Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Punishment of the Arrogant Niobe by Diana and Apollo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Tempest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Laocoön and His Sons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe he does.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Our Banner in the Sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Escaping Criticism

It's nice to be able to be who you are. To think freely. To feel freely. To form ideas and pursue goals how and when you choose. It's nice to not be fenced in; to be able to roam about life and this world as you so choose. And while this all may sound nice and fluffy but unrealistic, on some level it's both. All of us are born out of the union of a sperm and an egg. All of us are developed inside a womb. What happens after is completely out of our control. Some find themselves in a whole family. Others is a "progressive" family. Still others in a broken family or in no family at all. As childhood sets in, rules, discipline, guidance, or the lack there of along with circumstance and environment begin to shape who we become.

If you're one of the fortunate to live in a region where you have true freedom, and you were able to navigate your way out of childhood in one piece, you're now hopefully being exactly who you are. You're now going after exactly what you want in life. You're hopefully being you, and not what others might want you to be or going after the things they've forced upon you. Your steely-eyed determination leads you down paths in life you've either found or forged on your own. Your morally grounded heart is your compass, and your true passions in life are your fuel. Yes, you had some uncontrollable things happen when you were growing up that might have scarred or influenced you in some way, but those things aren't stopping your curiosity from being sated and your dreams becoming fulfilled.

Or are they? Too often, culture, society, what's "in", and many other influential messages and customs shape us. In a way, they put a frame around our lives. They limit our desires, dictate our reactions, and manipulate our emotions. Deception is all around us taking on many different forms. And what's worse, in recent years, that deception has become a force of its own. In past times, deception was an unspoken thing that sat off to the side in life like a forced boundary. People knew it was there sometimes referring to it as "the norm". Deep down, they were uneasy about how that norm limited them in some way, but since everyone else went along with it, they did too. Now, however, if you don't tow the same line as what others feel is "the norm", you get ridiculed, shamed, and even broken. You can no longer be different in the eyes of those who are different without paying some price. That's not freedom.

Escaping Criticism, by Pere Borrell del Caso (1835-1910), is an oil-on-canvas painting that was completed in 1874 in true trompe-l’oeil fashion. Trompe-l’oeil (literally meaning "deceive the eye") is an art technique that has been around for centuries where an artist attempts to create an optical illusion. In this case, a young boy in disheveled clothing braces to escape the very painting in which he was created. As he braces his foot and clutches the frame, his eyes are peeled wide and he gasps as he sees the "outside" world for the first time. Some historians believe that given del Caso's distaste for following what other experts in his field wanted to see in that day, this piece was his attempt to show them that their perspectives were robbing the world of its vitality.

The irony of Escaping Criticism is that the painting itself is deception. The story being told is that this painted boy no longer wants to remain inside the frame and is attempting to get out. The world, meanwhile, is being told by this painting to stop limiting and robbing others of their vitality. Round and round we may go, but it's still fascinating and does exactly what art is supposed to do: evoke a response. Thus, my initial pontification.

Back when we were all zygotes, our conditions for existence were exactly the same. Every single human being alive today came from the exact same beginnings as everyone else. We only ended up changing and becoming different as a result of where we existed outside the womb. If you undo all the layers of life and get to the root of life itself, you'll see we all share something very much in common. So why all the fuss now in bending ears in directions those ears may not want to go? Is it pride? Selfishness? Greed? I suppose that depends on the person. Either way, this painting is a wonderful example of living freely, breaking away from "the norm", and being who you really, truly are. You. Beautiful, unique, one-of-a-kind you. Just like everybody else.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Sacrifice

A few years ago, I went down with the flu which eventually turned into pneumonia. I had a 103 degree fever, and for a couple of days, I barely ate, drank, or slept. It was bad. In fact, the body aches were so severe, I couldn't sleep laying down and had to sleep in an upright fetal-position on my couch. That, of course, didn't bode well with me being at that angle and in so much pain so I don't remember getting much rest during that time. By the third day, I knew I was in pretty bad shape and needed to get medical help. In my delirious state, though, I couldn't think of anyone to contact who wasn't either too far away, or would be burdened by my request for help. I know, I know, in a situation like that, it shouldn't matter, but that's just how my brain works.

So, mentally fried by the lack of water, food, and sleep, my only thought was to ask nicely on Facebook. Why not? Lots of people were using it then, and I figured someone who might see my post and volunteer to come get me would, therefore, be doing so willingly. I posted, and within minutes, a co-worker of mine said he was on his way and to text him my address. 20 minutes later, he arrived, picked me up, and drove me to urgent care. Since he needed to get back to work, he said to text him when I was done there, and he'd come get me and take me home. I checked in and sat down in the waiting room area across from the pharmacy. And then I passed out.

Hearing my name being called woke me up, and with some help, they laid me on a table inside. I passed out again. The next thing I remember was a doctor waking me up. He calmly looked me in the eye and told me that I was not doing well, and that since they were unsure of what was going on, I needed to go to the ER where they'd be able to run more tests. He then told me an ambulance was already on the way. I can remember looking out the back window seeing bridges go by and thinking, oh, I know that street. During the trip, I even managed to somehow contact my family to let them know I where I was headed. Later that evening, I was still in the ER with my brother by my side. From what I can remember, I had around 8 bags of saline solution pumped into me as well as 4 different liquid antibiotics. The doctors were still unsure of what was going on, and from what I could tell, they were extremely worried. Sometime in the middle of the night, they placed me in ICU under quarantine. There I stayed for three days and anyone who came to visit had to gear up head-to-toe in full protective wear.

When it was all said and done, and as I was preparing to go home, a specialist came in and sat down with me. He had a sizable stack of paper with him, and told me what all my tests and treatment had discovered: I had sepsis, and had I not gone to urgent care when I did, I might have had 2 or 3 hours left before I would have died. What he didn't tell me was how severe sepsis can be. After arriving back home, I looked it up and was shocked to find out that I had stage-3 sepsis which has a 50% mortality rate. The urgent care staff, the nurses, the many doctors, and especially my co-worker, Chadd, had all saved my life.

The Sacrifice, by Linda Saskia Menczel (1972-), is a contemporary bronze-on-bronze sculpture of Jesus depicting Him holding two walls apart while His body slowly melts into liquid. Strikingly, the look on Jesus' face is that of fatigue yet determination and purpose. Setting aside Menczel's intent, however, the symbolism is remarkable and beautiful. Here we see a man holding the world at bay creating a safe area while having his very essence drip away. It's okay, though, because his face says this is by choice, this is needed, and this is what must be done. It's called The Sacrifice for a reason, and while Menczel was likely referring to Christ's death on the cross and the religious ramifications of it, the work still exudes a vivid image of what sacrificing for others can mean for the person noble enough to do something.

There are risks in everything. Chadd risked being reprimanded, or worse, fired for leaving his desk to come pick me up. The urgent care and hospital staffs risked getting infected themselves by physically interacting with me while trying to keep me alive. Everyone's essence, in some fashion, dripped away but they all stepped up to help me willingly. Not one of them asked for recognition. They just did what they did and moved on. Actions that defined the very meaning of sacrifice; attitude and purpose that defined the very meaning of nobility. Did any of them receive a great reward? Doubtful, but each one of them now has a memory of doing something life-giving for someone else that will last them a lifetime. And each one has my eternal gratitude.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Starry Night

"These last three months do seem so strange to me. Sometimes moods of indescribable mental anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and the fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant." —Vincent van Gogh - an excerpt from a letter he penned to his brother, Theo, on March 29, 1889.

In late 1888, Vincent van Gogh began to experience moments of mania and violent aggression. His friend, Paul Gauguin--another brilliant artist--was staying with Van Gogh and said that even he noticed his strange and scary behavior. The exact details of what really happened aren't known for sure, but what is clear is Van Gogh was struggling with some inner-demons that manifested themselves in gruesome fashion. Yes, I'm referring to when he cut his ear off with a razor and had it delivered to a woman at a brothel he and Gauguin liked to frequent.

After being found unconscious by police the next morning, he was taken to a local hospital in Arles where he was treated. It was then that Van Gogh was diagnosed as experiencing "acute mania with generalised delirium". From there, the downward spiral began and eventually, Van Gogh checked himself into an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the birthplace of Nostradamus. His room faced the east and it is said that he was so inspired by the view, he churned out numerous paintings and drawings of it. This is one of those paintings.

The Starry Night, by Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853-1890), is an oil on canvas, post-impressionist painting which was completed in 1889. It depicts the French town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where he resided as a patient at a local asylum. There he had a studio on the ground floor, and a bedroom on the second floor. Of the more than twenty-one paintings Van Gogh did from the asylum, this is one of the most famous and obviously one of the most well-known pieces in history. Since the scene with the cypress tree in the foreground and hill-line in the background has been verified to be of the view from his bedroom window, and he was not allowed to use paint in his bedroom, it is believed that he first sketched this piece using charcoal or ink on paper, and then later painted it in his studio. The brightest star just to the right of the tree is actually Venus which astronomers have verified was visible at that time in that region. What's not completely accurate, however, is view of the town (which was not visible from the asylum), and the waning crescent moon which was actually waning gibbous at that time. Experts feel he used previous drawings or paintings to add in the town, and gave an artistic interpretation of the moon.

Imperfections and speculation aside, what is powerful about this piece is the dancing, swirling colors and seeming serenity the painting gives off. There's a certain tranquility about it, and at first glance, one feels at peace and in awe of this giant universe. Looking deeper at the details, though, I get a clear sense of his madness. When I inspected an extremely high-resolution version of this piece, there was something about the dark lines and angles of the buildings that spoke to me. They seemed to portray Van Gogh's mania in the way he appears to have obsessed over the detail. What's even more frightening are two of the lit windows just below and to the right of the church. Though there are a handful of windows glowing from candlelight, those two in particular appear to have ghostly figures in them looking his direction - figures similar to Skrik. I don't take them to be a fluke, either, because in great detail, you can see how much he labored to get the brush strokes and coloring just right. I also contrast this detail with the fact that the window to the church is stark black indicating that no one is there.

Any form of mental disorder is no joke so I don't share these impressions lightly. Van Gogh is easily one of my most favorite artists of all time, and though I am not a fan of all of his pieces, this particular one was one of the first I learned about when I was a kid and my passion for art began to grow. To me, it's awe-inspiring, and it's also a metaphor for human life. On the surface and at quick glance, many seem okay and to be moving along in life in rhythmic harmony. Like the waves of color swirling in the night sky, we dance and sway through each day never letting on about what's really going on in the dark recesses of our minds. But when you examine things more closely, you begin to see the brokenness and fear. In a way, I think this is what makes this painting all the more beautiful because it isn't just about oil paints on a canvas, but an example of how all of us can be at one time or another. Am I stretching a bit here? Sure, you can say that. Am I accurate in my interpretation? Who knows? But that's how The Starry Night speaks to me and that's why art exists. It stirs our minds and imaginations. It speaks to us . . . and when it speaks to me, I really want to listen.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Dalí Atomicus

My best friend, Paul, and I were reminiscing the other night about life in our hometown of Redlands, CA, and what it was like being kids in the 70s and 80s. There weren't many days back then when you wouldn't find Paul and I hanging out, playing pretend, riding our bikes, climbing around on his treehouse, and coming up with silly adventures to feed our passions for imagination and fantasy. Some days, we'd get on our bikes, ride a few miles into town, go to the mall, play at the Flipper Flapper arcade, get Hot Dog on a Stick, and then bike all the way back to his house where we'd play games on his Apple IIe, order pizza, and watch our favorite movies his family had recorded on their old Betamax machine.

We fancied ourselves as living in a perpetual adventure not unlike the kids in Stand By Me. Even when we'd travel on our bikes, we'd still play pretend, shoot imaginary guns at each other, act like we were eluding bad guys, or just jump off ramped driveway edges acting like BMX pros. And our passion for this life-within-a-life never stopped. In the late 80s and on into the 90s, we continued and we were wonderfully equipped by technology. When we weren't playing games on Nintendo or Atari, we were running around in Castle Wolfenstein, unceasingly clicking on peons in Orcs & Humans, or going back through Goldeneye to see who could complete the first level the fastest. In our late teens, we weren't as inclined to play pretend, but we were just as energetic to immerse ourselves in something that wasn't real because it tickled our stomachs, made us smile, and took us away from homework, school bullies, and other real world nonsense. We didn't have time to waste or worry because dreaming and adventuring were far more important.

That still carries on to this day. Last night, Paul got a chance to learn more about my life since he and his family moved to Washington State about 25 years ago. While we've regularly stayed in touch and played games together, he hasn't had the same involvement in my day-to-day life so he had no idea how rough it has been. Yet, despite the sobering reality, we both still want that life in a life. We might be in our mid-40s, but our sense of adventure and fun hasn't dwindled. We can look back on the things we did with great delight, and we can still picture things we want to do with the same giddiness we had as children. If I could teleport myself to his living room right now, we'd likely go right back to ordering pizza, watching movies, and playing video games until the wee hours of the morning.

Dalí Atomicus is a black and white photograph taken by Philippe Halsman (1906 - 1979) in 1948. It depicts Salvador Dalí (1904 - 1989) in, frankly, a silly situation where he's painting Leda Atomica while cats fly in, water is strewn about, and everything else is floating. According to a documentary about the making of this picture, this was the 28th take. Today, it is considered one of the most famous photographs ever taken, and rightfully so. Nothing in all of history has been this deliberately over-the-top that this humble art lover can think of. And it's even more impressive because it was done in a time where Photoshop didn't exist, but that hasn't taken anything away from the visual pleasure.

I like to think of Dalí as someone who embraced silliness, adventure, and pretend. In his day, technology wasn't where it is today so I see his passion for fantasy and creativity in his artwork. Who else thinks to paint melting clocks on a table and a broken face and a tree branch? And while he may have taken his art seriously, I don't think he took life too seriously. Therein lies the issue we face today.

Society seems to think being silly and embracing fantasy aren't necessary or proper anymore. For those who do, they tend to keep that stuff hidden away from prying eyes thanks to feeling inadequate about it on some level. Too many are worried about this and that, complain about things they cannot control, and waste energy trying to "figure it all out". Too many want to scream about stuff they don't like or agree with, and when they do, they're only stealing fun and fantasy from themselves. The time and energy being wasted on life's crap that cannot be controlled is time and energy that could have been spent nurturing passion, finding entertainment, and escaping the grip of stress and worry.

Video games are a great example of a wonderful form of entertainment here in the 21st Century. I'm not ashamed to say, I still enjoy them because in the end, they can take my mind off life and away from stress just as easily as a movie or TV show, if not more so. Why? Because instead of me being told where the story goes, I get to be in control and do whatever I want while only being limited by the game's design. When I watch a movie, I have to take what's already been created as it is. I can't stop a film mid-way and say, nope, I don't like that that character was just killed off so let's change it. From beginning to end, it is what it is whether I like it or not. In a video game, however, my story is whatever I want it to be, whenever I want it to be. But regardless of entertainment, I get to still embrace that life in a life I had as a kid.

I'm no longer a fan of playing pretend because I've matured. While I can still feel that passion deep down in my heart, I just wouldn't do it today. What hasn't left me, though, is the thrill of having my mind taken away from work, stress, bills, loneliness, and other real world situations and circumstances. Some people use drugs to achieve this. Not me. I choose to write, play games, watch entertaining shows and movies . . . and dream. I dream! I've never stopped dreaming! And I never will. This is what seems to be missing in so many these days. Dalí dreamed and he was able to magnificently present those dreams in this photograph and in his amazing works of art. Dreaming is a gift and while I'm no expert on animals, I think humans are the only species able to enjoy dreaming at will. Why anyone would forsake dreaming is beyond me, and man, they sure are missing out on life.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Les Bourgeois de Calais

Arland had no idea on January 12, 1982, that he would make history and become a hero in less than 24 hours. Little is known about why Arland was where he was on January 13, just that he was a federal bank examiner and likely traveling for business.

The weather in Washington, D.C. that next day was freakishly bad. Snow, ice, and high winds plagued the region and plunged the city into an arctic state. Over 6 feet of snow had accumulated leading to the Washington National Airport to shut down. Prior to cancelling flights and despite repeated warnings, though, the pilot of Air Florida Flight 90 refused to abandon their scheduled trip. As Arland, 73 other passengers, and 5 crew boarded the plane, what would happen next left the world in shock.

As the plane taxied to the runway for take-off, human error was already in play and doom had set in. First, they gave a blind eye to the clearly visible snow building up on the wings as well as the runway and surrounding area. Second, the pilots failed to activate the aircraft's ice protection system while they chose to ignore other on-board warnings that the plane would not make it. Third, it didn't help that the taxi alone took 49 minutes thus exacerbating conditions, and that was after the towing vehicle couldn't even find traction to get the plan going in the first place. What was apparent, however, was that the captain was determined to get the aircraft in the air no matter what.

Upon take-off, the plane struggled to gain altitude, and immediately fell and struck the 14th Street Bridge less than a mile off the end of the runway hitting 7 vehicles, and killing 4 people. The plane then plunged into the Potomac River which was blanketed by jagged ice. When it hit the ice and water, the plane split in two and as the front section of the fuselage sank, the tail section stayed afloat in the water.

This is where things take a turn for the worse, but the better. Of the 79 people on board, 6 survived and they were badly injured. As they scrambled to the tail section to cling on for dear life and seek assistance, not one of them knew it would take so long due to the weather conditions. After 20 minutes of failed attempts to reach the survivors by land, boat, and even dog-paddling, a helicopter from the U.S. Park Police was dispatched to man a rescue. The perilous mission would prove there was and is good reason to have faith in humanity.

When the chopper arrived, a rescue rope was tossed down to Arland, one of the 6 survivors. Despite his injuries and weather conditions, Arland was surprisingly alert. Seeing that the other 5 people were in worst condition than him, he passed the rope to the person next to him. One by one, Arland continued to pass the rope so 3 of the other 5 could be safely hauled to land. That's when the pilots noticed one of the survivors had drifted away from the wreckage and was flailing in the freezing water, stuck on a chunk of ice. She was very quickly dying, and it was all captured on live TV. With two other rescuers who dove into the frigid waters, they were able to save her. The helicopter crew then turned their attention back to the wreckage to pick up the two remaining people. Arland and another woman were now separated by conditions so they lowered the skids into the water to haul the remaining female on board who was too weak to grab onto the rope. When they finally returned for Arland, he was no where to be found. They spent over 30 minutes searching for him before they were called away. Days later, it would be discovered that the wreckage had shifting sucking Arland down underwater causing him to drown.

Les Bourgeois de Calais, by Auguste Rodin (1840 - 1917), is a bronze statue depicting 6 burghers (politically connected and influential citizens) volunteering their lives to King Edward III to parley surrender on behalf of the city of Calais, France, in 1347. The piece was commissioned by the city in 1884, and it was completed in 1889. At the time, they wished to commemorate the lives of those who willingly gave themselves up at the command of King Edward III, and for the survival of the people of Calais who were embroiled in the Hundred Years' War.

Rodin is best known for his piece, The Thinker, but in all of art history, Les Bourgeois de Calais is known to be one of the most historically famous sculptures ever created. During that period in time, France was losing the battle against England, and as the city of Calais struggled to hold their lines and defense of the city and castle, they fell into starvation. This was when Edward offered to spare the people of Calais if 6 of its top leaders would give themselves up, wear nooses around their necks, and give him the keys to the city and castle. The first of the volunteers was a wealthy town leader named Eustache de Saint Pierre, and he is seen in the piece leading the group to the city gates to be turned over to the crown. It wasn't until Philippa of Hainault, the wife of King Edward III, stepped in and persuaded her husband to show mercy for the sake of the unborn child, Thomas of Windsor (who, ironically, died 1 year after birth).

I picked the Arland Williams story to highlight the significance of this piece because of the incredible amount of compassion and sacrifice he showed in order that others might live. Had he grabbed the rope and held on, who knows? Perhaps the woman seen struggling in the ice would have died instead. Much like Arland and all of the life he still had ahead him, Saint Pierre and the others were also willing to give it all up for strangers. It's even more astonishing to comprehend when you think about the life Eustache must have had. He was rich, influential, and according to painting of him by artist Jean-Simon Berthélemy, he was handsome, powerful, and well-liked.

Stories of heroism are, nowadays, a dime-a-dozen. Yet, with each, I find myself blown away by the sheer level of compassion and self-sacrifice for the good of others - often strangers. From Medal of Honor recipients to men like Arland and Saint Pierre, I'm reminded of the inherent good in humanity that the world and media would otherwise have you believe didn't exist. Let's none of us forget that, and let's also never forget those who sacrificed their own lives in order that others may live.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Last Supper

One of the most legendary works of art in all of history is The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. My original intention in writing about it was to forego an analogous approach because of how profound it remains to this day. Far be it for me to attempt to extrapolate some other message than what was originally intended by its creator due to the significance of that moment in time. Therefore, I thought a run through this work's history of abuse and destruction might be an interesting approach, and a bit different than how I've written about art in the past. I mean, it was nearly bombed to oblivion during World War II - that has to be pretty notable, right?

Then it dawned on me: comparing this piece's abuse via metaphor to anything else would do it a disservice and be an atrocity. Why? Because I don't believe it was painted to evoke emotion, but to capture a moment in history that tells a story while revealing a lot of symbolism. And not just symbolism inside the work, but also through its very existence. Instead, I'd like to dive into that symbolism because I think it's important and often overlooked.

Contrast was slightly increased in order to show greater detail.

Let me first note that two copies of The Last Supper were painstakingly created by da Vinci's assistants in order to preserve the details. As you can see from the image above, the original piece has deteriorated quite significantly over time thanks in part to a door being installed at the location which destroyed the lower-middle portion. Also note that this piece was done by da Vinci in tempera on gesso, pitch, and mastic (that is to say, egg-based painting medium on chalk, coal-based resin, and plant resin—more on this later).

Famous nowadays for how often it's been parodied, the original work was completed in the late 15th Century inside the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Depicted is Jesus with His twelve disciples on either side of Him. From left to right—according to notes taken by da Vinci himself—we see Bartholomew, James, the half-brother of Jesus, Andrew, Judas Iscariot, Peter, John, Jesus, Thomas, James, Philip, Matthew, Jude, and finally Simon. The moment being capture is the immediate reaction of the disciples after Jesus, in the Gospel of John chapter 13, verse 21, proclaimed, "Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me."

Now then, the most poignant use of symbolism is that of the Holy Trinity. There are three doors on either side of the room, three windows in the back, the disciples are clearly clumped into groups of three, Jesus' form is that of a triangle, the legs of the table are triangles, and on Jesus' sandals are three lines in the shape of a triangles. Obviously, the number 3 and triangles represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The next symbol is Peter angrily standing and holding a knife pointed away from Jesus. Some experts believe this expressed what was to later occur in the Garden of Gethsemane when Peter chopped off the ear of a servant of the high priest who was attempting to arrest Jesus. This then leads to how the other disciples are reacting, as well. Bartholomew, James, and Andrew all seem shocked; John appears flush white and tilts to one side implying he may be faint; Thomas, James the Greater, and Philip appear upset and in search of more reason; lastly, Matthew, Jude, and Simon are turned towards each other in bewilderment.

Next, we have Judas Iscariot. Anyone who knows their history and/or the Bible knows that Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus for a bag of silver, which would have been worth about $200 U.S. dollars today. Some believe the bag he holds in his right hand indicates his position as the treasurer of the disciples, but I believe it symbolizes his forthcoming betrayal. I say this because he is also depicted as reaching for a loaf a bread in direct contrast to Jesus gesturing to a similar loaf in reference to Him being the Bread of Life. A small detail often missed is Judas' right arm knocking over a jar of salt. In those days, the phrase "betray the salt" was commonplace and used to express betraying one's master. Lastly, Judas is the only one obscured by shadow, leaning with his elbow on the table, and with his face turned far enough to make it difficult to see him.

Then there's Jesus. His eyes are clearly gazing downward and most will say at the loaf of bread in front of Him. I say His eyes are on His hand which would be pierced upon crucifixion. His right hand, however, is reaching for a cup and is likely a direct reference to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 20, verses 20-23: "Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 'What is it you want?' he asked. She said, 'Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.' 'You don’t know what you are asking,' Jesus said to them. 'Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?' 'We can,' they answered. Jesus said to them, 'You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.'"

The final example of symbolism is purely speculative on my part. For you see, the materials used to paint this scene were woefully unreliable. Artists in the 14th and 15th Century all had much more reliable materials with which to create works of art that would last a lifetime. Given Leonardo's inarguable genius, I believe he purposefully painted this scene as he did with the full intention of it eroding over time. Why would da Vinci do this, though? I have no clue, but given his reputation for having a feverishly inventive imagination, I suppose it was to send a message. Perhaps this was the first notable use of ancient trolling by having such a powerful work of art vanish over time in order to draw attention to how much people placed value on material things. I guess you can say that I like to think of da Vinci having existed on a much higher existential plain.

I'm sure there are a lot more examples in this piece. My first thought was the varying expressions of the disciples and my guess is that they're based on each one's personality; Peter being the most obvious thanks to his reputation for popping off at the mouth so much. If you see more, I'd be curious to know! Please feel free to share it in a comment below.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Apparatus and Hand

When I was a child, I used to have a vivid recurring dream. I grew up in a nice home in Redlands, California, which was on the corner Franklin Ave. and Garden St.. We had a half-circle driveway which entered and exited on the two different streets. Across Franklin was an orange grove where we, as kids, would run around and play pretend. It was the middle-America life for us back then, even though we were on the West Coast.

This dream happened a few times when I was very young, if I recall correctly. It would begin with me standing in the front yard of our house, and I would hear pounding footsteps. (I would later discover the footsteps were from me hearing my own heartbeat as I slept.) My chest would compound and fear would rise as I would turn to gaze up Franklin Ave. I somehow knew something was coming from that direction and so its pace quickened. Sure enough, cresting the hill and streaming down the street was a creature about 4 feet tall. The best way for me to describe this creature would be to say it looked like a small Snuffleupagus draped in a white bed sheet, and covered with old, antique plastic play telephones. Dozens of telephones. This thing would zoom to the front of our house, and for some strange reason, I'd get on its back and go for a ride around the corner. That's pretty much when the nightmarish feelings would awaken me.

I can't say what spawned this dream so many times. Even now, some 40 or so years later, I can still picture it, but am at a loss as to why I had it. The only odd revelation was that it seemed to be directly linked to my heartbeat. And as enigmatic as it was, I now find myself wanting to examine it's meaning. Bear with me as this is completely spontaneous and purposefully not thought out.

My suspicion is that this dream was manifest from a combination of deep seeded desires. A) I loved adventure as a kid and getting on something as strange as the telephone monster seems fitting. Bear in mind, this was during a time when mothers and school teachers would iterate how important it was not to get into (or onto, in this case) a strange vehicle. B) My mother used to tell friends that when I was about 3 years old, I'd point to the TV screen as we watched I Love Lucy and say that that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. So, perhaps my desire for immediate and constant attention is represented by the phones covering the telephone monster's body.

Enter Apparatus and Hand . . .

Apparatus and Hand, by Salvador Dalí, is a pre-Surrealism painting which was completed in 1927. It's oil on panel, and it was Dalí's first work after returning from military service when he was 23 years old. According to experts, it was during this period that Freud's publications about psychopathology and dream interpretation were popular with Dalí, and so this piece was inspired by Freud's writings. Seemingly, the "apparatus" figure is representative of Dalí, while the grotesque hand is representative of his mind. Around him are visions of what truly beleaguers his thoughts, and thus implies what influences him to some degree.

This artwork was one of the first paintings to strike me when I was much younger and in college. At the time, I was busy being an actor when I wasn't bogged down by being a student. Art in this form wasn't really a passion for me then, but I suspect this piece is what triggered it for me. Since then, I've spent quite a lot of time studying the details, contemplating their meaning, and almost finding something unseen in previous viewings each time I looked at it. I knew the history of this piece was available online, but I never really wanted to know about it. Art, for me, is something I allow to speak to me as is and without context. If I don't know the historical context, then I don't want to know it because I'd rather art have its own uninfluenced voice. (You can see this effect quite well in my previous post, L'Ange du Foyer.)

I strategically used the term "enigmatic" above because that's what this painting has been for me for a very long time. It wasn't until about a month ago that I discussed it with a co-worker. You see, I had received a very heart-warming comment in my L'Ange du Foyer post which started the conversation. When we dove into picking this piece apart and analyzed its details, we both came pretty close to what experts have since determined with regard to its meaning. Yet, for over 20 years, it's been an enigma and a source of incredible imagination. Apparatus and Hand has been a very slow metronome where each beat reminded me to stop thinking about the here and now, to stop thinking about tomorrow and the next day, and to take a moment to contemplate the surreal. To stop and let my imagination run around and have some fun.

And so, I've returned to writing. Not just because this piece has been an intimate part of my life for two decades, but also because of that comment. If what I type here can make someone see their life in a new, encouraging light, then why should I deprive them of that? I have a gift, and so I've chosen to continue to use it.