Arts Advocacy Day: What is Life without Arts?

Performing

Picture a world with no arts in it. Nothing would decorate our walls. No music would fill the void. We wouldn’t be able to share stories or understand and empathize with anything beyond our immediate understanding. Life, as we know it, would not exist.

I wonder if the people who argue to de-fund the arts, really understand the intimate connection between the arts and what makes us human?

Of course, even without the arts we would have access to the beauty painted by the greatest artist of all, Mother Nature.

Photo By Steve Kramer http://taochild.wordpress.com/

Photo By Steve Kramer http://taochild.wordpress.com/

But without the arts, would we be able to express our understanding of that beauty? Would we even understand what it means? Or would our lack of understanding lead to an environment that looks only like this:

Of course, some people might find beauty in this image, and the creation of these machines themselves required the development of creative minds.

Minds become creative through exposure to the arts.

If  arts didn’t play such a vital role  in the development of humanity, then why has it existed in so many forms throughout the history of human kind?

20,000 Year Old Cave Paintings: Mammoth

20,000 Year Old Cave Paintings: Mammoth (Photo credit: Carla216)

Why have things like theatre, dance, and storytelling developed in culture after culture even when travel and communication across distances didn’t happen at the blink of an eye?

The arts play a vital role  in encouraging us to think, to create, to question. The first image on this page comes from a student in my after school literacy through drama program, called “In Our Own Voices.” He is from Cambodia, and is perhaps the most recent immigrant in that group, with some of the biggest language challenges. Yet each week he grows in confidence as he speaks and reads. He expresses himself through written words and through drawing. The arts have helped him grow as a student, and celebrate his own life.

In an  article entitled “10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2013”  Randy Cohen writes about all the practical reasons why arts are important, including improved grades and economic growth. He then asks for our reason #11.

Reason #11: Art is life. Life is art.

Do you think the arts are valuable? Why?

 

Yearning for Nostalgia: When Craftsmanship Mattered

Have you ever walked around an old city filled with beautiful architecture and marveled at the craftsmanship that went into each element?

A house in Zdiar, Slovakia, crafted without nails.

The lucky chandelier and painted ceiling of the Town Hall in Levoca, Slovakia

Have you ever looked at the craftsmanship of things created by hand centuries ago that have somehow survived the ages?

Have you ever thought about what we’ve lost in a world where production is made easier through technology, but somehow it leads to cookie cutter homes and replicas of pieces that were labored over for hours in times past?

I was reminded of this yesterday, when we met some friends a the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, CT. I recently read a book whose main character restored carousel horses, so I found the tour or the museum fascinating, with the details coming to life about how the magnificent creatures were created.

A horse’s head coming to life.

I loved the idea that the  Master carved the Elegant  side of the animal (the side which would face out), while the apprentice practiced his craft on the plain side.

Carousel horse

Carousel horse (Photo credit: vpickering)

I was amused (although perhaps not surprised ) to learn that women were not allowed to ride on carousels until they added chariots.  I fell in love with a child’s chariot that had no top or bottom so even taller children could ride.

I wanted to take this home from the museum.

I was blown away by the people who had built miniature carousels and donated them to the museum. These creations were made of wood, paper, recycled objects (including a motor from a sewing machine) and even paper clips.

Those mini creations reminded me that craftsmanship isn’t dead, it’s just hidden in the passions of the few people who commit to the time, passion and precision required to create magnificent pieces of art. Sometimes you have to go hunt things out, to find the astounding possibilities in things made by hand.

Sushi crafted out of floral materials for the annual Christmas decoration contest at Tower Hill Botanic Gardens.

These cupcakes look delicious. Too bad they are made out of flowers and other natural materials at the Botanical Gardens.

While I may yearn for the times when people seemed to take more pride in their work, and progress wasn’t measured by how much we could cram into one day. I recognize that there are, indeed, people who live their lives with the idea of making this world a more beautiful place–through arts, crafts, music, and words.

I plan to be one of them.

A peaceful mantle at the botanic garden which inspires me to create places of peace in my own home.

 

Turtle and Butterfly Tease . . . Part I

 

Last Monday I went on a journey that connected me with turtles and butterflies. Then I had some difficult days, which I did not blog about.

During the difficult days, the image of turtles and butterflies kept calling out. “Escape the pain and confusion and bring us to life!” the said, in voices that whispered with the breeze and swished like the water.

Not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, I wandered over to the local Wal-Mart (the only place nearby that I knew I could find some limited supplies) an browsed. I ended up buying four canvas panels and some oil pastels. Granted, if I knew better, I would recognize that oil pastels don’t work that well on canvas, but I was just going with the flow.

I have designed something that together forms a whole image, while each panel serves as its own separate individual image.  I will share two of them with you now, as they are the most complete. When I finish the other two, I will share the whole. They are not perfect, but sometimes you simply need to express yourself in a different way.  The Moon Lady was my first (and probably the best), now comes Turtle Wings.

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Finding Comfort in Words

I don’t know if it is the fact that April is National Poetry Month, but my mind keeps going to poetry these days, and where my mind goes, my fingers and heart  follow.

Words written on fragile pages
journals of my life’s journey
sometimes joyous
often sad
meant for no eyes but my own
except . . . perhaps
future generations.

These words comfort and console.

Friendships formed
over books devoured
and discussed in lively groups
some loved
some hated
some faced with confusion.
Books written in words
of hope, of pain, of life.

I travel with these words and feel less alone.

Words written in
the pages of technology
linking me to voices
across the nation
across the world
reaching for people who understand
who celebrate
who love words
who love thought
who live fully.

These words connect me beyond my emptiness.

Books read in the privacy
of loneliness
speaking  in the voice
of friends from afar,
sharing  thoughts, ideas
opinions, refutations
and connections.

These words validate and enhance the words I seek.

Words are my friends
words are my enemy
words are my sustenance
words are my emptiness
words are my life.

” . . . I realized that maybe writing doesn’t require sacrifice. Maybe it’s a gift to experience emotions through our brushes, ink, and paper. I wrote out of sorrow, fear, and hate. You wrote out of desire, joy, and love. We each paid a heavy price for speaking our minds, for revealing our hearts, fort trying to create,but it was worth it, wasn’t it, daughter?” (Lisa See, Peony in Love, 242)

Today I Want to Write in the Voice of the Poet

Today I want to write . . .
in the voice of the poet
who speaks the language of the universe.

Not my own voice
which strangles itself
with criticism, fear and doubt.

Today I want to write
the language of contrasts
where flowers bloom
amidst the sadness
of an elderly man
who has lost his way
and can no longer enjoy the spring.

Not my own voice
of sadness
at the slow disappearance of my father.

Today I want to write
with the ease of the artist
who finds the flow of words and
images poured from a powerful pool
filled with creative force.

Not my own voice
which dips a toe in slowly
. . .

slowly

. . .
afraid of the whirlpool
of possibility.

Today I want to write
of fun and laughter
of new-found friends
and loneliness dispersed.

Not my own voice
where emotional distance grows
despite physical proximity
and silent voice gets lost in the noise.

Today I want to write
in the voice of the Poet.

The Spirit We Leave Behind

Wandering through life
we stop along the way
sometimes for
the briefest of moments
sometimes for time
drawn out in memory
but faster than light.

Wherever we stop
we leave an imprint
a sliver of our soul
a slice of our spirit
the lingering sound of our laughter
perhaps the taste of our tears.

We hope
as we wander
that the impressions left behind
linger in the lives
we’ve touched
not the bitterness of loss
but the butterfly flutter
of inspiration
of hope.

The lucky ones learn
later in life
at  different points of the journey
of the impact
their spirit in that brief time made.
Hope and dreams left behind
to nurture and grow
under the caring touch
of other creative hands.

The link to the spirit of self
feels joy in these moments
but sadness as well
for tasks left unfinished
by a wandering moment
that was in some ways
all too brief.

My long time readers may recall a post I wrote at the beginning of last summer, one of my best posts perhaps, of my time working with a very special group of people to create an art/drama program. Here’s a link to Appropriate Age Appropriateness  if you forgot or are interested in revisiting that post.  I actually wrote a series of posts about working with them, as well as teaching a Youth Theatre Studio that focused on the power of imagination, because that is where one of my passions lie. Those two projects were the hardest thing to leave when we moved on from Kansas, where we only stayed for a year. Yesterday, my dear friend Jackie, my partner in the program, posted this update about continuing to work with this wonderful group. The images here tell you everything you need to know. The above poem comes from my joy that something I began continues, but also my (very human) sadness that I cannot be part of it. If I am completely honest, there is a tiny part of me that wants my role in projects to be more important, like they cannot function without me. But that isn’t the reality, and is totally selfish. I am honored to have been the spark, and hope the project continues to grow into a comforting and warming flame. Congrats to Jackie and Marisa, who have made this project soar.

The Question of Art

Thomas Kinkade passed away on Friday.

I already wrote about my fascination with his work in “In Search of Light” so I won’t repeat that here. But his death, and the discussion surrounding him and whether or not his art was anything more than ” mass-produced kitsch” as many critics claim has made me think about a question that runs through my life.

What is art?

I walk over to flip through my trusty Concise Oxford Dictionary (preferring the feel of printed pages to the more easily accessible dictionary on-line) and look up this simple three-letter word:

1. a. Human creative skill or its application.  b. work exhibiting this. 2. a.  . . . the various branches of creative activity concerned with the production of imaginative designs, sounds, or ideas, e.g. painting, music, writing, considered collectively. b. any of these branches. 3 creative activity, esp. painting and drawing, resulting n visual representation 4. human skill or workmanship as opposed to the work of nature. . . . 5. . . . a skill, aptitude, or knack . . . 6. . . . those branches of learning (esp. languages, literature, and history) associated with creative skill as opposed to scientific, technical, or vocational skills.

Hmm. Based on that definition, then, art has something to do with creativity and expression. There is nothing in that definition that requires art to be elitist or accessible only to a privileged few. There is nothing in that definition that suggests that something popular cannot be considered art.

To me art is something that elicits emotions and makes a person think. That doesn’t mean it has to be so obscure that your brain does gymnastics trying to uncover the deep hidden meaning of a piece of art.

abstract art;Compo,3332.555/ oil on canves. bi...

abstract art;Compo,3332.555/ oil on canves. biography; http://www.palacsztuki.pl http://www.whoswhogallery.com/artist/smolarek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Occasionally I enjoy the mental gymnastics created by looking at a piece of art that means many things to many people. I like discussing theatrical productions that can be interpreted in multiple ways depending on your relationship to the art. Look at my post called “A Weekend of Powerful Arts”  for proof of this. I believe that arts should motivate thought and discussion, as well as interpretation.

But, even the simplest piece of art allows for interpretation.

Boys in a Pasture, Winslow Homer

Granted art like the above Winslow Homer piece requires skill and talent, but the picture is clearly of two boys in a pasture. What needs to be interpreted? Well, to me the power of art like this is the potential for a story. The questions it raises. Why are these boys sitting in the pasture? What are they looking at? What happened right before they sat down? Did they plan to meet here or meet each other by accident and decide to sit and rest. Why are they sitting in the middle of the pasture, rather than under a tree? What are they talking about?

When I look at or read a piece of art, my mind asks questions and I search for answers. The answers do not have to be hidden in obscurity for me to consider it art. Nor do I have to love a piece to call it art. Of course, I admire art that shows the skill of an artist, but art can be just as wonderful when it simply shows the heart of an artist and his/her interpretation of the world.

Sarah creates

“All art is an individual’s expression of a culture. Cultures
differ, so art looks different. ” (Henry Glassie)

How do you define art?

What To Do When You Are (Not) Snowed In

It was supposed to snow today, and I was kind of looking forward to it. I mean, I wasn’t looking forward to driving in it to run the errands Sarah and I had planned (shopping for a birthday present for Nathan, Valentine making supplies, and goody bag supplies for Sarah’s birthday party). So the light dusting on the ground this morning was fine, since we could go and get that down without any snowy adventure. But, then I was hoping it would come down a little, creating a quiet cocoon and an excuse to stay home, read books, watch movies and nap.

Sleep has not been my friend lately, and I really needed a nap.

The snow didn’t come, but my need to just do very little stayed with me.

Nathan is working a 9 to 5 day today, which leaves me on parenting duty. Did I mention I need a nap?

I managed to distract Sarah for a while, as she worked on making Valentine’s for each of her classmates, and I lay in my bed to read. But, every 15 minutes or so Sarah came into the room for something. “Mommy, can you help me make valentines?” She asked.

“They are your friends,” was my answer.

She asked again a short time later. She really didn’t need my help making the Valentines. No, what she wanted was me to be with her, on duty, not lying down and being lazy.

I grumpily complied.  Well, at least I came and sat in the same room as Sarah, while she finished her Valentines and then stuffed goody bags for her party (which isn’t until next week).

I know she wanted more from me, but the problem is I don’t have much to give. However, feeling like the world’s worst mom, and seeing the mess that Sarah left in the living room from card making, I decided we would create art together. Here are the results:

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So now I have a little over an hour to fill before Nathan gets home. What’ s next for our un-snow, snow day?

In Search of Light

Cobblestone Bridge by Thomas Kinkade

I love light.

In one of my past theatrical incarnations I designed lights. Whenever I can, as a director, I direct with lights in mind. The lights become another character in my show.

I’ve always been drawn to Thomas Kinkade’s artwork because he is “the Painter of Light.” He also captures within his paintings the stories of lives filled with love, family, honesty, sympathy, and simply life. Even without a single figure, you can picture people strolling along this bridge, sitting at the dinner table talking, perhaps reading a book in one of the bedrooms or warming themselves by a fire.

He tells these stories with light.

When I imagine a dream home, more often than not the image of a cottage filled with warmth and color comes to mind.  Of course, sometimes I think of a large Victorian, including a circular turret room where I could hide myself away to write and dream.Whatever form the dream home takes, I always  think of a home filled with light.

Holiday Gathering--I would love to live in this home.

At this time of year, light especially beckons. I love driving through neighborhoods looking for Christmas lights. It is fun to see the overwhelming craziness of some homes, but I am most drawn to the homes lit simply with tiny twinkling lights of white and candles in the windows. Those are the lights that, too me, speak of love and faith. Those are the lights of magic.

I have been waking up in darkness a lot lately. Not just the darkness of the pre-dawn day, but a darkness of my own making. It’s the darkness of a woman who has lost track of her own inner light.

Last night I watched The Christmas Cottage (because, in addition to light, I love watching schmaltzy holiday specials where Christmas miracles and love abound). This story shares some of the life of Thomas Kinkade, and he even makes an appearance at the end, painting on the screen. The movie is also about art, and love, and the fact that “art isn’t about the artist.” At one point, the character Tom, speaking to his art mentor says something like “you told me you wouldn’t teach me how to paint, but why to paint.” That resonated, as I search myself for a sense of purpose in my life and my work. By the end of the movie, Kinkade has learned to paint the light, to see the light beyond the darkness and paint both.  I need to learn how to paint the light in my own life, whether through words or art or theater or something else. This sweet movie has a message worth watching, besides an amazing performance by Peter O’Toole and a cast of old favorites that just made me smile (Bull from Night Court and Mrs. Garret–I know, I should use their real names, but you know who I mean).

 

This morning I again woke in darkness. Actually, I woke several times during the night, battling alternating insomnia and a horrific dream that kept coming back in different variations.  I don’t want to wake up like this anymore.

I am determined to find the light again. This year, when I light the Chanukkah candles (one of my favorite forms of light, I admit) I hope I will also be reigniting the lights in my heart and my dreams.

“Balance, peace, and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them” Thomas Kinkade

Windows Weather the Winds of Time (100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups)

This weeks challenge comes from the fabulous Julia with a wonderful picture from Terry who always inspires me with her photographic eye. Today she inspired me to a little bit of poetry.

Click on the image to visit Terry's blog, The Incredible Lightness of Seeing

Windows weather the winds of time
sharing secrets with none.
Reflecting stories of sadness and change
in a house that was once a home.

Windows look out on a world of green
or brown or gold or white
staying silent about lives they’ve seen
and memories they hold tight.

Windows dream of a time gone by
when inside the glow was strong
when the warmth within
held the darkness out
and the window did no wrong.

Windows weather the winds of time
despite cracked panes and boards
sharing no secrets and yet holding all
of lives, of loves, of words.

Be sure to visit other participants in this challenge. You will find them at Julia's Place

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