Here Comes the Sun

I was driving home today from a locally-situated big box home improvement center, when my playlist gave me Luciano Pavarotti’s tenor voice singing Puccini’s, Turandot / Act 3: Nessun dorma!. The sun was out. Even though the two days of sun we have had this February is more than we expect, its presence was especially welcome.

Later in the morning, I came across a poem by Molly Fisk, Winter’s Sun. The first line says, “How valuable it is in these short days…”. There’s the sun again.

These little life situations can be conjoined in such a way that it seems there must be a definitive, bigger meaning behind it all.

What could it be? Joy?

At that conjunction, I was not inspired to create particularly. And I was certainly preoccupied with my home repair list. But I did feel a greater modicum of joy.

I thought about it and could find no relation between the melodies of Turandot, sunshine, or driving. It’s quite possible that it was a cosmic alignment of elements, and I was the only junctional point.

The point may be that there IS no point other than the very sweet gift of realizing that, for that moment, I was traveling through a poetic landscape.

In Northern Michigan, the rare winter’s sunshine never goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

There are times that all we need to fully realize is that we should sit up and take notice.

We don’t even need to be paying attention. All we do need to do is acknowledge it.

Signature Required

“I’m known by many names, but you can call me Zorro.

[Que the music]
Out of the night, when the full moon is bright,
Comes the horseman known as Zorro.
This bold renegade carves a Z with his blade,
A ‘Z’ that stands for Zorro.”

Before I knew anything about making paintings, let alone signing them, I knew Zorro.

Remember when a signature used to mean something? The last time I had to make my ‘mark’ when checking out at a store, I signed with a smiley face…and it was accepted. 

I wonder the significance of signatures these days — except when it comes to artwork. People are often quite interested in an artist’s signature, right alongside the art itself. But for some of us, signing our artwork can be a trying experience at least. That final act of marking a piece of art as our own.

The fact is, I generally dislike that act of signing my paintings. But I do it because the signature does matter. A lot.

I’ve been signing my paintings, drawings, and monotypes the same way now for the better part of 40 years. Something about this last year told me it was time for a change. Could it be that my old one was illegible? Maybe it was just time for a change or just a little bit more clarity.

Like Zorro, I am known by many names, but don’t call me Zorro.

Work Your Fingers to the Bone.

The country-western powerhouse Hoyt Axton and Renee Armand penned what could simply be a perfect song. What is a perfect song? That’s a big big question and it is not my purpose to discuss that here today. Maybe another time.

Work your fingers to the bone. Whaddya, get? Boney fingers, boney fingers.” The world doesn’t always see us artists as the most hardworking kids on the block. Conversely, many artists that I know will work manically to solve an artistic problem, like making a perfect painting. Not at all unlike writing a perfect song I might add.

In this ultimately sing-alongable homage to the struggle, the lyricists Axton and Armand also included this hopeful line, “Maybe things will get a little better in the morning, maybe things will get a little better.” 

Things might and then again, they might not.

Not to be a downer, but that hope makes me think of the number of times I have been struggling with a painting and I wrongly think that if I just keep moving enough paint around long enough that my painterly mess will somehow resolve itself. It’s a little bit like the mistaken idea that if one were to put 100 chimpanzees in a room with 100 typewriters that eventually one of them will write Hamlet.

Maybe it isn’t about just working our fingers to the bone.

Making art is work, and we definitely need to put in our time and do it. That having been said, there is much more to it than simply grinding it out. 

Each of us has a process by which we access our artistic realm that feels right and maybe more times than not it works out to render a successful outcome. 

For some, the process may include direct observation of nature, for others, it might their imagination, dreams, or even math. What inspires us and what helps us to be in the right headspace to create is so personal. It is a goal as important as learning to draw.

So, while I am likely to sing, “Maybe things will get a little better in the morning.” Like the songwriters of this perfect song, I think it is just an empty hope without the necessary intention and practiced process.

What’s Art All About Alfie?

If a tree falls in the woods, does it make any noise if no one is there to hear it? It probably does, but how can we know? We can’t be absolutely sure, can we?

Science tells us that in order for there to be a rainbow, there must necessarily be three components: mist, light, and someone lined up at just the right height and angle to perceive it. If any of the three is missing there is no rainbow.

So what about art?

What the viewer brings to art is what makes the experience unique for every viewer. This is why we can go back to the same museums and look at the same paintings and sculptures year after year and always have an enlightening experience. It’s not just that we are looking at great art. In-between visits we change and end up bringing a whole new and evolved version of us along to interact in a new way.

As artists, we often mistakenly think our art is about us. Of course
it comes from us, and is probably about something we care deeply
about. But at some point it leaves our studio and is out of our hands,
and is simply out of our control — at which point the work becomes all
about the viewer.

What the viewer brings to a piece of art is what allows that art to
live on beyond the walls of our studios. I heard it said that even
non-representational art is figurative when we consider that the
viewer actually becomes the figure in the art when we look, feel, and engage with it.

A large part of an artist’s job is to provide a new lens for viewers
to see their world through. We are metaphorically spraying a watery
mist in front of the light source in such a way that whoever comes to
experience our art will see things that we probably never saw in it.
Connecting with the art in this way may even alter their relationship
with the world around them for some time.

Regardless of what artists have in mind, or what their chosen subject
is, and no matter what the artist’s statement says, art ultimately is
about the viewer.

As long as people continue to be like snowflakes, then our
relationship with nature, each other, or whatever, will eternally be a
blizzard of unique and wonderful interactions.

What’s Next?

I remember the feeling of accomplishment. And in this case, one more of those all-important items on the checklist of life that said you were one step closer to being a real adult. I had done what was necessary to be able to grab the brass ring — getting my family to Disney World.  

I had saved enough to get my young family to that Orlandoian mecca of American love with everything faux, and I was admittedly excited to be waiting in line for Space Mountain with our first son — who happens to share my name. Standing there hand in hand with him was nearly a Norman Rockwell moment until my little guy asked, “What’s next?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“What are we going to go on next?” he asked.

He had no way of understanding what it took for us to get to that point. I was enjoying the moment of anticipation of getting on this ride and enjoying sharing the excitement with him.

I looked down at him with a grin and shrugged.

The conversation we’ve all been hearing the last couple of months has been about what’s next. This has to be over…2021 will be great and all our troubles will be solved. I totally understand the sentiment, I really do.

One thing this year has given me is an opportunity to really be present with the things that I can actually do something about and let go of a lot of things that I can’t do much if anything about.

What’s next? I can’t say, but…isn’t this snow amazing?