Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pine Forest in Snow

There is a distinct simplicity in the joy I felt as a child during the Christmas season.  I was fortunate enough to have parents who happily engaged my siblings and me in the lore of St. Nicolas and the spirit of the holidays.  As Thanksgiving would come to an end, the following weekend would mark the beginning of the ritual of pulling down boxes from the garage rafters and sifting through the piles of Christmas lights and decorations.  During the week before Christmas, mom would begin a whirlwind of baking and dad would take us on forays to the local super store where we'd hastily move through crowds in search of the perfect presents.  On that fateful morn, my brother and sister and I would barely need to awaken as we'd head to the family room as the sun came up.  Our eyes would bulge with glee seeing Santa's footprints along the edge of the fireplace, the cookie plate littered with crumbs, and our stockings overflowing with treats and goodies.  It was extraordinarily special.

For the unique thing about Christmas was the flood of excitement and wintery feelings we would have.  No other time of the year or occasion would come close.  We'd pick out a real pine tree, the lights would be up and twinkling, garland would be hung about the house, tinsel, snowflake cut-outs on the windows above the sprayed on snow, Frosty classroom assignments dangling from the refrigerator door; it was the greatest time of my life and the source of emotions other holidays could not replicate.  And though I don't have a family of my own, I cherish the thoughts of perpetuating the same feelings in my future children.  In fact, the very idea of nostalgia I would argue stems directly from experiences young minds have during this particular holiday season.  And even though we lived in mild, sunny California, we weren't without the dreamy imaginations of snow and the crisp chill in the air that ushered in December 25.

Yet at times I feel these emotions have become muddied and it tears at my heart.  Since growing up and becoming an independent man, I've had my fair share of Christmas days spent alone, nary a phone call, card, or even a gift.  Frankly, I don't even care much to dwell on those moments as they are horrific memories I sometimes fear I've not finished experiencing.  Furthermore, they are the antithesis of what this time of year means for my family and me.  But I'd be remiss if I did not mention that there have been times Christmas was not ideal.  And on those days, I felt as if a small part of who I am died.

Fortunately, I have an incredible family riddled with little tykes who warm my very soul with their innocent faces, loving hearts, and similar passions for Christmas.  Though I'm no longer a child and can't yet share my own experiences with my own offspring, spending the holidays with my niece and nephews fulfills my inner-Christmas spirit just enough.

Pine Forest in Snow by Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is a black and white photograph of a forest in Yosemite National Park, California.  Depicted are needle-less Sugar Pines densely packed together after a fresh dusting of snow, showing us their twisted and intertwined branches as they give pause to the season.  It's almost as if their wrestling for sunlight has been frozen and we're given a chance to see the intimate interaction between each tree we normally would miss.

Masterfully framed, Adams captures a moment of Winter that evokes the sentimental values many of us place on the season.  The child-like parts of our hearts and minds can immediately picture the potential for adventurous frolicking should we find ourselves facing this same forest.  The idea of being in the woods playing in snow that appears so soft and untouched, it almost feels cozy to imagine.

And yet, among the branches is an implied pattern quality and an illusion of movement that radiates a subtle sense of havoc--maybe even horror.  If you remove the element of personal experience and just gaze at how the photograph flows, you begin to feel uneasy--almost claustrophobic at the stealthy implications of chaos.  Thus, it is easily one of the most gorgeous photographs of trees in Winter explicitly blending still-life with expressionism.

The qualities of Christmas as a holiday and as a season have been captured.  It is in the eyes of the beholder, though for each of us, some form of connection to how this time of year felt to us as children can be found in this photo.  Perhaps my own insight has given way to what perspectives I can immediately identify with but I'm merely sharing my own thoughts on this work of art.  I do admit to feeling saddened at the thought of having to spend another Christmas alone but I'm not forgetting to keep myself in check.  It would be morally irresponsible of me lest I forget the hundreds of thousands who never get to enjoy the same things I have and will.

While the idea of viewing Adams' photo could yield an even greater sense of fear and spurn adamant feelings of "Bah, humbug," perhaps it isn't such a bad thing.  For some, it could reinvigorate the spirit of the season.  For others, it could encourage change and provoke a desire to find new meaning.  For a few, it's just a picture.

As Shakespeare once said, "This above all: To your own self, be true."

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Merry Christmas, indeed.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Niccolò Paganini

About 100 years ago, George was born the lone child of a father and mother who are long gone. As a youngster, George lived out his life in a pretty desolate place known as Pinta. Each day, he'd wake and slowly make his way around the rocky terrain in search of sustenance. Each night, he would bed down alone inside his small abode and dream of what could be.

Several years had gone by when George was awakened one day by the unfamiliar sounds of new neighbors. Boorish and abrasive, the new family to take up residency was clearly not what George was accustomed to. For him, each day was filled with friendly, sparse encounters with the few others that lived in the same area each living their lives in harmony, in unison, and without interruption. But the new family to take up a home in George's otherwise quiet world were less-than welcome. Sadly, over time the small brood had increased in kinship making George's small but spread out place of living far too uncomfortable and overcrowded. In fact, things got so bad and due to George's elderly age, he had to be assisted in finding a new home where he could continue to live peacefully with all the necessities.

George took on quite a bit of fame in the 1970s thanks to his unique life and story and after being discovered by a foreign scientist doing local research. His solitary upbringing, ability to survive on his own for nearly his entire life, and learning that he was the last of his family's lineage, George was greeted by many well-doers. Each person seemed genuine and sought ways to make what was left of his existence as enjoyable as possible all the while exploiting the ramifications of who he was so others could feel compelled to get involved. George and others like him should never be forgotten in such a large world filled with those who had or have a similar background. And while efforts to introduce George to a mate so his family name could live on have failed, there is still a glimmer of hope it is not too late.

Niccolò Paganini by Jean-Pierre Dantan is the plaster sculpture of an Italian violin virtuoso by the same name. Using his incredibly unique and expressive style, Dantan has created one of the hallmarks of his very bright and idyllic career. Not far from the reality of who Paganini was and how he played, the piece displays a man paying extremely close attention to his craft.

Externally, we're presented with a piece that shows a man with his hips askew and arms awkwardly pulled in as he seemingly reaches the crescendo of his music. Internally, we're able to notice not just a man playing an instrument but a man wholly focused on something that is truly a passion. Dantan's use of simple materials void of color show that the work itself is not meant to be expressive but the motion, the moment, and the emotions evoked. Purposefully, the piece was masterfully created in order to ensure who Paganini was as an violinist and how Paganini sacrificed his entire life for his work are intricately represented.

In real life, Paganini was not much unlike our friend, George. He lived a life of pure focus upon the one thing he felt gave him purpose while garnering his fair share of fame. Ultimately, though, Paganini passed away leaving very little to speak of behind. And like George, Paganini forged through his existence as someone who should have been much more well known and successful but apparently destined for nothing more than having controversy surround his legacy.

Who is George, you might be wondering? He's the last known species of tortoise that are indigenous to Pinta Island in the Galápagos. At approximately 100 years old, no other living species of George's kind have been found and hopes to avert extinction have been fruitless. In kind, how does George relate to Paganini? As one of the most beloved and vivid violinists of his time and at the height of his fame, Paganini reached the end of his life with no money, alone, and his idiomatic talent all but forgotten. On a symbolic road of destiny that could not be manipulated or influenced, both George and Paganini trudged through their lives focused not on what made them each special, but on what each most desired.

When the day comes that George passes away, the lack of similarities between a tortoise and a man will eventually fade. Though I suppose it has already begun considering the predicated comparison I've just shared. All boasting aside, however, the one thing that cannot be argued is the reality of some individuals who seem destined for a life of solitude. Completely engrossed in their dreams and passions, these folks endure years of loneliness despite having direct and sometimes infamous connections with others. Rightfully expressed in a song entitled, Misread Lyrics by Kings of Convenience, "All throughout history the loneliest people were the ones who always spoke the truth; the ones who made a difference by withstanding the indifference." The unfortunately truth is that indifference will be everlasting.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Freedom from Want

There is an idealistic belief that all mankind should not have to experience a life riddled with incentives that perpetuate an innate desire to be better than others.  At face value, this ideal could be argued and it could very easily be pointed out that most of mankind is in the pursuit of something greater.  But think about it for a moment and from the perspective of motivation.  Think about what you have for a moment.  Are things really that bad?

Recent press has been littering the proverbial front pages of the news with stories of protests and large masses of people gathering together to voice their amalgamated opinions of disagreement which often make little to no sense.  As if to say a mob-mentality is infectious, civil disobedience appears to be all the "rage" (pun intended) and as of today, has shown little to no effect upon the economy and society.  From what I have gathered, it would seem these adamant throngs of individuals want what the inaptly titled "1%" have which essentially is more money.  Some impassioned folks may wish to argue this with me but if you boil it down, it appears to me those folks are crying out, "I want what those guys have!"

In the United States, our holiday of Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and signifies a time in which we celebrate all the things we're fortunate to have.  This concept has evolved from its 17th Century origins of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest but the intent is much stronger and just as noble.  In it of itself, Thanksgiving is typically a pleasant family affair where a large feast is prepared and those gathered at the table, in some way, acknowledge all the things they are fortunate and thankful to have.

Sadly, this holiday has become a near laughing stock and most certainly in some cases, a day that is mocked either directly or indirectly.  It has become a holiday where some are merely going through the motions of being thankful or more so enjoying the food rather than the meaning.  It has become a holiday vastly overshadowed by the proceeding month's celebration of Christmas and the onslaught of retail companies pushing for sales earlier and earlier each year.  It has become a holiday that feels more like a nice, long weekend break from work or school rather than a time where we should be humbling ourselves.  It has become a holiday of gluttony and football.

Freedom from Want, by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) is an oil on canvas painting of a typical Thanksgiving feast which was featured in the March 6, 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.  Wonderfully patriotic, nostalgic, and cheerful, Rockwell illustrates a typical family of that era sitting down together to smile, laugh, share moments of their lives, and partake in a meal that is plentiful.  Ideology and stereotypes aside, this type of illustration was quite popular for a very long time and considered an American classic both by implied meaning and artistic standards.

With the satisfactory smiles of the grandparents at the head of the table to the delightful grins of the family seated around, the true meaning of Thanksgiving and the ideals of freedom from want are wonderfully displayed in this deservedly timeless piece.  With a very Puritan flare, Rockwell's words, "I paint life as I would like it to be," resonated in this painting through the pro-family homeliness and prosperity that is being shared with simplicity.  You will notice that the food appears fresh, there is no alcohol, the TV isn't on nearby, and the table is properly set with careful consideration.  Though the family illustrated may not be as realistic today as it may have been in the 1940s, the implied notions of how life should be given homage and thanks are extraordinarily strong.

It is said that this painting is often viewed in the eyes of some foreigners as an example of American overabundance.  This is an unfair and--dare I say--uneducated way to label a culture and completely miss the point of what Rockwell was attempting to portray.  In Roosevelt's State of the Union address in 1941, he discussed four essential human rights as way of inspiring the nation to hold strong during a weary time of war one being the Freedom from Want.  In his speech, Roosevelt said, "In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon ... freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world."

Rockwell's sentiments exactly!  A healthy peacetime life!  Not a time where the efforts and money of others benefit your life but a time where your life can be lived with healthy opportunities to succeed, to learn, to prosper, and to enjoy liberty.  A healthy peacetime life that can and should be filled with thanks because you are free to enjoy abundance purely based upon your own resolve and not on the backs or supported by the wallets of others.  I proclaim that Rockwell's meaningful illustration and the very essence of our fights for freedom for all mankind are to be celebrated and acknowledged not just on Thanksgiving but each and every day you are alive.

I am thankful for my family, my friends, my job, my home, my ability and freedom to think, to believe, to yearn, to hope, to work, to strive to better myself for my own sake, and to have the opportunity to share my thoughts.  I am thankful that I am free to be thankful!  Each and every day.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

L'Ange du Foyer

In a metaphysical fashion, he prances about in personality and zealousness. Seeking ways to be seen by those around him, he vividly expresses himself. Deeply desirous of trust, rooted in a need to be relied upon, and hoping to receive the appropriate amount of attention, each of his actions are calculated and determined.

The innocence and genuine quality of his habitual efforts are almost always overlooked. Witty, friendly, a willing giver of hugs at any given frequency, often laying his own safety and future aside for others, he pours his heart and soul into energetically and silently screaming at the world that he's everything he claims to be and more. In some ways, there is a meticulous process to his actions, yet intermingled are moments of spontaneity that derive from the very same passions that motivate him.

Sadly, for most, he is scary. He's loud, abrasive, jagged, and uncouth. Almost overly animated and abstract, he approaches nearly every situation causing others to flinch or recoil. He's at fault for trying too hard, yet his persistence is obvious. So why is he so misunderstood? The old adage says, "It's the thought that counts," but how that is perceived is absolutely relative. If he's truly pure in his intention, that will mean nothing when deemed impure by those around him. Judgment is a cruel beast and carried out by every single living human in one way or another. For him, it's a minute-by-minute experience on levels some won't experience in a lifetime.

L'Ange du Foyer by Max Ernst (1891-1976) is the painting of such a man. Known as one of the great Dada and Surrealism artists of his time, Ernst portrays a vivid creature in a moment of joyous expression. Seemingly alive and grinning, the individual bursts with color, leading with a determined gape of his mouth and a pleasant squint of his eyes, and showing no regard for how he may appear. By human standards, he is, in some ways, horrifying yet ultimately fascinating. He embodies movement and attention-getting displays, yet cannot avoid aesthetic imperfections that may be perfect for him, but uncomfortable for others.

L'Ange du Foyer is roughly translated to mean, "The Angel of the Home (or Hearth)" and is a poignant way of defining the aforementioned man. In some ways--and if taken literally--this angel could easily watch over someone's home with success. Yet, for the home owner, this angel could be a bit too much to take. It calls into question why we as humans, at times, feel unduly exhausted by someone's persona. Shouldn't it always be about who that person is from the heart?

A comment was made to the man that it seemed highly unlikely others could not find him as appealing as the person speaking to him. He chuckled and brushed off the compliment, not to be thankless, but because he knew all too well how others have already treated him. He's been hurt countless times by the comments and actions of those around him, and at varying moments in his life. Yet, each day, he continues to display his true personality, never giving up or forsaking who he is at his very core. He refuses to give in to the pressure to be a certain way that others dictate. Why should he?

Indeed, over time, his antics in the eyes of others--efforts in his eyes--have been shunned and even reprimanded, but as time has gone by, he's learned. He's aged. He's gained wisdom. He's found acceptance and success. Perhaps some may feel it's a little too late, but for him, it's magnificent and humbling. Oh yes, his celebratory reactions are just as bright as his every-day actions, and even those have garnered some dissension. But he hasn't changed. He won't change! In time, he'll slow down with each passing year, but that's purely physical. His heart, however, will remain the fantasy he's harbored and passionately shared with anyone who wished to see it. For that is something no one can or will ever take away from him. And until that heart is recognized for what it really is, he will remain the surreal, uncouth, and misunderstood man he has for far too long.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sept. 29, 1959, Esther St., New York, NY

Halloween is here!  Goblins, ghouls, ghosts!  It's that time of year where the temperature begins to cool, the nights become longer, and the creepy-crawly things of the dark emerge.  These days, it's a holiday of fun and frolic where kids and adults alike dress up, masquerade, consume far too much candy, and spend the next couple months trying to eat their way through the mounds of sweets they have procured.  The entire event is shrouded in mystery where the average joe is able to put aside who he or she may be, and become something completely different and hopefully exhilarating. Yet for some, the mask they wore was already in place and won't be removed after.  And as with most holidays, the ideals of the specific event resonate and can easily be used as a catalyst for analyzing life, attitudes, and prosperity.

All too often, folks waltz into Halloween ready to take on a fake persona in relief of the previous one they have been secretly living as for a much longer while.  Fear, doubt, lack of hope, lack of foresight, or an inability to find the good in things places pressure on an individual's psyche forcing a fight-or-flight reaction to which most choose "flight".

I know, this wasn't much of a segway but I hope you get the idea here.

So what do folks really have to hide?  And why do folks even feel the need to hide?

Years ago, I read a book about advancing my self-esteem by boiling all my personal concerns down to the nitty-gritty and working my way back up.  The process took some time for according to the book's instructions, I was to initially spend every night for several nights standing stark-naked in front of a mirror and without angst or disappointment, point out to myself what my physical flaws were.  The assertion was, if I could get to a place where I could begin to accept the things I was unhappy about even if it meant repeatedly pointing them out to myself, then I could begin to let those foibles go when I was around others.  Indeed, most of my life until my late 20s and early 30s was riddled with insecurity and the masks I wore--depending on the situation--were innumerable.

Sept. 29, 1959, Esther St., New York, NY by Vivian Maier (1926-2009) is one of hundreds of thousands of black and white photographs she took while living the life of a nanny for 40 years (her story is actually quite fascinating and I've included a link to it if you click her name above).  Portrayed is an elderly man in New York seated in a chair along Esther St. while he enjoys a cigarette.  Vivid, dirty, horrendously ugly, the male blows out his latest inhale and stares back at the lens without qualm, without remorse, and without hesitation.  His clothing filthy, his hands riddled with callouses and age, yet his hair is swept neatly and most likely for the moment which Maier captured.

For what does he have to hide?

Immediately, some of you in the recesses of your mind are reflecting upon the implied notions of who this man was and how he lived his life, deducing how you would behave if his attributes were yours.  It's the innate nature of being a human:  Judging others based upon your own precognitive understandings and often times, the reaction is unfair or unnecessary.  Because if you ask me, this man is beautiful!  He is the very embodiment of what it is to be a free citizen, a man open to making his own choices, living his life in as much peace as he can muster and without doubt.  Deep in the craggily folds of his leathery skin and encrusted in the dirt covering his shirt and overalls are the virtues of responsibility.  Yes, responsibility!  Oh, he may be smoking, but he's probably in his 70s and clearly taking a break from earning his keep which he has every right to enjoy.  And to toss insult to injury, it is all capture in a moment where his confident smirk warps his mouth upward and as if to say, "You're darn right I'm alive and well and there is nothing you can do to take this moment away from me!"

He's out there.  He's alive, he's not shy, he's on display for countless pairs of eyes because for him, what is on the minds of others cannot be controlled or become a concern.  He's aged and while that has been beneficial for his maturity and understanding of life, he's a fresh reminder that to try and hide who you truly are is an utter waste of time and energy.  This man is living proof.

Acceptance is an important part of removing your mask.  From something as silly as accepting Halloween is over to something as serious as confronting a need to abuse oneself.  Accepting that you are who you are regardless of circumstance and no matter what.  Do you see a flaw in yourself?  Great!  Confront it, accept that it exists, then get your butt out there and do something about it!  Don't like where you are in life?  Don't cry about it in public or make a scene, the world doesn't give a damn for it is too busy improving its own life!

Find joy!  Find the things you know you're fortunate to have but never, ever lose sight of the fact that what others may presume about you won't change a damned thing about who you really are.  You have to change you on your own terms and time and as long as you're willing to look at your own true face in the mirror, will you begin to be able to sit on that bench yourself and proudly display your uniqueness for all the world to admire without needing a mask.  Exhale your demons and negativity and remember, dressing up as someone else is but for one day a year, the rest is on you to make the best of.

You only get one chance.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


 "Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.  We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.  We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."
- Aristotle

There is a strange passion in loyalty to something we desire to accomplish.  A passion that burns inside our very souls, pounding from the depths of our chests wanting to reach out and grasp a goal that seems inevitably and perpetually out of reach.  We strain to find the motivation to keep going but the strain is never an option.  Inside, we can feel our emotions stretching over our limbs like muscles that cling to every joint and refuse to allow us to get that much more forward.  Creases in our face begin to form and fold as the pressure builds, each one like a strip of tight heat across our foreheads and next to our eyes.

I want what I want!  I know I can reach it!  I burn with desire, from head to toe!  Can't you see this means more to me than breathing itself?!  Can't you see, I am worthy of this!  I can have this!  I need this!

This passion is something all of us have whether stretched out over a long period of time in hopes of reaching a professional goal or nearly instantaneous in a moment where life is about to end.  A passion so strong, rooted in sacrifice, it manifests itself with ferocious velocity throughout our bodies.  Physically, we ache inside sometimes literally, almost always emotionally.  And just when you think you've reached a moment of reprieve, you look over at something off in the distance that immediately reminds you of this deep, deep desire and you cannot prevent your emotions from overwhelming you once again.

At this very moment, I can think of two things that drive me the most each nearly as important as the next.  Yet at the same time, I can also sense what it must feel like to have this same passion not for something to come or something inevitable but for something in the here and right now.  I picture the men I trained with during my short time in the Army Infantry and though I could not serve by their sides in war, my mind automatically skips over what could have become of them and I am left ... just missing them.  A whisper of my heart tells me they are gone, having laid the ultimate sacrifice for their nation but my mind does not want to accept this or spend more than a moment thinking about it.  I cannot!  For their passion to serve, their passion to sacrifice, and God-forbid, their need to passionately want to survive--oddly enough--gives me hope and renewed strength.

Requiescat by Briton Rivière (1840-1920) is a painting of a soldier, in full dress armor, lying in repose while his faithful bloodhound waits by the side of his master.  The somber tenderness of this piece is humbling to behold which is centralized and signified the eyes of the hound and the position of his nose next to his master's deceased hand.  Yet detail is just as significant to the entire piece as the canine who idly awaits:  We can see the intricate armor indicating the man's military significance.  He is lying in repose so he was someone important.  The embroidered and tasseled blanket over his bed showing expense was no object in honoring his sacrifice and existence.  And most interestingly, his faithful pet is seated on his haunches yet his upper body is up and ready.  I also appreciate that the dog's head is poised upward yet resting endearingly as if to say, "I'm ready when you are, master, but I sense something is wrong and I will not leave your side."

A heartbreaking painting when you grasp the full magnitude of what is being shared in the incredible detail and implied by the look, the feel, the color, and the emotions of his faithful dog.  Dare I say that there is no direct symbolism here to which we can all relate in terms of relationships.  No, what I see is a man enriched by giving up his own life while being honored more so than any human could have.  It's that honor.  The honor symbolized by his pet that looms patiently by his side as if he were going to get up and continue on.  I honestly cannot relate the symbolism here to humans as it just doesn't seem right nor what any honorable man or woman would want after paying the ultimate sacrifice of death.

What comes with an honorable life and the instinctual desire to sacrifice oneself no matter the end result is true legacy.  Though each of us has a "legacy" to leave behind, the most significant legacies are those left behind by the ones who have given up the most for others.  A deep passion and willingness to fight on, to push forward, to ignore temptation, to follow-through regardless of the oft endured ridicule, ostracizing, and ignorance.  Do any of us know who this man is?  Probably not and there really isn't much written about this piece.  Yet what is portrayed in this work doesn't make me think of any one person who is lofty in what he or she has sacrificed but of all the ones who have received no attention, no honor but have left a wake of influence and a void of quality that once was there.

Requiescat in Pace means "Rest in Peace" in Latin and is far too often misused.  It isn't a statement of hope, but a message of what is--a phrase used to indicate that this beloved person may now enjoy the painless spoils of all he has done.  His life may be over but his legacy will live on.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


The story goes, in 1949, lightning hit the forest in Mann Gulch about a half an hour North of Helena, Montana.  A fire roared into life and was spotted by a local Ranger.  Calls went out for assistance and after several hours, smokejumpers were dispatched and dropped into the heart of the forest.  Leading them was a foreman named Wagner Dodge who was a seasoned veteran of fires and with the help of a local terrain expert, he assessed the situation.  Gathering up his crew as they finished eating their lunches, he instructed his 14 men to head to the ridge of the gulch and move along its edge so they could flank the presumed fire line from behind.

Dodge took a moment to sit and eat while he discussed his plan of attack with the terrain expert when he noticed smoke filling the sky had gotten much more dense and had shifted.  Sensing imminent trouble, Dodge scrambled up the sloping gulch to meet up with his crew just as they crested the peak.  What stood before them was a wall of flames filling the valley and up and over the ridge line merely a few hundred yards away and roaring towards them with tremendous ferocity.  A not-so-uncommon combination of wind, ecological circumstances, and dry heat set the table for a loud and destructive force and the only option the men had was to turn and run for their lives.

Hitting the bottom slope of the gulch and into a field, Dodge knew their efforts to get to safety were in vain but instructed the men to drop their gear and begin heading up the rocky incline of the gulch.  Looking back and seeing the flames fill the funnel-shaped valley like the barrel of a cannon, Dodge saw they were out of time.  Quickly, he lit a patch of grass to create an "escape fire" (an area of grass that is pre-burned) and as it spread outward, he yelled to the men to get face down.  But the noise, panic, and confusion of the moment prevented many of the crew from hearing their leader's instructions.

David, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), is the life-sized sculpture of David from the Bible as he was about to slay the giant, Goliath.  Breaking from the typical works of the 17th century which displayed many subjects in romantic or poetic poses, Bernini opted to do this particular commissioned piece as if David were frozen in time the very moment he was about to sling the rock.  Moreover, Bernini shows his artistic superiority through the implied psychology that is captured in David's face, body, and movement.

Examining the features of this piece, I am astounded by the realism.  The infamous story of the young man facing off against a giant is timeless and one many Christians and non-Christians are familiar with.  Worth noting is how the story is structured in I Samuel, Chapter 17 removing any doubt of David's fearless acceptance of the giant's challenge to fight.  Looking at the facial expression and body language, I can easily see that the only thought on David's mind is his determination to live up to his proclamation that the LORD would deliver Goliath into his hand.  Ultimately, Bernini has created a masterpiece that is timeless, awe-inspiring, and magnanimous--worthy of being considered one of the greatest sculptures ever created.

Of the 16 men in Mann Gulch that day in 1949, only 3 survived including Dodge.  Two men had luckily found their way through a crevasse in the steep, rocky hillside while Dodge was able to avoid certain death by lying in the escape fire's burned area.  It was later discovered that the men who perished were not overwhelmed by flames, but by the fire's incredible force of sucking the oxygen from the very air around them.  As the valley filled with flames--winds pushing the fire from behind, winds being created by the fire's massive inhale--each man who died suffocated to death before being burned.  Not long after the fire was extinguished, investigators easily located where each smokejumper had died finding body-shaped areas in the charred field where the grass was still alive.

Much like David, Dodge faced an incredible giant and was able to stay alive through confidence, determination, and quick thinking.  While fear and panic led to a terrible travesty, courage and will led to life and a story that has gone on to save countless firefighters from death.  From struggle often comes triumph.  Israel was finally able to fight back the Philistine army based upon the actions of one young man.  Countless firefighters and smokejumpers today are alive and able to confidently fight wildfires based upon the actions of Dodge.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Thank you, everyone.  Thank you for all your visits to my blog despite my recent absence.  I've recently moved and now that I'm settled into my new home, I'm ready to get back to releasing my inner need to write.  Thank you for Waiting.

Class warfare and dividing lines being drawn in the proverbial sand are a daily occurrence.  Shamefully, one side or the other tries to create a swath between their like and others who may be dramatically different.  Rich and poor, gay and straight, single and married, one race and another; if you try hard enough, you can find any particular sect working to alienate their immediate rival.  Yet all of it is ultimately frivolous and petty considering the basics facts of life and needs we all share which seem to be sorely forgotten all too much.

It doesn't take one too long to name someone who is extraordinarily wealthy.  Ask that same person if he or she knows of someone poor and homeless, and you will often get a blank stare or empty pondering.  Taking a look at any inner city climate, and you'll easily find one race pitted against another in something as logically silly as unofficial territory and ownership.  Often riddled in controversy and spiteful anger, one group of people will be taking legal or illegal actions to defame, ridicule, and separate from another when the energy and passion (misguided or not) could be more simply applied elsewhere and for much greater ambitions.

There are no rhetorical ways around it, sometimes being blunt is the only means in which to express truth and I won't dance around for the sake of this point.  The homeless Vet on the corner near Costco bleeds the same color blood, has to evacuate his bowels, and feels the same emotions as does Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey.  Perhaps the Vet doesn't have the same means to arrive at his ends but nonetheless, the ends for Gates and Winfrey are the same for the Vet.  Boiled down, color, creed, religion, political belief, and everything else mean nothing because the life that lives inside one person is the same that lives inside his or her "polar opposite".  Why can't more people accept this?

Waiting, by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is the portrait of a young, athletic ballerina seated on a bench which she shares with an older, more drably dressed woman.  Each has her purpose for being seated which this particular painting does not seem to indicate but we can each surmise for ourselves.  There is nothing glamorous or elegant about either woman as they are depicted though Degas took the time to indicate that one woman comes from a glamorous and elegant lifestyle while the other does not.  Dressed properly for the period and for each woman's stature, each is addressing a real life need by being seated on the same bench.

As the ballerina rest wearily on her right arm and rubs her left foot, she appears to be exhausted from efforts just moments ago.  Meanwhile, to her left, the older woman seems lost in thought and awaiting an outcome to something for which she exhibits forced patience due to circumstance.  Each woman is a contrast of the other--one virile and youthful, the other aged and mournful--easily seen in how she dresses, what is implied, and where she may be going.

Degas, with incredible sensitivity and purpose, smoothly displays the surroundings to ensure our eyes are focused tightly on each subject and the bench they share.  The palette and shadows are all subdued in order to ensure we each take more time to evaluate the women and who they are, rather than why. Poignantly, these two contrasting figures utilize the same tool for varying reasons but with the same ends.  One may be waiting for her audition results while the other awaits a taxi yet they are both there for the same outcome.

This piece is an exercise in tolerance.  It stands for something that has existed since the dawn of man and is gracefully displayed with beauty and simplicity.  Each is equally aware of the other yet their needs are being met in mutual fashion and that makes all things right.

So take a seat on the bench.  Relax and await the outcome you seek.  And when someone sits next to you, know that he or she is exercising his or her ability to be a complete and total equal to you.  Strip away the preconceived notions and dividing lines to see that in the end, it is the same ending for you as it is for anyone else.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Road, Near Guymon, Oklahoma, 2009

Desperation is never a comfortable feeling, I've had my fair share of experience.  Many years ago as a kid in elementary school, I was known by most of my classmates and teachers for being restless and a class-clown.  Bear in mind, I still got my school work done and was actually pretty smart, but I was certainly known for being a disruptive child.  That stuck with me for a long time and to no surprise, came back to bite me more than once.

I was in the 5th grade and my teacher--still today one of my all time favorites, Mrs. Corin--was busy at the chalk board.  A wonderfully sweet and charming woman in her mid-50s, her dress tussled back and forth as she scribbled away with her back turned to the classroom.  Like perfect comedic timing, FAHLOO ... SPLAT!  A large spit-wad hit the blackboard not one foot to the right of her head.  I immediately started to snicker and looked around behind me to see it was my classmate, Ed Mitchell, who had turned his Bic pen into a spit-wad shooter.  He grinned at me just before going stoic as Mrs. Corin spun around and demanded to know who did it.

Blushing has always been a weakness for me and can easily overtake my face.  And wouldn't you know it, I could barely hold back the giggling and as my face grew bright red, I was immediately accused of the crime!  After class, I was told I had to take home a parent-teacher meeting form to be signed by both my parents and to confirm a date and time one was to meet with Mrs. Corin and me.  Ugh, my cries of innocence fell on deaf ears both at school and when I got home to show my mom the note.  She was understandably angry and could only mutter that I had to go to my room and wait for my dad to get home.

Well, my pop arrived and after hearing my mother's tale of how badly my day had gone and of the impending parent-teacher conference, he, too, was understandably angry with me.  He scolded, "I've raised you to be better than this!"  Again, I passionately pleaded my innocence and become overwhelmed with emotion.  Yes, I was a class-clown but even I knew my limitations and would never had gone as far as Ed did.  But my parents would not relent in holding me accountable for my actions and my dad, with great calm and a stern eye, looked at me and said, "What did you do to make them think you did it?"

© 2011 Mitch Dobrowner. All Rights Reserved.

Road, Near Guymon, Oklahoma, 2009, by Mitch Dobrowner (19??-) is an awe-inspiring, humbling black and white photograph of a lonely, dirt road in Oklahoma with a menacing storm off in the distance.  Sunlight is masterfully captured leaking through a break in the super-cell illuminating a lone tree as a singular bolt of lightning strikes the ground.  A self proclaimed lover of Ansel Adams, Dobrowner has spent his life refining his craft in an effort to rightfully, gracefully, and humbly capture and evoke what our wonderful planet means to him.

Immediately, my mind is flooded with metaphors about life and how my personal journey from birth to death will travel down symbolic roads such as this one.  Oh yes, there will be moments where my road will be straight and my immediate destination pretty clear.  But there will also be moments where I can sense trouble ahead and the skies become dark and frightening.  Fortunately, I don't have to go it alone and in the midst of any troubling period, a light will shine through.

Echoing in my head for years, "What did I do to make them think I did it?"  These words plagued me for a very long time both in my mind and in the voices of my parents when I would attempt to defend myself out of trouble.  It wasn't until a couple of years after my mother had passed away from cancer that it hit me like a ton of bricks.  As I was headed home traveling Eastbound on the Pasadena Freeway, I began to sob uncontrollably.  Being responsible for my actions!  How could I have gotten through that much life without figuring it out?

My family and I have all had our ups and downs over the years.  Fortunately, our devoted love for each other has fueled our abilities to weather the rough spots and glide right into the good ones.  Life is a long series of bumps, turns, declines and inclines and though things may seem bleak up ahead, the light always breaks through the darkness as I turn to my father.  No matter how disruptive or unorganized I have been in living my life, my dad has stood by me through it all always concerned about my well being and my future.

Though clouds of difficulty and obstacle may continue to line my path, the one person I know I can lean on to help illuminate my outlook on what's to come is always there.  It turns out, this Road I've been on more than I can count has never been a road I had to travel alone.  My mother was there as much as she could be even during her fight with cancer, and equally important, my father has been, too.  I am older and much wiser now thanks to both but I will admit, it pains me deeply to even think of a time when my father won't be around.  But while he's healthy and about 30 miles away, I know I will cherish each moment I get to see him, talk to him, or know he's thinking of me as I continue to travel through life.

Thank you for being my light, Dad.  I love you.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Virgin of the Rocks

There is something to be said for the one person most of us probably know who is quiet, polite, patient, and never complains.  Sadly, I'm pretty sure I'm not that one person anyone would think of but lately I have begun to examine my own behavior.  A couple years ago after a terrifying episode of anxiety and stress, I realized my life needed to be approached much more passively so I could avoid becoming too emotionally involved and concerned from various experiences.  That's worked out pretty well and lately, I've been trying to examine other areas of my personality that have been lacking.

Frankly, I don't feel I exhibit enough character.  If I'm feeling passionate about something that doesn't seem right, I express that and tend to make it sound as if I'm complaining.  If I'm in traffic and someone mindlessly cuts me off or goes too slow, I assert to myself that he or she is incapable of not being selfish.  And the list of things I do that provide evidence of this self-doubt goes on.  Yet, there are also moments where I refuse to give up my habitual need to express thanks; my need to acknowledge those who do the dirtiest of work; my need to encompass others who are in any similar situation as me when I'm expressing concern or disagreement.  Am I a model citizen for character?  No way!  Will it take much to change for the better?  I don't believe so and it is something I'm working on now.  Some inspiration I've found in exhibiting character is in the following story:

In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table.  A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.  "How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked.  "Fifty cents," replied the waitress.  The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it.  "Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?" he inquired.  By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient.  "Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied.  The little boy again counted his coins.  "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said.  The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away.  The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left.  When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table.  There, placed neatly beside the empty dish were two nickels and five pennies.  For you see, he couldn't have the sundae because he had to have enough money left over to leave her a tip.

The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is the tale of John the Baptist being introduced to his cousin, Jesus Christ by Mary all accompanied by the Archangel, Gabriel.  The children depicted are clearly in infant stage yet both exhibit their divine nature and character by gesturing to one another.  John, on the left, holds his hands as if praying to show his devotion to his Savior while Christ has His right hand out preparing to bless John.

There are two versions of this painting.  The one displayed here (at the Louvre in Paris) is believed to be the first that da Vinci actually painted himself, while the second (on display at the National Gallery in London) is slightly different and felt to be mostly painted by students and assistants to da Vinci.  Fortunately, the articulation of the implied story isn't under too much controversy since both paintings have received the utmost in respect for what da Vinci was attempting to express.

All expression aside, da Vinci's ability to paint so majestically resounds in the great works of Michelangelo, van Cleave, Massys, Verrocchio, and many other artists of his time. But where the greatest challenge to myself can be found is in the simple, innocent character these two children inherently embody.  Christ, of course, goes on to bless countless lives with His all-knowing wisdom and purity of love.  John, as well, foretold of the coming Messiah and was also known for his teachings and profound devotion to humankind.  These two utterances cannot hold how much each man lived and how much character they had, but through this painting and their lives, I can find encouragement to hold myself to a higher standard.  Why?  Because both men lived their lives without complaining and knowing full well their dedication would mean their demise.  In other words, each had every excuse to give up and to gripe and neither gave in.

Perhaps it is a stretch to compare this masterpiece to the idea of having character.  However, isn't that what each person in this painting exemplifies?  Mary and her devotion to God.  John and his willingness to immediately yield his praise and thanks that Christ has come.  Gabriel and his leadership and guidance for Jesus.  And Christ, with only 32 years left in his life before He would offer up the ultimate sacrifice for every other human.  There is so much more displayed in da Vinci's work but for this one, I wanted to dig deeper and find a more important meaning.  Semantics and emblematic symbolism aside, and the fact that many religious themed paintings can also have a foundational theme of character in them, there was just something about this one piece that got to me.  It could be the gentle nurturing that is evident, it could be the display of two men who would die for their cause.  No matter what, though, the bar has been set and I imagine it will take me the rest of my life to pursue it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

No. 5, 1948

I have grown increasingly weary of those who are all fluff and no substance.  You know the type:  He or she is riddled with all kinds of empty accusations, likes to point fingers, and avoids admittance of fault at any cost.  All of this is mask, hiding the true, featureless void that this person is at his or her very core.  While charismatically mincing words and expressing unreachable promises, seduced viewers and fans are duped into thinking this person can and will do "great" things.

Immediately, I'm sure each one of you reading this has someone in mind, maybe even someone famous.  Regardless of seeming implication--and yes, I, too, have a few people in mind--the intent here is to express an emotion that comes with this frustration based upon an individual.  Setting aside the person or persons, the root of this emotion in principle remains almost the same when it comes to works of "art" that really aren't work or art.  And as I segway into how all of this relates to this week's piece, I make no apologies for those who may be offended.  In fact, I expect a few to feel differently than I but certainly hope what is expressed isn't discarded as rubbish or for lack of knowledge.

After all, art is created to be a visual source of entertainment and meaning for anyone who wishes to gaze upon it.  The job of the artist is to ensure his or her works evoke an emotion or message that is relative and understandable.  And when it is not, then that artist has failed no matter what anyone else may say.

No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) is an 8'x4' painted fiberboard drizzled with brown and yellow paints to create a nest-like appearance.  This particular painting is considered the most expensive and valuable art piece in history and sold for $140 million US in 2006.

... What to say?  Okay, on one hand, I think about how marvelous this piece would look in a darker, modern-styled interior office or home especially if bordered by harsh grays and metal trim.  On the other hand, I'm void of any impression of what is being expressed other than to assume it must mean chaos and thus this relates to very little.  Yes, as I've stated many times, there are moments in life where things can get extremely hectic and taxing upon one's emotions but I don't sense that with this painting at all.

My efforts to try and find something in this squiggly mess is like bouncing around a rubber room in a straight-jacket.  Here is how my thought process develops:  A monkey on 4 cups of double espresso and some paint could do this! → Wait, do I see a figure or shape in there? → Man, if I ever buy a home and go modern with my interior design, this would look sweet over the fireplace! → But it's just a bunch of spilled strings of paint with seemingly no meaning in motion and if a stiff breeze or his wife bumped into Pollock, would it have looked all that different?

Yet, have I done what art is meant to do?  By studying it and expressing what I may or may not feel and sense, aren't I reacting to art as it is meant to be?

Honestly, I'd rather pay off all my bills, buy a fantastic house along the beach, get that dream car, go on a very long vacation to exotic and historical locations, buy my family some spectacular and needed gifts, and then put the rest into investments and savings than fork over $140,000,000.00 for this but to each their own.  Right?

The bottom line is Pollock has created something that is concretely timeless and awe-inspiring.  While I may find it a bit silly on some levels, I am intrigued on others and I suppose--and admitting--perhaps this is a extremely amazing painting that deep down, I wish I could have.

Or should I head to the local store for a fiberboard, some brown and yellow paint, and a monkey?

Don't give me that look!  Someone had to say it!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Pietà

The Road Not Taken
 Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 --Robert Frost, 1916

Choices are a God-given right to all mankind and inevitably, each of us will make some that are not ideal and others that will be glorious.  What is left are these moments in the present to evaluate and learn from the past.  Perhaps some of us will enjoy the opportunity to revisit that diverge of roads and choose to take the one we did not the first time.  For others, though, the road chosen has become one-way with no chance of returning.

The Pietà by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is a sculpture of Jesus Christ in the lap of his mother, Mary.  Christ is portrayed as deceased, feeble in size and from circumstance while Mary is shown as a younger woman than she was at the time of His death.  The piece is a combination of classic beauty and naturalism and is considered one of the most finished and detailed works by Michelangelo.

Much focus has been given to the two subjects and to the implied interpretation of Christ's size and Mary's age.  For one, Christ has been sculpted to be smaller than was believed and is in a crumpled heap in Mary's arms.  Secondly, Mary has been sculpted to appear to be about the age she was when she bore her Son for whom she now passionately embraces.  The detail of both, however, is incredible and there is much to be gained from spending a significant amount of time admiring the piece.

For me, I see a mother whose body expresses her love and anguish for the loss of her Son.  Her face, though, appears to be at absolute peace signifying her acceptance and understanding of the sacrifice her Son just made.  From a Christian point of view, there is some irony in this moment considering Mary was the one who bore Jesus, while Jesus was the One who bore the sins of man.  Thus, a circle of life extending beyond conventional means is on display and pointedly so. Mary, for the sake of this piece and with respect to history, was a wonderful woman hand picked by God to bare His Child.

Christ in this display also creates an irony of circumstance.  He is shown in His state upon being taken off the cross yet He is not actually Him.  What I mean is that this is merely His body, not Him as a Man.  Yet laying across Mary's lap, scars from His torture vividly displayed, He symbolizes His own existence and what could have happened to man had He not laid down His life for everyone else.

Though the subject of Christ's death and sacrifice are a controversial one, it is well documented that He had a choice and even struggled with it.  His entire life was meant to come to this point and although He knew it, He was also a man embodied with the ability to make choices through free will given by God.  Frost's poem, for me, is something I can envision Jesus saying to Himself as he ascended to Heaven.  He had an opportunity to choose which road to take:  One that would lead Him away from His purpose in life and mankind, or one that would lead Him to a moment where the sins of every man, woman, and child for all eternity would be paid for in full, by Him.  Rightfully so, He-

He chose the road far less traveled,
And it has made all the difference.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds

In nature, there is a peculiar parasite known as a roundworm. Now, there are several thousand different types of roundworms, one of which is referred to as a nematode. What makes this microscopic creature so unique is its deceptive means of perpetuating the species. Basically, the nematode perches itself on a branch or leaf where ants are known to frequent. As the ants come by and discover the roundworm, they are quick to consume it. This might all sound rather anticlimactic but it gets better . . . a lot better.

The nematode doesn't die. Filled with its own eggs and now inside the ant, it is very much alive and situates itself into the abdomen. As it settles inside, the ant's backside begins to turn bright red. Over the years, scientists have suggested that this isn't so much a sign of infection but rather an after-effect of the parasite, and done in an attempt to make the ant more appealing to passing birds. If the ant is brighter and ends up spotted by a bird and is consumed, the parasitic species will continue on. For you see, once the ant is digested, the eggs are harmlessly released into the bowels of the bird which then dispenses the growing larvae through defecation.

Why the gross analogy about this parasite? Because what good can come from deception? Aside from compromising integrity in humans, deception leaves a wake of destructive circumstances to which others will eventually fall victim. The argument can be made that momentary success could be experienced if deception is utilized, but for the most part, it won't last and chances are others have had to endure sudden and unfair consequences.

The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds, by Georges de La Tour (1593-1652), depicts a scene in which two women are playing cards with a gentleman. Not much a gentleman, though, as the viewer can clearly see he is producing two Aces from behind his belt during a moment of distraction. Furthermore, and ever so intriguing, is the intense setting in which all of this is taking place. Clearly, the maidservant, the courtesan in the middle, and the female on the right are all showing some sign of nervousness and suspicion.

It can be said that the fair lady on the right is a bit oblivious to the deception that is unfolding when you consider her emotionless, somewhat dimwitted expression. Yet, I would argue that de La Tour was suggesting she was about to catch on based upon her gaze. For the rest of the scene, a lot can be offered up for questioning and interpretation. Does the maidservant know what's going on? Is she in on the con? Appearing to offer the courtesan a fresh glass of wine, I would suggest she is either nervously involved or doing her best to conceal the deceiver on the left. Knowing this era, the courtesan is obviously someone of great wealth and/or influence given her intricate hairstyle and provocative clothing. But is she really being duped? Or is she strong enough and smart enough to smell a con? Is she about to fully realize what is going on and take action? Lastly, and admittedly a bit of a stretch on my part, is the male deceiver actually a male or a female in disguise?

What a few fans of 14th and 15th Century French art may not know is that this is a later version of the original painting, The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs. When comparing the two paintings, one can clearly see a less ambiguous scene in the Clubs version as opposed to the Diamonds version.  In the Clubs, the male has facial hair and a much more dastardly stare in his eyes; the maidservant's eyes are less obvious implying she may only be sheepish about interrupting the game by serving the wine. As well, the female on the right sits with a somewhat dumbfounded grin on her face and appears to be looking off the table as if none the wiser. These distinct differences suggest that the intended theme of the painting was to be much more straight forward. When the Diamonds version was revealed, however, further mystery into what was being presented became obvious, and gave you and I--the audience--a chance to really run amok with our interpretations.

Should you get the chance to compare the two paintings side-by-side, relish the opportunity! It is not often such subtle changes in art can be clearly seen and felt. What also makes this an extremely entertaining piece is the chance to speculate and wonder; the chance to dig into our ability to interpret art, and the evocation of theme and emotion. Much like every other piece of art I've attempted to write about, this one too reveals a chance to learn a little bit more about life. Because, in essence, we've all been deceived merely by the first iteration of this masterpiece. In this case, though, I'm willing to accept de La Tour's con with open arm or arms.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles

Do you ever look in the mirror at yourself and ponder about your life?  Standing there naked, completely vulnerable to everyone but no one, you face you without any other element of life to skew who you are, what you look like, where you are going, or where you have been.

It is difficult to not be philosophical in this moment.

Life is wrought with ups and downs.  Each of us moves along our own path through life and along the way, we will inevitably encounter others.  And in that course, we'll inevitably encounter others who have their own perspectives and "words of wisdom" based upon their experiences on their path.  I think one thing in common we all have are those moments where we stop to gaze upon ourselves to contemplate who we have become.  Questions about success, attractiveness, and appeal begin to swirl inside our heads and for some, it's enough to reach out to someone we trust to see if we can gain a new perspective.

For each of us, there will almost always be someone else who expresses true satisfaction with who he or she is.  But I find myself wondering, isn't he or she human just like me?  Doesn't he or she also doubt past choices?  Questions motives?  Wonders, what if?

What if?

Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) is thought to be the painting of an Italian actor named Belloni though some scholars and critics have felt it was a self portrait of the artist himself.  The painting was originally titled Gilles but was later changed to Pierrot to better portray the subject matter.  It was bequeathed to the Louvre in 1869 where the indicated title was applied.

Standing awkwardly on a mound in the middle and just above the perspective of the viewer is a comic actor who is surrounded by his stage compatriots.  Each seems preoccupied either by the donkey, something off in the distance, or with the silliness of the circumstance.  This particular piece is yet another example of what you initially see isn't exactly what may truly be going on.  Upon first glance, one could surmise that the Pierrot in the middle is standing at stage attention as if about to enact a scene.  Of course, I'm one who has to take a deeper, more meaningful look at the man's face and eyes and I see something different.

I see a troubled man.  Someone who is not completely content with his life or being the center of attention.  His face seems to be puffed up as if to imply he's on the verge of tears.  And his eyes tell me he's desperate for relief.

This is an incredibly powerful, enigmatic, and provocative piece.  Though our subject seems to sport a slight grin, is wearing what could be determined as fine garments not meant for those with lesser success, and is surrounded by others who share in his accolades, I can't help but feel sorry for him based upon my own perspectives.  I am sure most who would encounter this man would cheer his accomplishments and praise his work but for me, I see the face of a man staring at himself naked in the mirror and wondering how he got to where he is.

And that's just it.  Levels of success will always be relative.  I cannot specifically recall ever meeting someone who has become what he or she truly wanted to be.  There might be some out there who claim to but honestly, we're all humans, we all make mistakes, and along the way, our paths could very well diverge in a new direction and away from what was originally desired.  In moments like the one captured in this painting, there is no sense of failure or depression, just a moment of utter disappointment and pondering of what could have become.  What would his life be had he done this or that?

What if?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Declaration of Independence

Few people know that the United States of America was actually formed 235 years ago on July 2, 1776 when the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain.  Though independence was officially approved, it wasn't officially documented and announced until July 4, 1776 when the actual wording of the declaration document was completed and signed.  Written mostly by Thomas Jefferson, the declaration gave an official recount for why the US was declaring independence and was created in reaction to the one year old American Revolutionary War.

Those who were present and signed the document were:  From Delaware, George Read, Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, from Pennsylvania, George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, John Morton, Benjamin Rush, George Ross, James Smith, James Wilson, George Taylor, from Massachusetts, John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry, from New Hampshire, Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton, from Rhode Island, Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery, from New York, Lewis Morris, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, William Floyd, from Georgia, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton, from Virginia, Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Jefferson, George Wythe, Thomas Nelson, Jr., from North Carolina, William Hooper, John Penn, Joseph Hewes, from South Carolina, Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, Thomas Lynch, Jr., Thomas Heyward, Jr., from New Jersey, Abraham Clark, John Hart, Francis Hopkinson, Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, from Connecticut, Samuel Huntington, Roger Sherman, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott, and from Maryland, Charles Carroll, Samuel Chase, Thomas Stone, William Paca.

Below you will find two versions of the document, one is the original and the other is an official facsimile of the original document.  These documents are being featured because we are celebrating our great country's birthday and because the work of these men and this document are incredible feats and considered masterpieces.

The Original Document
 A Detailed Facsimile of the Original Document

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Elephant Drinking, Amboseli 2007. Killed by Poachers, 2009.

If someone has not said it to you yet, welcome to Earth.  Here we have a veritable cornucopia of climates, cultures, geographical marvels, natural colors, and opportunity.  Whether you set foot into a bustling metropolis like New York City, walk through a forest of 1000 year old trees like Redwood National Park, or brave arid, migrating sand dunes like the Sossusvlei Dunes of Southern Namibia, you are sure to experience life and nature in all their majesty.  Yes, Planet Earth is an incredible place to reside and on behalf of all that brings peace, creates awe, and floods the senses with inspiration, intrigue, and hope, I'm delighted to make your acquaintance and pray you will enjoy your stay.

(I felt it was time to take a break from all the negativity and sorrow from all that surrounds us on a daily basis.  For the most part, I think we've all had enough of the partisan bickering, over-hyped media, doom-saying, and selfish demands for attention.  It's about time we take a moment to soak up what makes living on Earth a blessing and an incredible fact to behold.  Pushing aside man-made nonsense, my hope is this particular entry will bring you comfort, a sense of humility, and wonderment.  And to reiterate this notion, please, by all means, share something amazing in the comments below.  I have visitors from all over the globe who come to my page and of all the entries I've completed, this one in particular is meant to garner reaction.  If you would be so kind, take a moment to jot down your thoughts or memories that coincide with how magnificent it is to be an Earthling.)

© 2011 Nick Brandt. All Rights Reserved.

Elephant Drinking, Amboseli 2007.  Killed by Poachers, 2009. by Nick Brandt (1966-) is a sepia toned black and white photo of an African Bush Elephant taking a much needed sip of water.  Snapped along the banks of an unknown water source in the Amboseli National Park in Southern Kenya, the largest land mammal on the planet has been captured in fantastic detail.  Through careful focus and processing, the majesty of this creature is vividly portrayed and gives the viewer a deep sense of awe and singularity.  Despite his many years and imperfections, and though he stands with ears protectively cocked to monitor for danger, he seems to be entranced by the moment and in his ability to freely quench his thirst.

The qualities that make this an award winning photo are relative but here is what I've come to appreciate:  As stated above, the jaw-dropping detail!  Wow!  Brandt clearly has an eye for capturing moments where nature collides into an amalgamation of life and element and at the most poetic moment possible.  It is absolutely appropriate that this photo be toned and processed as it has and despite not being a photographer or photographic genius, I can say that there is nothing left anyone could have done to package up as much emotion and statement as this picture has.  Frankly, I'm a bit ashamed I am unable to describe how amazing this photo is and makes me feel.  Crudely put, though, it has caused me to completely disregard the latest goings on and news that have plagued my internet searches for months.  This photo has pushed me away from repeated distractions of negativity to remembering how lucky I am to live on this planet; how humbling it is to be one of billions of living creatures all unique, expressive, and special in their own way.

When was the last time you marveled at the world around you?  It's a fairly simple process and with so many choices, it's not hard to find a resource that will help you remember how sublime it is to be a resident of Earth.  Just in case you were wondering, and other than taking full advantage of the internet, here are some of the resources I regularly enjoy:  Google Earth (I've lost countless hours zooming in and out on various regions of the planet and absolutely love this free program), documentaries (typically via Netflix, I will watch just about anything but thoroughly enjoy David Attenborough and National Geographic), and Wikipedia (is there no end to what is collaboratively documented on this site!?).  You don't need to use these and as a matter of fact, I would much more prefer if you and I could experience this stuff first hand!  But no matter how you gain perspective on how wonderful life is and can be, I hope you will at least take a moment to now.  And don't forget to share!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mercury Attaching His Wings

Winston Churchill once said,"When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened."

It's not uncommon for most individuals to experience a high amount of stress and concern about their lives.  Whether it's about a relationship or a job, most humans wind themselves up with worry based upon their very nature to be defensive and protective.  I picture the mental conflict as a contrast of visions.  One vision is of a cat being held upside down a few feet off the ground.  If the cat is let go, it will right itself almost immediately gently landing on its paws without injury.  But, in an opposing vision, if that same cat was dropped into water, it would panic and struggle.

But is that cat not already wet?  Much the same, how much of the worry many of us experience is fruitful, yielding any kind of positive result?  For me, over the years my worries have pretty much led to nothing more than a loss in sleep, higher blood pressure, and very blunted reminders I need to chill out.  More often than naught, however, such moments of overwhelming worry can lead to positive change and action.  Moments where once reality sets in and it is discovered worrying hasn't changed a thing, optimism can step in and a plan of approach can be formed.

Mercury Attaching His Wings by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785) is the sculpture of the Roman god preparing to take flight.  With a gentle gaze upwards and a slight smirk on his face from under his winged hat, Mercury begins to fasten his winged sandals to his feet.  There seems to be optimism in his eyes despite the implied impatience with his body and I find myself asking why?  Why did Mercury feel the need to prepare for a hurried flight?  What did he experience just moments before and how did he get to this point?

Pigalle's attention to detail is remarkable and something he became known for.  With this piece, the Romanticism influence is fairly obvious yet, again, I can't help feeling there was a deeper meaning for portraying this mythical being in such fashion.  This was Pigalle's official submission to Académie Royale in Paris and obviously, to make it into the prestigious organization, he would need to set himself apart from the many others attempting to enter.  There is grace in the flow of Mercury's body as he twists to put on his talaria without looking, and the bends of his legs and at that angle seem to suggest he's ready to lift off from that position.  However, with each sculpture like this one, there is a story that leads up to this point, and one that completes it.  I think Pigalle had quite a story leading up to this point.

Mercury was known for being a messenger as well as an entity who was erratic and unstable.  Seeing beyond just the pleasant sculpture of a handsome, Roman god, I see an individual who is captured in a moment just after something important, something alarming, perhaps.  As an example to what Churchill stated, here is someone frozen in time who would not allow worry to dominate his emotions or actions.  Clearly, something had inspired Mercury that he needed to get moving and almost certainly, this "something" could have easily led to stress and frustration.  But he was a man of action and thus, Pigalle has created a statue of a god about to do what he was best known for.

Winston Churchill also once said, "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."  And that's what it comes down to.  If one's attitude is to find the negativity in all things, then one will find himself embroiled in frustration and worry.  But if one is capable to seeing something challenging as an opportunity to take action and make a difference, then one is sure to enjoy that same gentle gaze and subtle smile no matter the circumstances.  All one has to do is don the right attire and maintain focus on what is most important.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Le Bordel d'Avignon

Climate change is happening and if we don't adjust how we live, we're all going to die.  Eating meat is a violation of animal rights.  Bush lied, people died.  Obama is a socialist and hates America.  Abortion is a right for all women.  Smoking leads to cancer and kills children.  Gay couples should have the right to marry.

These are just a handful of examples of modern-day controversies which tend to plague social and professional circles causing polarization and frequent heated debate.  There isn't much a citizen of any free society can do without running into a situation where a decision is made and others are loudly displaying their dissension.  It's all just a part of being human and rooted in personal beliefs, morals, and for many, upbringing.

A utopian society has some appeal because controversial statements like those written above would be non-existent and we could all mindlessly skirt along through life without disruption.  But wait, that doesn't sound all that appealing now, does it?  That's because controversy--ignoring the violence and hate that can come from it--will often times lead to education, patience, and tolerance.  Sure, some folks are more unforgiving in their support for controversial issues but for the most part, society in general embraces the fairly infrequent moments purposefully attempting to express their whys or why nots.

But how does one shape one's belief system?  How should one shape one's belief system?  Is it purely by learning from the opinions and wisdom of others?  Or must one encounter a psychological obstacle in order to learn how to emotionally and logically get beyond it?  Unfortunately, the one thing many folks lack in these rhetorical questions is the wisdom.  Not necessarily their own, but wisdom in general; wisdom that can impartially discern what is taking place, explain it in plain English, and allow the listener to therefore make an educated choice for how to react.  Too often, however, many individuals experience something controversial from a one-sided vantage point and solidify a permanent opinion that is terribly unwavering and ignorant.

Le Bordel d'Avignon (renamed Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in 1916 by art critic André Salmon to lessen its scandalous impact on the public) by Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973) was painted in 1907 and is still considered to be one of the most controversial pieces of art ever created.  Picasso, up until that point in time, was becoming known for his various portraits utilizing specific shades and characters he was familiar with.  Though he was beginning to paint subject matter that could be construed as controversial, he hadn't stepped into the realm of defying public expectations until he released Le Bordel d'Avignon.

Picasso, with the help of artist Georges Braque, began to experiment with a new painting style they created called Cubism.  Finding inspiration from this new style as well as in Iberian pieces of art, Picasso spent many days creating sketches in preparation for this piece which depicts five prostitutes from a brothel in Barcelona.  Each woman is posed differently and contorted in seemingly uncomfortable positions to portray the secret, dirty lives they lived and for many during this time, this was an atrocity to acknowledge let alone depict.

Once completed, only a close circle of friends were granted opportunities to view the piece which Picasso held in his private studio.  But what was merely controversial to some of them was about to become an international controversy on an epic scale.  During this time and known to many, Picasso's artistic influence was tame when compared to rival and fellow artist Henri Matisse who had just completed two pieces titled, Souvenir de Biskra (Blue Nude) and Le bonheur de vivre (The joy of life; sic).  When Matisse was afforded the chance to privately view Le Bordel d'Avignon, he was immediately offended at what he felt was Picasso's attempt to mock the modern movement calling the painting, "hideous whores."

The geometric shapes and poses of each nude woman certainly don't seem all that familiar when compared to Matisse's works but it was enough to launch Picasso into a new strata of influence and fame.  And after being privately held for nine years, the painting was finally put on public display in 1916 where art lovers were first able to see the flamboyantly controversial canvass.  It took several years for art critics and educators to finally surmise just how offensive the painting was and upon looking back, is considered one of the most impacting creations propelling modern art into modern society.

Perhaps in the moment, a controversy can seem overbearing or unnecessary but in time, the opposite has been found to be true.  From the offensive and stunning has come a greater understanding of human nature, what we feel is moral, and lessons about living life.  Matisse mistakenly let his ego get the best of him from Picasso's work and it led to his eventual downfall.  What he sadly missed was an opportunity to excel and to further the modern movement which he felt was important.  By allowing himself to see this controversy from only one side, he ignored the ingenuity and creativity that set forth a new era of artistic expression of which he could have ushered in himself.  In this case, ignorance wasn't all that blissful.