On Abstract Art . . .

I was listening to the radio when I caught this: Apparently a cleaning person at a gallery accidentally caused an estimated 1.3 million dollars of damage to one of the abstract pieces of art. The structure consisted of some kind of a basin which had liquid dripping into it from an upper portion, and the conscientious woman felt the basin looked dirty and gave it a good scrub, then tackled the rustic boards at the top part of the display. I wonder if she called a plumber about the drip. Obviously, she was mortified when she found out what she’d done, and apologized profusely. She explained that she’d just had no idea it was art.

I remember reading a similar story a few years ago. In this situation, the janitor said he thought he was just sweeping up some of the “garbage” that the gallery patrons had left behind. The artist, if I’m remembering right, shrugged off the incident and even seemed to find it humorous. Maybe he didn’t think it would be that much of a problem to come up with another million dollar (or so) piece.                                                                                                         A PICASSO                     

Now I need to word this next part carefully because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not an advocate of originality. That wouldn’t be true. I consider originality intrinsic to art and the very essence of art in any field. Back when I still agreed to judge writing contests, freshness was one of the first things I looked for. I’ve also learned from experience that some pieces of work can take study and analysis to be appreciated. In my major, there were poems I didn’t “get” when I first read them that are now some of my favorites. In connection with that, I readily acknowledge that although I’m somewhat familiar with art and art history, I’m not nearly as sophisticated when it comes to the abstract or modern art portion of it. I haven’t taken the time to study some of the acclaimed Pablo Picasso’s works, for instance. Consequently, I react to some of his paintings like my grandchildren probably would, and think,  “That’s not a very good picture.”

And even though I am aware that sometimes some of the most beautiful works are the most simple, I also tend to be less impressed with paintings or pieces that seem like something I could do. When I went to an art show not too long ago, there were some amazing paintings that showed great talent and effort. But one award-winner consisted of three thick stripes. I studied those stripes for quite a while trying to figure out what I was missing. Then I found myself remembering a documentary called My Kid Could Paint That, and for a wicked second or two wondered whether the artist’s  four or five-year-old had painted these stripes. Was this a joke? A test? How could we know for sure?

So here’s my concern: Because originality is so esteemed in the art world, (and rightfully so) do judges and critics sometimes feel almost obliged to give merit to the most unusual and unorthodox and even in some cases the most bizarre and weird for that reason and that reason alone? A talented landscape artist lamented that “they” (I’m thinking she meant her art teachers) always instruct new and talented artists to enter a few contests before they try to sell their work, in order to better their reputations and become known in the art world. “But then,” she went on, “I see the pieces that end up winning these big shows and they’re the craziest and grossest entries.”  She mentioned excrement in plexiglas and a half cow.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m more a fan of realistic art. My daughter (who’s taken upper level art classes ) and I have gone the rounds about this. “If someone  just paints a scene or an object exactly the way it is, he might as well just snap a picture of it,” she’s let me know. I understand what she is saying. On the other hand, a photograph can become a work of art through the choices the artist makes in subject matter, balance, lighting etc. Rembrandt, who painted portraits so breathtakingly real that the subjects look as if they can step right out of their frames, made artistic choices that weren’t always popular with his patrons. After he painted the powerful (and huge) Night Watch, some of his sponsors who appeared in less than prominent positions in this painting, were upset. Rembrandt could have made these patrons much happier (and been a richer man) if he’d just painted them across the canvas in a nice straight row, equally illuminated. But he was an artist, not a businessman.

"Night Watch"

Still, 1.3 million? It would be tempting to do some reevaluating for that amount. We remodeled our kitchen not too long ago and I think our old sink is still in the garage. I could add a couple of bricks and throw in some of my husband’s plumbing or electrical stuff. He’d never miss it. I think I could even find a dead bird or something. Seriously, I may be catching the vision.

………………………………………….NIGHT WATCH

Problems at the Podium

A friend, we’ll call Jed, remembers when he was “just a kid” and was called on one Sunday in church to come up front and share his thoughts. He started up there, but didn’t quite make it. Instead, he took a detour and headed out the side front exit. That’s how anxious he was to share his thoughts with the people in the congregation.  Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is reported to be the number one fear, according to several sources. It beats out the fear of spiders, heights, even the fear of dying. In other words, many of us would rather die than speak in public.

Why is it we are so afraid to get up in front of others and express ourselves?  For me it was always due to concern I’d make  a fool of myself. When I was a teenager I remember once completely psyching myself out once.  Here’s what happened: While practicing what I wanted to say, I got my tongue twisted a little. That concerned me because I didn’t want to make that mistake in the real talk. I practiced again and got those particular words right, but got my tongue twisted in another part of the talk. I tried again. The more I worried about not getting my tongue twisted, the more I fouled up. I began to obsess about it. Even while I was on the stand waiting to give my talk, I was whispering the talk to myself, trying to get the words right. By the time I got up to the podium, I was in such a state that I sounded like I was speaking a foreign language. Members of the congregation chuckled and found my problem pretty funny. I find it funny now too. It didn’t seem very funny to me at the time, however.

My uncle remembers how he somehow avoided giving a talk for many years, and when he was finally “caught” he expressed concern to his older brother about all those faces that would be looking at him. His brother advised him to pick a point in the chapel he could concentrate on.  On the day of his talk, he followed his brother’s counsel and chose the clock. Unfortunately, the clock was on the side wall which meant that my uncle kept his head turned sideways through his entire talk.

As a student officer in his high school, a relative we’ll call Phil, says he was wishing he had a podium when he spoke for one of his first times. The school auditorium was built like kind of a theater in the round and he had to stand in the middle of the floor, fellow students all around him. Consequently, he had to continue turning from one side to the other, so that he wouldn’t have his back to anyone for too long. To his relief, his presentation went fairly well! It was when he tried to leave the floor, that he fell (as the expression goes) flat on his face. With all his turning, he’d wrapped the microphone cord around his ankles and had basically hog-tied himself—a real character-building experience.

Happily, when it comes to speaking, experience really does help. It generally helps curb some of our fears and lessens problems at the podium or any time we’re up in front of an audience.  I’m not sure if they became fearless speakers, but all those I mentioned lived to laugh about their first experiences and  became really good speakers.

By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I’d discovered that feeling deeply about my subject matter really helped me give more successful talks. I’d attended an inspirational fireside not long before I was asked to speak in church, and I decided to use many of the thoughts presented there. I’d give credit, of course, to the man who’d shared those thoughts. I even called a friend to find out his name. It wasn’t until I got to the meeting that I discovered that the second speaker on the program was this same man. I still remember my intense panic as I tried to come up with some new, last-minute material. My mouth dried, my head felt light, but when I got to the podium, the thoughts came. I’m still not sure what I said, but I knew I’d experienced a miracle. I’d definitely gotten help.

I wish I could say that I am no longer fearful of public speaking now that I’m older, but I still sometimes get that pang in my stomach, and that light-headed feeling that causes me to forget the material I planned to say, including everyday words and names I knew perfectly well only seconds before I rose. More often these days, however, talking in front of others doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it once did. When I remember the secret: that it’s not about me, miracles are more apt to occur and I get that Heavenly help I always hope for. That’s a good feeling. Maybe someday I’ll be able to actually say that I enjoy speaking, but right now, speaking, conducting etc. continues to be a challenge.

One more story: I served an LDS mission to California, and by the time I’d been out for a few months, I’d spoken in front of so many groups, that it became almost routine. For about a year, I actually lost my fear of speaking. But I still had herpetophobia, a fear of reptiles. As I waited on the stand for my turn to get up at the podium, I noticed a lizard resting at the foot of the pulpit. This was no cute little Geico gecko. This was a very real and creepy thing with an exceptionally long tail. I let the bishop know I didn’t plan to join “that thing” at the podium. I think he could tell I wasn’t kidding.  He sent a message to his son, who grabbed the lizard by its tail and rushed it outside. But the incident unnerved me, and during my talk, I kept checking the floor, worried that the lizard had little friends and relatives who might come looking for him.

Maybe you’ve had an unusual or character-building problem up at the podium. If you have, please share.

A Conclusion about Windmills and Life

I feel like a windmill. I just keep going around in circles, not really accomplishing anything or getting anywhere. That’s what I was thinking as I ran into some windmill pictures in the “Holland” file I was cleaning out. I’d been trying to get more organized, for instance, an eternal battle for me. I thought about how there are so many details in this life to take care of, and how so much I do seems like routine. There are wild goose chases and paper chases and then I find I’m back where I was before. In other words, I was feeling kind of discouraged. But then something occurred to me. The windmill may look like it’s just going around in circles and not accomplishing much, but it certainly made a big difference to my ancestors in Holland, the land where I was born.

Because the Dutch have always been short on land for its citizens, (Holland is about the sixth of the size of Utah, and presently has about seventeen million people) through the years they have “borrowed” it from the bottom of the sea. Yes, nearly a third of Holland is below sea level. There were no electrical motors years ago and my ancestors attached pumping apparatus to their windmills. The windmills then helped drain water from this new land that the Dutch had diked off. Then windmills kept the land drained as my ancestors farmed it, grazed their cattle on it, built homes on it, and raised their families on it. They also planted rows and rows of flowers especially tulips (my favorite) that they still ship all over the world and that  brighten yards and gardens everywhere. The windmills even helped grind wheat so that my ancestors and others could eat bread (the staff of life, as they say.) It was because of windmills, my ancestors were able to have enough land and enough food to have families, and here’s a humbling thought. Maybe it was because of windmills that eventually my grandparents could have ten children who then gave birth to my cousins and me.

As I travel here in America where my family relocated, I’ve seen long stretches of American style steel windmills, which are less picturesque but undoubtedly more efficient. As they continue being built, they will hopefully help provide fuel for my children and their children— my progenitors, in other words.

Soooo, here’s what I discovered. It may look like the windmill does nothing more than turn around in circles, but the truth is different.

What about me? Am I accomplishing more than I think I am as I move around in endless circles of routine through my life? Could it be that like the windmill I’m making a bigger difference than I think? Are we all having more impact than we realize as we go about “the daily grind” as we  call it. I’m beginning to realize that this just might be the case and that like the windmill, we each become powerful and useful as we too take advantage of unseen sources, in our case, heavenly sources such as love and inspiration. As I think about it, I realize that now that I’m getting older I am seeing the results of what I consider eternal efforts and they are far-reaching. And that’s the conclusion I’ve come to about windmills and life.

The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey

Some things have definitely changed since Aesop compiled or wrote his fables around 620 to 550 BC, but some things remain the same. This isn’t one of his most familiar fables, but it’s one of my favorites.

A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side, a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the man put the boy on the donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours—you and your hulking son?”

The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the Donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the Donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together, he was drowned.

“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them:

“PLEASE ALL, AND YOU WILL PLEASE NONE.

“I am going to marry chocolate cake.” Betty Bunny

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake is an entertaining read-aloud picture book that children love. I’m not sure I’ll be able to post a picture of the cover, but let me give you a synopsis. Betty Bunny discovers just how good chocolate cake is when she tastes it for the first time. In fact, it’s all she can think about that next day. I think I relate. I won’t give away the juicy details, but let’s just say Betty Bunny is quite the little bunny, and her siblings are, well, supportive, sort of. Her parents are doing their best dealing with this youngest bunny who is definitely “a handful.”

Want a good turnout? Advertise chocolate.

I read a tidbit of information in Reader’s Digest that listed Snacking on chocolate as one of the ways to boost your mood. It said that chocolate can interact with the brain’s chemicals to boost good feelings. Raise your hand if you did not know this.

I also found out that people will come out for chocolate in even the severest of snowstorms. I attended a chocolate-dipping demo during that crazy snowstorm a few days ago. Twenty-five were expected and I’m guessing more than forty showed up. In fairness there were other reasons these women came out as well, but I know the thought of being able to sample the chocolate helped me to feel better about cleaning and scraping off my car and forcing it (against its will) up a snow-crusted, nasty hill. We sampled chocolate-covered pretzels, various chocolate-covered cut-up fruits (Grapes were my favorite–mmmmmm) and the more conventional chocolate-covered nugget type stuff, and proved Reader’s Digest right by leaving in the jolliest of moods.

So here’s to chocolate!

Oh, there is one little added observation. Do I dare mention it? What Reader’s Digest didn’t tell us is that chocolate can put a big damper on your mood the next day when you try on your new pants that fit perfectly the week before. Aaaargh. Life is soooo unfair.