Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This is a remarkable find and an even more remarkable artist, Vivian Maier, street photographer.

Thanks to Al Rae for posting this link on Facebook. It seems to me my photographer Professor, Thaddeus Holownia mentioned this discovery of these negatives in our photography class over the past while.

There is nothing quite like street photography or simply the person  like Vivian Maier, who is ready to capture the spontaneous moment. In my opinion black and white photography strips down the image in a powerful way bringing the focus on on the subject matter  in a way that colour does not. I know I may be a bit of a purist but nothing compares to black and white photography for me these days.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New Painting - The Ugly Duckling

On the 2nd of December until the 14th , I had my first solo show, "Woman Who Runs With The Wolves" at Start Gallery in Sackville New Brunswick. Start Gallery is the student run part of the larger Struts Gallery, and artist run centre. It was a very special night for me.

I have never been one much interested in aspiring to display my work in commercial run galleries. Partly due to the fact I was intimidated and not really confident. I have since demystified some of these issues and become more aware of the importance and necessity of artist run centres, where artists have an egalitarian and cooperative, supportive relationship, and the chances of power struggles and personality conflicts are lessened, if next to non-existent.

It is hard to put into words what this show meant to me. The fact that I returned to school at the age of 56 and am about to graduate this coming Spring made it all very poignant. I had a dear friend I've known since early adolescence attend, along with some other good friends that have been very supportive and encouraging to me these past three years and for this I am so very grateful, because it has made all the difference.

I have started my next group of paintings, the ongoing series, depicting my own images from Clarissa Pinkola's book," Women Who Run With The Wolves." This one is "The Ugly Duckling". It is a very relevant story I think, especially this time of year when we all want and need to feel a sense of belonging.

 "See to it now that you spend less time on what they didn't give you and more time on finding the people you belong to. You may not belong to your original family at all."
--"Women Who Run With the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Monday, December 19, 2011


I am enjoying my holiday off away from the school deadlines and traveling back and forth to Sackville everyday out on the road hitch hiking. This Christmas is an unexpectedly different one for me, but every Christmas brings particular blessings, little and big miracles and surprises, and for many of us it is a difficult time. It is always  bitter sweet because I always think about those of us that experience the season with a variety of challenges. Especially those who are in need in one way or another.

Many folks rush around, getting their underwear in a knot, stressing about purchasing gifts, aimlessly wondering the malls, going in debt for one day. Christmas is much more than one day. I always leave up some of my decorations throughout the year to remind me of the Spirit of Christmas which I want to remain, every day within my heart. Life is about our relationships with those we love, and with our fellow man. Christmas brings this all into focus.

We all have a choice as to how we celebrate the season and life. I pray to the Creator that I become a better person this Christmas and for the coming year. Because I am a person in recovery the Serenity Prayer is a very important powerful prayer and part of my daily walk in life until I am released from the earthly cord.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

School's Out On The Road

The last day of classes at Mount Allison were officially over on December 5th 2011. I still have a few loose ends to tie up and that's it for me. I am so looking forward to next term, my last before graduation.
Wow, the reality of my pending graduation and last term is beginning to seriously sink in. It's a wonderful, somewhat daunting reality and I'm certain when the end finally comes the experience will be very surreal to me.

There are several surreal moments in time that stand out for me, while attending the Fine Art program at Mount Allison. These moments in time covered the gambit from fantastic to freaky, frustrating, funny to plain silly. Suffice to say, certainly far from the bottom of the list, was stress. I admit I had a melt down or two out on my "highway of dreams".

There have been challenges that would perhaps boggle some folks minds. Frankly it boggles my mind, when I contemplate hitchhiking back and forth, from home to school and back home again, an hour and fifteen minutes away, for seven months. I did that. Some of these "rides" were like out of a page from a Stephen King novel. The very peculiar , 50 something woman, who picked me up at 9 o'clock in the morning. Considering I  grew up in the sixties, nothing quite prepared me for seeing her holding a joint in a long extended roach clip, asking if it would bother me if she lite this up. I thought, she must be smoking that rolled smoke in order to keep her fingers from getting brown with tobacco. I told her I was allergic, maybe she could put the window down, it was her car, so go ahead. At this point, I still hadn't clued in it was a doobie, until she stated she wouldn't light it up at the bridge where the road crew was working, because she was afraid someone would call the cops on her.

As we motored along, she eventually lite up and the familiar aroma reminiscent  of my fringe-hippie days gone by, wafted up my nostrils. I had a meeting that morning with my Professor. Then I thought, oh God, I am going to reek of dope and he is going to think I've been indulging. Fortunately she didn't smoke the whole thing and soon put it out, and I wasn't able to get to my appointment on time. On the way, she began to explain the details about how she was actually a twin, but her twin didn't survive and was some how, now growing out of her neck and her ribs. She then described how her ex-husband had abused her and caused her to loose the use of her eye. It was three weeks  she said, until she could get to a doctor, she would pop her eye in and out of it's socket and would wash her eyeball and pop in back in. Needless to say I was glad to get out of that car.

There are many lessons learned here and many weren't at University, they were, on the road.

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh..."

Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Use Art To Turn The World Inside Out

Thank you to Cliff Eyland for sharing this!

Beloved Works Of Art...

We were asked to describe one of our most beloved works of art of all time without naming the artist, title, or the medium. Here is mine.  

Details slowly became very evident the closer I examined the branches. There were people, faces, babies, men, women, old, young, in various stages, events, and scenes throughout life. Death, birth, love, weddings, funerals all were depicted within the huge and massive tree. It was incredible and I never forgot this experience of seeing this work of art.

I would be very interested in hearing what others have experienced when seeing their most beloved works of art.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Museum As Medium

I think the average artist and contemporary art student has a love hate relationship with museums and  perhaps often sees museums as the corporate aspect of art and artists, epitomizing the business of the art world.

In spite of the fact that our fourth year Fine Art class were able to see such a variety of remarkable and inspiring art work by numerous renowned artists, which I can not underestimate, it was however the experience of the small independent galleries in Chelsea that many seemed to be have struck by. 

There is much to be said for the small museum. Through out my youth and adult life I recall visiting odd, unusual, little, museums,  some in Ontario, others throughout parts of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.  They were always full of strange and wondrous items and treasures. Three headed calves, clothes that belonged to the biggest man in the Maritimes, the smallest woman, antique tools, farm machinery, replicas of buildings and some preserved original structures. They were fascinating,  interactive memorials that transported you to another time and place.

There is a place for the large mammoth museum I know. The smaller museums offer something very different though I believe, allowing for, the museum as medium, because of the intimate experience enabled by the particular, the peculiar, the precious and the rare. You don't get lost in the small museum, and more often than not you have the opportunity to converse at length with the curator, which enriches the experience.

I noticed in the Metropolitan Museum there were rooms, like small museums within the museum. I went to the antique musical instrument room. It was an amazing, intimate experience, and I didn't feel overwhelmed with the expanse of space and the amount of items within the exhibit. It was a valuable characteristic that optimized the museum as medium.

Last week I watched Night At The Museum with Ben Stiller, featuring The Museum of Natural History in New York City, an incredible place. Here's a funny clip  about not touching the exhibits.
I remember going to the Royal Albert Museum in London England, seeing Goya's masterpiece, Guernica and waiting so badly to touch it. The attendant very assertively reminded me to not touch the painting. I must have had that look on my face, that he undoubtedly had seen many times before.  It's the most natural thing for a person to want to do I think, or perhaps that's peculiar to artists. I also saw the wonderful dancer Josephine Baker's costumes with all those feathers. I admit I touched it!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Performance, Narrative and Art

Recently, our Art Seminar Professor Jerry Ropson asked our class to work on a project involving an interview with our fellow art students. He divided us into predetermined groups of three and four.  We were also asked to provide a couple of you tube videos related to our art practice.

The initial questions I asked, where based on the Proust Questionnaire, acting as a jumping off point enabling us to get to know more about ourselves and each other. They also lead to more questions and further discussion. We produced our own video that consisted of actual video taped interviews. I will post this at a later date once they have been edited. We will be presenting this project in class tomorrow.

Ideas On Performance and How It  Relates To Narrative:

CM  Performance I am not so interested in. I am not a performance artist, though I have been involved in  studying the elements of developmental drama and comedia del arte/street theatre in the past. I am very interested in archetypes that also run through many theatrical classical types, and how this translates into my painting through imagery of mythology, story telling and narrative.

I think we all have elements to some degree that resemble archetypes and are often played out in persona or personal masks or roles we play in life. I find this intriguing and psychologically I try to learn about the human condition, through archetype and myth in the form of story telling, legend, regardless if they are fictional or not.

RT  The line between who you are and your art, for example K and I have a lot of self portraiture in our art. Do you feel your art has any form of self portraiture? Or does it identify with who you are?

CM  Well, I can't help but feel that this is going to happen because it is an expression of yourself (art). I love portraiture and this had been my passion in the past and still is, but now my work is more about a kind of inner self portraiture. 

RT  Yes that makes sense. So does your art take on more like a narrative of the inner self then?

CM  Yes

CM Proust Questions
1. Your favourite character in fiction?
2. If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
3. Your favourite painter?
4. Your favourite occupation?
5. What's your greatest regret?
6. What's your greatest achievement?
1. My favourite character in fiction when I was young, was always Snow White. I think I wanted to be her.  I identified I think because I thought of her as being kind and sweet like her. I wanted to emulate her. She had all those ugly funny looking friends (dwarfs) she lived with but she loved them regardless and they all loved her too. They never resented her for being beautiful. I guess she is still my favourite fictional character, because of the same reasons.

2. If  I could change one thing about myself  I would like to be less of a procrastinator. This problem of procrastination directly affects my life. I can't wait around to get motivated or inspired and though I don't do this now, I still procrastinate at times, when it comes to being productive creatively as a daily habit. So that's why I write regularly in journals, it helps me to be disciplined and keeps the creative wheels greased and juices flowing. I'm not sure how exactly this works but I know it does. It has something to do with my unconscious and the right side of my brain I think.

3. My favourite painter is Andrew Wyethe, who uses egg tempera. After being able to see his work in NYC I was absolutely blown away with the masterful mark making. My favourite occupation has been being a Youth Care Worker working with troubled kids especially when I could use my skills as an creative person and working with horses as well. Animals, art and kids is one of the very best combinations ever.

5. My greatest regret would be not finishing my Fine Art degree from NSCAD. However I don't hold on to this regret, the main thing is, I am going to finish my BFA this coming Spring at Mount Allison and I am so happy and satisfied with this wonderful experience later in my later life as a Crone!

6. My greatest achievement?  I have had a few but returning to University too finish my degree at the age of 56 would be the greatest achievement to date.

RT That's funny because I did a big project on snow white in 2nd year in drawing...it was more about the romanticizing of Disney characters though and the unrealistic depiction of women etc.

I procrastinate too! I would definitely change that, or my fickleness. I'm really bad at making decisions, because I always want to do everything!

RT  How do you feel about acting on stage vs street theatre?

Do you feel like we have different personas or selves. Do you represent yourself always in one way, or in many different ways; for example do you act the same in every situation, or do you act differently sometimes..why do you think people act or in different ways in different situations?

CM  Instead of studying Comedia del arte I should have applied to Second City. I love Second City Improv! That would have been my dream come true!

CM   Street theatre is right there on the street with close contact with the audience, I love that. Anything is possible, anything can happen. I loved the immediacy improv element living in the present moment and working off of your fellow performers. I see it like the stage is more like the big commercial gallery. Street theatre is like the artist run centre.

CM  I just try to be myself but sometimes there are circumstances when you need to act accordingly. But I don't often find myself in these situations. Some folks don't know who they are, know themselves very well or aren't comfortable in their own skin and so try to conform or are like camelions becoming what they think will please others in whatever situation they find themselves in. That stinks.


KH  Proust Questions

1. I'm not sure I really have a favourite character in fiction. I don't read a whole lot and i think that with movies and tv shows i tend to be more interested in the actor than the character itself. but someone who comes to mind is Sally Bowles in cabaret, as portrayed by the fabulous Liza Minnelli. I guess the thing I'm interested in, is that she tries so hard to be this outgoing sexy type character, but you can tell that she really is putting it all on and inside she's kind of a mess.

2. If  I could change one thing about myself, the obvious answers for me here would be, to go with the appearance based things, like I wish I were taller, thinner and my boobs weren't so big. But that wouldn't really help anything in the long run, so maybe something like not procrastinating would be good for me too. i definitely do it enough. or just that I wish i could just be more motivated in general.

3. Who is my favourite painter? I don't think I have a favourite painter, necessarily. I appreciate painting but it rarely grabs me the same way some other forms of art do. I've also always had a hard time naming one particular artist as my favourite. I'll say that last week in New York City, I  saw a Louise Bourgeois sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum, that I unexpectedly loved, which gave me a new appreciation for her.

4. An occupation I've had? I haven't really had any I particularly liked. My least favourite would have to be a tie between waitressing at my grandparents' restaurant with a horrible head waitress who did nothing but take smoke breaks and tips, and summer camps for 3262247473 kids who didn't want to be there.

5. What's my greatest regret? All the things I haven't done.

6.What's my greatest achievement? Something I haven't done yet.

CM  I agree R the female Disney personas are abysmal. Though I'm not sure when I was little I thought about how beautiful she was but I thought it was strangely curious why she was living with dwarfs, and I found it lovely they got along so well and how they had such affection for one another

CM   K do you identify with that character Sally Bowles? Or do you identify with Liza Minelli? Is motivation peculiar to artists K or is there a reason you feel motivation is an issue for you personally?

KH  It might just be that I’m trying to find a way to justify using Liza Minnelli as
my answer. I don't think I really identify with her, necessarily, because she
comes from this entirely different background that i can't even begin to
understand. I guess I'm just drawn to this persona that she seems to have
created for herself. Her whole image and the way she acted from just seemed
very deliberate, and now that she's older she kind of just lets the crazy show
through. she's been through a lot, she's a tough lady.

I think most, if not all, artists have motivation problems to some extent. Then
I look around me and see everyone working and making these amazing things and I
feel like for me it is a bit more of a problem. Not just motivation to do art,
but motivation to do anything at all. Sometimes sleeping just seems more
attractive to me than engaging with the real world.

RT Proust Questions

1. I have a lot of favourite characters in fiction, mostly in Disney movies and musicals. I love the Little Mermaid and Belle. Also Alfaba from Wicked, Mimi from RENT, Nina and Vanessa from In the Heights, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, Meg from Phantom, Meg from Hercules, Pocahontas, Danielle from Ever After. That's just to name a few. I spend a lot of my time pretending to be characters I am not, like whenever I sing, I'm probably not paying attention to other people, I'm just acting in my own world.

2. I also wish I could sing/act/dance well enough to be on Broadway, or some big musical.

3. I don't look at much painting, but I saw Eric Zener's paintings in NY and I loved them, mostly because of the subject matter but also because they are very photo-realistic and photo is my thing. The paintings are of people underwater;a lot of them are falling or jumping into the water. They seem suspended in space. To me it's like the freedom I feel when I am in water, I have a powerful connection with water that I find hard to explain. I especially love the way the human body looks and feels in water. It is cool and beautiful.

4. My favourite and least favourite occupation was tree planting. It sucked but it was also an amazing experience.

5. I don't really believe in regretting things. I think you learn from everything you do and that makes you a better person.

6. I don't know abut achievement but up to this point some of the best decisions I have made where. to stay home and study fine arts here to quit tree planting and come home for my dad's birthday this summer and to go see the musical "In The Heights" in Scranton, New York last weekend.

CM  It's wonderful to look at artist  or art that can change our minds, change our art, and change our opinions!

CM You can act, dance and sing already R.. You're a triple threat!

RT  A favourite occupation? A job the would be great? Something to do with theatre and art and maybe kids.

CM  Interesting what you say about water and how you identify with that. I also am the same. When I studied Mime I learned this is the element I identify with. We really all do have an element we are most like I believe.

Regrets aren't healthy no point in worrying about the past.
Rena what do you consider to be some of the most important lessons you have learned through your mistakes as an art student over the past four years?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Jerry Ropson and Narrative Art

Our Contemporary Art History class had a special guest, Jerry Ropson, visual artist, story teller and Assistant Professor at Mount Allison University, this past Wednesday. He gave an engaging presentation of his work and discussed his ideas surrounding narrative, in relation to his own art practice. All through the presentation he referred to his attachment to his woodshed at home and how he was given the chore of bringing in wood to the wood box from an early age. He had a love hate/relationship with this woodshed. His  attachment to wood splitting became a central theme of a large part of his art work. The woodshed was a very significant part of his psyche growing up and I think has been become symbolic of his deep connection with where he is from, his family and life in rural Newfoundland.

The fact that Jerry grew up in isolated Newfoundland close knit community, lends itself to story telling, making your own entertainment, which is embedded in a strong history of oral tradition. Unfortunately much of our own oral tradition has be lost within our North American culture, with the exception of some isolated communities and First Nations people. However I think it can be said, there is a revival of sorts happening, in the contemporary development of narrative arts.

Recently I sat down and spoke with Jerry about story telling. He shared with me the experience he had doing a residence with a woman known as the Dean of story telling, Gioia Timpanelli. She is definitely the consummate story teller. I think Jerry has been influenced Gioia Timpanelli, in the sense that this has been one of the life experiences that helped him to gain a sound understanding of his art practice enabling him to bring together his personal and professional art practice. Like Kiki Smith he has learned to trust his intuition and come to understand and appreciate his family and cultural heritage that are all part and parcel of his art practice and work.

While in New York City, I saw Tony Smith's sculpture, at The Whitney Museum, in New York City. My Professor Dr. Anne Koval informed me he was Kiki Smith's father. I have to say I am a great fan of Kiki Smith and find her art to be very much about narrative. She comes from a Catholic Irish family and I find it fascinating that she considers Catholicism to be about story telling. So much of the Catholic imagery, belief in the Virgin Mary, festivals and etc., directly and indirectly comes out of the Celtic history with worship of the Goddess, relating to archetype, and mythical stories through oral tradition.

Communication, language and oral tradition I have always been very drawn to. In particular story telling has been a constant in my life, which has been for me like numerous guideposts that help to form and confirm my belief that in order to grow, we must be willing to fail and make mistakes. This is what it means to be human.  Narrative art to me is a spiritual kind of journey and is about the human experience, and human beings as story telling creatures.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Annie Leibovitz's Pilgrimage

On November 8th in New York City, I attended Annie Leibovitz’s  presentation at Barne’s and Noble Bookstore about the recent publication of her book entitled, “Pilgrimage”. This book of photography is personal exploration and a sort of vision quest, while traveling throughout America and the United Kingdom in search of things she considered meaningful to her without any preconceived agenda.

After seeing the various photos within the book and hearing Leibovitz speak, I felt the experience she had, reminded me of a book I once read entitled , “The Spirituality of Imperfection.
These documented photos were more than simply social documentation, which she has been well schooled in from her mentors, Robert Frank and Henri Cartier Bresson.

She told the audience at her presentation, “ it is out there” for all to experience. I think she is referring to the meaning in life that can be found in the pursuit of what is meaningful to each individual. Interestingly, she said the night before on David Lettermen, she took this journey to “save her soul”. She also said what motivated her was that "she needed to save herself".

Her photos invite the viewer to experience a personal glimpse into the spirituality of imperfect humanity of those famous people, who once seemed larger than life and unknown. One feels a closeness and intimacy with the rooms, the landscape and the objects she photographed and I suspect it is not because of the camera or the sophisticated equipment used, but because of the subject matter itself, and because she bothered to take this personal journey and share it with others. 

The strong element of synchronicity is apparent in this book, in that how one thing lead to another, following her heart’s desire in fulfilling the dream her late partner, Susan Sontag and of always wanting to travel to find people, places and things of meaning.

Her own personal crisis and desire to be close to her children was the antecedent to this journey.
Her photos demystifies the famous, and the infamous, giving an intimate, human portrayal, that is both beautiful and a presentation of the imperfect fragility of life, that draws the viewer into an experience and appreciation of the stuff of life.

I'm drawn to the fact she sees much of her personal and private work as being connected.  Annie Leibovitz impresses me as having a great appreciation for all art forms and expression.

Leibovitz began her artistic pursuits first as a painter prior to her practice as a photographer. Her particular passion for dance I found very moving, finding out that her mother was once a modern dancer, thus her photos of Martha Graham’s dance warehouse and her references to Isadora Duncan.

There is a sense of story telling and narrative in this work that I think reflects Annie Lebovitz’s nature, that reveals what and who she admires and loves. She photographed a variety of landscapes, rooms and items found first in Massachusetts at Emily Dickinson’s house. Here through the use of a small digital camera she stated how surprized she was that the digital photograph was very accurate representation of  the way it actually appeared, without any assisted use of lighting. Her use of the digital media is a reflection of how she considers the digital photography as a simply another creative tool, and describing the digital camera process as being the modern dark room. I must say, I was a little disappointed in hearing her say this on David Letterman however she did also remark during her presentation at Barnes & Noble that was not of the opinion that anyone could be a photographer because of the digital camera photography which she considers to be more of a generational difference.

After her time in Massachusetts she traveled to Niagara Falls with her children, where she began making  lists of places she wanted to visit, including the English countryside homes of Virginia Wolfe, Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud in London. Here she would use more complex cameras and equipment and her subject matter expanded to include objects and landscape.

While in Walden Pond where the site of Thoreau’s cabin was, she was drawn to other Concord writers like Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Throughout the book there is not a single person photographed, however it is full of portraiture and the intimate traces left behind by the people she portrays. 

Her inclusion of Beaux Arts sculptor Daniel Chester French’s studio, who made the statue of Lincoln Memorial perhaps not only reflects her interest in what it means to be American, but how Lincoln the man was never really portrayed personally in an intimate way.

 She spoke about the photos she took of his white gloves found in his pocket the day of his assassination and of his top hat which had two spots where his fingers wore the rim, as he was constantly putting his hat on and off. Leibovitz expresses how Lincoln loved to chop wood and was very precise and related the continuous removal and placement of his hat with his precise and almost compulsive wood chopping activity.

Georgie O’Keeffe was the person Annie was most moved by, and remarked how struck she was by the simple lifestyle she'd had lived her life at Ghost Ranch, lived, which perhaps convicted Annie Leibovitz, as she lives a very famous, somewhat complicated and lavish lifestyle.

More than anything the messages I went away from Annie  Leibovitz was, do what you're passionate about.
The traces left behind by those we love are a way to hold on to them, in our memory and a way to nurture and honour our own humanity.

“I would encourage everyone to make their own list,” she says. “My book is a meditation on how to live. It’s an old-fashioned idea, but you should always try to do what you love to do.” 

                                                                                                                              Annie Leibovitz

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Water Instruments, Gordon Monahan, Steve Mann

I think most people I can safely say love to hear beautiful sounds and  there have been studies that give evidence that sound evokes many emotions and responses in the human psyche. My recent exploration of performance which certainly isn't expansive, none the less I have a renewed interest in it, however I am not exactly certain why, other than for the enjoyment of creative exploration and process.

A friend a few years back gave me a cassette recorder that was old but in excellent condition. I visited an artist friend in her studio and conducted three interviews with her and on the last occasion I used the recorder to tape our interview, followed by photographs of her in an out of her her studio and now I intend to do studio photos of her as my subject matter. 

Upon my return home I immediately proceeded to play back the interview. I was annoyed because of the quality of the sound  had been affected by the recording of the machine itself. The longer I thought about  the recording of the actual machine itself, I became some what curious about it. I asked myself why? I think it has to do with the purity of the event itself machine noises and all. There for me lies the rub, the questions I thought were effective and illicited the responses I had hoped to acquire.  I thought to myself how can I  push this further, and what is it that makes me want to? After further consideration I came to the conclusion it's about sound for me, and about process, without placing value judgement on creative expression regardless of the machines technical glitches.  I have the freedom to choose to leave the noise in and use this as part and parcel of the piece or scrap it and do another. There is something curious about old recording devices even the sounds picked up of the recorder by the recorder itself. The recorder almost becomes an instrument of sorts. Sound is language and music, each tells a story.

I found an interesting video online about the hydraulophone  or water flute, which was a very cool instrument invented by Steve Mann, a Professor of  electrical and computer engineering in Toronto Ontario. This reminded me of a sound installation  Gordon Monahan  did in 1990 involving water entitled, Aquaelian Whirlpool to make music. Both individual concepts involving sound are very curious to me. They extend and push the boundaries of preconceived notions of what music is, involving combined elements of water and air. 

"The Aquaeolian Whirlpool demonstrates that the music of aeolian harps can be transposed from the medium of air to the medium of water; that the music produced in both cases is a kindred phenomenon; that the flowing of water and air is fundamental to our production of music; and that in many cases, water and air are interchangeable substances in the generation and transmission of sound."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pamela Coleman Smith and Alfred Stieglitz

Last week I was asked to do a Tarot card reading as part of a performance for the end of  an Art Symposium. Unfortunately I was unable attend. It led me to learn more about the woman responsible for this very well known Tarot deck. I have been reading Tarot cards for approximately three years now. I was amazed to find out that Pamela Colman Smith was a very talented artist with a very fascinating life. Here is the write up on one of the cards I have in the deck I purchased four years ago.

" She was born February 16, 1878, in Middlesex, England to American parents. Her childhood years were spent between London, New York, and Kingston, Jamaica.

During her teens, she traveled throughout England with the theatre company of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. Thereafter, she began formal art training at the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, graduating in 1897.

Although American by birth, she returned to England, where she became theatrical designer for miniature theatre, and an Illustrator, mainly of books, pamphlets and posters. 

Around 1903, she joined the Order of the Golden Dawn. In 1009, under the guidance of Arthur Edward Waite, she undertook, for a token payment, a series of seventy-eight allegorical paintings described by Waite as a rectified tarot pack. The designs, published in the same year by William Rider and Son, exemplify the mysticism, ritual, imagination, fantasy, and deep emotion of the artist.

Despite occasional art shows and favorable reviews by critics, the continued slow sales of her works and rejections by commercial publishers left her deeply disappointed.

She never married. She had no known heirs except for an elderly female companion who shared her flat. She died on September 18, 1951, penniless and obscure. There was no one funeral procession to honour her life. There was no memorial service to touch upon the impact her work  would one day have upon her admirers. She died disappointed that her paintings and writings failed to achieve success, yet she never stopped believing in herself. 

Pamela Coleman Smith would have all but be forgotten except for the seventy-eight tarot paintings known as the Rider-Waite Tarot pack. She would no doubt be astonished and gladdened to know that today the deck touches the hearts and emotions of millions of people.''

I found it to be intriguing to learn that Pamela Coleman Smith was friends with William Yeats and had done art work for him. As well she was the first woman artist to have her painting shown by American Photographer and Modern Art Promoter, Alfred Stieglitz, in his gallery, Little Galleries, which up until this point only photographs where ever exhibited.
Her successful show marked a turning point between the old era of Stieglitz as revolutionary promoter of photography and new era of Stieglitz as revolutionary promoter of modern art.

New Egg Tempera Painting - Manawee

This is the latest egg tempera painting I completed last night which will be included in the series I have been working on based on the imagery from the book by Clarissa Pinklola Estes, Women That Run With The Wolves. It is called Manawee, Hymn For The Wild Man.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Installation, Performance and Video

"Photography is not an art. Neither is painting, nor sculpture, literature or music. They are only different media for the individual to express his aesthetic feelings… You do not have to be a painter or a sculptor to be an artist. You may be a shoemaker. You may be creative as such. And, if so, you are a greater artist than the majority of the painters whose work is shown in the art galleries of today." - Alfred Stieglitz

I have had somewhat of a bias attitude toward installation, performance and video art. There are a few antecedents  to this bias. Being exposed to conceptual art in my early twenties, all through the 70s at NSCAD was a major influence, due to the fact that much of it I thought, was crap, and narcissistic indulgence. That's just my opinion and I am not saying it is correct or that any one need agree with it. I am far from an expert and am certainly not an art critic, nor do I aspire to be.

Much of the genre today is very tame compared to the 70s where anything and everything seemed to be the accepted discourse. 
In my opinion, when I consider noteworthy performance, installation and video artists, who's work I find compelling, the artists often share comparatively similar elements . They stand test of time, enable me to look at the world from a different perspective that challenges my thinking, and there is a continuity to them that contextualizes, transcends and possibly redefines  the past, present and future. I am reminded of artists such as Ai Wei Wei, Kevin Yates, Adam Goddard, Andy Goldsworthy, Krzystof Wodiczko, Joyce Wieland, to name a few. 

What I most appreciate about contemporary Installation, Performance  and Video art, like that of  Bill Viola, and Louise Bourgeois, is how it is utilized as a poignant and powerful tool, enabling socio- political commentary and change. Preconceived notions of what art is, are pushed beyond  confining boundaries, through the mindfulness of the present moment and process.

I am most interested in the spirituality of art work, and this is why Bill Viola appeals to me. Artists that invite and engage the personal into the public forum, can convict the conscience and nurture the soul. I am drawn to artists who lives become a large part of their art and art becomes an even larger part of life.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blue Beard

The story of Blue Beard, that Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells in her book, Women The Run With The Wolves, is for me one of the most ominous, and warns of destructive, unhealthy relationships, and entering the forbidden rooms of our psyche. It is a powerful story of warning and trusting our intuition.

I am reminded of the many John Bradshaw books I read many years ago, when I was at the beginnings of my own self-discovery. These books discuss impaired family relationships and how they affect us. It's as if there existed a dysfunctional relationship antenna, where with  closed eyes, walking into a room of two hundred people, finds the most dysfunctional person, to have a relationship ship with, among the group.  It also makes me think of the book, Women Who Love Too Much, and all the other written material surrounding this topic.

There is much more I could say about this relating to my own experience without getting into psychobabble however I'd rather just post my new painting, entitled, Blue Beard.  That said, I will add, thank goodness for 12 Step Recovery. 

This fifth painting in my series, I feel is quite successful for me. I consciously worked at my coloured ink under painting, more so than the previous pieces. My layered application of the egg tempera was a concerted effort to involve myself with the painting process. I think this is a rather vague attempt to describe my process this time but what I am trying to say is I am learning more as I go. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

William Kurelek

During my forth year critique first thing at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning past, I was anxiously anticipating my half hour and the response to my recent art work, I was presenting to the Fine Art Faculty and my fellow co-students. 

One of the faculty, the Head of the Department mentioned William Kurelek, in relation to my work, and asked me if I had ever seen the Van Halen album cover, which features William Kurelek's powerful painting, The Maze. I said no, I wasn't familiar with it.

 I hadn't thought or heard about this artist for many years, that I have so loved and appreciated dating back to the late 70s. I can't remember when I'd first knew of William Kurelek, but I was always so struck and moved by his work. 

I had written a paper on him for my Canadian Art History course, when I attended the University of Prince Edward Island, in 1975-76. I deeply admired his spiritual conviction to the Christian faith, and his subject matter completely captivated me. I was compelled by his own personal story and struggle with mental illness and hardship. He had overcome so much and not just survived, but thrived. Tragically he left this world far too soon, dying from cancer at the young age of fifty in 1977.

In 1980 when I'd gone to Toronto to study, had no idea how I myself would be affected by the ravages of mental illness, when I married my husband, also a William, who also suffered greatly from paranoid schizophrenia, and diabetes, and in a very short period of time, he would also loose his battle, and died four months after we had been married.

Today, I revisited the life of William Kurelek and perused the book I bought in the 80s entitled, Kurelek - A Biography by Patricia Morley.  I spent this afternoon searching online and found a few comprehensive sites about the artist. Two sites in particular, feature a couple of films about him and I have posted the links. I was excited to learn that this month, there has been a newly released film called, The Maze , which has been many years in the making. The NFB also has a documentary that was done several years ago by William Pettigrew in 1967.

I guess I must have missed this remarkable painting because I wasn't a Van Halen fan!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Monument and Memorial

In  my Advanced Art Seminar class we were asked to consider the idea of the monument and if we were to make a monument for whom and what kind of form would it take. 

My brother Ralph, died at the age of 59 years from having Multiple Sclerosis in 2002. He was my big brother as we were 10 years apart in our ages. Doing a monument to honour him would  be for me expressed through painting, which I intend to complete between 2011 -2012.

Considering the subject matter, there are three photographs I have of him, one alone and two others of us both together. The first photo is of him at 15 years of age in 1958, just before he got sick, holding a battery operated model airplane he'd put together. He is holding it very proudly and standing out front of our house, in Toronto, on Boultbee Avenue. He was wearing a striped t-shirt, blue jeans with Converse running shoes. He has a full head of black curls. He looked very happy.

The other photographs are of Ralph and I in Niagara Falls on a family trip. I am sitting on his lap with my orange crush pop, which was always my favourite. I couldn't have been any older than 2 years old, and he would be 12 years of age.

I completed an egg tempera a portrait painting last year, of my mother and father when they were very young and courting, as a kind of memorial monument to them and I have wanted to do another painting, honoring my brother Ralph. I had also painted a portrait of my late husband Bill. This kind of exercise is very healing and being an artist often enables you to provide yourself the opportunity to work through our personal pain and the struggles along the road of life.

My Ideal Critique

We were asked in our Advanced Art Seminar class to write our thoughts on what would be our ideal critique.

I spontaneously wrote this in class which is what we usually do, and so I didn't have a lot of time to think and so it was written a little tongue in cheek.

Considering Winter is fast approaching, my critique would take place in sunny California, where the film, The Big Lebowski was made, because I recently watched it again and it makes me laugh. I also loved the character of the "Dude ", and I am a huge Jeff Bridges fan. The warm California sun, the ocean and the "Dude" would make for a very relaxed environment.

The art exhibit would be outside under a canvas canopy, with each art piece placed upon a number of easels. Some people would be lounging on comfortable chairs with the ocean waves lapping gently to shore, as we listen to the Buena Vista Social Club, with Ry Cooder playing soft and low, in the back ground. Others would be mingling about, looking at the art work, while sipping girly drinks and good imported Canadian beer. Then the band would refrain from playing, followed by the curators introduction to me and my work.

After everyone had a good gawk I'd open the floor for comments and questions.Once those doins were all over we'd clear out the art work, get the band fired up and have ourselves a beach party and watch the movie, The Big Lebowski. Every one would be wearing "The Dude Abides" T-shirts

I know it's all just a fantasy. Honestly though after having an actual 4th year critique today in school with all of the Fine Art Faculty and students, I couldn't have asked for a better critique. It was truly inspiring, instructive and informative. There were no girly drinks or Canadian beers but lots of coffee, donuts, and great conversation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Fly Tale

I have made a miniature hand bound book, called A Fly Tale. The book consists of eight pages with
my simple ink drawings of named commonly tied flies, used for fly fishing in Nova Scotia. 
In the past three years I have taken up the art of fly tying. I am always amused by the given
names of the flies, how they obtained their name, and I find the history of fly tying fascinating. Some of my favourite fly names are Zug Bug, Yuk Bug and Wolly Bugger, and great for catching fish.
Though fly fishing and fly tying is often seen as a sport and art primarily enjoyed by men, fly tying 

dates  back to 1496, when the first book was written by an notable English woman , Juliana 

Bemers, a Benedictine Prioress, who loved heraldry, hunting, hawking and fishing. She wrote, A 
Treatyse of  Fysshying Wyth An Angle.  There was also another acclaimed woman, Orvis Marbury, 

who was considered “ the most famous but one female angling author”, according to the English
Fishing Gazette at the time of her death.

The exploration of the miniature in my Contemporary Art History class has lead me back
to my recent interest in book binding, my long time love for story and fly tying.
The combination of these three disciplines may seem unrelated and I am challenged to
understand why I chose to put them together and to articulate why I am drawn to them. I do not
completely comprehend the connection, however I believe there is a strong correlation with the
traditional handmade process.
As well, I have an ongoing interest in fine needle work, which I find both meditative and
therapeutic, and most satisfying.                                                                   

I am convinced that there is some kind of neurological positive change that occurs when we
engage in tactile, repetitive and detailed hand work, whether it be long handwriting, fine needle
work and creating detailed pattern that is both beautiful and functional.
This past year I had the opportunity to involve myself in learning about book binding and I
produced a book, telling a personal story through poetry, journaling and photographs.
I love the element of story that comes from making your own book that you can share with
I think fishing always involves story and sometimes there are interesting stories behind the
individual tied flies themselves.  A person who ties flies can make up their own names for each 
individually designed fly they’ve made, and you can always accompany it with a good story,
about that big fish you caught or the one that got away. Thus, " The Fly Tale".                                                     

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Versions of Painting Series - Women That Run With The Wolves

When I first started this series of paintings, I considered them be studies for me, as they were my major hands on introduction to the process of using egg tempera medium. I am learning as I go and it is a rewarding  creative journey involving my subject matter and the painting process.

I have posting three of the paintings I have recently done, that are not studies, but are updated versions similar to my original studies but are now new completed pieces.

After having my first 4th class group critique , I found very helpful which lead me to change a number of elements. 

I purchased a variety of coloured inks that I am using along with India ink for my under drawing. As well the wood panels are 1/2 inch 12"x12, larger than the previous studies and the application of the egg tempera is more detailed and involved. I have added to and changed my mark making and subtracted some aspects of the imagery. The above piece is entitled, Wolf Woman, below, The Handless Maiden,, Wild Woman and of Vasilisa The Wise.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Miniature in Art/Graeme Patterson

Today in my Contemporary Art History Class we had another guest artist lecture. This time is was with  Graeme Patterson. Last year in my Open Media class we had the opportunity to visit Graeme at his studio in Sackville New Brunswick.

Before I knew any thing about Graeme Patterson I did see an exhibition he had a few years back at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery. He had his Grudge Match installation piece exhibited and I can remember my initial reaction was thinking, wow kids would love this, and adults that would be  thinking back to their childhood memory of playing with miniature toys they either found around the house or perhaps made themselves, to create a world of their own imaginations. These are very magical times I think for children, and often lie dormant until someone or something  awakens those memories for us. I think perhaps this is creativity in it's purist expression and form.

Some of the most memorable times as a child were, when I would return to my grandparents home, where  in her living room  full of nic-nacs, that I would bring down to the floor, spending hours arranging glass animals and the like, into scenarios that would be played out in my mind.

Much of Graeme's work and art practice is about memory, breathing new life into days gone by, perhaps holding on to people, places and things precious to us, recreating and tracing moments in time and place, always with an invitation to the viewer, to participate in his world of life memories, that we all can relate to.

The second time I saw Graeme's art work for whatever reason, I was not that interested in his work. After hearing him today and learning about his development as an artist, and getting to know more about Graeme , the man, I must say, I was very struck and touched but his work and the passion and dedication to and for his art work and practice. His work and personality are both delightful, and insightful and a lot of fun.

Eva Hesse, Sol Lewitt, Ideas, Great Art, Artists & Stories

I found a wonderful video today on line, concerning a letter from conceptual artist, Sol LeWitt,  which he wrote to his good artist friend, Eva Hesse. It employs a great sense of fun, play, and humour, considering the benefits of giving ourselves permission to have artistic expression, free from boundaries and preconceived notion or preoccupation with, what great art is, and what defines a great artist.

I am not a conceptual artist, though I attended one of the foremost Universities where conceptual art was the modus operandi. That said, I am always fascinated by the idea behind art work and the lives of artists themselves and how their ideas and lives inform their art practice.

One of my young Professors is a story teller and a visual artist. We sat down over the past week and we discussed his experiences with story telling. He serendipitously shared with me his opportunity to take some training with Gioia Timpnellia  who has been called, the Dean of American Story Telling. Gioia told him Eva Hesse was her best friend in art school. My Professor stated that he has also been a great fan of Eva Hesse. I first became a fan of  Eva Hesse,  in my Sculpture and Open Media classes and found her work and life very compelling. Tragically she died far too young

Sunday, October 2, 2011

War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning?

I 've been trying to stay ahead of my History Through Film class by watching many pre and post war black and white Japanese films. I am always on the look out for information on and off line and of course CBC often provides a great scope of resources, that in turn leads me to writers, artists, books, and video, etc.,  usually broadening  my educational horizon.

Presently I am engrossed in gathering such material for my research paper involving historical Feminism in Japan. I am not at all surprised to see how many women are more often than not, at the forefront of protest against war, particularly in Japanese society. The antinuclear movement was initiated by Japanese house wives in 1954. These women soon collected 30 million signatures against nuclear development of war weapons. I am not surprised by this fact, because war is a man's world, that is life taking, and women as mothers, are life givers, and so it makes sense women would be involved in fighting non-violently for peace.

No where else in the world has a country experienced so profoundly, a change and fracturing of identity and what has been described as the "meaning of time" because of the atomic bomb. Yesterday I spent the day watching I think, one of my all time favourite entertaining films, The Big Lebowski and then, watched a required film for our History Through Film class entitled, Fire On The Plain, based on the 1951 novel,  Nobi, by Shokei Ooka.

These two films might seem diametrically opposed but the common link and theme, being anti-war, though, the presentation and context expressed, is extremely different. Today I happened to hear Chris Hedges on CBC radio, talk about his most recent book, " The World As It Is. " I'd never heard his name until today. He is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, a writer, past war correspondent, turned war philosopher. I was riveted to the radio and listened intently until the interview concluded. I then went on the usual Google search to learn more about him. I found a lecture he'd given in 2004, based on his book, "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning", in 2002. His writing and thoughts are, I would dare say visionary, prophetic like and I think profoundly insightful.

Interestingly he has an English degree and often quotes  and cross references historical poems and writings about war from  Keats, Greek poets and mythology. I found this very engaging because of my brief exposure to these themes while taking my Romantic Poetry class this Spring. We read many poems on the topic concerning war. It was both enlightening, and depressing.

While watching his video, I made correlations between abuse, which is about power and control and war as being about the same . Chris Hedges also makes a comparison with war and addiction, stating,

" The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug. " The correlation and connection he makes between violence and communication is disturbing.
" Violence has become the primary form of communication".
In our western world we naively believe our primary form of communication is the cell phone, online and through social media.

The implications of what he says is profound I believe, and causes me to think deeply about many of the  the statements he makes.

" Human beings become a commodity."

" Euphoria of the crowd propels society over a cliff."

" In the rise of power we always become smaller, it absorbs us and we become pawns."

" Remaining human is the only anecdote and victory."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Struts, Faucet set to welcome latest open studio artist-in-residence - Arts - The Sackville Tribune Post

In my Contemporary Art History class we had Allison Creba give a guest lecture regarding her City Mail project. It was a wonderful presentation.

Today, I had an opportunity to sit down and have a great face to face exchange with her about the importance of communication, language, linguistics and all of the issues surrounding these matters. We both agreed that without written language, culture is greatly threatened.

The work she is doing is very important and if she doesn't continue, I told her I hoped that she would write a book about her City Mail project.

Yesterday I heard Feminist/Activist Gloria Steinem say , "Without change makers there is no change ". Allison Creba, she's a change maker!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

This Is Water - David Foster Wallace

During these first few weeks of my last year of University, our fourth year Fine Art class met with our professor and my studio advisor, Leah Garnett, She coordinates all the goings on of our final year responsibilities and activities. Last Wednesday, she gave us a copy of a commencement address, written by the late David Foster Wallace. I hadn't take the time to read it, until the unforeseen synchronicity of my day this past week. I love it when this happens! I'd spent over two and a half, very frustrating hours, trying to wade through the machinations of Bell Aliant's seemingly never ending phone messages, calling several times, repeating the same thing over and over to a different person every time, to request the reconnection of my phone service and being sent on a goose chase all over town. While standing at the phone in the hallway at Gardner Fine Art Building, I'd found a copy of David Foster Wallace's address, that one of my fellow Fine Art students had left by the telephone. I thought to myself while being left on hold, I'll divert my frustration and turn it into a learning experience to avoid being sucked down the Bell Aliant black hole of "your time is important to us" and muzak vortex. Here is part of the audio of David's address, and I have copied and posted the completed written commencement address. What made it all the more meaningful, was learning that he'd suffered from clinical depression and committed suicide. His death was not in vain, as his message is a very a poignant reminder of why education really is the job of a lifetime, finding the Truth about life before death, experiencing and knowing the freedom that comes with attention, awareness and discipline. God bless David Foster Wallace. Oh and by the way, I was given a twenty three dollar phone credit for my trouble. I love when this happens.
The world of letters has lost a giant. We have felt nourished by the mournful graspings of sites dedicated to his memory ("He was my favourite" ~ Zadie Smith), and we grieve for the books we will never see. But perhaps the best tribute is one he wrote himself ... Special to MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE This is the comencement address he gave to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005. It captures his electric mind, and also his humility--the way he elevated and made meaningful, beautiful, many of the lonely thoughts that rattle around in our heads. The way he put better thoughts in our heads, too. (Many thanks to Marginalia.org for making this available.) (If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?" This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning. Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about "teaching you how to think". If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious. Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp." It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up. The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too. Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real. Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term. Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education--least in my own case--is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me. DAVID FOSTER WALLACE in his own words As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliche about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliche about "the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master". This, like many cliches, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about. By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to man-oeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college. But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera. Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates' actual life routine, day after week after month after year. But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is. Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on. You get the idea. If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities. The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way. Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do. Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to. But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it. This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship. Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship--be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles--is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing. And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving.... The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing. I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death. It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: "This is water." "This is water." It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now. I wish you way more than luck.