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my ridiculously talented son

Bloged in art, parenting by rod Tuesday February 20, 2007

Monday was a kid holiday, but not a parent holiday. Molly had spent the night with a friend and was still there. Jack was headed to Bellacino’s and then bowling. Allison was asleep. I needed to go to work for awhile so Will came with me and we dropped off Jack and headed over. It was a beautiful sunshiny day, and Will had been asking for awhile to spend some time at “the secret pond.” So I handed him my camera and said, “knock yourself out.”
Will said, “dad, nature is always so beautiful until you try to take pictures of it and then all the beauty disappears.” Assuming that he was voicing frustration that you can never capture what you see, I told him to allow the camera to capture a different perspective, something less that suggested something more. I actually gave him a pointer, and took a pic to show him what I meant.
Now I feel stupid thinking that I could give him a pointer in any artistic pursuit whatever. You would think I could make musical theoretical offerings to him, but Sunday on the way to church I asked him what he was scribbling, and he told me he was transposing a chart that was in the wrong key for worship that morning. Sheesh. If he doesn’t need my help in music, he certainly doesn’t need my photography help.
So the result of his afternoon with my camera made me intensely jealous. I take about a thousand pics and get one that I like a little. Will comes back with 76 pictures, all of which are very good. I know that he’d never be interested in maintaining a flickr page, so I decided to give him a showing on mine. This takes some pride swallowing on my part to put his brilliant photos among my mediocre ones. But a dad’s gotta do what a dad’s gotta do.
So check out the Will pictures. I think you’ll like them.

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Bloged in art, cognition, education by rod Thursday December 7, 2006

A while back, I posted about humility found in true artists. My statement ultimately, was that artistry is dependent on humility. Humility is the single attribute found consistently among artists. This is in direct contradiction to the conventional wisdom concerning folks with an artistic temperament. Numerous books have been written to help understand artists, but the profile given in the books is precisely not consistent with a true artist. We’ve come to think of artists as high maintenance, extroverted, egocentric, megalomaniacs. I do know several high maintenance, extroverted, egocentric, megalomaniacs, but none of the artists I know are any of those things. The problem is that we’ve too broadly applied the term artist. But I’ve said all this before, I’m repeating myself redundantly.

I thought about this all again today when I read a comment on my photo of last night’s moon rising over our house. The comment said, “His beauty leaves me breathless…” I began to think about being left breathless by beauty that can’t be comprehended. We try to capture that beauty and fail. But the embraced failure could possibly be the definitive factor in art. Perhaps every work of art contains an ellipsis. There is more than could be captured, contained, or understood. The purpose of this meager representation is merely to cause you to ponder what is there, but couldn’t be captured. This work is a glass through which we see dimly, but piques contemplation and hope for what can’t be seen and provides clues to the greater picture.
The striving of an artist to capture the beauty of God is doomed to failure. This is a very humbling endeavor. Artists are constantly reminded of their limitations. Artists have the ability to create a box with an open lid and show us what it can’t contain.
I believe this is why the written Revelation is so full of poetry. God can’t be contained in profiles and information. The complete and adequate revelation shows us how incomplete our understanding, and inadequate our language.
Sadly though, (and I’m know I’m restating again) it seems as if the poetry and art has been dissected and explained to the point that it no longer serves to point to something more, but rather it becomes the very box to contain God. This causes the opposite of humility. We become arrogant when we think we’ve got it all figured out.
If a painting, or photo, or piece of music claims to represent the beauty of God, rather than celebrate what it can’t be, it is not art.
Perhaps this is why there is such a danger in our theology. We see it as a study, and study is academic, and so we learn but don’t see. When our learning ceases to make us aware that there is so much we don’t know we lose humility. We create boxes that are almost always smaller than ourselves.

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flickr pro

Bloged in art, family, life by rod Monday October 23, 2006

There is something that I’ve wanted to do since we got home from vacation this summer and I ran out of July bandwidth to upload PSV pics to flickr. But alas, post-vacation catch-up was busy and before I had a moment, it was August and my bandwidth usage was wiped so I went at it again.
When I got back from Santa Fe, I had only a tiny amount of upload left, and it is fall picture time. So last night I bought myself (at Allison’s urging) a $24.95 Flickr pro account, and went nuts with photos. I uploaded pics I took yesterday, I dragged out archived photos from two years ago, I just kept sending pics up the pipeline.
The result is that today I have a lot more pictures on flickr. I perused about 7 or 8,000 pictures, and grabbed ones that jumped out at me. The result of that is that I didn’t look at them as visual accounts of events or trips or special days, but as individual photos. For me, though, they do all have context. This makes me happy. I really don’t want to bore people with my 768-image documentation of vacation. If I’m documenting a trip, I’m liable to take pictures of the sock drawer at my hotel. But few of us get bored looking at pretty pictures that stand on their own. I guess this is the male version of scrapbooking. Over time, I’d like to archive some of my favorite individual pictures I’ve taken of my favorite people, places, things, emotions and concepts.
So, I don’t know, humor me, and check’em out. I’m categorizing, and mapping them, so you can even click the map button and see a satellite image of where the pic was taken. Some of the satellite images have high enough resolution that you can practically see the context of the photo.
I think that is pretty cool.

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poetics 3

Bloged in apprenticeship, art, music, worship by rod Wednesday September 27, 2006

In the Old Testament, the message that is preached today was being given to us by poets. We have reduced the poet to the recitation of what we already know while often preachers break down, analyze, codify, lengthen and explain the magic right out of the poetry that was originally given us.
We have developed a cultural paradigm that has a single person standing before a congregation in a one-way dissemination of information, while we allow the poet only to sing songs that everyone already knows. The preacher delivers his message to a quiet congregation who are expected not to interact or participate with him, and the poet is not allowed to sing unless everyone in the congregation is participating.
Four and a half years ago, when I first began leading worship week after week with the same congregation, there was a Deliriou5? lyric that encouraged me greatly, “I’ve got a message to bring – I can’t preach, but I can sing – and me and my brothers here – we’re gonna sing redemption hymns.” I owned that lyric and mourned that as a poet/prophet, I was not expected to teach or preach but to facilitate community in corporate singing. I decided that both were possible at the same time and set about subversively causing the congregation to sing the message to themselves every week. Each week, I brought a message to the congregation, but I brought it to them through their own mouths.
Some never heard the message. They were too distracted by how old and tired, or new and unfamiliar the song was, or how fast or loud or slow or boring, or how high my tenor voice delivered the melody. Others, fewer, caught on. Their attention spans went beyond the authentic cadence and tempo change and introduction to the next song and saw the big picture and how it all worked together to tell a single, specific story. And they sang the story to themselves, and after the preaching was finished, and the blanks were filled in from the sermon outline, and we sang the closing song, they kept singing the message, they kept rehearsing the story and each week the story grew more real and immediate and necessary and deep and personal and it took root and changed us and shaped us and grew us and humbled us. The songs became a part of the story so that even a whistle of a portion of a melody became like the tassels on the robe of a rabbi and called up memory and assurance and promise and hope and truth.

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plain white rapper

Bloged in art, culture, life, random, worship by rod Wednesday February 15, 2006

I didn’t plan to, I didn’t want to, I didn’t mean to, but I did it. When no one else will, it’s still got to be done.
A while back, when my hair was a bit shorter, a lady at the corner store told me I looked like Slim Shady. So maybe that helped me to pull it off.
Who knows?
Maybe next time I’ll yodel.


Bloged in art by rod Tuesday March 15, 2005

Perhaps the secret then, is not to write beautiful words, but to write words that make the reader think of beautiful words. No, that can’t be it, it’s not about the words at all.

he who has ears (part 2)

Bloged in apprenticeship, art by rod Monday March 14, 2005

Even in the form of a human, God is an artist. Jesus constantly taught using stories that contained as the characters, people they knew and understood, situations, culture and lifestyles with which they were familiar. Jesus’ metaphors used levels of his listeners’ understanding to cause them to search for similarities in the concepts he was trying to convey. We know that this was his main method of communication because nearly all of his recorded teaching appears this way, and on the very night that he died, his disciples expressed surprise that he was speaking straight up with no figures of speech.
Jesus seems to have created an atmosphere for learning in which all the pieces would fit together at once, and each piece would suddenly make sense of all the others. It seems highly likely that the disciples wouldn’t have been surprised by his straight talk had he talked straight before. I suspect that the vast majority, if not all of Jesus’ teaching was done artistically, through metaphors and myth and figures of speech.
While Jesus’ stories and metaphors and teachings require all the others to make sense, we tend to tear his teaching apart, explain away the art, present it a detail at a time, scientifically, with big modern words like soteriology and propitiation. Thus the gospel is reduced to fire insurance and the fine print reads like the indecipherable ten pages that come with your State Farm bill every month. Relationship is reduced to religion, love is reduced to life-style, eternity starts when you die, and the kingdom is no longer at hand, but probably will be presently.
These were the very same things that Jesus was trying to restore while he was here. Lost relationship, and real living in this life. Amazing that we can reduce his teaching to the exact thing he was trying to overcome.

he who has ears

Bloged in art, culture by rod Wednesday March 2, 2005

I think I’ve written before on this blog about my simplistic definition of art. What is it that actually lies beneath the surface of art that distinguishes it from superficial pop fare where there is nothing below the proverbial epidermis? Pop tells the listener all there is to tell. There is no more. Art doesn’t have to tell the listener anything. Art can serve as a catalyst for images, sounds, memories, and information that allows the listener to formulate the story that the artist intended.
In this way, the listener is involved in the telling of the story to himself; he creates scenery, meaning and application based on his own knowledge, memories and experiences. He is the discoverer, and one is much more likely to be affected by and claim ownership of his own discovery than by something he is told by someone else. The artist then, causes one to call upon himself and engage with the artwork in a way that allows him to assimilate his own experience and knowledge, even identity, in ways that he hasn’t previously done, to arrive at new insight and understanding.
Thus, art requires an education to fully mean. That is not to say that one has to be educated to understand or be affected by all art. Though art may use elements that one’s experience doesn’t include and therefore require knowledge of them, the education that I am talking about can be purely experiential. The wonder of most art is that it contains something for everyone, regardless of the level at which they can experience and understand the work.
At this point, I am talking about more than appreciation. We often use that word when we really mean respect for something that we don’t think we can understand. We respect it as something we think is too big for us, but we don’t really appreciate it, or even know what is there for us not to understand. We are always suspect then, of people who seem to or say that they understand it on a deeper level.
In class, for the past couple years I’ve used an unlikely example of my concept of art as an attempt to help my students understand what I’m talking about with experiential layers. The example I’ve used has been the “Ozzy’s Nightmare”, Pepsi Twist commercial that premiered during Superbowl XXXVI. I felt like that commercial better summarized and commented on loads of stuff about 30 years of pop culture in 30 seconds than any piece I’ve ever seen that intentionally set about commenting on and summarizing 30 years of pop culture.
The reason that I use that example is because my students can easily see the layers of experience that they have or don’t have. Preceding the commercial, was an original campaign featuring a darling little girl named Halley Eisenberg with whom Pepsi drinkers had fallen in love. That campaign was tweaked when Pepsi twist exemplified the morphing of Pepsi with the girl morphing into Halle Berry. Halle Berry, in turn morphed into Barry Bostwick for the final disappointing twist on the process. This name-related sequence of unlikely connections was very clever, and the first experiential requirement to understand the Ozzy commercial on its most superficial level.
At the time of the commercial, Ozzy and his family were the talk of a nation with their reality tv show. Everyone felt that they knew the quirky, irreverent, dysfunctional family. At this level, even the kids watching tv could enjoy the commercial even if they didn’t recognize the other characters that invaded Ozzy’s dream. But the real truth and art of the short spot was reserved for those who not only knew who Donnie and Marie were, but had experienced them and a culture that embraced and celebrated the tv persona of a squeaky clean, bright smiled, purity of the brother/sister team - direct antithesis of Jack and Kelly Osbourne. (The Osbourne/Osmond name thing being connected to the original “twist” commercials is nothing short of a gift from God.) Finally, the depth of the commercial goes back a few more years to nod to those who are old enough to have experienced a culture that embraced the Brady Bunch as the definitive sitcom family and Carol Brady as the antithesis to Sharon Osbourne. Sure, all these shows have probably been seen by even the youngest viewers in eternal re-runs on cable, but the culture that produced them can never be re-run. You either were there or you weren’t. You can only learn about what was, not why and what it felt like.
But you also have to have experienced everything in between to see the commentary on a grafted household of half-siblings run by a man, morally supported by a woman and held together by a maid as opposed to an original surviving family unit, with a man unable even to open a garbage bag, much less run his family. The real commentary here is that Ozzy had no counterpart in the commercial. He is our pop culture’s icon of masculinity. Bumbling, unkempt, confused, incoherent, laughable, and filthy rich. The woman in both her manifestations takes up the slack and saves the day. And the children provide the evidence.
But all that is just a digression.

I would like to say then that art should never be qualified by its age or appreciated timelessness, or even its mere beauty. What does it do in the eye or ear or mind of its beholder? The Mona Lisa, or the Venus de Milo, or Antigone, or Les Miserable, are wonders that will live on, but their role has changed. We can’t possibly hear from them what they originally, in their contexts, said to those in their contexts. It is ironic that we save the definition of art as that which has stood the test of time. The test of time has changed the role of those works and therefore our definition. Ironic that we won’t designate anything as art that is new, for it is in art’s original context that it has the ability to do what art originally does – speak. We close our ears to it and wait to see if it is still around years from now so that we can appreciate it because it is old rather than for what it has to say. In most cases, when we come to appreciate it, it will no longer have anything to say, except maybe, “I’m pretty.” Perhaps with this mindset, we sell short not only new art, but also the stuff that we revere, by expecting less from it than it has to give.

tolls for thee

Bloged in art, cognition, culture by rod Saturday August 28, 2004

We’ve all read books that seemed to be just a lot of words that didn’t say anything. Lousy stories. Decent stories, poorly written. Suspense that could put you on the edge of your seat, but resolution that wasn’t worth getting on the edge of your seat. We’ve read authors who had an incredible command of the language, perfect grammar, well-crafted sentences, but nothing to say. We all notice this because language, written and spoken, is merely a carrier, a vehicle, a means of expression or communication. Without something to express or communicate, the technique of writing is meaningless.
I’ve been thinking that maybe this is on the far side of a bell curve. Gradually moving across the line, we find shifting proportions of content and technique. We may expect most everyone to have some useful distribution of art or creativity and technique. It would seem that technique without reason would be meaningless, and it would seem that artistry without technique would be useless, because it can’t be expressed or experienced outside the artist.
We therefore seem to be most in awe of someone with an even distribution of technique and art, a creative, innovative artist with the ability to express or deliver his thoughts. We know quirky, creative people who can’t do anything. We know mechanically minded technicians who can fix anything, understand how things work. We know people who can play any instrument and awe us with speed, thick textures, etc., but absolutely can’t turn phrase. They bore us to tears with their meaningless virtuosic pyrotechnics.
Probably on that far technically side, are people who needn’t art and creativity as we understand it, because they are given a gift of analysis, of troubleshooting, of taking what already is, and making sense of it. We ignore these people.
The problem is that while on one side of the bell curve, one can easily recognize the uncreative, artless, technician. On the other side, however, no art can be noticed in the most artistic because it has no means of expression for lack of technique.
Now why would God impart in someone the highest level of art, but not give him/her a means of expressing it? Could it be that this hidden art, known only by its creator, has been given solely for His enjoyment? Now I’m not talking about laziness that has kept the technique from being acquired, for someone with this level of artistry would desire greatly to express it. But content he would be upon realizing from whence his art has come and to where it should return. We ignore these people.
So anyway, there’s no moral to the story. It just occurs to me that technique is required for evidence of art or its lack. It’s easy to spot the artless technician, but impossible to spot the expressionless artist. We are bored with one and don’t recognize the other, so we glorify those who are probably best at neither, but posses a little of both.

if you can’t do - learn

Bloged in art, cognition, music by rod Monday August 23, 2004

There seems to be a growing phenomenon of a thought process that says your ability is more amazing in inverse proportion to your knowledge. There are a few popular musicians from the 60s and ‘70s who expressed their intentional avoidance of the acquisition of any musical knowledge for the fear that their natural ability and creativity would be squelched.
You would not believe how often I hear how much more amazing someone thinks they are, or thinks someone else is, because they “don’t know what they’re doing”. I have to laugh out loud when I write this, but it is not uncommon for me to hear this, “I play really well, even though I don’t know what I’m doing.” Of course my inner response is, “then how do you know you play really well?” I hear things like, “he has to be one of the most gifted players I’ve heard because he can’t even read music.” The implication is that if you have to learn to read, you must not be very talented. So I guess that makes the intentionally illiterate more amazing speakers of the language.
Of course this carries over into areas other than reading ability or knowledge. I have had students tell me that they don’t listen to music because they don’t want their own creativity to be squelched, or to be influenced by other people. They’ve come to me for lessons, but refuse to listen to any music. It seems they want me to find what they already know and show them where it is so that they can use it. I’ve even had a student tell me that he had considered registering for lessons with me, but didn’t want ME to influence him. As kindly as possible, I told him that I thought he needn’t worry, I highly doubted that he’d ever be influenced by anyone. The irony is that any natural potential that these folks may have is not realized because their decision to remain dumb has rendered them ignorant of what is actually possible on their instrument. Also they render themselves unable to actually create in the sense that they could express something that they imagined, in their mind, and then assemble it for us to experience. Rather, because the mind is empty, they are left only to discover things on the instrument, and will never be able to imagine themselves doing anything more than they can discover that their hands can already do. No ambition, humility, goals or longing – only the need to prove how wonderful you already are.
I think the bottom line issue here is pride. If I can do it without being taught, or without the influence of others, then I must be better or smarter than those (including the teacher) who is dependent upon these crutches. Like the old frustrating saying, “if you can’t do, teach”, there is a culture of, “if you can’t do, learn.”
Of course, being a guitarist/teacher, I find this very frustrating and even humorous at times. But where I’m absolutely baffled by this mentality is among Christians, in the context of their faith and Christian walk. At times, it seems that those of us who desire, to think, and meditate, and ask, and seek, are accused of weak faith because we can’t just accept. But I never said that I can’t just accept. In accepting, I’m drawn, called to deeper understanding, more diligent seeking. I’m haunted by the Holy Ghost to learn how much farther I can go in my relationship with God. God commanded me to love Him with all my heart, soul, MIND and strength. He said if I seek Him with all my heart, I will find Him. How could anyone be so prideful as to feel that a desire to learn about God betrays a lack of faith? There is no doubt in my mind that generations of this mentality has produced a culture of non-believers who view believers as simple minded, lazy, unthinking, weak people in need of a religious crutch.
It is not ok to be intentionally ignorant. We grow prideful and never learn to see ourselves as who we really are. We are poor witnesses of the unfathomable mystery. We misrepresent Christ like Robert Mapplethorpe misrepresents art.

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