Monday, April 29, 2013

Make a list

Make a list of all the things we’ve done to one another.
Make a list of the 7 deadly sins of contemporary life.
Make a list of all the dreams that became nightmares.
Make a list of all the dead in all the wars.
Make a list of all who killed them.
Make a grocery list for the poorest of the poor.
Make a list of all the qualities of a son (a Son) of God.
Make a list of every surrender.
Make a list of every loving word that came too late.
Make a list of all the sacrileges.
Make a list of all the things money can’t buy.
Make a list of all the things that make us human.
Make a list of every stain on that.
Make a list of all the prophets.
Make a list of all their warnings.
Make a list of things that bring you closer to yourself.
Make a list of everyone who starved to death today.
Make a list of every empty promise.
Make a list of every message from your gut.
Make a list of every child who never smiled.
Make a list of all the places you left integrity behind.
Make a list of all the ways to kill your spirit.
Make a list of all the saints who pray for you.
Make a list of all the things that truly bring you awe.
Make a list of all the risks you didn’t take.
Make a list of everything your body knows.
Make a list of every faded memory.
Make a list of everything your hand has touched.
Make a list of everything you thought was love.
Make a list of everyone wise enough to get your attention.
Make a list of everyone who surprised you by their kindness.
Make a list of everyone who makes you laugh.
Make a list of everyone you can count on no matter what.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

20th century dead


Hell, they’re just black savages.
3,000,000 / Belgian Congo

The virile Mao took an annual swim
in his river of blood.
56,000,000 / China

Would the rotting corpses, end-to-end, reach the moon?
And their stench reach the nose of the Emperor?
1,750,000 / Japan

A carpet of dead bodies
so a few could wipe their feet.
20,000,000 / World War I

How many disemboweled bodies, hearts exploded,
brains splattered, souls lost in frozen mud?
25,000,000 / Soviet Russia

Men, women and children became meat.
Spirit became meat. Victory must be fed.
55,000,000 / World War II
Killing neighbors, friends, brothers, children,
really meant killing themselves.
600,000 / Spain

Severed limbs and hacked bodies. Blood-screams
of hate and powerlessness. Whispers of non-violence
1,000,000 / India-Pakistan

Whomever you kill, bathe in their blood, lie in the grave with
them. Explain the madness.
4,000,000 / Korea

Some died in vain. Some  innocent. Some scared. Some in battle.
Some believing. Some by their own hand. Some heroes.
Some still remain the living dead.
3,000,000 / Vietnam

Their mourners, flies and maggots. Their shrouds, parched earth.
Their coffins, the arms of their mothers.
8,000,000 / Nigeria

Night after night…TV. Piles of empty eyes
at the moment just before…
2,500,000 / Ethiopia

Rouge. Red. Blood. Stains. Spurts. Warm. Spill. Soak.
Hack. Slash. Wash. Eat. Drink. Piss. Fuck. Die.
1,700,000 / Khmer Rouge

Each bullet propelled by a good cause. Each body torn open
for the very best reason. Each child dead for the political good.
1,700,000 / Afghanistan

God permitted us to shoot them down, to cut them down,
to rape them down, to stand tall on mountains of their dead flesh.
1,000,000 / Iran-Iraq


Friday, April 26, 2013


Thank you to all who have been reading my blog. I appreciate your time and hope it has been worthwhile for you. I have gotten sloppy in my last few blogs, but will be more attentive in the future.

If you enjoyed them, tell your friends and make comments.

Best wishes for productive absurdity,

The elephants' graveyard of art

Every once in a while, a work of a master is found in an attic or a library collection or a thrift shop. This surprises us and we wait for Christie's to auction it off for a fabulous price. But what happens to those of us who have worked seriously, diligently and professionally our whole lives as artists but have not had the luck, location or drive to reach that master status?

What happens to all this work? Think of Cincinnati. There must be hundreds of artists who produce high quality work. It piles up. A few pieces are sold. It still piles up. Then magnify this across the country and across the world. Where does all of this go? Where is the elephant's graveyard of all this work?

I remember reading of one artist who made a bonfire and burned all of his work. I know there are estates and foundations and other strategies. Maybe all the work will live in clouds in cyberspace. Maybe on thumb drives. Maybe in the future all art will be virtual. Maybe the image is only the lingering memory of the idea it tried to articulate.

Maybe its fate is the eventual fate of the elephant and its graveyard. Extinction into a virtual graveyard.


If you view the world through the lens of the news media, its easy to assume a world overcome by evil. Mass murders, the horrific acts of despots, terrorism, individual acts of brutality and neglect. But I don't think evil is singularly black, but exists in many shades of gray.

What is evil? Does each of us have that seed of evil in us? Is this what original sin is? In how many life situations have we had to make a clear and conscious choice between good and evil? Is the battle between good and evil a humanly eternal one? Can good win only small and transient battles? If we believe in good, are we willing to fight for it? What do hero journeys tell us about good and evil? Is good as seductive as evil? Is good as rewarding as evil? Is good vs. evil a battle or a balancing act or a life lesson or a conundrum for philosophers and theologians?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Observations and musings on art and culture

Recently a new business emerged that offered customers the opportunity to drink wine while making a painting. ( I don't know if this has anything to do with stereotypes about painters or not.) But the photo in the newspaper showed about 20 happy faces proud of the paintings they made. All of the paintings they held up for the camera looked essentially alike.

I don't go to openings so much anymore. It's hard to see and enjoy the work, and I don't have the wardrobe to be noticed. But I do think they are important. Still, go into the CAC or other galleries during regular business hours and you are one of at most a handful of people. What does this mean?

The short time I have been connected to V&V in Northside, with its energy and amazing range of images and objects produced by the clients, has generated many questions about art. I just don't know yet what those questions are.

It seems to me that charity auctions of artwork have reached epidemic proportions. Artists struggle to make a living while they are regularly asked to donate works of art for no dollar return. And they do it. Do businesses struggling to survive do the same?

What happens if you ask the artists you know this question: What's more important, that you be seen or your art be seen?

Recently, someone made a comment about Andy Warhol which started me thinking. For me, his art is not the thing (most of it seems pretty mediocre). Its his insight about popular culture and mass media and its impact on serious art that rings true.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to connect with contemporary art

1.    Educate your eye, then trust your gut.
2.   Want to be challenged, not seduced.
3.    The words about the art are not as important as the art.
4.    Trust the art that infects you.
5.    Envy is a good sign.
6.    The critic's head may not be as smart as your gut.
7.    Being "pretty" is never good enough.
8.    Don't be afraid to expect a lot of the art.
9.    Expect that you have to do some work too.
10.  Expect it to be  not just about now, but about from now on.

10 reasons to be suspicious of contemporary art

1.    It's big and shiny.
2.    It's just talking to itself while you stand there and watch.
3.    It needs a crutch of words to help it out.
4.    It has no sticking power.
5.    Once you've seen, you've seen it.
6.    It leaves you with superficial questions, not deep ones.
7.    The artist's signature is more important that the art itself.
8.    It's just visual comfort food.
9.    It comes as no surprise.
10.  It's essentially branded. 

10 reasons why we should care about contemporary art

1.    It's the art of our time.
2.    It makes us face up to who we are.
3.    It's a global perspective on the human experience.
4.    Artists can generally be trusted.
5.    It can be damned funny.
6.    There can never be too much beauty in the world--even if it's a little ugly at times.
7.    It makes us squirm when we need to but don't want to.
8.    It makes us think in new ways.
9.    It's always got something up its sleeve.
10.  It often sees the future. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A poem

1000 Cranes

Are not enough to fill the skies
or to wipe out memories of the
dead millions
or provide the feathers
that stones and shells require
or convince that life is
or diminish the assault on
or make you love me.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Education as commodity

Pass the proficiency tests. Do well on the SATs. Secure the college loans. Get the diploma. Get out there and make the bucks. The message is that everyone needs a college education and a college education is going to lead to a better life. And college educated individuals do have higher incomes, though it may not appear that way until their debts are paid.

But all of these messages aim at life after college. The diploma is a commodity that generates wealth. Focus on your major, get the necessary credits, suffer through the rest and don't miss out on the beer pong.

But this is not what college should be. It is not something to get out of. It is something to savor. It is not the means to open the doors to material wealth. It is the time to open up to the world, begin to find your place and your voice in it and to begin to realize yourself as a full human being. That is your real job in the world, despite the cultural thrust to turn you into a consumer.

Do you really want to study "History of Rock and Roll" and never know the great composers? Do you really want to study "Comic Books as Literature" and miss the great writers? Do you really want to bounce across superficialities and not risk deeper challenges that might transform you?

I suppose I sound like a dinosaur. Still, I take comfort in the fact that many continue to be fascinated by dinosuars.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


What ever happened to WWJD and all the assorted accessories that went with it? It was "the thing" several years ago, but seems much less apparent now. For a Christian, it a good string around the finger or rubber band around the wrist. I never learned where it came from nor, now, where it went.

Once you adorn yourself, in some form, with WWJD, I would think the decision to take it off would be harder than the one to put it on. When you are wearing it, you must come to realize how difficult it is have this question asked of you 24/7. It would take an MLKing or a Ghandi or Jesus Christ himself to keep ahold of it. For sure I knew I couldn't.

How do you get the Word out? Is it just marketing? WWJD?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fuck: a follow up

Which word do you use most? "Fuck" or "Love"?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


"Fuck" is a potent work, although it's force has been diminished of late by its excessive use.  It's now in the spoken vocabulary of both men and women, young and old, rich and poor. And for adolescents it still has the power of jolt parents, even if they themselves are ardent fucksters.

Movies use the work a lot, with the tacit assumption that everyone talks that way. TV lags behind with bleeped out fucks that make us co-conspiritors when we mouth the word ourselves. Sometimes "fuck" becomes a bit impotent when it's used in a lazy and predictable way.

For those who choose to maintain a vocabulary of only  10-15 words, "fuck" is useful because it can be used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, an exclamation and an ejaculation. For those with larger vocabularies, it might be helpful to learn how to say "fuck" in two or three foreign languages. This adds a little class and impresses friends and associates.

It can be fun (say at a party) to have someone follow you around and make a beeping sound each time you would likely say "fuck." Also to throw off your friends, you might start saying "kcuf" in  a forceful voice.

Hot stock picks

This innovative new company has the technology ready to collect fat from liposuction and turn it into biofuel. Considering the obesity epidemic in America, this business plan in a win-win for everyone. Patients get a discounted procedure, ecologists get a new alternative source for fuel, and all get a healthier America.

This company has been buying up closed fast food facilities and turning them into medical clinics which provide easy, quick rectal exams. Customers just drive up the secured window, moon for the doctor, and drive to the next window for results. This no fuss service will also soon be available for mammograms.

For young professionals who are too busy for kids but who would like to have them available for birthdays, Christmas, Easter and other special occasions, this company provides just the right ones. They come in such popular models as the Jon Benet Ramsey, the Justin Bieber, the super geek, the multi-sport athlete and others. This company is a subsidiary of Rooms-To-Go and will offer big discounts to anyone renting a room and kid together.

This company provides personal surveillance devices for the home or office in the forms of drones. These drones are configured as hummingbirds, goldfish, mice, spiders and other small creatures and can be operated from your home computer. They provide surveillance 24/7 and are reliable and modestly priced.

Monday, April 15, 2013

One nation under God

The Pledge of Allegiance commits us to “one nation under God.” Many would bristle at the idea of removing the two words “under God” from the pledge. But if these are not empty words, we have to ask ourselves some difficult questions.

Would a nation truly under God have the disparity in wealth that exists in America today?

Would a nation truly under God be so materialistic, cynical, superficial and status driven?

Would a nation truly under God be so saturated in sex and violence?

Would a nation truly under God be content with the level of poverty in America today?

Would a nation truly under God tolerate so many hungry, abused and neglected children?

Would a nation truly under God let its young men and women go to war and abandon them when they return injured in mind and body?

Would a nation truly under God worship the dollar above all else?

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Those who see America as a nation in decline give many reasons for this: lack of civility, drugs, crime, violence, corruption, greed and decline in moral values. For me it's something else: CUTENESS. Of course, cuteness has it value. If babies weren't cute, the human race would be extinct.

But in contemporary America, cuteness has become an epidemic. The importation of cute-oddities from China has bolstered their economy. In America today, cuteness drives the economy. "How cute is that dress!" "How cute are those shoes!" "How cute is that picture!" "How cute is that little outfit on your dog!" "How cute is that ___________!" You fill in the blank.

Cuteness is insidious. It squashes creativity. It traps us in a pink, fluffy, shiny box. It turns the brain to mush. How many rabbits, parrots, fawns, chicks, elves, chipmunks, monkeys, dogs, cats, tigers, frogs have been cutelized to sell us anything and everything. 

What can we do about this plague? Buy only items that are marketed by mature, responsible animals. Honor colors like gray, brown, dark green and any other colors that may at first seem a bit sad. Learn to distinguish between cute and tacky, and always go with the tacky. Don't inflict cruel cuteness on pets.

And always remember: If it's cute, it's not astute.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


I don't know about you, but I enjoy basking in my me-ness. Science tells me that among all the billions and billions of humans who have lived on the Earth and will ever live on the Earth, I am unique. That's enough for me to feel affirmed in my me-ness. My life, my interests, my needs, my birthday (you get it) are plenty enough to keep me busy.

Since science also tells me that in the universe there is no center or that any point can be the center, I'll just choose me as the center of the universe. Why not? It makes sense to me from the me-ness perspective by which I view the world.

Sadly, that means that I have little time for you and your you-ness. In my efforts to express the freedom of my me-ness, you usually don't calculate. And, of course, that leaves even less time for us and our us-ness. But that's okay, since clearly there is no "u" in "m e."

Friday, April 12, 2013

Noah's Arks

"Dad, I'm tired of shoveling shit 24/7."
"Just a few more days, son, just a few more days."
This was a typical conversation on the literal Noah's ark, since very few animals could be trained to crap on time and on location. And even fewer could be trained to pee over the side of the ark. Unless they either didn't eat or they were really constipated.
You decide.

Now on the Noah's ark being planned by the Creation Museum, there will be room for a few animals, lots of paying customers and, of course, a gift shop.

The Noah's ark I like is the metaphorical one. There's space for everyone and room for lots of lessons.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The essential and essentially irrelevant visual artist

Ask most people and they would probably agree that visual art is important. And though they live in an intensely visual culture and are bombarded by messages in the visual language, they are willing to allow visual art to largely disappear from the schools. Visual art is, to be sure, a suspect career.

Imagine a world without the work of visual artists and designers. Pretty dismal. But most people are content to be left at the stick figure stage of development, content with the belief that that's the best they can achieve as the ungifted.

Where is the visual artist in all this? Most of us have met a policeman, plumber, businessman, teacher, salesman, bartender and so on. But it's hard to meet an artist, to talk to one, to have the opportunity to dispel stereotypes. So false notions of dress, behavior, lifestyle and career stubbornly remain--and artists themselves often buy into them.

Novelists, musicians, actors and rock stars are searched out for their opinions and freely give them. How often is that an experience for the visual artist? Serious artists do research, spend long hours problem solving, have substantive things to say; but this is not generally known in the culture. Aside from openings, contemporary galleries are frequently almost empty.  How often is the artist physically there with his audience? The system doesn't expect or support that.

Is this situation okay? Is the artist a victim? Does the artist have to take some responsibility for this?
What needs to be changed?

I would like to see the visual language given the credibility and emphasis it deserves in K-12 curriculum to educate the public in the language that so directly affects them on a daily basis. I would like to see visual artists regularly featured on talk shows as articulate speakers on meaningful issues. I would like to see visual artists engaging their audiences more regularly, more publicly and more energetically.

So I guess I'd better get started myself. 

Picturing God

Every culture through its artists has found the need to picture God. Each of us carries such a picture of some sort. We may have chosen it, or it may have been given us by culture or religious education or some other means.

Try creating a picture of God on your own. It's not easy. This is my try.

Imagine every human being connected to every other human being in a tolerant, respectful relationship. This impossibly complex web is my image of God. This God would be omnipresent and omni-powerful and omni-impossible to attain. But it's built on the Golden rule, which is the core of all the major religions.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What kind of art do you want?

This came up in a discussion with two Art Academy students, Kevin Sparks and Cody Gunningham.

Do you want art that hangs there comfortably and never bothers you? I don't. I want art that won't let me alone and expects a lot from me.

Do you want art that be a collectable commodity, continually increasing in value. I don't. I want art that continues to increase in its ability to be a gift of beauty, substance and depth.

Do you want art that sports the signature of important artist X or Y so you can talk about your artist X or artist Y. I don't. I want the art to assert itself for what it intrinsically has to give.

The Male Manifest Destiny

"I gotta pee in the grass." So said my 3 year grandson. It was at that point that I realized what the origin of the male drive for power and control is.

He took out that little cocktail weenie, arched his back and directed the streaming arc with gusto. What authority, what confidence, what power. The warrior. The conqueror. The Urinator.

Of course, he's three, so he will never remember this experience that propelled him toward his Male Manifest Destiny, as all of us men will not remember either. Until the next time we pee in the grass.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Death by numbers

Afghanistan (at war): civilian deaths, 2010            2777

Iraq (at war): civilian deaths, 2010                         4097

USA (at peace): deaths by gun, 2010                   32,163

NOTE: I used 2010 because there was parallel info for this year.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Yellow penguins

What does it mean when large yellow penguins sit nesting atop the art heap?

Mini-sermonette #2

Truth is not sexy enough.
Compassion is not entertaining enough.
Integrity is not lucrative enough.
Honesty is not easy enough.
Love is not exciting enough.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Souls of Humans a poem

The souls of humans
saturate the brain, tickle it,
poke consciousness at importune times.
The souls of humans
invent delusions of transcendence, whispering
until they are hoarse.
The souls of humans mock the souls
of flowers, birds and animals,
forgetting their own code of humility.
The souls of humans
are not shrouds,
but gossamer vessels that contain us
for our mortal lives, then,
their jobs done,
reweave themselves into the mysterious web
we name God.

How to think about drawing

Think of drawing as
   deep investigation
   mapping terrain
   asking a question
   a love letter
   a change of perspective
   just the right marks
   meaningless play
   a record of self
   more than a past time
   a response to Pontormo
   awe before it all
   a transient answer
   a test of the hand's intelligence
   a denial of the hand's ego
   sustained alertness
   a voice for what can't be spoken
   a tussle between seeing and knowing
   the start of a story

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


The clear trajectory of contemporary Western thinking is toward expanded individual freedom--though often without the equivalent focus on the consequent responsibilities. The time is past where the church (any church) is the authority on appropriate sexual behavior. We are saturated in the media with images of sex and violence. Sex is used to sell us everything from shoes to toothpaste to shampoo to snack foods. And it works. Teen bodies are oversexualized. We all wade into the sexual morass with little healthy initiation.

So how do we think about sex then. I suggest we simply think of sex as a form of communication, be clear about the message and take responsibility for what we say--responsibility to ourselves and to others.  Sex can speak love or intimacy or violence or dominance or pure pleasure or indifference or anger or lust or comfort or biological urge or friendship or spirituality or a thousand other things.

It might even be of value to step outside of our human condition and ask what the birds, the bees, the whales, the praying mantis and the bonobo tell us.

What can be said through and about this most complex and profoundly pleasurable act of the human condition?

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Souls of Animals a poem

The souls of animals
tangle in their neurons,
not yet able to escape into consciousness.
they can incite the knowledge of family,
lust and death.
Death flicks the soul upward,
each species negotiating its own
uncertain path.
The lesson for us is that we are animals,
with animal souls
which only we can release into
the consciousness of homo sapiens,
prepared for the perilous and glorius
final journey into entropy, refiguration
or the ether that God breathes. 

March madness

Okay. I was watching the NCAA tournament games. The coaches were passionate. The kids were playing their hearts out. The fans were screaming. It was very exciting.

Then I thought about the hotel rooms, the food, the flights, the eye-popping graphics, the 7 talking heads it took to tells us what we were seeing, all the awards these players had won, the detailed stats kept on each one, the special uniforms and footwear, the interviews. You get the picture.

Then I thought about how much it cost for fans to travel, stay, eat and buy tickets to these games. I wondered how many of them made a donation of any kind to the academic component of these schools.

Then I wondered about the student who spent 4 years of hard work, working other jobs, to reach the goal of summa cum laude or Phi Beta Kappa or to become a Rhodes Scholar or a Woodrow Wilson Scholar in a major other than sports management. What kind of PR did they get from their schools and the media? What kind of recognition from their peers.

Then I thought that if someone paid me a million dollars and gave me the staff and budget to recruit around the country and the responsibility for managing only a handful of individuals, I could put together a pretty damn strong national program.

Then I thought: I've done something like that, and done in at a salary which over my whole lifetime doesn't add up to one year's salary of a big time coach.

Then I thought: I have a headache.