Friday, December 27, 2019



The LORD is my shepherd; I am a collie

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. When he says “Down, Laddie. Down” I obey. Sometimes mid-run. Sometimes more willingly than other times because moving the flock is my passion. Herding is what I was born to do. 

So, I don’t need coaxing to herd. I only need direction. And that comes in a faint, distant whistle. You didn’t hear it? I’m not surprised. Even I can’t see its source. Even I can barely hear it.

But herding restores my soul. It is my right path. On this the shepherd and I agree.
Today we moved the flock by still waters. 

But tomorrow might be that place in the valley where the rocky terrain tends to split the flock. Keeping the flock together tomorrow might require far more of me. I might not be able to do it on my own. Sometimes I suspect that the shepherd comes in with his staff and works the side of the flock that I can’t reach.

It just occurred to me that for some reason you imagined that I, a collie, was herding other dogs. I’m not sure where you got that idea. I’m not. I herd sheep. Some dogs pull carts and sleds. Some guard the home. Still others hunt. I don’t manage other dogs. I’m not the shepherd.

The shepherd prepares a meal for me – the food I need and lots of water.

At the end of the long day he brushes out my coat. I don’t need burrs or ticks following me inside, ‘cause I dwell in the house of the shepherd.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Crafting a View Toward Art -- Part III

....and so I want to encourage young and beginning potters that the prompting to scribble outside the lines is the "after" picture. And I'm not thus encouraging them because I want them to pursue the craft. I'm doing it because it is my sense that that is what they want to pursue.

 It's my sense that most people are asking how they might acquire the tools with which to be creative.

 And I suspect that is at least in part true because they have the will to create -- they want to write, they want to paint, they want to play music -- but don't know how to get a foot in those doors. All of the skills are still a mystery. They feel a sense that they want to put something out there into the world, but they don't know how.

And I'm not talking about the romantics who wish they were a writer, wish they were a painter, wish they were a musician. I'm talking about the folks who want to do it. I suspect that for them the suggestion to simply scribble outside the lines is more of a deterrent than it is an encouragement.

To some extent perhaps the only clarification necessary is the clarification of goals. What does a person really want as the end result of the endeavor.

It was my experience as a wannabe athlete for most of my youth that if you took (for instance) two 12 year old boys who had never held a racquet and set them to a game of tennis -- the one with a basic course in the proper way to hold the racquet, a proper forehand and a backhand, a proper serve, and the strict instruction that this is how tennis is "done" -- and the other you simply told "use this racquet to hit the ball over the net and between the lines and don't ever let a ball bounce twice on your side...

...basic athletic ability being equal, the second boy would win the match. That is, the goal is often more important than the skill to get there. On the other hand, once the first boy's skills start to improve, he will eventually overtake the second boy. There is an objective reason why the proper means of doing something develop over time.

...oh, you can't have one
You can't have one
You can't have one
Without the other

I think that why there's yet another phenomenon in the creativity/skill conundrum:

When older people decide to take up a creative endeavor they fight an uphill battle against diminishing physical capability and the time required to learn a skill when compared to youthful counterparts. On the other hand, they often have a more refined sense of goal. They have more educated tastes, and they aren't quite as fooled by mindless meanderings.

Crafting a View Toward Art -- Part II

That's one of the interesting things about this. It's like my attempt at a very short story:

It was a quiet day around the universe. Gabriel was between major announcing gigs. As such, he was kicking around the firmament doing a whole lot of nothing.

He made his way over to a cloud bank on the far side of the horizon where his long-time friend, Michael, was supervising the launching of new souls to be born on earth.

“Hey, Gabe” Michael said as he watched his friend climb a small cirrus stile and make his way over to him and the soul launching pad.

“Mike. ‘Sup?” (When Gabriel isn’t making announcements he almost never speaks in King James English. And he never uses his Transatlantic accent. Even his diction isn’t much to write scripture about).

“Not much.” Replied Michael. “I’ve just been sending some of these new souls down to Earth.

They stood together in comfortable silence. Gabriel watched. Michael worked -- his hands on the lever of the soul-launcher.

After a while, Gabriel asked, “What’s with the *and* or *or* light?”

See, as Gabriel watched, he noticed that each soul launch involved Michael pulling a lever. As he did, a small lighted *and* would appear over the launching chute as the soul disappeared downward. However, with the next pull of the lever and the next soul starting its descent, the light would come on and read *or*. As Gabriel continued to watch, he noticed that there appeared to be no pattern to the *and* or the *or*. It’s just that sometimes it was one, and sometimes it was the other.

“The *and* or *or* light?" said Michael.

“Yeah, what’s up with the *and* or *or* light. What’s it mean?”

“Oh, that” Michael replied. “Well, that’s an indicator light. The souls that go down under the *and* light will be born with the physical and intellectual capacity to accomplish both *this* and *that* on Earth.”

“And the *or* light?”

“Yeah, well those souls will have to decide between *this* or *that* because they won’t be capable of both.”

Gabriel quietly watched a while longer as Michael launched a random few more *and*s and a few more *or*s. Finally he asked, “So, how will the souls know whether they are an *and* or an *or* once they’re living on the Earth?”

“They won’t.” answered Michael.

It's not symmetrical. Propose that there is such thing as "gifted" and you won't be wrong. But you will almost certainly put a damper on people's willingness to try. You'll almost certainly squelch the creative impulse. Why should they try? They're probably not gifted. They don't feel gifted. They've never yet shown signs of being gifted. Again, so why try?

But propose that there are approaches one can take to maximize the possibility being successfully creative and folks might be more encouraged to take it as far as we can. After all, the mystery of it all is that nobody knows how far they can take it until they try.

And evidence of "gifted" isn't equally present across all endeavors. It's pretty clear that if an endeavor requires height or speed or good looks -- Dudley Moore auditioning for the role of Tarzan notwithstanding -- most of us show the good sense not to even attempt. But most endeavors -- particularly in the creative arts -- aren't quite so evidently limiting. When pursuing the arts there are too many variables for the lack of giftedness to be evident.

So it's probably worthwhile to encourage people to pursue those endeavors with proven strategies that will likely be most fruitful. Sure, most of us will find our limitations. Some more quickly than others.

But better to be sent down the best path from the start rather than: 1) Start down the wrong path that just about guarantees failure or 2) Assume the concept of "gifted" is so black and white that if I show no evidence of it, I might as well not try. There isn't always evidence of giftedness. And there certainly won't be evidence of it if we never try.

Practice is the artist's act of faith.

But faith is not an epistemological strategy. Faith is the end result at the conclusion of our epistemological strategies.

We don't believe by faith. We believe what we are capable of believing and then by faith we pursue what that belief leads to.

Learning skills with which to be creative is probably a pretty good thing to put faith in.

Crafting a View of Art -- Part I

"Instead of pushing creative teams to think outside the box, consider what’s best for the user and what constraints they face, and create a new playground where they feel comfortable to explore." -- from a study showing that children act with far greater freedom on playgrounds where there are fences surrounding them, and conversely cluster around their teacher when there are no fences.

I guess it comes down to (but maybe isn't limited to?) "What is art?"

I grew up in a culture that evaluated a distinction between art and craft in which art was deemed something akin to "divine", while craft was merely mortal. Pedestrian. Sometimes even twee.

And so I grew up thinking I wanted to be an artist. Until I didn't.

Somewhere along the line I changed the way I approached the distinction and realized that all I wanted to do was create objects that pleased me and at the same time pleased my community as well.

That's craft.

Add an objective degree of quality to that distinction and if I could achieve that, I maybe could call myself a "craftsman".

If I could successfully do that -- please me and please others by my creative hand -- maybe I could perpetuate and amplify my ability to keep doing so by also making a living doing it.

The more I was able to make, the more likely came the pleasing results.

And, ironically, the more I pursued that excellence in craft, the more often my culture described the result of my efforts as "art".

Conversely, when I was studying with a mind to becoming an artist, I found myself in the midst of an academic and cultural milieu that conflated "freedom" with "creativity".

In that setting there had arisen a couple of decades worth of a new doctrine that had permeated the academic world that went something like this: "Teaching the mechanics of how to create -- the discipline of structured learning of techniques, materials, history -- will inhibit creativity, effectively hemming them into the status quo. And the status quo is, by definition, not "Art"."

But I wanted to know how to paint. I wanted to understand soloing over a chord progression. I wanted master clay. I wanted to know how others who had come before got the vocabulary in materials to create the works that at that point seemed transcendent, that spoke to my heart, that thrilled me.

The academic world was telling me that such instruction would inhibit my creativity....and without creativity there is no Art.

Small wonder I found refuge in craft. From that point I followed my intuition that a string cannot be pushed. It can only be pulled.

A bit of confirmation -- not that my budding acceptance of who I was and what I wanted to pursue was right -- but that it was right enough for my ability to understand the world....

...I became aware of my estranged nephew's painting.

I was vaguely aware that my brother's son, Stephen, had gone off to Italy to study painting. Up to that point I had never seen any of Stephen's artwork.

But the first time I saw one of Stephen's paintings I was quite physically startled. It was, to my eye, masterful. My mind went immediately to:

1. Artists are born and not made. Stephen had to be gifted, right? That's what our culture sorta believes, right? I mean, when someone demonstrates an undeniable skill at something, it must be because they have something born into them -- or some inspiration from a transcendent source -- in order to create something so inexplicably "other", right?

2. Therefore, art is the domain of artists. But everyone wants to be an artist because our culture has romanticized the appellation "Artist" to such a degree -- who wouldn't want to be thus honored? And so, it seems, the simplest way to allow everyone who wants to be an artist fulfill that dream is to re-define art....or at least, change the focus of the definition to that very (and ironically narrow) corridor of "creative" -- but creative without an end and creative without a standard.

My introduction to Stephen's painting was causing me a pause in my philosophical journey. It was causing me to look again at my perceptions of what was art, what was craft. Were there meaningful distinctions?

Was he gifted? Was art not available to just anyone?

....and then I started looking into it just a bit deeper. I went to the website of the Italian academy at which Stephen was studying.

It seems that there were hundreds (if not thousands over time) of painters equally gifted as Stephen. Hmmmm. I saw the illusion of Stephen's "giftedness" and THEN I got a glimpse behind the curtain. Stephen's fellow students were doing work much like Stephen's. His fellow students appeared to be equally "gifted". Hundreds of them. So, maybe Stephen LEARNED to paint?


And from there he was able to create. Once armed with a set of skills, Stephen was able to create in a manner that transcended the how-it-was-done. He was thus now capable of disappearing into the work and out of sight such that when one viewed his work, the "how did he DO that?" became secondary to the emotional response he made himself capable of evoking.