Saturday, January 28, 2012

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss

It is already beginning to feel like Spring in Southern California.  The past few days have been extremely pleasant with a touch of rain, plenty of sunshine, warm afternoons, mild evenings, and chilly nights.  It bodes a sense of hope that draws closer as Valentine's Day approaches and lovers come together.  Yes, this is a wonderful time of year and I, for one, can picture great things.

This sanguinity of love, however, reminds me of sacrifice:  To risk my whole self for the sake of the one who may capture my heart.  It is welcome and despite some nay-saying, it is anticipated with great optimism.  For to know her will grant me a sense of completion; an enclosure around the spinning motions of my life as I've tried to prepare to be the man she wants, she needs, and she hopes for.  I will be that man.

I have to be.

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

--William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss, by Antonio Canova (1757-1822), is the gorgeous and elegant sculpture of Psyche being brought back to life with a kiss from Cupid.  Very well known for his remarkable works, Canova creates a graceful and delicate piece which features a moment of love and tenderness that is difficult to capture in this form.  Psyche portrayed as a weakened but beautiful woman shows no signs of distress from her recent demise, but is enraptured in the moment as she brings her arms up and around Cupid's head.  Likewise, Cupid is portrayed as gentle but athletic as he carefully and ably lifts Psyche from her eternal slumber, doing so with grace and passion.  The lines and motion are phenomenal and it is no wonder this is one of the most beloved sculptures in the world.

Studying this sculpture brings me a sense of peace and hope.  It would be silly to fantasize about a moment in time with a woman that would mirror this moment, but in my heart, I feel it is absolutely relevant and will be experienced in spirit.  Struggles, disagreements, physical ailments, all such maladies will be met by me with heroic attention.  It's the gentlemanly thing to do.  And yet, this piece also suggests the need for practice which is all too often missing in far too many individuals.  Apathy and selfishness misdirect emotions and moralistic tendencies such that love has become a disposable engagement rather than a cherished enhancement to one's life.

Oh yes, Spring is coming and with it, I foresee the chance to love and be loved.  It's been the same these past many Spring seasons but giving up is not an option.  I was not raised to be that way and it would be a dishonor to my mother.  Some quip that chivalry is dead; I am here to tell you:  No it is not!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Death of Socrates

I'm staring over a steep cliff into a fog-filled canyon where only the lush pine tree tops can be seen sticking out of the clouds like volcanic rocks along a beach.  Behind me is a thick forest and the shadows within push towards my back and I feel trapped.  I swing my head back around and gaze out into the narrow crevasse in front of me and I think, "How the hell am I going to make it through this alive?"  I clench my eyes shut tight and methodically step forward.  The rush of adrenaline is as immediate as the g-force and wind wrapping around my body.

Risk taking.  I've done enough in my life to fill twenty books or more; to have a very long series of films.  From career oriented ventures to dating, it's enough to exhaust me as I think of it.  Yet though I remain willing to tempt my future professionally and am still a bachelor, I cannot fathom a me that would not continue to be a risk-taker.  If I had an uneducated say, I'd assert that it is embedded in our DNA; that being subconsciously provoked to make risky decisions is who we truly are as human beings.  There are indeed some who scoff at the idea of making waves or even appearing to create dissension, but in my mind, there are far too many gray areas and unspecified lines that need to be explored.

For you see, I'm a tactile man.  In learning, I glean the most when I'm knee-deep in what I need to learn, running my hands in and through, along and around whatever it is I want to know more.  In love, I'm a wholehearted advocate of Public Displays of Affection, of lots of closeness, and of ensuring my sweetheart knows with each touch and each look, she's on a pedestal of appreciation she will hopefully never have felt before.  That's just who I am.

The unfortunate side to all of this is the lack of appreciation folks seem to have for those of us who are risk takers; for those of us who are expressive even unto the very last moment.  We sacrifice our own dignity and self-respect for what we are truly passionate about and in the eyes of far too many, we're shunned and outcast as weird, as weak, as compensating, or as someone who is implausibly manipulative.  Along the way, there are a few who look beyond the superficialities but unfortunately, there are a greater number who would rather selfishly wallow in a comfort zone of ignorance and apathy than step out and see the deeper qualities that make us unique, incredible, and most likely a dying breed.

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) is the painted illustration of the moment the great Socrates defies his option of exile and agrees to be put to death by the Athenian government.  With incredible detail, David captures the moment where Socrates' disciples rue in anguish while Plato (at the foot of the bed) and Crito (clutching his knee) remain in touch with the reality at hand.  And in defiance, Socrates expresses his continued passion for philosophy with a hand raised upwards, face turned away as he readies his final words, while his other hand reaches for the deadly goblet of hemlock his is to drink.

Socrates was a risk taker.  Defining the human psyche and giving meaning to the feelings humans felt, he went beyond what other orators and teachers did with gentle discernment.  One might argue the significance of these assertions I'm making today, but the proof is in his heralded and oft studied works.  One can't deny the fact that even to this day, Socrates life and defiance of then stereotypical prudence has changed the way we understand who we are and why we do what we do.

When judgment leads us with sound reason to virtue, and asserts its authority, we assign to that authority the name of temperance; but when desire drags us irrationally to pleasures, and has established its sway within us, that sway is denominated excess.  When desire, having rejected reason and overpowered judgment which leads to right, is set in the direction of the pleasure which beauty can inspire, and when again under the influence of its kindred desires it is moved with violent motion towards the beauty of corporeal forums, it acquires a surname from this very violent motion, and is called love.  (Socrates)

In both, Socrates lived by example and his wisdom is still revered by many.  Correctly expressed, Socrates defines the balance between reason and foolishness; between lust and love.  For in this painting these things are uniquely illustrated in the various individuals around Socrates.  Even in the background leaving the death chamber, we can see Socrates' wife making her way out before his ultimate demise.  No, she's not waving goodbye, she is grasping for emotional relief from the inevitable.  Much the same, the men around him clamor and cringe in emotional agony save for the two other like-minded philosophers, Plato and Crito.

So where are the risk takers?  Where are those willing to stick their necks out for what's morally right and for the greater good?  Where are those willing to set aside comforts so he or she can grow in wisdom and knowledge?  Where are those good enough inside to find the good inside others?  Where are those who can truly love?

Plato put it best when he said, "I exhort you also to take part in the great combat, which is the combat of life, and greater than every other earthly conflict."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Portrait of Dr. Gachet

It is with some regret that I, *Dr. Chad Wingerd, pronounce 2011 dead.  At approximately 12:59pm, GMT, on December 31, 2011 exhaled for the last time.  By its side were 2012, Al Gore, the "Hide yo kids, hide yo wife" guy, #Occupy Everything, NYPD officers, and a large pool of representatives from CNN.  2011 leaves behind two siblings--2009 and 2010, who are both still clinging to life-support--and no worldly possessions.  In a fit of struggle before succumbing to death's grip, 2011 was quoted as saying, "It was my intention to be a great year until I took an arrow to the knee."  The "arrow" is to be held at auction to benefit the Lawyers for Solyndra Foundation.

Battered, bruised, and about as ugly as a year can get, 2011 is behind us now.  The 365 days endured were riddled with pointless unrest, severe partisanship, dirty politics, international uprisings giving way to even more uprisings, wild and uncontrolled spending on an international level, and a whole lot of promises that were not fulfilled.  In fact, in my 39 years, I don't think I can recall a uglier year for both the United States and for many other nations.  Oh yes, there were certainly high notes peppered throughout the year and there are some who may argue there have been worse, but frankly speaking, the amount of despair and failure far out-shadows those wonderful things that were only given fleeting moments of glory.

Despite all the negativity and lunacy (for lack of a better way to put it), folks have been rather resilient and hopeful.  In just the past 24 hours, I've seen numerous mentions from a wide variety of people proclaiming their determination to see 2012 become a much better year for them.  It's as if we've all had to sit through and endure a sluggish, sickly year while we waited as a potential remedy worked its course through 2011's veins.

To put it bluntly, thank God it's over!

Oddly enough, though, and putting aside all the negativity and silliness, Earthlings have been rather patient through it all.  Lovingly staring back at better days whilest attentively gazing upon 2011's demise as it slowly unraveled, most folks did their best to keep their cool and give an unprecedented amount of focus on seeing it through and hoping for improvement.  Now that 2011 is officially over, these same people have all breathed a sigh of relief and are now turning their focus towards the philosophy of what goes down, must go up.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet, by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), is a tenderly painted expression of van Gogh's appreciation for the doctor who personally cared for him during his mid-30s and through a difficult period of illness.  It is documented that van Gogh's first impressions of Dr. Paul Gachet were not too kind but within a matter of weeks, he was able to establish a new friendship and see beyond the reported consistent melancholy expression that persisted on the good doctor's face to see the genuine, caring man he was.

In classic van Gogh style, the doctor is portrayed at rest on his table, seemingly watching over the artist as he recovered, resting his head upon his right hand, medical books and a sprig of foxglove at the ready, against a dream-like backdrop of mountains.  Many scholars would agree, however, that the focal point of this piece is the doctor's face which van Gogh wrote about to his brother Theo:
I've done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it... Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done... There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.
Dr. Gachet was renowned for his care of other artists and was recommended to van Gogh after he spent about a year at the Saint-Paul Asylum.  The painter was beginning to long for the North of France and to be closer to his brother so he rented a room in the doctor's home.  Van Gogh's struggle with inner-demons and illness were well known.  He, of course, was given some infamy for severing his own ear after a depressing fight with friend and fellow painter, Gauguin.  Though the specificity of what truly ailed van Gogh is still not fully known, it's no mystery that he battled with--at the very least--a mental condition that is believed to have been the culprit for his apparent suicide at the age of 37.

I think it is safe to suggest that Van Gogh was obsessive with his work and with his life.  Throughout his struggles both physically and mentally, van Gogh battled his own insecurities while eagerly pursuing his love of painting.  During his life, he painted over three dozen self portraits many of which seem to exhibit him as elderly, even slovenly.  Yet he is best known for his landscapes that still today, dazzle the eye with their brilliance and peacefulness.  But what really mattered to him was to paint portraits.  In his own words:

I should like to paint portraits which appear after a century to people living then as apparitions. By which I mean that I do not endeavor to achieve this through photographic resemblance, but my means of our impassioned emotions—that is to say using our knowledge and our modern taste for color as a means of arriving at the expression and the intensification of the character.
I suppose it is a bit ironic that this particular piece is one of the most expensive paintings in the world.  Rightfully so, though, as it is extremely unique and blends landscape styles that van Gogh normally did not use in other portraits.  But why the correlation of van Gogh to 2011?  Because both needed to be let go.

2011 struggled obsessively with far too many moments that have left far too many people negatively impacted.  Van Gogh, however, was a detriment to only himself and after studying his life in some detail, I've come to understand that his death was his greatest relief.  Both looking back on this year and in imagining van Gogh's life, I envision a feverish flurry of efforts being strewn about hoping to latch onto something meaningful.  In fact, while 2011 was heartbreaking in many aspects and through all the loss suffered by hundreds of thousands of people, van Gogh's struggles nearly bring me to tears.

Someone so special to the world of art doesn't deserve to have suffered as he did.  What could have been for van Gogh is next to impossible to imagine but certainly piques my curiosity.  What if he had a normal existence void of crippling ailments?  Yet am I to suggest that his art would have been better?  Indeed, it seems that the things van Gogh suffered through enhanced the work he produced.  For that, we are all better off and I count it as sacrifice for the greater good.  Much the same, 2011 was miserable to live through yet I'm seeing how it has solidified many, taught us where to tread more carefully, and dropped us all on the doorstep of a new year that could be the beginning of much needed improvement.

Happy New Year, everyone!

*Not really a doctor.  Not legally capable of pronouncing death.  Not responsible for you buying the semi-entertaining narrative.