Monday, November 20, 2017

Why I'm Tired of People Talking About "Awesome Content"

It has to be the most overused word in digital marketing. "Awesome." I understand the intent, but please, to hear the way people chatter on about it you'd think creating "awesome content" was as easy as kindergartners making mud pies.

Synonyms for awesome at include all of the following: awe-inspiring, breathtaking, alarming, fearsome, magnificent, intimidating, formidable, terrifying, wondrous...  It's a word best applied to the Deity, though the Grand Canyon might give us a sense of something approaching awesomeness. I mean, it is pretty grand, as in the dialogue, "This is a piano, and that is a piano, but this here is a grand piano." Unfortunately the way we use the word awesome these days it feels like any hack can produce mind-blowing "content" as easily as tying shoelaces. And if you can't do it yourself, you can hire people to do it for you... for pocket change. Or so they say.

In an ideal world, everything is awesome and everybody is above average.

Look at all these stories you find when you Google the phrase "awesome content":

6 Awesome Content Sources That Take the Stress out of Social Media Sharing

9 Tips on How to Create Awesome Content that Is Easily Discovered

How to Create Awesome Content People Actually Want

4 Rules For Creating Awesome Content Your Audience Loves

4 Steps to an Awesome Content Calendar (and 6 Things You Need on It)

25 Tools to Find Awesome Content to Share

15 Ways To Consistently Create Awesome Content That’ll Get People Coming Back To Open Your Emails, Visit Your Blog, And Watch Your Videos

7 Awesome Content Marketing Examples You Can Steal

How to Create Awesome Content for Facebook, Twitter and Google+

The 3 Keys to Awesome Content Marketing That Works
(Both this and the previous one are by Jeff Bullas. Awesome!)

Awesome Blog Writing Service

How to Create Awesome Content

7 Types Of Awesome Social Media Content Your Brand Can Be Creating Right Now

We All Want Awesome Content, Here's How to Start Making It

7 Elements of Awesome Content

The Principles of Awesome Content

Infographic: How to find awesome content topics

How To Create Awesome, Eye Catching Instagram Content

How to Plan Awesome Content That Grows Your Email List

How To Create An Awesome Content Strategy

12 Types of Awesome Visual Content You Can Use in Your Blog Posts

5 Ways to Transform Your Content From Adequate to Awesome

How to Find Awesome Content Writers for Less than $3 Per Article

Awesome Content Writer

Five Ways to Focus on Creating Awesome Content With Your Client

Awesome Content Tools - Grow Your Business with WordPress

Announcing our Awesome Content Targeting (ACT) tool

1 Awesome Way To Create Great Content

Five Tips for Awesome Content

How to create awesome content in 5 easy steps [infographic]

How to Write Awesome Content For Your Website

9 Awesome Content Marketing Tools That Will Make You More Efficient

10 Steps to Building an Awesome Social Media Content Calendar

Awesome Content

How to Write Awesome Blog Content for Your Nonprofit

Two Ingredients of Awesome: Content and Metaphor

Your Awesome Content Is Useless, Until…

5 Ways to Come Up With Awesome Content Marketing Ideas

* * * *
So, what do ya think? Pretty awesome, huh?

Bottom Line: I'm a big believer in attempting to set the bar high, but common sense says that when everything is awesome, nothing is. What is it you are really trying to do? Entertain? You're competing with Hollywood. There are plenty of other reasons for creating content though: to enlighten, to inform, to persuade, to comfort, to connect with a  community, to leave a legacy, to inspire, to spark a discussion, and maybe just because you have a need to express yourself so you can sort out what you really think and feel on a subject.

If you've read this far you pretty much know what I think. Let's use a different word and scrap the A-word. Try out some of these: useful, meaningful, engaging, etc.

Have a great day.

* * * *

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Local Arts Scene: Cohort Continues Conversation About Arts Writing

Jamie Ratliff leads a discussion in observation and interpretation.
The Duluth Arts Writing Cohort held its second meeting in the board room of the Duluth Art Institute this past Tuesday evening. The group's ultimate aim is to build a body of arts journalism with a focus on Twin Ports visual artists and their work.

The panel this month was comprised of arts writers Ann Klefstad and Christa Lawler, and Jamie Ratliff, who teaches art history at the U, with our moderator being freshman ARAC Executive Director Drew Digby, who earlier in his career spent a decade as a journalist.

At the beginning of the meeting Tim White brought up the idea of recording the meetings so that we might have a historical record available for the future. In a sense it would provide a snapshot of this moment in our community history as well as a reference point that we can re-visit. A concern was raised that recording the meetings could potentially dampen open exploration of sensitive subject matter. Ultimately, the group seemed to accept the adoption of Tim's idea for the next meeting.

After introductions we opened the session with an observation exercise in the John Steffl Gallery in front of one of the paintings in the current Art of Grief show titled A Figure Scape by Diane Bywaters. Jamie Ratliff led the exercise, asking us to write down on a sheet of paper what we saw when we looked at this large painting comprised of human figures of various races and genders as well as skeletons. "What do you see?" After a short period of time in which we were all busy scrutinizing and scribbling she then asked, "What is the artist's intent?"

Ratliff then led a discussion that began with the point that writing is a form of translation. The starting point is the work itself, what the artist has done, not simply how I feel about it. (This point was later reiterated by Ann Klefstad in the subsequent discussion.)

When we returned to the board room Drew Digby led a Q&A with the panel that circled around our theme from various angles.  Here are a few of the takeaways for me personally that came out of the discussion.

-- Sharon Moen said, "I write for an audience." In other words, who I am writing for dictates to some extent how I write, how I say it. Jamie Ratliff concurred that after making a formal analysis of a work the actual writing has to be restructured based on who you are writing for.

-- Ann Klefstad stated that her aim is to write about the art itself. "My job as critic is to raise peoples' interest" in the work. Her focus is on the work itself. As a writer she strives to become familiar with and really know the artist's work. The artist statement is not important to her.

-- Jamie Ratliff, on the other hand, always considers the artist statement and writings. The contrasting approaches showed that there is no one correct answer in writing about art. (Christa also reads everything, she said.)

-- The panel was asked about their approach to the large piece the rest of us wrote notes about. Jamie's theme would include something about gender and race, and about the representation of women and men. She would bring in context and perhaps reference Gauguin, Degas and the objectivization of women. Ann noted that she would discuss painting and drawing styles. Christa would write about it in the context of the show about Grief. "Always look for a moment of entry."

-- In response to a question from Drew about writer's block, Jamie stated that she writes in the middle of the night, a period of time when there are fewer distractions. Ann stated that she writes out of economic necessity. "Economic panic" doesn't allow her the luxury of writers block.

* * * *
In addition to the panel discussion we each received a useful handout that provided elements and principles for discussing art. Concepts like form, content and context were defined, as well as some general guidelines on the principles of design. Understanding principles of visual language are an integral part of arts writing, principles that help us better define what we are observing like the rhythms, patterns, visual movement, proportionality, variety, emphasis contrast, unity or disunity, and harmony or discord... all of it useful information.

My initial response to the discussion portion of the meeting was that the time went too fast, and the topics raised were interesting but insufficiently explored. I left hungry for further discussion, and believe others may have as well. The good part of this is that these meetings seem to be stimulating the possibility of greater dialogue outside the constraints of the ninety minutes we've been temporarily shoehorned into.

In short, the meetings are creating an appetite for more dialogue. And that's a good thing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Brooklyn Museum Honors Rodin with Major Exhibition on Centennial of His Passing

The power of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is derived in part from seeing all these striking works in one place, experiencing the progression of his vision as well as the scale of so many of these pieces. This year, the Brooklyn Museum is doing a similar unveiling of its Rodin collection in what will undoubtedly be a rewarding experience for anyone able to take it in. The exhibition will feature 58 Rodin pieces, honoring the 100th anniversary of Rodin's death in November 1917. This body of work provides an overview of his career from 1840 to 1917 during one of the most significant periods in art history, the movement from classical to modern.

If you recall, this period included the transition through French Impressionism that included Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, Renoir. The sculptor Rodin was a close friend of Monet, the famous painter of water lilies, to whom he once wrote: “the same feeling of fraternity, the same love of art, has made us friends for ever… I still have the same admiration for the artist who helped me understand light, clouds, the sea, the Cathedrals that I already loved so much,but whose beauty awakened at dawn by your rendering touched me so deeply.” *

Auguste Rodin, who grew up poor, was teased for his lack of academic prowess and retreated into shyness. Around age ten he took an interest in drawing and molding clay and no doubt got enough strokes from this that he kept it up and pursued a career in art. Failing to get the recognition he desired resulted in an emotional collapse after which he recuperated in a monastery. After his recovery he rented a studio and began hiring models to pursue the recognition he believed he deserved.

His best known works include The Thinker, and The Kiss. He also produced busts of notable literary figures including Balzac and Victor Hugo, indicative of the caliber of his associations. A visit to Italy in 1875 resulted in his first-hand experience of Michelangelo's sculptures, inspiring a renewed pursuit of heightened realism in his own pieces. 

Like many artists doing groundbreaking work Rodin's achievements were not appreciated during much of his life. He didn't fit the mold of what was expected, had broken with tradition and pursued his own vision. By the turn of the century, however, he was world-renowned after his work was displayed at the World's Fair.

Rodin's The Thinker may be universally recognized, but is only one of the many thousands of busts and fragments and statues he created over the course of five decades. If you have the opportunity, the Brooklyn Museum will be sharing its collection throughout the winter. Or, you may wish to make your way to the Philadelphia shrine devoted to Rodin's work, the Rodin Museum, the only museum in the world outside of Paris that is wholly dedicated to Rodin's art.

* * * *
Four Quotes for Contemplation

"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely." --Auguste Rodin

"I invent nothing, I rediscover." --Rodin

"To any artist worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth." --Rodin

"The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation." --Rodin

* * * *

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

Photo Source, The Thinker: Wiki Commons 


Friday, November 17, 2017

Flashback Friday: PRØVE Gallery Inaugural Exhibition Proves Art Can Be Exciting


18 November 2011
Last night I had the privilege of being able to attend the pre-opening of Duluth’s newest art phenomenon, the PRØVE Gallery. The collaborative project with a one-year commitment to its current location promises to bring still more excitement to an emerging Twin Ports arts scene.

The PRØVE Gallery mission is to become a conduit of powerful ideas and diverse viewpoints as well as fostering a greater appreciation of the modern arts, expanding community and providing cultural exchange. The gallery’s ambitious aims include presenting monthly shows, collaborating with like-minded arts organizations and create networking opportunities that benefit the arts retail environment.

My first impression upon arriving at the gallery was a huge “Ah, seriously interesting.”

The gallery is located in the heart of downtown, half a block up from the intersection of Lake Avenue and Superior Street. According to Richard Hansen, who serves with Sound Unseen, promoters of the Duluth International Film Festival, explained just how much work was involved is preparing the space for this event. “We didn’t even have a floor,” he said.

The artists are young, enthusiastic and serious about their work while simultaneously enjoying this opportunity to display. Justin Iverson’s Malignant Neoplasm on Steel is richly illuminated to produce a suitable vigor for those who stop to engage it. A vibrant variation on abstract expressionism, there is a fascinating assortment of colorations as a result of the application of salt, water and vinegar onto the surfaces of steel.

Nikolas Monson’s 5:30 PM in the rear of the gallery created interesting visuals due to the shadows and lighting. Monson explained the source of the title. It’s the color of sunset in October here in the Northland. Equally mysterious, based on viewer position, the piece is intended to create “the illusion of something more.”

Steven Read’s Showdown with Agassiz (below right) is designed to distort perceived space and adjust viewers’ relationship with objects in the environment. The name of the piece, along with the names of all these works, is both playful and cerebrally entertaining. I enjoyed taking numerous photos of gallery visitors engaged in conversation beneath the rubric of linear abstraction.

Anthony Zappa’s dynamic Tilt stretches into the interior of the gallery, serving as both wall and window to the space and designs within. The linear elements are wide enough apart to tempt viewers to barge through the piece but narrow enough to restrict such imposition.

Galleries like the PRØVE could not exist without the support of sponsors. And it really is great to see so many companies stepping up to support the arts locally. PRØVE Gallery sponsors include the New Scenic Café, Sherwin Williams, Sound Unseen, Lake Avenue Café and the Twin Ports Gallery. (As an aside, my father was a chemist who worked in the development of latex paints, and once was employed by Sherwin Williams in Cleveland way back when.) Thank you to all sponsors of the arts.

Tonight is the grand opening of the PRØVE Collective's newest art gallery. It is my earnest belief that anyone half-interested in the arts would be well served to pay attention to this new space, and if at all possible drop in tonight and check it out.

* * * *
17 November 2017
Tonight, the Prøve Gallery is conducting it's fourth annual exhibition and silent auction of 30 crafted skateboard decks by local, national, and international artists all sharing one purpose: building skateboard parks in our communities. The event is titled Plys with Purpose. Proceeds from the silent auction will be donated to the Gary New Duluth Development Alliance for their ongoing efforts to build a public, state-of-the-art skateboard park in Gary New Duluth.

Designed by nationally recognized skate park designer, Mark Leski, aka “The Wizard”. The skateboard park will not only give the local youth a new facility, it will bring new businesses and prosperity to the Gary New Duluth community. For more information and donations to the GND progress, please visit   For more info on tonight's event visit the Plys with Purpose Facebook pageAfterparty at The Rex.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Attention Writers: An Opportunity To Be Paid Ten Dollars A Word

November is National Novel Writing Month. It's that time of year when writers put their noses to the grindstone and crank out a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. That's 1666 words a day, which isn't wholly unreasonable. Jack London cranked out a thousand words a day. Hemingway strove to set down 500 "good words" a day, a more discriminating writer.

For most of us, attempting this while simultaneously clocking in a 40 hour work week is pretty preposterous, though not necessarily impossible with the aid of vacation days, sick days and a lot of coffee.

I recall years ago reading about a novel writing contest that took place over Labor Day weekend (if I remember correctly.) I considered giving it a go by not sleeping for a couple nights, something akin to the Rubber Chicken Theater's "Chicken Hat Plays," only slightly longer in duration. Alas.

FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH, I would like to commend to you a much more achievable goal, if you're up for it. It's a Flash Fiction story contest. 100 words. No entry fee.

The deadline is November 23, which is coming up fast. I'm willing to guess that most any writer worth his or her salt could produce 14 words a day. And actually, the Foundation is allowing us to submit two stories, so if you're up for it you can sweat out 28 words a day and enter twice!

First prize is $20,000. There are actually four first prizes, one for each of the four languages that writers may submit stories in. The other three first place winners will receive $1000. That amounts to ten dollars a word, which for most writers is a pretty good payday.

Here's another feature of the contest. Anyone who enters the contest and persuades others to participate can win $1000 as well, if that person you recruited wins the competition and has entered your identification code (which you receive once you enter.) MY IDENTIFICATION CODE IS 53421. I would be super grateful if you could use my i.d. code when you enter your story.

When you enter the contest you will see a small box for the five digit code. Go ahead and type 53421. Then, when you complete the entry you will be sent an email confirmation that tells you YOUR identification code. Go ahead and share the contest with your own followers with your code. If one of these folks wins, you will receive $1000 for being the one who encouraged them.

The César Egido Serrano Foundation is the non-profit Foundation convener of this initiative, and whose objective is to use words and therefore dialogue as a tool for understanding between different cultures and religions. The competition first prize is $20,000 for the best short story. All entries will be evaluated by an international jury of great prestige, and the finalist’s stories will be published. A maximum of two stories per person of no more than 100 words each, should be submitted from this link.

Here's the web page where I first saw the story of this contest, Aerogramme Writers' Studio.
The article includes a link to one of the previous winners' stories, titled Oysters.

Here's a link to the article that set this blog post in motion, an article that I saw on Flipboard regarding National Novel Writers Month. The author uses the contest as an excuse to share 11 books on writing, for writers. Most are in the pop category with familiar authors like Stephen King and Ann Lamott. Quite a few, however were unfamiliar to me. You might want to slip a couple onto your Christmas Gift List.

The other is a much shorter read, a link to a page of Quotes For Writers that I assembled over 20 years ago when I built my first website.

* * * *
So if you want to throw your hat in the ring, or one of Bob's, then go for it. Deadline is in seven days. I'll be rooting for you, especially if you use my i.d. code, 53421.

How much can you say in a hundred words? Hemingway wrote a story in six once. 100 words might even feel verbose. Try it, and find out for yourself.

Write on!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Local Art Seen: Robb Quisling's Common Threads at Washington Gallery

This past Saturday I stopped at Washington Galleries to attend the reception for Robb Quisling's new show, Common Threads. I'd first seen his work at the DAI where he was part of a joint show with Jen Dietrich. As I learned at the time, Quisling is an artist who also teaches (Hermantown school district.)

Common Threads carries the notion of things that bind us. but the additional variable of knots is intriguing. Learning how to tie knots is a basic skill learned in Boy Scouts. Learning how to untangle knots is also a life skill.

EN: So, what's the Common Thread in your current exhibit at Washington Gallery? What's the deeper level on this theme for you personally?

Robb Quisling: My theme for a show at the Washington gallery began a year ago. When I started working on it it was about knots as a metaphor. I love the idea of something so economical containing so much information. Knots that connect ropes to other ropes, knots that connect ropes to objects, knots that aren't functional, and tangles all seem like good thought experiments. My favorite piece in the show is called Quick Release Knot and is about the “quick release knot.” If one end of the rope is pulled, the knot stays tight. If the other is pulled, it unties easily. I describe this with an installation that offers a viewing area for each end of the rope.

As time went by and as I talked about my progress with my art friends the theme started to shift a little. Jonathan Thunder is the curator for my exhibit and my weekly racquetball partner so I was able to check in with him during the year. During a studio visit with Jonathan and his partner Tashia Hart we noticed many of my existing pieces use the device of cords or ropes or string to connect objects. The working title at that time became Common Thread. The connections are sometimes about power and sometimes about cooperation. I rely on the people in our art community to help me process information visually. Aryn Bergsven, the art teacher at Harbor City, Jeff Dugan, David Hodges, Cecilia Lieder, my printmaking teacher, Robert Ripinski and several other artists as well as my art students at Hermantown help my development. As far as art influences are concerned, I have always been a fan of Edward Hopper and I am now recently interested in Chris Ware.

EN: Who are the artists who have most influenced you?

RQ: In the 90s when my wife was in school I found a local artist that I admired and I asked her for lessons. Cecilia Lieder taught me to make prints and introduced me to the art community. I became a member of the Northern Printmakers Alliance and the artists there encouraged me to go to school and get my art education B.A. I have been the Hermantown High School art teacher for 10 years now. Although my strength is printmaking, I have gotten a huge amount of encouragement to make installation work by Jen Dietrich and Jonathan.

* * * *
Here are some images from the show, in the event you can't make it in person.

* * * * 
Meantime, art goes on all around you. Can you dig it?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Faith King on Pineapple Arts, Writing and Diversions, Thursday's Opening at the DAI

She twirls in laughter.
The world goes on.
He has stepped out of his
but still can't imagine
the way she loses herself.
A whole room can change 
with her dancing in it.

Surrounded by periwinkle
even her dark sides glow.
His world is shaded in charcoal
though when he moves he feels 
Below them lies another story, 
Unrelated, but always
on their mind...
-- Faith King

* * * *

EN: Can you briefly share your “career path”? 

Faith King: People don’t know that kind of thing these days, do they? I am currently working on my English MA Degree at University of Minnesota Duluth. This semester, I am teaching my first college writing course, and learning so much about writing and research. I’d love to teach creative and academic writing, but I am open to any position that allows me to write.

EN: How did you come to be co-owner of Pineapple Arts and what is its mission?  

FK: The previous owner of Bohemia Arts gave us the business, somewhat unexpectedly, and we just sort of stuck together and did the best we could. Over the years, people have left the group, so now it is really down to Jami Rosenthal, Lucy Meade, and myself. Then there are the members of the Figure Drawing group, and artists who volunteer to use the studio. In recent years, we have focused more on what the members desire out of the space, because the heart of Pineapple is its community art space.

EN: In addition to making art you also write poetry. Do you also do others kinds of writing? Do you have examples online?

Faith King
FK: I write poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. As a relatively new member to academia, I am also learning how to research writing pedagogy and rhetoric. Right now I am piecing together research on the importance of metacognition in teaching writing concepts to college freshmen, and will also be presenting at the Northeast Modern Language Association’s 2018 conference on the continuing relationship of rhetoric and poetic appeal. Next semester I will be focusing on writing fiction, and learning more about presentation and design through online writing platforms. There is a lot that interests me, and I am trying to get as much experience as I can.

EN:  Tell us about your upcoming show and your chief aims with this body of work? 

FK: My exhibit is Thursday, November 16, 5-7 pm at the Duluth Art Institute. There are seven local artists involved: Adam Swanson, Tonja Sell, Patricia Canelake, Joel Cooper, Tim White, Sue Pavlatos, and Jamie Uselman. I wrote poems that respond in some way to their art, and I have two pieces that I created, for which I also wrote a corresponding poem. This type of writing is known as Ekphrastic Writing, which refers to the connection between the poetry and artwork. They become a pair, as one form extends the content, meaning, or description of the other. I was introduced to the idea in my first creative writing course, and fell for it immediately.

The title of the show is Diversions, as there is a common theme of change and thoughtfulness, or letting go throughout.

* * * *
The Opening Reception for Faith King will be Thursday evening from 5:00-7:00 at the DAI Galleries on the 4th Floor of the Depot. Simultaneously there is an opening for Laurentian: Paul LaJeunesse & Lake Superior Wood Turners.

If you're able, you may wish to start your evening across the bridge where the Red Mug Coffeehouse is hosting an opening for Christopher J. Dunn's Rooster Tail Ink.

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

Image upper right, by Patricia Canelake and Tim White.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Local Art Seen: MAAMAWI @ the AICHO (Part 2)

"Nanabozhoo and the Butterfly" -- Rabbett Strickland
As promised yesterday, here are some additional glimpses of Friday evening's exhibition at the AICHO. The variety, the craftsmanship, the exquisite detail, the themes all woven together create an impression that we have in our midst a rare gift. I am referring here to the artists themselves, who continue to pour themselves out, many of them sacrificially.  Yes, there are art communities everywhere, but this one here in the Northland has its own unique fingerprints. We should not take for granted what is happening here.

If you've ever taken photos of the Grand Canyon and returned home afterward only to discover that the photos fell significantly short of capturing the vastness of that fabulous vista... well, that's most assuredly how I feel about the images here. They provide a glimpse of the works displayed, but fall short of producing the emotional weight of the works themselves. Stand before a painting by Rabbett Strickland or  Leah Yellowbird and you're drawn in.

"Winona and Nanbozhoo" -- Rabbett Strickland
"Preserving Our Way of Life" -- Ivy Vainio
"Resistance" -- Steve Premo
"Namepin in April" -- Tashia Hart

"Zigwan Binesi--Spring Thunderbird" -- Michelle Defoe
"Protect Water" -- Ellen Sandbeck
"Still Life with Blueberry Butter-Weasel" -- Jonathan Thunder
Meantime, if at all able, try to visit the AICHO Gift Shop and purchase a 2018 calendar featuring the art of these local artists.  Support the community. You'll also find a range of other practical items in addition to wall art.. and maybe get inspired to do more with your own creative self as well. 

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Local Art Seen: MAAMAWI -- AICHO Group Artist Exhibition

Friday evening the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) hosted an exhibition featuring 25 artists and more. AICHO has been enriching the region for many years, quietly serving an important and often underserved portion of our community. In recent years, their downtown facility -- formerly the YWCA building at 202 West 2nd Street -- has emerged as a significant center for the arts, blossoming like a desert rose.

The event, called MAAMAWI, also served as a fund-raising event and kickoff for the launch of AICHO's 2018 calendar. In addition to the works by 25 artists within the Dr. Robert Powless Center, the hallway outside featured the 12 original paintings and photography that is featured in the 12 months of the calendar.

Every event at AICHO serves as a reminder of the vitality of the community. Creative expression seems to be central here, and the new store within the complex shows both the variety and quality of the talent here. EdNote: Anyone who reads this (who is within reasonable driving distance) needs to make it a top-tier priority to visit the AICHO Gift Shop before Christmas this year. 

If you've never been to an AICHO art show, it often includes poetry, music and finger foods to hold you over till supper. (Many of us go there straight after work when the event is at 5 or 5:30.) In addition to the artists featured in the calendar and the gallery, Karen Savage-Blue contributed a series of pictures she's been making of crows, ravens and blackbirds. A couple years ago she produced a remarkable series of daily landscapes, small oil paintings, for a period of 365 days, reminiscent of Ellen Sandbeck's Buddha-a-Day series. Friday night we were treated to a month of birds.

Here are a few of additional images. I will share more tomorrow.

"Snake Battle"-- Steve Premo
"Sky Woman" -- Jonathan Thunder
"Moonlit Stroll" -- Rachel Weizenegger

For the record, the Ojibwe word Maamawi means "Together." 
You might say "Maamawi is the secret of our resilience."

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Make time to engage it.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dylan's Scripture-Soaked Precious Angel: Strength In Weakness

Tonight's theme on KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited radio hour, hosted for 26 years be the über-dedicated John Bushey, featured cuts from the recently released Trouble No More, Volume 13 in Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series. The theme served as a trigger to write about one of my favorite songs from that period, Precious Angel.

There are three points I'd like to draw attention to here. First, the conflict between two conflicting definitions of strength. Second, a question regarding the purported plagiarism claims of his later work. And finally, the passion that he channels when performing.

* * * *
1. Friedrich Nietzsche appeared at a major turning point in history. The modern scientific age was dawning, religion no longer a necessary crutch to help us get through the wheel of suffering known as life. The Darwinian thesis that only the strong survive began seeping into a variety of channels, including the curiously heartless 20th century concept of eugenics in which the State helps in the disposal of the unfit and the weak.

Nietzsche wrote of the Übermensch, the Superman, who would cast off the shackles of the herd mentality found in religion and forge his own way through self-mastery. This secular concept of strength worked its way into the modern mind via a variety of channels, most notably Hemingway's fascination with bullfighters, Camus' existential heroes and secular humanism.

In contrast, we hear the chorus of Precious Angel, in which Dylan cries out from the depths, "I just can't make it by myself, I'm a little too blind to see." This acknowledgement of helplessness is central to a Christian worldview that makes no apologies about being dependent on the "higher power." As the Apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, God's power is made perfect through weakness. In the chorus of Precious Angel, it's clear the Dylan "gets it."

* * * *
2. There were many critics who made a stink about Dylan's plagiarism in Love and Theft and Modern Times. Dylan "borrowed" from literature and the like without purportedly giving "credit where credit was due." Historically, however, haven't writers and artists been extracting text and concepts from the Bible for ages without necessarily providing chapter and verse? That is, to some extent, there is a measure of cultural literacy involved here? The habit of borrowing lines here and there and putting them into the Dylan mind-blender didn't begin in the 21st century.

* * * *
3. One of the notable features of Precious Angel, especially the studio recording that appears on Slow Train Coming, is the passion Dylan delivers. Looking backward, you hear it in the chorus of "Where Are You Tonight?" (Street Legal) all the way back to when a teen Dylan was unplugged by his principal while performing at Hibbing High School. His ability to channel emotion of all varieties has been a notable feature of his career as an artist. During his "Gospel period" he certainly projects an earnestness that was persuasive to his Christian followers, even if off-putting to many of his other fans. (Listen as he belts out "Solid Rock.")

* * * *
I've highlighted links to a few of the Scripture verses referenced here, not including the concepts of being blind and having one's eyes opened, or walking in the light.

* * * *
Precious Angel

Precious angel, under the sun
How was I to know you’d be the one
To show me I was blinded, to show me I was gone
How weak was the foundation I was standing upon

Now there’s spiritual warfare, flesh and blood breaking down
Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief, there ain’t no neutral ground
The enemy is subtle, how be it we are so deceived*
When the truth’s in our hearts and we still don’t believe?

Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
Ya know I just couldn’t make it by myself
I’m a little too blind to see

My so-called friends have fallen under a spell
They look me squarely in the eye and they say, “All is well”
Can they imagine the darkness that will fall from on high
When men will beg God to kill them and they won’t be able to die?

Sister, lemme tell you about a vision I saw
You were drawing water for your husband, you were suffering under the law
You were telling him about Buddha, you were telling him about Mohammed
in the same breath
You never mentioned one time the Man who came and died a criminal’s death 

Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
Ya know I just couldn’t make it by myself
I’m a little too blind to see

Precious angel, you believe me when I say
What God has given to us no man can take away  (John 10:29) (Mark 10:9)
We are covered in blood, girl, you know our forefathers were slaves** 
Let us hope they’ve found mercy in their bone-filled graves

You’re the queen of my flesh, girl, you’re my woman, you’re my delight
You’re the lamp of my soul, girl, and you torch up the night
But there’s violence in the eyes, girl, so let us not be enticed
On the way out of Egypt, through Ethiopia, to the judgment hall of Christ ***

Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
Ya know I just couldn’t make it by myself
I’m a little too blind to see
Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

* * * *

Is religion the opiate of the masses, as Marx declared? Or is it a last bastion for hope in a world gone wrong?

* see also: Luke 4, and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
** Origins of the Blood Covenant: Genesis 15:9-21
*** From Exodus thru to Revelations

For further reading see Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life by Scott Marshall

Polarity Management: Bouncing Between Busy and Burned Out

My brother Ron introduced me to the concept of polarity management more than two decades ago. He had been introduced to the idea when he was working on his Ph.D. at Temple.

Polarity management is a means for resolving contradictory forces at work in our lives or in situations. There are dozens of examples which confront us on a regular basis. Finding balance between being alone and being social, between doing and delegating at work, between being tough and tender as a parent (lenient or firm).

According to Barry Johnson, author of the book Polarity Management, "Polarities are ongoing, chronic issues that are unavoidable and unsolvable. Attempting to address them with traditional problem solving skills only makes things worse. There is significant competitive advantage for those leaders, teams, or organizations that can distinguish between a problem to solve and a polarity to manage and are effective with both."

When theologian Paul Tillich wrote his autobiography, aptly titled On the Boundary, the chapters were essentially an overview of the various polarities in his life. Theory and practice, reality and imagination, between two temperaments, between rural and city living, etc.

Recently I've been thinking about polarities because of observations I've been making regarding myself and also regarding people in organizations that I've been observing, specifically with regard to busy-ness. There's a certain kind of temperament that feels most satisfied when one is productive, as in busy accomplishing things. But busy-ness for busy-ness sake or the drivenness that sometimes occurs because people can't, or won't, delegate can ultimately become a grind.

I enjoy being busy, and find being productive to be satisfying, internally rewarding. But I've also seen where busy-ness that accomplishes nothing can become very depressing. Ultimately we begin asking ourselves, "Why am I doing this?" and unless we sense some kind of meaning in all this activity, our motivation can be sapped. Responsibilities that once brought satisfaction become obligations that are just another life burden.

In the diagram above the most fulfilling quadrant for me is the upper left where I am energized, engaged, enthused and productive. The danger comes, however, when I fail to take time to re-charge my batteries, my energy is depleted. To regain enthusiasm I move to the upper right quadrant, less busy and re-charging, but it isn't long before I feel a twinge of emptiness when I am not being productive. You only live once, so there is a subtle pressure to return to my projects.

This is one of my cycles. What are yours?

For this reason, it is essential to become self-aware. What are the signs that you have taken on too much? What are the rewards you need to keep going? Is your struggle situational and unresolvable or is it more due to the way you're interpreting things in your head? What are the clues that you're facing impending burnout?

I find it essential to make time for reflection on a regular basis. Otherwise one can start to feel like a squirrel running on one of those wheels in a cage, exhausted and getting nowhere, with no end in sight. What's the point of that?

For more on this topic read Dr. Johnson's Polarity Management.

Here's another good article by Peter Schulte.

The above is just one kind of quandary we can get into. Here are some others I've observed:

People focus vs. self-needs focus.

Pursuit of passion (activity/adrenaline) vs. withdrawal.

Purpose Driven vs. live and let live.

Busy vs. bored.

Helping too much and helping too little.

Some things just aren't cut-and-dried. What works for me may not work for you... we just do the best we can.

Meantime, life goes one. Enjoy the rest of your weekend... if you're not too busy.