Artful meandering around in paint and poetry

“The instinctive need to transform experience into image is a mysterious phenomenon.”

Thus read a sentence by Roxana Robinson in her book about Georgia O’Keeffe.*

At first reading it struck me that Robinson probably has never experienced that need else she could not have written that sentence. Or perhaps she used mysterious to mean inexplicable. But obviously she has recognized  it in observation else she would not have used the word phenomenon. This is not at all mysterious to me as one who has often felt, but not always indulged the feeling.

I used to do it. As a child I carried a large sketch pad around with me. I distinctly remember a family picnic that included my Great-Grandma Margaret. She wore a dress—which she probably made—with demur stripes in the fabric. She sat on a picnic table bench. I think facing out with her legs towards the park, not under the table. This may be faulty memory, but it doesn’t matter. The thing is I drew a sketch of her that way. I also remember drawing a picture of a red-tailed hawk which were plentiful in Iowa prairies and parks.

Granted these drawings were not great, maybe not even good, but they and others were part and parcel of my attempt to exchange experience for memory. Somewhat like a photographer does in snapping the shutter on a camera. I lament the loss of that sketch-book. Heaven only knows if I tossed it or mom did. She saved the oddest things from my childhood I discovered when she showed stuff she had kept. None of my drawings  were in the box.

Somewhere along the road to adulthood I stopped doing that. I did start turning visuals into poems because of  a poetry session in junior high school. The teacher was a Miss Evans. She gave one of my assignments a C and I asked why. “Because you can do better,” was her answer and I loved her for that. Alas none of those poems survive.

But I have since done many paintings and pen and ink drawings. I do now write poetry.   One perfect example of the experience into image…once I  learned the art of Haiku with its subject, action and break…

gymnast walking

a sunlight beam

cutting edges

So I see the “instinctive need to transform experience into image” as a means of controlling one’s environment, a means of self-expression, an outlet for emotion and, at least for some, a gift intended to bring joy, pleasure and perhaps inspiration to the recipient. Beyond that the method and mode belong subjectively to the individual.

*Robinson, Roxana. Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life (Kindle Location 463). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

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Confessions of a beaten child

Throughout the nineteenth century, corporal punishment was a standard form of child discipline in English institutions…for Charlie it was an experience with authority he never forgot or forgave.

One reason why Chaplin’s screen character’s ass-kicking antics in those early films were so immensely popular with early-twentieth-century moviegoers is that they resonated unconsciously with his audiences’ personal experiences with that universal child-rearing practice….Charlie made them laugh until their sides split. Given our current penchant for gentler forms of child discipline, it is not surprising that the Little Tramp’s crude comic antics have lost much of their freshness and charm for twenty-first-century audiences. In fact it would not be surprising if many of today’s parents would strenuously object to their children viewing many of those early one- and two-reelers that first made Chaplin world famous by 1915, because they contain too much of what is known in modern educational parlance as gratuitous violence. ~Weissman, Stephen. Chaplin: A Life.

Although I understand the author’s statements, my personal experience has not made me laugh at Chaplin’s film expressions of punishment.

I was beaten on my behind with a belt more times than I can remember. I cried and hollered and got beaten harder for it. One time humiliation was added to the drama by being asked to drop my underwear…with other people in the room! I recall having the same response Chaplin is quoted as having: “They tried to break my spirit…” he recalled, but “they never succeeded.”

Decades later I came to understand much of the beating had more to do with the belt-wielder’s anger than with anything I had done. Unfortunately that understanding came too late to not affect my raising my own children. No I did not beat them, but my “unbroken spirit” lashed out often in inappropriate ways.

Charlie never forgave or forgot. He used his films as outlets. I have forgiven because I realized one day I cannot live with resentment or anger, but I have not forgotten.

Inexplicable mom mysteries

I don’t know what my mother did all day. She did sleep because I’d catch her at it, head down on her chest, eyes closed, only to fly open, startled when she realized she wasn’t alone. I guess she went to the grocery store. We were never out of food. And I guess she did laundry. There were always clean clothes on the dining room table, heaped there fresh from the dryer, waiting for the owners to come rescue them.
She must have gone to bed at some point…there are six of us kids…but mostly she said her sleeplessness at night was a leftover habit from staying awake to keep the rats from getting at me when I was a baby. I knew this was too short a time to become a habit because grandpa made her live with he and grandma until dad got home from the war. Grandpa’s house didn’t have rats.
I found out later she thought sex was only duty and after once, well, what more was there.
One morning I found mom asleep on the screened in back porch with a pack of dad’s Winstons and a book of matches on the table beside her. It was good for a chuckle, but deep down I felt a pang of sympathy for her. Was she trying to see what my dad got from smoking? Was she hoping to join in..be more likable to him? Had dad left them there himself and gone to bed alone?
Much, much later I found out from mom herself that she had always wanted to learn to fly an airplane. She never voiced that desire while dad was alive because she’d never do anything to compete with him. Why did she see it as competition? Same with bowling. She would have been a better bowler. She never would have matched his flying, him having been a B-26 pilot and instructor. But she would have liked the accomplishment.

Inexplicable mom mysteries

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I don’t know what my mother did all day. She did sleep because I’d catch her at it, head down on her chest, eyes closed, only to fly open, startled when she realized she wasn’t alone. I guess she went to the grocery store. We were never out of food. And I guess she did laundry. There were always clean clothes on the dining room table, heaped there fresh from the dryer, waiting for the owners to come rescue them.
She must have gone to bed at some point…there are six of us kids…but mostly she said her sleeplessness at night was a leftover habit from staying awake to keep the rats from getting at me when I was a baby. I knew this was too short a time to become a habit because grandpa made her live with he and grandma until dad got home from the war. Grandpa’s house didn’t have rats.
I found out later she thought sex was only duty and after once, well, what more was there.
One morning I found mom asleep on the screened in back porch with a pack of dad’s Winstons and a book of matches on the table beside her. It was good for a chuckle, but deep down I felt a pang of sympathy for her. Was she trying to see what my dad got from smoking? Was she hoping to join in..be more likable to him? Had dad left them there himself and gone to bed alone?
Much, much later I found out from mom herself that she had always wanted to learn to fly an airplane. She never voiced that desire while dad was alive because she’d never do anything to compete with him. Why did she see it as competition? Same with bowling. She could have been a better bowler. She ever would have matched his flying, him having been a B-26 pilot and instructor.

Only 8 lessons, not the usual 10… I learned from dad…In no particular order except for #1…

1. Be Honest. NEVER LIE. It’s a family thing. All 6 of us know it to a fault.

2. Always have a bandaid in your pocket or purse. We all know this one, too.

3. Always have phone money. Of course this was long before mobile phones or cell phones. I imagine today he would advise to keep my cell charged.

4. Take care of your appearance. No chipped fingernail polish. No unkempt nails or hair. Piercing never came up but boy, would he be upset with some of today’s “looks.”

5. Inadvertently he let his ego show me his acceptance of the status quo. I asked him once about mom working. I remember his answer as if it was yesterday, “Oh, she can work, but then she won’t be MY wife.” Strangely it was okay for me to work. Maybe not so strange. Once I started working [at 14] it took some financial burden off of him because I started buying my own clothes and stuff.

6. If you’re going to be using cabs in unfamiliar cities  get a map ahead of time and study to and from routes. That way cab drivers can’t scam you by taking longer routes. I didn’t dare ask him if he said this from personal experience, but it stood me in good stead one time as I was returning home late at night from an out of state trip, tired, frustrated by delays, overbooked planes, having to be at work in the morning, and angry my dad was dead and mom just accused my son of doing drugs…yeah at 10 years old…in her bathroom yet!Anyway, the taxi driver started a very circuitous route which quickly became fast and short when I asked him why he didn’t take the GW Parkway.

7. Take the road less traveled. But be aware and cautious. He was teaching me to drive. We were out away from traffic. I started down a road wondering aloud something like where does this go? His answer was he didn’t know, but I had my foot in the right place. It was on the brake.

8. Fun need not be expensive. Some of my best memories are of  drives out to the airport, parking at the boundary fence and watching the planes take off and land.

airport

We chased fire trucks once, but I didn’t like that. He had some reason for that one, but I don’t remember what it was. We also went out to Resthaven Cemetery, I suppose for dad to check in with his relatives, but we always stopped by the pond to watch the swans. They were still there until two years ago. Water Works Park [actually a reservoir for the city] was another favorite-out-doors-run-around-picnic spot.

resthaven

Hot times in the old towns of yesteryear chapter 2

(Chapter 1 was posted June 29, 2016)

Chapter 2: Looking for dad and finding Northern Lights

Previously in Hot Times…

On the way to see Sister Sue in Missouri, Pam and Gene were hijacked by the discovery of family history in Council Grove, KS.

We told my sister and then husband how we had ended up in Council Grove Kansas and had found some information about Gene’s dad, but nothing terribly useful to a genealogical search.

Sue had lined up stuff for us to do but that got scrapped in the excitement of an adventure called “let’s go to the capital and see what we can find in vital records.”

Topeka being only a one hour drive from Kansas City, gave us time to catch up with each other’s doings without becoming a boring “are we there yet,” trip.

Without boring you with our search through census records and up and down stairs to various records offices, I will say we found enough to know we would someday continue the search because now we had names and dates to look up. And we did end up with a copy of Gene’s dad’s birth certificate.

By the time we left Topeka it was dark enough to make the passing landscape unintelligible…Until…A SHOUT from Sue to stop the car jerked us all to attention. We looked. Red filled the sky as far as we could see. We got out of the car, necks craned upward. We gawked…speechless. Northern lights in Kansas? Yes, that is possible, but we didn’t know the why or how of it then. We just watched the curtains rise and fall, open and close, rise and fall, open and close until the show was over.

I think there was a lot of oohing and awing on the way home.

I wrote this poem about it.

Kansas by Candlelight (Northern)                                           ©PCL 1985

Picture this:

Thousands of paint buckets

full of indescribable scarlet hue

sitting heavenly-high,theatre-seat-tidy.

From beyond where man can be

an angel dressed in joy dances through unseen clouds

and dominoes those lidless buckets by perfect pirouette.

One by one, across the ink washed sky they spill,

each container saluting its contents earthward.

But heavenly paint is not the ordinary sort

Of course cohesion is apparent,

yet this is not the magma spread of gooey, earthy stuff.

SRO in awe as we witness

a slow motion silky dance

unfold curtains of sanguine gossamer veils.

Having flung this panoramic splendor across our view

the angel tiptoes now as if to leave stage right.

But! The bucket emptied are never empty.

The thought remains a rich reward

visible to earth-dimmed hearts.

lights

Beyond cows, coloring books and Greenwood Park

An accomplished artist friend of mine painted a marvelous account of Texas Longhorn steers. They are not your everyday longhorns. They are blue and green and purple. Something between color-blocking and paint by number but totally original and really neither of those…and certainly not static.

Then I came across an NPR article by Steve Drummond. (The People Vs. Coloring Books: The Verdict Is In,July 2)

The illustration by LA Johnson is of four cows in various colors, only two of which resemble real cow coloring.

coloring-book_slide-bac966b144a113ef18aa3a0d589b40ab5c5af189-s1200-c85

The childlike drawings reminded me of my friend’s painting (which I now own) so I read the article which made me want to read the referenced book, Creative and Mental Growth by Viktor Lowenfeld.

When I was very young coloring was okay because I could use whatever colors I wanted; the “paint-by-number” stuff I got for Christmas one year bored the heck out of me after I’d tried out a couple of the pages. When my kids were little I taped brown paper around the living room walls and let them color to their hearts content. Outside the lines never bothered me.

Evidently it doesn’t bother Mr. Lowenfeld, either. He sees art as a way of life for children and believes we need to understand their view of the world…which is creatively expressed through their artistic endeavors.

I’ve long been a proponent of art in schools. I have always believed art education is not only desirable, but crucial to the development of our human sensibilities.

Art, whether it be painting or performance, large or small, architectural or botanic, fosters our innate sense of harmony even in epic depictions of war and violence. It calls up the tragic, comedic or breathtaking beauty in our soul so we can translate it visibly or audibly. This applies to our creation of an art and to our response to various art forms. Art teaches perspective, proportion, sharing, discipline, tradition. It develops fine motor skills. It teaches practical skills.

The only reason i know how to use a jigsaw is because my 6th grade art teacher taught me. She also taught glass etching, mobile making and all the planning and critical thinking that goes with it. My first encounter with “real” art came when I discovered paintings by Piet Mondrian at The Des Moines Art Center tucked away in Greenwood Park not far from a public swimming pool. The building designed by Eliel Saarinen, I. M. Pei was architectural art in itself. It has since been added onto without losing its original integrity.

Saarinen1 preview

Saarinen DM Art Center

Pei Courtyard preview

I. M. Pei DM Art Center

Art teaches patience. Art allows imagination and communication to be explored and expressed. Artists good at their craft acknowledge they have learned from and built upon those before them. So we also have a legacy of cultural and historical understanding. Problem solving and thinking skills are developed and strengthened. Art sets a foundation for the technological literacy necessary today as never before. I could go on and on, but you get the idea…and probably have some of your own.

Perhaps the purveyors of the fadish adult coloring books are inadvertently on to something apart from stress relief. Perhaps, if they had been more expose to more art  and art forms earlier, adults wouldn’t feel so stressed in the first place.

Art joy

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