I got two beautiful things yesterday from the National Gallery. Both are for the kids’ art class. One is a book An Eye for Art and the other is a set of activity cards, Famous Paintings. The book turns out to be not quite their thing at this point of their learning trajectory. The cards, though? That was a brilliant idea. On the back is information about the artist, the painting, the times in which it was painted and an interesting historical fact.
My plan is that out of six cards every few days they will each pick one. It will go into a notebook we’ll make this Friday along with worksheets that tell about the painting and the artist and five reasons they like the painting. I don’t plan to tell them how or why to like a painting. In my humble opinion, there ARE bad paintings, but a lot depends on who’s looking at a painting whether it’s good or not, becomes famous or not. And then there’s personal taste. Because I know them and how they have been raised, I want to stay within their realm of competence, only stretching it a little. My entire goal with the kids is just to get them to look at paintings.
The book is a textbook for art history and art appreciation. What I like about it is its organization — the chapters are not “arty” but instead they look at what the artists were doing in the making of their work. There is a chapter called “Studying Nature” (the first <3) and others “Telling Stories” and “Observing Everyday Life.” I love that. I love the focus ( ha ha ) on artists observing their world and representing it.
I included a geography component to this — in their notebooks they have maps and they have to identify the countries from which the artists come. And, as I was writing this, I realized that the kids are also going to take small journeys through time.
My Etsy Store is like any other store. It has to be stocked, so today I ordered some stock to replace the sold out notecards and decided it was time to put garden signs in there — but I had to paint some.
“In India, we are celebrating 74th Independence Day today. As we unfurl the tricolour, I would like you to use it as the prompt.“
I will probably never go to India, but India has had a big influence on my life. As recently as last year I found myself buried in a wonderful writing project because of a man from India with whom I have a conversation here on WordPress.
Back in the hippy days, a lot of American young people went to India seeking spiritual enlightenment away from the Judeo/Christian mythos of American culture. I don’t know exactly what pop-culture inspiration led them there, whether it was the Beatles, or Timothy Leary, or or or? Those were the days of Krishna Freaks in airpots trying to get people to accept free copies of the Bhagavad Gita.
Most of those who went were ten or fifteen years older than I was, a group that I didn’t know until later in my life. Some of the people I got to know had lived in India for decades and were practicing, and proselytizing, Hindus. I would need to write a book to show their influence on me, but all of them felt like friends I’d known in other lives who waited for me to be born in this one so we could know each other. I say that without believing in reincarnation (except for Lamont and Dude).
But the most important thing India gave me was an answer to a question that was tearing me apart. Sometime in the 90s I was semi-in love with a guy. One of the things we did together was visit the San Diego Museum of Art. A donor to that museum was Edwin Binney who collected Mughal paintings. My friend was a philosophy instructor which was lucky for me because, when we walked into the small room where these paintings had been hung, I had no idea what I was looking at. All I could see was their beauty and mystery.
One of the most mysterious paintings seemed to be insisting I look at it, study it and fucking GET it. It made no sense to me, but, luckily, my friend could kind of explain it to me. As he told me the story of Arjuna and Krishna, I stood there and wept.
It told me what I had to do, eloquently illustrating the horrible moment in a human’s life when he/she must break away from something or someone for his/her own good or, maybe, even, the good of the world. That something might be something they love with all their heart. The painting wasn’t a gorgeously colored Indian painting. It was light brown and the details were set forth in black lines and white highlights. It was a rectangle about 10 x 12 inches. The worlds — representing the endless repetition of incarnations (samsara?) — were set forth in concentric arcs of people working, tilling the land, selling stuff, fighting — the usual, and on the left, heading right, was a chariot driven by Krishna and carrying Arjuna. Krishna was explaining to Arjuna that the only way he could save his kingdom and his people was to go to war against his cousin. Arjuna didn’t want to fight his cousin, but Krishna explained that if he didn’t, the world would be engulfed by evil.
Arjuna’s cousin was my alcoholic brother, and I was Arjuna. I saw so clearly that sometimes life demands, a miserable, painful, excruciating sacrifice like that. I got that lesson like an inoculation.
So…I began a not very systematic study of Hindu scripture/mythology. And, some years later, when I’d had to eject the Evil X (same story) I went to my art shed and made my own Thangka of my own life from 2003 to 2008. I wanted to SEE it. In the thangka you can see Krishna, me and my dogs in my Ford Focus driving away from evil toward, well, the art shed. The Thangka is at least R rated, so be warned…
I know there is a lot more to Indian culture than these small experiences of mine, and, with Hindu mythology, I felt Shiva’s stories more than Krishna’s but these stories changed me for the better as a human being.
“Don’t be such a martyr.” I used to hear that around my house a LOT. I got the impression that a martyr was a person who sacrificed his/her own interests for the interests of others, and then wanted accolades for doing that, basically, a blue ribbon for cooperation. As time passed, it took on another meaning which was a person who would give up what they wanted for the well-being of others, BUT then wore a veil of suffering and sacrifice the whole time. Not a lot of difference between those two explanations; it’s more a matter of nuance and motive. That’s how martyrdom played out in my family.
Then I became immersed in the Middle Ages and learned what martyrdom meant to those people. It was a carrot on a stick. It appears that self-sacrificing actions — even small ones — need to be rewarded. Lives of the Saints is full of the stories of martyrs, naturally. Martyrdom is a short road to sainthood and dying for the Holy Cross was the one sure road to Heaven. But not all of the actions of saints required the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes it was just about giving your coat to a poor man on the road or kissing a leper — simply an appeal to people to be kind to others. It seems people have always needed an incentive for that.
In Milan 20 years ago, before 9/11 when a lot of the art was put away for safety, I was able to wander around the Castello Sforza for days. There were paintings of martyrs. I was able to see the changes in the rendition of the lives of the early Christian martyrs, and, more importantly, their death. St. Sebastian was, to me, the most surreal. In some paintings his arrow-pierced body stood calmly with total equanimity and little blood flow as if every day of his life, Sebastian went out, got shot with numerous arrows, and then went home for dinner. The point of that — I though later — was to give the sense that sacrificing the earthly life for a Heavenly life was no big deal and people shouldn’t resist the opportunity.
An important thing about the early Christians who became martyrs is they didn’t sacrifice their lives in order to get recognition for their suffering or even to get into Heaven. They ended up martyrs out of their sense of conviction. There were 1200 years between St. Sebastian’s day with arrows and the paintings of him.
The early Christian martyrs became propaganda tools. The future — the Middle Ages — used them to turn people into willing martyrs. Any young man who died on Crusade was guaranteed salvation. This is the same idea behind Islamic death cults that, in our lifetimes, have turned young men into bombs, or, in WW II, turned some Japanese pilots into Kamikaze fighters, ready to die for the emperor — the idea that there is glory in death and great rewards beyond.
I could probably write about this all day, but, sigh, I must shoulder my burden and go pick up dog shit.
P.S. In looking for the image of St. Sebastian I wanted for this post, I found this article.
Worried about the Coronavirus? Pray to St. Sebastian Apparently he was the saint to which people prayed during the great plague of the 14th century which killed at least 30% of the population of Europe. I can see that. The plague buboes would have looked like arrow piercings in a way. But I’m not sure about our plague…
I decided to reopen my Etsy shop. I first “built” it in 2011. Then Etsy changed, becoming more complicated. I didn’t have the mental stamina to deal with one more complicated thing at a certain point in time, I think six years ago or so when I was retiring, moving, etc.
Anyway, I’m slowly “stocking” it. So far there are only four paintings in it.
At this point, I’m offering free shipping which Etsy is using as a marketing tool (good idea) and I’m not selling internationally (because of the free shipping). Interested people who don’t live in the US just need to contact me.
Hopefully I’ll be adding note cards and paper versions of paintings, too. I just don’t know what I have on hand yet. I also have work I haven’t photographed, so the shop is going to grow. In the past I also sold Christmas cards when the season came around. 🙂
Every tool has limited use. Today I tried painting an apple using only the natural pigments and it was a no go. The apple looked more like a tomato. The red — Pozzuoli Red — is too orange. My whole goal was to discover the powers of these colors then maybe add to them as I learned things. Today I ended up adding alizarin crimson, one of my favorite colors, and, also, a color used (sparingly) in medieval times. It’s truly one of the most beautiful colors I know. ❤
Recap of 2019 — I bought Nordic skis in January and skied (Langlaufed) maybe 10 times before the snow melted.
One of the happiest days I can remember is the first day I took them out and found I could still ski, even after 20 years. I got to take Lois out in February and we had a blast. We had SO MUCH SNOW it was a dream come true for me and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog. Winter also brought Bear and me a small herd of mule deer to watch and kind of hang out with daily — from a distance.
In the winter I did some watercolors (of which I’m very proud) of the world in which I now wander and an oil that is, I think, my best so far. All of these are of the Rio Grande and the San Juan Mountains which I watched changing every day I took Bear out for a long ramble. Winter 2019 was a spectacular winter for me.
In late June, I lost my Dusty T. Dog after 14 years. I. had adopted a mini-Aussie pup, Teddy Bear T. Dog a few weeks before losing Dusty.
Because of all the snow we got, the snow melt was record-setting, and I got to see “my” river in flood for the first time. Really, really amazing
The year brought a few visits to Colorado Springs to see friends, to get my new hip checked, and a pilgrimage to Denver with Lois and lunch with one of my oldest friends, Ron, and his wonderful wife, Joni, in my old hood which had not completely changed. (I was happy). From that came a deep understanding of my life, the changes, the distance I’ve traveled — heart, mind, soul and feet — and the consistencies of which I was unaware, leaving me grateful for old friends, new old friends and my own courage. ❤
I had the incredible experience of writing As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder (and another book, Fledging, with its very tiny audience of three people including me, but a beloved project nonetheless). Reading Baby Duck at the Narrow Gauge Book Co-op was a little scary, but it turned into a very sweet event, supported by my incredible friends. The reading, the newspaper articles, and all that experience ended up entailing was great — including being on the Radio. (Video will NOT kill this radio star, believe me.)
In November/December I had the opportunity to participate in a group art show at the Rio Grande County Museum with other San Luis Valley artists. I exhibited and sold books (I sold four) and read from Baby Duck again, this time to a different audience. It was wonderful, inspiring to me as a writer. Along with the show, I got to know the women who run that museum and I like them very much.
Some health weirdness, but who, at 67, does not have to deal with some of that? The weirdest was the horse-fly bite in June.
Adventures with friends — some lunches in various and sundry places .In early spring we went to Creede and wandered around that lovely town. We tried the new restaurant in Del Norte, and went to studio tours in South Fork and Crestone. December brought Christmas lunches, tea parties and dinner with precious friends.
The year brought only a few good walks with the dogs, not as many as I wish because of an injury I sustained in late September that has taken almost 3 months to heal. But now it’s healed just in time to Langlauf which I’ve done twice already this winter. Karen and I were finally able to ski together after talking about it for 3 years!
There’s much more, but this is long enough already. Thank you again fates for conspiring to bring me here, to Heaven, where I am and have been so incredibly happy. ❤
A few weeks ago I got some porn in my email. No no no not THAT kind of porn, but PERSONAL porn, the kind that whets my appetite and gets the juices of inspiration flowing. I got advertising from Natural Pigments. Yeah, I know…
You might not know but beginning with Martin of Gfenn I fell in love with pigments. I’ve always loved paints, colors, all that. I even had a dream once in which a bag of ultramarine blue hanging from an awning outside a shop in Venice Beach, CA, was “drugs.” Yes, a dream, but it happened in real life, years and years later. I was driving through Venice Beach with Denis Joseph Francis Callahan and saw — you guessed it — a plastic bag with ultramarine blue pigment hanging from an awning. In the dream I was riding with my dad; in real life I was riding with a guy who looked, talked and acted like my dad.
You figure it out.
ANY-hoooo here was an advertisement for natural pigments like those Martin of Gfenn would have painted with. I was very excited, went to their website, saw that my entire DREAM of painting as they did in medieval times was about to come true if ONLY I had the money… To buy the equipment, raw pigments and tools? I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even begin to do it. You see, besides finances, I don’t have a real studio. I have a big room which is ordinarily great but not for a fresco shop…
I kept going back and back and of course, they tracked me and finally I saw a set I could (almost) afford. “Oh shit,” I thought. “I could do that. I could paint with that, those colors.” You see, I’ve seen some of these colors in real life clinging to karst cliffs on the hills north of Verona. I’ve touched them. I have had REAL Verona green on my actual hand.
So after sleeping on it for a few nights I went to their website and put the set of medieval/early Renaissance colors in my “basket.” Then I logged out. I had to sleep on it some more. It was a $60 investment. They sent me an email offering me 15% off if I ordered what was in my basket.
They arrived today. In case you ever wonder what most of the colors early artists (and contemporary landscape artists) paint with are made of I can tell you. They are made of Iron Oxide. They are essentially made of rust. Isn’t that beautiful? Iron is the fourth most abundant metal on earth and is so ubiquitous because of its ability to mix with other elements using air, water, fire — it’s just the nature of iron to color things. Potassium is also one of the elements in these colors — iron and potassium oxide.
Anyway, I have already got a painting in mind for these beautiful things. I can’t wait to open the tubes and see the colors in real life. I’m sure I’ve painted with them already in other paints, but these are made with nothing but the mineral and linseed oil, the old way. I also have a tube of real ultramarine blue paint made from lapis lazuli that I will add to these five tubes.