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
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.
to art historian Sam Hunter, Pop Art is an “original and irreverent
parody of the imagery and artifacts of commercial culture.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
This ARTicle first appeared in the Dublin Georgia Courier Herald in
1989, in a slightly different form but with the same illustration.
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.
idea of painting “automatically”, without thinking, without plan,
drawing from that part of the brain where we dream – that
notion was used by the Abstract
but they left out the dream images, they just “automatically” put
paint on canvas and moved it around until it seemed like time to
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.
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.
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.
chief artists of the movement, sometimes called Action
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
movement that Henri founded came to be called the Ash
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
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
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.
article originally appeared, in a slightly difference form, in the
Dublin, GA Courier Herald, in 1989.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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”
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.
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.
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.
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 “...church 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”.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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):
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
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
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
The owners control policy and media debate and where this leads us is
ominously illustrated in the oily waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 (thinkspeak.bandcamp.com).
Their decision to live in Manhattan has made the great city
accessible once again for me, for which I’m grateful.
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
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
recedes, into that place where dwell the days between, and the events
of, our earlier friendship in Atlanta.
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
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 likethedew.com
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.
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
early evening, feeling a bit sheepish that I am so tardy.
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
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
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.
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
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
I see” but that
I see. I am, I exist... being
was becoming the subject or content. Later, what I
came into it also, or maybe more accurately, what I intuite
- I create!
Self as Monitor
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
by that archaic word Lord
is meant the unnameable, the field of being, the source, the
intelligence obvious in the patterns of reality.
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
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.
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)