Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Practice, Practice, Practice

I am standing at the front of the classroom, leaning on the podium as thirty-three high school students stare at me. Some eyes are alive with interest, others were glazed with boredom when they entered the classroom and have not changed. My tattered copy of Don Quixote flops in my left hand. The mad knight has fought windmills, puissant Biscayns, troublesome sheep, and now, with dreamy persistence, searches for the golden helmet of Mambrino. The eyes stare. A hand from the back rises. "Who cares?" asks the young inquisitor. "Why do we need to read this story?"

I pause, because this is the most important question of the whole school year. If I fail this question, the whole year is easily lost. "We tell stories to convince ourselves that our lives have meaning."

(excerpt from "Before He Melts Away," by James Hanmer. Shambhla Sun, January 2014.)

We tell stories to convince ourselves that our lives have meaning. This is the essence of art making. Convincing ourselves that our lives have meaning. Trying to make sense out of the ups and downs, the craziness, the complications. 

I realized some years ago that this is why I make photographs. Everything seems to fall neatly into place when I make pictures, and, for a time, it feels like my life has meaning, purpose. 

Art making is a practice, like prayer or meditation or yoga. As artists, we practice being open to what art tells us about ourselves. We seek those moments when everything falls into place. We practice finding out who we are. Be it painting, writing stories, dancing, or acting—it's really all about discovery.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Stay the Course

I don't really like to make New Year resolutions. Change should happen when change is due. When I realize I need to lose weight or exercise more or be nicer to someone, I make a resolution right then and there. Somehow, though, I find myself making these resolutions over and over, so perhaps what I really need is to resolve to persevere. Stick with it. Stay the course. Through thick and thin. 

So, as I sit here looking out at the piles of snow that have come early this winter, I resolve to carry on . . . through the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the thrills and the disappointments. Stay on the path. Keep moving forward. I'm not sure what I'll see along the way, though I know that some days will be bright and some will be dark. But, if I persevere, every moment will be a gift. I can't ask for more than that.

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.