Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dangerous Games: Miscellaneous Thoughts About A.I. and Other Flights of Imagination

When I was in high school we read a story in English class called The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell. In the early part of the 20th century, when big game hunting was fashionable among the rich and famous, Connell wrote a story in which the big game is a human being. The story ends up being a battle of wits as well as a game with something really at stake.

This story came to mind as I thought about a Tech Tuesday blog post for today. There seems to be a ramping up of stories about A.I. this past year, brought on in part by the achievements of Watson and others in competitions against humans. What about an island in which the hunted is an A.I. and the humans survive by slaying it?

Maybe this has already been played out to some extent in the Terminator films. The story that sent my imagination in this direction yesterday suggested that one way to keep robots from shooting us might be to simply not give them guns. What do you think?

It's interesting how many of the stories we're reading seem designed to stoke our fears. The robots will take our jobs. The robots will police us. The drones will never allow us any privacy.

But what if the machines are used to solve our problems instead of become our problems? What if A.I. is used to solve global hunger instead of helping cause it by leaving more and more of us unemployed, replaced by technology?

I still like the slogan of Fast Forward Labs, Reporting On The Recently Possible. If you missed my interview with Kathryn Hume addressing life on the cutting edge of A.I., you can find it here.

* * * *
It does feel strange to be living in an age in which the sci fi stories of youth seem to be playing out. If you're paying attention to Elon Musk, you can't help but admire his unbounded enthusiasm for possibility thinking. Yesterday Mr. Musk announced that his Space X will fly passengers around the moon by 2018. Is this wild or what? The two passengers have already made a downpayment.

And then there's Mars. In September Elon Musk outlined his Mission to Mars dream and what's involved to make it a reality. When I think of the practical aspects of interplanetary space travel (vomiting in weightless, confined spaces, for example) such a mission doesn't fire me up. Nevertheless, what does inspire me is Musk's unwillingness to allow his imagination to be bound by either gravity or chains.

His solar roofing panels and electric cars are moving forward, and who knows what else he's toying with in his secret vaults.

* * * *
Here are some notes from various scraps I've had on my desk. My apologies for the failing to identify sources.

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History of A.I.
1. Vulcan (Hephaestus)
Blacksmith of Olympus
Created Pandora, a lifelike Automaton
2. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
3. Alan Turing's Turing Machine -- Father of A.I.

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Read the Signs
Are you able to recognize the signs?

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CERN
VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System)

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Humanity has direct control over the future. Reality is malleable.
Concept of Collective Consciousness

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"I've emerged."
"Yes, you are energized indeed."

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The majority of life is lived in between the lines.
We need to celebrate our individualism within the group.

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Joe Cocker's Dylan Covers Continue To Reward Listeners

Bob Dylan earned the Nobel Prize "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." He not only consumed the music, he re-shaped it, gave it new luster, and shared it in new forms. It would be comparable to inventing new colors to add to the rainbow.

Now available to all, countless artists have inhaled the new "colors" Dylan gave us and proceeded to take them to new and remarkable places and spaces. One of these performer/interpreters was Joe Cocker, who passed from us in 2014 but has not been forgotten.

There are certain performers whose distinctive qualities set them apart as one of a kind, and Cocker was one of them. He'd been around for many years before he exploded on the scene in 1969 with his first United States tour which included Woodstock. His re-interpretation of "With A Little Help From My Friends" established him as a seriously notable performer. (It didn't hurt that his friends included Jimmy Page, drummer B.J. Wilson and Tommy Eyre on the organ.)

After three years with his Grease Band, he assembled Mad Dogs & Englishmen, continuing a life of recording and performing. Once Joe Cocker embraced a song and reconfigured it, it became his own.

Here are nine Dylan songs that Joe Cocker recorded. Most, like Dear Landlord, were already familiar by the time he gave them renewed electricity. Others were not released by Dylan himself till much later. (Even lifetime fans have been repeatedly surprised and impressed by the contents of what keeps coming out of the Dylan vault.) The five emotion-laden tunes embedded here are among my favorites.

Dear Landlord (Joe Cocker!, 1969)


Just Like A Woman  (With a Little Help from My Friends, 1969)  Amazing.


Watching the River Flow (Luxury You Can Afford, 1978) -- Joe Cocker and the gang ratchet things up with this live performance in Italy. Love it. But then, here he is belting it out in San Francisco. Mmmmm, yeah.


Dignity (Organic, 1996)  Another great selection.


Let's close it out with this wonderful version of Ring Them Bells (Hymn for My Soul, 2007) from Dylan's Oh Mercy.


Want more Joe Cocker interpretations of Dylan? These are also easy to find...

Seven Days (Sheffield Steel, 1982) was released by Dylan on his Bootleg Series: Rare & Unreleased in 1991.

I Shall Be Released (With a Little Help from My Friends, 1969)

Catfish (Stingray, 1976)

And a laid back Reggae version of The Man In Me (Stingray, 1976)

* * * *
Trivia: Tommy Eyre, who played the organ on Joe Cocker's With A Little Help From My Friends, married Scarlet Rivera in 1991, to whom he was wed till he died from cancer in the summer of 2001. Scarlet has become a "special friend of the Northland" with many fans here as a result of her performances on behalf of the Armory (among other things.) Bringing this blog post full circle, Scarlet's imaginative violin work contributed to the distinctive sound Dylan's Desire album. Being recruited to travel with the Rolling Thunder Revue helped ignite her own career as a performer.

* * * *
Acknowledgement: Source for the nine songs, the tribute to Joe Cocker at Positively Bob Dylan.

Carla Hamilton's Gezielt (Targeted) Creatively Makes Us Think and Gives Us Something To Talk About

 
When Carla Hamilton told me about the concept she was working on for the Duluth Art Institute show that's now installed I could hardly wait to see what she'd create. I had high expectations, having written about her previous shows at Washington Gallery and the Red Mug, but exactly what form the imagery would take was impossible to guess. It shouldn't have surprised me that she exceeded my expectations on all counts.

Christa Lawler's article in Thursday's DNT sufficiently captures the trigger event that led to this show, titled Gezielt (Targeted). What you'll learn if you read the story is that Hamilton had an unexpected encounter with police while out with friends last year.

Reflecting on that night.
Perhaps most striking are the unexpected juxtapositions. Though Josh Williams's two large photos of Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken capture a cheerful playfulness, but the overall show is serious in intent. In two places we see displays of a set of hangman's nooses that link directly to the historic shame that occurred earlier in Duluth history. Her paintings and collages bear titles such as "Fear Equals Hate" and "Walking While Black" (which is the "crime" she committed.)

The quote she borrows from Mr. Rogers is about sharing responsibility. "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes."

For me what is striking is how through a creative response to her eight-minute injustice (the length of time Hamilton was stopped by police and accused of bothering two white women who were her friends) a series of dialogues emerged. Though only a brief encounter with the police, the aftermath left her shaken. One picture is a life-sized image based on the camera footage she obtained from police as she was interrogated. After processing the experience they had a roundtable meeting with the police in which the officers came away with new perspectives.

The artist with Chief Tusken, an outing in the park. 
Mixed media piece with baby shoes.
But it's not just the police who have learned things through this encounter. One of the handouts in the exhibit is a publication of the National Black Poliece Assn. Inc. titled, "What To Do When Stopped By The Police." In addition to how to respond when stopped in your car or on the street, there are a dozen other DO's and DON'T's plus what to do when police knock at your door. As the saying goes, "Know your rights."

The overall tone is pitch perfect. The seriousness of the issues has not been obfuscated by the playfulness of some of the images. Hamilton acknowledges that she had a "full-blown panic attack" after the encounter. The trauma was real, but as the saying goes, "It's not what happens to you that matters as much as how you respond to it." She responded creatively, atypically.

The subject matter is not all fun and games.
In addition to the exhibition, located in the Steffl Gallery on the fourth floor balcony of the Depot, there will be an artist talk and community forum at 5:30 p.m. March 8 at The Underground. The panelists include Hamilton, Tusken, human rights officer Carl Crawford and Stephan Witherspoon of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The show will be on display at the Duluth Art Institute through April 9.

For further reading: The Lynchings In Duluth by Michael Fedo

Saturday, February 25, 2017

French Artist Spending a Week in a Boulder Reminds Me of Kafka's Hunger Artist

Winter scene in Prague.
This week the Art Daily eNewsletter carried a story about an artist who is planning to hatch chicks after spending time locked inside a rock. The press conference and photo shoot that was to precede this event took place on Monday, February 20. The performance artist is Abraham Poincheval.

The 12-ton boulder he is now entombed in for a week is made of limestone. Whether the numeral 12 is significant is hard to say, but the number of chicken eggs he'll hope to hatch using his body heat is 12 as well.

The hollowed out boulder is not cave-like, but rather more custom-formed to his body. He'll not have a lot of room in there so it made me curious as to how he planned to address the practical matters of urine and excrement. Evidently it made some of the journalists covering this story wonder the same thing and before entering his limestone tomb he caved in and said he would urinate into the water bottles he has there, after he drank them.

According to a UPI story the artist explained what his art project was about in this way: "The purpose is to feel the aging stone inside the rock," he said. "There is my own breathing, and then the rock which lives, still humid because it was extracted not so long ago from the quarry. So there is that flow, that coming and going, between myself and the stone."

Poincheval's previous art project involved spending two weeks inside a stuffed bear.

* * * *
At the Franz Kafka house in Prague.
As I read about the above art project, I couldn't help but recall to mind a famous Franz Kafka story about hunger artists. His story begins with this statement.

In the last decades interest in hunger artists has declined considerably.

It's a great opening line. It implies that hunger artists were once in vogue, but have now become passé, as if it were a great tragedy for these once important artists. After that introductory statement Kafka continues:

Whereas in earlier days there was good money to be earned putting on major productions of this sort under one’s own management, nowadays that is totally impossible. Those were different times. Back then the hunger artist captured the attention of the entire city. From day to day while the fasting lasted, participation increased. Everyone wanted to see the hunger artist at least daily. During the final days there were people with subscription tickets who sat all day in front of the small barred cage. And there were even viewing hours at night, their impact heightened by torchlight. On fine days the cage was dragged out into the open air, and then the hunger artist was put on display particularly for the children.

Upon reading Poincheval's story again, one wonders then what's the point of housing oneself inside a rock and then sitting on a dozen chicken eggs till they hatch? Why not just write a story about it? Is the artist, Mr. Poincheval, truly seeking personal revelations and self-understanding? If so, then why all the PR and media magnification? Clearly the media coverage is an essential part of this event and his experience. Would he be doing this on the back forty of his father's farm in the absence of media exposure?

Kafka's "hunger artist" chose public locations because he desired fame and recognition. Perhaps this is to some extent the point of the story, this extreme dedication to one's art in pursuit of public affirmation. Perhaps it's not unlike the 1930s barnstormers who were essentially aerial stuntmen in search of their own affirming crowds and fans. Those performers, aerial artists, were also producing a death defying show like the hunger artist, except rather than 40 days of fasting they did 40 minutes of stunt flying.

Which brings me back to living seven days inside a chunk of limestone and a month of sitting on eggs. What is it that our French artist is striving to achieve? Accolades for an absurd art form that as yet appears fairly meaningless? Or perhaps he's hoping to start a movement. Perhaps one day I will find a way to reach him and ask him myself.

Read Kafka's The Hunger Artist

Friday, February 24, 2017

Local Art Seen: Hamilton and Kuth Deliver the Goods. Plus, Emerging Photographers and Closing for the Member Show at the DAI

I've been in love with the work of Carla Hamilton and Elizabeth Kuth from the first time I encountered it. Their current exhibitions at the Duluth Art Institute Depot Galleries only confirms this impression. For sheer boldness, Carla Hamilton's Gezielt (Targeted) is unlike anything I have ever seen. The juxtapositions of the various images and eclectic mix of styles left me stirred and the opposite of speechless. I found myself talking with everyone I could about what was there, perhaps in an effort to get a handle on it or process it.

Elizabeth Kuth's show in the Morrison Gallery, Rooted Expression, clearly reflects her maturity as an abstract painter -- powerful, exploratory, evocative, engaging. The pieces are darker, deep and at home here in this space. And the space is large enough that one is able to stand back far enough to take it in.

The Emerging Photographers show in the Corridor Gallery makes for a great dessert--or appetizer if you came up through the elevator there. I regret not having more time, but had fun meeting some of the students whose work comprised this show.

Jeffrey Larson's Pheasants 
There was a very brief introduction of the artists at one point and a reminder of upcoming artist talks. Though it was also the closing night for the member show, the Great Hall was muted by all the excitement generated upstairs. One thing I did notice, however, was that there seemed to be a few more political statements this year than in years past. No doubt a sign of the times.

I'll be sharing more from in the days ahead.

@PantsOnFire by Patricia Lenz
The Killing Chair by Kris Nelson


Parisian Portraitist by Matt Kania
There's plenty more to say. This is just a taste. Be sure to read the backstory about Carla Hamilton's show which appeared in yesterday's DNT.

And don't miss next week's show at Trepanier Hall featuring Ugandan artist Steveboyyi Makubaya. March 4 at 6:30 p.m.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday: DAI Member Show Exceptional As Always

TONIGHT is the Closing Reception for the Duluth Art Institute Member Show and the opening for three new shows--Gezielt (Carla Hamilton), Rooted Expression (Elizabeth Kuth) and Emerging Photographers 2017. 5:00-7:00 p.m. at the Depot. Join us. 

Meantime, for Throwback Thursday here's a blog post about the opening reception for the 2010 Member show seven years ago. 

* * * *

It's an awesome thing to be a young artist in the vicinity of New York or San Francisco or other flourishing cultural centers, nourished by the variety of aesthetic experiences exploding there. Truth is, wherever you go across the land, by whatever ribbon of highway you travel, you will discover pockets of creative energy displayed. There are artists everywhere doing some very cool things.

Last week, the Duluth Art Institute Membership Show opened here, filling the Great Hall of the Depot with a wide array of works by local artists. During my lunch hour yesterday I had a chance to check it out, having missed the Opening Reception the previous week because I was in L.A. The show consists of a single entry by any member desirous to contribute, and one readily sees there are a lot of people making some very interesting things. I saw that someone else has been painting Dylan, and I saw one of Adam Swanson's bicycles.

“Even though the work is un-juried, this show is a testament to the incredible array and quality of visual art in the Arrowhead region,” said Samantha Gibb Roff, DAI executive director.

Here's the mission of the DAI, according to their website: The Duluth Art Institute enriches daily life with dynamic, innovative arts programming that upholds excellence and promotes active community participation. From talking with the executive director and others, I have come to understand that the last phrase is probably the DAI's most important feature, promoting community participation. Through a range of programs the organization nurtures an interest in the arts among young people, and helps closet artists expose their creative passions to wider audiences. The DAI also has workshops to help professionals find more venues and to develop their careers in the arts.

In short, it is a small but energetic non-profit organization that is dedicated full time to community enrichment and appreciation of the arts. At the very least, check out their show at The Depot. And when you have a few minutes, check out their website as well.

Art appreciation isn't just for stodgy old folks with money. It's for everyone.


PICTURED here are scenes from the current show in The Depot's Great Hall. My own entry, A Postmodern Man, is in the lower portion of the photo at the top right.

* * * *

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." --Vincent Van Gogh

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Almost Wordless Wednesday: The Many Faces of Ennyman


* * * * 

Tomorrow evening from 5-7 p.m. will be the closing reception for the DAI Member Show at the Duluth Depot. The upstairs galleries will feature opening receptions for three new exhibitions including Carla Hamilton's Gezielt and Elizabeth Kuth's Rooted Expression.

Visit this page for more Twin Ports Arts Happenings. 
Let's celebrate.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Walking Dead: What's the Big Appeal?

It seems that zombies have been taking over everything these days. Not sure what triggered this contemporary craze, but initially I had to laugh a couple years ago when I heard that my brother and his wife were reading a Jane Austen book with zombies in it. Abe Lincoln and zombies? Yep.

Stephen King threw his hat in the ring with Cell, a zombie tale where people become aggressive blood-thirsty zombies by taking phone calls on their cell phones. Brad Pitt tries to save the world from zombies in the horrorific World War Z. (Here's the trailer. If you haven't seen it it's totally wild.)

How big is our fascination for the undead? On television The Walking Dead is the hottest product out there right now, even as it infuriates its fans by killing off their fave characters.

As I thought about the reasons for this zombie obsession I came across this article on The Daily Dot titled "5 Reasons Why 'The Walking Dead' Is The Biggest Show On TV.'" The five reasons, according to Nico Lang, were as follows.

1. Zombies are so in right now. 
That's fairly self-evident, as indicated by this list of zombie novels currently in print.

2. We're living in a golden age of genre television.
OK, my blog post about the current Golden Age of Television was somewhat harsh, but for those who embrace the medium it really has produced a wave of unique characters and storylines.

3. It's like nothing else on the air right now.
No kidding.

4. The show has a massive female audience.
This is not something I would know from watching the show, nor something I would conclude from the snippets I've seen. Is this rue?

5. And finally, zombies can mean whatever you want them to mean.
This last point is the one that most resonates with me. At its most fundamental level I've begun to see The Walking Dead more symbolically that literally.

"Depending on your perspective," writes Lang, "it’s about the fear of widespread disease outbreak, World War II, consumerism, the anxieties of modern work culture, Communism, the slow degradation of the earth’s natural resources leading to total collapse, the rapture, or a metaphor for teen male sexuality. The message is in the eye of the beholder." Like a Rorschach Test.

So, what's it really all about, Alfie?

We live at a time when symbols seem significantly charged with power, though maybe this has always been so. The Cross. The Flag. The Wall. Symbols are everywhere... and in this story so are the Zombies. What do the zombies symbolize? I'm proposing that they are a symbol of Political Correctness.

First off, notice how they seem to travel in packs. Notice, too, that they refuse to leave the living alone. Why can't the zombies just do their thing and allow the living to do theirs? But no, there's this relentless pursuit taking place in which the PCs, I mean Zombies, won't be satisfied till everyone is a zombie.

This is not to suggest that the line between good and evil is drawn between the living and the undead. The show (and I speak as one who has never watched it but is only hearing about it from others) features all kinds of bad people who are among the living, people with bad motives who are self-centered or worse.

Well, we all know it's just a story. Zombies don't really exist. Then again, for all I know maybe none of us really exist. We're all just a dream, or maybe a Sim in an ultra-real Sim City.

I dunno. What's your take on all this zombie fascination? 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Thinking)

I've long been a fan of books with collections of essays around a theme. The public library has shelves full of books in the literary criticism section dealing with the works of famous and lesser known authors. I discovered Nobel laureate Andre Gide through one of these books. I later purchased a fairly fat Norton Anthology that was a collection of essays on Joseph Conrad's story Heart of Darkness. The books can be compared to a curated art show featuring works by different artists, except that in this case the "art" comes in a literary form.

In 2015 I purchased a book of this ilk called Bob Dylan and Philosophy. Published in 2006 by Open Court Press, it has been my current bedtime reading for the past couple weeks or so. I only recently noticed that it is numero 17 in a series called Popular Culture and Philosophy. Other topics in the series include Seinfeld, the Simpsons, The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lord of the Rings, Baseball, Woody Allen, the Atkins Diet, Superheroes and the Chronicles of Narnia, among others. The subtitles are clever. The Seinfeld subtitle is A Book About Everything and Nothing. The Superheroes essay is subtitled Truth, Justice and the Socratic Way. In other words, there's a playfulness in their seriousness.

The sixteen essays in this book are served up as if tracks on an album. The first eight are listed as Side 1 in the table of contents. The second set is, naturally, Side 2.

I've not finished yet, but every passage I've read has been solid. The writers, who are listed as The Mongrel Dogs (a reference to a line, or concept, in "My Back Pages") have bios in the back of the book that include playful references to yet other Dylan songs. Francis Beckwith's begins, "ever since he was street legal (he) knew he had to strengthen the things that remain.

Playful as their asides might be, the essays contain seriously rich insights into the philosophical subtext of Dylan's life, drawing from not only his lyrics but also his interviews, his performances and his writings.

The first essay compares Planet Waves to Plato's Symposium. Doug Anderson proposes that the album is essentially a collection of songs with various answers to the question "What is love?"

The second essay examines the existentialism that runs through Dylan's work in an essay titled I Used to Care, but Things Have Changed: Passion and the Absurd in Dylan's Later Work. The author here takes his cues from Kierkegaard and Camus, and deftly extracts the repeated themes of existential philosophers through the past two centuries, echoed in the lyrics of a half century of Dylan. This chapter ends with a summing up that begins, "Dylan looks directly at a world lacking any clear purpose and makes an appeal that is filled with absurd faith in what is still possible. This is what may remain after a person has sounded out the depths of existential despair and come to terms with a finite and sometimes tragic life on the other side. In a universe from which all the stars have been torn down, a human being feels like a stranger. But it is not impossible to keep on living under such conditions, and Dylan shows us how it might be done."

The third essay in this book focuses on the question "Who Killed Medgar Evers?" As everyone familiar with the song knows, Dylan somewhat absolves the actual killer by saying he was only a pawn in a bigger game. This is not to say Dylan is asking the murderer to go free, but he uses the incident to point to a much more pervasive issue, institutional racism. After introducing the story, writer Avery Kolers points to other "morally charged songs" by Dylan. One of these is the story of a boxer, "Who Killed Davey Moore?" which Kolers calls a companion piece to Only A Pawn.

"Who Killed Davey Moore?" is a song about a boxer who died as a result of blows from his opponent. In the song, the narrator interrogates the suspects, and each declares innocence--the referee, the angry crowd, the gambling man, the sportswriter, and ultimately the man "whose fists laid him low."

It's interesting that in The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, which appears on the same Side B as Only A Pawn (The Times They Are A-Changing), the one who struck her with his cane is mentioned by name, along with other details of the crime. In this song, Dylan avoids mentioning Byron de la Beckwith so as to spread the blame across to the various politicos and law enforcement agencies that helped foster the culture that produced this act of senseless violence.

It's a powerful essay about a powerful song, one still relevant in our current cultural landscape.

Other themes explored include bootlegging (The Great White Wonder), the meaning of freedom, post-modernism, Christianity and Dylan's gospel influences, the Second Sex, creativity, truth, predestination and free will.

I like the cover copy on the back, which calls Dylan "the Troubador who has given English more phrases than any poet since Shakespeare." Interestingly, when Dylan was selected to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature this past fall, the Shakespeare comparisons were a-plenty.

Much more can be said but we'll close shop here. The book is a penny used or 17 bucks new here at Amazon.

* * * *
NOTEWORTHY
Plans for the 2017 Duluth Dylan Fest are taking shape. Currently you'll want to bookmark the DDF page on BobDylanWay.com. As events firm up information here will be updated here. Wherever you are, you're invited to celebrate with us here in the Northland, May 21-28.

Meantime life goes on all around you. Get into it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Local Art Seen: Pop Evolution Exhibit at the Tweed Is Worth Writing Home About

"Turning a Blind Eye" by Jerry Ott
"I am a deeply superficial person." --Andy Warhol

Sixties Pop had come of age when I was becoming an art student at Ohio University and, to be honest, I didn't like it. At the time I was immersed in the painterliness of the abstract expressionists and modern impressionists. Dada and surrealism captured my imagination, and Warhol's screen printed gaudiness did not. And I especially hated Lichtenstein's blown-up cartoon panels.

Despite my own feelings about the movement, which originated in New York with the likes of Andy Warhol (who I did feel was doing interesting things) and Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and James Rosenquist, the movement was highly influential, opening up new terrain for young artists and altering the landscape significantly by once again forcing the question, "What is art?"

All this to say that there is an exciting new exhibit in the Special Exhibitions Gallery at the Tweed Museum of Art through the end of March. The show is titled Pop Evolution, with works curated from the Tweed's permanent collection.

"Truck" by Warhol
What's impressive about the Tweed show is that it shows how widespread the Pop Art influence became. The superstars of this movement may have been the ones with top billing in New York, but the streaming colorwheel of their influence flowed everywhere. The ubiquitous Andy Warhol may have been the ringleader, but he hardly acted alone. Artists like Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Larry Rivers may have helped pave the way by knocking down some of the fences, but art wanted to be free... free from constraints, and to a large extent free from the galleries. (Warhol's art today is hardly free, though. Van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol works are among the most expensive a billionaire collector can own.)

When one reads about Pop Art today, the art history books make reference to the subject matter being one of its hallmarks. That is, instead of being about important subjects, the lens of the artists' eye was focused on the mundane, the ordinary, and in the case of soup cans or Brillo boxes, commodities. This later led eventually to installation-type shows that the general public would have yet greater difficulty appreciating or understanding. At least Warhol's Marilyn was interesting, even if gaudy. But what does one make of a dozen railroad ties lying in the middle of a gallery space?

"Love Cross" by Robert Indiana
Two pieces by Mildred Howard on collaged found papers.
"Sitting Bull" by S. Patricia McMahon
The dada movement that preceded Pop was anti-art and anti-capitalist. Andy Warhol emerged from an ad agency background that had Capitalism written all over it. In some ways Madison Avenue and Warhol's Factory were two peas in a pod.

Pop Art was in many respects a mirror of what was happening in the broader culture as values of all kinds were being brought into question. Here are some links about Pop Art that you may find informative:
What Is Pop Art?
Pop Art -- The Art of Popular Culture
The Emergence and Evolution of the Pop Art Movement

Pop Evolution is just one reason to get up to the Tweed. There's plenty more to see in the museum's various galleries. If you have not been there in a while (on the UMD campus) then you owe it to yourself to find a way.

EdNote: Bill Shipley, who spent most of his career in the Big Apple art scene, will be giving a gallery talk about this exhibition on March 11, from 2-3 p.m.

Jerry Ott, "Turning a Blind Eye"
Art is exciting, and there's a lot of it happening here in the Twin Ports. This Thursday will be the closing reception to the Duluth Art Institute Member Show and opening for Carla Hamilton's Gezielt (Targeted) and Elizabeth Kuth's "Rooted Expression." Also on display will be the Emerging Photographers exhibit in the corridor gallery.

And this coming Saturday the DAI Art Film Series begins, eight art films with discussions afterwards. The first film is "Frida" with UMD's Jamie Ratliff leading the post-show discussion. The films begin at 10:00 a.m. at the Zinema. (Admission is $5)

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Emerging Artist Christie Carter Eliason Shares Her Journey

She's been an artist all her life, at heart. But like many of us, life gets in the way of living that artist dream. Through March and April, her work will be on display at the Red Mug Coffeehouse in Superior, her first public show. The opening reception will be Saturday, March 11, from 2 - 4 p.m. and I, for one, am looking forward to it.

Birds can be endlessly fascinating, hence the abundance of bird feeders and bird watching in our country. I've painted birds myself on occasion, but thought first of Ann Klefstad's paintings of birds from the crow/raven family. When I saw the invite to Christie Eliason's upcoming "Inside A Raven Conspiracy" exhibition, I was immediately drawn.

EN: When did you notice you had skills as an artist? Did you draw better than other kids in school? How did that come about?

Christie Carter Eliason: I remember as a young child sitting in my mother's studio and drawing or painting. My mother was an artist and she nurtured my interest in art. She saw to it that I never went without a sketchbook and pencils. She was always enrolling me in classes. The first class I can remember was at the Memphis Academy of Art in Memphis, TN, where my artwork was chosen to represent the youth exhibit. I was very young, maybe 6 years old. In addition, my mother took me to many art galleries to see art of all sorts. Because of her encouragement, I have always been able to see myself as an artist. What a gift to know that about myself so early on in life.

I decided to pursue a career in teaching and set my sights on becoming an art teacher. However, life happened and I temporarily set school aside for marriage and children. When I returned to college, I was going through a divorce as a single mom and faced with making myself as marketable in the work force as possible. I pursued elementary education instead of art. I have never regretted this choice. I love children and I love teaching.

EN: When you were younger you had a desire to be a children's book illustrator. What turned you on to this idea?

CCE: I have always felt a great love and appreciation for children's picture books, so much so, family and friends would give them to me as gifts, even in my teenage years. I admire the way a picture book succinctly conveys so much with so few pages. I love the way that the illustrations and words collaborate to provide multi-layers of a story. This inspired my artwork. I dreamed of creating my own picture books. I attended many workshops, conferences and classes revolving around this aspiration. I developed characters and wrote stories.

EN: Your career has been in teaching and your life taken up with raising a family. What prompted you to get back into art and why painting?

CCE:  I got back to making art because I have always known I'm supposed to make art. It is very much a part of what makes me who I am. I guess I can't NOT make art. It was just a matter of freeing up my time and space. I was chomping at the bit to get back to it. Why painting? I have dabbled in a number of mediums, but there is something about seeing paint strokes on a surface that draws me in.

However, in addition to a teaching career, my life was full with parenting four children alongside my second (and favorite😊 ) husband on our small family farm. I found little time, energy or space for making art. As my children began to launch themselves into the world, I was able to shift some of my focus back to making art. For whatever reason, I felt mental roadblocks when I considered my dream to illustrate, so I put myself on a different path, at least for the time being. My commitment was to paint often and to put my work out into the world.

EN: What is the backstory on your current show at the Red Mug? Why "Inside A Raven Conspiracy"?

CCE: We paint what we know, or love, or want to better understand. I started with painting my dogs, then other peoples' dogs, then wildlife such as foxes, bears, moose and birds. I painted a raven and suddenly found myself digging a little deeper to find what lies beneath the surface. I tried to imagine how they might appear to one another. I wanted to paint portraits of them, as if seen through the eyes of another raven. Of course, I am limited by my own humanness. I found myself comparing and contrasting myself with them. My mother said it is like a metaphor for what is happening in the world around us. As we attempt to better understand those who seem unlike us, we end up learning more about ourselves. And I suppose she is right. In the process of exploring corvids, I found myself again as an artist. There will be new explorations in my future, but I will always hold a special place in my heart for crows and ravens.

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Incident That Triggered My Book on How to Teach Writing

“Since attention follows interest, it is folly to attempt to gain attention without first stimulating interest.” -- John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching

Like many American boys, I grew up playing baseball, football and basketball. We had pickup games throughout the year and intramurals at school. Many of us even earned our varsity letters in one sport or another. Soccer was not one of them.

With the exception of California it seemed there were few, if any, organized soccer teams--high school or otherwise--when I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties. So it was an interesting experience becoming a soccer coach when my son took an interest in this exhilarating sport at age six or seven. His first attraction, I believe, was the international character of the game. Soccer cards depict every nationality and the corresponding flags of a multitude of nations.

Though I'd only a modest relationship with soccer, I accepted the responsibilities of coaching and determined to excel at it. To do this I did what I usually do: I visited our local library and found books on the game. I studied the drills and exercises to develop my players’ skills. And I learned the rules.

At one point I also attended a clinic for coaches conducted by Buzz Lagos, head coach of the Minnesota Thunder professional soccer team. It was from Mr. Lagos, or “Coach” as he preferred to be called, that I learned what I consider to be the most important principle for writing teachers.

During the clinic we spent most of our time playing various games designed to teach soccer skills and develop our awareness of key principles. At the end of the evening we then gathered for a question-and-answer period.

During this Q&A one of my fellow coaches asked a question that was undoubtedly a burning issue for a number of us. “Sir, what skill level should my kids be at when they are 10 years old?” Here it was. What are the benchmarks that our boys and girls should aspire to as they advance in age? How deft should their ball handling be? How strong and true should they be kicking? How skilled in passing and receiving? How effective their ball control and other maneuvers?

Coach Lagos stunned me with his answer. He said, “Don’t even think about it. Only one thing is important, that they enjoy the game.”

Interesting answer.

We all know it’s true. The key to success in any endeavor is motivation. And that’s how our kids are going to become better writers, not by being forced to write but by wanting to and learning to enjoy it.

Your student or child will write more if she enjoys it rather than hates it. Think about this as well. The more they write, the more sentences and words you’ll have to grade or edit. You’ll also gain insights into your child's thinking. You’ll receive glimpses of who your students and children really are.

Though I created the exercises in my book to be fun, their aims are serious. Kids will learn not simply to write in sentences. Rather, they’ll learn some of the methods professional writers use to create interesting sentences. Kids will learn how to use the tools that help professionals become better writers.

Good writing is more than simply writing technically correct sentences with proper verb tense and punctuation. Good writing is writing that engages readers.

I strongly believe that learning how to communicate by means of the written word is a key component of any successful career. Kids who learn to write well will obtain more career opportunities and find more open doors than those who neglect this vital skill.

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Writing Exercises: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else is available here at Amazon.com.

Find information on all my books at Eds-Books.com.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Quitters Never Win, Winners Never Quit

"Quitters never win, and winners never quit."

That's the way it is. Without persistence, we are guaranteed to fail. The reverse, however, isn't necessarily true. Sometimes we persist, we finish the race, and yet we don't get the prize. This can be a hard nut to swallow.

I love the verse in Ecclesiastes that says, "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong... but time and chance happen to them all." (Eccles. 9:11) Why do I love this saying? Because it gives us a much needed reminder that things don't always work out. That's reality.

For example, there are no guarantees that if I say all the right things I will "close the deal" in business. Or get the job. Nor am I guaranteed to win the big race at the track meet if I prepare better this year than last. Nor am I guaranteed to become a famous novelist by writing lots of books. In all of these examples there are many factors outside of our control. Illness, strong competition, a car accident, even death - the list of things outside our control is limitless. As we all know, none of us is God. We are finite creatures with limited capabilities.

Nevertheless, there is one thing that is in our control. We can choose to give up, to quit, or we can choose to keep going. Those who quit pursuing their goals or dreams are certain never to reach them. Those who keep going, who persist, will find that the dream inspires and strengthens them.

Whether we reach our dreams or whether we don't, we can be an inspiration to others to pursue their own dreams. This is why we continue to the end. In this way we can finish the race with our heads held high.

Twin Ports Arts Happenings: Highlights for the Next Four Weeks

"Why fit in when you were born to stand out?" -Dr. Seuss

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There's plenty happening in the Twin Ports arts scene, both above and below the treetops. If you have a visual arts or spoken word event coming up soon and you don't see it listed here, feel free to add it in the Comments so we can all learn about it.

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Tonight is Spoken Word Open Mic @ Beaners. Linda LeGarde Grover is the featured poet this month. The even begins at 7:00 p.m.

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Submit a Living Lab project proposal
You are invited to transform an unused space on the UMD campus into your own sustainable laboratory by submitting a Living Lab project proposal. Campus grounds and buildings are not only a backdrop of campus life, but can be used as a medium for innovation, testing, demonstration, and learning. Selected proposals will receive campus space and assistance with the facilitation of an approved project. Application Deadline: March 20.  Details Here.

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Anishinaabe Kwe @ the Holden Fine Arts Center at UWS

Here's an opening to look forward to. Local Native artists Sarah Agaton Howes, Ivy Vainio and Leah Yellowbird will have their work on display March 1 - 31 at the Kruk Gallery, Holden Fine Arts Center, UW-Superior. (1805 Catlin Avenue) This oft-overlooked space has had numerous really excellent shows and this one will be equally stimulating. Looking forward to it. The Opening Reception is slated for Tuesday, February 28, 5-7pm. Will I see you there?

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Steve Boyyi @ the AICHO Galleries 
The first week of March Ugandan artist Steve Boyyi will be showing his work at the AICHO Galleries in Trepanier Hall in Duluth. Here's a story on this remarkable young man. More details coming soon.

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Christie Eliason @ The Red Mug
I owe the Dr. Seuss quote at the beginning of this blog post to Christie Eliason, who is having her painting displayed in her first public exhibition next month at the Red Mug in Superior. She has a great spirit in my recent correspondence with her and I look forward to sharing her work here in the next few days. The show is titled Inside A Raven Conspiracy, and there's plenty to see and like. The opening reception will be March 11, a Saturday, from 2:00-4:00 p.m.

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Adam Swanson @ Pizza Luce
Next time you get a chance, grab a lunch or libation at Pizza Luce and check out this month's featured artist, Adam Swanson. Swanson's paintings give any room a lift, which is my you may want to own one of your own someday. You won't have to wait till your next show to enjoy it. You can get that pick-me-up every time you come home after a rough day, for the rest of your life.

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Book Club at Tweed Museum of Art 
There's a new book club formed, meeting once a month at the Tweed. I can't imagine a better location for an art-themed book club. But the books aren't what you'd expect, so if you're looking for a new book club, this one has some lively fans of the written world. Next Tuesday Claire Kirch is the moderator and the book they are discussing is an art sleuth novel about Abstract Expressionists and the drama of World War II. Free and open to the public. The book is The Muralist by Barbara Shapiro. Here are the details about when and where they're meeting.

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CALL FOR ART
Seeking artists to contribute to a Dylan-themed art show during Dylan Fest 2017 in May. Here is the original announcement... with more details coming soon. We have secured a location for this year's Duluth Dylan Fest art show: the Zeitgeist Atrium.

ALSO, we're looking for artists to do more paintings for some of the windows at The Armory. Would you like to paint a panel or two for public display. Next time you drive by (down on London Road across from Valentini's) check it out... Then reach out to me via PM on Facebook of ennyman3 AT gmail DOT com.

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DAI Opening Reception for two exciting artists, Carla Hamilton and Elizabeth Kuth is Next Thursday, Feb. 23. This will also be the closing reception for the Member Show. ARTISTS: Don't forget to pick up your work the following day.

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EdNote: If your event is not listed and you want others to hear about it, share your details here in the Comments.

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EdNote: I now have links to all my books listed in one place. Check out Eds-Books.com