Almost Colorless Stairway

Masonic Steps 4824 narrow

Even when not outwardly producing we may still be using time well. Maybe there is a need for both fallow and use times, just as the author suggests in several parts of the Torah.

In Exodus 10:23 for instance, he writes: “You may plant your land for six years and gather its crops. But during the seventh year, you must leave it alone and withdraw from it. ..”

The seventh year, shmita, in Hebrew שמיטה (literally, “release”), is to allow less fortunate humans and wild animals to feed from the fallow land while you live off what you have put away for such a time of release.

Our collective sacred writings are rich stores for radicalizing our lives. Everywhere else we see signs to consume: grip the wheel, make the devils jump out of your way and beeline for the mall. A Sabbath year makes sense. We need times to turn off our wills and repurpose ourselves for letting go.

Take sleep, for a metaphor. During the day we thrust our way through words and life, insistent and full of ourselves. At night we live, it seems, another life. In the inchoate dark of our nights, dreams disassemble the structures of our frenzy. They turn them over and out, fluffing carpets, shaking off the dust, re-arranging chairs and tables and lamps that the “room” is fresh and new again for us when we wake up in the morning.

Turning ourselves for the use of others can accomplish a similar miracle. When we turn our gaze away from the carrot dangling in front of our face we might see what’s around us – the shiny pebbles on the road, that little bench under a shady oak, in the field beyond, a lion feasting on a deer, farther down, a snow-bedecked mountain, over it all a design-free sky – and find our footing on the ground.

The quiet hours of the evening and night are some of my most creative moments. In the helter-skelter of the day I get lost in the clamor that I don’t hear my own voice – or hear the still, small voice speaking to me and only me. It’s my lifeline.

Granted there are all species of humans out there. Some have adrenaline pumps for a heart; they live for the sheer terror of almost just falling off the cliff as they ramp up their engines to their vision of a Promised Land. More power to them. For some of us production is more like making love. We reserve it for the quiet times, when everything else has been put to bed, nothing left on the mind to distract us and we are completely alone with the Beloved.

Here is an image I worked on earlier today. It’s a photo I took during a walk about downtown Indianapolis this fall. It looked useless when I first saw it but the vagueness of the image lent itself to “light” work. It’s a play on crazy shades that are not quite colorless or gray. It’s in the innuendoes that I think  an image can be most persuasive, leaving much of the storytelling to whomever is viewing it.

Visual art should be like a page torn from our peoples’ sacred writings, a metaphor for creating anew a stairway of wandering and hope.

It’s All Greek to Me!

Winter Tree 0682

I took this picture through the living room window just now. It surprised me. It looks just like what I wanted to shoot. I wanted an image for the kind of day we are having here in Indianapolis. The sky is amorphous gray, featureless so  the eye can latch on to nothing. The air is completely still. Outside, aside from the sky, there is nothing but more gray, a grayscale image going from black to white. No emotion.

But no, even when it’s all gray, there is emotion. As long as the scene is viewed by a human being there is emotion. Because emotion is not in the image, is not in the stimulus that triggers a sight, a sound, a taste, or a combination of sensations. Emotion is generated in the human mind. And to me art involves emotion.

That’s not what everybody believes about art. Artists in the Middle Ages certainly were not thinking of art as involving emotion. What art there was in Europe at the time was to teach unlettered people about Christian belief that they might be saved. In the Renaissance art still featured biblical subjects but the classic images of Greece and Rome began to filter in and artists began to theorize about beauty. Beauty was what they saw in classical art, but with a dollop from each artist’s own personality. Thus Michelangelo with his love for the masculine body would paint even angels and women with the muscularity of men. Art was beauty as the artist saw it, and only a little of what his patron was paying him to produce!

The subject matter of art changed with the times. In the decades following the mercantile success of Florence, other parts of Europe began to enjoy prosperity and wealth. Merchants were now the moneyed class, employing artists to immortalize their portraits, their homes, their ideas. Artists ever more free from canons dictated by church-sponsored works explored other ways of depicting beauty. Over time new canons took shape and became established as dogma. Until the impressionists came and the world of representational art broke into smithereens.  Beauty itself was now insecure. Art didn’t have to be beautiful. It still had to be “true” but what it was true to everybody no longer agreed. In Europe, North America and now in every part of the world, visual artists are seeking ways of expressing their inner visions through a multiplicity of media – oils, acrylics, wood, fabric, photographs and now pixels!

All of that is beyond me, impractical and so much useless chatter. What is it that I want to portray in a mixture of photographic captures and digital editing?

The human being brings a part of himself into the process of creating any work, whether we call it a skyscraper, a Filipino menudo, an Impressionist painting, or a jazz improvisation. His work shows his mark, what Herman Hesse called “the mark of Cain.” Most of us spend our lives becoming as similar to others as we can be. Or we spend our time trying to be the image of a man or woman we have in our heads. But some of us march to an even more essential drummer. The drum beat he hears is not of this world. To hear it he must let go his fears, his reliance on simple reason and his own puny resources. To hear the music of the spheres, he must take a leap of faith, jump off the known into the unknown.

Only when an artist can produce something the world has not seen before can he claim to be an artist. The work has to show its intimate relationship to the world as we “know” it but it must include something of the producing artist or it will be nothing but paint-by-numbers or generic art like the various salicylate products we can now buy without buying Bayer’s Aspirin.

Even as a child I was fascinated by the world around me. The world inside me was even more interesting. No wonder I gravitated to psychology, the study of mind. For 35 years I earned a living using doctrines of Western psychology to help others find a measure of peace or balance in their lives and relationships. But clinical psychology or its medical counterpart that I practiced was not where my passion lay. I did it because I had to.

I paid my dues. Now I can hone in closer to my desire. But do I even know what that desire is? And how do I go after it? Will I recognize it when it appears?

My mind is a jumble of ideas and images, of thoughts, memories and sensations. I am starting to think that none of these matters. Putting together a theory is useful but not to bring our life’s desire into view. Writing up theories is in itself a work of creation. It’s awesome when some part of it appears to work, when we see it work in our lives. But the nagging though remains: there is more.

In 1912, Oxford Professor, Gilbert Murray, wrote a short book called Four Stages of Greek Religion. In 1925 he revised the book by adding a fifth stage, his book now called Five Stages of Greek Religion. It is the 1951 edition of the book with Professor Murray‘s long Introduction to the Third Edition that came into my hands several years ago. One night this week when sleep was playing hide and seek with me I started to read the book again.

Murray’s book contained many ideas that found resonance with my own nearly 70 years of living. He held that what we studied as grade school and high school students as Greek Mythology was the ancient Greek’s religion, as much religion to them as Christianity or Islam or Hinduism is to contemporary men and women. I knew that from the 1980s when I started studying religions other than Christianity. I remember the moment when the insight hit me with a force of recognition that even today shakes my world. What we impute as mythology to our true religion is mythology to someone else, to a serious student of the phenomenon of religion.

Murray also held that the religion a person today believes in and practices contains within it elements of older religions. We throw away some elements irrelevant in our times  but there are elements we doggedly hold on to often without our consciously knowing we are doing this.

Carl Jung created the concept of the Collective Unconscious, some intangible creation of all the human beings who have come before us, a common collection of everything that has passed into the psyche through some person’s eyes or ears or touch or tongue to become Memory.

To Murray religion was about those realms of human activity outside of what we have studied or think we know. “All around us,” he wrote, “on every side there is an uncharted region, just fragments of the fringe of it explored, and those imperfectly; it is with this that religion deals.”

Art may be what religion was to people in our gradually vanishing past. Through their work artists remind others what else there is in the mind of man that moves him, fills him with something more than what the daily news elicit or what he experiences when he completes a deal on Wall Street or Makati Avenue. Art comprises all the works of man’s imagination that comes out of the depths of his being, like Minerva from her father’s head, full-grown and in full possession of the wisdom – literature, music, science, physics, philosophy itself, and theology. Art is the only thing perfect in our imperfect universe!

Murray held that the study of Greek mythology was crucial to understanding not only our own modern-day religions but understanding what it is to be human. From times immemorial (that is, beyond memory) other humans have attempted to understood themselves and the world they knew through their physical senses. Some humans wrought their understanding into objects we can still view today and view with a sense that we are seeing something true, so alive that those who participate in our act of creation see their own Big Bang in a dollop of paint, a page of inert words, a handful of pixels.

More theories.. The mind is relentless as it weaves thoughts and more thoughts. Even so I like this image of a Medusa of branches snaking against a colorless sky! It’s how I feel about this gray undistinguished winter day in Indiana 2013.

Travel, History and Culture

 

Menaggio looking south on Lake Como

Setting aside the belief of many Catholics (I know many who do not hold this view) that everyone who is not (Roman) Catholic is unfortunate, doomed to go a terrible place after they die and that it is the duty of good Catholics to save these unwitting fools among even their friends, one cannot disregard the great influence that Christianity and the Roman Catholic religion have wrought among people through the centuries. There are the many wonderful innovations that in the West we collectively call civilization that many of us today enjoy.
Traveling through Western Europe rewards the traveler who appreciates culture, history and art and much of what he or she sees and admires has some connection with Christianity. In the southern countries that I especially enjoy visiting, the predominant religion since the fourth century of the Common Era has been Roman Catholic, Christianity as determined by the Bishop of Rome (no matter where he lived, which was not always Rome).
I am continuing to work on the photos I took during my travels to Europe. I always thought that I would look over these pictures and put together not only the memories of my visits but also somehow to connect with the history and culture of these places. Yet, every time I come home, I stow away the suitcases and shelve the books and mementos of the trip and hardly look at them again. Someday, I would think to myself, I’ll have the luxury of time to look at this. Someday I’ll have the time to put all the ideas and insights together, read my books and let imagination and reason roam through my whole life. I didn’t take into account how memory fails!
The area of Lake Como in Northern Italy, just miles from its boundary with Austria, was scene of much fighting through the centuries. The Romans called the area Lacus Larius (hence, the name of our hotel, Hotel Laria). It was after the powerful archbishop of Milan, Ambrose, appointed Bishop Felix at Como that evangelization took root steadily. This is the same Ambrose who was a major influence on an African-born Manichaean, Augustine of Hippo (now Islamic Algeria), whom he succeeded in converting and baptizing at Easter Vigils in 387. The two are also two of the four original Doctors of the Church as declared in 1928. The others were St. Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin, the Vulgate, and Pope Gregory I better known as Gregory the Great (540-604).
This is the same Gregory who wrote the earliest biography of Benedict of Nursia, whose Rule became the foundation for many Roman Catholic orders today. (The Carmelites with whom I had much beneficial contact in the 1980s and 1990s followed a Rule formulated by St. Albert, patriarch of Jerusalem. The Carmelites started on Mt. Carmel in Northern Israel.)  The Sixth Century in Western Europe were heady times. So much of what we take for granted today originated at this time.
I’ll end with a vignette about St. Ambrose. He was a politician and governor of the Roman province that included Milan. When that powerful city’s bishop died, he went to the church where succession was being debated among Catholics and Arians to prevent the breakout of violence. Instead the people there acclaimed him as the next bishop. At the time Ambrose was not even a priest! He dodged the crowd and hid at a friend’s house. When the emperor himself supported his election, he relented. He adopted an ascetic lifestyle, gave his money to the poor, donated his lands and asked his brother to take over the care of his family. Some like Paul (then called Saul) and Augustine of Hippo, come to conversion through mystical experiences; others through circumstances beyond their control, which I suppose can be the same thing.

 

 

Time Soon for Dreaming Next Year

 

Nudist Beach in Biarritz, France

 

For a change, before I get back to doing portraits, I processed this shot from my 2009 trip to Northern Spain. This was actually taken in Biarritz, France, a short motor ride from San Sebastian in the Basque region. The beach below is a nudist beach of which there are many in both Spain and France, their cultures much more open to nudity than the U.S. or the Philippines.

I’m halfway through the last creativeLive workshop of the year, an inspiring one by entertainment photographer, Jeremy Cowert. You can check his portfolio here:

http://blog.jeremycowart.com/

He’s been a full-time photographers only since April 2005 but was a graphic designer for several years before that. His work shows the influence of his training and experience in graphic design. His photos remind me how photography especially digital photography can be that much closer to traditional art (whatever this means). He paints with light and color. I am still searching for my style and vision. The workshop reminded me that my first interest was in visual arts and drama. My younger sister loves to remind me of my childish productions when we were children and the drawings I made in grade school. I gave that up when I found that I couldn’t draw a straight line! But software now allows me to overcome my deficiency and return to the fundamentals of visual art: color, composition, and emotional impact of the whole.

I have not celebrated Christmas in traditional ways for years now. I do hang an evergreen wreath outside as a reminder of the return of life in the spring. Often I also invite people to a “gathering” to celebrate friendships and re-invoke the meaning of holy days (Christmas, Hanukkah, Pagan winter solstice, etc). My friends still give presents despite my asking them not to do this. What shopping I do is for food for the gathering, and last-minute purchases for my business. I can’t believe that I have been studying photography for almost two and a half years now. I’ve learned a lot but it seems there’s so much more to learn.

Cowert reminded me of something else. At the workshop today when asked what his goal was as a photographer, he replied: to be as good at his craft as he could be (and this was an ongoing goal) and to give back to the world. One of his recent projects was going on a Passion world tour:

http://www.awakeningthebook.com/

The Manila portion of the tour:

http://www.268generation.com/wt2010/new/#/manila/photos/eng

He volunteers his photography skills, something I want to also do. He went to Haiti, for instance, during the acute relief effort to photograph the catastrophe to help solicit donations for the ravaged population. I should take this into serious consideration as I contemplate my own personal goals for the coming year. Year’s end has always been a time for envisioning what I want to accomplish. I don’t do lists anymore but take the time to “dream” where I want to be at next year’s end.

 

He volunteers his photography skills, something I want to also do. He went to Haiti, for instance, during the acute relief effort to photograph the catastrophe to help solicit donations for the ravaged population. I should take this into serious consideration as I contemplate my own personal goals for the coming year. Year’s end has always been a time for envisioning what I want to accomplish. I don’t do lists anymore but take the time to “dream” where I want to be at next year’s end.

 

Sprinting on the Canon EOS D7

I took my Canon EOS 7D on a test drive today. Arron and I walked the backyard of the Indianapolis Art Museum and when we got hot checked out the air-conditioned exhibit halls half of which I had not seen since the renovation was completed last year. I started to take pictures and soon Arron was grabbing the camera and shooting, too. Before I knew it the 16 Gb card was full! 18 MB files quickly fill the CF card but we did shoot 616 photos. Here’s Arron sprinting down the wooded path above the canal that runs between the museum and the White River. The image is straight out of an André Techine movie! I reduced the size down to 15%, the resolution to 72 dpi. It is uncropped.