What Is Art?

May 19, 2015 § 2 Comments

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After creating this poster for my Facebook pages, someone asked me to define art. You might think I’d have a ready answer, but no. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve given it much thought, which is equally surprising. I liked the question though, and what follows is an expanded (rather long-winded!) version of my reply:

Art has varied definitions, I suppose, depending on those doing the defining. As an artist myself, I didn’t always appreciate art, because it was “something I just did” ~ I didn’t consider it a statement or a dramatic emotional expression, or even that it might do something other than possibly give pleasure. I didn’t question why. I didn’t scheme about what I’d do with it. It was simply woven into my being. The same way I have hazel eyes and wild hair; it just is.

That said, my own leaning seems to have been to create art that represented, or imagined, or inspired beauty; even, perhaps, a sense of hope. But that’s me. I know that not all art reflects beauty ~ it may reflect a social condition or an intellectual or philosophical position; it may be confrontational; it may be humorous; it may be elegant or raw; it may be positively ugly to one, pure loveliness to another. It can be painted or crafted or performed; made by hand or machine or both. It can be abstract or figurative; coming from a deep well of spirit, a spark of consciousness, a passing thought or a well-formed concept. Its roots know no economic or cultural boundaries. It transcends, disturbs, balances. It’s a driving force, a balm, an evocateur. It’s so broad as to be nearly undefinable.

But what I’ve come to realize ~ surprisingly late in the game ~ is its value; that a world without art, a world lacking the creative expression that can touch souls in ways otherwise skirted, unseen, unfelt, or trapped, would be a much more dry, sterile place. If there were no paintings, no music-making, no dance, no story-telling, what a very different existence this would be. (The mere thought of its absence feels dark and repressive!)

Art is life, breathing. A passionate, textural experience in this business of being human. An extension of who we are, often with an unwitting power to affect others ~ to inspire, to explore, to uplift, and sometimes, even to heal.

We need it. We need it to buffer the madness; to soften realities or shape new ones. There are such seeds within art, able to plant tonics for the soul, heighten awareness, ignite hearts, raise vibrations. Art is record-keeping and diary-making broadcast from individuals to the world. Shouts in the wilderness, relief from chaos, a connection to the divine. It moves us. It’s entirely personal in origin and yet has the ability to somehow matter to others.  It does matter. It matters a lot.

However we define it.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”. ~Thomas Merton

Celebrating Mom

May 10, 2015 § 4 Comments

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When I was a little girl, my mother was “my world”. She did all the things you’d expect a Mom might do, like hold your hand, read you a story, fix meals, teach manners, dry tears, cheer you up and on. She loved to laugh. She loved to give. She loved life, and tried to worry only on Tuesdays.

She left this world much too soon – but she left gifts. Cherished, timeless words; gifts from the heart, mind and spirit. Her poetry was first published while still in her teens, later works appeared in several anthologies. Perhaps her greatest work was the collection of sonnets published in her book The Pine and The Power.

So on this day reserved for mothers, I’d like to share some of those words as I have in year’s past, in honor and life-giving celebration of mothers near and far, here or remembered. Happy Mother’s Day!

…………………………………………………………….

God help our children to transcend the dark

And walk the earth with dignity and cheer;

God help them seek the mountains, persevere

The road that twists through thorn and tanglebark,

Ascending finally where eagles mark

Their point of vision. Help our children find

Two masters ~ one the spirit, one the mind ~

And rediscover constancy of heart.

Help us to find cathedrals in the skies,

A will to walk the long uncharted mile;

(The will to find in winter’s legacy

The ochre sands from which the lime trees rise!)

Help us to know the measure of the child ~

To live in time and in eternity.

© Carolyn Naught Saxton

Outrageous Happiness #17: Seizing Moments

May 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

When something happy/pleasant/cheerful crosses your path, embrace it. Seize that moment! Enjoy it. Savor it. Let it seep in so you really feel it – no ifs, ands or buts! No “if only (fill in the blank) wasn’t going on so I could really enjoy that.” No “and now something’s bound to ruin this.” No “but I can’t stop to appreciate that, I’m too busy.” None of that. No, no, no.

We’re talking simple things (or big things ~ hey, no discrimination here on size of joy!). Maybe it’s noticing a tree with particularly pretty blossoms. Maybe it’s the sunlight through a red leaf. Maybe it’s a compliment received, or a perfectly cooked plate of fresh vegetables. A goldfinch on your bird-feeder. A favorite song on the radio.

Or maybe it’s a picture, like this one of my daughter, which made me smile on a whole bunch of levels and reminded me how much I love paint and the creative spirit and happy, unpredictable messes. I could have given it a quick “oh, I adore this!” and gone back to my at-the-time incredibly heavy workload, but I chose to take it in, let the happy feeling fill my space for a little longer.

And that ~ moments grabbed, even briefly ~ can make a real difference in the bigger picture. They add up. They might even become habit-forming.

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How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

 

Praising Mother Earth

April 22, 2015 § 1 Comment

“I love not man the less, but Nature more.” ~ Lord Byron

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After a month or more of intensely intense (yes, twice for emphasis) deadlines ~ sanity sustained by pure will, innumerable chats with the Universe, bouts of lavender sniffing and heaping doses of hot fudge ~ I look out my window and see a lone tulip in an unexpected spot, happy and proud as can be where it landed; and while admiring this cheerful sprout, I’m reminded that we have arrived at Earth Day.

In my still rattled brain, I can’t recall if there’s something more significant to Earth Day than honoring this amazing planet we call home, but that’s enough for me.

I grew up with woods as my private playground, with lawn and gardens and trees attentively cared for by my farmer-turned-engineer father whose love for the earth was profound ~ all of which found its way into my mother’s poetry and onto my the pages of my sketchbooks (when my presence wasn’t required for the dreaded chore of weeding). It also found its way into my heart.

I am a lover of the earth. I have, on occasion, been known to hug trees. I find solace in mountains, renewal in the sea, joy in the nightingale’s song and peace while digging in the dirt. I love a cathedral ceiling of deep green hickory leaves as much as the wide open, top-down desert sky watching over red clay carpet and brightly colored lizards and noble cactus families. Grass between my toes. Wind in my hair. Sun on my skin. Rain on my roof. All of it.

The earth is miracle after miracle. Inspiration. Replenishment. It is living, breathing strength, tenderness, wisdom and resilience.

Be good to Mother Earth. She is our lifeblood.

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Really, I’m Fine

April 19, 2015 § 6 Comments

These things are sent to try us. When it rains it pours. This too shall pass. All things for a reason. Yada yada.

Sometimes life seems to run roughshod over your best intentions. Drizzling calamity over your best laid plans, mocking your sense of responsibility. (You got that covered? HA! I think not.) Throw in this twist and that turn, this disappointment and that aggravation, and pretty soon even the most stoic among us become like Sandra Boynton’s cow in the field.

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Yea. Sometimes that happens. And yet, the show must go on. And it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings. But not to worry, because all’s well that ends well. ;)

Staying Humble

April 12, 2015 § 10 Comments

There’s the occasional foot-in-mouth moment. The you-can’t-explain-why times. The useless but sometimes enlightening what-was-I-thinking’s. The poorly timed brain overload creating havoc with numbers (oops, I was only kidding?). And there’s always a child somewhere to help you keep it real.

And then, of course, there’s this. This grand, sweeping, marvelous magnificence of raw power and rumbling passion and crashing, curling waves that pound and push and pull (with equal parts grace and ferocity) on impossibly soft sand beneath never-ending cobalt skies ~ this incredible vastness where mermaids live and giant, finned beasts taunt sailors who chart their course by stars that shine from even more unfathomably large heavens above; all of this, too, will keep one humble.

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You work. You love, and play, and learn. Laugh and cry. Scream out loud, shrivel into quiet corners. You try. You do your best, and wear your super-human-hero cape with pride. Even so, you always, always, at some point, find yourself inadequate. Or wrong. Or just unprepared. Because that’s the stuff of life ~ the mystery and the magic, the smooth, the bumpy, the “a-ha’s” and the “oh shit’s”.

We’re not meant to get it right all the time. It’s lovely when we do. It can feel ugly when we don’t. It’s exhausting and glorious (with equal parts grace and ferocity). No matter how high we climb the proverbial ladder, no matter how good, how brilliant, how well-intentioned ~ there will always be something to keep us humble. We’re just travelers, after all. All of us.

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Dear Microsoft Word: Let’s Break Up.

March 28, 2015 § 2 Comments

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It’s no secret amongst my clients and colleagues – and let me preface this by saying I don’t “hate” much of anything, except maybe cheesecake (I know, I know…), and rudeness, or falling on icy steps – but sometimes I do hate Word. Microsoft Word, that is. It’s fickle. It’s not intuitive. It messes up. It can be nasty. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, I tell you!

Oh, and by the way, it is not, nor was ever meant to be, a design tool. Yet millions upon millions of people use it as if it were. I do not understand this. It infuriates me.

But I “must” use it because of those millions upon millions of people who use it, some of those millions being clients of mine and it’s a useful tool for sharing information. Note: Sharing information. Words. It was intended to process words.

Instead, it’s evolved into this messy catch-all of “things it can do”, most of which are not well done, hard to find, and tend at some point to rain on its own parade by crashing. Not crash as in “crash a party”; crash as in stop functioning. Nosedive. All systems out. As in, you’re barreling along when suddenly the spinny-rainbow-wheel pops up and begins its incessant twirl round and round and round and round, often caused by a task as excruciatingly simple as cutting and pasting a paragraph from one place to another. (Maybe it just doesn’t like Macs.)

It’s not well. It’s neither fun nor savvy. It’s a frustrating blend of “tools” that make people like me crazy. People who have worked with beautifully designed software programs that do what they’re supposed to do. People who have come to expect things to “make sense” when using them. (Personal flaw: Don’t like my time wasted, I admit it.)

Because it’s not going away any time soon, we all continue to use Microsoft Word. So we can’t actually break up. It owns the world. It’s the Big Cheese of Word Processing programs.

But, why-oh-why can’t they get it right? Why can’t they make it smarter and less finicky? Why does it try so hard to be things it isn’t, and why can’t it do the things it’s meant to do with efficiency and finesse? To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if you’re going to do something or be something, be a good one.

Meanwhile, I’ll now go back and ONCE AGAIN, find the saved document remnants from my computer’s trash bin. And keep “saving saving saving” every time I dot an i or cross a t in my Word document.

Vent over.

My Lucky Pencil

March 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

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A little St. Patrick’s Day inspiration, a few quick strokes on a paper scrap, and my lucky pencil is born.

Now, if only I were Irish and found me a pot o’ gold. (Or maybe the leprechaun comes first. Or is it the rainbow?) Until then, pencil lead will have to do, with a shamrock for good measure and a favorite Irish blessing for you. Happy St. Pat’s!

…………..

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

…………..

Pi: Celebrating the Irrational

March 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

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National Pi Day: Celebrating the irrational. (Or is it magical?)

Pi (π), the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet, represents the most widely known mathematical constant ~ the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which is approximately 3.14159 (which also explains why Pi Day is celebrated on 3/14).

No matter how large or small a circle is, pi will always work out to the same number. Pi is an irrational number, in that it goes on forever ~ and as such, there is no exact value, because the number has no end.

A bit of a mind bend, really.

Some mathematicians and math fans compete to calculate pi to as many digits as possible. The Guinness World Record for reciting the most digits of pi belongs to Lu Chao of China, who has recited pi to more than 67,000 decimal places. (I’d rather play scrabble, but to each their own.)

And honestly, I’m truly glad there are people with more math-oriented brains, so mine doesn’t have to be ~ and I can focus on the irrational and magical properties of words and art.

Outrageous Happiness #16: Purple Doors and Other Beautiful Things

March 1, 2015 § 2 Comments

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As the snow rages on here in the northeast, winter stubbornly insisting on showing its power over mortal beings, my discontent (affectionately called cabin fever) is assuaged by firewood and chocolate and beautiful things.

Because beauty, even in the middle of winter, is always within arms reach. The snowfall itself is a thing of beauty; but even then, yes, one gets restless for gardens and seagulls and afternoons on the porch. So I find bits of joy and comfort in things out of reach ~ things I can imagine, or dream of, or plan for. And somehow, just knowing that the purple doors below exist somewhere makes me happy.

Right, right, things, in and of themselves, do not “make us happy”. And what an empty existence it would be if we prized things over love, laughter and companionship. But our hearts can make us happy, and things can touch our hearts. Beautiful things.

Like a gorgeously purple garden gate, detailed by someone’s skilled hand. Like a well-made chest of drawers, or a child’s painting. An exquisite vase, a red cardinal on a branch, the smell of muffins in the oven, a tulip field, a perfectly comfortable chair with a lovely covering. All things of beauty in their way – expressions of love, a medium for experiencing this life with all the senses; to touch and see and hear and feel the endless multitudes of tastes and textures we have the opportunity to know.

What is life if not for diving in to sample its delicious variety. And what magnitude abounds! Even if we can’t see, hear or touch every bit, we can appreciate God’s – the Universe’s – the Great Creator’s – handiwork at every single turn. And the fruits of our own labors, too – the music, the art, the dance, the carefully crafted violin, the windmill, the garden gate.

We can appreciate the lush carpet beneath our feet, whether made of wool or sand or heather.

And when we do that, when we step out of our daily this-or-that, when we unclench our engagement with what’s wrong or what doesn’t feel good or what hurts or what’s bothersome, we elevate our experience. And what can be faulty with that?

We’re only here for an instant. We can believe it’s to struggle and fight, or we can believe it’s to learn and uplift. We can admire and expand, or we can shut down. We can stay small or we can let our spirits breathe large. We can be held captive by the world’s ills, or we can spread more light.

Beauty, and beautiful things, are a physical gift for our human experience. Seek beauty. Surround yourself. And let purple doors and other beautiful things do what they’re meant to do; nurture and inspire.

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purple door

How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

……………………

PS: I haven’t been able to find the original source for these 2 photos. They are not my own, and I would love to give proper credit if anyone knows.

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