Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Short Break

Dear Readers and Art Lovers,

As you may have noticed, I've been absent for a bit. The Christmas and New Year's break contributed to some of the excuses I have. But the biggest excuse is because I completed my first book while on holiday. It's something I have been working on for about 10 months now, and I'm beyond excited to feel like it's in a good place and completed. Well, not thoroughly completed as I am currently focused on going through the entire book and making any necessary edits before I follow through with the copyright and publishing processes.

There is still plenty of art out there to enjoy so keep looking, stay strong, and I'll be back here very soon.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Punishment of the Arrogant Niobe by Diana and Apollo

In Greek Mythology, Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus. She was married to Amphion and together they had seven sons, and seven daughters. One day, Niobe was attending an annual celebration in the city of Thebes to honor of Leto (Latona) and her two children, Apollo and Artemis. Many people assembled to pay tribute offering up frankincense to the alters while paying their vows. Niobe is said to have arrived wearing extravagant clothing and jewelry, and upon entering the area, she began to protest. She went on and on about her and her husband's power, the fact that they had fourteen children, and the fortune for which they had amassed. She was, in a word, arrogant.

Leto was not pleased and in her rage, she ordered her children to kill Niobe's sons and daughters. Apollo is said to have found the sons practicing athletics where he then began to snipe each one, one-by-one, from the eldest to the youngest. When word reached Niobe and her husband, Amphion immediately became overcome by grief and plunged a dagger into his chest. Niobe, meanwhile, rushed to where her sons lay, embraced their corpses, and taunted Leto again. But as her daughters began to attend to their brothers' bodies, Artemis arrived and began killing them as well. It is said that Niobe, with one daughter left, pleaded for her life but it was to no avail.

I'd be remiss to not mention that there is some back-and-forth disagreement as to how many children were actually annihilated. But one thing does stand: Niobe's pride and arrogance were destroyed. In the wake of this massacre and according to mythology, Niobe is said to have fled to Mount Sipylus in her homeland of Phrygia where as she grieved, she turned into stone. Since she was weeping so unceasingly as she transformed, it is said that her tears continue to pour from the rock to this day.

The Punishment of the Arrogant Niobe by Diana and Apollo, by Pierre-Charles Jombert (1748-1825), is the oil on canvas painting depicting the chaos that had befallen Niobe and her children. It was originally titled this and created as a oil on canvas sketch which won Jombert First Prize at the Prix de Rome in 1772. Jombert would later go one to complete the piece featured here which was much more exquisite and detailed.

In it, we see Apollo and Artemis in the clouds above loosing arrows into Niobe's seven sons and seven daughters. Meanwhile, a despondent and desperate Niobe clings to her last remaining daughter as she seemingly pleads for her life while futilely attempting to shield her. Given the time and era, this piece was quite graphic but certainly represented the lore. Notably, Apollo and Artemis exhibit determination in their expressions, while below, the faces that remain alive exhibit horror and disbelief. Among the motion, shadow, and incredible use of light is a very vivid painting that is beautiful to behold and frightening to conceive.

An old idiom that's often expressed is, "How the mighty have fallen." It's actually derived from Scripture in 2 Samuel 1:27, but over the years, it has evolved to become a phrase used to remark about how someone who exhibited a lot of arrogance now faces the consequences of his or her actions. Niobe--for lack of a better way of saying it--had a big mouth. She had power, she had beauty, she had it all. Yet, seeing others celebrate a goddess and her two children was more than she could apparently handle. Rife with pride, she bellowed about how she deserved the attention and adoration more than Leto, and that led to her downfall. Not every arrogant jerk will face such immediate peril for their actions, but over time, most do lose their grip on power and prestige. What baffles me is how examples like this and so many others don't cause more people to make better choices. Even if they are graced with great wealth and a large family, it is pretty safe to say that an arrogant, entitled attitude toward everything and everyone else will only lead to destruction. Logically speaking, therefore, humility seems to be the safest, smartest way to live. Don't you think?

Sunday, November 19, 2017


During World War II, a man named Tuvia Bielski, along with his brothers Zus and Asael, were called up to serve in a military unit to fight against Nazi Germany. Just as their units were being assembled, the Luftwaffe flew over and decimated their town. As they scrambled to regroup, they were ordered to assemble in the woods about 5 kilometers away. So they did. And as they did, another wave of planes flew over and dropped more incendiary bombs on the forest setting it on fire. When they finally caught up with their commander, he told them they were on their own. Grabbing their other brother, Aron, they fled to a small village in western Belarus where their parents lived.

Not long after, the Nazis made their way through the village rounding up Jews to move them to a ghetto in Nowogrodek. The brothers managed to escape into the nearby woods where they remained elusive. After a few months had passed, the Nazis murdered the rest of their family including their parents, two of their other brothers, and many of their extended family, wives and children included. Defiantly, the brothers remained in the woods and as they moved about, they began to encounter other Jews who were hiding. So they banded together and provided them with protection, shelter, and food. Over time, the group began to grow and their reputation started to spread.

Their efforts, despite all the odds, all the heartache, all the suffering, ended up saving over 1,200 Jewish lives. So astonishing was their story, Hollywood produced a film about them starring Daniel Craig.

Unknown facial expression study, by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783), is a marble sculpture of the artist's own face, and one in a series of busts meant to catalog "canonical grimaces". I've featured Messerschmidt before and mainly because his incredible attention to detail is, for lack of a better term, mesmerizing. Other than seeing a human make this very expression, I feel the only artist in history to ever be able to capture the very essence of an expression in pure detail is Messerschmidt. Bold statement, I know, but just look!

Just like The Vexed Man, the labored efforts to capture this particular emotion is almost frightening too real. In animation, I can picture kids in the store or on a playground who refuse to obey their parents or teachers. In adulthood, I see the look of a heart that refuses to let injustice, evil, or oppression prevail. I like the latter much more than the former. It's speaks to a time when this was the heart of a birthing nation, the heart of warriors in the heat of battle, the heart of explorers seeking to map the earth, the heart of inventors who were told it couldn't be done. And it's worrisome to me that inside my own heart, I wrestle with which picture to behold despite knowing which I appreciate the most. They flip-flop back and forth thanks to the taint of today's selfish, bombastic society, and my love of history, art, and success against the odds.

I picked the story of the Jewish brothers not just because of the film, but also to highlight the word defiance. Our world has too much of the adolescent appeal with millions of individuals feeling entitled, wrestling with low self-esteem, and clinging to rampant, unappeased ideology. They stare at others with the animated version in their hearts. Sadly, their version of defiance will fail and lead to further emptiness. Whereas, those who step up to do what's right and stare in the face of evil will find triumph regardless of outcome because their defiance is not unlike the kind our forefathers had when this nation was borne; theirs is not unlike the concerted efforts of soldiers who face horrific enemies who use women and children as bombs; theirs is not unlike those who took to uncharted seas to find new worlds; theirs is not unlike the researchers, scientists, and doctors who cured polio, fight to treat cancer, and save lives that would otherwise find death if it weren't for their tenacious expertise. Again, I like the latter much more.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


The topic of being lonely came up recently. It's been on my mind quite a bit since I began writing my first book, so when I was spending time with friends and the subject was mentioned, I was already keyed in. As I sat and listened to a one explain the mental torment she's experienced since her divorce, spending years recuperating emotionally while trying to rebuild her life, I found myself nodding in agreement. Very few of us will admit to it, but when we're alone for a significant portion of time, we're pretty hard on ourselves. Heck, we're hard on ourselves a lot of the time even in flashing moments. But when we're at our absolute worst is when we're isolated for a significant amount of time.

As a life-long involuntary bachelor, believe me when I tell you, being alone can get extremely dark. In my head are many thoughts, and these swirling ideas, pictures, what ifs, and voices all bounce around and collide with each other. It becomes particularly frustrating when I'm trying to read or write because my head doesn't shut up. And when I'm trying to focus on the philosophies of life as they pertain to me, the voices are generally the ones who end up screaming the loudest. Before you sentence me to an asylum, hear me out for a minute.

Voices in our heads are nothing new or psychologically concerning. We talk or think to ourselves all the time; when we're in the car, at the grocery store, thinking about tasks at hand, in our jobs, and pretty much everywhere and about everything else. A head that's empty is no head at all. For the lonely, those same voices also become rather critical. I can't say for certain what my friend suffered, but I can tell you what my brain voice tells me: that I'll never be worthy of love from another person. Yup, straight up, I just admitted to that. I have no shame and this doesn't make me sad. It's what the stupid voice in my head tells me from time to time, and especially when I'm wondering if I'll ever find someone. I suppose years of rejection have primed this voice to be so harsh and constant, but it's there most of the time and it's hard for me to escape. Fortunately, I've turned over a new leaf in recent months and am happily in a place where I frankly don't care if anyone loves me. I'm happy to be who I am and to have what I've earned.

Regardless of this specific situation, my mind is often mired by chaos which gets louder and louder the longer I'm alone. And thanks to my current bout of singleness, that is quite often. It's as if the laws of living don't exist in my brain, and until recently, it was difficult to even explain. So imagine my surprise when I sat down to do some research for my next blog and stumbled across this mesmerizing masterpiece.

Relativity, by M.C. Escher (1898-1972), is a lithograph depicting a structure which breaks the laws of physics and is inhabited by 16 individuals. Architecturally, there isn't a place inside the building that these individuals couldn't reach, that is unless they are restricted to the orthogonal plain of gravity in which they currently reside. The entire piece is mind-blowing to conceive and conceptualize, and it is 100% a statement in design.

The definition of relativity is, "the state of being dependent for existence on or determined in nature, value, or quality by relation to something else." That's a mouthful, I know. Essentially, it means there is no universal, objective truth in the world which I find to be a bit wacky considering the glass I just dropped which fell perfectly perpendicular to the sky and not off at some unexpected angle. Philosophical argument aside, what I find this piece to better resemble is what goes on inside my head. I dare say it's probably indicative of what may go on inside your head, too.

Escher's works have long been a dorm room favorite. I can recall first seeing some of them years ago when I was in school. They fascinated me, but now that I'm older and bother doing research, many of his pieces were explorations into mathematics, design, perspective, and impossible objects. Escher was a genius so I don't know if he intended to capture the very idea of chaos so well, but in my eyes, he did. Staring at Relativity nearly gives me a headache for many good reasons. What I already know of physics and gravity wrestle with what I see thus causing several unused synapses in my brain to suddenly begin firing. Visually, I find this piece to be absolutely perfect in capturing how my mind works when I'm alone. Up is down, left is right, everything is independent while intertwined, and while there appears to be order, there isn't any order at all.

Look, loneliness is something all of us experience. My way of avoiding it is to write, read, research, and entertain myself with TV shows, games, and movies. You probably have your go-to ways as well. But in those darkest moments where the loneliness is beginning to stir up chaos inside your head, remember that you don't have to suffer through it alone. It never ceases to amaze me how many people choose to try and weather it all by themselves, but none of them have to. Family, friends, loved ones are all just a call/text/email/carrier pigeon/smoke signal/telegraph/letter away.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Tempest

I heard a story recently, one which you may have already heard yourself. It goes like this: a farmer one day strolled out onto his land to survey the day's chores when he suddenly heard his donkey bellowing out in pain. He looked and looked but couldn't find his faithful companion anywhere. As he circled his acres, the cries started to get louder and the farmer could hear rustling. It was an odd sort of rustling too. Not like hooves against dirt and leaves, but hooves scratching against a wall. That's when it dawned on him. He rushed over to his well and sure enough, his poor donkey was stuck inside. He tried his best to let his donkey know he would be right back to help, and then tore back to the barn to retrieve some rope.

After many hours and attempts to loft the beast from the cylindrical trap, the farmer's heart sank. His sad donkey was getting more and more exhausted, and he just wasn't able to muster the strength to get him out of the well. It seemed as if all hope was lost. In defeat, the farmer decided the best thing to do would be to put the donkey out of his misery. The well was already dry and unnecessarily uncovered, so he figured, in haste, the wisest decision would be to fill it with dirt burying his faithful donkey inside. Each scoop broke his heart a bit more, but the tired, frustrated farmer just didn't know what else to do.

Oddly enough--as you can imagine--his plan backfired but in a good way. As the dirt cascaded downward toward the donkey, he mustered what little energy he had left to shake it off his face and shoulders. The farmer, none the wiser, kept shoveling dirt into the well, and with each pour, the donkey shook it off. As more and more dirt piled up underneath the donkey, he was able to slowly work his way up to the edge. After a dozen or so shovels later, the donkey was finally able to hoist himself out. Neither the farmer nor the donkey knew this day would end up the way that it did. The poor creature was likely just minding his own business when the world disappeared above him. Likewise, the farmer probably anticipated a normal day of duties around the farm only to find himself faced with a failed rescue and the tough decision to do away with one of his pets.

The Tempest, by Giorgione (c. 1477-1510), is an oil-on-canvas, Renaissance painting that has baffled art experts for centuries. It depicts the lush and beautiful setting of the region in and around Venice, Italy, specifically and potentially Padua based on the barely visible symbol of the city on the building slightly obscured by the bush adjacent to the right side of the bridge. According to experts, the male on the left was identified as a Venetian soldier and shepherd, but historians later argued that he was likely just a shepherd given his tradition and contemporary Venetian garb. The woman on the right has been determined to be a gypsy. Regardless of historical facts, this painting, in its time, was a leap forward in how other artists created works. Prior to its creation, religious depictions and half-prints were the popular styles of the day, so when Giorgione revealed this piece, it left many scratching their heads.

Over the years, several individuals have argued back and forth as to its meaning. Some have said there is no explanation for it, while others have suggested it may be a depiction of Adam and Eve after being removed from Eden. All you and I can do is just look at it, marvel at the structure, paint strokes, dark shadows, and detailed beauty. Which is what I did until I stopped letting me eyes do the decision making, and I let my heart speak. What I saw was life. I saw robust life on display both in the two humans--the male and female clearly being well-fed, healthy, and in particular, the female nursing new life--as well as the lush foliage and trees surrounding them. The city also exudes life with it's classic Italian structure, ornate decorations, and obvious lack of poverty. Finally, the distant sky reveals vivid life with the churning storm and crack of lightning shooting down from the clouds. Then, it hit me. Giorgione may not have had this intention when he created it, but I felt it was a metaphor for how life is precious and can quickly come crashing down upon us all in the blink of an eye.

The first clue for me was in the title. The Tempest implies--at least to me--that the storm that's brewing in the background is going to be pretty strong and dangerous. Also, the two people in the foreground are clearly in an area where flash flooding could easily overwhelm them both. They are casually living out life, but know not of the impending doom that may be heading their way momentarily. Given these thoughts, I then began to ponder about how life is fragile and about how trouble comes for most of us when we least expect it. It gave me a sense of appreciating the life I have because I could lose it all tomorrow.

When I heard the story of the farmer, I immediately thought of this piece. While the tall tale is likely not true at all, it did provide an example of two creatures who felt like the end was near. Two creatures who had lives to live, suddenly found themselves faced with peril they never expected. And just when both thought it was all over, that doom would overtake them both, they each survived their troubling ordeals and lived on to see another day. How quickly many of us can throw in the towel when it seems life is at its worst. But if we all stop to think about past experiences where we were sure doom would be our fate, how refreshing it is to realize now that we're still here and capable of recalling the terrifying circumstances which have long passed. It's not always over when we think it's over. I'd like to think Giorgione was expressing the same thing when he painted this masterpiece.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Laocoön and His Sons

My friend Joe is one of those guys who has a heart of gold while being driven by a deep desire to help others. Sometimes, Joe's eagerness can get the best of him, but throughout every situation and circumstance, he keeps a smile on his face and laughs off any opposition. Why? Because he's driven by a passion that few others have: bettering the lives of others over his own. His selflessness is refreshing, and the more time I spend hanging out with Joe, the more I admire his zeal and energy. It's hard not to like a guy like Joe.

A couple of weeks ago, Joe had swung by my place to help me carry a couple of old couches I was going to throw out to the curb. I have been struggling with some nerve damage in my back so I needed a helping hand, and he was quick to offer it. Upon arriving at my home, though, Joe realized that my old couches weren't that bad, and that his dad needed an upgrade from what he current had. So, one quick phone call later, we were loading the couch and love seat into his truck. When we started loading, I noticed he had a lot of other stuff including some really large rubber mats that weighed a lot and were sticking out a bit over his tailgate. They were so bulky, in fact, that his off-road truck tires were nearly skimming the inside of the wheel wells. I asked him what they were for, and being a physical trainer, he said they were for his growing gym, of course.

I prefaced this story with a quick bit about Joe's personality because I wanted to set the stage for this: Joe finds good in nearly everything he encounters. Whether it's a person down on their luck or some grungy old rubber mats, Joe's heart and mind immediately aim for the positive. What looked like junk to me, Joe saw as a potential benefit for his growing list of clients. No longer would his clients have to exercise in his gym on a concrete floor. No, Joe saw some dirty old mats and decided with a little TLC, his gym would soon be a more comfortable and safe place to exercise.

Once we finished loading up the couches for Joe's dad, he strapped everything down and was on his way. A little later in the day, I receive a couple of text messages from him. First, he exclaimed that the couches were delivered and implied that his dad was very happy. Next, though, Joe said that the several hundred pounds of rubber mats were strewn all over the freeway. He lost them going over a bump in one fell swoop. What surprised me, though, was how humorous he was about the whole ordeal, and better yet, how excited he was for his dad's latest furniture upgrade. Joe's the man! Needless to say, he returned to the scene on the freeway and loaded the mats back up into his truck. Poor guy . . . they really were horrendously heavy.

Flash forward to today: Joe came by my place again to pick up my old chair and ottoman to take back to his new home. Despite it being a matching piece to the couch and love seat, he loved it too much and thought it was so comfortable, he wanted it for his place. (Hey, we all deserve a good nap once in a while.) So, he and I chatted a bit, loaded up the chair and ottoman, and he was on his way yet again. We even joked about the déjà vu of it all. And wouldn't you know it, not 15 minutes later, I got a call from Joe. At about 60 miles-an-hour on the highway, the chair flipped out of the back of his truck, flew up about 10 feet into the air flipping end-over-end, bounced off the freeway tarmac, flipped some more, bounced and flipped and bounced and flipped until it came to a stop on the shoulder. Cars broke hard to avoid a collision and poor old Joe, he was beyond embarrassed. When I called him back and spoke to him on the phone, though, he was his normal, high-spirited self! The incident didn't sway him much and we both laughed at the frequency at which things seem to fly out of the back of his 4x4. Good guy Joe, though, no matter how disappointed he was at losing the chair, he was still buzzing with energy and happiness. And that's why I like him so much.

Laocoön and His Sons, attributed to Agesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus (dates unknown), is a roughly 2000 year old Hellenistic baroque marble sculpture of Laocoön, a Trojan priest, and his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus, being attacked by sea serpents. It was excavated in Rome in 1506. According to folklore and history, there is some disagreement as to why this piece was created. Some believe it depicts Laocoön, who was a priest of Poseidon, and his two boys being punished for attempting to expose the truth behind the Trojan Horse (according to Virgil's Aeneid). Others believe Laocoön was a priest of Apollo and this was his punishment for not remaining celibate (according to Sophocles). Pietro Aretino (1492-1556), an Italian author and playwright, is quote as saying, "The two serpents, in attacking the three figures, produce the most striking semblances of fear, suffering and death. The youth embraced in the coils is fearful; the old man struck by the fangs is in torment; the child who has received the poison, dies."

Regardless of which tale you may believe, the piece has long since been seen as a symbol of human agony. This is mainly because of the expressions on the faces of the three men. Fear, anguish, and desperation are all present as the three wrestle and contort their bodies into unnatural positions in order to stay alive. Much the same, every single human being alive today wrestles with agony in some fashion, be it mental or physical. As the centuries have rolled on, this action-packed piece has been iconic in exemplifying human tragedy.

The reason I brought up Joe at the start of this entry was because despite the odds, despite the frustration, despite his pickup's penchant for spitting items onto the highway, he doesn't let life get him down. No matter the agony, fear, anguish, or desperation, Joe keeps his head up high and his eyes on what's more important. Sure, we all have our moments where we wrestle with horrible circumstances or situations, and of course, it goes without saying that they are inevitable, but my friend Joe helps me to remember that it's just stuff; stuff in the here-and-now that will soon pass. Joe helps me to remember that hurdles come and go, but if I'm focused on what's more important like the well-being of others, I can get through it okay. It might be painful for a time, but I serve no one else other than myself if I stay mired in my pain, frustration, anger, or any other negative feeling. Joe reminds me that nothing in this world goes with me when I die, and so with that as the foundation, I too can overcome challenges with a smile on my face. No, it won't be easy--despite Joe making it seem very easy--but I have to say, at least I have someone helping me to be a better person. Even if he doesn't realize it.

Or maybe he does.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Our Banner in the Sky

The events of these past few weeks have been festering in my mind. Hurricanes, major forest fires, massive earthquakes . . . our planet seems to be groaning in the midst of moral and political turmoil, and the only thing I can think of is human life. Color means nothing, religious beliefs mean nothing, location is irrelevant; what matters most are lives. I don't pen this blog as a means by which to be preachy, or to wave an imaginary and morally superior finger at you. I am writing this because when tragedy strikes, it's good to regain perspective and to remember the important things in our world, which have been clouded in recent months by too many other things far less important than being able to live and breathe. While acts of nature can be horrific and devastating, they are also opportunities to do what we humans do best: pull together.

A week ago, a friend of mine brought up something important that I hadn't thought of deeply enough. He said that it seems like, in this digital age with news streaming at us at light speed and at our fingertips all day long, we, as a society, have become numb to tragedy. It's as if we have access to an "emotion epidural", he called it, which many have injected into themselves in order to avoid having to comprehend the level of pain and devastation that has occurred. Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and the latest tally says at least 70 people have died from of it. I'll risk ridicule to step up and state I'm sure most in many other parts of the United States and the world just kind of thought of this as, well, eh, that's pretty awful, and then moved on. But then my friend asked, what if those 70 people died on your block? What if, among the 70 was--heaven forbid--a friend or family member? Suddenly, that 70 takes on a whole other meaning and would likely scar you for life.

The 70 lives lost during Hurricane Harvey were each connect to many, many others. I dare even try to quantify the numbers, but I'm pretty sure we're in the thousands of other lives who are left heart broken, questioning life and meaning, and will never be the same. That might not be you or me, but it's still fact. And the numbers of deaths don't stop there. Irma has hit the Caribbean and is moving through Florida right this minute, there was an 8.1 magnitude earthquake just off the Mexican southwest coast, there are dozens of massive wild fires going on in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana; all of these current tragedies are leaving bodies in their wakes. The sad part is, for those lost, there is nothing else we can do. They're gone. But those who have had their lives upended and are fortunate enough to be alive, can certainly use help beyond a few social media posts saying your thoughts and prayers are with them. Ultimately and in humanity, there is still hope.

Our Banner in the Sky, by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), is an oil-on-paper painting symbolically showing the Union flag in the sky seemingly attached to a destroyed tree as the flagpole. Church painted this in 1861 and in response to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter which started the Civil War.

Church was a patriot and someone who expressed his hope in painting. (Some of his other works are quite marvelous to behold so I recommend checking them out when you can.) Fort Sumter was constructed after the Revolutionary War to help protect the harbor in Charleston, South Carolina. The men who guarded it had no idea the Confederate Army would attack them, nor did they know they'd be caught up in the beginnings of a very bloody war that still resonates today.

I love this piece because of what it symbolizes. Even in the midst of a terrible civil war, Church was able to show hope through his work. It's one thing to be at war with another nation, but the complexities of and emotional roller-coaster that must take place in the hearts and minds of those caught up in a civil war must be much, much worse. Church, however, saw through it all and clung to his belief that hope would prevail.

By no means am I trying to demean what's happening in our world today. My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones, had their lives destroyed, and are suffering right now to pick up the pieces. The level of hopelessness must be overwhelming and it's resonating inside me. But I also know that good is coming. Good is happening right now! Hope is very much alive as millions of dollars are being donated, others are risking their lives to help save people and animals in need, and truckloads of donated goods and supplies are making their way to the victims right this second. Why? Because others who have the means are seeing past the tragedy and doing what they can to help their fellow human beings in need. It makes for an interesting two-fold expression of hope: that there is hope to begin with, and that the acts of caring, selfless people are hope in action.