"Men are so simple and yield so readily to the desires of the moment that he who will trick will always find another who will suffer to be tricked."--Niccolo Machiavelli
This headline does not reflect the contents of this article. Therefore, it is meaningless. And I sincerely hope there are no new numbers as I have always had problems with the ones we already have...
"Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!"--Leonardo da Vinci
I have gratuitously included an unrelated photo. It is not attributed to anyone and it is not accompanied by an explanation.
"Most critical writing is drivel and half of it is dishonest. It is a short cut to oblivion, anyway. Thinking in terms of ideas destroys the power to think in terms of emotions and sensations."--Raymond Chandler
Cherry picking of data means we look for particular data and statistics that help to illustrate our point of view. It can also mean we present data in a certain way which is more favorable to creating the impression we want. Note also that this comment does not relate directly to the quote by Chandler.
"One picture is worth 1,000 denials."--Ronald Reagan
Sometimes I like to include images without attributing them to their source. I did not create this graphic, but I'm not going to tell you who did or what it means. By the way, did you happen to check to see of Ronald Reagan actually said this? If he did, what was the context? Did you know that there are 70 people in the U.S. named Ronald Reagan. (I got this 'fact' from this website: http://howmanyofme.com/search/) By the way, I don't know if this number is accurate or where they get their information, but I was intrigued to learn that there may or may not be 297 people named Cheryl Hicks in the U.S.)
If governments did not mislead their citizens so often, there would be less need for secrecy, and if leaders knew they could not rely on keeping the public in the dark about what they are doing, they would have a powerful incentive to behave better."--Peter Singer
No explanation needed, but you might want to find out who Peter Singer is. Warning: You may find yourself going down a rabbit hole as you try to wrap your head around the concept of applied ethics.
If you bothered to read this far, you deserve a good laugh!
"My mother-in-law had a pain beneath her left breast. Turned out to be a trick knee."--Phyllis Diller
"People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die."--Plato
I was watching the news this morning (first error of the day) and noticed a reporter giving an account of what is currently happening, or not happening, on the streets of New York. Of course, the reporter was standing on the sidewalk. And she had an entire crew, or maybe I am wrong, maybe it was just a camera operator, with her. Is it truly essential that every reporter who speaks a story be located where the story is occurring? For example, over the years, we have put lots of lives in danger in order to place journalists in danger zones such as wars, major crimes, and natural disasters. I do understand that journalists must sometimes travel to the area of conflict in order to get the facts. But is it really necessary, in this age of tremendous electronic ability, to stand these folks up in front of a live scene to get our attention?
And it is so difficult to get the facts! I actually have a degree in journalism, and fondly recall the days when news stories were differentiated from editorials and features. I recall when the news was approached via the five Ws (who, what, when, where, and why) with the most important W being the basis for the lead, or main idea, of the article. Sadly, I see very little journalism these days--just a lot of partisan infotainment.
I also recall the concept of sources, whether that was a person or a piece of research that could be quoted directly or have their words summarized with integrity. Not so much these days.
"'But I don't want to go among mad people,' said Alice. 'Oh, you can't help that,' said the cat. 'We're all mad here.'"--Lewis Carroll
And please don't even get me started on what this lack of attention to detail and truth has done to our educational system... As a teacher of twenty plus years, I always thought it was most important to teach my students not WHAT to think, but HOW to think. Unfortunately that process is a little more difficult to evaluate.
The results are fairly predictable. A generation later it has become almost impossible to find a reliable article about any topic. For example, if you look for information on a nutritional diet, you will find lots of articles. On close inspection you will soon, I hope, realize that they are written by people who may or may not have any knowledge on the subject. They include information that may or may not have been tested. They were written merely to fill a quota or a demand for a certain amount of words. This is not a victimless crime.
"Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them."--Dalai Lama
Think about it. Please.
"There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths."--Bertrand Russell
"Good intentions are not enough. They've never put an onion in the soup yet."--Sonya Levien
I am usually quite content to be isolated with my own thoughts. Wallace Stevens says, "How full of trifles everything is! It is only one’s thoughts that fill a room with something more than furniture." In the same way I like to move the furniture around, I like to juggle ideas to gain a new perspective.
Today I was thinking about how societal shifts have changed the things we value. There are a lot of jokes online about using toilet paper as a form of currency. This is not the first time that something unexpected has become quite valuable. In the Middle Ages, onions were such an important food that people would pay for their rent with onions and even give them as gifts.
And there is an old tale of a shipwrecked man who washed up on a beach covered with diamonds, which are worthless in that country. All he has with him is a bag of onions, which are highly unknown, and therefore highly valuable there. He is rewarded for the onions with a shipload of diamonds. When his brothers go back there with garlic, hoping for more diamonds, they are rewarded with the most valuable thing in the country, a bag of onions!
I am constantly delighted by the way everything in the universe seems to be connected, so I was not really surprised when I happened upon a blog titled, "The Universe As An Onion," which discusses the symbolism of this edible bulb. The blog author notices that when one cuts an onion from top to bottom, the center is similar in appearance to that of an eye. She also mentions the practice of placing onions over the eye sockets of the deceased so they could see into the next world. This seems somehow ironic when one considers the eye irritation that can occur when cutting up onions. I also read that the smell of onion is the most effective thing for relieving stinging eyes irritated by tear gas!
These onion thoughts may seem silly. But one never knows where one's mind will go once it begins a journey. Paul Cezanne said, "If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling block of the uncertain." I am a little more certain at the end of this blog than I was at the beginning. That boost of certainty probably won't last long though. That is why I try to work on my blog a little each day. It is a way to pick myself up and dust myself off. I find that the ups and downs are less extreme if I keep moving. And if that doesn't help, I consider the following words of advice:
In these tumultuous times it is not unusual for us to experience rapidly changing emotions. Kurt Vonnegut says, "Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward."
I will close today with this cartoon from Nathan Pyle:
"Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces."--Sigmund Freud
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who is finding it difficult to wrap my head around what we are currently going through on this planet. I admit I have a tendency to spend a lot of time in my own imagination. But I realized recently that this pandemic has both reinforced some of my natural tendencies, as well as causing me to change some of my habits. For example, I have always been prone to conservation. I try not to use more shampoo or soap or detergent than I need, even though I really enjoy a luxuriant lather. I definitely do not waste food. I eat leftovers (usually cold) with relish. But lately I find that I am more conservative with everything. I make sure to turn off lights when I am not using them. I mean, think about it. I don't know when I will next be able to go to the store to buy more bulbs or if there will be bulbs there when I do. If there are bulbs, someone has to make them and ship them. What if some vital link in that chain breaks. And isn't every link a vital one? Hasn't social distancing made each of us a vital link that must become broken in order to save the chain?
"A day may sink or save a realm."--Alfred Lord Tennyson
I will admit that social distancing is not a challenge for me. I am not a touchy feely person. Not a hugger. I spend most of my time alone or with my husband. We are both hermits. And we like it that way. With the exception of our kids and grandchildren, we prefer a solitary existence. So staying home has not impacted our lives greatly. Traditionally we have only bought groceries once a week. We enjoy the challenge of planning and executing and being efficient. Now we have extended that to once a month. Sure we eat some weird stuff that last week, but it is making us more creative in the kitchen. It has made us more appreciative of food in general. And we don't eat as much.
"We're in very bad trouble if we don't understand the planet we're trying to save."--Carl Sagan
I will also admit to a fascination with post apocalyptic fiction and movies. I'm not sure why. It is a sort of brain game to try to figure out ways to save the fictional world. But I never imagined that a virus would do this much harm in real life. In some ways, my imagination has failed me.
I recall when I was a very young child, having a moment of panic when I first realized that I would never know everything there is to know! I have always had the habit of asking myself when I learn something new,"What else don't I know? Where are the gaps in my knowledge?" And now I know--I have a lot of gaps. These are the kind of things I think about when I am painting. And since I have been sick for a while, I have not been painting--just spending all of my time reading and thinking. Thank goodness I am starting to return to normal and will soon be able to paint again. Too much thinking without action can be detrimental...
Until next time, stay healthy, friends.
"Lord save us all from old age and broken health and a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms."--Mark Twain
"You can't have people making decisions about the future of the world who are scientifically illiterate. That's a recipe for disaster. And I don't mean just whether a politician is scientifically literate, but people who vote politicians into office."--Neil deGrasse Tyson
I am not a food writer. So, unlike those cozy mystery novels that include delightful recipes that spring from the confines of a fictional dilemma, my blog will not offer any tempting nonfiction formulas. The main purpose of these written wanderings is to give me something to focus my mind on each morning. It also provides me with a diary of sorts that documents these crazy days.
I opened with an observation from Neil deGrasse Tyson. This struck me as being of vital importance today when we must base all of our decisions on actual research and not on the kind of cut-and-paste meme speak that abounds in social media. It absolutely makes me crazy when people post opinions as though they are facts, often because they like the word play or they identify with the gist of an idea. More often than not the person posting has no idea where the idea originated, yet they adopt it and send it out into the ether to be replicated and passed on with viral intensity!
"The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge."--Elbert Hubbard
While I am on my soap box, I might as well go ahead and acknowledge my extreme disgust for people who post hate-filled messages that attack other people instead of dealing with their differences of opinion. It is one thing to launch your vitriol against an idea. It is something entirely different to attempt to cut down your perceived enemy through misinformation or by attacking their appearance or other qualities that are irrelevant. Sometimes these meme missiles are launched in the name of humor, and I am not totally without appreciation for a witty comment or cartoon. I just don't have any patience with people who are too lazy to find out if what they are passing on is true. And I have developed a real dislike for the kind of vicious humor that is not only at the expense of others, but is often based on lies.
"One of the hard lessons to learn in life is that there are some things you can control and some things you can't. If you want a short recipe for being frustrated and miserable, this is it: focus on things you can't control."--John Bytheway
I never post my political opinions on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And I have never actually known anyone to have their loyalties changed by reading the rantings of others. We all pretty much align ourselves with those people in power who help perpetuate our own interests and agendas. To pretend otherwise is a kind of disingenuousness at best, and living in such a state of self-denial can lead to an unwitting promotion of propaganda.
If you feel compelled to share your ideas with me, I am indeed open to your opinions, but only if you are also willing to share your reasons and your research. I can't always eliminate my exposure to idiocy, but once I determine the source, I will do what I can to filter it out of my experience. This does not mean I am not willing to consider ideas that conflict with my own. It just means I am not going to waste my time butting up against someone else's emotional armor. Perhaps this is one advantage of social distancing. That's enough for today. Stay healthy, friends. And foes.
"The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases."--Carl Jung
"Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity."--Carl Jung
I hear the reassuring sound of a leaf blower outside my studio window. And I tell myself things must not be too bad or nobody would care if there were leaves stacking up along the curb. I guess we all have our ways of coping. One of the ways I keep myself occupied is to write poetry. And I have definitely written my share of dark verse. In today's post I will share a few of these pieces.
This first piece was inspired by an article in Mother Earth News about how to preserve onions. One way is to put them into the legs of pantyhose and tie a know between each one so they don't touch, because the point of touch is where the decay begins. This seemed like an appropriate piece to post since we are not supposed to touch each other while in isolation...
(previously published in POEMS-FOR-ALL)
So, we live our lives in the dark, like onions
stored in the seamless legs of last season’s pantyhose,
held together by flimsy knitted skins, held apart by excuses
and knots, no individual ever really touching another.
With only these navels in between, don’t think
I haven’t seen behind your finely tempered mind
all the way down to the cellar where you hang your ideas.
All those dangling, mangled limbs, nothing more
than lumps and clots lackadaisically waiting for some
vegetable to come along and brush up against them,
making the whole onion infantry swing into step
like muffled chimes, surrounded by cabbages,
sworn to secrecy, never telling the bulbs that the battle’s lost,
and that no one’s marching anywhere except closer to decay.
"Knowing your own darkness is the best method of dealing with the darknesses of other people."--Carl Jung
This next trio of poems, which was published in Loch Raven Review, was inspired by the fact that I lived across the street and behind the high school where I taught for twenty years. It also considers the love/hate relationship I had with that career.
I. THE SOUND OF LIGHT
Beyond the kitchen window
past the white horizontal slats
neatly tilted to measure the light,
the public school across the street
turns her back, windowless and bricked,
as though ashamed or in need of privacy.
When the sun
drops below her flat horizon,
the lights flip on and on and on
until she blushes prettily,
albeit institutionally, yet fully aware
that beauty is an arbitrary gift.
Seemingly out of sorts with garlic and turmeric
the kitchen’s chrome and glass and tile
remain cool in light of the purpling sky,
and the low white ceiling glows fluorescent
with an almost silent hum.
This time at the end of day,
the world folds inwardly with the precision
of an origami rooster. I try not to think
about crossing the street tomorrow,
about how I must anticipate the cars
rounding the corner, too fast,
forcing me to listen for their approach,
hoping they will see me,
wanting to walk slow enough
to force them to brake,
never fully trusting
that the flare of their lights
will appear in time.
II. LIVING IN THE TWENTY
Just last Monday
I was wondering whatever happened
to Steven Jackson…
called himself Spiderman…
“Best friend a Spider could have…”
he wrote in my yearbook.
(why is it always Thursday?)
in the obituaries,
loved by his family…”
And I started to wonder about living
in a twenty-mile-per-hour zone.
Maybe living here
near the school
has slowed my life
to the point that I am able
to drift from the past
into the future and back,
where I am able to see
more comings and goings.
If I really believe, will I slip back,
back to the time before
I have been told I was enthralled
at an early age with the Taj Mahal.
And perhaps, in my not-so-special
pale-girl-way, I somehow stumbled
upon the essence of an Eastern mystic cult…
And I can’t help but wonder,
if I am still enough,
will you come and touch me?
If I can stay in this moment only,
will you try to convince me
I was never alone?
I am waiting for a message.
Until then, I have a jewel glued on my forehead
and I am learning to wrap a sari.
III. THE DISTANCE BETWEEN
No smoke no fire no siren, still
I assumed lightning had struck the tree
three houses down.
As I walked back to work,
as I saw the fire truck
skimming the street
as though anticipating a blaze,
angling, sly and sluggish,
its bold, straight form around the corner
like a dated vacuum cleaner
with no ability to turn,
as though its wheels didn’t fit exactly
as though it couldn’t travel naturally
as though unwittingly fire resistant
and unwilling to discover an emergency.
I recalled how the storm had hit in earnest
as I ate my lunch, soup,
slamming itself repeatedly at the windows
as though determined to earn attention,
and how I abruptly witnessed, bowl in one hand,
empty spoon in the other,
as the balloons from yesterday’s party,
still tied to the table’s umbrella,
all exploded in the same second--
silent through the pane.
Every time I see you, I wonder
about the distance between your smile
and your intention, and I wonder
if I asked, would you look at me
with first one eye and then the other
to make me dance?
Look at me quickly then off to the side,
and if you’ve been crying,
or if you squint just right,
perhaps some lightning bolts will fly.
Divide by five the number of seconds
between the flash and the thunder
to calculate the distance in miles.
"We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen."--Thomas Merton
This next poem is from a series titled "Falling Bodies." (Note that a quatrefoil is a symbol of good luck.)
HOW TO GO ABOUT UNDERSTANDING
WITHOUT STEPPING ON IT DIRECTLY
(previously published in Autumn Sky Poetry)
I remember developing breasts,
(it was the same year the Russians launched Sputnik)
and going with my aunt to buy my first fully-trained bra,
and learning from the lady at Tots-to-Teens
how important it would be someday
to bend over at the waist when I put it on
and the first time I bent over.
I remember learning that there were men in the world
who wanted to teach me about the men in the world,
and how the faint strong smell of bleach
tinted my sheets last week after I washed the colors
with the whites and left them on the line to dry
bleeding happily all together.
I don’t remember learning I would die,
but it must have been like stepping casually
into a freshly laundered dream,
like stepping into a white tulip skirt
trimmed round the hem
with crimson quatrefoils and tears.
I wonder if I cried,
and when the flowers will start to bleed.
"I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars."--Og Mandino
This last poem was the result of a lucid dream.
TEARING ALONG THESE DOTTED LINES
(previously published in Halfway Down the Stairs)
Deliberately and exactly,
when I dream of satisfaction, it fills me
as completely as an airbag fills the space
between the dreamer's face and a disastrous dash.
Just last night I dreamt seduction.
Behind my eyes the swirling cavity
was packed with words, with blazing
actions and intentions, lines and spaces
specked with half-notes destined never to be sound.
When at last the music woke me,
I was succinctly bound
between approaching traffic
and the blaring horns of diving maidens.
I note the beat, the vague instructions
you have given me to play this fugue:
More finite than amorphous masses,
less definite than round.
"Darkness is to space what silence is to sound, that is, the interval."--Marshall McLuhan
That's plenty for today. Stay healthy.
If you are really into the analysis of the written word, you might like this blog post of mine from three years ago. https://cherylhicks.weebly.com/blog/a-matter-of-style
"When I was a little girl you used to learn to sew all the holes in things, darning socks, but nobody mends things anymore."--Vivienne Westwood
Yesterday afternoon we moved the furniture around in our apartment. It had been arranged in a fairly traditional way, a design that would be comfortable for visitors. But since we don't anticipate having any visitors for a few weeks, we pushed everything out of the way except a couple of really comfortable recliners and lined them up in front of the TV, side by side, within touching distance of each other. You do what you have to do to feel safe.
"I don't think people need to know what color socks I'm wearing today; I don't think people need to know what shower gel I'm using. There's too much information in the world, and there's no magic or mystery anymore."--Noel Gallagher
I have been having some health issues lately and have a history of asthma, so I have been very careful to try to avoid the corona virus. I was explaining to my daughter that everything that comes into our apartment that can't be disinfected thoroughly goes into our powder room and stays there for a minimum of three days. We were so proud of ourselves for setting up this system! And then she sent me a link to a report that the Princess cruise ship which recently held quarantined patients was tested 17 days after it was cleared of passengers, and it still contained the virus. Sometimes it is hard to feel safe.
"Braveness, for me, is running into my basement with no socks on. There are huge spiders down there!"--Coca Rocha
Sometimes I forget to be afraid. More and more in fact. It helps to stay busy. I read a book. Yes, an entire book, every day. I work on my blog. I cook. Yesterday I made a dump cake! And then I remembered that there were only the two of us and that we were trying to not eat as much, so I froze most of it in single serving containers and promised myself to eat only one piece each week. We have enough dump cake to last through May.
I have always liked trying new recipes, and this is a great time to do that. I just have to plan ahead and make good lists of things I might want to experiment with, because we will be trying to go much longer between grocery store outings. So far, about the only thing we don't have in the stores is toilet paper... But that is a topic for another day.
"Never put a sock in a toaster."--Eddie Izzard
And most days I paint. I am currently getting caught up on a couple of commission pieces. One is a very twisted portrait and the other is a large Paris street scene that I started several weeks ago. I keep reminding myself that I have a one person show coming up next year and that I need to schedule my time accordingly. This is good for me in a lot of ways. Mostly it reminds that there will eventually be an end to this disruption in our lives. But I admit that I have always been an all or nothing kind of person, so some days I don't do much of anything.
"I believe that if you don't want to do anything, then sit there and don't do it, but don't expect people to hand you a corn beef sandwich and wash your socks for you and unzip your fly for you."--Shel Silverstein
I have however been trying to get some exercise each day. I put the yoga mat on the floor and get out the bands, hoping that just seeing them there will remind me to be more active. When Arabelle was staying with us, I would put her in my desk chair and wheel her up and down the halls of our apartment building. It was a good system, because the more I pushed her, the faster I would have to go to make her squeal. I miss her.
"I come up with the silliest excuses when it's time to work out. I'll be like, 'Oh no! Now I have to go and find some socks."--Christina Hendricks
Today I am making a fiesta salad and a chicken enchilada casserole for lunch. Without giving away all of my culinary secrets, I will tell you that I stole the cheese packet from a box of mac and cheese to add to it. Who knows what will become of the unused, leftover noodles... I am also making sure that I have plenty of quiet time. I'm turning off the TV and listening to music. While part of me wants this time in my life to speed by, I find myself trying to slow things down, because I know myself well enough to know that I am more effective when I am deliberate and contemplative. I have simplified my life considerably. I am thinking about the things that are important to me and about the things I need to let go. Stay healthy, friends.
"As we walk our individual life journeys, we pick up resentments and hurts, which attach themselves to our souls like burrs clinging to a hiker's socks. These stowaways may seem insignificant at first, but, over time, if we do not occasionally stop and shake them free, the accumulation becomes a burden to our souls."--Richard Paul Evans
"Where there is no vision, there is no hope."--George Washington Carver
These days. We are living in an altered paradigm. Each day when we wake up, we find ourselves living in a somewhat unfamiliar world. Perhaps this has always been the case, but I find myself hyper-aware of it now. And there is a strange ebb and flow to my days. I keep forgetting important things. For example, yesterday I was watching a cooking show on TV and found myself craving a burrito. My first thought was that it really isn't safe to go to a restaurant locally since we now have confirmed cases of the virus. My second thought was, "Maybe I could go to..." and I instantly realized there is no safe place to go right now to eat a burrito.
I have found that it is helpful to keep my apartment super clean. But I admit I haven't been making my bed, because several times a day I feel the need to crawl into it and pull the covers over my head. I usually spend my time reading or painting. Lately I have not been able to maintain the necessary focus to do either. That is one of the reasons I decided to work on my blog again. I thought it might help me regain my sense of direction.
"Don't get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one."--Ludwig Wittgenstein
As most of you know, we live in an old hotel. From our vantage point on the third floor, it is easy to have a sense of security and the feeling of being literally above the chaos below. I have been watching the traffic go by and have been simultaneously reassured and alarmed that there are still so many cars out and about. I have been watching families in the park across the street, and I am intensely thankful for that refuge in nature. Even on the days I don't get outside, I make sure to get some vitamin D by sitting in the morning sun beside my herb garden in the kitchen window. It is almost painfully bright. And I like to think it is burning away my lingering layer of negativity.
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul."--John Muir
Like many people, I am determined to use this time of isolation to do something positive. Even though I spend a lot of time thinking about food, I am making a serious effort to eat only half of what I usually do. This will make our groceries last longer and help make up for not being able to go to the gym. I noticed yesterday that my legs are getting skinny.
"Where there is reverence there is fear, but there is not reverence everywhere that there is fear, because fear presumably has a wider extension than reverence."--Socrates
We are predicted to have rain for the rest of the week. Suits me just fine. I find it to be soothing and cleansing. But for now, the sun is out, so I think I will go soak it up. Stay healthy, friends.
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."--Theodore Roosevelt
"Integrity is the essence of everything successful."--R. Buckminster Fuller
Yesterday a friend asked me how I manage to sell my artwork so quickly. I responded with a variety of reasons, but as I considered it more deeply, I realized that I had glossed over something important. Today I want to consider the concept of integrity with a two-pronged approach. The idea of sincerity and truthfulness are the first things that come to mind. This is an important aspect of integrity and pretty straightforward, if not always easy to achieve. The other branch on that word tree, however, is what really intrigues me when I think about how it impacts my art making--the concept of wholeness and cohesion.
I think a lot about art when I am making art, and well, pretty much when I am not. I make art because I absolutely must have something to focus on. It helps me deal with anxiety, depression, and frustration. In the past few years, I have developed a never ceasing case of tinnitus. Ringing in the ears. Ringing. It sounds so pleasant. Tinnitus is not pleasant. It is relentless and loathsome, and almost always incurable. And making art is about the only thing that helps me deal with it.
And even though that aspect of my life threatens to sometimes overrun everything else, making art is most important because it simply helps me to think clearly. To think, period. And this brings me back to the concept of integrity. In order for my art-making adventures to be satisfying, there must be some element of wholeness to it. While this is fairly clear in in my thinking, it is as difficult to explain as what tinnitus sounds and feels like. Ideas for making art come from everywhere. The thing that turns an idea into art, at least for me, is the way it bounces around in my head, negating or combining with other ideas, gathering momentum as it shifts from impetus to action.
I am reminded of a video game I used to love to play. I think it was called Katamari. Basically you start out small, in a variety of scenarios, and roll about acquiring stuff, making you grow larger and larger, until the things that stick to you grow from the size of paper clips to planets. This is a good metaphor for how it feels in my mind when an idea is becoming a piece of art. Almost everything that goes into my mind is fine-tuned by whys and what ifs. And that process never stops. It is not always pleasant, but sometimes it slows down or refines itself enough to become a concept for a piece of art.
I would become quite bored without this process. For example, suppose I decide to paint a tiger. Tigers are interesting and something about a tiger might settle in my thoughts until I am compelled to render one. But what is it that really draws me to draw it? The fierceness partly. A few years ago I decided to paint a tiger. At the time I was in the habit of covering my canvases with one inch dots cut from magazines. (More about that another time...) As I painted my tiger, I became bored. So what if I can paint a tiger? Then someone may come along and like tigers and they might want to buy my tiger. So what? Lots of people can paint tigers. And if my tiger turns out to be a great likeness of a tiger, someone will likely try to copy my style and paint a tiger very similar to mine.
But what else is similar to a tiger? What else can I do to this painting that will give it integrity? One day as I was taking a break from tiger painting, I was looking through magazines for tiger colors, thinking that collaging one inch dots to the surface would make it more interesting, and I noticed that in the fashion magazines I had collected for the purpose of dot cutting, almost every advertisement, at least on the surface, objectified women in some way. It occurred to me that I could cut my tiger dots from these ads, and use them as a subtle yet fierce rebuttal by way of my art. This recap of my process is, of course, much simplified. But the point is, instead of painting a tiger, I made a statement. And the dots, which at first glance enhanced the tiger painting, contained information, contradictory opinionated information and images, which worked together with my idea to take a stance against the need to objectify women to sell products to women.
Not long after I finished the tiger painting, a client bought it for her daughter who was leaving that week to go to college. She wanted to send it with her as she made her way in the world, to make a statement about what it means to be a woman making her way in the world. And that was another piece of the puzzle, a contributor to the wholeness of my project.
These are just a few thoughts as I start my day, and I know from past experience that this topic will impact my work today. These ideas that I rolled over and collected are now part of the core that is me that rolls about collecting both large and small, all destined to be fodder for art making. I will close today with these reflections on integrity:
"Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary."--Cecil Beaton
"Character contributes to beauty. It fortifies a woman as her youth fades. A mode of conduct, a standard of courage, discipline, fortitude, and integrity can do a great deal to make a woman beautiful."--Jacqueline Bisset
"I became a loner. I became a mountain man. A lot of those things are very good qualities and they help you do your work, help you be singular and keep the artistic integrity of your work intact, but they don't make it very easy to live your life."--John Milius
"The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively."--Bob Marley
You flicker like a fluorescent light
An intermittent strobe in a lonely night
As I am standing by your side
Trying to breach this dark and deep divide
--Death Cab for Cutie (lyrics from the song Near/Far)
As I wait for my pain meds to kick in this morning, after a recent and rather invasive visit to the dentist, I ponder the appearance of art from both near and far. In fact, I spent some time thinking about the two words, near and far, and their various implications. So, I have peppered my blog today with a few quotes, some near, some far, that drew my attention.
NOTE: Be forewarned--most of these quotes are taken completely out of context, which I find to make them infinitely more interesting. But really, they can all be somewhat playfully applied to making and appreciating art...
"Because you don't live near a bakery doesn't mean you have to go without cheesecake."--Hedy Lamarr
I find I am fascinated by viewing paintings up close and from a distance. I think it is imperative, at least for my own work, that the artwork must hold my interest from both perspectives. I think of the work of Chuck Close and recall watching him paint large portraits up close in his wheelchair, then zoom back across the room to look at them from a distance. Back and forth. Near and far. Far and near. The image below is one of his portraits. It is accompanied by a detail shot.
Undoubtedly I have been influenced by his portraits. But honestly, I was already pixelating lots of images before I encountered his work. The thing that I admire most, almost as much as the incredible photo-realism he achieves, is that up close, his work exhibits beauty in its bits! Every little piece offers an intriguing composition and array of colors. This. This is important to me. I demand that my own work entice the viewer from a distance and that it does not fail to please the eye on closer inspection. Some pieces, of course, are more successful in that regard than others.
The first frame below is a close up of the second image which measured 3' x 4'. I have painted this face several times, experimenting with technique and materials. The third image is another version of the same face. I painted it using a 1/2" square of wood to stamp the pixels and a pencil eraser to dot the centers.
"A man must live like a great brilliant flame and burn as brightly as he can. In the end he burns out. But this is far better than a mean little flame."--Boris Yeltsin
The next portrait of Marilyn was created with 1" squares, 1" circles, 1/2" circles and squares, and a few butterflies. I have painted many Marilyns. The third one, Fragile Beauty, was composed entirely of butterflies, as is a recent portrait I collaged of Frida Kahlo. (Click on the images to see larger versions.)
As crazy as it might seem that I made these paintings out of paper pieces, that does not hold a candle to the two portraits I made using plastic parts. The first photo is a detail shot that shows one inch plastic squares (math manipulatives in their former life), topped with 1/2" plastic cubes, topped with clear plastic BINGO dots. I used this layered pixel process (and an incredible amount of super glue!) to create a portrait of Mona Lisa (approximately 2' x 3') and a larger one of Frida (2' x 4'). Strangely enough, they offer up very realistic, somewhat photographic images, when viewed from extreme distances.
"The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake."--Meister Eckhart
I have also made several self portraits that involve bits and pieces of magazines. Here is a collage portrait, titled, "Use Your Words."
"It is our choices... that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."--J. K. Rowling
I am now making a portrait of Gus and Call on pages from McMurtry's classic, Lonesome Dove. For some reason, I had the insane idea to make it look like tooled leather. I am actually enjoying the extreme attention to detail and have found it to be quite relaxing to work on it. It is definitely a good example of looking completely different up close and far away.
As I have experimented with micro-collages and pixelated images, I have discovered that what I expected to be difficult and tedious, is in fact quite simple when broken down into repetitive acts. And through trial and error, I have learned that it is best to start these projects in the center of the canvas and work my way out to the edges. The mosaic below is titled, "Homage to Dali's Gala," and was created with 1/2" squares cut from glossy photos of Dali's paintings. (In the interest of shameless self-promotion, I should mention that this piece is for sale. As is the Marilyn made of squares, circles and butterflies. And the smaller Dali face. And the one with the blue nails.)
"Stay focused and stay determined. Don't look to anyone else to be your determination - have self-determination. It will take you very far."--Justice Smith
I have also made a couple of Van Gogh portraits (shown with me below in my studio, and seen from a distance across the street) utilizing the same square process. And I recently made a small portrait of Dali, which I could not resist titling, "Hello, Dali!)
Since I had a few pages left from my Dali book, I made this little Pop Art tribute to him. It is titled, "It's Dali, Darling!" It measures 16" x 20". I have made several Pop Art pieces that combine acrylic paint and collage elements.
"Anyone who thinks my story is anywhere near over is sadly mistaken."--Donald Trump
During my morning reading, I serendipitously came across a concept called "the near/far problem." It has to do with hearing and communication. Here is a blurb from Wikipedia which explains it best:
"To place this problem in more common terms, imagine you are talking to someone 6 meters away. If the two of you are in a quiet, empty room then a conversation is quite easy to hold at normal voice levels. In a loud, crowded bar, it would be impossible to hear the same voice level, and the only solution (for that distance) is for both you and your friend to speak louder. Of course, this increases the overall noise level in the bar, and every other patron has to talk louder too (this is equivalent to power control runaway). Eventually, everyone has to shout to make themselves heard by a person standing right beside them, and it is impossible to communicate with anyone more than half a meter away."
I am now considering the implications of this problem, not with regard to hearing, but as it impacts my ability to communicate by making art. Am I indeed "talking louder" with my work, shouting even, in order to draw attention to my art, ultimately just contributing the the "noise" and making it difficult for everyone to communicate? Lots to think about as I paint leather my faux today...
I will close with this poem by William Butler Yeats, because it is beautiful, and because it considers both physical distance as well as the emotional abstraction of near and far.
'Your eyes that once were never weary of mine
Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,
Because our love is waning.'
And then she:
'Although our love is waning, let us stand
By the long border of the lake once more,
Together in that hour of gentleness
When the poor tired child, Passion, falls asleep:
How far away the stars seem, and how far
Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!'
Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,
While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:
'Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.'
The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves
Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once
A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;
Autumn was over him: and now they stood
On the lone border of the lake once more:
Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves
Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,
In bosom and hair.
'Ah, do not mourn,' he said,
'That we are tired, for other loves await us;
Hate on and love through unrepining hours.
Before us lies eternity; our souls
Are love, and a continual farewell.
Cheryl Hicks is a writer and an artist. She is happiest when she can combine the two pursuits.