The Smell of Fish

September 20th, 2017

I wrote this blog last week, when we were in Swan Valley, Idaho. Snake River county.
If you missed, or didn’t have time for the brief video summary, click here.

I walk over to the river. There’s not much other for destination around here. That is, unless you want to take the longer walk down to the corner gas and grocery near the Roadhouse Cafe and the tiny post office. It’s just a crossroads of a town . . . but that walk’s on gravel road with no tree cover, so the short path to the river is better.

As I approach I smell it. Sorta like fish, or at least the smell I remember when I’d go fishing with Dad. It’s the smell of a fisherman’s hope . . . and it takes me back to Dad like no photo ever could.

It’s the first time in a long time I think of him; I give thanks for him, remember that he was a good dad. And he loved to fish. Mom used to say she never knew anybody who liked to fish like he did.

And he was good at it. He had a reputation for catching when nobody else was, and more, and bigger. When it’s that regular, it’s not just luck.

All I can come to is that he thought about it. He thought about it before he went, knowing what he’d be after, what the fish preferred, when they’d be hungry . . . like that. He was also a patient man. He liked just being out there on the water, on the shore, on a pier. If they weren’t biting, he enjoyed it still.

It wasn’t a hobby/sport/occupation that took with me. A mutual friend once remarked that Dad probably wondered where he’d gone wrong, a son that he was happy to invite along, but never really loved doing it as deeply, and less as time went by.

I remember the last time I went out with him for mountain stream fishing. Instead of a pole I brought along a pair of binoculars, just to look around, especially at things right at my feet. I enjoyed that more than fidgeting around with tackle, waiting for what might or might not be happening beneath the water’s surface, extracting a hook from the mouth of a squirming prize, or later gutting it . . . though at dinner I was happy to eat the results of the day.

The view right at the feet is almost always just as wonderous as any . . . this one without binoculars. (On both, click to enlarge.)

But though catching fish didn’t catch with me, I learned from it just the same. Someone told me once, after I saw it myself but hadn’t named it, “FISHING IS A GREAT METAPHOR FOR ALL OF LIFE.”

You prepare.

You go.

You wait.

You’re active and passive both.

It’s part luck, it’s part strategy.

Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t. You’re challenged to be content either way.

When you do succeed you don’t take all the credit; there were other forces at play.

When you don’t succeed, you don’t quit, not if you’re a real fisherman.

There are no guarantees.

Except one: If you don’t go, you’ll never catch.

Anything.

So, thanks, Dad. It was great remembering you today. I don’t know what my kids will remember me for. I hope the fragrance is as sweet.

______

PS There are a few photos of Dad (and Mom) in the sample pages of the book I did for them . . . including a classic of him fishing!  Click here.

 

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Slow Down, Hurry Up

September 9th, 2017

This morning’s view out the window. Lovely deer watching us watching them, before they ran off. Now there’s an animal that knows both, how to slow down and hurry up.

Once again we’re at one of our at least annual trips away for making art. After the long and stimulating summer at the Festival of Arts in Laguna, where Anne spent almost every evening and I did half, the break was called for. Besides, Anne wanted to augment her inventory after the satisfying sales. And me, I wanted some concerted time to explore a new direction in my painting.

We’re in Idaho, Swan Valley, in the wonderful log home of friends Jeff and Michelle Aleixo. We’ve converted their great room into a dual studio, one side for Anne, the other for me. We have music, books, books on tape; we watch an occasional video, we take a daily walk. It’s supremely quiet when we want it to be. We see no one.  Mostly we work all day, just the way we love to spend our “vacations.”

It’s what everybody needs, time to explore what’s inside and give a chance for it to come out. It’s contemplative and desultory. At least that’s one idea. At the same time it’s being ever aware of the time, of how few days there are left, right from the beginning. Just this morning Anne commented that it was already 10:00 o-clock, “The day’s half gone!”

Casting about for inspiration, I came across the work of painter Saul Leiter. I liked his approach to strong color and the almost frenetic line work in his figure studies. On further investigation, I found that he was also, in fact mainly, a photographer. He worked in New York shooting black and white fashion and journalism at a high level. But what wasn’t discovered until a decade or so before he died (at 89) was that since the 40’s and 50’s he’d been experimenting with the creative use of color. Watching a YouTube video or so I came to find how, once discovered, he made a real mark in the field, influencing many others.

He had been doing all this work “on the side,” and “just for his own satisfaction.” Most of his life, as he says, he was “an unknown.”

Another thing he says about himself was that he was “lazy.” That term was easily decried with expansive museum shows of his work in his later years, both painting and photography. But it was how he saw himself. He took time with things, didn’t hurry, let his mind do work that can’t happen when it’s always pushed.

And there it is: Slow down, you’ll do better work.  And: Hurry up, there’s only so much time.

That’s where we live . . . somewhere between those two. It’s a balance. As the writer of Ecclesiastes might have said, There’s a time for everything: a time to go, and a time to stop going.

Right now, we’re doing both. Don’t forget to do the same.

_______
P.S.  You can check out Saul Leiter on line, including a film about him, In No Great Hurry, which I plan to get.
P.P.S. Next Thursday’s Blank Canvas blog will show a little more of this Idaho hideaway and some results of our work.

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January in September

September 1st, 2017

A photo taken this year by a participant at the Huntington Beach Art League. I’d just given my lecture and was heading into my demonstration. Seems the caption could be “rarin’ to go.” A good statement for this time of life.

It’s the 1st of September, my personal New Year’s Day. It’s when I take pause and look back and look ahead. As the years increase, there’s more to look back on than ahead to, but that’s not how we’re made. It’s hope that keeps us going.

Looking back on this particular year, I’m satisfied. Not that there haven’t been blunders, things that should not have been said but were, things that should have been done but weren’t. But there were plenty of accomplishments, travels, words written, paintings painted, family nurtured, relationships formed or deepened. I’ve even composed a partial list, thinking I’d share it, but no real reason.  It’s all past.  It’s now and tomorrow I’m all about.  Just like you.

At this point in time, I’m grappling with which of my many interests to zero in on painting-wise. I’d like to say that’s new, but it’s not. I just came across this quote that heartened, by Marc Chagall:

“The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world. In this long vigil he often has to vary his methods of stimulation; but in this long vigil he is also himself striving against a continual tendency to sleep.”

To keep awake the sense of wonder in the world . . . a duty!

I’ll take that.

Here’s a story:

Some years ago, while living in British Columbia, I was strolling with a friend in his garden. He was a retired medical doctor, a devoted Christian, old to the point of needing a cane, his face a road map of wrinkles. At one point he stopped, looked at me and said, “It’s a great time of life.”

I’ll take that too.

Onto the next year!

For all of us.

______________

PS  This really happened. I was just now reading (again) a text on mediaeval history and came to this sentence: “Yet, as an old man of 74, Boniface still longed for a fresh world to conquer . . . “
What a coincidence: my age today, and my sentiment exactly.

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Allison, One Year Along

August 24th, 2017

It was one year ago today that Vernon died.* I thought I’d say just a few things about Allison.

You’ll remember the trial of it all, if you’ve heard bits now and then. Many have followed Allison’s blog, and have been impressed with her honesty and insights and strength, not to mention her prowess with the pen. Reading through it you can’t help but think there’s a book in the making . . . and maybe so . . . but Allison keeps having new ideas. It’s part of what keeps her going.

You know, if you know her at all, she’s a person with multiple talents. Her photography shows an eye and skill of staging that many professionals could envy. Maybe it comes out of her CalArts degree in theater, who knows? Check it out here: allisonmoorephoto.com.

Then she paints. Have you seen the recent series she calls “Ground Breaking Girls”? It’s portraits of women through history who have made a difference. She accompanies them with brief bios. There should be a book there too, and maybe will be.

Lately she’s been inspired with abstract painting. The photo above was the day of that birth, just a month or so ago. I wanted to paint but had no ideas so just put a blank canvas up on the studio wall and invited Allison to join me. Below are a couple of photos of how it evolved.

I could brag, with equal substance, about each of our children, and maybe I will someday. But today it seemed right to say just a few things about how this one is surviving, even thriving, one year into her widowhood.

Not mentioned are the real occupations, her two children . . . Vernon’s son Maki, and their daughter Justine. Tonight we’ll take them all to dinner. We’ll acknowledge the past, particularly this past year. But mostly, I think, we’ll talk about the future, the plans, the hopes, and all the ideas yet to pursue.

It’s what keeps us all going.

Here is just one of the walls Allison filled with her “Ground Breaking Girls” at our last show at the house. (As with all, click to enlarge.)

Here’s how our shared canvas looked after a couple of days. You’ll see we went in completely different directions . . . her’s following whims, mine a take on Jesus and the children . . . which didn’t last.

As Allison says in her blog, “the artist has very little say in where the painting will go, how it will emerge, or if she’ll even like the thing when it’s finished.” I decided I didn’t like mine and went over it with a whole new idea. In the end we cut the canvas in two. Happily both paintings have found new homes.

For more on Allison’s abstract paintings, and her state of mind as of yesterday, check out her latest blog, here.

________
* Vernon suffered a tragic motor scooter accident with a truck. He was in hospital two and a half years, never fully recovering, then died.)

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Deep Space, and my Keys

August 16th, 2017

Astronomers with the Hubble telescope, instead of focusing on some known part of the heavens, zoomed in on “nothing.” It was one of the empty spaces between stars where all was just black. They stayed on it for 11 days. What they got was the image above. It includes 10,000 objects, mostly galaxies, at least one 13 billion light-years away.

It’s the deepest space man’s equipment has been able to fathom yet, but one gets the idea it goes on from there. And on. And on.

I’m reminded of the cosmological question by the student to the Indian sage. He asked, “What holds the world up?” The sage, “It’s sitting on the back of an elephant.” The student asked, “What does the elephant stand on?” to which the sage answered, “It stands on the back of another elephant.” The student asked again, “What does that elephant stand on?”  Finally the master replied, “Son, it’s elephants all the way down.”*

Solves everything, right? Now where did I put my keys?

I like better the psalmist’s approach, acknowledging God:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?**

That’s mystery enough for me. Whether or not I find my keys.

_____________________
*   The story is usually told with turtles, but the elephant version carries more weight, (ha), and they have better memory!
** Psalm 8:3,4 (KJV)

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Blessed are the Meek

August 9th, 2017

Mongolian Miss, oil over acrylic, 10×12. She’s no more meek than the rest of us can be, but as she was just completed, she can represent us. It’s one of a series of faces from around the world I’ve been working on of late, just because they’re so beautiful.
(Double-click to enlarge.)

“Blessed are the meek.” How incredibly counter-intuitive is that? But Jesus said it, and he could because he himself was meek. He doesn’t preach it without being it first . . . submitting completely, as he did, to the will of the Father . . . telling Peter to put away his meekless sword because he, Jesus, had to go through with what God had planned.

It’s not Trump, this meekness, nor anybody else, by our own nature.

But here’s the reward: “Inherit the earth.” How blessed is that???!!!

Not this earth, apparently, or not this earth at this time. This world is still being dominated by the non-meek. But those submissive to God, would they not have God’s eye? Would he not honor them, elevate them, reward them?

And what would that reward be? EVERYTHING! The whole earth! All that they have been deprived of till then.

Meekness, it’s not just a condition to be borne, but high goal with high reward.

And an easy one, really, if we just quit trying so hard.

______
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

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The Dash

July 31st, 2017

Space and Time 1, acrylic on canvas, 57×70, one in a series of three I painted, now presented by Westervelt Fine Art in Mission Viejo, California.
Whether it fits as illustration for the brief dash of our lives, you decide.

I heard a talk where speaker Beth Moore instructed each in her audience to write the beginnings of their tombstone. First is our name, then our birth date, then a dash. That much we know. Someone else will supply the last date. Meantime, it’s the dash in the middle that makes all the difference.

Pretty brief . . . a dash between two dates.

In typography there’s an “en” dash and there’s an “em” dash, the latter being longer. Who knows which applies to our lives? Either way, it’s only a dash.

Life is a vapor. It appears for a little while and then it vanishes.” That’s James 4:14, just one of the Bible’s 48 such reminders.

Or by The Rollings Stones:

Here comes just another day
That’s drifting away
Every time I draw a breath
It’s dying away
First the sun and then the moon
One of them will be around soon
Slipping away
Slipping away
Drifting away
Slipping away.*

It’s something to think about. It’s the dash between our dates where we’re doing what we’re doing.

Pretty brief.

Make it count today.

______________

* Slipping Away by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

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The Heart Test

July 27th, 2017

World View 1, oil on burlap, 27×43

“Never take a path that has no heart in it. You can’t lose if your heart is in your work, but you can’t win if your heart is not in it.” That’s a quote from The Confessions of Don Juan, A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, by Carlos Castanada.

You probably never read that book (though maybe you have). It’s full of a wide range of quasi-reality of the hallucinogenic kind that I wouldn’t recommend to my grandchildren. But that statement was worth noting, regardless of source.

It’s something I think about, though probably not enough, the passive approach to life being too much with us.

Just yesterday I was advised by a friend as we parted, “Don’t work too hard.”

What kind of advice is that? If he really cared about me he’d say, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” (That’s from chapter 9, verse 10 of Ecclesiastes . . . a great source.)

Here’s another we hear a lot: “Take it easy.”

Take what easy?

The better counsel would be, “Whatever you do, throw your heart into it . . . ” (from Colossians 3:23.)

Take the heart test. It’s part evaluation: What is it you’re doing? And part command: Whatever it is, put your full life into it.

Here’s one: We tend to let each other get by with less than who we really are.

The friend who reminds us to “Get with it” does us better service than the one that tells us to “Chill out.”

So, what are you doing today?  Is it with heart?

If it is, as Castanada said, “You can’t lose.”

If not . . . well . . . you know what to do.

_________

PS  Those two priest paintings last post were probably too nuanced to see the difference. But one commenter did, Kristan. Check it out here.

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Judging Art

July 24th, 2017

I was at a big art festival with a hundred or so artists displaying. When you get that many, it’s almost too hard to take in unless you have some sort of measure of what to look for. After a cursory look around, I came up with my own judging system. It was simple. Just four categories:

The Best of the Best

The Worst of the Best

The Best of the Worst

The Worst of the Worst.

I’m not saying it was that easy to apply everything within those categories, many were in a class by themselves, but it helped me (and made it all a lot more fun). Here’s how I made the distinctions:

Everything in the top of the two tiers displayed a high level of craftsmanship as well as something personal, something extra, unique. There was also a measure of confidence displayed. The Best of the Best had a high level of this.

Those judged The Worst of the Best may have had a little less craftsmanship, but still plenty of individual expression.

As for the lower tier, The Best of the Worst, the maker displayed a high degree of craft, but not as much art. Often these are very impressive pieces and they get a lot of acclaim. The detail can be prodigious. They’re made by a person who can copy anything . . . and often does. The time put into each can be long and intensive. But there’s nothing extra, nothing personal, no risks, nothing for the viewer to interpret, and nothing left of the mess in the laboratory.

(Left) Father Joe (c. 2002) and (right) Father Art (c. 2012), both oil over acrylic, 44×27. (Click for larger view.)

The Worst of the Worst, of course, lacks in both craftsmanship and creativity. I didn’t see any of this at the big juried show, but there’s plenty of it being made. It may be a starting point for new artists, but shouldn’t be settled for.

By the way, these judgments had nothing to do with sales. Art may be liked by somebody and purchased in all categories. This is just my own attempt to make some sense of why I like a piece and why I don’t.

(Maybe another time I’ll write on doing all things with heart . . . sort of going along with all this.)

For the sake of illustration, above are two of my own works, painted ten years apart. By my judgment they are in slightly different categories, Worst of Best and Best of Worst. What do you think?

Or about any of this?

_________

PS Enjoying your comments. Check back to last post for how they contributed to Creativity, A Funny Thing, under “Recent Posts,” right.

 

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Creativity: A Funny Thing

July 20th, 2017

Okay, I needed something quick to illustrate my point. The painting I’d been working on was getting too serious anyway, so here she is channeling Salvador Dali. (Not to worry, she can always shave!)

Sometimes, as he was growing up, I would say to my son, the now Dr. Hyatt E. Moore iv, “Hyatt, you need to learn creativity.”

It’s not like I had a ready answer as to how, I was just letting him know of its importance. I felt it wasn’t something he’d get much in school with all the emphasis on passing tests. He was good at that, but the rest he’d have to teach himself.

Changing subjects here (but not really), one time, in the car, he surprised me with, “Dad, how do you be funny?”

We’d been at a youth event and I’d been called on for some spontaneous ad lib and got lots of good laughs all around. That’s what prompted Hyatt’s question on the way home.

My first thought was, “Boy, this kid is too analytical!” My second was,“If you have to ask, you can’t do it.” But I said neither.

“Humor,” I quickly thought up, “is the collision of two things that don’t go together. What’s produced is a small explosion, or a large one, of laughter.”

“It’s the making-no-sense acting like it does that makes things funny.”

Brief example, last week my super creative niece April visiting from St. Louis, asked: “How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb?”

Answer: “Change?”

She could make the joke on herself, being the daughter of a Lutheran pastor.

Back to my definition of humor, I’m aware that it is awfully rational for something that’s all about irrationality, but it seemed to work for the moment. It was later, when I saw him rollicking with his friends with brilliant quips back and forth that I saw he’d done it . . . he’d learned the creativity of humor.

So here’s the connection: Humor is the putting of two unlike things together, and creativity is putting two unlike things together. They both operate the same way.

And, more: One is exercise for the other.

Creativity, to me, is basically problem solving. If you’re not afraid to bring something completely different into the problem’s equation, then you’re solving it creatively.

Super-creative thinking is inventive thinking, where you think up the problem in the first place . . . and then go to work on solving it.

I’m a painter. Every blank canvas is another exercise in all this . . . thinking up some problem and then working to solve it. But I’m not only a painter. I like to think the exercise cuts across all matters of life. For all of us.

Young Hyatt’s strengths, it turned out, were mathematical. He went on with education after education finally earning his PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford. It’s all math, and the way he does it, very creative. Now he’s doing problem solving all day long.

So there it is. Whether it’s in the arts or the sciences . . . or just life . . . creativity is the extra ingredient.

It can be constantly developed. Just start with a little humor.

It’ll strengthen those biceps in the brain . . . and it’ll lighten your day.

________

PS A friend suggested things could be more interesting if I respond back on your comments. So I did last time, see “Color.

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