Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday: A Little More Rockwell

Many of Rockwell's images have become iconic.
Uneasy Christmas in the Birthplace of Christ

One of the features of Norman Rockwell's paintings was how effectively they redeemed the ordinary, made memorable the commonplace people and events we have all experienced in the course of our lives. Young girls studying their faces in mirrors, boys skinny-dipping, people working, kids playing, men in a diner listening to the radio to hear news of the war, lover's spats -- all the common stuff of life.

There is a sense in which Rockwell is also a truth-teller. Whereas other magazines placed celebrities, stars and starlets on their covers to sell magazines, Rockwell elevated our common lives to celeb status, for all of our lives and their foibles are to some extent an entertainment. A few years back, Time magazine chose "You" as "TIME Person of the Year." Norman Rockwell had been doing that for decades.

The other day I posted images from the American Chronicles exhibition currently on display at the Tampa Museum of Art. Here are more pictures from that exhibit.

Daniel Boone, My great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather.
The war provided many stories to tell.
Slim Pickins, for the movie poster Stagecoach
Woo hoo! Yee ha! Yeah. Have fun today. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is Poetry Only Meant To Be Read, Not Heard?

The past few years I have attended a number of poetry readings here in the Twin Ports, and even read in a few. I've appreciated most of these public readings and performances, and hadn't given much thought to the notion that written poetry and performed poetry might be in a very different class of experience. Until I read an early passage in rock critic Christopher Ricks' Dylan's Visions of Sin.

Even if you don't know who Ricks is, it doesn't take long to grasp that this is a man who is intimately acquainted with not only the full span of Bob Dylan's creative output, but its historical context as well, in relation to poetry and literature and performance as art. It was Ricks who was selected to edit the 2014 collection of Dylan's songs titled, The Lyrics, also writing the introduction for this 13 pound book.

Among his many distinctions, the British scholar was Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford (England) from 2004 to 2009 and former president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. He has a reputation as a champion of Victorian poetry while simultaneously being an enthusiast of Bob Dylan. In short, he shares his unpredictable and astute insights with authority. (See his full Wikipedia profile.)

Sir Christopher Ricks notes that Dylan's words are only one element of his art. "Songs are different from poems, and not only in that a song combines three media: words, music, voice."

In a section designed to set down foundation stones for analyzing Dylan's work, he inserts a passage from the English poet and novelist Philip Larkin on the difference between a poem and a public reading, or a recorded reading.

"I don't give readings, no, although I have recorded three of my collections, just to show how I should read them. Hearing a poems, as opposed to reading it on the page, means you miss so much -- the shape, the punctuation, the italics, even knowing how far you are from the end. Reading it on the page means you can go your own pace, take it in properly; hearing it means you're dragged along at the speaker's own rate, missing things, not taking it in, confusing 'there' and 'their' and things like that. And the speaker may interpose his own personality between you and the poem, for better or worse. For that matter, so may the audience.... I think poetry readings grew up on the false analogy with music: the text is the 'score' that doesn't 'come to life' until it's 'performed.' It's false because people can read the words, whereas they can't read music. When you write a poem, you put everything into it that is needed: the reader should 'hear' it just as clearly as if you were in the room saying it to him. And of course this fashion for poetry readings has led to a kind of poetry that you can understand first go: easy rhythms, easy emotions, easy syntax. I don't think it stands up on the page."

Whether you agree or disagree, I myself find the passage quite agreeable. I know that immersing oneself in a good poem is a luxury enjoyed best in an easy chair or some other quiet place, with no limits on time, at an unhurried pace. And there's something appreciate visually about the look of a poem on a page. I can't imagine what e.e. cummings would have done were his poems only shared at public readings. Not all poets excel as performers, though those who do seem to impress us. Maybe there are some poets whose oratory skills don't have the same flair as others. Let's hope they don't abandon their gift for writing verse just because of that.

For what it's worth, Ricks' book, now that I am deeper into it, is shaping up to be a very good read. If only there were more hours in a day.

Monday, March 30, 2015

American Chronicles: Norman Rockwell at the Tampa Museum of Art

From March 7-May 31 the Tampa Museum of Art is exhibiting one of the most popular American artists of the 20th century, Norman Rockwell. For nearly seven decades in an era of great change, Rockwell chronicled our changing society in the small details and nuanced scenes of ordinary people in everyday life, providing personalized interpretation – albeit often an idealized one – of American identity. Much like Rolling Stone has provided a mirror for our era by means of the music of our times, Rockwell contributions have provided a visual legacy,

Though most famous for his Saturday Evening Post covers, 321 in all over the course of a lifetime, he produced more than 4000 paintings and drawings, each of them telling a totally different story. In fact, that is the most striking thing about this exhibition. Each fully-engaging illustration is a complete story, with remarkable details. I try to imagine a writer trying to do the same and suspect very few achieve a hundred let alone thousands. (Joyce Carol Oates may be the exception.)

From his Boy's Life days
This show includes some of Rockwell's earliest paintings, used to illustrate Boys Life magazine, for which he was art director by age 19. His big break came in 1916 when one of his paintings was use on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, for which he painted covers over the next 47 years. His distinctive paintings were also featured in Look, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Boy’s Life, Literary Digest and Life.

What's striking to me when I see this exhibition is that Norman Rockwell was an exceptional artist and one of the most well-known artists of the century. Only a handful of artists achieve the kind of name recognition that Picasso and Dali achieved. Rockwell is of the same ilk, except for some reason he's never been given respect by art critics who dismissed him as "just an illustrator."

The Critic
In fact, one of his paintings pokes fun of these critics by depicting a critic stooped forward with a magnifying glass examining a painting while two faces in the painting are examining the critic. It's a comical commentary, but Rockwell did feel stung by the manner in which he was not taken serious by the critics.

Many of the paintings in American Chronicles are as familiar as the presidents featured on our paper money, but there were plenty of surprises as well, including two paintings of pioneer Daniel Boone, and the detailed records of his efforts to portray the murder of three young men in Mississippi in a manner more akin to Goya than his usual characterizations.

Included in the exhibit are the Buy War Bonds posters inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress utilizing Rockwell's Four Freedoms paintings which were reproduced in four consecutive issues of The Saturday Evening Post with essays by contemporary writers. These are among his most familiar works, depicting Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. These paintings toured the United States in an exhibition that was jointly sponsored by the Post and the U.S. Treasury Department, raising more than $130 million for the war effort.

When one views this life overview it strikes me as impossible to dismiss Rockwell by saying he's not a serious artist any more thank one can dismiss Mark Twain as a literary figure. "He was just a humorist," doesn't cut it. Both Twain and Rockwell were keen observers of human nature, excelled at capturing their observations and transmitting them by images in either words or pictured to the wider public. In the event you agree with me, you may enjoy Cat Weaver's sarcastic How to Talk About Norman Rockwell.

Meantime, if you happen to be in Tampa, over the next two months, be sure to check out this very special show. And while you're there, note how beautifully renovated the area is, with parks, a children's museum and more in this sector of the city. This art district has brought people back downtown again.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Artist Olivia Cisneros Villanueva Revisited

I discovered San Antonio artist Olivia Villanueva through one of the art eNewsletters I get on a regular basis. Not only did the work I saw speak to me, I was also impressed by her story. Shortly after finishing high school she married and raised a family. It was only later in life, when her kids were grown, that her art career blossomed and flourished. Her work has been featured extensively in shows and galleries throughout Texas. She has also been featured in numerous publications including USA Today, and this month will see her work featured in a major exhibition in New York.

Or first interview took place in the spring of 2011 and from the start I found her paintings very exciting and dramatic. This is a follow up to that first interview.

EN: What are you working on now that has you jazzed?

Olivia Villanueva: Right now I am very excited to be showing my new paintings at the Artexpo in New York. It has been a major showcase for 37 years and is the largest international gathering of qualified trade buyers, gallery owners, art dealers, interior designers as well as architects and corporate art buyers. Bernard Solo Fine Art in New York City will be representing me there this April 23‐26 2015 and Art Basel Miami Florida in December. The first day of the Expo NewYork exhibition will be closed to the public and open only to museum art collectors, art dealers, serious art collectors and the media as well as celebrity VIPs. Bernard Solo Fine Art will be in the prime location in the very center of the main pavilion at Pier 94, 711 12th Ave. New York, NY. 10019‐5399

EN: Tell us more about your New York exhibition.

OV: The Artexpo New York will also be promoting a two-page article about my art in their magazine The Artist Showcase, I am very blessed and thankful for such an amazing opportunity to let thousands of art dealers, museum collectors and many others from all over the world to consider owning an Olivia original.

EN: We did this in 2011... what have you been working on the past three years?

OV: The past three years have been a spiral. I was not able to really paint for over a year and a half, due to a bout with sepsis that turned into septic shock in a matter of hours. The doctors gave me little to no chance of survival and had to revive me when all my organs starting shutting down. I had no idea I was dying! Until I started seeing the tears of my children. My words to them and in my heart were, this is just a test from God, pass it and you will see a miracle. Well I'm the living proof of what faith and believing can do. Just ask my doctors. They still can not believe I survived. I am still dealing with the aftereffects, but that is not keeping me from creating.

EN: Do you have a favorite medium and why?

OV: If I were to say I have a favorite medium then I would limit myself to so many other outlets to painting. I use many things to create, from found objects to paper. My favorite is to create with what is near to my heart. If it's not, then it is just a painting.

EN: What kind of music do you listen to while you paint?

OV: I listen to all types of music. When I paint figurative I like listening to Jazz, depending on the type of painting I'm working on a the time. I love working in high heels when I'm abstract painting. It gives me a sense of freedom. No rules, no boundaries.

EN: Where can people see more of your work?

OV: My new insights this year are moving forward with my art, not allowing any distractions when it comes to creating. The past few years have been the hardest, but keep in mind that we are the captain of our own ship. I stay away from negativity and keep to myself. I prefer to stay away from the art scene to create from my own being with no other influences. Finding one's self is most important when it comes to painting. I become one with the paint as it leaves my brush onto the canvas. This is the mystery to my creativity when it comes to art. There is no substitute to capturing the raw art in motion.

If someone would like to see more of my art they can contact me direct at oliviaarte at

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Five Minutes with Tom Borrup on the Value of Public Art

Ten days ago I attended a lunch meeting involving a new new initiative to move the markers forward a notch in the development of creative community here in Duluth. The Duluth Public Arts Commission is on the forefront of this year's activity, hoping to build on the work others have done over the past ten years.

Tom Borrup from Creative Community Builders and two members of Forecast Public Art, Carrie Christianson and Bob Lunning, led this first meeting which you can read about here. Afterwards I followed up with Mr. Borrup to help gain a better perspective on the aims of this year's efforts.

EN: What is Creative Community Builders?

Tom Borrup: Creative Community Builders (CCB) is a small consulting practice that includes myself and other planners, designers, artists and arts professionals who team up as needed to assist communities to better appreciate, coordinate and leverage their cultural assets for the purpose of making better places. We work for cities, nonprofits, and foundations across the U.S. In Duluth, CCB has teamed up with Forecast Public Art and a team who bring a complement of skills to help the City develop an arts and culture master plan with a special emphasis on public art and placemaking.

EN: Why is public art important?

TB: Public art -- when understood broadly to include a wide variety of temporary and permanent art in public places — is the most visible and outward expression of a community. It speaks loudly to the identity and values of a city. Art in public places, when done thoughtfully and well, brings people together and makes places more livable and enjoyable. It strengthens our connection to places and to others with whom we share those places. Public art can also draw attention from far and wide to places and stories that have special meaning. It can help our communities build their self-esteem and help each of us to learn and to remember.

EN: How did you come to take an interest in art personally? What's your story? Were you an art student?

TB: From an early age I had a love of photography — both making pictures and looking at pictures. In elementary school I took part in school plays but always behind the scenes, off the stage. I also enjoyed writing as a teen and began shooting and editing movies back in the day of super-8 film. In college I studied film and video making but found myself gravitating to the organizing process and to helping others make their films and get those films seen. That led me into the field of arts and cultural management in the 1980s, raising money and growing nonprofit organizations. I still enjoy taking pictures wherever I go and it helps me better understand places, how those places are made, and how people interact in those places.

EN: What kinds of things can be accomplished by an organization and through the process like this one you have undertaken in Duluth?

TB: Forecast and CCB hope to engage with many people in Duluth who represent the widest spectrum of arts and culture and to work with them to learn, formulate and begin to implement strategies to strengthen the cultural community. This spectrum includes the arts and also the historical and the natural environment. Central to any culture is the relationship to the environment, the foods, the traditions, the stories, and of course how we relate to each other, how we communicate and how we organize. From this, we articulate the special and unique qualities of place. And, already we have seen and heard so much of what is unique and special about Duluth. We believe that only by building on what is unique and special can Duluth express and grow its best qualities, find ways people can best work together so that arts and culture can flourish and bring much value to all aspects of life here.

EN: This isn't your first such project. Can you give an example of another city where your group helped facilitate positive changes that have lasting value?

TB: There are many stories and each, of course, is different. Ten years ago we worked in a small Ohio town called Yellow Springs. A citizen group felt there was something missing in the community and that by building a new performing arts center they could fill that void. After spending time there and convening hundreds of people through an active community process, we realized the last thing the town needed was another building that they couldn’t maintain and operate. They already had several. They didn’t need an arts center, the entire town was already a vibrant center for the arts. We were able to get artists and the Chamber of Commerce to join forces and to revitalize the Arts Council. Already an amazingly active and vital creative community, Yellow Springs needed to appreciate more of what they had and to understand how the arts were central to the local economy and way of life. A small college in town already had a theater building that was near to being condemned. Years later, funds have been raised and the college and community have come together to share that space. They have a performing arts facility and the means to operate it and maintain it. They have a public art program, a newly organized community theater, a renovated art cinema under a new nonprofit umbrella, a highly-active arts council, many new and thriving creative sector businesses, and very importantly, a stronger self-image. They re-invested in what they had and they found new ways to work together.

In a much larger city, San Jose, CA, we spent considerable time between 2007 and 2009 looking at the unique qualities there. It is a city of one million people in one of the wealthiest and most highly educated regions of the world known as Silicon Valley. Arts leaders there were puzzled as to why they couldn’t grow and maintain a symphony, ballet, professional theater, museums and other such institutions. They lost several major arts organizations to bankruptcies before, during, and after those years we worked there. Through extensive research, we found that smaller, participatory, culturally diverse arts organizations were thriving and new ones were starting constantly. Silicon Valley represents the world’s most international, creative, new technology start-up cultures. Industrial-era production and distribution models that focus on Western European cultures were not going to achieve a broad base there like they have in other, older U.S. Cities. San Jose and Silicon Valley arts leaders have now come to terms with their unique and amazingly wonderful culture and have stopped trying to replicate models that seemed to work in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and New York.

As you can imagine, Ed, I could rattle on and on, given the time. Nor do you have the space!

EN: There's always more space for a good cause. Thank you for sharing and I know many who will be looking forward to seeing what evolves.

* * * *
After last week's meeting I did speak with a few who attended. There's a general feeling among some that there will be a need to bring a more diverse group of artists and arts representatives. I myself have had a number of ideas in the aftermath and one key observation. There are many groups who are making real contributions in various ways who were not at the table. They're voices will need to be heard. The possibilities can be significant.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Internet Cat Video Festival Returns to Duluth

Get ready, Duluth. The Internet Cat Video Festival is coming to town, presented by the Duluth Art Institute and Zinema 2. Are cat video the new kitsch? I dunno. But they certainly seem to be a 21st century sensation.

Personally, me and cats haven't seemed to hit it off too well. I got bit while petting a stray cat when I was around six or so, and remember lying on a metal table in a semi-dark room at the hospital waiting for tests to determine whether the little fellow had rabies. I was spared.

Tow years later, on Easter morning while visiting my cousins in Boston the tail hairs of their cat brushed against my eyeball, which in an of itself may not have been a problem except that I have a profoundly effective cat allergy that I was unaware of until that day. My cornea began itching, and lacking the discipline to leave it alone I kept rubbing it. When I finally looked in a mirror to see how bad it was I was shocked to see that my eyeball looked like a wrinkled prune. It shocked my mom, too, who as an RN immediately set about trying to get me to an ophthalmologist. This was Easter morning, and to everyone's relief the doctor was in.

His office was in the back of his house and I was studiously examined. At one point the lights were turned low and I was to look at an eye chart comprised of all E's facing different directions and reducing in size. In the end he gave me a shot of some kind of medication, right into the corner of my eye. I will never forget that one.

I've forgiven that doctor, and those cats, too.

Over the years we've had a number of barn cats to take care of the critters that steal the grain our geese and other animals rely on. Elsie, our current feline, seems to not be as dutiful as she ought to be. Mario's the only one that I've really been close to, but they have all been interesting to observe, especially when playing with their food. (Those poor little mice.)

So, Monday, April 6, the Walker Art Center’s Internet Cat Video Festival is returning to Duluth, with two shows, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tickets are $9 for adults, $7 for students and $6.50 for senior citizens.

The 2015 iteration of this event features a new selection of videos curated by Will Braden, the creator of the Henri Le Chat Noir videos and recipient of the festival’s first Golden Kitty (People’s Choice) Award.

When I checked out the Walker's website on this event, I quickly noticed that this is more than just going to the movies. You're invtied -- no, encouraged -- to wear a cat costume, with the winner taking home artist Nancy Cramer-Lettenstrom’s Strata, a large-scale, dream-like pastel portrayal of cats ($650 value). According to the announcement, "Animal Allies Humane Society and Marvelous Melissa, our community’s cat-based vendor who creates eco-friendly toys for cats, will be represented at booths on site. A signature ‘pretty kitty’ cocktail featuring Vikre Distillery gin will be on sale at the Zeitgeist lounge, with half of the sale proceeds going to the Duluth Art Institute."

Who woulda thunk it?

Speaking of cats, have you ever played the party game "Nice kitty"? It's a stitch, too. Maybe while some of you still have your costumes on you'll want to play a couple rounds in the lobby.

The Duluth Art Institute's programs and services are made possible through the support of contributing members of the Duluth Art Institute, Bush Foundation, Depot Foundation, Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation, McKnight Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the State Legislature from the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and Wildey H. Mitchell Family Foundation. ##

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Quotes About Books

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends. ~ Dawn Adams

Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors. ~ Joseph Addison

Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. ~ Mortimer J. Adler

You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. ~ Ray Bradbury

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. ~ Joseph Brodsky

A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors. ~ Henry Ward Beecher

The pleasure of reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures. ~ Jessamyn West

Books had instant replay long before televised sports. ~ Bert Williams

To feel most beautifully alive means to be reading something beautiful, ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry. ~ Gaston Bachelard

He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, as in all fortunes. ~ Barrow

Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be made disagreeable. ~ Augustine Birrell

The mere brute pleasure of reading --the sort of pleasure a cow must have in grazing. ~ G.K. Chesterton

A room without books is like a body without a soul. ~ Marcus T. Cicero

* * * *
Do you have a favorite quote about books? I'd like to hear it.