The Ebenezer Stone

The Ebenezer Stone

The Ebenezer Stone

Did Charles Dickens have a deeper meaning in mind when he named his iconic character “Ebenezer” Scrooge?  Its a topic that had never occurred to me until I heard the literal translation of the name, Ebenezer, which is “Stone of Help.”

It was the name given to a stone that was erected after a battle to humble and remind the victors that the help they received was supernatural. It was not by their own hand that they were victorious over a particularly brutal enemy who had waged war on them for years. It was by a power much greater than their own that supplied the vital help that resulted in the final victory. This stone, the Ebenezer, will forever be in this spot as a reminder. We all have our battles and we can all have our own Ebenezer stones. This is mine. It is alabaster from a Colorado quarry.

In working this stone, I preferred using hand tools instead of power tools because of the tactile nature of alabaster.  Many people make beautiful sculptures of alabaster into a variety of wonderful things.  For me, the stone has its own beauty.  I use hammer, chisel, rasp and sandpaper so I can see and feel more closely what the stone is becoming.  The natural color is obscured until the tools chip away the sharp edges and smooth the roughness.  The only power tool was the drill used to make the center hole to show the color goes through the heart of the stone.

As the work on the stone proceeds, so does the battle of the day.  After the battle, the beauty underneath is revealed.  But it is not my hand that made the beauty.  It was there all along.  The stone is that reminder.  For all battles, there is help.  What comes after the battle can be something beautiful.

 

Here is how the revelation progressed:

 

 

Theft or Flattery???

Goldfinch Miniature 4" x 4"

Goldfinch Miniature
4″ x 4″

“A lotta cats copy the Mona Lisa but people still line up to see the original.” Louis Armstrong (from The Painter’s Keys)

Help me out here! When is it okay to appropriate someone else’s work to use for your work? Is it ever okay? Suppose you like to paint in the studio from photographs. Would you consider it acceptable to take someone’s photographs in the public domain for use in your work? Can that be considered acceptable if the original work cannot be identified in your work?

In the studio, I often work from photos. To do that, I take numerous photos. I do not consider myself to be a photographer because I lack the talent and skills of many of the wonderful professional photographers I know or see on this blog forum and others. I am adequate to get what I need for painting. But sometimes I will look online for other photos of the subject I am painting to get another angle or another light exposure. Is this an acceptable practice?

I ask this question because I recently posted a photo on a social media site of a scene from my garden. In the comments, a friend tagged one of his/her friends suggesting this other person should make a painting of my photo. My first thought was, “Did my friend suggest his/her friend should steal my work?” Or should I be flattered? I would love to hear what others out there have to say about this subject.

A popular opinion I have heard repeated is if your work is at least 10% or more different from the original work then it is acceptable. The Arts and Business Council of Nashville sponsors regular workshops on topics of interest to artists in the community. In June, Nashville attorney, Mary Neil Price, discussed this very subject. From what I gathered in her talk, it is never acceptable to appropriate another’s original artwork in yours without permission.

Two blogs I frequently enjoy are Avian101 and Talainsphotographyblog. Both regularly post beautiful bird and nature photography. To me, making a painting of any work from either blog would be stealing, not flattering. What do others think? Does that mean I can’t look at the way these photographers have caught the light on a bird’s head? I would love to know others opinions. Help me out here! Enquiring minds want to know. (Did I just steal that quote???)

Beautifully Purposeful

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“Create we must, and respond to this dark hour.” Makoto Fujimura

The artistic process for many can be a compulsion, striving to express an idea, a thought, a feeling bubbling up from deep inside. The expression is often not consciously mulled over before erupting into reality. How much time is spent reflecting on the purpose of the churning creative urge before releasing the explosion? What if this flow of artistic need is consciously directed in such a way as to nourish the human heart?

Even in the midst of the direst of poverty, the soul seeks beauty. Anne Ciccoline of Creator, Created, Create and leader of Creative Communion, describes her trip to Nairobi where she was taken to Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa. Anne was captivated at the sight of a mud hut with an entrance adorned with strips of fabric and a tin can planter with a green vine growing up the side of the hut. Anne says, “…no matter how primitive or impoverished our shelter, we strive to make it beautiful.” Beauty lightens darkness as nothing else can.

The human heart longs for beauty.   Our darkest hours are brightened by the simplest of beautiful sights. When there is nothing else, there is still beauty. Artists have a gift. Are we seeking to use it in a way that demonstrates gratitude for the gift? What better expression of gratitude could there be than for artists to bring the longed for beauty to the hearts of others? Creating art to nourish the soul is a noble purpose, a goal worth pursuing. And that is a beautiful thing.

Mako Fujimura talks about his painting, “Golden Sea”

Eclipsing the Brain

The Rational Redbird

The Rational Redbird

Better be without logic than without feeling. Charlotte Bronte (from The Painter’s Keys)

The purpose in art is frequently directed toward the rational, the brain. Many artists seek ways to make the meaning clear so that others may discern the intent. The purpose is for people to appreciate the art because they have grasped the meaning. They “get it!” There is a sense of justification when that understanding is communicated. But what if art is created that does not have an outward but rather an inward meaning? What if people don’t “get it” but don’t care either?

When art is focused on the rational so people, “get it” and intellect kicks in, the heart is left out in the cold. “The approach of reasoning and ‘Rational’ debate has eclipsed the ‘heart’ approach,” says Father Brad Mathias of Four Winds Anglican Mission and RoadTripParenting. Engage the brain, lose the heart in a manner of speaking. The heart eclipsed is left in darkness. Art that seeks to enlighten the thinking leaves feeling untouched. Which is more memorable, art that enlightens the brain or art that touches the heart?

The rational art of the brain is so bleak, so heartless. Brain art is without feeling, cold, untouchable, like a beautiful flower incased in glass, forever distant and separate. Why leave the heart out? Is the brain really that important? Let the heart eclipse the brain instead and who cares if people, “get it?” They’ll be “feeling it” and that’s all that matters.

Sunday Slideshow-Foggy Fall Morning on the Mountain

A beautiful mist shrouded this October morning on Monteagle Mountain in Southeast Tennessee. An eerie stillness covers the landscape where only the sounds of the dripping beads of moisture on the trees can be heard. Gradually, the mist burned off and a gorgeous bright sunny fall day appeared. Many thanks to Kris Morton of Four Winds Mission, Spring Hill, TN for organizing this week end time of refreshing, rebuilding and renewal for women.

Breezy Magic

Yellow Bearded Iris

“The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” William Butler Yeats (from The Painter’s Keys)

To provoke the senses is to be inspired. Without the conscious act of giving in to at least one sense little would be painted, written, performed or otherwise translated into art. Art requires that openness that comes from recognizing the role the senses play in inspiration. It is not only one sense that must be provoked in the creation of art, but all of them. And all of the senses include the most important and most elusive, the sixth sense

Can a painter paint smell or a writer write color? Suppose a person wants to provoke the feeling of a breeze blowing through the trees. Painting a few bent over trees won’t do it. Neither will writing the words, “ a breeze blowing through the trees,” provoke much. But giving those bent over trees some texture and color with paint, words or action and perhaps the senses of sight, touch, maybe hearing, could be provoked.  Add some autumn leaves and smell might join the other senses. Taste could even be added to the mix if those trees happen to be apple trees. Five senses have now come into play with that blowing breeze.

But what about the sixth sense, the magic sense? How can one go from sensing taste, sight, smell, feel and hearing to actually standing one with the trees totally within the blowing breeze. The only way the magical sixth sense can be provoked is to let go of the effort. The sixth sense comes from feeling the magic. The magic comes from within. To become one with that breeze is to go within and patiently sharpen the sense of magic, to be in that moment.   Artist and breeze are one.

All very easy for me to say but doing is another thing entirely. In the meantime, I think I will go out and sit under a tree for a while. Maybe if I sit long enough, the magic will happen. Maybe I will begin to grow roots. Maybe birds will nest in my hair. Maybe leaves will sprout from my fingers. Maybe I’ll sit long enough to get arrested for loitering. I wonder what the judge will do when I say I was sharpening my senses by becoming one with the breeze? Maybe someone will come bail me out of the slammer.

Consciously Unconscious

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“If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” Edward Hopper (from Artpromotivate.com)

 

An eagle in flight, the newly opened bud of a spring flower, the crashing waves on a white sandy beach are sights that can momentarily take the breath away. For many artists the feeling cannot be put into words. Only paint can express the depth of emotion attached to magnificent sights in our world. But there are times when frustration can set in over the difficulty of expressing that emotion followed by feelings of failure. Why is it not happening?

 

Perhaps the beauty seems more than mere mortals can express. The great C.S. Lewis said, “We do not want to see merely beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” Father Shane Tucker of Four Winds Anglican Mission and ArtistSoulfriend.com spoke of this quote and encouraged artists to search for those places that inspire awe and to breathe them in. Father Shane suggests getting still and thinking of when one has last seen awe.

 

Taking time to be in that place of awe, to breathe it in, absorb it, dwell in it then turn back to canvas and paint with fresh feelings intact can break the logjam of frustration. Getting out of the way of feelings when they are trying to express themselves may be just the ticket. Letting go of control takes the physical act of shaking out arms and hands. It takes a conscious act to let the unconscious take over. So start shaking, breathe deep and get out of the way.  The logs are breaking!

 

 

Falling Chips

Mini Pumpkin

“Beauty is whatever gives joy.” Hugh Nibley (from The Painter’s Keys)

Suppose your goal is to create “beautiful” art. The first thing you might set out to do is define, “beautiful.” Good luck with that! Volumes have been written about what is and isn’t beautiful. The subject was examined in a movie documentary starring Mathew Collings, titled “What is Beauty?”  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a mind bogglingly in-depth article on the definition of Beauty. Even the dictionary has multiple definitions of beauty. What’s an artist to do?

The first step may be to go back to the beginning and take a look at why you create art in the first place. Was the original purpose to create something “beautiful” or something that will be enjoyed by others. There is a big difference. As the exact definition of beauty is likely near impossible to pin down, while giving pleasure to others is not. Therefore, a better goal might be to define how art gives pleasure to others and set out to pursue that direction.

Now that the goal is in mind to determine how to make pleasurable art, you take a look at what you have and discover one person finds pleasure in one style and another person prefers a different style. Uh Oh! What now?? You could just throw in the towel and give up. Or you could follow your own heart, create what you find pleasurable and let the chips fall where they may. Some of those chips just may fall on a few likeminded folks.

Muddy Letters

Purple Coneflower, miniature

“I think all great innovations are built on rejections.” Louis-Ferdinand Celine, (from The Painter’s Keys)

 

All artists face rejection at sometime or other. It is inevitable. For many artists, myself included, our art can feel somewhat like our child. Art comes from the depths of our souls, our hearts. A piece of who we are is in each artwork. To put it out there for others to enjoy is what we create for. Each time we do, we face the possibility that others will not respond with the same love and acceptance that we feel for our art. It is a hazard of the job.

 

Every artist is admonished to “not take it personally.” Hearing that statement over and over does not make it so. But each rejection can become a learning experience. The majority of rejections are likely due to the simple fact that a particular artist’s work does not fit with the vision of the venue. On other occasions, the rejecter may feel it necessary to explain the rejection in terms the artist may find hurtful or discouraging. Other rejections can be deliberately demeaning. Unfortunately, it happens. And sometimes a rejecter attempts to provide constructive criticism. Daniel Grant writing for The Huffington Post states, “Part of the job of being an artist is determining which one applies, and there is not a Website as yet to help with that.”

 

Grant’s words can be taken to heart, as I recently found. While applying to a number of juried venue’s this summer, I encountered some success but not without the inevitable rejections, as well. Most rejections were of the variety, “We have XY applications for only X number of places, …” followed by some explanation. But one such rejection was of the hurtful type. The rejection included the scoring by each of the 5 jurors with comments. Four of the five scored me as a one (the worst) while the fifth scored me as a five (the best). What could be made of that?? Was the fifth one a genius or an idiot? Were the four a mean little clique or a group of learned critics? And no one was in the middle. There were no scores of three.

 

The first reaction was hurt. The four had been explicit in their criticisms. The second reaction was puzzlement. Why was number five an outlier? And why no middle ground? Either the art was terrible or great, not mediocre. That was the first glimmer of hope. No one scored mediocre! After running through all the emotions, a sober look back at each comment produced the final enlightenment. I could remain hurt or look for what was constructive in each comment. What did number five like and what did each of the four dislike. Surprisingly, I found some truth to work on.

 

Rejection has been written on over and over, sometimes helpfully and sometimes not. Some artists just want to stay stuck and grumble, others want to take positive action. Taking positive action requires Courage. For some encouraging ideas, Artpromotivate offers, “How Can Artists Deal With Rejection When Promoting Art?” On her website, Maria Brophy offers additional encouragement in an article titled, “The Illusion of Rejection and How to Deal with it.”

 

Artists can take positive action to overcome rejection or they can treat rejection as an illusion. Either way is better than wallowing in the rejection mud, unless you are a mudwrestler. In that case…nevermind, wallow all you want. For the rest it is worth remembering that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime and we all know what his paintings are going for now. Not that we are all budding Van Goghs, but you never know! Someone out there reading his/her latest rejection letter may be sitting in the studio staring at a multi-million dollar masterpiece that is awaiting discovery. No rejection letter is so muddy that a little soap and water can’t do the trick. Time to wash the mud off and move on.