Just a book

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These bibles and hymnals are at rest. Upon spying them in the back room behind a church where my daughter takes Latin, I still experience a moment of intimidation. “Don’t touch” and “Holy” are the concepts flashing through my mind. I attended church briefly as a preteen, mostly because my mother played the organ there. I walked on egg shells all the time….would it be obvious that I wasn’t really of this faith?

Working on representation on website

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early morning discussion

early morning discussion

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Tech support (my 17 year old son) fixed the display of my blog on the homepage of my web site, but I posted it incorrectly this AM and so am re-posting. Sorry for repetition. Hopefully it will be right now.

The drawing is of our auto mechanic’s shop steward ( his wife) discussing with a customer the finer points of a town meeting that they both attended.

Student as teacher

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Student as teacher

Mostly following an “unschooling” strategy as far as the home education of my four children…I struggle sometimes with feeling that they really need to learn a little more geography, or history of the united States, or something that I can tell the school district in quarterly reports that could be called science.

I was really feeling this pressure one day, and starting to paw through an assortment of history books on our homeschooling shelf, when my son, who is 14, and spends an inordinate amount of time on the internet, asked, ” Do you want me to show you this series of documentaries on Chernobyl?” I looked at his younger sister, and she asked, ” What is Chernobyl?” So, already, we had our teachable moment! We all three made ourselves comfy on the sofa, my son got the computer connected to the large screen monitor in front of the sofa, and we watched most of the series in one afternoon. It is an amazing documentary. (Chernobyl incident Part 1 By Keiluko) It details the initial disaaster, the lack of transparency concerning the disaster, and then the various efforts in the ensuing months to try to mop up the disaster. Especially thought-provoking, was the national concept promoted by the Ukrainian and Soviet government, that the effort to clean up the disaster was akin to a war, a war in which patriots could feel compelled to give their life if need be. They were enlisted to run out with tiny shovels to scoop radioactive material from the roof of the reactor building. More than 45 seconds on the roof put the shovelers at risk of their lives through excess exposure to radiation.

This particularly informative social studies session reminded me of several things; one: that my son is not just watching cartoons the entire time he is on the internet, 2: that lessons can come from unexpected sources, 3: that unschooling has great moments.

So, the greatness of that moment has to sustain me through the less great moments like when I realize that my daughter has posted 30 messages about horses on facebook in one afternoon, or that my son is watching his 3rd movie in the same afternoon. And that neither of them has washed the dishes or taken out the garbage.

My Pal Erastus

Erastus Salisbury Field

Erastus Salisbury Field

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A friend and I traveled to the Springfield Art Museum to see “Intent to Deceive”, a merely interesting exhibit about forgeries. The entrance to the Museum opens into a gallery. Straight ahead, hanging on the far wall in that gallery is a most amazing huge painting. We had just been out in the Dr. Suess sculpture garden, and for a minute, I wondered if we were still there. The painting is a fantastic, in the full sense of the word, allegorical map of early American History. The painter, Erastus Salisbury Field, created 10 allegorical towers on the canvas. They represent events commemorating the early settlement of the thirteen colonies, the creation of the early American government, and then events leading up to and occurring during the civil war. He created the huge painting to confirm the moral superiority of the North; God is on their side.

This is a painting that I would have loved to have known about 30 years ago when I was in art school struggling to figure out how to continue making paintings in a climate that applauded political and performance art. A friend and I, both committed painters, experimented with various approaches. We painted portraits for free on the Coney Island boardwalk as a vehement anti-marketability statement about painting. My friend experimented with choosing as subjects for representational painting various crime scenes pictured in the newspaper. I experimented with portraying current day morality tales such as visionary moments in a holiday Inn parking lot. We were both eager to come up with a premise for painting that made it more viable, more compelling, to a world moving at a technological and experiential pace that threatened to make painting itself obsolete.

Now, here was Erastus with his “Historical Monument of the American Republic”. The structure of the painting could allude to towers of Babel. Upon close scrutiny, I could make out tiers of historical scenes. The painting had text all over it. As with more current art that bears text, I do not generally find this a successful strategy. There are exceptions as in when an artist like Jenny Holzer makes the text the art; that certainly works. But when a mostly visual piece of art tries to incorporate text as a critical element, a viewer can often lose interest. In this case, the text was definately oppressive, but at the same time, it offered clues to this bizarre work. In a funny way, as the painting technique itself was not especially compelling (Erastus started out as a relatively untrained itinerant portrait painter and never learned too much about color for example) the text did not in this case overshadow the painting, but rather seemed an integral part to the bizarre project of “re” presenting history. The painting was created so close in time to some of the events pictured that the artist certainly did not have the critical distance of time. So for us, looking at it now 150 years later, the entire allegorical construct is quite inviting and wonderfully fanciful.

Like most artists, it turns out that Erastus was looking for the best way to earn a living. He transitioned from portrait painting to historical genre painting after eventual exposure to the work of other artists in NYC, and probably as a result of the birth of daguerreotype portraits that rendered portrait painting less popular. “Historical Monument of the American Republic” should be included in the annals of art history, as it is a remarkable essay into political art by a 19th century painter. I like to think about the conviction and proximity to a lunatic fringe mentality that would have given Erastus the determination to create such an unusual painting. I am happy that it can now inform my work as a 21st century painter.

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