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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.

MG6

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/

Thoughts on Beauty

In Art, Nature on August 5, 2014 at 10:51 pm
Photo by Laurel Greszler

Photo by Laurel Greszler

By Heila Rogers

There is such beauty and creativity in the natural world around us.

It makes me think, “Why?!”

What purpose is there to all that beauty and limitless variety? If things are just functional, for use, if life has no meaning beyond the grave, or beyond self-satisfaction or acquisition – then why should there be ten different varieties of colorful koi fish, or different multicolored hummingbirds? Those hummingbirds could all be gray (but also amazing), and it wouldn’t matter, if there weren’t some purpose to beauty. If one looks at life as if there’s no eternity we can somewhat appreciate the beauty of flora and fauna – but there’s no reason for it.

If we see natural beauty as a clue to the existence of an extraordinarily creative God, what does the beauty then also say about this possible Creator?

I think it says that this God is the ultimate Artist … and I think that it says this God is Loving. Because why else would the One who made them, make these myriad creations we’d enjoy, except that this God cared about us? And knew … that we’d draw strength, enjoyment, and even spiritual encouragement from looking at and seeing these beautiful things.

That we’d draw hope from experiencing the amazing way they live, and move, and have their being. I think it also means that this God can’t help it. This God is who this God is.

laurel - cobweb

Frosty Cobweb | Photo by Laurel Greszler

A person’s acts out of Who they are. We people are all flawed. So when we’re angry, sometimes we hurt ourselves or others. When we’re happy, we sometimes sing. This God acts out of Who and how this God is.

People say, “But bad things happen.” This is true. But I’m noticing that the bad things are perversions of the good. Nothing has been created bad in the first place. All human beings, even with perhaps deformed parts (which is all of us, to some extent) have beautiful, precious souls. Each blade of grass, each sparrow, each hair of our head matters and is beautiful in its way.

In the documentary film about his life, the unusual artist Wayne White has this to say about beauty:

It’s embarrassing.

What does he mean by that?

I think he’s touching on the grand, beyond-us, divine aspect of it. He’s explaining somewhat its power. He’s examining how we interact with it when we find it.

By beauty I mean the visual, emotional things that strike our eye, ear, nose or thoughts and we feel… comforted, amazed, speechless, satisfied or invigorated and calmed at the same time. We delight, and yet a part of us almost feels not worthy of it sometimes.

Photo by Blaize Wilkinson

Golden Aspen | Photo by Blaize Wilkinson

Love Is Creative

In Art, Creative Living, Music on February 15, 2014 at 6:48 pm

In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”

― Rumi

long wingsBy Heila Rogers

Everyone Wants to Create (Something)

I’ve been to the Fair and people make all sorts of things … pies, cakes, canned goods, quilts, woodwork, monster trucks. Wait. Monster trucks? Yes, someone creates a machine that can do above and beyond the ordinary, and they create a moment when they race.

Once completed, why does beauty thrill us or make us tear up? Why do we get goosebumps when we hear certain music, for example? In the same way, why are we moved to tears sometimes when we witness someone helping in an altruistic, sacrificial way?

I think that what we are witnessing and experiencing are pieces of the same thing.

Acts of love are also different kinds of artistry.

soar

There is also this:

Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul. – Alice Walker

This sounds so good, right? And there’s truth to it. However, we can even manage to mess this up. This, “creating beauty” thing. For example, we can get addicted to what we see as helping people. We can go back and back again and again for the “high,” so to speak. For the experience of the positive feeling that comes with giving. We can make rules about it. We can judge others for not doing it, or for doing it worse than us in our opinion. We can formulate it to mean only this and not that. We can resist receiving, and be always the one that is giving. As usual with humans, we can take things too far. We actually get kind of creative about that: taking things too far.

Defining creativity is important. If it means stretching out to include others, but disparaging your close-by neighbors, teachers, or co-workers, then it’s not creative.

To state the obvious, destruction of any kind is not creation.

Unless perhaps it’s this:

Transform criticism into creativity.  – Scottie Hayes

Destroying destruction can be a creative act. I saw the above quote on Pinterest, along with the following comment: “HOW?” How do we transform criticism into creativity? What a good question. It sounds good, but what does it mean? Here’s one way how. Look around you at what is in your immediate life. What is there for you to do? What excites you? Make something. Make anything. Draw a picture. Sing a song. Smile at someone. Do this instead of tearing someone down. Do this instead of railing about the mistakes of others, or citing a list of what they do wrong.

“Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.”  Romans 12:9

“Only God is truly good.”  Luke 18:19b

“We love because God first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Receive love and give it away.

As it flows into you, then let it flow out.

When we feel love, and know we are loved, that’s a creative, building thing.

When we receive love, and when we give someone good, when we listen and are listened to, when we have fun, those are creative, building things also.

In the words of the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, even though she very much enjoyed and appreciated beautiful clothes,

“I mean, a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s the life you’re living, in the dress.”

In an essay, C.S. Lewis quotes Goethe who says interestingly, that all his previous “love” affairs were, “for my own ennoblement.” Lewis makes the case that those therefore might not have been “love” affairs. Can they have been, if they were for the so-called lover’s own benefit? Without it really being in sight, the benefit of the other person?

dive eagle

This is why when we see before us sudden, unexpected, great or seemingly-small acts of helping, giving or kindness … we are moved to tears. Because the giver has no apparent regard for herself.

I think this is creativity. A Love. An Art. And I think it’s related to the way we can be moved to tears by a beautiful piece of music. I would suggest that they are a part and parcel of the same, beautiful, perfect … loving.

Check out this creative video and music clip, featuring Hilary Hahn playing “Bounce Bounce” on the violin, playing with Hauschka, another musician.

Then, check out this video clip below of Olympian Derek Redmond after injury, continuing on to the finish line with his father’s arm around him.

Beautiful, both of them, no?

With friends you grow wings. – Rumi

feathers

The Lesson

In Poetry on April 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm

 

An angel hovered near the earth

To listen, should I call.

God had sent the angel here

To catch me, should I fall.

 

No summons did I make above

For I felt that I knew best.

The angel could just take God’s love

And care for all the rest.

 

No need had I for any help –

My problems few & small.

I had the answers I would need

Were my back against a wall.

 

Photo by Kent Bartlett

The smallest problem began to grow.

I could not make it stop.

Trouble, trouble everywhere –

Soon there was a crop.

 

As I pondered what to do,

I raised my hands above;

Then, I felt the angel’s grasp

And God’s continued love.

 

In my despair, I found the peace

That I’d been searching for.

It was there all along

When I opened up the door.

 

More grateful now, I could not be

When I look up towards the sky

And ask my Master for His help;

For He always hears my cry.

 

He sends an angel to calm my fears

And meets my every need.

I’ll listen now and talk to Him.

I’m glad to let Him Lead.

 

Georganne Conway

Copyright © November 3, 2008

 

Is Feminism Still the “F-word?”

In Life in Society on March 17, 2012 at 1:46 am

 Answer: Yes, because we’re all still insecure about it.

Part One in a Series

By Bekah McNeel

I once heard feminism referred to as “the f-word.” A brilliant play on words really, because I thought, Yes, in some circles, calling a woman a feminist might have exactly the same impact as calling her some other vulgar name. In other circles, calling a woman a housewife would have the same effect. Women are pretty sensitive about which camp they are in.

Nothing seems to swallow a woman’s identity like where she stands on the feminism debate.

To illustrate this point, here’s a conversation from my book club a few months ago –the participants were a married middle-school teacher, and a married ministry professional – neither of whom have children:

Teacher: My house is never as clean as I’d like it to be.

Ministry Professional: Mine either. I just can’t keep up! I constantly feel guilty about it.

Teacher: Yeah. I blame the feminists.

Ministry Professional: Really? I blame the traditional housewives!

The two women stared at each other.

The Ministry Professional thought to herself, “How could feminists possibly be to blame for the guilt I have about my dirty house? Feminists are all about NOT feeling guilty for that stuff.”

The Teacher thought to herself, “Traditional housewives? They are all about taking their time to beautify their homes! If we were all like them, our houses wouldn’t be dirty, so we wouldn’t need to feel guilty!”

What keeps the topic so heated is the intangible sense that most women have that they are being judged. By society, by men, and especially by other women. They can feel the seething condemnation like laser beams, whether it’s aimed at their performance as a wife, a mother, or a worker.

This is not just my own observation. I had already started writing this essay when I heard an interview with the stage actors for the show “God of Carnage” [which has been adapted for the silver screen under the shortened title “Carnage”]. The play takes place in the apartment of a couple seeking to have civilized conversation with the parents of the boy who struck their own boy with a stick during free-playtime at school. Two sets of educated, wealthy, urban adults, seeking a calm resolution. It devolves from there into total chaos, as the couples duke it out over whose parenting style and personal issues are to blame for the rift between the children (obviously many factors come into play).

The interviewer asked the actress who plays one of the mothers why she thought the play was able to escalate so convincingly, over something so trivial as a playground brawl. The actress answered, “I feel like everyone I know who’s a mother has to defend the way [she] raises her child and I think a lot of women judge each other.”

(http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2012/01/31/god-carnage-huntington, accessed Feb 2, 2012)

Did you catch that? It’s not that women just feel judged. It’s that they are judged. The performance culture, in which parenting, domesticity, and productivity are all presented to the world for evaluation, did not create itself. We created it. We the men and women of the Divided States. With insecurity and judgment for all.

Women who feel judged often respond defensively. In an effort to justify our own choices, we belittle those options we forwent and fully espouse those we did.  I noticed this tendency even in college students; to align one’s whole self with the choices one makes. So the conversation is NOT:

Emily: I like chocolate! I don’t care for vanilla.

Jessica: That’s cool; I like vanilla better than chocolate.

Emily: Great! Here’s the vanilla ice cream. I’ll take the chocolate.

Instead it is more like:

Emily: I’m a chocolate-lover. Whomever does not like chocolate stands in moral opposition to me.

Jessica: Well I am a vanilla-lover. I stand in opposition to your identity as a chocolate-lover.

Emily: Well, then. We will never be friends.

Now, motherhood, professionalism, and marriage are not as trivial as ice cream, obviously. But we still stake our whole identity on every choice we make. We put forth that we chose the RIGHT choice. Not because we wanted to, but because there is some cosmic court in session to determine the moral imperative of the feminine gender and we are all pleading our case.

Stuart Hall lists feminism as one of the five major “de-centerings” of the 20th century. It radically shook up the social order. It took the realm of “private” matters and made them “public.” When our private lives are broadcast, when our assumptions are publically challenged, we feel the need to defend ourselves. We feel that we are on stage, and we must give a good performance. It’s been this way since the beginning.

First-wave feminism started as a plea for agency and citizenship. Women wanted to vote, hold property, work, etc. They wanted to be citizens.  The feminist cause was also a moral one. Early feminists wanted protection from the STD’s their husbands were bringing home from brothels (their solution was to promote chastity and monogamy). They wanted to be able to live and move in society before they were married. These women were judged. And they judged back in ways that often landed them in jail. The private lives of women like Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) were under the kind of scrutiny that would have stripped Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin of their public position. Women like Emmeline Prankhurst (1858-1928) of England advocated a militant approach to protest, and she found herself a frequent occupant of the British prison system. These were not always friendly women.

Over time, as the United States government became more friend than foe, feminism took on corporations. They used their status as equal citizens to carry the cause into the workplace.  Since industrialization women have been in the workplace. Jobs that were once necessary at home were now taking place in factories. So the woman who worked at home became the woman who worked in the factory. Thanks to industrialization and World War II efforts, working women were nothing new by the 1960s, but soon women wanted equal pay, and that was new. They protested, went on strikes, and litigated. They spoke harshly and were harshly spoken to.

Slowly but surely they challenged institution after institution, until they reached the intangibles, like marriage, gender roles, and reproductive rights. Just like the classic slogan, “The private is public” or “The personal is political” soon the moral became the legal. Second-wave feminism was born when women discovered that formal equality was crippled by the cultural inequality experienced by most women during the so-called “decade of the housewife,” the 1950s. The cause of feminism now challenged not only legal and civil rights, but also the choices of women and the influences upon them.

Second-wave feminism is where most of us get our impression of “the f-word.” We think of man-haters, femi-nazis, and the like. Women fought sterotypes by flaunting their sexuality and rejecting anything “inflicted” by society. They glorified the natural female and refused to let bras, razors, or makeup interfere. This is what Christina Hoff Sommers calls “gender feminism.” Before, the prevailing ideal had been “equality feminism,” the desire that women should be given the same opportunities as men (Sommers, 1992). Second-wave feminism was deliberately provocative, and invited those who would judge them not so much to a dialogue but to a debate.

Throughout all of this, women had found their alliances powerful but volatile. Unity around a common cause could quickly be dissolved by disapproval over religious, political, or private differences. Feminism was happening by degrees. It was not until the 1980’s that the most appealing and all-inclusive movement emerged: post-feminism. [There’s also talk of a third-wave of feminism centering around the LGBT movement, but that is outside the scope of this essay.]

Post-feminism encourages women to pursue “having it all.” Women realized that in order to “have it all” (the power, the love, the happiness, the equality) they really had to be not just a woman, but a superwoman. They had to “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man. (1980 ad for Enjoli perfume).” This post-feminist mentality – that for a woman to have it all, she’s got to do it all – pervades playgroups, magazines, television, and corporate daycares across the nation. This is where we meet the anxiety-ridden mother whose child is not speaking…at 10 months. Or the guilty professional who says things like, “I’d lose my sense of self if I didn’t work…but I feel like a terrible mom.”

Feminism is still the f-word, because it’s a threat to others’ approval of our performance. How can I have it all, do it all, and enjoy it all, if people don’t approve of my performance? Because approval, honor, and admiration are part of that “all” that I’m trying to “have!”

Many of our African and Middle Eastern sisters are still fighting battles long disappeared into our history. Their journey is just beginning. I hope that a society emerges that can find true solidarity in the many paths available to free women. I hope that one day the stay-at-home mom and the CEO can sit down for coffee without trying to one-up each other on whose life is harder or more fulfilling. Or that the homemaker and the professor can watch their kids play together on a Saturday afternoon without fear that their child will reflect badly on their lifestyle. I hope we can vanquish this great repressor of women, the Performance Culture, and support each other in our diverse and unique callings.

I think that the conversation at our book club reflected part of the resolution to this dilemma. Here’s how it ended:

Teacher: I feel like feminism tells me that I have to work in order to be valuable. So I work, and then I’m too busy and tired to clean. I feel like I would be judged if I stayed home and cleaned like I want to!

Ministry Professional: Well, I feel like traditional housewifery tells me that my value comes from the spotlessness of my house. I like working and have no desire to stop, but then I feel guilty when I’m too tired to scrub the white grout or sweep up for the 9th time in an evening. I feel judged by every speck of dust!

The two friends laughed and reflected on their opposing anxieties, and in the process they remembered that they were just that: friends. In each other, they had an ally who viewed the world differently. That point of view was valuable and challenging, but it didn’t have to be condemning. A common enemy – The Performance Culture – had snared them both, in different ways. They realized that in their differences they had the power to set each other free.

Art, Design, Religion

In Art on October 30, 2011 at 1:03 pm

A (female) Episcopal rector, a (male) textile designer and Easter.

Does someone have to know they know Jesus, or have a transformational understanding of the Resurrection of Christ and Forgiveness to be inspired by God?  How is it true that “all religions are the same?”  How is it false?  In what way(s) does Art unite us?

Art History

In Art on October 22, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Keystone Art Education

Find a variety of links to websites about different art, artists and art topics – including a virtual tour of the Sistine chapel.

“A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone piece at the apex of a masonry vault or arch, which is the final piece placed during construction and locks all the stones into position, allowing the arch to bear weight.  This makes a keystone very important structurally.” (Wikipedia)

Evidence

In Art, Poetry on October 22, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Photo by Kent Bartlett

Leaves blowing in the breeze

Flowers dancing with graceful ease

Stars falling from the sky

A mother hears a baby’s sigh.

Barley bending in the wind

Someone talking with a friend

Frail grass clinging to the sod –

All evidence of the breath of God.

Georganne Conway
Copyright©2006