Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What Is An Artist Statement and How Do I Write One?

In 2011 I collaborated with John Heino on an art exhibit in conjunction with Phantom Galleries - Superior called Red Interactive. Among other things the art show included works from all over the world, including 30 or so pieces from a Chinese elementary school where my daughter was teaching at the time. The highlight for me was an opening reception event in which all attendees participated in a collaborative red-themed sculpture. It was a memorable event.

The biggest challenge, though, was assembling an artist statement that would pass muster with the arts board making selections as regards who would be approved for the limited number of gallery spaces. Version one: fail. Version two: fail. With a little help from Erika Mock (Textiles for Body and Soul) we were able to produce satisfactory statements.

What I learned is that having an artist statement is an essential tool for emerging artists in the professional art world, much like a resume in the business world.

For this reason, the Duluth Art Institute is tonight hosting an Artist Statement Workshop at the DAI (Depot) from 5:30 to 7:30. Amber White will "discuss the importance and various functions of the artist statement while demystifying the writing and editing process. Instruction will include multiple approaches to writing an artist statement, Dos and Don’ts (and Whys), discussion surrounding the voice of the artist, and peer-to-peer review."

If you plan to attend, there's a $10 workshop cost, which I believe will undoubtedly be worth more than you are paying. You're encouraged to bring two printed copies of your artist statement as well as two to four images of current work.

* * * *

If you can't be there -- I myself intended to be -- there are other resources available on the web. Here are a few:

Your Artist Statement: Explaining the Unexplainable and this one from The Art League may be helpful. But there's nothing like a good teaching session in which you can ask questions and put your words under the microscope of a pro who knows what she is doing.

TWEEVENINGS

NEXT TUESDAY, February 7, get an extra dose of culture as you brush up your Italian Renaissance and Baroque art understanding with a gallery talk by Dr. Jennifer Webb, Associate Professor of Art History in the School of Fine Arts at UMD. Dr. Webb will lead the discussion based on works from the Tweed. Dr. Webb helped organize the exhibition, From the Beginning: Selections from the Original Alice Tweed Tuohy & George Tweed Collection, by selecting the Italian paintings and by providing the content for the introductory panel.

* * * *
As you make your way about the city this week, make note of all the places with local art on display. There's plenty to see. Just open your eyes.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dystopian Futures -- Is Our Hysteria Based On Facts?

On Saturday I posted an article I'd published in the late 90's about the work of Thomas Gold, an astrophysicist who turned his attention to the study of oil and its origins. The latter part of his life was devoted to confirming his theory that oil was an inexhaustible resource, not a scarce byproduct of decayed vegetation and dinosaurs.

For whatever reason, his research doesn't seem to be gaining any traction in the public mind. Instead, the same tired old hysteria keeps being repeated, that oil is being depleted and civilization as we know it is in serious trouble.

Here are more examples of the fear mongering.

1. "War, poverty and disease will probably not be eradicated... Yet they afflict only a portion of us at any time. However, economic and environmental disaster will likely afflict us all. That is why I foresee a set of concerns centered on energy us--resource depletion, disease and environmental decay--as the foremost problem confronting global citizens in the coming decades."
--Joseph M. Shuster, Beyond Fossil Fools

2. "This book is about oil--its birth, life and approaching death."
--Dilip Hiro, Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources

3. The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century by J. H. Kunstler

According to the Amazon description: "A controversial hit that sparked debate among businessmen, environmentalists, and bloggers, The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler is an eye-opening look at the unprecedented challenges we face in the years ahead, as oil runs out and the global systems built on it are forced to change radically."

4. Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil by David Goodstein
From the subtext: "Science tells us that an oil crisis is inevitable. Why and when? And what will our future look like without our favorite fuel?"

5. Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil by Michael C. Ruppert

6. Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World is another by Mr. Ruppert.

7. Life After Peak Oil by the South Korean research firm Life and Light.
"Peak Oil" is the tag line for the high water mark for oil production, with a downward slide ever after.
"Life After Peak Oil is an effort by South Korean research firm Light and Life to hold a friendly, yet frank, discussion with the world’s citizens about several important issues we face. The primary focus is around the limitations of fossil fuels, with peak-oil either already here or rapidly approaching, and the need to adapt our cultures to fit the natural reality."

8. Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak by Kenneth F. Deffeyes
Beyond Oil is even endorsed by a Nobel Laureate who states, "This book explains both why the decline of our most precious fuel is inevitable and how challenging it will be to cope with what comes next."―Richard E. Smalley, University Professor, Rice University, and 1996 Nobel laureate

Not every voice on this topic is singing in unison. Here are a few of the contrarians.

1. The "Peak Oil" Scare and the Coming Oil Flood by Michael C. Lynch

Is the earth's oil supply starting to run out, or is there far more oil than some experts believe? This book points out flaws in the research used to warn of an oil shortfall and predicts that large new reserves of oil are soon to be tapped.

2. The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels by Thomas Gold

Again, it was reading about Gold's work in the 80's that left me out of step with the prevailing winds. One reviewer of this book at Amazon.com stated: "My family has been in the oil business almost since it began. Being a very curious person, I received satisfactory explanations on every aspect of the business with one exception; how oil was created. I have never believed that crude oil came from dinosaurs and plants. Everyone else seems to believe it but I didn't and so I looked for a more satisfactory explanation. That is how I came upon Mr. Gold's book. His theory on the origin of oil is so compelling and answers so many questions, I have few doubts he will be proven correct in the future. In looking at this problem from so many different disciplines, he can see things that most people just cannot see."

* * * *
Please note that I am limiting this discussion to the singular theme of oil. I am not in any way denying that we have a host of problems waiting to ambush us in the years ahead. I do not believe that running out of oil is one of them.

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Chad Teer, courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Rejecting the Myth of Artists As Madmen

"Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before me, I make more arbitrary use of color to express myself more forcefully." ~ Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to his brother Theo.

We remember him as somewhat of a madman. And to a certain extent his behavior warranted this. He cut off his ear, for love. A bit excessive, though it made for an interesting self-portrait afterwards. On another occasion he was determined to see the girl he loved but her parents would not let him in. To show them how intent he was on seeing her, he held the palm of his hand over the lamp flame and said he would not leave till he saw her. The smell of burnt flesh was not very convincing and ultimately he passed out from the pain.

This story reveals that he was indeed a man of intense passions, which poured out of him into his works, works now valued in the millions of dollars. During his lifetime he sold almost nothing, and died in a mental institution in his thirties by his own hand.

As for the source of his mental illness, psychiatrists by the score have studied his behavior and his work to identify its root causes, whether from schizophrenia or syphilis or some other variety of experience. What we know is the notion of "artist as eccentric" found a home in the pop psyche, a notion that treats artists as kooks and social misfits. Or rather, that to become a great artist you have to be a kook or misfit.

Dorothea Brande, in her outstanding volume Becoming A Writer (1934), assaults this notion head on. "The picture of the artist as a monster made up of one part vain child, one part suffering martyr and one part boulevardier is a legacy to us from the last century, and a remarkably embarrassing inheritance. There is an earlier and healthier idea of the artist than that, the idea of the genius as a man more versatile, more sympathetic, more studious than his fellows, more catholic in his tastes, less at the mercy of the ideas of the crowd."

OK, so Salvador Dali comes along and portrays this vain child-madman to the extreme and makes a fortune doing it. No comment. Brande went on to explain that there really is "an artist temperament" and it is not the same as the accounting mindset.* The book goes into detail about left brain/right brain thinking, a concept which became excessively popular in the 1980's and has filtered its way into business books, consulting, education and psychology. The notions have been with us a much longer time than many folks realize.

What Brande argues is that you do not have to be mentally unstable to be creative. In this instance she is speaking to young writers, but the same applies to creative souls in the visual arts or music as well.

Vincent Van Gogh once said, "A good picture is equivalent to a good deed." If you are in Duluth this month there are plenty of venues where you can see some good pictures... and probably there are plenty of places in your home town, too. Check out the Duluth Art Institute at the Depot. Or make your way to the Tweed up at UMD, especially if you've never been. Open your eyes and engage.

*The Myers-Briggs personality tests, developed in the 1920s and fine-tuned over time, demonstrate that indeed artists and accountants have differing personality traits that result in their engaging the world differently. It is not insanity that makes people creative.

The picture at the top of this page, titled Blue Van Gogh, is currently available as a giclee reproduction. $85 plus S&H for a limited time.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Are Fossil Fuels An Old-Fashioned Idea Whose Time Has Gone?

All my life I've heard people declaring that we were running out of oil. Many of these prognosticators were proclaiming that in ten years this disastrous event would occur. As recent as 2004 someone on our local radio was making this claim. The notion has been so ingrained in our heads that for the general public it has become a common assumption. To this day you can find articles fretting that because oil is in finite supply sooner or later it will come to an end, and with it civilization as we know it.

As early as the 1980s I began questioning the popular notions about where oil comes from, and maybe earlier. It just never made sense to me that oil came from decayed vegetative matter and dinosaurs. There's just too much of it. So when I read about Dr. Thomas Gold's theories as conveyed in an article in The Atlantic, I was ripe for the taking. In September 1999 I presented my thoughts on this topic in this article that appeared in National Oil & Lube News.

ARE FOSSIL FUELS AN OLD-FASHIONED IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS GONE?

IN 1964 MY FAMILY MOVED from Cleveland to New Jersey. I was twelve years old and we never had so much company in our lives. All our relatives from the Midwest came east to see us that year. I supposed it was the new house they wanted to see, but later I understood that it was really, among other things, the1964-1965 New York World's Fair that attracted all these kin. If you add in all the class trips and scouting outings, I must have gone two dozen times, which is just about what it takes to really grasp the magnitude and scope of all that it contained.

The World's Fair produced many memorable images, including the Unisphere, itself the featured symbol of the Fair. Another memorable image was a large green brontosaur at the Sinclair Pavilion. There's no way to adequately describe the effect those Mustangs had on us at the Ford Pavilion. In retrospect it seems only natural that the world's largest industry, the auto industry, should be so prominently featured.

There's no question Sinclair's dinosaur was a powerful symbol. Dinosaurs had great power in the imaginations of young people. Whatever became of the dinosaurs? That big green brontosaurus graphically planted the answer in our minds. Yesterday's dinosaurs are today's fuel. It is all part of the circle of life, you might say. Yesterday's dead critters and ancient vegetation are producing today's energy, hence our familiarity with the term "Fossil Fuels" when speaking of gas and petroleum.

The only problem with the dino image is this: What if it's not true?

A 1986 cover story in The Atlantic Monthly, "The Origin of Petroleum" by David Osbourne, shot some rather large holes in the fossil fuels theory. Osbourne is a journalist who brought to a wider audience the ideas of a certain maverick astrophysicist named Thomas Gold.

The occasion for Osbourne's article was a gigantic drilling operation which was about to commence in the Siljan Ring, a site in northern Sweden where a giant meteorite crashed into the earth 360 million years ago. The drilling would take more than a year in an attempt to penetrate deeper than three miles beneath the surface.

What Gold was attempting to prove was that petroleum is not a scarce resource in danger of being soon depleted. This is because oil and gas are not, according to Gold, byproducts of ancient animal life. Gold was attempting to prove his theory that oil and gas come from the earth itself.

Six arguments for drawing this conclusion are as follows:

1. The geographical distribution of oil seems derived from features much larger in scale than individual sedimentary features.

2. The quantities of oil and gas available are hundreds of times those estimated on the basis of biological origins.

3. The so-called "molecular fossils" found in oil and claimed as proof of a biogenic origin are simply biological contaminants, particularly bacteria that feed upon the petroleum.

4. Petroleum is largely saturated with hydrogen, whereas buried biological matter should exhibit a deficiency of hydrogen.

5. Oil and gas are often rich in helium, an inert gas which biological processes cannot concentrate.

6. The great oil reservoirs of the Middle East are in diverse geological provinces. There is no unifying feature for the region as a whole and, especially, no sediments rich in biological debris that could have produced these immense concentrations of oil and gas.

At the time I found the notions fascinating but not much more. Last month, while reading an article titled "Why We'll Never Run Out of Oil" (Discover, June 1999) I began wondering whatever became of the Siljan Ring drilling program. Especially since the Discover article, contrary to my expectations based on the title, made no mention of these radical ideas whatsoever. In fact, the article went into great detail explaining the organic origins of oil.

I suddenly became keenly interested in the results of that study in Sweden. What did they find? Was it a bust? Utilizing the power of the internet I did some of my own digging and came up with what I was looking for. A simple search on Thomas Gold yielded plenty.

I learned that the one year Siljan Ring drilling program actually took six years. The results have been interpreted and Gold has published plenty to support his views, including a new book called "The Deep Hot Biosphere". Gold's theories may be Copernican in importance. (It was Copernicus, you may recall, who postulated the radical notion that the earth goes round the sun and not vice versa. We tend to forget that more than a century passed before this became "common knowledge.")

I also found an excellent article explaining why it is not possible for two separate notions of the origins of oil to co-exist. Gold's article, "Can There Be Two Independent Sources of Commercial Hydrocarbon Deposits, One Derived from Biological Materials, the Other from Primordial Carbon and Hydrogen, Incorporated into the Earth at its Formation?" is explicit and emphatic. There can only be one origin of oil, Gold asserts.

If Gold is right, then the early scientists who called it "rock oil" were much closer to the truth than the ad men who invented the Sinclair mascot. But popular ideas die hard, and so it is that while much has been written, to date the average person seems aware of only the prevailing, somewhat discredited, view.

The point of all this confabulation? Two observations come immediately to mind. First, there appears to be no reason today to be concerned about oil supply. The alarm over an oil shortage in the seventies was an event, not a trend. Oil is an abundant resource and the future of our industry is not going to be jeopardized by oil shortages other than those caused by political maneuverings.*

Second, ideas that initially seem off the wall may have more merit than first thought. When you open your minds, you'll discover that extended drain intervals and synthetic lubricants offer more profit potential than you originally imagined.

# # # #

*EdNote: Oil shortages can also be the result of market forces, which I did not consider at the time this was originally written.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Local Art Seen: The Most Impressive DAI Member Show Yet


Last night was the opening reception for the DAI Member Show
in the Great Hall at the Depot. The show will be up thru February 
and you owe it to yourself to check it out.

EdNote: Please pardon my exuberance in the title. 

Meantime, art goes on all around us. Get into it.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Ten Insights from David Ogilvy on Advertising


I've written several times about the value of mentors and heroes, mentioning many by name. One of the great men who has been influential in my advertising career is David Ogilvy whose first book, Confessions of an Advertising Man, changed my life. Then, in 1987 (can it really be three decades already?) I purchased this wonderful resource, Ogilvy On Advertising, at a bookstore in the belly of the World Trade Center in New York City. Anyone serious about advertising as a career should own a copy of this book, and study it like a Bible. For that matter, anyone who owns a business who is serious about the success of that business should own this book. It's a continuous spring of inspiration, and a perpetual prod to remain faithful to the high ideals which advertising ought to serve.

What follows are a number of quotes from the book that will hopefully encourage you to take the next step, which is to visit amazon.com or Barnes & Noble to place an order for a copy of your own. This first quote here I used to have prominently displayed on my wall. It is eternally relevant for all who wish to influence. "When Aeschines spoke, they said, 'How well he speaks.' But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, 'Let us march against Philip.'"

Insights From Ogilvy

1. "I am sometimes attacked for imposing rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hate rules. All I do is report on how consumers react to different stimuli. I may say to a copywriter, 'Research shows that commercials with celebrities are below average in persuading people to buy products. Are you sure you want to use a celebrity?' You call that a rule?" ~ p. 8

2. "Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant." ~ p. 16

3. On Ambition: "Few copywriters are ambitious. It does not occur to them that if they tried hard enough, they might double the client's sales, and make themselves famous. 'Raise your sight!' I exhort them. 'Blaze new trails! Hit the ball out of the park!! Compete with the immortals!!!'" ~ p. 21

4. "At the start of your career in advertising, what you learn is more important than what you earn." ~ p. 31

5. "The best leaders are apt to be found among those who have a strong component of unorthodoxy in their characters. Instead of resisting innovation, they symbolize it -- and companies cannot grow without innovation." ~ p. 51

6. "With public opinion on its side, nothing can fail." ~ Abraham Lincoln

7. Research has found that "people who know a company well are five times more likely to have a favorable opinion of it." ~ p. 117

8. "The key to successful marketing is superior product performance... If the consumer does not perceive any real benefits in the brand, then no amount of ingenious advertising or selling can save it." ~ Ed Harness

9. "You can judge the vitality of a company by the number of new products it brings to market." ~ p. 167

10. "Some products which sell well without being advertised may sell better and make more profit with advertising." p. 168

* * * *
If something here inspires or connects with you, follow through and take the next step.

This post originally appeared in March, 2008.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Visit with Raj Menon and His Conversations-On-The-Go

As I was passing through another sector of cyberspace recently I found an interesting site called Conversations On The Go. Here's a brief visit with the writer who developed this site, Raj Menon.

EN: What are the themes of your website Conversations On-The-Go?

Raj Menon: Conversations On-The-Go is about stories and conversations. I used to blog a lot about leadership and had several successful blogs in the past, and then with job changes and after I co-founded a company which took me down an entrepreneurship path, I had to rethink the purpose of my writing. I wanted to get more personal with my stories and slowly move away from just blogging about professional experiences. So I started this new publication on Medium (www.conversationsonthego.com) to bring candid real-life conversations and messages, through words written or spoken on camera, to a larger audience on medium.com and beyond. I want to collaborate with like-minded people who have their own stories and seeking for inspiration to write. I would like to eventually create an online community on Conversations On-The-Go of blog correspondents from around the world who are into storytelling. That's the ultimate goal.

EN: Why is leadership so important and why do so many leaders fail?

RM: Leadership is important to allow for failure. So failing is a product of leadership development, and leaders need to support their followers through that process. The more leaders fail, they learn and become better - but only if there are leaders who have already gone through that process to be there by their sides, to give them a helping hand, a supporting shoulder so they can persevere. That's what I believe.

EN: What would you say are the key attributes of good leadership? 

RM: To me there are 2 phases to being good leaders. Each have some attributes that are key.

Phase 1: Perseverance, Confidence and Accountability.
To start with, wannabe leaders need to understand that giving up is not an option for leaders. We have to keep trying to reach our goals. Gradually, it will help us build our confidence, which will make us more accountable in the long run.

Phase 2: Trust, Being Empathetic and Inspire.
As we become more accountable as leaders, we will gain more responsibility. We become responsible for projects. Projects are about people first and the product second, in my opinion. So we need to start building trust. Trust is earned through a simple act of showing empathy towards others. This could be as simple as being a good listener, and to the extent of being a mentor/counselor/adviser. Finally, we start being inspirational leaders. We build a community around us.

I am somewhere in phase 2 and struggling through it. My work on Conversations On-The-Go is my means towards mastering these attributes.

EN: How long have you been writing? What are your aims as a writer?

RM: I loved to write as a kid and, more importantly, reach out. I had pen friends. In college, I had thoughts I felt worthy enough to document, and so I started a journal. Most of it was poetry (nothing that good). I started to become more and more interested in capturing stories and experiences, about stuff I thought only I saw. Ex: I wrote about a cat-eyed girl in a local commuter train in Southern India who sang to passengers from boggie-to-boggie in the hopes for earning a paisa or rupee note from generous travelers. Her singing was so good. She was just a little girl. It was inspiring.

My first website was an early form of blog, which was in 2000 called thoughtz-online which doesn't exist anymore. I invited writing and poetry from people on my contact lists and they contributed. This was so pre-social media and the knowledge economy that came since then.

Many more blog escapades later, here I am with Conversations On-The-Go. I am ever more inspired to create an engaging community around my work.

EN: What do you hope to achieve in 2017?

RM: Read more. Write more. This month alone, I have surpassed my read-write ratio I have ever had in any single month in the past.

I want to increase my email subscriber base and form a community around storytelling. My people, who I can engage with and soundboard ideas.

Ultimately, in 2017, I was to be known as a published writer-storyteller. I have already prepared in my mind the edits for my bio when that happens -- some well known publications, as a guest writer.

That's how I plan to close out 2017. This will be the year I transition completely into storytelling as my primary creative outlet, through the Medium publication and my YouTube channel.

* * * *

What are your plans for 2017? Do you have a life direction? Objectives that you hope one day to achieve? What kind of plan do you have to reach that next place you want to be?

Meantime... life rolls on. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

One Too Many Mornings and Other Local Dylan-Related Items of Note

When it comes to all things Dylan, there's always more going on than there's time to write about it. Here are a few items of note that relate to Dylan and Duluth, in no particular order of importance.

1. WWDD bracelets are now available here in all the usual spaces where Dylan souvenirs are sold. As you walk down Bob Dylan Way from the Depot to the Armory, it will remind you to ask yourself, "What Would Dylan Do?" Proceeds from the sale of WWDD bracelets will go toward events surrounding Duluth Dylan Fest.*

Gaelynn Lea (L) with Alan Sparhwak, The Murder of Crows
2. One of the highlights of last year's Duluth Dylan Fest for me personally was the celebration of Bob Dylan's birthday at his former home on the Central Hillside, followed later by the Duluth Does Dylan CD release party at The Rex. This is a truly great CD featuring local bands that do Dylan covers. When I wrote my review of the CD last June, I noted many stellar features of the various renditions of the selected songs. One of these songs was One Too Many Mornings, recorded and performed by The Murder of Crows (Alan Sparhawk and Gaelynn Lea.) At the time I was impressed by the wholly different variation or spin they put on the song, totally unlike the original. My admiration for Alan Sparhawk climbed another notch for his innovations (I assumed that Alan designed the chord structures and new design of the song.)

Then, this past week, a video of Dylan performing One Too Many Mornings live during the Rolling Thunder Revue came across my path. And guess what? It was Dylan himself who had produced the new chord structure, tempo and design of the song. I copied the link to the YouTube page where I discovered it but today find that it has since been removed. (It must have been a bootleg.)

Dylan's continuous variations and reconfigurations of his songs have long endeared him to his fans. Let me add kudos to Alan and Gaelynn for choosing this rendition sharing it on this CD. To hear Gaelynn Lea become Scarlet Rivera and Alan squeezing emotional juice into the lyrics is quite satisfying, and worthy of accolades.

3. An finally, hey man, it's that time of year again. As we slide toward the end of January we call to mind Buddy Holly's Dance Party Tour that passed this way in 1959. This Saturday everyone is invited to put their dancing shoes on and celebrate the Winter Dance Party with us, 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at the Sacred Heart Music Center. Proceeds go toward the Armory renovation and restoration project that has been ongoing for many years, with some noteworthy progress being made this past year. Will we see you there?



*EdNote: I just made all that up. But while we're talking about Duluth Dylan Fest,
  the dates and tentative schedule for the Seventh Annual DDF can be found here. Mark your calendars. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia

Since first discovering Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami I have been continually stirred by so may of the exhibitions. Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia looks like another fascinating show that I will wish I could attend. Maybe when I retire I'll have the luxury of being a travelling art critic.. but for now, I will be content to share a few images here on my blog.

The opening reception will be this coming Saturday, January 28, 4 - 7 p.m.. More than 70 pieces will be on display in an area that encompasses 4,000 sq. ft. of the Frost Museum's real estate.

Miami's Frost is the second stop on a two-year national tour. Praise for the show has been effusive, “These women have re-drawn the boundaries of Aboriginal art and are re-defining the vision of contemporary art,” says Dr. Jordana Pomeroy, Director of the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU. “With subject matter ranging from faraway celestial bodies to the tiniest of flowers on the native bush plum, they assert the wisdom of revered matriarchs and grapple with the most fundamental questions of existence.”


Painting and making art is a not really new pursuit in the Aboriginal culture of Australia's Outback. Selling and showing art in this manner is totally new.

Perhaps it is the freshness of the work that inspires such hyperbole among those who have seen the work. “When I first saw this work it felt like I had been struck by lightning,” says Dennis Scholl who with wife Debra is a Miami-based collector and philanthropist.

You can tell from the artists' names that they are neither Scandinavian, Italian, British or German: Nonggirrnga Marawili, Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Yukultji Napangati, Angelina Pwerle, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu and her sister, among others. The work is as original as the names.

Despite their origins, the Aboriginal peoples are not oblivious to the broader community of humankind. “These artists are globally alert and connected to our modern world,” says Henry Skerritt, curator of the exhibition. “There has never been a more urgent need for contemporary artists to imagine our shared predicament as the diverse occupants of the same planet."

Though it appears to be promoted as a women's movement, I would guess that this cultural exposure will do much to foster an increased understanding of what it means to be human on this third rock from the sun.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Shooting Star: Bookend on Dylan's Monumental Oh Mercy

For the past two to three months it's been my intention to write a post about the song "Shooting Star" that closes out Bob Dylan's stellar 1989 comeback album* Oh Mercy. I purchased the vinyl of Oh Mercy almost as soon as it was released. With the exception of the two fast-tempo songs in the early tracks of side one ("Everything's Broken" and "Political World") the album is quite laid back, reflective and laconic.

Daniel Lanois, who would later produce Dylan's Grammy award-winning Time Out Of Mind, produced the album Oh Mercy.

The song "Shooting Star" is a fitting final track for the album. From 1990 to August 2013, he's performed it 126 times live in concert.

What intrigued me about the song, and why I keep returning to it in my mind, was this notion that the song seems to be about someone specific. For some reason I believed it was about his first wife Sara Lownds. It opens, "Saw a shooting star tonight and I thought of you // You were trying to break into another world // A world I never knew // I always kind of wondered // If you ever made it through // Seen a shooting star tonight // And I thought of you.

The song conveys such a gentle tenderness. From the first time I heard it there's a specificity about the word "you" here, and I desired to know, a song about someone special it seemed, a song about someone moving into a new realm, a different world from where his own life path was taking him.

It's funny how one can get an idea into one's head and never find a way to shake it. This idea of the song being about Sara came about because I thought someone, a friend, had said as much when the album first came out. It was the last song on the album, and so was another song for Sara who was also featured in a final track on another album, Desire.

I laid on a dune, I looked at the sky // When the children were babies and played on the beach...

Bob married Sara Lownds in late 1965 during one of the epic periods of his career. She was purportedly the inspiration for many songs including "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit". Much of his Blood on the Tracks album circa 1974-75 has been cited as a response to the emotions stirred as his marriage was falling apart, ultimately leading to a divorce that finalized in 1977.

The thing is, my assumptions were wrong. (Not the first time, either.)

In recent years, as I've become involved with the Duluth Dylan Fest and people more likely in the know about these things, I had a chance to ask a few of them, "Is this song about Sara?" "No," I am told, "it is not about Sara."

Perhaps I got the notion into my head because the middle section of the song speaks of God and temptation and the sermon on the mount and I'd linked this to the coming life transition Dylan underwent ten years earlier that resulted in the trio of albums in his Gospel period, beginning with Slow Train Coming. There were fragments of memories rattling around in the cobwebs of my mind that associated these allusions to the Vineyard and Keith Green and other miscellany... all of it mistaken.

Here's the Wikipedia synopsis of the song:

The album closes with "Shooting Star", a wistful ballad of remembrance with possible allusions[citation needed] to the loss of Dylan's Christian faith. Dylan appears to address Christ: "Seen a shooting star tonight and I thought of me/If I was still the same/If I ever became what you wanted me to be". The next line, "Did I ever miss the mark or overstep the line that only you could see" makes an apparent reference to Joseph Addison Alexander's poem "There is a line by us unseen/That crosses every path/The hidden boundary between/God's patience and His wrath.". The words occasionally evoke some portentous imagery ("the last fire truck from hell goes rollin' by"), but it ends the album on a soft, romantic note.

Now for those familiar with this album in a more intimate way (like I, you have listened to it a hundred times) I think you might find the following an interesting exercise. When you play the song in your head and reach the bridge ("Listen to the engine, listen to the bell...) and you go through this and reach "The last radio is playing" -- do not proceed with the last verse. Rather, splice in a verse from "Ring Them Bells." Any verse will do. Look how synthesized these two songs are.

Ring them bells Saint Peter where the four winds blow 
Ring them bells with an iron hand 
So the people will know 
Oh it's rush hour now 
On the wheel and the plow 
And the sun is going down upon the sacred cow

Notice how well these two songs shuffle together. Has anyone else ever done this? You're playing a song in your head and suddenly you jump-cut to a different song. These two songs work that way.

* * * *
Dylan has a way of making everything so personal. Each of us who has experienced the painful loss of a loved one can relate to a song like this. The shooting star is a trigger. Upon seeing the shooting star flung across the night sky he impulsively "thought of you." Or rather, of her, whomever it might be.

But his thoughts turn inward next.

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me
If I was still the same
If I ever became what you wanted me to be
Did I miss the mark or overstep the line
That only you could see?
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me

It always felt like he was talking to a person here. There's been a lot of water under this bridge. But then, someone recently suggested he is talking to God. In the Judeo-Christian view, God is a person. We have been made in God's image as persons. So it is a possible interpretation. "If I ever became what you wanted me to be." It's a question that is searching, probing, vulnerable.

Listen to the engine, listen to the bell
As the last fire truck from hell
Goes rolling by
All good people are praying
It’s the last temptation, the last account
The last time you might hear the sermon on the mount
The last radio is playing

The images here speak about the end of something. This stanza makes one freeze, for he compares this ending with the end of all time, of life  and the world as we know it.

Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away
Tomorrow will be
Another day
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away

Copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music

This verse, though, seems to bring it all back to earth. Someone near now seems to be gone.

The song is evocative and sentimental without being sappy, ambiguous without being abstract. It's pure Dylan, and a perfect close to what many feel to have been a perfect album, Oh Mercy. They don't get much better than this.

*The word "comeback" is something of a misnomer, since every time he produces a great album there are critics who make it seem he'd lost his way in the period before. The result is a whole career of comebacks.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Epic Truths of Beowulf -- the Hollywood Version

At the very opening the beautiful queen fills the sacred Royal Dragon Horn with mead to bring to her king. The Dragon Horn as yet has no meaning but will reappear several times, including the story's final scene. What is quickly established is this: we have a debauched king encouraging celebration. His exploits have evidently preceded him. "He offered us protection when monsters roamed the land..." they sing. He had promised his people a glorious hall, and delivered on this promise. But the sounds of celebration echo into the distant darkness where a creature weeps blood, a creature whose identity we as yet know not.

Seven minutes into the film and the monster Grendel bursts upon the scene. Screaming, a horror of horrors, ripping limbs from torsos, flinging men across the hall, biting off men's heads, drooling slime, a contorted beast with an anguished heart.

Hrothgar the king calls for the monster to fight him, not destroy his people. But Grendel cannot. He returns to his cave, to his mother, where he is confronted, and comforted.

Hrothgar then declares that half the gold of his kingdom will be given to the man who slays this monster. Unferth suggests that in addition to sacrificing goats and sheep to their current gods that they also pray to the new Roman God Christ Jesus. (This story takes place in Denmark, 507 A.D..)

Hrothgar rejects appealing to any of the gods. "The gods will do nothing for us that we will not do for ourselves. What we need is a hero."

And so, the foundation is laid for Beowulf to appear. And appear he does. "They say you have a monster here. They say your lands are cursed... I am Beowulf. I'm here to kill your monster."

The soldier sent to confront him puts it plainly enough. "I thought there were no more heroes foolish enough to come up here and die for our gold."

Beowulf makes the epic declaration. "If we die it will be for glory, not for gold."

* * * *

Idealists are many, too. As the fair queen notes: "There are many brave men who have come to taste my Lord's mead, and many who have sworn to rid his hall of our nightmare. But in the morning, there was nothing left of any of them but blood to be cleaned from the floor, and the benches and the walls."

Beowulf is not deterred. "I will kill your monster."

* * * *

Hrothgar presents Beowulf with the Royal Dragon Horn, and explains that the ruby on the Dragon Horn represents the spot on the throat where your dagger must plunge. "It's the only way you can kill a dragon."

Each symbol introduced has its meaning disclosed later, producing a latticework of understanding.

In addition to the king's gold, whoever destroys Grendel will also obtain the king's beautiful queen... "forever and ever and ever."

* * * *

Hideous. Monstrous. But Beowulf, in the horrifying battle, becomes ripper, shredder, slasher, and upon discovering Grendel's weakness tears off an arm from the monster.

In the aftermath the king, in his bedchamber, expresses his desire to produce an heir. But the queen resists, citing his having lain with the mother of the beast.

We understand fully now how this horrorshow came to be. "The sins of the father..."

* * * *

Grendel, the damaged son, returns to his mother, awakening her grief. Giving birth to her revenge.

* * * *

The fascination here is the making visual and vibrant these mythical images, this classic tale of heroism, of valor and failure. The tale is classic, and Hollywood's skills have reached a point where the film can make vivid what was previously only possible via imagination.

Beowulf is seduced by means of his vanity. "Your story will live on after everything here now is dust."

Ah yes, the appeal to make a name for oneself, a legacy, is indeed appealing.

* * * *

Beowulf lies about his achievement, declaring that he planted his sword into Grendel's mother's chest. In reality the only planting that occurred was his own seed. But it is essential to keep up appearances. Beowulf must be believable as a hero. The monster's head was delivered. What further evidence was required.

Lie follows lie, and the sheep in eagerness accept it in order to placate their fears. All is well, the sun will come out tomorrow.

The only doubter is Hrothgar. "Did you kill her?" he asks privately.

And so, Hrothgar makes exclamation that upon his death all that he possesses, including his queen, shall become Beowulf's. And moment's later he plunges from a balcony to his own death.

Denial of the obvious continues as the queen explains, "He must have fallen."

* * * *

"MORE MEAD!"

Beowulf in its essence is a classic morality tale. As a horror story it captures the imagination, became bigger than life like the monsters in the story. In the end, though, the lesson is straight out of the scriptures: "A man reaps what he sows." Frankenstein meets Howard's End. Sooner or later your past comes back to haunt you.

At one point, as they watch their soldiers engaged in battle, Beowulf says, "We men are the monsters now. The time of heroes is dead, Wiglaf."

* * * *

I personally found the graphic novel treatment utterly enthralling. They paid a boatload of money to make a CGI film with a boatload of stars and grossed a little over half back that first year. Why the less than stellar ratings? First, because like many, if not most, of Hollywood's translations of story to film, it becomes an entirely different story. Those who are knowledgeable about such things feel betrayed.

Reviews by those unfamiliar with the original tale scored much higher. Those who teach the story know well that this film account is a total bastardization. As one IMDB.com reviewer wrote:

Please people, READ THE BOOK! The only thing this movie had in common with Beowulf were the names of the characters. Say no to bastard children, naked mommies of monsters, and lips that do not match up with the dialog. The only thing I got out of this was true/false test material for my British Literature students who think they can get away with watching the movie instead of reading our text.

If learning about the original story is important to you, I recommend obtaining a good translation (like the Bible there are easier and harder translations to read) and reading the book, as this professor suggests. If you don't really mind not getting the facts right, enjoy the film. It's dramatic, bigger than life and has much to be commended for.

Much more can be said, like who wrote it, who directed it and who was in it, but you can get all that at IMDB. I enjoyed it... enough to watch it twice and write about it. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Mirror Of Our Acts Reveals Who We Are

"...leaning over the mirror of our acts, our souls will recognize what we are."
--Andre Gide, Journals


For nearly all of us mirrors play a role in our morning rituals. Whether for shaving or make-up, fixing one's hair or straightening one's tie, the mirror is a useful tool, presenting to our eyes a true reflection of what is there so we can fix it as we primp and preen.

On other occasions, a reassuring glance in the mirror before a job interview or an important date gives us confidence that at least the external things are taken care of -- our hair isn't mussed, collar turned right, no food crumbs on our chin.

At the end of the day there's another mirror which is equally valuable to us, and perhaps even more so once we practice using it. We can call it the mirror of our acts. As we quiet ourselves and reflect on the day, we discover that our actions reveal our souls as surely as the bathroom mirror reveals our faces.

The mirror of our acts reveals us as we truly are, giving a more precise picture of ourselves than we may wish to see. For it reveals not only our strengths, but also our limitations; it shows not only our inward beauty, but also the defects that mar that beauty. When I look back on my day, standing honestly before this mirror of my soul, what do I truly see reflected there? Thoughtfulness and sensitivity? Selfishness? Duplicity and deceit? Laziness? Industriousness? Courage? Courtesy? Foolish pride? Pettiness? The character defects we see need not discourage us. Recognizing one's shortcomings is the essential first step to the cure.

Taking time for reflection is an essential facet of personal growth, as important to our souls as diet and exercise are for our bodies. Whether it be at day's end, the middle of the night or early dawn, it can be a most useful tool to help us grow to our full stature as human beings.

* * * *
The above originally appeared in my unpublished 1993 devotional Nightfall: A Time To Reflect at the End of the Day. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing excerpts from my newest book, Writing Exercises: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else.

It's my conviction that being able to write well is an essential skill in your career toolkit. Writing Exercises is more than a collection of writing prompts to help students learn various tricks and techniques to improve their writing, it also presents a methodology, a new way of teaching writing in order to get better results.

Meantime, guess what? It's Friday. Enjoy your weekend.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Insights from the Marshmallow Experiment

"Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things... I am tempted to think there are no little things." ~ Barton Sutter

The other day I stumbled on an article about a Stanford research project that attempted to correlate a single aspect of human behavior as an indicator for future success or failure. The series of studies conducted by professor Walter Mischel came to be known as The Marshmallow Experiment.

The experiment was essentially about deferred gratification as a predictor of future achievement. James Clear describes the setup like this.

The experiment began by bringing each child into a private room, sitting them down in a chair, and placing a marshmallow on the table in front of them.

At this point, the researcher offered a deal to the child.

The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow.

The researcher would leave for 15 minutes and then return. The team filmed the kids fidgeting, staring, and frequently succumbing.

What makes the experiment famous is that these children were then checked in on for the next 40 years. Mr. Clear summarizes the results:

The children who were willing to delay gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures.

* * * *

Take a minute to reflect on the ramifications of this experiment. And then consider this.

Can delayed gratification be taught? If the answer is yes, then success can be taught. Or at least the odds of achieving more successful life outcomes for our children can be favorably influenced.

When I was growing up in the Fifties our elementary school had some kind of arrangement in which we could deposit money in a bank account. Beginning in second grade my father gave me a dime for every A I received on my report card. The dimes were deposited in the bank. I also began to receive an allowance of a quarter a week.

What I learn with that allowance was powerful. We had a candy store a few blocks away, and if I wanted to I could ride my bike there and buy candy. My dad also brought my brother and I to the Lawson's Milk Store fairly frequently and they had a magazine rack there that was fun to peruse. Once a month the new Mad magazine came out and my quarter would be used for that. On the other hand, if I saved my quarter and waited till I had fifty cents, I could then buy a Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. And if I skipped candy altogether and somehow saved four quarters, I could buy a model Revell battleship to assemble to put on a shelf in my room.

Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.

Is this a behavior that parents can teach? Or were those children wired for failure as a result of genetic dispositions?

In psych 101 students learn that even pigeons can be taught to do a surprising number of things by means of incentives, including playing a primitive form of ping pong, by means of stimulus-reward arrangements. On the other hand, how many times have you seen parents in a grocery story line attempting to restrain a screaming four or five year old brat who wants a candy bar, and instead of making this a teachable moment, they reward the child's ranting. "I want it now!"

What about now, as adults? Is it too late for us if we've been poorly wired as kids? There's plenty of evidence to support a belief that inner change is not only possible but in most cases desirable. Here's that article on The Marshmallow Experiment.

Once we're set in our ways change is not easy. It begins with awareness. To quote the Little Engine That Could, it begins with an affirmation: "I think I can." If we persist, we will succeed. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Dr. Martin Luther King Day Community Breakfast

Through the eyes of a child...
(MLK Day Placemats)


A Visit with Duluth Author and Pilot Eric "Shmo" Chandler (Part 2)

CONTINUED FROM YESTERDAY

Reminder: Tomorrow, Thursday evening, Eric will be the featured reader at Beaners' Third Thursday Open Mic event. (It is actually called Spoken Word Open Mic, but I'm reminding local blog readers that the Open Mic occurs every Third Thurz.)

Speaking of readers, the Reader's Best of the Northland Party is also tomorrow evening. The event begins at 5:30 at the Depot Railroad Museum.

EN: It's apparent that you are a goal-setter. You accomplished plenty in 2016. What are you aiming to accomplish as a writer in 2017?

Eric Chandler: First off, Tina Wussow invited me to do a reading at Beaner’s Central on January 19th, so my goal is to not screw that up. First time I’ve been invited to do something like that, so I’m excited.

I’m going to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Feb 2017 in Washington, DC. I’ve never been to this national writing conference before. Randy Brown invited me to read some of my military-themed poetry as part of a panel at the conference. Randy Brown (AKA “Charlie Sherpa,” author of the Red Bull Rising blog based in Iowa) is a mil-poet and came up with a program for the AWP called “Citizen-Soldier-Poet: Using Poetry to Bridge the Civil-Military Gap.” There’s a lot of discussion about the widening gulf between civilians and military in this country. I personally view that gap as a threat and see my military writing and poetry as a way to correct it.

I’m about halfway through a draft of a memoir. It involves how my family was affected by 9/11. I plan to finish the first draft this calendar year and edit it.

I’m developing a workshop for military-themed writing to be held in Duluth in late spring/early summer of 2018. I view it as my way to help writers (either military or civilians) who want to tell stories about service in uniform. Part of my personal desire to help bridge the civil-military gap.

I also have an expanded version of my Outside Duluth e-book in the hands of a publisher. They’re considering it for publication in print. I plan to get that manuscript into the hands of several other publishers to see who bites.

I do a lot of writing for Northern Wilds Magazine out of Grand Marais. Shawn Perich is the editor and we have a good back-and-forth arrangement with ideas. I’ve got three pieces with him in the upcoming February issue: one about skis, another about the Duluth lighthouses that were added to the National Register of Historic Places, and a third about my first date with my wife when we hiked to a Buddhist temple in the mountains of Korea. I plan to write a lot of different stuff for Northern Wilds this year. Now that I look back on this list of goals, I feel scared. Thanks a lot.

EN: Of what does your writing discipline consist of?

Chandler family, hitting the trails again.
EC: Lack of discipline is a better way of putting it. I’m an airline pilot, so I have a lot of dead time on the road. When I land somewhere, I get to the hotel for the layover, I go running, I get a meal, and then I open my laptop and try to make forward progress. Technology and the internet are really something. The desktop computer I use at home has exactly the same setup as the laptop I use on the road. I use Dropbox to store my working drafts electronically. That way, whether I’m home or on the road, I can open up a project and get to work.

When I’m at home, it’s harder to sit in isolation and peck away. If it’s a school day, I make progress between the time the kids go to school and lunch with my wife. After that, it’s time for some exercise and then the kids come home or go to practice and the dog needs a walk and supper happens and all hell breaks loose. Those few quiet morning hours are the only chance for writing. If it’s a weekend day at home, I don’t even bother to try to write. Too much going on. That’s when we try to do things as a family. I guess I’m generating fuel for writing on those days. I write about those adventures later when I can.

EN: You say you intended to go to Colorado at one point. How did you end up in Duluth?

EC: I left the active duty Air Force in 1998 and my wife left the Air Force in May 2001. We were living in South Ogden, Utah on 9/11. Before that day, we planned to go to Colorado where I planned to be an instructor at my airline’s training center in Denver. My wife planned to go to culinary school in Boulder.

After 9/11, I figured I’d get laid off from my job flying the 737 based in San Francisco. I looked for a job in the Air National Guard. We were Mr. and Mrs. Civilian and I needed to find work. I called my good friend in Duluth and asked if he needed a crusty fighter pilot who hadn’t flown the F-16 in three years. The 148th Fighter Wing hired me and took in my family. They saved our bacon and I’m very grateful. It was like a slow-motion car crash, but I eventually got laid off from my airline from 2003-2006. By the time I got laid off I was already flying the F-16 again in the MN Air National Guard in Duluth. It was a blessing to have a flying job when so many airline pilots didn’t. Even more of a blessing when I got laid off again, thanks to the recession, from 2009-2013.

EN: As for Fate, this IS a great region for people into Outdoors so do you feel at home here?

EC: I’ve never been happier anywhere. My wife was an Air Force brat and went into the service herself. I was a Forest Service brat, if there is such a thing, and also moved around a lot growing up. I went around the world in the service, too. Between the two of us, we’ve lived in Utah, Alaska, Korea, New Hampshire, California, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. Duluth, Minnesota is the best place we’ve ever lived. And now, it’s the place that we’ve both lived for longer than any other place in our lives.

When we first got here, it was a big deal when we saw someone we knew when we were out running errands. We’d come home all excited and tell each other. Before, when we were only in one place for three years at a time, we never got to know a town well enough to feel at home. Plus, many of the places we lived were giant cities. We never saw anybody we knew out on the town. Now, it’s remarkable if we go out and don’t see anybody we know. Not seeing friends is the exception. We’re in our 5th decade on earth and this may seem like a small thing, but to us, it’s a new and wonderful experience.

You can learn more about Eric Chandler at his blog, Shmotown.
His eBook, Down In It, is available here. You'll find his Outside Duluth on this page.

* * * *
To all you readers who are writers: Write on.  To all who are reading this and are not writers, thanks for being here. And have a great day.