Monthly Archives: October 2006

Autumn poems

I’m reposting my fall poems for those who have requested them.*Getting rough out here.The cicadas of late summer are silent.Their crisp skins, strewn aroundmixed with acorns, lifeless leaves.My path is crossed by doomed survivors- old bees getting a final buzz off of their chests- limping crickets fooled by mid-day sun- crazy drunken flies in kamikaze loopsThe praying mantis I spypoised on a fire escape downtownhas no religion.And the green katydid flying toward me with impossible wingsis unnervingThese squirrels are way ahead of me.Summer was just a dreamand they knew it.*sound underfoot once, sound was all above mebuzz of crickets, shrill cicadasshook the treesabsent nowinstead it’s the sharp crunch of insect bodies mixed with acornsbeneath my bootsthere’s old leaves tooone day they’re tree-bound and wind-rustledand the next day they show updown herethis transference seems fraught with some meaningthat’s beyond me like the warmth that slips farther away each dayI know it is gravitythat does itbut it seemsmuch heavier than that*Late in October Playing the odds of one more warm dayThe last katydid is hanging toughWhile a mantis prepares for hara-kiriNervous chipmunks pool intelligenceThey’re drawing up secret maps And hiding them in burrows I hear each year they forgetWhere they’ve stashed themAnd so must struggle like the rest of usBlinded by frozen eyelidsStumbling, falling Toward utter hibernationSquirrels are in my face Staring right through mePeering for nuts I may have hiddenbehind my earsI guess I’m no threat nowCompared to what’s comingThe ones who can’t take the pressurethrow themselves in front of cats*Fault for the Fall You’re just being cruel nowWe really did all we couldTo pretty things up around hereA lot of us are trying to pick up after youBut it’s a lost cause and we know itLeaves are strewn aroundWith no concern for what’s getting clogged upDon’t you know the rain needs somewhere to go?Treeloads of berries are just rotting on the groundThe sidewalks are all stickyAnd it’s starting to smellWe have to live here, you knowIt’s cold, tooGetting fat is making senseAlready, some of us are starting to give inThose white flakes you threw in my face todayWere an insult, weren’t they?Not only thatYou threw my hat in the dirtWhen I walked out the doorAnd this killing spree of yoursGoes on and onI know for a factThe doe on the highway Was innocent*Unappreciated Sticking to my boot heelsSoft flesh of rain-pelted trees Downed too early, the newspaper saidTo show the very best of fall colorAnother failure like thisAnd the whole year will endIn the middle of DecemberInstead of just freezingIt will be two weeks Of absolute zeroAnd no light at allThen we’ll be sorry We criticized Autumn’s best effort*words and image: TFDimage: our place in space, autumnal, TFD

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Bertoia's failures and why they appeal to me

On Saturday, a colleague and I toured the top floor of the Reading Public Museum with our art students. The chronological structure of our presentations matches the layout of the permanent collection. This allows students to observe the evolution of aesthetic vision as it relates to the cultural context in which it was created. Often, the museum’s temporary exhibitions fit well into our historical overview.The current exhibition of the work of Harry Bertoia serves to illuminate a pivotal moment in the aesthetic transformation of nature into culture. Bertoia’s oeuvre is sufficiently accessible to be useful as a comprehensible introduction to the relationship between realism and abstraction. This is a difficult concept for many viewers to understand and appreciate. And it is one way in which In Nature’s Embrace: The World of Harry Bertoia is a significant public event.The show contains examples of work that present a rather complete picture of Bertoia’s aesthetic vision – as well as the several steps he took to realize its fullness. The whole of his work presents a modern artist struggling to create an abstract sculpture that embodies natural pattern as it may be captured by a man using industrial materials. It was clearly a struggle, as there are many missteps along the way – pieces where the work is burdened by clumsiness and incompleteness of vision. Much of the interesting but uninspiring two-dimensional work presents fantasy forests filled with robotic creatures built up according to the artist’s biomechanical conceptualizations. Additionally, the problem of what to do about the pedestal is one not always elegantly solved by Bertoia. For example, his signature bush-and-tree-like sculptures are raised up off the floor by out-of-scale little stems that serve to hold them up but diminish the evocative qualities of the quite perfect forms they bear. Rather than representing fully realized evocations of natural pattern, the sculptures can appear as giant three-dimensional lollipops.Occasionally, the artist’s abstraction embodies the imitative fallacy. At other times – as in the panel sculptures – it too closely resembles Bauhaus-inspired 1950s-era art-school modernism. For me however, flaws like these tend to give the work an endearing quality. Rather than a towering, fictionalized figure created by careerist art historians, I see an average man working to achieve something far more significant than a place in the canon. And after all, that is how it should be. Instead of embodying the pretense of having achieved absolute identification with his subject (as does Jackson Pollock in his oft-quoted conceit, “I don’t paint nature, I am nature”), Bertoia simply does his best. And like the rest of us, he often fails to actualize his goals.Bertoia’s sounding sculptures represent the artist straining to create pure immaterial aural experience. But their material existence belies their true nature and we mistake them for visual objects. In the do-not-touch museum setting they are required to inhabit we observe them as we would observe instruments in an empty orchestra pit. They are rendered mute by the art context and so we are deaf to their esential significance.Ultimately, as in the work of many sculptors, Beroia’s art can not transcend its materials. But in the context of the artist’s work I see this as a tragic irony. His art reminds us that we too must recognize the fact that our very materiality limits our ability to acheive the heights of experience we so deeply desire.Harry Bertoia was just a man whose desire to commune with nature to the degree that he might become one with it, fails as it must. Since at least Biblical times it has been apparent that the essentially tragic position of man in the universe is first and foremost our physical and psychological detachment from nature. Bertoia’s art, with all its flaws and endearing clumsiness is to me simply the life’s work of a humble man who worked with his hands to acheive a spiritual vision – and not some abstruse construction pretending to be something it is not. This is precisely why I am attracted to his work and why I recommend it to my students.

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What I teach, part 1

Teaching art involves teaching the art of seeing. Unless one can see a thing clearly, one can not accurately render or effectively express a relationship to that thing. Once something is clearly positioned in the matrix of perception/consciousness/materiality, the rest follows naturally.Additionally, teaching art requires teaching the arts of stopping the mind, paying attention, and focusing. These skills are learned before pencil, pen, or charcoal touches the paper. At that point traditional art teaching begins. It is clear that the impediments to artistic creation are the same ones keeping us from living our lives in the present instead of experiencing the contents of the cultural edifice residing in our heads.Our minds are filled with second-hand symbols that inadequately embody our experience. Because they are useful for communication and transaction, we become so used to symbols that we come to mistake them for the things, events, and experiences they represent. We live within our internalized mental maps and are increasingly less able to perceive actual territories, their inhabitants, and the uniqueness of personal experience. Before beginning perception-based instruction I find it necessary to deconstruct misperception in some detail so that it can be eliminated to whatever degree possible. Unmediated experience is required to create unique reflection, representation, and expression.

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Bless the Animals

This coming Monday afternoon (October 2, at 5:30 p.m.) at the Alvernia College Shrine of Mary, the annual Blessing of the Animals will take place. Before the event (at 5:00 p.m.), “East Side Dave”, folk music singer and songwriter and host of the weekly Mountain Folk Radio & Web Show, performs a 1/2 hour free concert doing songs about animals – he calls them ”critter” songs.As I rarely do press-release-type coverage here, you may assume that I feel a special relationship to “East Side” Dave Kline, Alvernia College, or animals. All are true. I met Dave Kline about 25 years ago when he fronted a bluegrass band and released an album with a song that memorialized a very significant place from my childhood (Hay Road, in Temple, PA.), where I spent many days playing and just being my childhood self. I wrote a review of that album, that song, and Dave’s band for the Reading Eagle/Reading Times newspapers and I have followed his career (He also manages Reading’s WEEU radio station), his radio/web show, and his fine music ever since.In addition, I was Assistant Professor of Art at Alvernia College during the 1980s. My tenure there will always have a unique place in the story of my life and the history of Alvernia College. My love of animals equals my love of humans and in many ways does surpass it.The animals we live with here in the country are our dear family members and I’m sure many of you consider your animals to be loved members of your family as well.For these reasons and especially for my love and admiration of our brothers and sisters of the Animal Kingdom, I am writing to let you know about this meaningful event. I do hope to see you and yours at the Grotto.*The Shrine of Mary is located at the “Grotto” and it is not on the Alvernia map because it is on the grounds of the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters which is right next to the college. Directions: Follow the directions to Alvernia College on the website, when you get to Greenway Terrace, turn left onto Adams Street and directly to your right will be Parking Lot “C”. Please park in Lot “C”. There will be signs directing you to the Grotto. The Grotto is a very short walk from Lot “C”.*Image: Dave Kline, Angel, and Sunny

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