Sunday, January 31, 2016

Who decides what is good art?

If John Lennon was a singer on a reality TV show today, what would the judges say about his music? This question was explored in a recently viewed YouTube video. The video intercut scenes of John Lennon singing with snippets of footage from a popular reality show. It was put together in such a way to make it look like John and the judges were having a conversation during a critique of his performance. John was criticized about pitch, rhythm and melody. The video ended with John saying, “I’m just beginning” and one of the judges repeating that statement in a mocking tone of voice.

This satirical video seems to ask the question, “Who decides if something is of value and considered art?" One can reduce art to judgments based on criteria.  We know that some of this criteria is influenced by the culture of the time. We see this when artists never find acceptance of their work during their lifetime, but are later held in high esteem after their deaths. It’s very likely that John Lennon would be received differently if he appeared today instead of the 1960s. And of course, the music itself wouldn't be the same.

People will always judge what they like or do not like about art. But that doesn’t mean we need to impose a label of “good” and “bad” that ghettoizes everything that’s ever been created.  With so much fakery that’s in our culture today, we need less superficial criteria based judgments and more authentic based responses.  Why does something make me feel the way I do? How does my life experience influence my thinking about it?  Can I channel my own inner artist by simply keeping it real?  These questions are more meaningful ways of looking at art. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Doggone it, people like me."

The messages we allow into our head
Before he became the senator from Minnesota, Al Franken was an actor on Saturday Night Live. One of his trademark skits involved the character of Stuart Smalley, whose daily affirmations included the line, "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me."  It made a joke of the idea that looking in the mirror and saying positive things about ourselves made them true.

My new film, Self Talk, is not a satire. It explores the damaging effects of the negative messages we tell ourselves.  These messages can become ingrained in our thoughts due a variety of circumstances, including bullying, societal prejudices or our own thinking errors.  It can destroy our self worth, and leaves us vulnerable to the world, just like a baby.  This baby metaphor found its way into the film. We hear the music, Good Evening, Good Night by Johannes Brahms playing, with a mobile of negative messages twirling in the air.  We see a nude figure in the corner rocking back and forth trying to sooth his baby soul.  Then the figure is seen walking down a hallway and stops at a door. The door represents whatever we need to step into in order to quash these negative messages.

The door to a positive self image
For me, my door was art. For someone else, it might be counseling by a licensed professional. It involves ongoing, often challenging work and isn’t easily achieved by talking into a mirror for 2 minutes out of our day.

What we tell ourselves is powerful. It can determine the outcome of a sport’s game, a business and our very lives. Talk might be cheap but a positive internal dialogue can be worth its weight in gold. What are we doing to secure this sound investment?

You can watch the entire short film by following the link here.  You can also join this blog by clicking on the follow link in the upper right corner next to Google +.. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Can art help improve the mood of cynical gym rats?

Research continues on how art affects our brain
I often hear cynical talk about the state of our country in the men’s locker room. This particular day I decided to interject and say “good morning.” When I was asked “how’s it going,” I responded, “Did you know it’s free day at the art museum?”   The resulting facial expression reminded me of the cover of a dragon storybook with flared nostrils minus the smoke. 

I was inspired to ask that question by a news report of a study linking art to improved mood. I decided to investigate the research on how art affects the brain. The University of Westminster in a 2006 study showed lowered cortisol (stress) levels for workers going to an art museum. Bolwerk in 2014 looked at retired folks in Germany using MRI scans and resiliency questionnaires. It showed that those that actually produced art had higher connectivity in the frontal and parietal parts of their brain, as well as higher resiliency scores. A 2010 review of research published in the American Journal of Public Health looked at the positive “Connection Between Art and Healing” for those with serious medical conditions.

There’s ongoing research about how our thoughts affect our bodies. We are just beginning to realize how art can make a difference in people’s lives. I know that art has personally helped me through the most difficult times in my life.  Can art help improve the mood of cynical gym rats? Exercise certainly isn’t doing the trick. Art is likewise not a magic panacea for people who choose to be unhappy. At the same time, it never hurts to promote the idea that art matters.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Are the dynamics between dominant and submissive a paradox?

Thanks to a trashy novel and equally horrendous film adaptation, dominant and submissive traits are being discussed. These words that bring many things to mind. Some may think of gender roles and responsibilities within society when thinking about them. One person works while the other stays home raising children. Others may look at the power dynamics in a relationship between two people, with one exerting psychological and/or physical control over someone who has consented to it.  The aspect I was interested in exploring in my art had to do with dominating our egos and submitting to something greater than ourselves.

Dominate yourself and submit to the universe
The internal relationships of being dominant and submissive greatly intrigue me. We all have things we need to dominate within ourselves: We need self control over things like our passions, what we eat and our thoughts.  We need to be able to reign in our fears that cripple us from taking needed action. We need to produce instead of always consume. Without this self control, things can quickly take over our lives in a negative way.  On the other hand, there are things in life that we submit to and yield control. We must submit to our own mortality. We submit to our employer and the law (if we want to keep our job and stay out of jail).  We submit to something larger than ourselves to affect positive change.  We find our calling that the universe has put before us and hopefully accept it.

Given these realities, are the dynamics between dominant and submissive a paradox?  Is every dominant also a submissive; every submissive, a dominant? While these labels are useful to define current relationships, actions or states of mind, no person can ever truly encompass just one of these aspects. This presents an even bigger question: what areas of our life do we need to dominate and which ones do we need to submit to? The answers to these questions blaze the trails of our individual journeys.  May we experience many blessings with them.

Dominance and submission are explored poetically within the story arc of the ebook, Male Nude: Hero Myth of the Masculine Journey. You can visit for more information.  Thanks for reading and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Is the struggle to achieve our dreams ever futile?

Relic of  the past
Nathaniel Herrick was a Canadian entrepreneur that had a dream. He envisioned creating a saw mill to supply lumber in 1877 for the nearby silver operations in Silver Cliff and Westcliff, CO.  He hand built a road where he hauled up a boiler and flywheel. Newlin Creek would supply the power for the operation, as well as a water source for the cabin he built next to it. After completing all of this work, he suddenly died. His dreamed died with him, as the operation was abandoned, along with all the equipment.

Will we take hold of our dreams?
The flywheel and boiler now sit at the end of the Newlin Creek Trail.  I took a number of pictures of the flywheel on a hike, and returned again to do some figurative photography. The wheel itself symbolizes time in my mind and by extension, a dream. This is why the model holds onto it, which poses all kinds of questions. What does this moment in history mean? Was all the effort put into this enterprise pointless? Are our dreams futile?

These questions remind me of Alfred Tennyson’s quote, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” In this context, I would substitute “dream” for the word “loved.” While Herrick’s dream was never fully realized, he was nevertheless successful in my judgment. He went after something that was bold, risky and innovative. What better way to spend your last days?  It certainly beats drinking in a saloon and thinking about what could have been. The struggle to achieve is just as important as it is to realize it. What will we strive to achieve?  

If you’d like to share your dreams or other thoughts on today’s blog post, you can comment when you subscribe to this blog. It’s free and super easy. Just click on the follow link in the upper right corner next to Google + and comment below.  Happy New Year!