Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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…

 

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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.  

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* 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 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.

A Left-Leaning Quandary

February 15, 2016

AnythingLeft-Handed.jpgWhen we come into this world, we are an enigma, unaccompanied by an external users manual but driven primarily by need and instinct. But if we imagine that a users’ manual  is embedded within us as a script which guides us through the roles we play in each phase of our lives, we soon learn its limitations. It may open our awareness of the world relative to our physical and emotional development but if we are to surmount the obstructions that occasionally beset us in our relationships, careers and our own physical/psychological health then we must work to interpret the nuances between its lines.

This week, following the surgical repair of my right rotator cuff, I sit here, with said arm in a sling, thinking about how, when we are in good health, we easily assume that our bodies exist to serve the requests and desires of our minds; quietly and without complaint.

Yet when we encounter illness or injury to our bodies, the inverse dominates our days and nights. Like a willful child, my mind desperately wants to leave the confines of this injured body, inhabit another one like a change of clothing, thus enabled to resume the life it has long known.

In my current state, the mix of patience and impatience of my spouse as he tends to my needs in addition to his own has only emphasized these ideas. Though many crises, large and small have punctuated the course of our long marriage, these have only served to focus my awareness and gratitude for his love and dedication.

Though I write and draw with my left hand, I am right-hand dominant for most other actions, particularly the digital aspect of my illustration. Consequently, my work will be fairly difficult over the next few months but physical therapy should eventually make a difference. Until then, an illustration from my recent book, Notes From London: Above & Below (Imaginarius Editions, 2015)*, shown above, and a detail from ‘Worlds Within(Codex Gastropoda series, 2012) shown below,  seem apropos at the moment..

So, even as my left hand and arm are doing double duty with no little complaint, I am imagining the new drawings and essays to come upon full recovery. I’ve posted these observations as encouragement to any of you who might be experiencing a similar situation and simply because I am unaccustomed to being completely idle. The latter is probably a directive from my own internal users’ manual which may look like this:AntiqueBookClosed+HandClasps

Further interpreting its nuances also reveals a new perspective on the trajectory of my own life. Though each incident that occurs seems discrete, it is not. Rather, it is only one of the links forming a sort of tight rope that resonates with the music of uncertainty, fear, challenge, sorrow, love and joy.  Accordingly, I must continually balance my roles as daughter, wife, mother, artist, illustrator, writer, teacher and designer in order to create and maintain the lyrical narrative that keeps my eyes open to the myriad possibilities ahead…

*Notes From London: Above & Below (Imaginarius Editions, 2015) may be ordered at: http://magiceyegallery.com/BookPage.aspx?id=3

Can Art Be Lost In Translation?

January 7, 2016

MarriageOfArts+LettersMy previous post, The Magic Of Ideas, addressed the frequently asked question,‘Where do you get your ideas?’ This week, I offer my response to another one: ‘What did you mean to say with this image?’. This question is less direct because its silent subtext is asking, ‘can you please translate this picture for me?’ as though it were a foreign language. And in a sense, it is.

Art and spoken languages are similar in that both are composed of symbols with which we express ourselves. But there is one major difference. Spoken languages have been standardized for global communication while the language and vocabulary of art remain fluid and singular to each artist as in the distinctive works of Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch or Belgian surrealist René Magritte. Upon close scrutiny, we might notice that certain elements appear and reappear throughout their larger body of works. Yet, beyond reams of third party analyses of these artists’ technical skills and cultural influences, who knows what they were really trying to say?

Some great artists such as Johannes Vermeer and Sandro Botticelli may have embedded obscure symbols and codes within their images, signaling their true intent to the cognoscenti of their times but leaving no written clues for future generations. An interesting article by Mark Hudson in the January 7th edition of The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/11449077/10-paintings-with-hidden-meanings.html) sheds some light on this idea.

Occasionally, someone comments that my work is always recognizable, yet they rarely give a specific reason for why that is so. In truth, I’m equally mystified.

I do know that a sort of visual language made of certain symbols and images runs through my work. These can be seen as ‘words’ in a dynamic visual dictionary with which I can construct ‘sentences that tell a story’. When I develop new ‘words’, this resource ‘grows’ as needed. To effectively use it, however, there is a two-part question I must answer upon beginning each new project: ‘what do I want to say here and how can I best do so’? The answer to this inner question is not a goal in itself; it is the opening gambit of an inner dialogue that guides my creative process and the narrative that will accompany the completed work.

Writing narratives to accompany my work was provoked early in my career by a mid-20th century anomaly, particularly among Abstract Expressionists. Their use of the word, ‘Untitled’  to name a work of art both intrigued and offended me, raising several questions. Were they simply inarticulate, unable to come up with a statement or title? Or were they convinced that their brand of creativity defied title or definition? If so, would they answer that ‘art just is and we create it because we can? Would they offer the hackneyed argument that writing is unnecessary because true art should speak for itself ?

Occasionally, when verbiage from gallerists and art critics includes only vague comments by the artists, these artists risk being misunderstood. Maybe they simply don’t care. Maybe they prefer to maintain their own mystique by foisting responsibility for interpreting their work upon others. Still, I am dismayed that relatively few bother to write about their work or what inspires them to create it.

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That said, Lee Krasner, who made the ‘Untitled’ work above, did leave us some quotes but these were mostly comments about the time in which she worked and not specific to any one work. As viewers, we may truly enjoy a work’s ambiguity. But if we accept responsibility for interpreting it and the artist provides no language that allows his or her work to ‘speak’, we are denied a starting point, thwarting our natural curiosity and rendering that work easily dismissed.

I am reminded of our fascination with both the art and  writing of such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh or Salvador Dali. In their journals and personal letters, we like to look for backstories behind their works but I think we mostly want to know what made these geniuses tick. So at the very least, I think that viewers deserve more information than just ‘untitled’; even if the intent of a work is only expressed with a relevant moniker or encapsulated in a couple of sentences.

The need to incorporate writing into my creative process helps me understand what I have made, who I was when I made it and how it fits into my larger body of work. Also, by ‘translating’ my ‘image story’ with notes that later become a more detailed statement, I recognize that as we all learn differently, so do we see differently and can sometimes appreciate art more through its descriptive text.  This practice actually grew from requests for more information about my images from those who attended my exhibits. Consequently, I began posting narratives beside each work and in an exhibition’s catalog.

But I really write about my work because it feels incomplete otherwise. I believe that words and images should not be mutually exclusive and that metaphorically, art and writing are like two faces of the same coin. This idea was inspired by the multi-talented French artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau in 1962 when he wrote : “I relax from writing by working with my hands, by painting or drawing; I relax from painting by writing…as if drawing were anything other than handwriting {untied and} re-tied differently.” Each face of that coin brings different parts of my brain into play and I, like Cocteau, enjoy the challenge of engaging them both for mutual benefit.

Accordingly, I’ve chosen my 1985 drawing  ‘The Marriage of Art and Letters’ with its allegorical figures of Art and Writing to illustrate this post.

I can’t know whether my work and texts will survive me but I hope that my small contribution to the social and cultural history of future generations will be available in some form. Perhaps only this blog, preserved through some new technology, will allow my art to be ‘found’ in translation.

And that’s good enough for now.

Between Introspection and Action

September 21, 2012

AS the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come to a close, we stand again at metaphorical thresholds of life and death; a time of reckoning, so to speak. Do we carry on with our thoughts and behaviors as though they are beyond reproach or do we confront and excise those that are detrimental to our moral and spiritual development?

There is no easy answer nor am I qualified to moralize to anyone even if there were. Yet, I think that if we accept the opportunity to make these choices, we must acknowledge that we are far less than perfect and remind ourselves that regardless of our beliefs in destiny, fate or free choice, we are creatures of habit. And habits, by their very nature, are powerfully addictive.

It is the act of excising strong cultural addictions with the intention of a nation’s spiritual cleansing that drives this week’s Torah narrative in Parashah Va-Yelekh. In the process, we meet the prophetess Huldah, a unique intelligence far ahead of her times and Josiah, an idealistic king whose actions remind us that while destruction is often dramatic and ugly, it must become the foundation for a nation whose spiritual roots will run deep beneath the various practices of monotheism.

From the AfterImages section of my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009), here is my interpretation for the visuals that serve Parashah Va-Yelekh:

The Last Testament

In Israel, during the 7th century rule of King Josiah, grandson of Manasseh, Hilkiah, his high priest, discovered a scroll, later identified as Deuteronomy amidst some debris in the Temple.  Following the cultic corruption of the land during the time of Josiah’s father Amon, the priest had been directing an altar and idol destruction campaign to re-establish Judean control over Israel. When he brought the scroll to King Josiah, they discovered that it contained predictions of great catastrophe on all of Israel for ignoring its commandments. This frightening find then prompted Josiah to seek further counsel to guide him in the social and political reformation that restoration of monotheism would require.

In her commentary to Parashah Va-Yelekh, Rabbi Rosette Barron Haim suggests that in handing down the Torah in the generations after Moses and Joshua, it was necessary to choose an individual who could not only transcribe and administer it, but who possessed a deep understanding of its meaning. Although the well-known prophet Jeremiah was alive at that time, the king gave the scroll to the prophetess Huldah. He is shown here with shadowy broken idols falling from hands while he listens intensely to Huldah’s interpretation. In her wisdom, she tactfully tempered her responses to ease the King’s fears, yet encourage him to act swiftly.

Curious to know more about this extraordinary woman, I found that Huldah was said to have administered an academy of learning under the influence of Rabbi Akiva’s academy in Mishneh (the second quarter of Jerusalem). Because both institutions held that a man is obligated to educate his daughter in Torah, it is easy to understand how her authority would have inspired the actions that secured King Josiah’s prominent role in the history of the monarchy of Israel.

I was also intrigued to learn that during the 2nd Temple period, there were two gates in the south wall of the Temple Mount at Jerusalem known as the  ‘Huldah Gates’. These gates, under the Al-Aqsa Mosque, led into underground tunnels on the way to the Temple Mount and alledgedly to Huldah’s academy.The architectural image at the upper left of this spread was drawn from this bit of information.

As for her odd name, Huldah in Hebrew means ‘weasel’. While this doesn’t seem very flattering, it turns out that many cultures associate this small animal with archetypal feminine qualities and great intelligence, going so far as to credit a weasel as midwife in the birth of the Greek hero Hercules. I have portrayed her in her advancing years, her mythical associate on her lap; gazing into a future that only she can see.

Emerging from the clay amphora near the quotation is a branch of fruit resembling persimmons. This odd detail was suggested as I read about the discovery of the first Israelite settlement at Ein Gedi in the 7th century during the reign of the kings of Judah.A strange plant, perhaps the persimmon, grew there in abundance. This plant exuded a fragrant resin that was collected and processed into a legendary perfume. King Josiah is credited with originating the closely guarded formula for ‘persimmon’ oil that was used to anoint new kings.

The final image on this spread illustrates the future implications of the quotation. Two hands, young and old, hold a quill pen and are drawing the Hebrew letter ‘vav’. This is from the formal ceremony known as ‘Siyyum HaTorah’. It is enacted when the writing of a scroll of the Law is completed. Traditionally, the final eight verses are left unwritten or set down only as outlines so that guests who are invited to this event may perform the important mitzvah of participating in the scroll’s completion.

What a fine reminder that our work is never really done, particularly the part where we must reinvent ourselves through succeeding generations…

May you be Inscribed in the Book of Life and may your stories enlighten those who need to learn from them…

The Ink Of Imagination 2: Pendemonium

May 26, 2011

After posting my penpoint alphabet ‘Kalligraphie‘ last week, I decided to try designing an alphabet that would continue the penpoint theme, but flow more gracefully in accordance with the nature of pen script. And so, unable to resist the pun, Pendemonium happened…

Note: While neither Kalligraphie or Pendemonium would easily work as fonts, I can set up a custom headline or apply these letterforms to whatever your imagination cooks up!