on his “off day,” with only Sunday as a day of rest. Check out this workout. This is why he’s called the “King.”

LeBron’s Workout

If we were writing poetry, would we fail to start because we couldn’t produce from our heart and hand the words which move us, as do the passionate lines of Shakespeare’s pen? He had to start somewhere, for sure. “While salvation is by faith,” I always tell folks, “proficiency in arts and crafts usually comes from works.” The more we practice, the better we become. Some of excellence results from acquiring good eye hand coordination, or fine motor control, but also we begin to learn what our media can do and what it won’t do. We enter into a friendship and then into a love affair with it. We begin to anticipate where it will go, just as we often can finish our best friend’s sentences for them. Take a break and read Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet out loud for a moment:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm’d; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st; Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web,” Picasso told Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Just as everything is grist for the poet’s mill, so we bring all that we are to our art experiences. If we’re glad, sad, angry, or any other emotion, this gets poured out into our work through the colors we choose, the subject matter, or the way we use the media. This pandemic will be remembered not only for its cruel loss of life, but also for its neurological complications for the post COVID survivors, since a high percentage have mood and anxiety trouble diagnoses for the first time within six months of their infection. This is how we know COVID isn’t just a bad flu.

I omit the state of depression, for if one feels blue, one can work, but true depression takes away the will to work, to get out of bed, get dressed, or have the energy to brush one’s teeth. No one gets out of that state alone. Help and intervention are needed. I’ve been a chronic depressive for over half a century, and “snapping out of it” isn’t possible for people with this health condition. If I have a sunny and positive outlook on life, it’s because I’ve learned to think optimistically and I’m medicated properly. Plus I attend counseling sessions so I can keep a good perspective on life. If life is getting you down now, please seek help from a trusted medical provider or a pastor. Jesus meant it when he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Faith healing also comes from ordinary means.

Jesus Icon

Our art class gives our group a safe place to stretch their minds, to take self care time, and to try a new skill that won’t kill anyone. It’s not like chainsaw juggling , where if you miss, you get a free ride to the ER or the funeral home. We don’t do that sort of thing. That’s more excitement than I can stand. I used to teach middle school art classes, so I had days, when the moon was full, that I sometimes thought I was juggling chain saws. Juggling plastic spoons is more my style today.

Gail is supervising home schooling during the pandemic. I don’t know how all the other parents and grandparents are doing in this particular time, but I remember the chaos which ensued one spring break as the pink eye ran amuck through the elementary school at which I taught. The headmaster gave everyone an extra week for spring break, an act which caused my students’ parents to call me in a panic, “What am I going to DO with my child for a WHOLE WEEK?!”

I laughed and said, “Keep them away from children who have pink eye.” I suppose I didn’t commiserate with them, as they thought I should. These people are now grandparents and I hope that one week back then showed them they could manage a whole pandemic today.

Gail’s Recycled Trees

Gail’s trips to fuel her caffeine need causes her to visit different coffee shops. The cup sleeves come in different patterns of corrugated cardboard. Of course, this paper product originally came from a tree, so she brought them in to be recycled and repurposed into an art piece about spring trees. Since she worked for the forest service, this is right in line with her love of nature and concern for stewardship of our natural resources. Gail also likes to plan and think her way through a theme.

Mike’s Trees and Stream

Mike gets his idea in a big, global whole. Then he seems to boil it down to a manageable size in a few moments, as he mentally discards the least workable parts. In a few minutes, he’s ready to paint a scene from memory or from his imagination. He applies lessons learned from other classes. For instance, painting in the background first is easier than trying to paint up to foreground details. This painting began with the stream, the green trees, the white trees, and then the popping pink trees for an accent.

Cornelia’s Start

I was painting trees with wisteria vines from a photograph I took near my home. The coffee spot at the Airport and MLK Freeway had moved, so when I turned in that driveway, I came to the notice of one of Hot Springs Finest. As he rolled down his window, I turned around and smiled.

“Hello, I’m just taking photographs of the wisteria in the trees.”

“I saw your car and thought you might be in trouble.”

“Not this time, but thanks for checking on me. I often stop to take pictures of our beautiful city.”

Wisteria in the Urban Forest

While we were talking, his radio went off and he had to go help someone else. Life interrupts our time together, and we don’t know how much time we have on this side of heaven. Many of the things we fight over will be meaningless in the great arc of history. When we meet each other on the other side, we won’t care about these things, for our whole attention will be God and the Lamb who sits upon the throne. If on this side of heaven, we learn to love more and forgive better, we’ll all be going on to perfection, whether we are in life or art.

RFK Jr Funeral Elegy

https://politicaldog101.com/2018/03/robert-kennedy-did-george-bernand-shaw/

Art Thoughts: Trees

https://pin.it/2IejRzm

The hidden price Steph Curry pays for making the impossible seem effortless

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/wizards/steph-curry-can-he-handle-the-full-court-pressure-of-super-stardom/2016/04/08/3dc96ca8-f6ab-11e5-a3ce-f06b5ba21f33_story.html?tid=a_classic-iphone&no_nav=true

Thriving in a World of “Knowledge Half-Life”

https://www.cio.com/article/3387637/thriving-in-a-world-of-knowledge-half-life.html

Elizabeth Cowling, Pablo Picasso (2002). “Picasso: style and meaning”, Phaidon Press. Also quoted in Alfred H. Barr Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of his Art (1946).

https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780191826719.001.0001/q-oro-ed4-00008311

Shakespeare: Sonnet 18

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45087/sonnet-18-shall-i-compare-thee-to-a-summers-day

Ludovico Einaudi: Day 1: Golden Butterflies

https://music.apple.com/us/album/day-1-golden-butterflies/1451626902?i=1451627427

Also available on Amazon music streaming services

6-month neurological and psychiatric outcomes in 236 379 survivors of COVID-19: a retrospective cohort study using electronic health records – The Lancet Psychiatry

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(21)00084-5/fulltext

Point of View

adult learning, arkansas, art, Attitudes, Creativity, Easter, Faith, Good Friday, Healing, holidays, hope, Imagination, Love, Ministry, ministry, Painting, renewal, Right Brain, Spirituality, vision

Christ Reigns

It’s a matter of perspective.

The point of view determines the perspective of a work of art. One’s point of view, or preconceived bias, can determine how one sees the world and the decisions they make about the information that comes to them. If we think the world is a scary place, resources are few and won’t be enough for everyone, then, we’ll operate from fear and hoarding. If we believe God’s promises are faithful and God will indeed provide for our needs, then we’ll live in trust and hope, even as we order our lives to want less and enjoy simpler pleasures.

I always find it strange how the people in the Bible who have the greatest riches also have the most difficulty following Jesus. Matthew in 16:24-26 speaks to this topic in the section on “The Cross and Self-Denial:”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“Here is your Son“

Of course, even in the 1st century AD, people wanted to have material possessions, a good income, and wealth stored up for the future. When Jesus said, “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” (Matthew 10:38), he invited his followers to enter a despicable journey.

The Via Dolorosa isn’t named the Way of Grief for nothing. People walked it, bearing a heavy cross beam, on the way to an undignified death, a punishment reserved for criminals.

Crucified On Crosses

Yet Jesus transformed this ancient punishment into a means of redemption. He took a symbol of death and made it into a hope for new life. Because of this , the author of Hebrews 12:2 could write, “Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Cross Icon by Gail

Now we can live the Easter promise written in Ephesians 2:12-18:

“Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

Multimedia icon by Lorilee

So we who live on this side of the resurrection have a joy to celebrate every day. For us the cross is a sign of victory over sin and death, and the evidence of new life and love God has for God’s world and God’s peoples. As we read in Colossians 1:19-20—

“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.”

Work in progress by Mike: Stained Glass Design