Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays with the Little Guys

A Little Guy by W. Heath Robinson.

The musician above is from an old sheet music illustration. In it, he's following a lovely, dancing wood sprite. Within the illustration, he's only about 1/2" tall--but what personality and expression!

There are few things I like better than the elf-like, faery-like, Hobbit-like people of legend who are full of character and life.  Include in that the Little Guys, my own label for all the goofy humans drawn over the centuries by artist/illustrators. You can find them everywhere, sometimes greatly caricatured, sometimes with gently exaggerated features, always packed with vitality and infused with some mystery. Hunting for and collecting new Little Guys is a favorite pastime of mine--here are a few of the best.

The Wild Man. A.B. Frost. 

Arthur Burdett Frost ( illustrated many books full of regular humans, and he's probably best known for his pictures of Brer Rabbit. But his versions of little guys are pretty matchless. The sinister Wild Man above is an illustration from the Lewis Carroll poem, Poeta Fit Non Nascitur (which, according to google translate, means: "The Poet is Not Born"). I love his face and that broken symbol of  bad luck sticking out of his hat.

Snow, Real Snow. Honore Daumier.

Probably my favorite lithograph--or image--of all time. Maybe. It is perfection though, not only in the stance and wonder-filled expression of the fellow, but in the absolutely spot-on light and atmosphere of an early, snow-filled morning.  Am I crazy, or is this not the peerless evocation of a universal feeling? Perfect verisimilitude!

And if you do think I'm looney, please just accept this picture as my 
Happy Holiday Peace-Wish 
(via the genius of Daumier) 
for you.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"I Can Do What I Can Do"

Most everything--including making art--has seemed inconsequential to me following the most recent massacre. My mind, along with that of most people, has been filled with sorrow for the dead and the survivors, and despair for this country. Is there any point to sitting in my studio, making an artwork? 

I want a solution and an end to the sickness, but I realize that what I desire most is the end of evil in this country, in this world. That is not going to happen. 

How then, to live day-to-day; to exist with inevitable brutality in the world which we've made, while working toward solutions that may not solve the problem of evil, but will maybe lessen its power?

Study after Reni's Massacre of the Innocents, by Stefano Mulinari

As I've attempted to absorb this latest eruption of malevolence, I am ashamed to say that my mind has kept wandering--wishing for a time untouched by abomination; when people, especially children, were not murdered:
The 1950s or 1960s? Um...that supposed golden time; some say the pinnacle of goodness in the United States? Oft-secret lynchings, the practice of earlier decades, continued the murders during the "Happy Days". Include Richard Speck, the Manson crew, and the perpetrators of the My Lai massacre with those times.
The 1940s? Who would long for the time period of the Holocaust?
The 1920s then? To me it seems a time of great music and liveliness and fun. But the worst school massacre in the history of the United States occurred in 1927, in Michigan. A single perpetrator, 38 fatalities, mostly school children.
 Was there ever a time-period free from this sort of evil? My uneducated guess: No. Does this make me feel better about living in this time? No to that, too.

But we can and must continue to strive for more peace, greater justice, and an easement of violence. We look for ways to change the world, and care as best we can, for all people--especially those most helpless and innocent.  

I'm not smart enough to know what a society can do to mitigate atrocities, but I need some way to continue to feel hope and joy, and to be productive in the world of which I am a part. I don't have a viable choice--despair or checking out is self-indulgence.

I am intelligent enough to know that I have this choice: Not to succumb to fear
Therefore, one:
I reject the seductive, self-destructive urge to watch the "news" 24/7 and will not allow that commercial, greed-driven machine to dissect the details (none of my business anyway) for me and purposefully raise my anxiety further as it explains how much more awful, scary, and treacherous life is now.
I reject the brain-stem desire to obtain "safety"--the biggest mythological Pile of Crap that Madison Avenue and politicians have laid on our culture--by purchasing an arsenal, or putting bars on my windows, or seeking gates and fences or a solitary hundred-acres in avoidance of other people.
And three:
I reject the urge to muffle my normal fear or other emotion with a drug, or a drink, or by buying some bauble, or house, or car I don't need.

  So I turn again to art. Irrelevant? Inconsequential? I'm not thinking so. Literature, paintings, theater, music, cooking--these are mainly acts by man for creation, not destruction. They heal, they teach, and best of all; they remind us of our similarities.

And it is life-giving to initiate the best thing one's hands can make. It is life-affirming to seek joy--or catharsis--in a creation by another human being. What I produce may not be on the scale of an author like Taylor Caldwell, a composer like Scott Joplin, or a painter with the vision of Van Gogh, but I will strive to create; since I want from others the peace, humanity, and enlightenment of their minds and works.

And when even all that is not enough, there are the words of Diodorus (through the pen of a great artist), which have comforted me since first reading them:
"I can do what I can do, live by the values and the truths I have been taught, by the virtues and the justice I know, and surely He will remember me though all the world goes mad."
- Taylor Caldwell, Dear and Glorious Physician

Mary and the Boy Jesus. Oil on board. Private collection.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Real real

 Recently, I've been experiencing a bit of nostalgia for my former life-as-teacher. That was a powerful experience. While I taught, I also worked at painting for galleries, and at illustrating for children. It all helped pay the bills and allowed me time at home with my kids during the summer.
 A corner of my drawing room at Grandview High School.

So I don't buy into the philosophy that one can't be a Real Artist unless it's a full-time occupation. Accepting another person's definition of "real" or "artist" only limits one's potential adventures, and puts a damaging-- pretty ridiculous pressure--on a creative spirit. People can easily do without pompous label-makers, but hey, we've made pretension a way of life in this culture.

  The goofy little piece above was done during my last year as an art teacher--a demo about making a small art object in limited time--and about having fun.  If I taught anything, I hope it was that the joy is in the making. Using one's hands to create anything provides an experience and a peace that comes close to meditation, and the effects last and last.

Don't get me wrong--my current freedom to paint all day is great, and I am thankful, thoughtful, and earnest about making and selling my art.
But the vast majority of my time spent with students was more rewarding--in a much deeper way--than using my time to make art for sale. I forged great relationships and received a valuable education from the students.
 I'm not planning on returning to the public classroom--definitely finished with that phase, but not the appreciation of it. I value that day-job more and more as time goes on, and wouldn't trade the experience for anything.
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