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Monday, September 30, 2013

From the Mind or from the Heart?

In the upcoming issue of Stone Voices—the winter 2013 issue—we will feature the work of photographer Ralph Hassenpflug. Since he has a studio in my town and lives not too far away, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ralph. His work is quite remarkable. No matter the subject, his photographs exhibit strength and tenderness, triumph and struggle. His photographs are like windows that allow you to peer into the depths of human experience.

For every artist whose work we feature, we review a biography and a statement about his or her work, both provided by the artist. Like many artists, Ralph doesn’t like to apply words to his work, but what he ended up writing showed truth and clear insight into his work. He captured it, I think, in this one sentence: I don’t think my photographs; I feel my photographs.

Christine Cote, from the series Beyond.
This sentence made me pause to think about my own work as a photographer. Do I feel my photographs or do I think them? What leads me to make pictures from certain subjects and not others, my mind or my heart? What drives me to snap a picture, my mind or my heart? What guides me during post-production, my mind or my heart? While pondering these questions, I scanned my body of work in my mind. Indeed, some come from thought, some from heart. The “better” photographs, I think, are the ones that come from my heart. Somehow, they are longer-lasting. I don’t tire of them. There is always something in them that holds my attention . . . something I feel when I look at them.



I don’t yet fully understand what all of this means, but it is something to be mindful of when I make pictures and look at the work of other artists. Is it from the mind or the heart?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

It Stopped Me in My Tracks

Images are images, and art is art. All visual art is an image, but not all images are art. I love images . . . color, line, shape, texture. But art . . . well . . . art stops me in my tracks. 

Quiet Invitation II. Beth Swanson.

This painting, by Beth Swanson, is part of Still Point Art Gallery's current exhibition: Interiors. I really love this image. I love the folds in the tablecloth, the curves of the backs of the chairs, the clean lines of the windows, the little pots on the sills, and the lovely, curvaceous objects on the table. The composition is perfect. Everything is balanced—one window balances the other, the chairs are positioned to give the image stability and firmness, and the objects are carefully placed to achieve an effect of evenness and equilibrium. The eyes of the viewer are drawn to the corner of the room, off-center, avoiding a feeling of symmetry and creating a bit of tension that is very enjoyable. The curves of the chairs are a perfect counterpoint to the straightness and angularity of the windows. The color—beautiful, soft greens—make the piece feel cool and peaceful. Everything about this piece is perfection. It is art. It stopped me in my tracks. 

Only one problem. It doesn't exist. I've never seen a room like this. I've never seen color and light like this. I've never been in a room as quiet and ethereal as this one seems to be. But, again, this is art. This image came from the depths of Swanson's imagination and heart, and it captivates my own imagination and heart. I could stare at this painting for hours and days. Yet, I don't see this painting as much as I feel this painting. I feel it with all my senses. It is art.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Enfolded in Benign Embrace

I have never been afraid in the woods. 
I am calmed there, as though enfolded in benign embrace.  

This is the opening paragraph in Shanti Arts Publishing's recent release, Current: Essays on the Passing of Time in the Woods. This short paragraph alone convinced me to publish this book. 

Jeffrey Stoner. Road of Man Colors.
I first came to know Robert McGowan, the author of Current, when he submitted his essay, "Discovery," for possible publication in Stone Voices. After I read the essay, I immediately turned to my computer to write to Rob to tell him I wanted to publish the piece. I loved it. What was Rob's discovery? Himself. Speaking from the depths of his well-lived life as an artist, writer, husband, colleague, and friend, Rob came to discover who he was and what was important to him. He discovered truth and wisdom. In the life of any person, such a discovery brings the contentment we all seek.

Rob submitted a few more pieces for publication, both fiction and non-fiction, and his art was featured in the Spring 2012 issue of Stone Voices. He and I developed a wonderful relationship. He passed on his wisdom in a most supportive and collegial manner He, in fact, suggested that I consider publishing books as well as magazines, and he wanted my first book publication to be one of his. He was willing—even eager—to allow me to use the process of publishing Happy Again at Last: Life in the Art World to be a learning process for me as a publisher. I did learn a great deal from it. It was a tremendous gift from Rob. 

Rob died in November 2012 from lymphoma, likely the result of exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam. When he was first diagnosed, he was confident that he would beat it. He was looking forward to the publication of Happy Again at Last and had plans for book signings and author interviews. But he didn't beat it. He died within a year of his diagnosis. 

In the months before he died, Rob sent me several of his unpublished manuscripts with the hope that I might publish more of his work someday. When I read the manuscript for Current, I felt such a connection to Rob. I, too, love the woods and all they offer to the human spirit. Now, when I go to the woods, I recall sentences and excerpts from his book, and I am "enfolded in benign embrace"—both by the woods and by Rob's generous spirit.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Remembering Isadora Duncan

I was a voracious reader as a child and teen. Today, I have less time for "pleasure reading," but, in fact, I'm reading nearly all day, every day. It's how I gather information, make judgments, develop confidence, find solace, and stumble upon new ideas and inspiration. 

One night this week, I awoke around 2 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. I decided to get up; I had something on my mind, and I thought it would be better to get up and try to distract myself than stay in bed and let it churn inside me. I stumbled in the dark to my office and looked up at my bookshelves. My eyes landed on a book I had read many, many times when I was young, My Life, by Isadora Duncan. This book affected me deeply. It gave me insights into Art and Love and Freedom and Joy and Sadness. I wanted to live the life of Isadora. 

I hadn't looked at the book in many, many years, but I took it off the shelf and sat down to browse through it. Over the years, I had written little notes in the margins, and a few of them brought back some good and not-so-good memories. Then, I found a paragraph next to which I had written, "hmmm."

I believe that in each life there is a spiritual line, an upward curve, and all that adheres to and strengthens this line is our real life—the rest is but as chaff falling from us as our souls progress. Such a spiritual line is my Art. 

Isadora believed that Art was her mission and purpose in life. It was her calling, her vocation. Art was her way to discover the inner truths of her life, the meaning of her life, and the connections between all parts of her life. Art was her air, her source of life, her spiritual path.

I felt inspired. This was indeed a good distraction. Whatever had been on my mind now seemed trivial. I remember now why reading about Isadora when I was young was so life-changing. Like Isadora, I wanted to breathe in Art and exhale Love and Joy. I still do.