HARMONY: Sounds Of Comity & Chaos

When I posted this illustration on Facebook earlier this week, a visitor asked, ’What’s happening here?’ I promised a brief response via Imaginarius that I hope will suffice:

At first glance, the elements that comprise this image make it appear to be an illustration meant to accompany a Chinese folktale. Yet, it is more. While this genre of folklore does feature bronze bells in some of its stories, this image is specific to none of them. 

Inspired by a collection of ancient bronze Chinese bells seen at the Cleveland Museum of Art some years ago, I sketched out a rough idea for ‘Harmony’ in one of my journals, imagining the dramatic sounds these bells might have made in their original context and what cultural values they might have represented. Here is the sketch:

Some initial research opened a vast trove of information about Chinese culture, religion and philosophy. Since I am not a scholar in these areas, I was sufficiently overwhelmed and reluctantly allowed that rough sketch to remain in my files with no strong incentive for further development. 

Then, the pandemic struck with all of its attendant fears and anxieties. Amidst the enforced isolation, I came to acknowledge my ‘mostly retired’ status (from 50+ years of freelance illustration) and made the decision to begin developing ideas that had long sat on my creative back burners. In a recent post, I showcased several of these ‘Quarantine Journal’ images

https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2021/09/21/if-wishes-were-wings/

Harmony is the latest in this series of works, unrelated in content to the others but united as products of the psychological and physical turmoil of this period in our history.

In addition to the title (Harmony) of this image, the three bells were meant to represent modesty, integrity and unity from the twelve core values in Chinese culture. I chose these from among the others (prosperity, democracy, civility, freedom, equality, justice, the rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity and friendship) to remind us of how minimally these exist in our own current culture.

The tiny junk (Chinese houseboat) is a symbol of mundane daily life about to confront an ravenous mythical dragon with an insatiable appetite for political, environmental and moral dissolution whose by-products are tragedy and chaos.

In sum, I propose that ‘Harmony’ is a wake-up warning to clean up our act for the sake of our future and that of our planet. And therein is a folktale for our descendants, may they live and thrive. Our ancestors are counting on us.

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