Saturday, December 28, 2013

Over the Hill

You always told me to be careful on the downhill
it was easier to loose your footing and slip, you said

take your time
take it easy
enjoy the view
don't be in such a hurry
its not a race

On the way up it was harder and slower
but I thought I was so strong and so tough

It made me proud
each step of the climb
I was accomplishing something

and I felt confident and safe, with you on ahead

but I was impatient
I couldn't wait to get to the top
I wanted to get to see what you could see

but when we peaked
you kept on walking
no time to stop and bask at the zenith

I lost sight of you for a minute
you below the crest on the downward slope,
me on the upward, still climbing, catching up and catching my breath

instead of seeing the dirt and rocks
and my own knees and boots,
I can see the panorama just like you promised
but I can also see you on ahead
descending descending
up where I can't be yet
but where I know I have to go

I can't enjoy the big picture
because I want to keep my eyes on you
and not lose you again
and because I see all the chasms and cliffs and crags
around you, behind you, beyond you
and right in front of you
things neither of us could see on the way up.

On the way up, I wanted to stop and rest because it was such a strain
now I want to stop and wait
because this feeling is so weak and worn and vulnerable
exhausted after so much strain on the way up,
but now we need our strength even more
we need our balance and agility more
so that we won't stumble and plummet to the bottom before we can reach it gently
but there's no stopping gravity and momentum
and time

I can see you far ahead
too far ahead
I want you up here by my side
I liked it better when you were here to catch me and to steady me
and to encourage me to keep going
to assure me that I could do this

I'd rather still be walking with you
but I can't just gallop and catch up to you
even though I want to be there to catch you and steady you

I wish you'd just stop and wait while I gradually catch up with you
but I'm scared to travel where you are

Downhill is definitely faster than uphill
but I'm not sure its as fun
the trail seems to keep slipping out from under me.

I know that the pastures and waters you're headed for offer rest and reward
but between this mountainside and there seems so hard
and while the vista seems clear, twilight is falling
and I'm losing sight of you

Just promise you'll be there waiting at home
once I finally catch up

Friday, December 27, 2013

A poem about tact and allegories

Plant implicitly
to grow intrinsic

explicitly sown
is extrinsically grown

Nourish coach and encourage
and there may or may not be a harvest, but if there is, once there is, the roots will be deep and the fruit will be tender.

Coerce, control and command
you may get something quick
but it will be bitter
and you won't get much for long

Which is worth more?
The golden egg, or the goose?

After all, you're not God
You know we're just plough boys.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Artist's Statement Project; Part 2

This kind of Artist statement represents a collection of artworks, rather than just one. Seniors and Independent-Study Art students should do this if they are preparing a portfolio to submit to art colleges or university Art departments.

People who like an artist’s work generally want to know more about the artist. Artist statements are effective marketing tools. It helps make a connection between the artist and their audience. In putting your art into words you might also find that some of your ideas which didn’t entirely make sense to you become more concrete. Your writing might even open new paths in your thinking and take you in new artistic directions.

This definitely worked for me.

Artist’s Statement for a Body of Work
CIVICS; Faces in History

When I began teaching 8th grade Civics in 2011, I wanted to decorate my classroom in a way that would be patriotic and engaging. I also wanted to reassure students that it was okay that an Art teacher was teaching a Social Studies class (I have a double-major in K-12 Art and 7-12 Social Studies). Over the last two decades of teaching, I’ve frequently drawn on presidents and other historic figures for drawings and paintings. I simply gathered them up and hung them up. That first year I even had students try to name as many of the people featured in the paintings on a worksheet for extra credit!
Benjamin Franklin has an amazing line in the Broadway musical 1776. John Adams, fighting to keep a statement opposing slavery from being removed from a draft of the Declaration of Independence warns Franklin that if they don’t address issue of slavery from the onset, posterity will never forgive them. In an effort to get Adams to compromise with delegates from the South, Franklin tells him, “That's probably true, but we won't hear a thing, we'll be long gone. Besides, what would posterity think we were? Demi-gods? We're men, no more no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed.”
A basic premise of democracy is that leaders are servants of the people who elect them. The promise of America has always been that any kid could grow up to be President. What fascinates me about great men as a Civics teacher, as an artist, and as a citizen, is that they’re just men. Perhaps of great ability, power and experience, but never the less just men. Full of faults, imperfections, vulnerabilities and personalities. My hope is always to portray the faces of Presidents and protest leaders as human faces. Faces that could be your cousin or uncle or neighbor or friend. I hope whether its Truman or Gandhi or Lincoln, that viewers can see that there is a real person behind the face.

The Two Cowboys Two paintings which I tend to hang next to each other are an 8”x 8” oil on panel of Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater and a 14”x18” gouache on canvas of Texas Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson. The paintings contrast each other not only in size and format but also in mood and style. Goldwater is more detailed and has more angles. He’s also more comfortable and confident. Whereas Johnson has more swooping curves and seems almost unfinished. Meanwhile his face seems more weary and jaded. These two paintings in many ways reflect many of the differences and tensions in our country.

BULLY! One of my all time favorite works is a 9”x12” tempera on matte board, monochromatic, orange,  impressionistic interpretation of Progressive/Republican President Teddy Roosevelt. This was painted quickly based on a photograph of the president laughing heartily. I think it captures the exuberant personality that Roosevelt was known for. Since we share a first name, I’ve always had a special affinity to him and with this painting.

KING This acrylic on paper in teals and black started a long relationship for me with Martin Luther King. I’ve always been an admirer of the activist and have tried several times over the years to paint him. Two or three oil pastel paintings haven’t made me as happy as this earlier work. A couple of years ago, I managed a larger, more detailed and developed piece which I gave as a wedding present to a friend who lives in Washington D.C. This early painting is more close-up, more intimate and probably better reveals the worry, sacrifice, deep intelligence and seriousness of his cause. Like the Teddy Roosevelt painting, this is one that has become an old friend. I think I’d like to have it hanging in whatever office, studio or classroom I occupy as long as I’m teaching, writing or painting.

I never realized that I even had a style of my own until I hung several of my paintings together on the wall of my Art classroom this Fall. Looking at nineteen years of paintings I’d done with classes or as examples for classes, it finally manifest itself to me. It may may just be my own Attention Deficit Disorder, messiness or stubbornness- but my work seems to be very passionate, expressive and maybe just a little rough-hewn. I’d like to think that  I’m a shaggy lummox like a bison or a bear. Unkempt yet majestic. Simultaneously humble yet proud. Inglorious with dignity. In other words, quintessentially American.
Art History students and aficionados can probably recognize the influence of the neoexpressionism of the 1970’s and 80’s. I’m not sure if this is because that was the era in which I grew up or if its because of the strong German expressionist influence on my professors at Concordia College in Seward, Nebraska.
If I had to name my favorite painters, I’d probably rattle off names of pop artists like Wayne Thiebaud and Jasper Johns; the venerable regionalist Grant Wood, and Native American master John Nieto. But my work doesn’t really seem to look like any of theirs. Frankly I think my paintings remind me more of Jules Feiffer, Johnny Hart and Bill Mauldin. That’s probably because from ages 12-38 it was my dream to someday make it as a professional cartoonist.
Years ago a student told me that I teach History classes like their Art classes and my Art classes like they were Social Studies. So maybe I get my wired crossed a lot because I can definitely see how my cartoons are influenced by Grant Wood and Wayne Thiebaud and my paintings are more like Bill Mauldin or maybe even Charles Schultz or Matt Groening.

Students who watch me painting often say something like “how do you DO that?!!”
Inevitably the teacher in me wants to either painstakingly explain to them the process of observing, analyzing, comparing and contrasting visual-spatial placement and proportions and then recording those observations and analysis. But I  know it would bore them to death.
That same teacher in me also wants to point out every single flaw in my painting, hypercritically explaining how their awe is misplaced because of how weak my technique is or how inaccurate the features are compared to the photograph I’m using. But I hate to devalue their experience, even if I don’t think I deserve whatever admiration they’ve just given me.
So I encourage them by offering that “you can do it too, you just have to keep practicing and listen to what I try to teach you,” yet not bother revealing all of my magician’s secrets.
Ultimately it is a sort of alchemy. Certainly there’s the trained artist’s way of perceiving and translating those perceptions into visual language, but there’s also a great deal of responding to and expressing about the subject matter. What they mean to me and how I feel about them. What I admire or disdain.
Too be sure, its not just about the artist and the subject. The painting itself makes its own decisions too, just like our children do. Or in this case maybe a better analogy would be to say that sometimes politicians break party-ranks and vote their own conscience (something I admire about Teddy Roosevelt).
Finally, you the viewer, bring your own experience to every painting too. Eighth graders who have no idea who Goldwater, Johnson or Roosevelt were often have vastly different reactions to my paintings than adults.
So there are four of us collaborating on each painting; artist, subject, painting, and viewer- each lobbying for our own interests. Hopefully we all make compromise and meet somewhere other than where our preconceptions would’ve taken us alone. That’s in the nature of democracy too, isn’t it? Together, whether in tension or harmony, we’re something very different than any of us would be left to our own devices. E Pluribus Unum, from many- one. Long may it be so.

The Artist's Statement Project; Part 1

I see that it's been almost 6 months since I've posted something on this blog. Unfortunately I've been too busy living and teaching to have time to write. Meanwhile I've taken to using Instagram and Twitter to "micro" blog and photo journal. But I've recently done a bit of writing for one of my classes.

Every class at Boyer Valley is required to have at least one formal writing assignment. In the past, rather than a research paper, I've had students conduct a critical analysis of a famous artwork. This proved to still be a little heavy on the rigor and light on the relevance for most high school Art students. So this year, I decided I'd experiment with having my Painting class write their own Artist Statements.

An Artist’s Statement is a short document which provides insight into an artist’s thinking on about a single piece, or about an entire body of work. Artist statements describe the artist’s creative process, philosophy, vision, and style. Artists use these documents to communicate to potential buyers, exhibition curators, critics, fellow artists, and casual viewers. Unbeknownst to them they still have to critically analyze an artwork, its just that they're analyzing their own artwork. Much to my surprise and my relief, so far they're all pretty excited about it.

Writing a couple of examples for them about my own work has been a good exercise for me too. I don't think I've ever thought about my own painting this much ever.

 What follows is the first demonstration-model, about one of my own paintings. The next entry will be what I wrote about a whole group of painting.

Artist’s Statement for Individual Artwork
“Orange Lady,”  8” x 10 “, acrylic on canvas, 2013. NFS
This is a picture of my Aunt Rene’. Growing up in the 1970’s I remember my aunt wearing many of the latest fashions. Oranges, yellows, and teals and turquoise featured prominently. Interestingly, these colors have been popular this year. I used only yellow and black. There’s not a lot of detail, and only a minimum of shading.
8x10 is a common ratio for portrait photography. Using a vertical 8x10 was a perfect fit since I was enlarging a portrait from a 1 inch x 1 and a half inch newspaper photograph. I think that cutting off the top of the head and having the subject’s eyes looking up and to the viewer’s right, creating an implied diagonal make it a strong composition. I used the rule-of-thirds. Her left eye (partially hidden by her bangs) are on a “hot-spot,” an intersection of the right vertical third and the top horizontal third.
The stark contrast and bright yellow are upbeat and positive, although the greys and imperfection may be like hearing an otherwise happy song played in minor keys or at a slow tempo. This color scheme and the hair and make-up styles effectively evoke the aesthetic of the early and mid sixties. TV shows like ‘Mad Men’ have made that aesthetic popular as “retro” lately.
My Aunt Renee’ was an Irish redhead. Her hairstyles (and occasionally wigs) were a lot like those of TV comedians Carol Burnette and Vicki Lawrence. Burnette is famous for mixing her comedy with a certain amount of tragedy or at least reality, so that people could relate to her show easily. For me personally, this painting reminds me of the constant balance of heartache and joy that every family share.
Our assignment was to create a painting in the Pop Art style of the 1950’s and 60’s.I wanted to make a painting that would have a bold graphic look like Andy Warhol’s portraits of celebrities, but have a worn, industrial look, with thick paint like something Jasper Johns did. Enlarging a newspaper picture is also a lot like what Roy Lichtenstein did with comic book panels.
I used my aunt’s engagement photo from a newspaper clipping from the 1960’s. First, I covered the canvas with straight yellow acrylic paint.I tried making two or three sketches in my sketchbook before drawing the picture on my canvas. I tried to apply some of the concepts I’ve been teaching this year. In Painting, we learned about finding facets that share color or value. In Drawing we’ve worked on perceiving positive and negative spaces, fitting your subject matter into a format and we learned that if you turn an image upside down, it becomes easier to draw shapes correctly.
I made some mistakes with the black, so I made corrections with the same yellow I’d used for the background. This added some dimension and more of a variety of shades, making it less of a stark, 2-color image and more “monochromatic.” These changes made it seem warmer and more personal, it also made it more imperfect like a Jasper Johns and not so precise and mechanical like a Warhol.
I wasn’t completely decided that it was entirely finished, but several students really liked it. I posted it on Instagram and Facebook and got more positive feedback. My cousin loved it and promised to show her mother. Another friend left a comment about how he liked the “orange lady.” I decided to use his name for it as the title.

Friday, June 07, 2013


"...Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise..."
~the Beatles

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Original Definitions

LIBERAL: associated with ideals of individual especially economic freedom, greater individual participation in government, and constitutional, political, and administrative reforms designed to secure these objectives

CONSERVATIVE: advocating support of established institutions : progressive conservative, tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions : marked by moderation or caution

PROGRESSIVE: believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by governmental action, tending to be optimistic yet pragmatic and practical.

RADICAL: very different from the usual or traditional : extreme, favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions : associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change : advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs

ANARCHISM: political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups.

Okay- So, do you get how today's Democrats in Washington are actually more "conservative" than some Republicans? Can you see why i might think that the "Tea Party" is pretty radical ? Am I wrong to think of most Libertarians as anarchistic? Now, tell me again how liberalism and progressivism are bad?