Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, Jeremy Scahill, Part 1.

Jeremy Scahill begins his book, Dirty Wars, by confirming that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield cherry-picked intelligence to justify their disastrous invasion of Iraq, an intention formed well before 9/11. The infamous attack served only as an excuse for their “imperial” ambitions. Interesting that these three chicken hawks, an almost compulsory resume item for the whole administration, took up an especially macho obsession with war and black ops, secret, usually violent and ethically challenged operations. Their projects involved lawless behavior completely at odds with the smug rhetoric these same actors routinely used for public relations purposes. In fact their behavior is exactly what they claim to be fighting against. Just as their compliant lawyers were tasked with justifying an invasion of Iraq where no justification existed, the same clever dudes were asked to explain how torture and murder are not torture and murder.

What they were justifying was, indeed, indistinguishable from Mafia Inc.'s style of exercising power except in scale, much larger. The cabal that got us into Iraq seems as interested in power and money as their colleagues in organized crime. Neither “team” seems however to ever get enough money or power so we can probably assume an addictive component also.

The macho approach, according to Scahill's research, may have momentarily titillated top administration officials, but nearly always produced results the opposite of claimed intent. Or the focus was so narrow that outcome was guaran-damned-teed to create chaos and demonstrate the truth of the dictum that violence begets violence. Supporting warlords in Somalia with weapons and funding in exchange for their assassination services was both obviously immoral and ineffective, since they murdered virtually anyone, target-list or not, for the money... they played the U.S. as anyone would expect a gangster to do. So the consequences are there to be seen in Somalia today, a very different place than it might have been. Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism were strengthened rather than defeated by Mafia tactics.

So in Afghanistan, a list of Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders to be captured or killed grew into a list of thousands, most of whom had no previous relationship to either. The ruthless pursuit of this kill list alienated the population such that enemies grew exponentially, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. The world could probably be added to that list, or at least anywhere U.S. forces operated. Early in the book the radicalization of a moderate Islamic leader, a U.S. citizen, is sketched, a radicalization essentially brought about by these same mindless macho tactics.

JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) was special all right, a military unit whose original function was to provide a versatile, small unit for little military incursions for the president. It grew out of the failed Iran hostage rescue operation. A little place in Texas called Waco received a friendly visit from JSOC. This was the core out of which the White House macho team created its secret dark ops, and capture/kill lists, drawing personnel from Army Rangers, Green Berets, British Commandos and Navy Seals. Another unit provided more outlet for bottled up chicken hawk energy, JPRA (Joint Personnel Recovery Agency). Surprisingly they didn't rename it SS – maybe too much of a tell.

JPRA had one handy set of particular skills: they were expert in torture techniques so as to train U.S. troops in resisting them. All that was needed was to reverse engineer the program and voila, back to the middle ages. Now we knew what to do with Sadaam's torture chambers. Incorporated into JSOC, the unit could now spend 14 hour days capturing and interrogating “suspects”, 70 – 90% of whom they KNEW were completely innocent. Yet they subjected all to the same gruesome medieval horrors practiced, in U.S. mythology, only by bad guys like Stalin or those barbaric Japanese of World War II., Nazis and other official enemies. The credibility of the U.S., to the degree that it had any, was severely undermined by these decisions and by the patently false denial at the highest level. Recall George W Bush's shameless statement, “The U.S. does not torture.” JSOC commander, General Billy McCrystal contributed also by denying in his memoirs the lawless behavior that he oversaw. Ironically McCrystal was opposed to the invasion of Iraq, seeing what the chicken hawks could or would not. Colin Powell also, though hardly a dove, opposed the macho posturing of the inner circle. Thus JSOC was partially a work-around, reporting directly to Rumsfield-Cheney, avoiding the “softies” in the upper echelons of the military and the need to report to congress had they used the agency normally at home in that world, the CIA.

JSOC's first interrogation center, NAMA, was at a Saddam-era military base outside Baghdad. It became the model for Abu Graib and other “facilities” along with other dark sites around the globe. The model then trickled, in small or greater measure, out to the larger military operations. You may not have a need-to-know what went on in these “camps” and you probably don't want to know, yet, since it was all done in our name we are implicated and perhaps need to face up to it. We certainly should stop it.

At this point I am 200 pages into a 524 page book so... more to come. The book does not evade the fact that the U.S. has a genuine “enemy” and it does not, so far at least, address the question of why. It makes clear however that the methods used to attempt resolution only exacerbated the problem. These methods are the same ones utilized by previous colonial powers whenever their subjects began to resist occupation. The unsavory was necessary, in the oppressor's view, to preserve their privileged, inequitable domination.

Can this “enemy” be defeated militarily? Doesn't look like an affordable project. Can this “enemy” be brought into dialogue for win-win outcome? Not if our goal remains domination.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

ARTicle: Pop Art

According to art historian Sam Hunter, Pop Art is an “original and irreverent parody of the imagery and artifacts of commercial culture.”

The germ of Pop Art lay in the work of one of Abstract Expressionism's finest painters, Willem de Kooning. His use of women as points of departure for painting triggered work by other artists which brought back “subject matter” into painting.

San Francisco artist Richard Diebenkorn produced paintings in the 50s which resembled Abstract Expressionism with a geometric division of the picture within a portrayal of interior scenes and landscapes. You could see it as scene but you were constantly reminded that you were looking at paint by the way it was painted – a heavy impasto and loose, painterly application.

Larry Rivers introduced meticulous drawing, of Washington crossing the Delaware and other North American folklore – this embedded in a loosely-painted style. Robert Raushenberg added to that style rags, fragments of comic strips and other discarded materials. His first “assemblage” was his own bedding, a sheet and quilt that he nailed to the wall and painted on. Despite the earlier Dada movement this work shocked the public. A later assemblage included a stuffed goat with a tire around its waist.

Jasper Johns, a contemporary and friend of Raushenberg, took as his subject two-dimensional objects such as flags, numbers and targets. To these he added shelves on which he placed real objects – spoons, cast plaster faces, beer cans. The consistent quality of Johns' work is its elegant craft. Johns and Raushenberg tied together the strands of Abstract Expressionism, Dada and Surrealism as a bridge to Pop Art.

True Pop burst forth in 1962 in exhibitions in New York City, primarily at Sidney Janis Gallery. James Rosenquist was a billboard painter and his huge paintings look like close-ups of advertisements. Roy Lictenstein painted single frames from comic strips, an “Oh Brad” from a syrupy love story. Later he was to use the comic book style, with its ben day printing process, to parody famous modern paintings.

Jim Dine continued the Abstract Expressionist style but used it to present commonplace objects, like pliers, a hatchet, palette, coat hanger, valentine heart, bathrobe. What stands out with Dine is his mastery of drawing.

Claus Oldenberg gave us soft sculpture. He would render a telephone, a hamburger, hot water bottle or other everyday objects in materials that made them look like they were melting or had collapsed. He has done commissions for many major cities. In downtown Philadelphia there is a huge clothespin, this one in steel.

Andy Warhol is the Pop Artist's Pop Artist and the most famous, and outrageous, of the group. His debut exhibit featured sculpture; wooden rectangular forms with silk-screened images of Brillo Pad boxes, stacked up as if in the grocery. Even more well known were his Campbell's Soup paintings which simply depict rows of the stacked soup cans. Warhol went on to bring images of movie stars (notably Marilyn Monroe, Elvis), politicians (Mao), car accidents, the electric chair and money. He called his studio The Factory and hired assistants to help produce his art. He also began making films, just as controversial as his paintings. Setting up a camera facing the Empire State building he produced an eight hour “documentary”. This he titled “Empire”. He put actors nude in a restaurant scene, pointed the camera and directed them to improvise. “The Nude Restaurant” was then whatever happened on camera.

Warhol sought publicity, doing things the art world tended to shun, like endorse commercial products. But even these were transformed by his presence, as with the soup cans. Him just sitting there, blankly and blandly staring at the camera, forced a thoughtful response to what otherwise would be commonplace. His presence may not have increased product sales but it served to amplify his fame, not to mention wealth.

The artist also authored books, did speaking engagements (once creating an uproar by sending someone in his place, posing as him) and publishing Interview Magazine, an oversized collection of interviews with celebrities which pre-dated the supermarket celebrity mags like People.

While Warhol was making endorsements, movies, paintings, portraits of the rich and famous, he was also accumulating a tremendous collection of art himself. He frequented the auction houses and antique shops, buying a bewildering variety of objects from an equally diverse range of history. After his death in 1988 his collection was auctioned off and a foundation set up to provide grants to artists to further their careers. An Andy Warhol museum was sited in his hometown, Pittsburg.

The Pop artists took a look at and commented on the popular and commercial culture. The gullibility of the “consumer” to Madison Avenue marketing techniques which promote an obsessive material acquisitiveness were held up to parody. It is interesting that the essential Pop artist himself succumbed to the obsession. Perhaps he wasn't as “ironic” as was supposed. Or maybe this was just more irony.

This ARTicle first appeared in the Dublin Georgia Courier Herald in 1989, in a slightly different form but with the same illustration.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

ARTicle: Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expression emerged in the late 1940s, growing out of the influx of European artists fleeing fascism, and the theories they brought with them. It was the second wave of European modernism, the first not having caught on here 30 years earlier.

The idea of painting “automatically”, without thinking, without plan, drawing from that part of the brain where we dream – that Surrealist notion was used by the Abstract Expressionists but they left out the dream images, they just “automatically” put paint on canvas and moved it around until it seemed like time to stop.

Many of the painters had studied various eastern philosophies, especially Zen Buddhism. Another influence, the existential philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre, where the individual is seen as alone in the universe, creating meaning. Contemporary writers were similarly motivated, especially those known as the Beats, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. They overlapped with the musicians of that time and city such as the Jazz of Thelonius Monk.

So these painters stood before their blank canvases, looking for that “right” arrangement of paint. Failure to find it spelled deep anxiety for some. More than a few were to commit suicide.

The largest collection of work from this period can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York city. Most Art museums in major cities have followed MOMA's lead, gathering a collection also. The prices now are astronomical, blue chip, often in the millions. When the paint was still wet they could be had for a few hundred dollars.

The chief artists of the movement, sometimes called Action Painters, were a varied crew. Jackson Pollock is famous for his drips and splatters. “My child could do that.” was and is still uttered before this work sometimes by the unbelievers (like the writer Tom Wolfe who wrote a disparaging, philistinian tome called, The Painted Word). Others opine, “It looks like a dropcloth.” In a way they do. Jackson would lay the canvas flat on the floor and drop paint while walking around it or from step ladders, creating meandering swirls. What he did was what all painters do, choose colors and put them somewhere. The finished canvas is judged by the same standard as other art, the total effect. No one before Pollack thought to apply paint the way he did. Anyone since who tries it will likely be considered an imitator. He sort of has the patent. Pollock had a serious alcohol problem and was killed in a car accident in 1956, possibly a suicide.

Mark Rothko represents another strain in the movement, more mystical and other-worldly than Pollock. His most mature work consists of horizontal bars of color seemingly floating in space. Amazingly he agonizingly doubted the value of his work and became another suicide statistic.

In the east there is the idea of a Mantra, an image to stare at or word to chant which helps one enter a trance-like state to experience the unnameable, the godhead, field of being or whatever word you might use to point at the ineffable. That idea is present in various way in this movement. With Pollock's paintings you are aware of the action of the painter, the trail of the physical act of painting. With Rothko you are more transported to a place of contemplation.

Another painter in the movement was Willem De Kooning, a virtuoso akin to a great violinist. His most well-known series used the frenzied expressionist application of paint to depict semi-abstract, grotesque women. Later in the 50s he did huge and wonderful abstractions, breathtaking blowups of his skilled brushwork.

Other artists were Arshille Gorky, a painter of exquisite and calm abstraction (unlike his life which also ended in suicide); Franz Kline, known for his large, powerful works in black and white; Helen Frankenthaler with her streaming and layered bands of thinned down paint; Grace Hartigan's confident and deft sensibility; and Barnett Newman for a geometric look that eventually evolved into a sparse, single vertical line. Many other painters worthy of study produced works as part of this movement. One wonders what kept them going (those who did keep going) given their almost complete lack of monetary reward. But their impact on the western world was tremendous. They changed the way painting is defined, what we expect a painting to. They transferred the world art capital to New York City, and they enriched us by what they left behind.

This article was written originally for the Dublin, GA Courier Herald in 1989.

Friday, November 14, 2014

ARTicle: Picasso, 1881 - 1973

When Mozart was three, the story goes, he watched his father give his sister a piano lesson, after which he sat down and played it from memory. Genius sometimes makes itself felt early.

There is a museum in Barcelona of Picasso's work. When he was only ten years he was painting small neighborhood scenes – a view of a road on a hill, some chickens... He was already doing several paintings a day, a pattern he maintained most of the rest of his 93 years.

The paintings were amazingly competent. Picasso's father, it is said, a teacher and painter, gave up painting when he saw that his young son had already surpassed his talent.

At the turn of the century, 19 year old Pablo arrived in Paris, capital of the art world. This was a time when Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh and the impressionists were finally being recognized, in advanced circles, as important artists. Picasso quickly tried all the styles and by 1905 had evolved into what is called his blue period – melancholy paintings in cool blues, prompted probably by a friend's suicide and his extreme poverty.

His palette gradually lightened into gay pastels, his rose period. The poverty was not to last. A wealthy North American writer, Gertrude Stein, took him under her wing (as she later did Hemingway). She purchased many of his paintings and promoted him to others.

Picasso was to become the richest and most widely known artist of all time but his early career was marked by great shifts that confused and alienated many of his supporters. By 1930 he had more or less settled into a style. He had another 43 years to live and work.

In 1906 he did a large panting that shocked even his radical friends. It depicted several standing women in a strange flattened style. The faces were grotesque and mask-like. The artist had seen an exhibit of Pacific Island sculpture and found in it a powerful source for his art. He kept this painting, Les Demoiselles d' Avignon, out of sight, continuing to paint his scenes of circus and theater people. But even into these began to appear the new influence.

The painter Paul Cezanne, who died in 1906, had evolved a style of painting that heavily influenced Picasso. Cezanne would color his pictures without slavish regard to the objects being depicted. An apple might be red, then again it might be blue. Another more important aspect of his work was the fact that he would move his easel from time to time while working on the same painting. This created distortion and flattening of perspective which Picasso took much further.

He began to simplify and flatten, so that the paintings came to look like a view through a shattered window. His friends Braque and Juan Gris joined him in this series, creating what came to be called Cubism.

At first Cubism was loose, groping and awkward. Later it became very refined and later still it evolved into a flat play of colored shapes which still referred to things in the world (a guitar, a portrait, still life) but were so abstract that the colors and shapes could be enjoyed just for themselves.

Interspersed throughout Picasso's career was another style. It ranged from a very fine descriptive, linear drawing (portraits, figures on the beach) to cartoonish and playful scenes of dancers, frolicking families and circus troupes. Sometimes the two styles came together in the same painting. Picasso's subject and approach was extremely broad as were his ventures beyond painting into pottery, printmaking and sculpture.

Picasso will be remembered for his immense output – thousands of paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and pottery, and for his unique touch. He had many imitators, and in the beginning he imitated and learned from other artists but his style became unmistakably his own. His mark on history, what remains of it, is assured.

Friday, November 7, 2014

ARTicle: Dada, Surrealism and War

Dada was an art movement which reacted to the madness of World War I. The artists were saying, in essence, if this is what rational thinking brings us, let’s try a little irrational. Scientific theories were also in the air that would soon lead to the ultimate rational achievement, the atomic bomb.
The movement was made up of artists and poets, sculptors and writers, initially in Switzerland. They would hold events where three or more poets would read different poems at once. They might disrupt symphony concerts by standing to lecture or shout nonsense. The most extreme Dada act was suicide, or even murder.
A fur-lined cup, a flat-iron with tacks glued to the bottom, a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool, a urinal turned upside down and signed R. Mutt – these are a few of the Dada acts offered as sculpture.
Marcel Duchamp, the “creator” of the urinal, was probably the most influential of the group. His painting “Nude Descending a Staircase”, outraged the public in 1913. Today it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. It depicts a figure apparently coming down stairs, very abstract, broken into planes and facets.
Dada eventually developed into Surrealism, losing some of its wildness. Surrealism is chiefly characterized by strange, dream-like scenes: a train coming out of a fireplace or a mountain-size rock floating above the ocean.
The late Salvador Dali is the most famous Surrealist with his waxed moustache and zany antics. The Surrealist approach was to try to paint “automatically”, without thinking, trying to tap into that part of the brain where we dream. The paintings had the disjointed look of dreams, more often nightmares, with melting clocks, floating tables, upside down people.
The link between Dada and Surrealism is the irrational. Dada was based in anger at the senseless slaughter of war. Surrealism was more interested in exploring the irrational as a psychological state. In this it derived largely from the work of Freud, Jung and other groundbreaking practitioners of the new-ish art of psychiatry.
Artists of different temperaments developed in other directions. Malevich is credited with making the first abstract painting. He painted a tilted white square on an off-white canvas in 1911.
Vanguard artists Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee explored abstraction over the years 1915-1944. They saw parallels between painting and music. Music speaks to the ear, painting to the eye; the message is the same. For Kandinsky painting was composition of visual elements: color, shape, line. Like music one could simply delight in the arrangement, see a red triangle followed by a distorted checker pattern. Again, like music he recognized an emotional play. “Color is the keyboard of the emotions”, he said.
Klee too was concerned to compose line and color. His art was whimsical without being trivial. In the course of meandering through his visual signs one encounters sudden surprises, a series of lines and shapes then an unexpected fish or cup or some other playful and loaded image. Looking at chief preoccupations of 20th century art – the exploration and celebration of imagination. Klee said, “The tree reaches roots deep into the earth and brings forth blossoms. The artist plums the depths of the self and creates art.”
The art capital of the western world had been in Italy, France, Spain, Holland but always Europe. The rise and terrible spread of fascism saw many or Europe’s great artists flee to the U.S. Here they had tremendous influence, so much so that by 1950 the art capital of the western world had settled in New York City.
  • Author's Note: This ARTicle was first published in the Dublin Courier Herald in a slightly different form in 1989 (illustration by the author).

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Western Artists at the turn of the 20th century were faced with an emerging modern era, which they enthusiastically embraced or scornfully dismissed. Young Picasso was an enthusiast, attracted particularly to Paul Cezanne's paintings, which were, in part, geometric simplifications of the subject, whether a portrait or landscape. Picasso developed this to its logical conclusion, and beyond, in ways that would probably have scandalized Cezanne. This was Cubism.

Marcel Duchamp too reacted to Cezanne, at first working with the faceted planes typical of early Cubism as in his Nude Descending a Staircase. Cezanne's work was so radical in its time that you either rejected it or took on the task of re-thinking what art was. This Duchamp did with a vengeance, reducing art to its essence – choice. Duchamp expanded what could be “chosen” in art, from brushstrokes to urinals, bags of charcoal, bottle driers... what came to be known as the ready made, instant art. Duchamp's impact is seen in the periodic re-emerging of his take on things, such as the Conceptual Art Movement of the early 70s, or the more recent Jeff Koons phenomenon.

While Modernism was being born in Europe a movement in the U.S. was forming around the painter Robert Henri. For him the important artists were Frans Hals, Velazquez and Manet. Their styles and subject aligned with his emphasis on vitality. He seems to have been unaware of the revolution in painting occurring in France. Modernism had as yet not gained the notoriety it soon would. When finally it reached him, he completely dismissed it.

The movement that Henri founded came to be called the Ash Can School. It was paralleled in literature by the novels of Stephen Crane, Upton Sinclair and Theodore Dreiser. These authors were expressing outrage at the harsh living conditions endured by citizens in the rapidly growing cities. Successful industrialists were ruthlessly exploiting labor, reaping vast wealth and literally crumbs for the workers (sounds familiar). The painters were less interested in protesting than in sympathetically depicting the lives of ordinary people, creating a democratic and optimistic art. The term Ash Can derived from their humble subject.

Henri returned from Europe in 1891. The artists who gathered around him were newspaper illustrators – William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn and John Sloan. They joined him in New York City where he started an art school. Their style of painting was part of the tradition Europe's advanced painters were discarding. What at first outraged critics was their subject. It was just not considered worthy of “high art” to depict boxers, street urchins and tenement houses. As European art was introduced in New York via Gallery 291 and the huge Armory Show, the essential conservatism of the Ash Can School, subject aside, became apparent. But it suited the country and the avant garde had to germinate until the 40s.

Though Modernism only briefly caught the public's eye it seriously engaged a group of U.S. painters who created a substantial body of work. The dominant influence was Cubism, the reduction of subject to geometric planes. This was joined by a brilliant color derived from French Fauvism (literally the wild beasts, so called by critics of their first exhibit) and German Expressionism. Some of the painters worked in a modern mode for only a few years then settled into styles more compatible with the larger conservatism of the time. Others sustained the modernist impulse throughout their careers.

Georgia O'Keefe was one of these. In her 90s when she died, her paintings are of vaguely organic forms, bones and flowers – all in a highly personal style. John Marin is known for his water colors of Maine, painted in an abstracted, fragmented array of planes, recognizable as landscape but enjoyable as color harmony. Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler and Joseph Stella painted scenes of factories, shipyards and cities in their unique Cubist style which emphasized diagonal division of the picture. Stuart Davis incorporated architectural elements also but reduced cityscape to a near cacophony of colored shapes, referring loosely to the subject and especially including billboards and advertising, anticipating Pop Art by at least a decade.

These painters were shunted aside by the art public in favor of the second wave of the Ash Can School, the American Scene painters. The diverse artists of this movement held in common a fondness for peculiarly U.S. subject. For some it was a critical look (the great depression was in full force), for others an affirmation. Black artists Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden were also producing fine work as part of this movement.

The two main painters of the “affirmative” or regional school were actually defectors from the satire of their earlier work. Grant Wood's painting, titled American Gothic, became highly popular. It was seen as embodying virtues particular to this country. Yet the painting was intended to satirize narrow prejudice. Wood is said to have gradually adopted the popular interpretation. His later works were patriotic scenes from U.S. history. Thomas Hart Benton shifted also from social concerns to celebrating Ozark farmers, fiddle-dancing and plowing fields.

The Social-Realist wing of the American Scene painters dealt with urban life. Some, as Edward Hopper and Charles Burchfield portrayed the downside of the U.S. success story: alienation, desolation and spiritual vacancy. Others were less psychological such as Reginal Marsh, Ben Shahn and Isabel Bishop, in their depicting of the victims of capitalism run amuck.

These painters, and many others, developed their unique styles while part of a more general movement. They defined that movement by what they accomplished. Ultimately, like all artists, they used their art to both make sense of and shape their world.

This article originally appeared, in a slightly difference form, in the Dublin, GA Courier Herald, in 1989.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Is Art, Anyway?

When you get interested in painting you naturally look around to see what others who got this bug have done. Finding out what painters are doing in the U.S. today is like listening to rock on the radio. You have to wade through a lot of “forgettables” before you hear one that will be an “oldie” in ten years. Museums show oldies. Most of their collections have been filtered. The forgettables have been thrown out. On this painting journey you will run across an opinion that painting is dead, irrelevant, old paradigm. You can ignore that, and be sure you will encounter it again and one of these times you might buy it.

Current paintings are seen in modern galleries and new museums dedicated to sorting out the wheat from the chaff. The big museums are located in the same places as the big money. It was the 19th and early 20th century tycoons or their wives who collected art and the art was European. The oldest paintings in the museums are of religious subjects or are portraits of rich folks of the 14th century – in Europe, of course. Before that it's mostly sculpture that has survived and architectural ruins.

Through history nations or civilizations arise, make their mark and fade as great powers. Much of what is valued in our civilization derives from the Greece of 500 B.C. When Greece had its day in the sun it invented democracy. Its architecture and philosophy had such impact that they are alive today in our thoughts and in our public buildings. The history of painting, as presented in the museums, has shifting power centers too. At one time Italy for some reason, blossomed, producing giants like Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael. At another moment tiny 17th century Holland dominated the art world with Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Judith Leyster, Vermeer and many others.

A bit over 100 years ago non-Greek, non European influences began creeping into painting. The first was Asian; elegant Japanese prints which violated some of the rules. When you look at railroad tracks they appear to converge in the distance. The Japanese didn't feel bound by this kind of perspective in their pictures. The second influence came from the Pacific Islands and Africa. They were bound even less by European conventions. Theirs was an art of intense feeling and expression. What European painters learned from this art was that a picture could depict things that happened at different times, different places. It could distort them to suit itself. They could be any color, size or shape, to suit itself. The questioning of the “rules” brought about by this invasion of ideas lead to the radical notion that a picture didn't have to necessarily depict anything. A line, a shape, a color... they can be interesting or funny or moving all by themselves.

Actually the idea had been around quite awhile. People had been going to concert halls for 200 years, listening to patterns of sounds which were interesting, funny or moving without depicting anything. But in painting this idea was revolutionary – people had been looking at painting for too long, expecting scenes and stories to suddenly convert. But gradually some of them did. Soon the wild man Vincent Van Gogh, without selling a single painting in his lifetime, was hanging in reproduction in the most modest of quarters, and selling in the original for millions.

Some artists took upon themselves the mission of staying ahead of popular taste (some were simply ahead of it naturally, by temperament). This frequently meant doing something outrageous, sometimes with that in mind, sometimes as the result of a development of ideas. So it was that sacks of coal or a bicycle wheel were offered as sculpture, paint was mixed and thrown at random, half finished meals were encased in epoxy resin. The variations were as endless as the 88 keys on a piano and some of it was actually beautiful, funny, interesting or moving.

In the 19th century the painters Millet and Gourbet were criticized for their “vulgar” subject matter, depicting farmers and workers rather than heroic generals and mythological scenes. Some artists have always followed their own bent and clashed with the upholders of “standards.” And among the experimenters of course were those intolerant of anyone who failed to embrace “advanced” ideas.

Today there is mass confusion. Numerous schools of painting claim to be on the right track while everyone else is gone astray, living in a previous, discredited aesthetic. A sociologist whose name I forget remarked, “For every significant work of art, there is a truckload of trivia.” As a painter you are faced with this confused situation and you must choose for yourself which is the significant direction. If you are serious then you meet the challenge with this in mind: there is a difference between being honest and having integrity. A fascist may believe that he should kill those who disagree with his beliefs therefore he is honest, congruent, when he does so. But to have integrity one must be willing to question one's convictions.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

History as Mystery, Michael Parenti, a review

After stating in his introduction that “history is written and marketed... to enforce existing political orthodoxy” and that “Those who control the present take great pains to control our understanding of the past.”, Michael Parenti goes on to attempt to persuade the skeptical reader of the truth of those assertions. The persuasion takes the form of chapters on how those who have written history are of a certain class with predictable biases, how the victor's narrative is often the only one available, how the university keeps to the correct line, how publishing is kept orthodox, the death of President Zackary Taylor as example, and one of professional historians' methods of side-stepping class struggle.

Historians, Parenti argues, help influence history by shaping our understanding of things past and present. Josephus wrote his history of the Jewish uprising against Rome in the first century A.D., after playing a prominent political and military role in that struggle. The inquisitors kept records of the inquisition with predictable downplay of torture in extracting “confessions”. In the 19th century the historian Thiers wrote the history of bloody suppression and mass executions of thousands of revolutionary Parisian Communards, he who had presided over it. More recently we have patriot Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and the war criminal Henry Kissinger. I opened Winston's Churchill's history of world war II. at random, to a paragraph blaming the whole thing on communism, this while minimizing the major role of the Soviet Union in defeating Nazism.

Once the Christians came to power under Constantine they controlled the history which exaggerated, to this day, persecution of Christians, who were actually mostly tolerated in pre-christian Rome. The intolerance of the new rulers toward Pagans, far worse than when the shoe was on the other foot, is hardly mentioned in the church history. Early on wealthy converts were always given VIP treatment, often appointed Bishops from which positions wealth could be multiplied. Given the power of taxation and patronage the church became as corrupt as any regime before it. During Christianity's first thousand years “ leaders viciously persecuted heretics and Jews, championed the subjugation of women, propagated homophobic intolerance and collaborated with secular overlords in the oppression of the peasantry.” The great libraries of the period were purged by Christian zealotry. So much for the “Age of Faith”.

At the University, seen by the right as a bastion of leftists, there is actually a large middle-of-the-road (self described in one study) contingent of professors, a substantial right-leaning segment and a few lefties who have gotten tenure. Parenti himself was hired by a New York State University, almost slipping in but the university president discovered the hire and reversed it. The 50s hysteria was hard on left academics but it hasn't loosened up all that much, certainly not as portrayed by the right. In my own experience I had an amazing professor in art school who delighted in examining the received wisdom he knew most of the in-coming students shared. He did not last despite his credentials, popularity among students and professional accomplishments.

Noam Chomsky's books have been published by fringe publishers mostly. One he co-authored with Ed Herman was supported by a mainstream publisher, printing 20,000 copies with promotional materials printed and distributed, advertisements placed. Warner, the parent corporation, got wind of the book, decided it was “unpatriotic” and demanded cancelation, threatening to fire the publishers if they went ahead. The publishers suggested publishing a right wing book to balance it. After reluctantly agreeing to this compromise Warner changed its mind and closed down the subsidiary.

Another instance Parenti cites, among many, is the film JFK. Oliver Stone's movie was attacked long before it was completed and long after. Despite raising obvious and legitimate questions, the mainstream press seemed to take the stance that governmental authority would be undermined by this kind of inquiry.

The strange death of President Zackary Taylor is another. The writer Clara Rising was writing a book about Taylor and came to suspect he had been poisoned. Though a slave holder he opposed new states and territories coming in as slave states. She got permission from the family to exhume the body for testing. Tests proved negative for arsenic poisoning... arsenic was present but not in enough quantity to cause death. The media and establishment figures who criticized the idea of testing were jubilant and the results were widely disseminated. Closer examination however showed that the tests were inadequate, diluting the results through faulty methodology. Only the hair that had grown since the poisoning happened should have been tested. Including the hair that had grown before the poisoning skewered the results. This detail was ignored, the first “results” stood, and stand, as the authoritative word. Again, the establishment prefers inquiries that question authority to be suppressed or, failing that, to confirm preferred conclusions.

Finally, psychopolitics and psychohistory are “respectable” subfields which have received generous funding due to their dependability in coming to those preferred conclusions. These disciplines posit psychological explanations for behavior, usually based on traumatic incidents in childhood. Elaborate arguments are set forth but their utility, and popularity with the rulers, rests, again, on those conclusions, conclusions that avoid class-based exposes. Chomsky, Zinn, Parenti, Naomi Klein and many others demonstrate in their writings and activism that the 1% runs things for the benefit of the 1% and the detriment of the majority population. As Parenti demonstrates in this and his other books, they are quite effective, so far, at keeping these ideas out of the mainstream.

Friday, September 19, 2014

LTE as Art Form

Over the years of my political seething I have cooled myself off some by exercising an art form, the letter to the editor. I even got one in the New York Times once. Mostly though they go to Atlanta's daily or weekly rags, or when I'm visiting Michigan, their daily. Sometimes I might browse a monthly magazine, a business-oriented one recently. They did an interview with Georgia Power's new president and I couldn't let him get away with his greenwashing, not when they're engaged in a huge con, bilking the ratepayers, ignoring clean alternatives like wind and solar and building dangerous nuclear reactors.

I have learned to avoid mainstream media because the subservient party line, the narrow range of opinion offered up as wisdom there, tends to set me off. I can't spend all my time writing LTEs but that's what I do if I stumble upon propaganda masquerading as journalism. A couple examples below, the first run in the Atlanta Journal Constitution 9/16/14, this one on the Citizen United issue.

There are a lot of jokes about the supreme court ruling "Citizens United", including the judgment itself. Such as, "I'll
believe corporations are people when Texas executes one." That corporations are not people is so transparently obvious that one can
only conclude the supreme law of the land has been deliberately twisted to favor business interests of citizens (I had actually said... to
favor business interests over citizens - changing over to of muddies what I was saying). That seems to me an impeachable offense for any public official who has taken 
an oath to protect the constitution. The first step should be to reverse that decision with a constitutional amendment.

Editors, I suppose because they are editors, often feel they have to put their mark on whatever crosses their desk. I don't mind this if it clarifies but often as not it muddies, or even subverts. Check this one out:

I sent this LTE around the time of the BP oil spill, to the Atlanta Constitution Journal. Interesting to compare what I wrote to what they ran. It's almost an illustration of my point (what they cut I highlight in bold):

The term fundamentalist ideology probably evokes Islamic fanaticism to many, Christian or Jewish extremists to others, but rarely are the promoters of capitalism associated with the term. Yet there is clearly a similar level of intellectual dishonesty among its advocates.

Rush Limbo has been implying that the Gulf oil spill-disaster is caused by “whacko environmentalists” and though he is the hysterical end of capitalism you won’t find a lot of real analysis on the more respectable end either. Numerous pundits approvingly report on the “nuclear renaissance” without mentioning Chernobyl, indeed, scrupulously avoiding the New York Academy of Science’s recent claim that nearly a million people world-wide died as a result of that disaster.

And my long unanswered question, if we truly have a free press providing a full range of views for an informed citizenry, where are the socialist commentators? In my home town newspaper you get Bill O’reilly all the way over to Thomas Sowell. That’s probably more or less true across the country. No commentator consistently pointing out the contradictions and corruption of capitalism and discussing an alternative need apply to any mainstream news outlet. I need not rehearse the corporate “ownership” of congress and the political process in the U.S. directly related to how campaigns are financed. The owners control policy and media debate and where this leads us is ominously illustrated in the oily waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The LTE below I sent out into the ether, I forget where, responding to yet another wave of war drums, just enough time now passed, apparently in the war mind, for the public to forget about the costly stupidity of the last one.
In the hometown of Martin Luther King one would think the lesson, that violence begets violence, would not have to be re-learned. Unless we are very lucky, what MLK predicted will come to pass: we either end war, or it will end us. We should not be squandering opportunities to practice the non-violent skills essential to providing an alternative to war. As Einstein warned, until we change our thinking, due to nuclear weapons, we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. It will not be easy, and who knows how much time we have, but it is necessary.

And it's true, who knows how much time we have to end war before it ends us? Seems like there's a race on: climate change, population, pollution, nukes... which one will bring us to extinction first? Or should we, instead of passively placing our bets, adopt non-violent conflict resolution, no matter how difficult, institute sustainable policies around population and pollution, and incorporate another necessary ingredient for peace, justice?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fly Up, Drive Back: a NEW YORK CITY/Atlanta Driveby

Monday, Day One: newly merged Southwest Air/Air Tran offered the best price, $144 one way Atlanta/New York City. The sore butt that kicked in about halfway, and lingered, suggests one of the reasons - but the thrifty, I’ve learned, endure the affordable. The relief of wheels thumping good ol’ runway quickly faded, replaced by the stress of navigating around outside my current comfort zone. Once the new terrain becomes familiar, the zone expands and that’s when the fun starts. 

Walking from 14th street to the East Village, where that happened this trip. I was there to reclaim a loaned Saturn, no longer needed as my daughter’s circumstances shifted. Manhattan is a city of superb public transportation but vexation and/or expense for those with automobiles but who are not, like so many on that island, independently wealthy. Since my time was somewhat flexible I, naturally, padded a few days on the timeline for a little museum-hopping. In newly-wed’s tiny but expensive apartment I spotted Neil Young’s memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, and dug in, finishing it before leaving town, supplemented by excursions into a text on addiction from daughter’s professional shelf. While there, both daughter and son-in-law received certificates marking their progress towards PhD in Clinical Psychology and fully residenced MD respectively.

Next day, Tuesday: the efficient, if cacophonous MTA delivers me (and daughter who has taken a sick day) north to 86th street and feet carry us west to the visually lavish Metropolitan Museum of Art. There Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso sing in blazing color, along with the moody Abstract Expressionists and the marvelous Rembrandt contemplative self-portraits, possibly the greatest paintings ever made. The candid photography of Gary Winograd was also featured, some of which the artist never saw, found in his cameras and studio, undeveloped, at his death. Gary actualized something I’ve been shy of, only dabbled in, photographing people on the streets, catching them in public activity-performance, sort of in their face, no other way short of hidden cameras to get’em. My New York visits these days always seem to include some evening Netflix at my daughter’s apartment, this time Walter Mitty, a Hollywoodized rendition of the hapless James Thurber character and The Iceman, a respectable gangster flik. Also take-out Thai with some nice red.

Third day, Wednesday: the Guggenheim’s Futurist Exhibit. Starting at the bottom, as I’m wont to do, instead of taking the easy way, elevator to the top and walk down, I encountered the Futurist Manifesto writ large on a wall. Odd that I had not previously realized that the movement was Fascist, glorifying war, violence and aggression. It was described in Art History classes I had as celebrating the machine and speed. This was hopefully not operant in every artist but it certainly colored my reception of the work. The manifesto dismissed the aesthetic, meditative qualities of many of their Cubist and Modernist contemporaries, much as the Tea Party (or the Taliban for that matter) today denigrates sensitive or thoughtful expression. Much of the art I encountered on those curved and spiraled walls fully lived up to the anti-art, manifesto’s values, visually uninteresting and pompous (I’ve already confessed how the Manifesto prepped my reception, so yeah). Exceptions by Boccioni and Severini, and a few others either slipped past the censors or were tolerated for the prestige of the artists. 

Some of the architectural drawings also committed the bad taste of good taste. The theatrical work of Fortunato Depero, stage props and paintings of same, gave me pause in my condemnation of the movement as these works embraced modernist, experimental aesthetics and celebrated the imagination. The whole idea of the movement excitedly pumping out magazines, posters and pamphlets impressed me though the content may have distressed, were I fluent in Italian. This could be said also of the video of Futurist cartoons, drawings that were quite good but presumably promoting a hateful ideology. Fortunately there were side exhibits to relieve the relentless machismo, a selection from the permanent collection of Cezanne, Picasso etc; and an early, pre-abstract Kandinsky show, a prelude to the art in the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, or art nouveau-influenced illustration. Kind of cartoonish, they pre-figure the later abstraction though the color is noticeably less refined.

Day Four, Thursday, Jeff Koons at the Whitney: last year at MOMA I stood in line for free-Friday and bore the crowds to re-visit my favorite painters. When I got to the most contemporary stuff I felt like an old fuddy-duddy, impatient with the video and conceptual nature of so much of that work. The same “reactionary” stance raised its ugly head when I walked into the Jeff Koons exhibit. Huge, framed, unaltered advertisements commercial products put me off indeed, feeling like I’m surrounded by this stuff, do I really need to see it in a museum, even if you call it a “readymade”? 

The pristine “antiquated” vacuum cleaners mounted in plexiglass boxes bottom-lit by fluorescent tubes were also unconvincing, and I’m thinking, I’m getting old here. Basketballs floating in glass boxes of hardened liquid were more interesting and as the work progressed to monstrous-sized enlargements of knicknacks and blown-up children’s cartoon animals, I could appreciate the technical accomplishment… what looked for all the world like fool-the-eye balloons was actually highly refined, cast metal… but still, doubt nags. In my youth I recall snickering at similar fuddy-duddy responses to Warhol and Duchamp, artists Koons certainly was influenced by. I excuse the artist’s farming out the actual work to technicians by remembering that movie directors do the same. But the objects that stand at the end of the process will be judged, just as does the final cut of a film, and here I flounder. I talk with artist friends who dismiss Koons as a clever charlatan, bilking gullible collectors and curators, and others who compare him reverently to predecessor giants in the field. Me, I’m of both minds, in different moods, as I walk from room to room. 

As at the Guggenheim, there is pleasant relief in the form of side-show paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, himself the object of disdain in his day, Grace Hartigan and Helen Frankenthaler, wonderful Abstract Expressionists, Agnes Martin mystic minimalist and her kissing cousin, Brice Marden. Reaching my saturation point for taking in this stuff, much earlier than in past years I confess, I jump the train south and wander around Washington Square and the Village for a bit, taking some photos, soaking it up. Back for farewell Chinese take-out that night with more red and hugs all around, they to bed, me to journaling. I wrote a song for daughter's June wedding, which was a great party ( Their decision to live in Manhattan has made the great city accessible once again for me, for which I’m grateful.

Day Five, Friday: so I tidy up and head for the car, hoping it’s still where she parked it. It is. I head south intending to turn right, as daughter has instructed, on Houston. But it’s not marked and there’s construction. When I get to Canal Street I know I’ve missed it, but Canal takes one to the Holland Tunnel too, right? Wrong. I’m forced to turn off and get totally bogged and lost. Forty minutes later I have found Houston and the Tunnel and am heading west, New Jersey then Pennsylvania, Kutztown to be exact. It’s only 109 miles so I’m there by late afternoon. I miss a turn and drive up main street, shoot some photos and swing back. I notice a coffee house and I need to pee and look at my directions. Twenty minutes later I’m standing on Dan’s porch, no response to my knock. The screen door is not locked but I hesitate to just walk in so I hang out and journal on a two seat deck chair. Ten minutes later Professor Talley pokes his head out the door, surprised to see me. Non-stop catchup commences. I get the house tour, walls laden with exciting art, even one of mine, and we go eat Mexican, quite good. Dan knows the proprietor. Dan seems to know everybody in this small-ish town. After a tour of the art department, literally a stone’s throw from the apartment, with all its seductive technical equipment, computers, printers, film processors,… even easels, we grab a couple of fine guitars and run through songs until the carnival a couple blocks away, which we’ve declined to go to in favor of music, begins a sudden barrage of concussive fireworks. Can’t but think of the current nightmare in Gaza. Impossible to keep playing and besides, it’s late.

Day Six, Saturday: In the morning a diner with actual juke box access at every booth, lots of carbs and coffee to accompany the conversation, predictably plentiful for old friends who haven’t talked face-to-face in years. Eventually, in Dan’s Prius, we ride some rural terrain, hilly with stone barns and winding roads. We find ourselves sitting in the yard of the University’s drawing instructor. Ed is manager of many projects Dan says, the ever-expanding building he lives in, right on a creek, and a collection of milk trucks, two of which sit in the yard. Yes, milk trucks, full size real milk trucks from, as they say, a bygone era. Fond farewells, delayed by a seductive telecaster, are meted out and the reunion recedes, into that place where dwell the days between, and the events of, our earlier friendship in Atlanta.

A long drive west to Fredericksburg is made longer by maddening road construction that has first eastbound, then westbound lanes, inexplicably clogged, actually parked. I keep my camera on the seat next to me, shooting anything that interests me, invariably it seems blocked by a road sign, tree or marred by hanging power lines or reflections of the camera in the window. Finally to Fredericksburg, and south on Interstate 81. Sleepy, I exit and find a quick, typically bad cup of road coffee. My goal this day is 250 miles according to mapquest, fortyfive miles off 81 to the west and south, West Virginia in fact. Just as the terrain becomes the most dramatic so far, crossing the western edge of the Shenandoah Valley, my camera batteries give out. The spares are dead too and I attribute my neglect to the stress of navigating lower Manhattan. Gotta blame something!

The terrain though is ruggedly beautiful, impressive mounds of what’s left of mountains once greater than the Rockies, if I remember my geology. Soon I’m in the Lost River Valley, following the directions emailed with my invitation to visit a writer I’ve never met. We both publish essays at and have expressed an interest in each other’s scribbling. Dave is retired-from-another-life steeped in mystery(?). And what a place to retire to, at the end of a narrow, winding, petering out road, a charming house among the trees, and deer,… and bear. With the energy my host displays it’s a retirement unlike the stereotype – the guy writes, yeah, and publishes and brews ale of varieties I knew not existed, along with wine and a meticulously kept grounds and home and he’s in a band playing horn along with his retired horn and piano playing partner. Said partner has waiting a feast far beyond the grilled cheese this vegetarian had suggested as ample sustenance. We have to try the home-brew before switching to a nice white. Pilot son and his companion engineer are also present and civilized, humanitarian dinner conversation escorts us well into the enchanting night. Just before retiring we are gifted a short, live piano recital by the woman of the house, Jody be her name. The luxury of a near-by guest house accommodates the journaling last hour of that day for me.

Day Seven: waffles, hash browns and fine coffee with bowls of fruit at hand follow a good walk with the dogs and a tour of the property. My generous, talented and affable hosts are one family in a development with a property covenant, most of the other owners more or less weekend visitors. Their agenda for the day includes an hour’s drive to some live Shakespeare. Camera batteries charged over night, I must on, 350 miles to drive this Sunday, to eastern Tennessee. Attempts to document the incredible terrain are on-going, out the window, even of the second delay of this trip, an hour sitting in bumper-to-bumper L.A.-style traffic out on 81. You always wonder, when you get to the bottleneck, why this took so long. Nurturing wakefulness with the usual desperately bad coffee, I
arrive early evening, feeling a bit sheepish that I am so tardy.

William and Carol lived across the street from us in Atlanta, young music lovers and party animals. Eventually they actualized a long-time fantasy to return to their roots, buying a sizable tract of farmland, with barns and horses. We visited them in the early 90s when daughter wasn’t yet ten and they barely had one child. That’s a lot of sparkling water under the bridge, 20+ years. We haven’t changed abit. Their dogs are replaced by new ones and the now two chilluns have flown the coop, well, they’ve matured, been to college, are remarkably different from each other, one a musician, songwriter the other a new mom, making my hosts, of course, grandpa and grandma. I get only the one photo of Carol. The rest of my lovely hosts I have failed to capture, due to dead batteries or Saturn-lagged forgetfulness.

The house has changed too, a new living-room addition now claiming favorite place for the music lovers to indulge their passion. Both are teaching in the public schools. The rigors of that occupation lead them to curtail the party life but not to forget it. A mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey and one such pregnant donkey gave birth and abandoned one such mule on their property. This they rescued, bottle-feeding the necessary months and now find themselves “saddled” with a permanent guest, whom they of course love, but whom takes to wandering across sparsely traveled yet still dangerous country roads like an outdoor cat. They also have inherited a caged bird from daughter, loud and raucous, disrespectful as the proverbial sailor. Diligently guarding the property during teaching hours, their St. Bernard roams free, intimidating UPS drivers and chewing up their leavings. 

The beautiful rolling hills and aging barns and fences set off the place, declaring it William and Carol country. The horses, alas, have passed on. When the non-conforming couple go to vote in the presidential season, they cause the attendants a fit of cognitive dissonance, having to dust off, as they do, the little-used democratic ballots. This news always reminds me of the Gore Vidal quote I ran across after one particularly depressing election, “To get people to always and relentlessly vote against their own interests, is manipulation of the highest order.” With that parting wisdom on my mind, I drove the last hilly 250 miles to Atlanta and began the several day Saturn-Lag recovery.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Impressionist, Expressionist and Conceptual Art

The French Impressionists, for a moment, attempted a rendering of what they saw, an “impression” yes, but the interesting aspect is best illustrated by Seurat's Pointillism. In the late 1800s there was a shift in emphasis among painters of an adventurous nature, what came to be called the avant garde, from the subject depicted to the act of perception. This may have grown out of or been influenced by then current scientific theories of how the eye works but I think it was based in an emerging self-awareness. It was not so much an excitement about “how I see” but that I see. I am, I exist... being was becoming the subject or content. Later, what I think came into it also, or maybe more accurately, what I intuite - I create!

The Self as Monitor

One way to conceive of the self is as a sort of awareness monitor. What the self monitors is: Thoughts, Emotions and, let's venture, Instructions. This is easy to test. Take a breath, let it out. Watch for the first words to drift across your mind. They are not you,... you are the observer.

Thoughts: functional thought is problem-solving, like what I'm doing right now, trying to reach insight about consciousness. Or crossing the street safely, planning a vacation etc; Dysfunctional thought is a more or less obsessive reviewing of past events or fantasizing future scenarios, all the while mistaking that obsessive mind chatter for self. This blocks the experience of simple being, reality, preoccupying one with fantasy.

Emotions: these are triggered by thoughts or are karmically induced, that is, residue from unfinished experiences, consequences of past decisions, guilt for example or the elation of winning recognition or the downside, being criticized. Karmic accumulation may have to play out but one can, theoretically, stop making more. There is also the problem of karmic events outside personal experience, like say, U.S. responsibility for, in some estimates, 4 million dead in the Vietnam war, something that has to weigh on every citizen.

Instructions: when thoughts and emotions are the subject of the monitor or observer, rather than what is identified with, they loose their power to fool you into believing that they are you and at that point their energy is transposed into awareness, presence. For the duration of that presence, until mind kicks in again and ego regains control, experience is of enjoyment in being, joie de vivre. There is no need for action, for thinking or doing. Eventually into that peaceful state an impulse to creativity happens. These are the instructions. What to do as determined by the... what popped up on my word processor just now was theGoodLordAbove... and in a way, that is what I meant to say, if by that archaic word Lord is meant the unnameable, the field of being, the source, the intelligence obvious in the patterns of reality.

I opt for the other words, Lord being, as I said, archaic, and loaded with confusing baggage and an endorsement of hierarchy. Looking at the meaning of the english word at the time of its use in the St. James version of the bible, I would suggest that the equivalent word today might be boss. What is gained in accuracy is lost in reverence... “Our boss who art in heaven...” but for me, I trip over the class implications. I like boss because it makes this obvious and allows for a notion of “god” that is egalitarian rather than hierarchical, ie, HE doesn't reign above, rather WE are interconnected. At the interstices of this interconnection is the bliss of Buddhism, the feeling realization of interconnection that shatters the dysfunctional - the egoic thought-belief in a vulnerable separate self. Thus is dissolved the fear natural to that lonely conception, that same fear at the root of ruthless competition and war.

In Art the “instructions” lead to the creation of images or structures, painting or sculpture, dance, drama, poetry, song and the other forms that creativity fills. A painter might stare at a blank canvas until “instructions” emerge, blue here, in a slash, or an overall field or in the shape of a world image, a building, a hill... or it might come in the form of jumping out of bed with the burning intent to put the alphabet on canvas, filling the space with as many scribbled or painstakingly rendered letters as will fit.

These acts, inspired by instructions are evident, to a person in a state of presence, as coming out of presence and so confirmation and celebration. Just as “fake” art is evident also in this state, art that is ego-driven instead of flowing out of being. The evolution of humanity consists in changing or reversing the ratio of time spent in mind-chatter versus time spent present.

It puzzled me for awhile how it was that I immensely enjoyed reading Beckett's sorely depressing novels. Now I realize that what delighted me was the creativity, the instructions. They bring one to interconnection, accessible through presence, and that, as Eckhart Tolle claims, is a feeling for which we have no more adequate word than, love.

So, authentic art is a hit or miss affair. An artist working every day will produce work out of ego some of the time and out of presence some of the time, evolving, with the greater society, toward that preferred ratio. The more presence the more the shift is accelerated, art being the sort of formal signpost for the movement. The acceleration is critical because the life system here on this planet can't take a hell of a lot more of what ego has been doing to it.

painting, "June 29, 1940" by author (date of Paul Klee's death)