Posts Tagged ‘Art’

The Simple Truth?

May 4, 2020

 

TRUTH-ELLIPSE-FLAT.jpgIn mainstream and social media, truth is frequently distorted or labeled ‘fake news’ and propagated by those with shadowy ulterior political and/or financial motives who view our well-being as an inconvenient roadblock to those motives. In 1994, I wrote this little story for my ‘Visual Fiction’ column in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that now seems naive, yet strangely relevant…

Everything Midas Moodle touched turned to gold.

Well, not literally; that’s just what the financial media gleefully trumpeted since the software entrepreneur was the most successful man in Wall Street history. Everyone wanted to be his friend and though he was nothing to look at, he suffered no lack of beautiful women. When he wasn’t attending board meetings or scanning spreadsheets, Midas indulged in fits of arcane software coding, ‘just for fun’ he told himself. Of course, he knew these electronic forays always became mega money-makers. Yet the King of CrabApple Computers was profoundly unhappy.

One day, in his office, as he scuffled despondently down the information highway, he heard something crunch beneath his mousepad. Cautiously lifting its corner, he discovered a half-eaten fortune cookie, its fortune still intact. Brushing away the crumbs, he read the simple words that would change his life forever: “Seek The Truth.”  

“Hmmph.” he muttered, then sat back and munched the cookie for a moment. Moodily, he reflected that as his empire had grown, the truth had quietly disappeared from his life. Midas had long ceased to worry about it as lies and unkept promises became the coin of his realm. Would my legendary ‘golden touch’ have survived otherwise?” he wondered. Impulsively, he decided to find out. Pouncing on the escape key, he veered off the internet and headed home.

Creeping impatiently through rush-hour traffic, Midas made up his mind to follow the cookie’s advice. Speeding up the labyrinthine driveway to his palatial estate, he headed for his home office where he sealed the slip of paper into a plastic amulet which he placed around his neck. He packed a small valise, then arranged to distribute his worldly goods to worthy causes. Finally, without a backward glance, he set out to scour the four corners of the earth, leaving no city, town or village unturned in his search of the ‘truth’.

Then, in the seventh month of the seventh year since he’d left home, he heard about a cave in a distant mountain where a strange old woman and her companion had lived for longer than anyone  could remember.

Laboring up the mountain towards a grassy plateau, Midas was unprepared for the chilling sight of a ghost-like figure that seemed to float towards him enveloped in an odd but compelling fragrance. Involuntarily, he shivered, then gazed curiously up at a tall, gaunt woman in a shabby grey tunic beneath a colorful, intricately patterned shawl. Bright azure eyes shone from a wizened face scored by a thousand wrinkles and framed by long, wispy white hair. The entrepreneur listened awestruck as her nearly toothless mouth parted to release a clear musical voice that welcomed him to her humble home.

Because Midas Moodle hadn’t a clue as to whether ‘truth’ was something tangible or merely an idea, he introduced himself and humbly stated the purpose of his quest. The strange old woman glanced shrewdly at his fortune cookie amulet with an inward smile and settled delicately onto a throne-like rock.

“Mr. Moodle, I am Truth”, she began. You simply didn’t recognize me because I left you years ago. You had no need of me as I appeared, naked as Eve in Eden without her fig leaf. At first, my plainspoken manner frightened and annoyed you. Later, as your lies grew more fanciful, I tried to embarrass and scandalize you but to no avail. You pretended that I didn’t exist, condemning me to a lonely eternal life. Midas cringed with guilt.

“Then one day,” she went on, “as I wandered sadly down an alley, I was nearly knocked over by an elegantly dressed fellow whose name turned out to be Parable. He apologized profusely. Then, noticing my wrinkled birthday suit and miserable slouch, he abruptly frowned, “Is there something I can do for you?” he asked solicitously. Sunk in self-pity, I wiped away a tear and moaned, “Oh, I’ve become so old and grungy that no one wants anything to do with me!”

“No kidding,” he sniffed delicately. “Forgive me for saying so, but your breath smells rather like a sewer, too. Anyway, listen; no one cares if you’re old! Look at me,” he preened. “I’m just as old as you are. Why, the older I get, the more attractive and interesting I become! Want to know my secret?”

I nodded half-heartedly.

“Well,” said Parable, “I’ve found that people just can’t handle a naked, truthful idea, but they’ll always entertain one that’s dressed up and smells good!” “Here, I have something for you.” From a deep pocket in his fine velvet cape, he drew out a packet that held a beautiful shawl and an atomizer of Eau de Mystique. “Here you go,” he patted my bony shoulder and turned around so I could try on his gifts. “Ah, that’s much better!” he smiled approvingly.  He then offered me his company and ever since, Parable and I now travel everywhere together! You see,” she continued, “When a truth cannot be told or accepted, we work our magic to make it easier to tell and a bit less painful to accept.”

“Will I ever see you again?” Midas asked hopefully. Truth laughed a lovely musical trill. She had divined that the entrepreneur, having lived without her for so long, wasn’t really sure he wanted her back. “That all depends on you,”  she answered. “We travel as a team, so you can summon us whenever you wish! By the way,” she added, “Don’t worry about your ‘golden touch’. When you employ our services, it will probably glow brighter than ever!” Sighing with relief, Midas admitted, “I’m so tired of living my life in virtual reality; lying and making promises I can’t keep!” “I know,” Truth nodded gently. Then she turned and chirped sweetly at the cave entrance.

An ancient man in an Elizabethan doublet and a russet velvet cape emerged. His deep green eyes and smile were those of a wise child as he quizzically regarded his companion and their visitor. With obvious affection, Truth introduced Parable and explained the nature of Midas’ quest. Parable tilted his head sympathetically and offered a taste of his own wisdom…

“Once you believed that lies were the only coin of your realm,” Parable said, “but you’ve forgotten that your coin really has two sides; truth and lies. Each side can be useful if the coin is flipped with good intentions! The choice was always yours to make!” “But,” he winked, “from now on, when you must tell a lie, remember that it will only be convincing if you mix in a little truth with it!”

Midas stood quietly for a long moment. Then, with a dawning sense of déjà vu, he understood that truth and lies had always been folded inside of him, rather like the fortune in the cookie.

At last, Truth and Parable said to their guest, ” Well, Mr. Moodle,  have we been of help in your quest?”

“Oh, yes!” Midas enthused, feeling reborn. He cordially thanked his hosts and promised to engage their services regularly. As he prepared for the long journey home, a worried expression creased the entrepreneur’s high forehead. He turned to Truth and Parable. ” I was a very wealthy man once,” he said, but thanks to you both,  I’ll be rich again soon enough. Is there anything I can do for you in return?”

Truth pursed her thin lips thoughtfully, shaking her head. But Parable, whose face crinkled mischievously, leaned over to whisper something in his companion’s ear.

Finally, her eyes glittering, the old woman answered, “Oh, okay. You can do just one thing for us. When you speak of us to your friends, tell them that we are as young and beautiful as a god and goddess!”

 

 

Evolutionary Amnesia?

April 9, 2020

BY our own estimates, human evolution has made vast progress over the millennia in our dominance of Earth as a species; particularly in the development, capacity and intuitive functionality of our brains. Which leads me to question, why, as clever and technologically astute as we have become, even in the face of historically evident patterns, can we not learn from our mistakes?

Inevitably, I have more questions than answers.

Driven by our good and evil inclinations, we repeatedly experience periods of war or peace as we veer between prosperity and paucity. Although we are now engaged in battling a global pandemic, this is not a traditional theater of war with a clearly visible, organized enemy; unless you have access to a scanning electron microscope and a fully equipped lab to make sense of it.

However, our conflicting responses to it make me wonder about that ancient argument of free will vs. determinism. Given my penchant for science fiction, are we ‘pre-programmed’ to behave this way by some incomprehensible ‘entity’? And might that ‘entity possess a dual nature that encompasses both good and evil that eternally vie for dominion over us?

Perhaps we were created to evolve with a ‘bug’ in our neural coding; ostensibly to help us navigate our way through life’s physical environment, develop civilizations and address the bombardment of misleading or insufficient information in each generation? For lack of a scientific term, have we dubbed this ‘bug’ ‘free will’?

Or, perhaps our overactive imaginations are merely a random side effect of our physical evolution? Since I have no philosophical or scientific creds to bolster technical arguments for either idea, my curiosity and incessant reading habits of both secular and religious literature will have to do.

I suppose that my religious beliefs urge me towards determinism but depending on the circumstance, I occasionally waver between the two ideas. And here is why:

In each go-round, we are presented with chains of man-made and/or environmental events that soon result in reduced populations, prejudiced political dogma and sometimes polemic leadership. The latter rises by promising that life will surely improve going forward under their watch (which it may briefly do). Still, when negative situations arise, our response remains confined to predictably static phases: denial, then outrage and finally, surrender to performing damage control while bemoaning our fate.

For centuries, historians have documented this cycle of events with their often tragic denouements yet offered only theoretical remedies for them.  Such remedies, beholden to hindsight rather than foresight leave us trapped in the disasters we’ve created through our complaisance, economic manipulation and deadly political mischief.

It would seem that while we have dramatically evolved physically from our knuckle-dragging forbears, we have remained psychologically frozen as teenagers; prone to impatience, addicted to excitement and often intolerant towards others.

Holocaust denial may be one of the most cited examples of this idea despite the copious historical evidence and heartfelt efforts of the few remaining victims of its atrocities. Nevertheless, in succeeding generations, individuals arise with a superficial understanding of Nazi culture and its role in these horrific events yet they know enough to twist the facts or form groups of like-minded acolytes in order to activate its worst malevolent characteristics.

Many years ago, this idea struck home when I was commissioned to draw caricatures by a local department store (remember those?) during the holiday shopping season. Taking a break, I was watching the zombified shoppers wander through the glittering aisles, when a young teenaged boy approached my table asking if I would draw him. Sure, I said. Then I noticed that he had inked the sign of a swastika on his hand. Not wishing to provoke a confrontation, I asked innocently as my eyes narrowed involuntarily. “What’s that?” Without hesitation he explained proudly that it was a sign worn by a group of his ‘friends’. “Oh,” I said. Never one to let a teaching opportunity pass, I further inquired, ” Do you know what it means?” “Not really,” he shrugged. ” I just did it because they said it would be cool.” “Uh-huh” I nodded, then proceeded to give him a brief but graphic history of the Holocaust. As I explained, I watched his face drain of color and without a word, he raced to the men’s room. Upon his return, he waved his hand in my face. “See?” he crowed, I scrubbed it off! I think I need to find some new friends!” In common social media parlance, SMH.

So, considering our long, fraught history (the ‘woke’ teenager notwithstanding) , to what extent does free will ‘bug’ exist, if it does? Do we not learn from our mistakes because in order for evolution to continue its mysterious trajectory, each iteration of humanity must be doomed to make its own mistakes? And could this be why ancestral wisdom gets poorly translated and/or misinterpreted in succeeding generations? Or, in simple street terms, does sh*t just happen?

I realize that this essay opens a pungent can of worms, but it’s just my opinion and I’m truly curious as to what you think…?

 

Looking Backwards To See Forward

March 17, 2020

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The idea that history repeats itself is not a new one, except when its lessons come back to bite us. So I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at the rapid rise of the current coronavirus. Sure, we’ve all had our fill of constant media fear-mongering mixed with coping advice and though I don’t wish to downplay its seriousness, I have been particularly concerned because of late, a strong childhood memory has been haunting me…

As a child, I was made sharply aware that other children I knew had grandparents because my own maternal grandmother had been gone for a very long time. As a young, newly arrived Eastern European immigrant, she had been one of the millions of victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic or Spanish flu.

Although my grandfather had soon remarried, I was told that his new wife had treated my three-year old mother and her older brother cruelly. They were then brought up by my great aunt. Bitter at having no children of her own, she loved them in her own way but mostly tolerated them out of a sense of duty.

I remember being sad much of the time at having no close, extended family because although my paternal grandparents were still living, I had little physical contact with them due to other family dysfunctional relationships beyond my control at the time. Still, there  are times that I imagine hearing their voices arguing or cursing in Yiddish at each other and times when I can hear their softer tones expressing worry and affection.

Nevertheless, my brief experiences with those generations were surely part of the alchemy of who I’ve become whether through the mystery of memory or genetics.

Now that I am grandmother, those early memories have become more relevant since I am squarely within the demographics of those most vulnerable to Covid-19. With my own history of respiratory ailments and our grandson in pre-school, my husband and I have spent much of the past several months fighting off a repeating cycle of common colds courtesy of that pre-school environment.

Even as age brings a certain acceptance of so much that is beyond our control, particularly illnesses put in our path by global events, I find  that it is also important to search for spirituality, humor, positivity and beauty in our lives and allow it to mitigate these concerns. Accordingly, I’ve just published my new book, A Visual Amidah: An Essence Of Prayers & Blessings. The Amidah is my visual interpretation of the set of 19 prayers and blessings that form the core of the Jewish worship liturgy.

The book includes an artist’s preface, a brief history of The Amidah and artist’s notes on the intent of each prayer and blessing with explanations of the imagery chosen for each. Size: 8 x 10 inches Price: $36.00 To Order Your Signed Copy, visit: http://magiceyegallery.com/BookPage.aspx?id=1011

The book cover is shown below and the illustration shown above accompanies the ‘Elokai Netzor, a  prayer offered at the conclusion of the three-times daily recitation of the Amidah. In it, an ethereal angelic messenger reveals the dual nature of our choices for speech and behavior with the Hebrew letter ‘peh’ (which translates as ‘mouth’) and a mirror image of itself. The ‘peh’ at the right represents ‘loshen ha-ra (evil speech that may lead to evil actions) while the ‘peh’ on the left represents ‘loshen ha-tov’ (good speech that may lead to good deeds). The presence of the messenger indicates that all words have consequence since Gd hears, feels and responds to the effects of both.  I wish you all good health and safe passage through these perilous times. Take care!

 

 

 

 

 

Between Heaven & Earth: Availability Update

January 14, 2020

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Dear Readers:

I’ve noticed that many visitors to Imaginarius have attempted to locate or order my book Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) via a link that no longer exists. I’m sorry to say that this book is no longer in print, nor has it been re-issued.

HOWEVER, I do have a limited supply available through my online Magic Eye Gallery! If you wish to order an inscribed, signed copy, please visit: http://magiceyegallery.com/BookPage.aspx?id=2 

You may also email me at the gallery site if have a special request: http://magiceyegallery.com/Contact.aspx

Your other option, though it will not be signed or inscribed, is to order through Amazon: https://amzn.to/387lUsu You can read  reviews at Amazon, too.

Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary makes a unique and thoughtful gift for birthdays, Bar/Bat Mitzvot or special occasions. I hope you will check it out; supplies are limited!

Best Regards,

Imaginarius

ps. Here are some of the interior illustrations:

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A Cure For Pessimism?

August 14, 2019

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Amidst the daily deluge of corrupt politics, death and disaster in the mainstream and social media feeds, I sometimes imagine being a passenger in the boat steered by the mythical Charon whose eternal task was to guide newly deceased souls across the dark River Styx* to their destination in the Underworld. These journeys were long and fraught with terrors, but these were a mere preview of what lay ahead in the Land of the Dead.

Medieval Woodcut Print from Johannes Grüninger's 1502 Edition of the Aeneid 

Photo Credit: danielgoodantiquarianbooks

Of course I’m being a bit melodramatic, yet keeping our heads above those fearful waters is a challenge we have faced for millennia as we watch and often suffer as world leaders cycle their countries through endlessly alternating phases of constructive good and deconstructive evil. As I suggested in my previous essay, The Nature Of Evil, (https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/on-the-nature-of-evil/), we are now firmly embroiled in the toxic immorality that informs evil, courtesy of numerous would-be dictators, their sycophants and their noisy ‘populist’ governments. I am not a scholar of history or politics, so I can only write as an aging observer regarding the inevitable phenomena of life and death that occur in tandem with both.

Armchair philosophers often post sentimental images and feel-good bon-mots at online venues in contrast to proponents of subcultures that revel in the certainties and vagaries of death proudly displaying memento mori as death’s head tattoos, arcane body modifications, clothing and jewelry. Ironically, I find this demographic interesting because I suspect that life is actually being celebrated here with such dark symbolism acting as an apotropaic ward against death.

Much is made of Death and the idea of it in the collective imagination whether it arrives via age, disease, accident, murder, ‘acts of god’ and nature or war and punishment for criminal acts. We variously honor it, celebrate it, welcome it or mourn for those who succumb to it via any of those vectors.

The Gaming Of Life & Death: from AIRPLAY: A Catch Of Jugglers (Imaginarius Editions, 2018)

 

The fear of death has been anthropomorphized to enhance or accompany the human dread of its occurrence. Legends and myths (like the illustration here that visualizes an ancient Egyptian concept of cosmic judgment) have been formulated to explain and assuage fear of it as though it were something that was subject to human influence or control. When it isn’t exploited for political gain, religion, too, helps us cope while encouraging us to live and live well.  

Even those who choose death over life when life becomes too challenging to endure overestimate their own importance as though their own death will matter beyond someone’s casual perusal of a printed obituary or a silent pause in subsequent conversation. Why? Because Death is indifferent; to wealth, fame, brilliance, youth or age. It merely has a job to do. And that job is to fill a blip in time, to punctuate the continuum, the vast, incomprehensible cosmic thread that serves as the referee between order and chaos. 

But lest you think my observations are meant to be discouraging or depressing,  I should note that any discussion of death must include the rationale of those who believe in the concept of a life after life, a ‘ world to come’ so to speak. Having read several ‘testimonial’ accounts (from an array of writers, including a well-respected neurosurgeon), that offer rational-sounding evidence of such a realm, I can only say that I am comforted to imagine that death is not the end of us and that the unknown is not necessarily to be feared. 

So, while many notable religious sages have put forth the idea that each day is a new chance to correct our errors and enhance our legacies, these words alone will not cure the world’s pessimism. In each of our actions, we have the ability to choose between positive and negative thoughts and enact behaviors that characterize either of these if we make ourselves aware of the consequences. 

I am only one person and have no medicine or cure for what currently ails the world, but I do know this: our existence will have merit if we can compartmentalize the world’s ills and choose to live, laugh, let live and be kind to all who aren’t or who don’t seem to want it.

If I can manage to make those sentiments complement the creative work to which I’ve devoted my life, well, so much the better. 

*https://mythology.net/greek/greek-concepts/river-styx/

The Incredible Slowness of Patience

August 22, 2017

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As I worked to complete the final drawings and haiku for Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation, I learned about Tim Pearce, Ph.D, the Assistant Curator of Molluscs at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, here in Pittsburgh. When I contacted this walking encyclopedia of snail facts and lore, I was pleasantly surprised at his accessibility and eagerness to talk about the intricacies and nature of his favorite subjects. When I told him of my book in progress, we made arrangements to meet at his department for a private tour of the museum’s vast holdings of snails, shells, and other obscure, mysterious forms of life beneath the seas.

Here is a photo of the Snail Man himself wearing his favorite hat!

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And what a collection! Giant conch shells once used as trumpets by ancient island tribes to gather their people for special events or war:

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many varieties of cone shells that had contained carnivorous snails who project a tiny dart from their bodies that are loaded with a compound containing 50+ different toxic chemicals! Their shells are very attractive but don’t get too close,  Mr. Pearce warned.

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We think of snails as carrying their own houses, but this chitons’ shell reminded me of a knight’s armor or shield!

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Their names are a mouthful to pronounce but these Xenophoridae or carrier shells are worth a closer look for their ability to disguise themselves in the deep seas against predators by secreting a sticky substance which they use to glue many abandoned shells to themselves as camouflage! Below is the Xenophoridae spread from Codex Gastropoda which I’ve envisioned as a gathering place for a summit of snails:

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Finally, I was introduced to Tony (i), a snail whose name Tim spells with both an ‘i’ and a ‘y’ because this tiny creature is an hermaphrodite; it hosts both male and female gender characteristics. If you can be patient for the three minutes it takes for this little video clip, you can see tiny Tony (i) emerging from his/her shell! Just click on this link to view the video:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/7spialg7hn0fj8b/TimPearceSnail-Trimmed.mov?dl=0

I have a small edition of Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation (Imaginarius Editions, 2017) available for preview and purchase with credit card or Paypal for $30.00 at my Magic Eye Galleryhttp://bit.ly/2vzsSTM or at my Etsy shop: etsy.com/shop/Imaginarius

You may find that the images and haiku that comprise Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation are a fine antidote to turbulent times like ours for they encourage us to patiently look, listen and THINK beyond the obvious…

 

Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation

July 26, 2017

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You know the old adage, “Time passes quickly when you’re having fun” ? Well, this sentiment truly described the years between 2007 and the present when I began thinking about snails. Now, why on earth would anyone care about snails except as a purportedly (I say ‘purportedly’ because these creatures are among those forbidden to me by religious doctrine) tasty dish served with garlic butter?  Because I actually find them fascinating since I am able to look at them objectively for their natural beauty and metaphoric value without planning how to cook them.

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These musings slowly inspired a series of eighteen drawings on several species of snail (a.k.a mollusca/gastropoda). Some of them appeared along with my thoughts/poems about them over those years in several blog posts here.* Later, during this project’s development, a friend loaned me an eye-opening book that proved very inspiring and that I now recommend to you: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey (2010). http://amzn.to/2w18Zpc

My drawings are not strictly scientific but an amalgam of fact and fancy. Each tells its own story, inviting questions and second glances. At first, not knowing whether these drawings should become a book or simply a portfolio collection, I put out a query on social media.  Though enthusiastic early feedback suggested a book, I still liked the idea of a portfolio collection and decided to publish a ‘bookfolio’ (a portfolio in book form) as a sort of compromise.

In this light, I considered writing more thought/poems like those in earlier posts. However, I soon determined that haiku (seventeen-syllable non-rhyming Japanese poems), with their economy of language would better complement the nature of my drawings.  Slyme-TextGrid-8x10.jpg

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Now, I am happy to announce the release of Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation. This 44-page ‘bookfolio‘ includes an introduction and has just been released from Imaginarius Editions in an initial small press run.

You can preview and purchase it (US$30) at my online gallery: http://bit.ly/2vzsSTM

Codex Gastropoda will soon be available at Amazon but for now you can also find it at my Etsy Shop: etsy.com/shop/Imaginarius

Given the experiences that inspired it, my goal for Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation became to raise awareness of the wondrous details that inform Creation and their consequences for our world. I hope this visual journey and spare prose will also inspire you to appreciate our complex existence and perhaps add your own words and ideas to the continuum of human creativity.  

**********************************************************************************

* https://wordpress.com/post/imaginarius13.wordpress.com/754 https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-snail-queens-soliloquy/  

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/postscript-for-the-new-year-a-divination-of-snails/ 

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/codex-gastropoda-4athe-time-snails/ 

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/codex-gastropoda-2-the-snails-song/ 

The Un-Wronging Of Handwriting

January 23, 2017

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Pendemonium: An Original Alphabet ©2017 Ilene Winn-Lederer


Once upon a time
, whatever news appeared in print or was presented by television or radio newscasters was taken as the veritable truth. It was disseminated and acted upon as if it personally affected everyone in this country, which of course it did in varying degree.
The news, which is an acronym for ‘north, south, east, west’ was a force that galvanized and united us in our quest to uphold our national identity and position of strength and democracy in the world.bostonraremaps-globe

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In these deeply unsettling times, politicians and pundits air their hopes, grievances and manifestos with ever coarser, less articulate language, often distorting truths and provoking our knee-jerk emotional responses rather than inspiring our better natures and actions.

But tempting as it is, I’m not going to rant here about the plague of fake news that has gone viral so to speak. Enough ink (traditional and digital) has been devoted to it to satisfy every news glutton and social media addict. Instead, I’ve been thinking about how our written and spoken communication has dramatically eroded in the last few decades and why that is so. 

Historically, the erosion began as the telephone gradually replaced the need to write letters and notes to friends, colleagues and relatives in favor of quicker responses. Now, unsurprisingly, the most obvious symptoms of the decay of communication are found in text messaging and spoken media. Texting encourages immediate gratification though its efficiency is often characterized by lack of punctuation and fragmented sentences. With the ability to ‘text’ attachments, it is also replacing email as well. In spoken media, soundbites have become the takeaway from our information sources, relieving us of the personal responsibility for closer analysis and comprehension of what we are told. And as we viralize those more easily digestible soundbites, we dilute the true value of reasoned public discourse. 

Though I don’t see any of these communication lifestyles changing any time soon, we might be overlooking a possible way to keep them in perspective; by reclaiming our abilities to communicate in writing and emphasizing the importance of teaching those skills to our children.

In my post of May 5, 2013, ‘The Demise Of Handwriting’,I responded to a New York Times article that questioned the value of teaching classical cursive handwriting to schoolchildren in an era when easily accessible technology has mostly rendered it a vestigial skill.

I now realize that the desire of some in the education industry to end the once compulsory teaching of well-crafted handwriting has only exacerbated the downward spiral of quality in our written and verbal communication. The beauty, details and nuances of language, qualities that once defined great writing and oratory, are greatly in danger of becoming cultural artifacts. This is not to say that the revival of handwriting in our education system will cure the metastasizing mediocrity in communication. Still, doing so might reduce our dependence on word processing tools such as auto-correct software and re-instill the importance of careful thought and craftsmanship in self-expression, thereby helping the restoration of self-confidence in our contributions to that public discourse. 

This notion is evident to me each day as I read the newspaper. I am frequently and unpleasantly distracted by numerous spelling and grammatical errors throughout the texts. Books exhibit the same lack of craftsmanship with multiple errors in texts or within indexes to those texts when I am directed to an incorrect location of a specific topic or page. Even as I question how mainstream publishers, who have traditionally employed a staff of professional editors and proofreaders, could allow such carelessness to pass unnoticed into the public eye, I am aware that from a practical and financial perspective, automation technology has relieved publishers of the need to hire them. Nevertheless, given the current imperfect state of artificial intelligence, this development can easily result in an inferior product. As an author with books published both in the mainstream publishing industry and the growing  on-demand publishing market, I’ve noticed the growing emphasis on quick profit before quality and when preparing books for the latter, I must remind myself to very carefully edit my own manuscripts for errors before submission and printing. 

So, for those of us that bemoan the deterioration of our own handwriting, I would like this post to be a reminder that it’s not too late to refresh and restore those skills.ilenealphabet-copy Getting started may be as simple as forming letters of the alphabet as a telephone doodle, penning the few lines of a thank you note for a gift you received or to the host/hostess of a social event you attended. When you begin, don’t worry about your initial efforts being judged on the calligraphic quality of what you write. With practice this will improve.  Instead, focus on its clarity and intent because ultimately that scrap of paper, not the mercurial texts or e-mails on your digital device, will be evidence of who you are. Or, in future, of who you were.

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/the-demise-of-handwriting/

*Map shown above is a Mnemonical Globe/Wm. Stokes,1879 (Boston Rare Maps: http://bostonraremaps.com/inventory/a-capital-globe-indeed/)

Bestiary: An Imaginary Menagerie

October 27, 2016

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In an essay entitled ‘On The Shoulders Of Giants’, posted on May 5th of this year, I offered a glimpse of my new alphabetical book project in progress. Today, I am pleased to let you know that it is now complete! It includes alliterative text and illustrations for each of twenty-six letters, a preface and artist’s notes. On Wednesday of this week, my book proof arrived looking exactly as I’d intended, so I turned around and ordered  my first small edition of twelve, scheduled for delivery early next week. I am accepting advance orders now at The Magic Eye Gallery: http://magiceyegallery.com/BookPage.aspx?id=8 

Here are some thoughts on my process and a bit of backstory:

Ideas are mercurial; they may appear to our imaginations in glorious finished form, awaiting physical birth or, more likely, just float by our consciousness, merely hinting at their potential. The idea for Bestiary: An Imaginary Menagerie simmered slowly on one of my back burners for several years as sketches and project notes in one of my journals. It had begun as a casual suggestion for an illustrated alphabet book from my former agent. Projects like this one can be very greedy with one’s time and generally do not pay the bills! So although I had done a few concept drawings at the time, other less speculative projects continued to demand my attention.

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Then, late in 2015, following publication of two other titles (An Illumination Of Blessings and Notes From London: Above & Below), I decided to revisit the alphabet book idea. Paging through that old journal, I paused at some drawings of a unicorn and an armadillo which led me to imagine an alphabet book built around the real and imaginary creatures that have been portrayed in illuminated manuscripts for centuries. These colorful hybrids of letterforms and fanciful illustrations first appeared in the 2nd century Greek Physiologus, a compilation of the ancient wisdom and symbolism of animals mentioned in the writings of naturalists such as Aristotle, Herodotus and Pliny The Elder. Later adaptations from the 11th-13th centuries elaborated on these bestiaries and were flavored with Biblical stories, mysticism and religious doctrine. Bestiaries reached their zenith during the medieval era, when artists were commissioned by nobility and wealthy merchants to interpret their naïve descriptions of strange creatures seen on their voyages to exotic lands. Wikipedia offers a fine, detailed history of bestiaries here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestiary

Eventually, my journal sketches became the basis of the finished illustrations below:ArmorOnAnArmadillo-FINAL.jpgunicornwithuniverseunderumbrella-final

Yet, despite our greatly evolved knowledge of zoology since then, why does this timeless literary art form remain popular among the offerings of contemporary publishers? I propose that it does so because we have yet to fully understand the synthesis of our own evolving animal natures with the gifts of speech, writing and acumen.

That said, I’ve always loved to draw animals and have featured them in many original works of art. However, most of my animals are not portrayed realistically; I prefer to imbue them with qualities that reflect our human fortes and foibles. Those bestiary illustrations in which the animals display such attributes were important inspirations for this book. Their titles along with illustrated excerpts were discussed in my previous essay (http://bit.ly/2fjVcpi).

In designing Bestiary: An Imaginary Menagerie, I’ve framed each illustration with an alphabetical alliteration both for organizational purposes and simply because it was great fun to do! My hope is that my efforts will complement the voluminous body of bestiaries throughout history that are tributes to the wonders of creation and to our human imagination…

 

Thinking Outside The Lines…

October 7, 2016

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A few months ago, I began following posts (and occasionally commenting) at a Facebook forum called ‘Forgotten Art Supplies’. I became intrigued because while much of my work now relies on digital tooIs, I had used many of the required traditional tools mentioned there for drawing and preparing my illustrations for reproduction during my career as an illustrator and designer.

Last week, however, I was about to respond to a post by Donald Simpson, a well-known cartoonist but decided that his plaintive concern was worth a more substantive response.

This is what he said: “What I find disturbing is the trend toward coloring books and coloring stations — they are everywhere in the college campus {where} I teach, but no drawing classes! Sad.”

Based on my own history and observations, I have to agree with Mr. Simpson to a point; but this scenario may not be as dark as it seems.

As a young child, my parents noticed my passion and ability to draw and casually encouraged me to continue doing so. However, when birthdays and other occasions rolled around, coloring books and boxes of Crayolas were always among the gifts I received. I never had trouble coloring within the lines, but soon became bored with confining my abilities to them; until I reached the age of seven and began to receive coloring books that provided thin paper between each spread. These allowed me to trace the images and perhaps add my own arbitrary enhancements. I sometimes tore out these sheets and traced illustrations from my favorite picture books like the classic Grimm tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, beautifully illustrated in 1954 by Sheilah Beckett:

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This experience enhanced my enjoyment of the masterful works of others and though such features were an improvement in coloring books, I eventually lost interest when I realized my preference was for inventing and coloring images that I had created, an understanding that led me to become an illustrator.

Given the many comments I’ve heard over the years from those who bemoan a lack of artistic skills (‘I can’t even draw a straight line…’), I am not surprised that the need for adult coloring books has been recognized. A dazzling array of these have become ubiquitous in gift shops, the few remaining bookstores, even supermarkets and big box stores, not to mention everywhere online. Says a lot about the power of marketing, social media and profitability for publishers and creators. Here’s more on that from The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/why-adults-are-buying-coloring-books-for-themselves

Nevertheless, I don’t have a problem with coloring books per se or the profits they generate. Some of them are beautifully drawn and intricate such as those featuring Buddhist mandalas, optical illusions,  plants and animals or one with a Pittsburgh theme done by my friend and former CMU student, illustrator Rick Antolic. While they provide a therapeutic outlet and/or a much needed esthetic experience for many, they may also heighten appreciation for the talent and skills needed to create them.

Cover artImage result for adult coloring booksImage result for adult coloring booksPittsburgh: A Coloring Book

But like Mr. Simpson, I feel that the proliferation of adult coloring books underscores the need for more basic drawing skills to be offered in schools from K through college.

Though the ‘arts’ receive a modicum of funding from federal and private sources, those monies are more often directed at acquiring audio visual materials, computers and assorted electronic devices to be used for creative purposes. Tablets, 3-D printers and areas set aside for making things are a hot trend in schools right now. All of the above are fine. Still, passively watching videos often just fills classroom time unless follow-up interactive discussions or related project assignments that encourage personal exploration and experimentation are included. On that note, learning to master digital devices and the apps that empower them requires much more than navigating with a mouse or keyboard.

Without learning to develop and challenge manual drawing skills to enhance their understanding and appreciation of the work  of masters through history, it is my opinion that students are inhibited from acquiring the inspiration necessary to express concepts, let alone create viable content so that art can continue to fulfill its purpose; to shed light on the time in which it is made and introduce new ideas for cultural understanding and growth.

Yet, how often do we hear of classes solely devoted to teaching young students classical academic drawing, painting, or sculptural skills? At the university level, catalogues from these institutions may typically offer art classes, even BA/MFA degrees, but many would-be artists can easily be discouraged by the implied emphasis on more hard core studies in math, science and technology that strongly suggest following careers in these fields rather than in the liberal arts. Having taught illustration in a university environment, I learned how difficult it would be to overcome this prejudice, yet happily a handful of my profoundly talented students prevailed and became quite successful illustrators.

In retrospect and with some irony, I understand that perhaps coloring books were created to teach and aid the development of manual skills in children but they do so with the risk of making their users dependent upon the visual structures and cues of others rather than encouraging them to mine their own imaginations.

All of the above said, I believe that by underestimating the importance of our desire and ability to make art, our society has discouraged development of a gift through which we can define and express our humanity.

Tangentially, I would imagine this idea as the raison d’être that motivates the prolific art of grafitti and the public intolerance of it.

What has happened in the course of time is that other forms of communication have largely conquered our need to express ourselves visually. The line that once flowed freely from our young hands to form images has been, according to French artist & filmmaker Jean Cocteau, ‘untied and re-tied in a different fashion’ to enable multilingual universal communication with words.

And therein lies the subtle promise of the current assortment of coloring books for their users. For those who may have forgotten how to reverse that process and unlock their flexible line, they can inspire us once again to tell meaningful stories without words.