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Interpretation

In Art, Censorship on February 5, 2015 at 9:27 pm

By Heila Rogers

Banned books week at the end of September got me thinking.

Do we get to say — to pronounce judgment on — what something we read, see, or hear means?

“It’s a matter of interpretation,” people say — which seems to mean that we get to decide.

For instance, someone could say that the classic children’s book Charlotte’s Web is about a selfish young girl who didn’t obey her parents. Someone could say that the story is about when she and some animals conspire to rob a farmer, who is in fact her own uncle. This band of “no-accounts” then proceed to undertake various deceitful methods to defraud the agriculturist of a pig.

But ~ is this what that book is actually about?! How do we tell?

Well reading the book for a start, is a good way to begin to examine what it means.

But even that doesn’t always work.

A reader can have such set-in-stone paradigm in their head the whole time that they’re examining words, that they won’t be able to see beyond that set perspective.

MG2

Photo by Mary Gregory

What about the author’s or artist’s intent?

Can we tell what something means, by examining that?

E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web, was thought to have written the book in order to imagine something in fiction: that he’d saved a pig that he wasn’t able to save in real life. He wrote about this in Death of a Pig in 1948, before he wrote Charlotte’s Web four years later.

When asked what the book was about though, White said the following:

I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze.”

feather

Photo by Rachel Elizabeth White

The truth is probably complicated.

Writing or creating are never straightforward endeavors. There’s something mysterious about the process, something unknown even to the author, or actor,

painter, sculptor,

filmmaker,

gardener, baker (what will happen when I combine these ingredients?),

or relationship forger…

There isn’t really a “why” sometimes when creating, there’s just an “it” – the end result.

Yet there are certainly motivations, experiences, questions and such that drive us to explore answers by creating, and in the creation itself.

Which I would hazard to say is always beyond us in some way. The creation itself is separate from us.

MG1

Photo by Mary Gregory

Back to books.

So, we can examine and ask questions of the author to explore a book’s meaning.

We can read and look with an open heart, on our own.

We can also look to others – we can explore commentary, scholarly opinion, literary analysis, etc.

Asking, “What do they say it says?”

We can analyze. Using our brains, our experience and our observational skills, and what we know emotionally to ring true.

Along with using some of the aforementioned methods of literary analysis, we can actually look at the words, sentences, and relationships between characters and find truth.

Will this truth be the same for everyone? To some extent, yes. Because the nature of truth itself is that it is stable, unchanging.

There is also the concept of the blind men and the elephant. Each man felt different parts of the creature and thus described it as being very, very different. But it was truly an elephant – all the parts taken together.

Are honesty and truth important? I mean, really?

Lies warp and destroy. Even when we think they won’t; even when we think they’ll be good and helpful, they aren’t.

The fact is, readers, lookers and listeners will each gain something unique from a piece of art (or even a conversation).

Check out these quotes about truth by famous artists:

Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things. (Georgia O’Keeffe)

A lie would have no sense unless the truth were felt as dangerous. (Alfred Adler)

A truth that’s told with bad intent / Beats all the lies you can invent. (William Blake)

There is such a thing as intentionally manipulating others through deception, however.

We might feel justified in this; we might feel that it’s for a good reason. We might feel we’re right. But the fact is, seeking to control others is wrong. Why? Because we people are too limited for that kind of power.

We’re not good enough, smart enough, or big enough for it. It ends up hurting ourselves and others.

I believe we need to yield to the fact of this weakness and acknowledge it, while also remaining aware of our abilities, gifts and value.

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Photo by Mary Gregory

“The truth will set you free.” But will it?

The truth is, truth can still be found. Even among lies.

But does the truth care if we don’t believe in it? Is it still the truth, regardless?

What is truth?

We can’t just pick something and say, “this or that is it;” so we instead have to search and examine and discard and keep, and keep looking, until things click or make sense; until they “feel right.”

We have to ask others if our thinking is off, if we’re missing something. Asking, “What about this?”

We have to be okay with not knowing everything. We have to be okay with being too small to pronounce for everyone else’s (or our own) life what to do, how to be, or what is right all the time. This is where God comes in.

We have to know that we are not… God.

Truth is worth it. It’s another name for Beauty.

It takes vulnerability and honesty to search for it.

So, three cheers for Charlotte, spinning her web for her babies, and trusting Wilbur to help her.

Here’s to courage and honesty and friendship. Different aspects of the truth.

 

Photo by Mary Gregory

Photo by Mary Gregory

Mary Gregory Studio

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Nature-of-EB-White/127630/

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Being the Banana

In Creative Living on February 5, 2015 at 9:15 pm

By Angela Nicolini

People tell themselves all sorts of reasons why they shouldn’t embrace their creative sides. “I don’t have time to paint or write.” “I’m too old to try something new.” But the biggest excuse seems to be, “I could never produce a true work of art.” But who gets to decide what art is? If it brings enjoyment to your life and the lives of others, isn’t any attempt at creativity worthwhile?

I’ve thought for a long time that I want to be a writer. I love to put pen to paper. And having lived a well-traveled and curious life, I have many anecdotes and facts to include in my stories.

I spoke three languages by the age of five. (Four languages if you include the ‘twin talk’ my sister and I made up.) I’ve had the good fortune of living in such fabulous countries as Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. I’ve traveled by plane, train, hot air balloon, riverboat, and even by camel in these exotic places, and many more.

Photo by Tammy Werner Zimbabwe

Photo by Tammy Werner
Zimbabwe

My aspiration is to write a fictional book for spiritual people who are not necessarily religious. I have lofty goals. My dream is for this book to be a shining beacon for all who read it. Then I’ll get to go on press tours and talk about my book. And having it made into a movie would be a fabulous cherry on top!

But several things stop me from attaining my goal. Mostly it’s the anticipation of the incredibly hard work involved, if I’m completely honest. It can take three years or more to write a novel. And I’ve heard that the endless revisions are the hardest part. My personality doesn’t respond well to sitting alone for hours at a time, working away at my computer. I also waste a lot of time with a running dialogue in my head: Is this a dream I want to follow because I really love writing, or simply because I want to feed my ego?

When I feel inclined to beat myself up over this world-changing book that has yet to materialize, I remind myself of a talk given by a wonderful Hindu speaker who came to my small, West Texas town several years ago.

The speaker’s message was simple: We are all part of God. And God is inside each of us. Our job as humans is merely to learn as much as we can about ourselves, and to strive to be our best selves. And in doing so, we will get closer to God.

He went on to say that we can change the world using this same strategy, and he illustrated his lesson in the most beautiful way. He explained that ripe bananas emit chemicals that make nearby fruits ripen faster. “If you have green bananas in your refrigerator, and you place them in a drawer with a ripe banana, they will ripen faster. Our job in life is simply to be that ripe banana for those around us.”

I believe the message he was giving is that by recognizing our true nature, embracing ourselves, and honoring those around us, we are emitting ‘goodness’ that those around us can soak up. And they, in turn, will also emit good vibes. And so on.

Photo by Mary Gregory West Texas

Photo by Mary Gregory
West Texas

This took all of the pressure off me to try to change the world in one, singular way. Instead, I decided to take a few extra seconds each day to smile at whomever served me at restaurants. I made an effort to ask the person ringing up my groceries how their day was going. If my friend was telling me about her bad day, I listened with my whole heart, instead of planning what I was going to say next in response. And I decided to make a deep, concerted effort to look at myself with open eyes.

Here’s the thing… after I embraced this new way of thinking, I started getting many opportunities to write in a way that actually fit my personality! Three years ago, I was offered a job teaching a class at a local university. While writing a curriculum for an entire semester was admittedly tedious, it only took one summer to do so. And each semester afterward has been easier than the one before. The most rewarding part was getting to include all of those fascinating facts and stories I’d collected throughout my life, to make the lectures more interesting.

Because of my new contacts at the university, I’ve also had several opportunities to give one-time guest lectures. I get to use ‘both sides’ of my brain to create presentations that offer the students facts, as well as fun.

I have a plethora of stories to draw on when composing my talks.

From my days as a student at an all-girls’ Catholic boarding school,

… to peeking into one of the great Pyramids in Egypt,

… to staying in a tree house in Kenya, that lies on the path of an ancient elephant migratory route (the spot in fact, where Queen Elizabeth found out on her honeymoon that she was to ascend the throne following her father’s death)…

And here I am, writing this article for this fabulous blog thanks to meeting its creator at a local non-profit where we both volunteer.

Don’t get me wrong. I might still write my world-changing book someday. But if I don’t, I know I can still make a difference in this world in other ways that may appear smaller, but are just as important. In short, I’ve learned that we don’t have to pressure ourselves to create masterpieces of art, literature, or music in order to believe our lives are worthwhile. We just need to be the ripe bananas. The rest will take care of itself.

Photo by Laurel Greszler England

Photo by Laurel Greszler
England

Rest is Art

In Art on February 5, 2015 at 9:08 pm
Photo by Tammy Werner

Photo by Tammy Werner

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. – Aristotle

By Heila Rogers

How does creativity fit into life?

Do we need “the arts” as a part of life — or are they a waste of time?

I’m not the only one around lately who has been re-defining (or getting back to the roots of) creative pursuits — as being beyond the usual writing, drawing, acting or dancing — to also include, “household arts,” or “the art of the deal,” for example (that’s something I’d like to explore about!).

Anyway, humans are artists. So whatever we do can be done artistically…

It’s interesting to examine different historical people groups, and the role of traditional artistic pursuits like theatre, painting and music in their culture – and how these things paralleled or were involved with the rise and fall of different civilizations.

I was particularly interested to see what ancient and enduring texts had to say about the subject of creativity so I did a word search in an online Bible for, “creativity” and didn’t come up with much. Then I tried searching for different variations of the word.

In the process of this searching, I’d forgotten about the Creation Story itself, as it’s called.

THE very first words of the whole collection of books begins:

In the beginning, God created…” is Genesis 1:1

And then for several more chapters it’s all about Creation. You remember: the land and the water, the moon and the stars, the animals, the plants… “Let there be Light…etc.”

Somewhat surprisingly, I found rest a part of that first story of creation, too.

On the seventh day of creating, God said, “It is good” and rested. I really thought the seventh day was when the creating was finished. But it turns out the seventh day and the resting were on-going, integral parts of the whole.

It’s not like all the action happens during the physical-making-and-building parts of something. An awful lot happens during the rest periods too.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.

— John Lubbock (English Biologist and Politician, 1834-1913)

Photo by Mary Gregory

Photo by Mary Gregory

Artists speak about a kind of resting — which is IN the act of creating:

Painting is a meditation that allows me to process the awe I feel for life and offer some expression of beauty to honor that.Linda Saccoccio

I find working with glass meditative, almost therapeutic, I can leave the world behind and focus… the simplicity of form, the drama of rich, intense colour, the joy of challenge, and the challenge of endurance. The piece, when it’s over, is not what is made, but how it’s made.Andrew Kuntz

It’s well-known that artists, writers, musicians, and well — people, have some of their best ideas when doing tasks like ironing, taking long walks, sitting on a park bench watching birds or children play, or washing dishes.

Some of those things are technically active but while we’re doing them, the mind rests in a certain way (if we let it). When doing those kinds of repetitive motions or tasks, our minds can generate some fantastic ideas; or problems can get figured out.

People still tend to define rest as being physically still, or even as sleeping.

Or people think it means clearing the mind.  Which is partly what happens when we do the above kinds of things — our mind empties out in a certain way.

So ~ physical, mental, spiritual are all connected…

Is rest defined as being free from worry?

In that case it’s got to involve putting that worry somewhere else, or onto someone else.

That’s why we often attempt numbness with TV, Netflix, Facebook, alcohol, social engagements, books, food or exercise. This is not an exhaustive list. We’re seeking rest. A break from our worries or our sense of responsibility.

All of these things can be good of course, but we can misuse them into distractions that steal our time from just Being.

How to do that tricky “just BEING” though?

Meditation or contemplation involves thinking about something to focus our mind.

We can picture a mountain lake, or a field of wildflowers. Or for some people, maybe imagining being underwater in the ocean is soothing and relaxing.

Photo by Tammy Werner African Church

Photo by Tammy Werner
African Church

This resting and ‘just being’ can be so scary though.

If we stop moving, who are we?

If we’re not what we do, who are we?

These quiet, peaceful times are the times though when it’s possible to hear God’s voice saying, “I love you.” When we can sense direction for our lives.

When we can picture ourselves opening our hands and letting go of every anxiety.

We can only do this I think though, when we know and trust Whom we’re giving these burdens to.

Just like a good friend who has been there for us through our most difficult times, if we understand God as our Friend we can rest in the presence of that Friend.

We can rest in the presence of someone who is still our friend and accepts us, even when we do stupid or embarrassing stuff. The kind of friend who might even perhaps laugh at us, but with affection; never harshly, or with mocking or meanness.

A friend is someone I can tell my worries to, someone I allow to hug me close. A friend is someone who knows me well enough to know when I need a hug, and when I need a laugh instead.

I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better. Plutarch

I picture God’s warm lap sometimes too. I imagine God as a loving, caring, nurturing and protective parent.

Why can’t a parent be defined as a friend also?

This concept and awareness can generate a deep and wide rest within.

From there in that safe, warm place I grow and fly ….. and create.

I recently pictured God as a loving, affectionate, fun  Mother & Father  swinging me in between them like a little child. I was holding onto both of their hands.

I rested in being loved.

I felt a sensation of flight.

Photo by Tammy Werner

Photo by Tammy Werner

 At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet. – Plato