Sunday, December 27, 2015

What lies beyond happiness?

The magical energy of flow
Stars Wars: The Force Awakens made me happy. I was happy to see a director at work that has a talent for showing both action and human emotion. I was happy that the screen writers had a command of the English language. I was happy that the preposterous Jar Jar Binks didn’t make an appearance.   My happiness watching the film largely subsided after it was over. It gave me a great ride, but my happiness was a transitory experience based on circumstances. It involved me consuming something that required little from me. Nothing wrong with that, but it got me thinking about today’s blog question. 

When I’m creating art, it is a very different experience than watching a movie.  What is surprising to me is that the creative process does not make me feel “happy.” Instead, my sense of self disappears, an intense concentration deepens my involvement and time stands still. Some may call these indicators "flow," "subspace" or "the zone."  This deep involvement doesn’t require feelings to keep me on track with what I’m doing. I've entered into something larger than myself; a universal consciousness. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, this process begins to positively change the way I think about myself and those around me. Anyone can have similar experiences of "flow" in a wide range of contexts. 

I believe that it takes something deeply involving  to change us. This simply doesn't happen when we are focused more on consuming what's around us vs. engaging with it. What lies beyond happiness? Beyond happiness is a deep connection that brings magic to our world: by making old ways of thinking disappear and replacing them with a level of awareness that is greater than ourselves.  Will we chose to consume or connect today?

You can share your moments of flow by clicking on the follow link on this page in the upper right corner next to Google + and commenting below. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Is someone's view of the world wrong or just different?

Like landscape vistas, world views are diverse
Today’s blog question was inspired by a visit to my local art museum. There was a docent leading children through a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit. I observed the docent ask a child what they thought about a painting. “I think that looks like ice on a vanilla ice cream cone,” smiled the child. The docent replied, “No, that’s not ice. There wouldn’t be ice in an arid climate like this.”  

The connection that the child made between the art and their own experience was awesome. That’s really what art is all about: Engaging your imaginative participation through the lens of your life. How sad to see this squashed by an adult who sent the message that your view of the world isn’t right.  This mind set that says my view is right and yours is wrong has much broader implications than simply interpreting art in a museum. It has led to the polarization of our culture in areas like religion, politics and corporate life.  In our own lives, we need to reflect on how we engage people with questions. Do we seek to understand someone’s view of the world or are we quick to dismiss it because it’s different from ours?

How do you see art?  You can comment when you join the blog by clicking on the follow link in the upper right corner next to Google +. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

How can a tragedy become an opportunity to create beauty?

Fiery destruction becomes winter wonderland
How can a tragedy become an opportunity to create beauty?   I have explored this question on an artistic and personal level.  As part of my art, I have taken photographs in two areas that were devastated by fires. The first was around a reservoir where I was riding my bike. From the trail, you could see a row of blackened trees and grass with the water in the background. I took a picture and  imagined ice instead of fire. With a simple adjustment, I was able to reverse the appearance of black and white in the photograph to create a magical winter scene.  This photograph became the cover art on my website’s home page.

Out of the ashes, there is hope
I did a photo shoot with a male model in an older burn area that had some vegetation regrowth.  There was a gully where a number of trees had fallen across it. In the bottom right hand side of the image, there was a single sunflower, which was taken as a sign of hope. This landscape became the inspiration for the narrative of my photography/poetry book, Male Nude: Hero Myth of the Masculine Journey. The antagonist in this story is a sun demon burning villages throughout the countryside. 

On a personal level, my community has undergone numerous tragedies. I know people who have started non profits, ran support groups and engaged in the political process for the first time in response to them.   While we may never fully understand why these horrific events happen, we can bring honor to the people and things we have lost by our response to them.  The beauty comes when we choose to reach out and see difficult circumstances as opportunities to help others.  The alternative is to do nothing and become lost in hopelessness and despair. How will we choose to respond?

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Will you answer your calling?

Comfort of the familiar or call to adventure?
Frederick Buechner once said that your calling in life is when your greatest joy meets the world’s deepest need.  For example, maybe someone had a loved one in Hospice in the past. Years go by and now there’s a still quiet voice inside encouraging that person to volunteer with them. There’s a great need for compassionate end of life care. This person answers the call and gets joy out of helping others.

When we leave our comfort zone to pursue something unfamiliar, fear can easily settle in. Some may attempt to drown out that quiet voice that calls us to do something bigger. The pursuit of money is one way people do this and the many faces of addiction are another. It often can take something dramatic in our lives to refocus our attention to it.  This is what the story of Jonah being swallowed by the “great fish” is about. Jonah refuses his call and spends three days in the belly of the whale. He is then vomited out three days later, being reborn to his purpose.

Mythology can teach us about our calling today. These stories have a common theme: The hero is called to obtain something that will be used to help others. We are on the same journey. Monsters of the past are the injustices of today; swords, acts of compassion. Will we answer the call of our lives or not?  Our answer to that question determines the type of person we choose to be. 

If you’re interested in how I represent these themes in my work, you can view the photography slideshow,  Male Nude: Hero Myth of the Masculine Journey here. You can follow us on Google + by clicking the follow link on the upper right hand side.  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Painted Light of Transformation: An art film's naked rebirth

What change is happening in our own lives?
If we heard the story of the caterpillar and the butterfly, but never saw it for ourselves, would we believe it was true?  The spectacle of a crawling creature changing into a beautiful one that flies is an incredible one.  We might think it’s a fairy tale unless we could observe it with our own eyes. Some may conclude that change in our lives on such a grand scale is also a fantasy because we can’t see it happening. One of my recent short films explores the metamorphosis of endings and new beginnings.

Painted Light was made so the viewer could interpret it on several levels.  (You can watch the film by clicking on the link here and then enable full screen and HD viewing).  When the film begins with a caterpillar and the sound of a heart monitor flat lining, one immediately thinks of death.  The scenes of high contrast light, a butterfly and sounds of children playing can lead you to conclude that this represents the afterlife. While there are so many traditions that discuss what happens (or doesn’t happen) to us after death, it may be of more value to talk about the transformations that occur while we are still alive. People have the capacity to drastically transform their lives for the better. Many of us know someone trapped in a cycle of addiction that was able to positively turn their life around. Others reinvent themselves via a new career path, or find renewed hope in mentoring a younger generation.

Screen shot from the film
A personal example of transformation in my own life has been the power of forgiveness. The pain caused by others, particularly those close to us, can ensnare us into a web of suffering that is hard to let go.  I have found that forgiving others has allowed me to move on with my life in a positive direction. Forgiveness affirms the best part of ourselves and transforms pain into the hope of a new beginning. The male nude emergence scene in the film reminds me of this process.

Our lives can change in dramatic ways. If we think we are stuck, that we can’t move forward in dynamic ways, then our lives become a fairy tale: not the one where everyone lives happily ever after, but rather the one where the narrative’s dark origins never see the light of day. We can all agree that there is no perfect life. There’s just life. Are we getting on with ours?

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

What does our reaction to male nude art, or any art, say about us?

What does our reaction to art say about us? There are two stories that inspire today’s blog question. The first one involved a time when I entered several male nude photographs for an art show’s open call. I was told by the person coordinating the caIl that a gallery couldn’t accept them into the show due to past history. Apparently one of the gallery’s resident artists left because he was upset over a previous display of male nudes.  She said that they couldn’t risk alienating anyone else (the gallery had apparently no issues displaying female nudes).

The second story involved a photographer acquaintance of mine who had an art show that contained both male and female nudes.  He was listening to people’s responses to the work. One man looked at the female nude and remained silent. When he came to the male nude, he made a despairing remark about the photographer. Both works were created by the same artist.

Nude photography isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Some may not like it at all, while others may prefer looking at one gender or another. These personal preferences are understandable. The question that the two stories present is not about liking or not liking something. It’s about why the male nude was so threatening to the two men in these stories. What insecurities led to such over the top and crude responses?  While we can speculate about what’s going on in someone’s head, it’s better to examine what’s going on in ours. If you look at art and it makes you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why. Does it make you aware of your own prejudges and insecurities that you don’t want to see?  Is it quietly calling you to deal with difficult issues or even do something to change them? Our response to art is an opportunity to examine ourselves and make us into better people. Are we paying attention to what it’s telling us?

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Male Nude: Hero Myth of the Masculine Journey

There’s a magical moment when you’re reading a hero myth and suddenly realize that the hero myth is reading you. This ebook project was the marriage between my interest in the mythology of the hero's journey and male figurative photography. This pairing allowed me to explore deeper introspective issues of masculinity. When going through the photographs that I had taken of men over the years, it seemed clear that there was a story being told here. I wanted to make a story something you could read,  so I wrote a haiku for each photograph. These haikus created a narrative about overcoming fear, finding who you are and helping others. The resulting story that came out of this was a myth about a sun demon burning villages throughout the countryside. The threat calls an ordinary man to take action to save his homeland.  

The hero's journey template that was identified by mythologist Joseph Campbell spans across  all cultures. Since all men are on a quest of self discovery, I felt that using multiple male models seemed appropriate to represent this universal aspect. My hope is that this book holds up a mirror to who we are as men. Male Nude: Hero Myth of the Masculine Journey is available for presale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Apple iTunes.  For more information, please visit my website,