Friday, June 19, 2009

Serious artists....

Robert Genn sends out weekly emails about all things related to art and the art process. I especially loved today's gem and thought of several friends who might enjoy this as much as I did. The above drawings are by Sierra, who hasn't learned to compare herself to "serious artists" yet takes her art seriously.:)


Serious artist

June 19, 2009

Dear Ren,

I'm out here on a rocky Donegal foreland. Below, on
the beach, one of those smart-looking black-and-white
Irish farm dogs is running loose. With no master in sight,
the dog has a tennis ball she tosses in the air, chases and
sometimes catches. Hit or miss, each attempt is announced
with a joyful bark. She's telling me something: "Come on, Bob,
loosen up. Put joy into that stuff. Get a life. Don't take yourself
so seriously."

Everyone has heard of the "serious artist." The term
has a lot of different meanings. To a person who paints
only on Sundays, one who paints every day might be one.
An artist whose work is difficult to understand may consider
those who paint understandable things "not serious." On the
other hand, realistic artists sometimes consider modernists
to be only wanking the public and therefore not serious. Some
think serious artists are those who deal with serious subject
matter--poverty, war, politics, injustice, etc. Except for a bit
of irony once in a while, these folks don't generally think humour
has its place in art. You may know of artists who take themselves
so seriously they become significant hazards at dinner parties.

Hey, it's okay to be serious about honing technique,
learning the ropes and trying to understand the muse.

When I was younger and much more idealistic, I used
to worry I was not serious enough. In my studies,
I eventually got around to the critic Bernard Berenson
and was relieved by his idea that art ought to be life-enhancing
and not life-deprecating. I figured it was okay to please, both
myself and others. Anger and angst were just fine for anyone else.

Further, I've always thought that in an ideal state
people should do only what they love--perhaps an
impossible, hedonistic position. I'm sticking to it.
The pursuit of personal joy is serious business.

To experience joy one has to consider play. The British
writer G.K. Chesterton said, "Children's play is the most
serious thing." Unfortunately, age and accumulated wisdom
tend to interfere with play. It's a human condition. Or is it?

That dog down there is seriously immature, but she has
a wisdom that is worth looking into.

Best regards,


PS: "We have an infinite number of reasons to be happy,
and a serious responsibility not to be serious."
(Maharishi Mahesh Yogi)

Esoterica: "God," said Voltaire, "is a comedian playing to
an audience too afraid to laugh." Obviously, some folks think
all this seriousness is a byproduct of a great cosmic joke.
And these little stretchy things--these canvases and the
stuff we mark them up with--are truncated playgrounds
of the human soul. In the end, it is we who can become the
master jokers. "It is not necessary for the public to know
whether I'm joking or whether I'm serious," said Salvador Dali,
"just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Stirring speech

This was posted by a friend at one of my local homeschooling lists. I'm re-posting it here in it's entirety, because I think it's that important.

**Paul Hawken's Commencement Address to the Class
of 2009 University of Portland , May 3rd, 2009.
Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur,
visionary environmental activist, and author of
many books, most recentlyBlessed Unrest:
How the Largest Movement in the World
Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.
He was presented withan honorary doctorate of
humane letters by University president Father
Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., when he delivered this speech.

"When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a
simple short talk that was "direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate,
lean, shivering, startling, and graceful." Boy, no pressure there.

But let's begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are
going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth
at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of
decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation - but not one
peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that

Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the
programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to
have misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the water, soil,
or air, and don't let the earth get overcrowded, and don't touch the
thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship
earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on
one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no
need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food - but
all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive,
and in case you didn't bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you
The earth couldn't afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school.
It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that
unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here's the
deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time
required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do
what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after
you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer
is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening
on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand data.

But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the
lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse.
What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to
confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some
semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne
Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those
who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world." There could be no better description.

Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action
is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses,
companies, refugee camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and
organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate
change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation,
human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever

Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it
strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works
behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows
the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning
to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in
force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople,
rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk,
engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned
mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street
musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the
writer David James Duncan would say,the Creator, the One who loves us
all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the
Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true.
Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it
resides in humanity's willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild,
recover, re-imagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you
had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their
bad advice," is Mary Oliver's description of moving away from the
profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the
evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of
strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific
eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create
a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did
not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on
behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown -
Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood - and their goal was
ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in
the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had
done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with
incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as
liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were
told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for
the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help
people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct
or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every
day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools,
social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of
companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their
strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in

The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart. What
do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life
creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no
better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of
abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of
abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising
failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this:
we are the only species on this planet without full employment.
Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to
destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it.
You can print money to bail out a bank but you can't print life to
bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the
future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic
product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing
the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the
future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and
the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit
people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to
get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago,
and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally
you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses,
Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are
inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become
two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which
are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other
microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400
billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of
atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one
septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros
after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more
processes than there are stars in the universe - exactly what Charles
Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each
living creature was a "little universe, formed of a host of
self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the
stars of heaven."

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop
for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on
simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore
it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. Second question: who
is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully
not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are
conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What I want you
to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate
wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came
out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course.
The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic,
delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come
out every night, and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the
multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a
thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and
beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things
and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are
graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever
bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They
didn't stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact
that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons
you to be on her side. You couldn't ask for a better boss. The most
unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer.
Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn't make sense to be hopeful.
This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it."

"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." Joseph Campbell