Key to Success

Key to Success

2018.09.26

The Creative Soul

 

I remember applying for a job once to teach the general population about better parenting.  The interview went along as I had expected.  I was asked about my training, my work experience, and then I was asked how I would market the program.  As I sought to quickly gather my thoughts to respond, the interviewer smiled and handed me three blank sheets of paper.  “Here is some paper.  Develop a marketing outline and then draw up a brochure.  We’ll be back.”  Never has a blank piece of paper – the semblance of nothing – seemed so threatening.

 

Albert Einstein felt the key to his success was imagination:  “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”  Most writers know the terror of facing a blank piece of paper but so do others in the artistic community, whether it is a blank canvas, a blank piece of sheet music, an empty stage, or a simple block of stone or clay.  Is it possible to teach ourselves how to be creative or is it simply something we are born with, that thing that keeps our mental state from staying focused on the mundane?

 

Research shows that children encouraged by their parents to participate in pretend games and role playing tend to have higher levels of fantasy as adults.  Are they the only ones who can become great artists?  Is it possible to train creativity or encourage a creative imagination?  The answer to those questions depends on what you are calling creativity but basically, the answer is yes. 

 

Research seems to imply that our environment can boost creativity and, like many old adages say, hard work can also pay off in becoming more creative.  Behavior is also contagious and when we engage with creative content or watch someone else be highly creative, it can rub off on us and we ourselves increase our own creativity.

 

Research has shown that there are two phases to creative thinking – divergent thinking and convergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is the ability to think of a wide variety of options or ideas, all connected to a main problem or topic.  Such thinking is supported by intuitive thinking, a fast, automatic mental response to a problem or dilemma.  Convergent thinking then helps us evaluate those ideas or options for their usefulness, feasibility, etc.  This involves analytical thinking, a deliberate, focused thought process which ultimately and hopefully allows us to select the correct option or idea to employ.

 

We all use creativity every day in solving routine problems.  For instance, you are making a vegetable soup out of left-overs and suddenly your sibling drops in to surprise everyone.  You can add some broth or water to the soup to have more servings.  This is a creative response.  OR you get all dressed up for a fall day in a nice button-down cardigan, shirt, and slacks when someone on your commute bumps into you, spilling your coffee on your shirt.  You stop by the restroom on the way to your office and remove your shirt, buttoning up the cardigan and wearing it as a sweater top instead of just a jacket.  This is another creative solution.

 

Not all creative imagination needs to compose an opera or paint the ceiling of a grand cathedral.  Research indicates that the first thing we can do in becoming a grand master of creative output is to immerse ourselves in creative experiences.  Exposure to the arts and putting out some effort are important first steps to creative success.  Sadly, it is less about having a muse and more about putting in the effort.  Famed scientist Louis Pasteur knew the answer when he said “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

 

We have spoken about this before but I think it bears repeating.  Anyone can be an artist.  Not everyone can be a Michelangelo or Andrew Lloyd Webber but we all have the potential to be an artist.  The process is vital in becoming creative and should be emphasized rather than just concentrating on the end result – the goal of a masterpiece.  The journey you travel in becoming creative is far more important – the play, the practice, the exposure; these are all the keys to successful creativity and enjoying the creative life.

 

Creative Failure

Creative Failure

2018.09.25

The Creative Soul

 

First, I must admit that I find the word failure to be an oxymoron.  An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two opposite ideas are joined to create an effect.  It is self-contradicting, something one might say my title for today is.  While the word failure is, in and of itself, not contradicting, how we perceive it is.  Failure is perceived as losing, a disappointment, a disaster, a letdown and often, sadly, the end of a career or effort.  What failure should be is a lesson – an education on what did not work and the start of a new path toward success.

 

The word failure did not start out to mean the condemnation that it does today.  Originally, derived from the Latin “fallere” which meant to stumble, it denoted a very common human condition.  After all, none of us is perfect and at some point, we are going to stumble.  When one does, one is encouraged to “pick yourself up and start all over again.”  Sadly this is often forgotten in the creative realm.

 

In a world in which synonyms are explored and revered, we have forgotten that in being honest, we should also exercise candor.  The critic often foregoes the common courtesy we should all exercise in the work place and uses honesty as an excuse to demean and belittle.  Any creative effort is subject to criticism.  After all, we all know what we like and do not like.  We are entitled to those feelings.  What we should not do, however, is use honesty as an excuse to debase or disgrace the artist, writer, dancer, sculptor, etc. 

 

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation, explains the difference between honesty and candor this way:  “The only way to get a grip on the facts, issues, and nuances we need to solve problems and collaborate effectively is by communicating fully and openly, by not withholding or misleading.  … We need to free ourselves of honesty’s baggage.  …Candor is forthrightness or frankness.  …  A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms.  Lack of candor, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.

 

So do we throw critiques out the window?  Of course we don’t.  We need as artists to embrace them but that can be very difficult.  We need to recognize what is good criticism and what is not.  A good critique will explain what is wrong, what is missing, what is not clear or did not make sense.  It will not offer a “fix” but should applaud the effort.  Andrew Stanton explains:  “there’s a difference between criticism and constructive criticism.  With the latter you’re constructing at the same time that you’re criticizing.  You’re building up as you’re breaking down, making new pieces to work with out of the stuff you’ve just ripped apart….It’s more of a challenge.  It is an art form in itself.”

 

Too often we see a negative critique as a stop sign, an indication that we ourselves are a failure and not the particular artistic effort being discussed.  Very few artists only ever painted just one picture or sculpted just one object.  No composer only ever wrote one song or poet just one poem.  Every writer has a drawer of rejection slips and most famous actors can tell you the names of those who advised them that they would never succeed in the business.  Failure is a part of the business because, at its core, failure is education, an integral part of the process of becoming an artist.

 

Quoting Ed Catmull in his book “Creativity, Inc.”:  “There are two parts of failure:  There is the event itself, with all its attendant disappointments, confusion, and shame, and then there is our reaction to it.  It is this second part that we control.  We must remember that failure gives us chances to grow, and we ignore those chances at our own peril.”

 

It is hard to receive criticism and in the early stages, we often get it from those closest to us.  When I began this blog over four years ago, I asked family members to read it.  “It’s good”, they would say and then nothing more.  That was nice to hear but I really wanted more.  One day someone very close to me remarked that I was a day late in posting my daily blog.  I thanked them.  The next week, they said the same thing.  After it happened the third time, I asked if they ever read my blog.  “Sure” they replied to which I responded:  “Then did you miss where I wrote that I would not be posted anything on Wednesdays for this series?”  It turned out that this person was simply taking attendance; they were not reading my blog posts at all.  I thanked them for the effort but said I really wanted a critique of the writing, not someone to take attendance.  I don’t think they have read another blog post since that day, even to check to see if I posted one.

 

We cannot wait for our artistic efforts to be perfect.  Sharing them and learning from them is part of the process.  We must earn the adjectives excellent, quality, and good, not expect them to appear magically.  Part of the artistic process is growing and we grow by making mistakes and learning from them.  We will stumble and sometimes, in stumbling, we discover something new.  Failure is not an evil to be avoided.  Failure is a natural consequence of attempting something new.  Failure means our head is in the game and our heart is putting our effort forward.  Failure is an integral step in the creative process and might just be the best lesson we will ever learn. Failure is neither a stop sign not a judgment but a step on the road to creative fulfillment.

More than Just Words

More than Just Words

2018.09.24.

The Creative Soul

 

“Your Turn – 3”, the creative encounter I asked you to undertake Sunday, Sept 16, involved using a list of common words.  The challenge involved pen, paper, and your imagination in writing something in the form of prose or poetry.  I included a total of seventy-five common words found in the English language, twenty-five each nouns, verbs, and adjectives.  The words from the list that I used are underlined and yes, I did sometimes change the tense of the verb.

 

Here are my two poetic responses.  The first is a haiku, a three-line poem in which the first and last lines have five syllables while the middle line contains seven syllables.  Haiku is a very short Japanese poem with seventeen syllables and three verses. It is typically characterized by three qualities: The essence of haiku is “cutting”. This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colors the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.  In English haiku, this may or may not be found.

 

He felt time go past

The child of old now a man

Finding the good next to come

 

An ABC Poem is a poem that has five lines and creates a mood, picture or feeling.  Generally, lines 1-4 are made up of words or phrases while the first word of each line is in alphabetical order.  Line 5 is one sentence long and can begin with any letter.

 

Able to delight for hours

Big smiles found within

Come inside the walls beckon

Day passes quickly in fun

The joys found within a child’s playroom are important and endless.

 

There are approximately fifty-five different types of poetry.  The sonnet has fourteen lines; the limerick, seven; the haiku, five; the couplet, two (and can stand alone or as part of a larger work).  There are strict rules for some types and none for poems known as free verse.  A poem can be about anything.  There are metaphor poems and creative poems, historical poetry such as many of the works of William Shakespeare and humorous poems often heard during a child jump roping or on the school yard.

 

In a fast-paced high tech world, poetry may seem antiquated.  However, the lyrics of every song are a type of poetry and music does not (thankfully) seem to on the way to oblivion.  Rappers create their own poems to rap.  It has been said that poetry is the budding, flowering and ripening of human mind in the social setting.  Poetry is of paramount importance to society and has been considered by some anthropologists to be a refinement of character evident as progress in society. Poetry can move the human mind through emotions easily and quickly.  The study of poetry from other cultures can help one understand universal truths, as well as cultural differences, and provides a unique and fascinating window into that world.  Poetry could be described as music of words, readable art, the painting of a scene with words, the dance of linguistics upon a page.  Can you tell I love poetry? LOL

 

As a young child, I saw poetry as a way to know my life, the good and the bad.  At an early age, I made a poem and never looked back.  By using poetry, my way became my own; the young child I was had a sense of right and importance.  [This is my paragraph of prose and the words italicized are from the list.]  An expert of this type of prose that was also poetry is the inestimable Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.  I have used his books in teaching everything from diversity to acceptance and each lesson ended with complete understanding and a smile.  Truly, words have power and we should always use them carefully and thoughtfully.

Your Turn – 4

Your Turn – 4

2018.09.23

The Creative Soul

 

I will post my response to last week’s challenge on Monday, Sept 24.  Until then, this week’s challenge involves tea time – or rather the implements of tea time.

 

Using a cup and a saucer and a spoon plus a pen(s) and paper, draw something or some things.  Then write a paragraph about your artwork and … then write a brief lyric about your drawing, to be sung to the tune of a children’s song.

 

This challenge will include next Sunday as well.  Enjoy!

Joe Camel and Stonewall Jackson

Joe Camel and Stonewall Jackson

02018.09.22

The Creative Soul

 

In 1997, Stuart Elliot reported for the New York Time regarding the demise of Joe Camel.  Joe was the graphic that helped turn the tide for the R J Reynolds Tobacco Company, along with his brother camels known as Buster, Max, and Floyd.  While commercial art often is considered the bastard child of visual arts, it cannot be denied that many successful logos are seen by more people than any painting ever is. 

 

As Elliot reported:  gains in sales and market share for Camel, the nation’s No. 7 cigarette brand, came only at a high cost as anti-smoking activists convinced President Clinton, the American Medical Association, several Surgeons General, the Federal Trade Commission and other authorities that Joe Camel was emblematic of what they maintained were the insidious, underhanded marketing gimmicks by which cigarettes are sold in America. Particularly, the activists hit home with contentions that slick, colorful presentations of a grinning cartoon animal were intended to appeal specifically to children to take up smoking.

 

”Joe Camel represented an icon that refueled the moral outrage of the anti-smoking movement,” said Eric Solberg, executive director of Doctors Ought to Care, an anti-tobacco group in Houston. Reynolds has always denied that Joe Camel — introduced to Americans in 1988 after more than a decade of selling cigarettes to Europeans — was anything but a standard marketing tactic meant to persuade adult smokers to switch to Camel from bigger brands like Marlboro.  The White House cheered the demise of Joe Camel, which now appears only in the United States. ”We must put tobacco ads like Joe Camel out of our children’s reach forever,” [then] President Clinton said in a statement.”

 

Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (January 21, 1824 – May 10, 1863) served as a Confederate general (1861–1863) during the American Civil War, and became one of the best-known Confederate commanders.  Born in what was then part of Virginia, Jackson attended the US Army Military Academy at West Point.  He then served in the US Army during the Mexican-American War with distinction.  Afterwards, he taught at the Virginia Military Institute for nine years where he was very unpopular with the students.   When Virginia seceded from the Union in May 1861 after the attack on Fort Sumter (12 April 1861), Jackson joined the Confederate Army. He distinguished himself commanding a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run (21 July 1861) the following month, providing crucial reinforcements and beating back a fierce Union assault. In this context Barnard Elliott Bee Jr., allegedly highlighting Jackson’s courage and tenacity compared him to a “stone wall”, hence his enduring nickname.

 

In late April and early May 1863, faced with a larger Union army now commanded by Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, Lee divided his force three ways. On May 2, Jackson took his 30,000 troops and launched a surprise attack against the Union right flank, driving the opposing troops back about two miles. That evening he was accidentally shot by Confederate pickets. The general survived but lost his left arm to amputation; weakened by his wounds, he died of pneumonia eight days later.   Military historians regard Jackson as one of the most gifted tactical commanders in U.S. history.   His tactics are studied even today. His death proved a severe setback for the Confederacy, affecting not only its military prospects, but also the morale of its army and the general public. After Jackson’s death, his military exploits developed a legendary quality, becoming an important element of the ideology of the “Lost Cause”.

 

Yesterday in one southern city a rally was held to encourage town officials to remove statues like those of Stonewall Jackson.  Much like the campaign to remove Joe Camel these commemorative sculptures represent one form of the visual arts.  The reason I am dedicating this blog post in a series about creativity to two such instances of censorship is because they raise a very interesting set of questions.  While I certainly do not want anything or anyone to encourage any human being to smoke cigarettes and I disdain war and the concept of slavery, I think banning such images and statues means we are sacrificing an excellent learning opportunity.  If the arts are to continue and serve their purpose, we must address these questions.

 

Joe Camel would make an excellent case study for a student of graphic arts.  Joe Camel was actually born in Europe. The caricatured camel was created in 1974 by a British artist, Nicholas Price, for a French advertising campaign that subsequently ran in other countries in the 1970s.  The character lacked many typical camel traits, essentially appearing as a muscular humanoid with a camel’s head. Feet were always to be covered, in footwear consistent with the rest of the outfit. The character also lacked a tail or hump.   Advertising presented Joe Camel in a variety of “fun and entertaining, contemporary and fresh” situations, wearing “bold and bright” colors, blue and yellow where appropriate. His face remained the same in different advertising pieces, and images of his hands only used when necessary.

 

In 1991 The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that reportedly showed six-year-old children who not only knew Mickey Mouse was the logo for the Disney Channel but that Joe Camel was associated with cigarettes.  The Reynolds Tobacco Company, under great pressure, ultimately pulled all Joe Camel ads and ran rather boring public service announcements stating that smoking cigarettes was “an adult custom”.   While the numbers for underage smoking have decreased somewhat, last year 6200 smokers below the age of 18, the legal age in the USA to smoke, were caught, some in grades 1-4.

 

Since Joe Camel was so attractive to this age group, why did they not use Joe Camel to educate both children and adults about the actual dangers involved with smoking?  Public Service announcements regarding people with open laryngectomy holes who died after making the commercials are far scarier to some children than a friendly half-human/half-camel.  Even with the increased taxes which have more than doubled the price of a pack of cigarettes since Joe Camel went away people are still beginning the lifelong habit of smoking.  Perhaps Joe and his brothers could have been utilized in helping people stop smoking or never start instead of the bland commercials that replaced them.

 

The commemorative statutes that adorn many public venues in all parts of the country are, in part, educational.  However, few if any contain the artist’s name or even the name of the subject.  Instead of removing and destroying these works of art, why not add a sign that explains their subject and the consequences of his/her actions.  If we continue to ignore history, we have consigned ourselves to the fate of repeating it over and over. 

 

Art at its core is educational.  Even art created for pleasure also serves to educate us.  When we censor our past, we destroy an important part of our history.  We are not perfect and our past is certainly embarrassing and disgraceful at times.  However, paying homage to our mistakes opens the door for discussions about lessons learned and efforts to repair those mistakes.  Whether it be a smiling cute camel, anatomically incorrect but fun, or a stone-faced old guy, art can be used in proactive measures.  We owe it to ourselves to celebrate the successful art and use it to better our world.

My Favorite Canvas

My Favorite Canvas

2018.09.20-21

The Creative Soul

 

There is a very good likelihood that you have never heard of Suffolk, VA, even though it is, by land area, the largest city in the Commonwealth (state) of Virginia and Fourteenth largest in the country.  Earlier this week the local paper features an article by Alex Perry which read:  “Families, children and others with an artistic itch will have the opportunity to spend an evening with a paintbrush in downtown Suffolk this weekend.  Suffolk Tourism is partnering with Paint Me Purple Studios for “A Night Under the Stars” paint party at 7 p.m. Friday at the Suffolk Visitor Center, 524 N. Main St. Space is limited and advance reservations are required on Thursday at the latest, with about 20 spots left as of Tuesday, according to Visitor Center Supervisor Kevin Sary.  Participants will use provided painting materials to do their own rendition of “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh with careful instruction by Kim Ellis, owner of Paint Me Purple Studios. They’ll also enjoy some tasty star-themed treats during the 90 or so minutes they’ll have to complete their paintings under the night sky.”

 

I do not live in Suffolk and have only briefly passed through there once in my life.  However, I would love to be there this weekend.  Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” is one of my all-time favorite paintings.  Van Gogh is a perfect answer to those who say “I cannot be creative” or “I have no talent” because he defied all the odds and left the world with a beautiful portfolio of creativity.  The following is from the MoMA website on Van Gogh.

 

Vincent van Gogh: Emotion, Vision, and A Singular Style

“Mention Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890) and one of the first things likely to come to many people’s minds is the fact that he cut off his own ear. This stark act, committed in 1888, marked the beginning of the depression that would plague him until the end of his life. But to know van Gogh is to get past the caricature of the tortured, misunderstood artist and to become acquainted instead with the hardworking, deeply religious, and difficult man. Van Gogh found his place in art and produced emotional, visually arresting paintings over the course of a career that lasted only a decade.

“Largely self-taught, van Gogh produced more than 2,000 oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and sketches, which became in demand only after his death. He also wrote scores of letters, especially to his brother Theo, in which he worked out his thoughts about art. “Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better,” he wrote in 1874. “Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.”

“It was nature, and the people living closely to it, that first stirred van Gogh’s artistic inclinations. In this he was not alone. Landscapes remained a popular subject in late-nineteenth-century art. Driven in part by their dissatisfaction with the modern city, many artists sought out places resembling earthly paradises, where they could observe nature firsthand, feeding its psychological and spiritual resonances into their work. Van Gogh was particularly taken with the peasants he saw working the countryside; his early compositions featured portraits of Dutch peasants and rural landscapes, rendered in dark, moody tones.

“In 1886, van Gogh moved to Paris, where he encountered the works of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists, and the Pointillist compositions of Georges Seurat. Inspired by these artists’ harmonious matching of colors, shorter brushstrokes, and liberal use of paint, he brightened his own palette and loosened his brushwork, emphasizing the physical application of paint on the canvas. The style he developed in Paris and carried through to the end of his life became known as Post-Impressionism, a term encompassing works made by artists unified by their interest in expressing their emotional and psychological responses to the world through bold colors and expressive, often symbolic images. In a letter to his sister Willemien, touching upon the mind and temperament of artists, van Gogh once wrote that he was “very sensitive to color and its particular language, its effects of complementaries, contrasts, harmony.”

“By 1888, van Gogh had returned to the French countryside, where he would remain until his death. There, close once again to the peasants who had inspired him early on, he concentrated on painting landscapes, portraits (of himself and others), domestic interiors, and still lifes full of personal symbolism.

 

Observation and Imagination in The Starry Night (1889)

“This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” wrote van Gogh to his brother Theo, describing his inspiration for one of his best-known paintings, The Starry Night (1889).3 The window to which he refers was in the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France, where he sought respite from his emotional suffering while continuing to make art.

“This mid-scale, oil-on-canvas painting is dominated by a moon- and star-filled night sky. It takes up three-quarters of the picture plane and appears turbulent, even agitated, with intensely swirling patterns that seem to roll across its surface like waves. It is pocked with bright orbs—including the crescent moon to the far right, and Venus, the morning star, to the left of center—surrounded by concentric circles of radiant white and yellow light.

“Beneath this expressive sky sits a hushed village of humble houses surrounding a church, whose steeple rises sharply above the undulating blue-black mountains in the background. A cypress tree sits at the foreground of this night scene. Flame-like, it reaches almost to the top edge of the canvas, serving as a visual link between land and sky. Considered symbolically, the cypress could be seen as a bridge between life, as represented by the earth, and death, as represented by the sky, commonly associated with heaven. Cypresses were also regarded as trees of the graveyard and mourning. “But the sight of the stars always makes me dream,” van Gogh once wrote. “Why, I say to myself, should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the black spots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to go to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to go to a star.”

“The Starry Night is based on van Gogh’s direct observations as well as his imagination, memories, and emotions. The steeple of the church, for example, resembles those common in his native Holland, not in France. The whirling forms in the sky, on the other hand, match published astronomical observations of clouds of dust and gas known as nebulae. At once balanced and expressive, the composition is structured by his ordered placement of the cypress, steeple, and central nebulae, while his countless short brushstrokes and thickly applied paint set its surface in roiling motion. Such a combination of visual contrasts was generated by an artist who found beauty and interest in the night, which, for him, was “much more alive and richly colored than the day.”

 

It is reported that in a letter to his brother Theo, van Gogh wrote passionately about painting a scene as he experienced, imagined, and, ultimately, interpreted it, not as it was expected to be rendered. Comparing painting to playing music, he argued: “We painters are always asked to compose ourselves and to be nothing but composers. Very well – but in music it isn’t so; in music, a composer’s interpretation is something.”

 

Whatever you draw is a creation, just as whatever you play is music and whatever you write is either poetry or prose.  You have created something.  You engaged in a creative process and you were creative.  Your soul gained value from that.  Whether or not someone else decided it had value does not negate your creative efforts.  You were creative and your creative interpretation is, to quote Can Gogh, “something”. 

Uncommon Art for the Common Man

To See, Feel, Touch – Uncommon Art for the Common Man

2018.18-19

The Creative Soul

 

Sculpture is a unique form of art – related to but separate from painting, music, poetry, and writing. Unlike the others, a sculpture is a three dimensional work of art. From its very beginnings, a sculpture was meant to last. Sculpture pieces were created using materials that themselves had passed the test of time – stone and marble, hard metals such as gold and silver, and wood.  Sculptures are usually found in parks, in museums, in open spaces – all places where the average person goes. 

 

Sculpture, like most forms of art, is created with the idea of expressing a view.  A view can be personal, political, religious, historical, or something else.  Ultimately, the sculpture is also intended to evoke a feeling.   Determining the quality of a sculpture is very difficult and is subjective at best. Artists as well as artist styles go in and out of vogue and sculpture is no different.   

 

The very nature of art is to make something never seen before, even if the subject is well-known.  Heads of states and countries are always done in portraiture as well as having thousands of pictures taken.  Some have sculptures done as well, each trying to represent a different side of the individual, presenting the subject in an interesting, usually favorable light.  Some also represent the ethnicity and culture of the artist or reflect a particular style well-liked by the subject.

 

Art has value, both in economic and social terms. A 2002 study demonstrated the economic impact, finding that nonprofit arts organizations generated $134 billion nationwide, including $24.4 billion in tax revenue. The arts not only inform us about the world we live in, but also provide creative and challenging environments.   After all, the concept of museums as a gathering together of civilization’s best and most beautiful things is only a few hundred years old. For most of our history, art was never intended to be displayed in museums, but in more public places. 

 

Art is a form of communication, and the arts express the ideas of society in which they are produced.   Exposure to the arts helps expand our thinking and encourages dialogue and creativity.   Public art is an essential component of creating a vibrant community and nothing adds to the public panorama like sculpture.

 

One of my favorite sculptures is “Rising Cairn” by the artist Celeste Roberge.   “Rising Cairn” is a 4,000 lb. stone sculpture that many interpret to reflect the process of healing from grief.   Roberge says that she didn’t necessarily intend to depict anguish in the piece but doesn’t mind the alternative reading of her work. “I imagine her in the process of rising up from her crouching position…when she is ready,” she explains. “I am not disturbed by individual interpretations of the sculpture because I think it is really wonderful for people to connect with works of art in whatever way is meaningful to them.” 

 

Roberge became intrigued with cairns (piles of stones hikers used to mark trails) after learning about human-shaped inuksuit sculptures created by the Inuit people in the Arctic region. For each site-specific sculpture, Roberge finds each stone herself and places them within the steel cage that holds its shape. “I was hoping the feeling of weight, would [symbolically] be carried in the sculpture itself,” said Roberge in a video by the Portland Museum of Art.

 

A professor at the University of Florida, Roberge suggests that art lovers ought to consider the artist’s original intent too. “If the image has helped some people to find a way of expressing their unspoken feelings, then I think that is beneficial. At the same time, I think viewers should give some thought to the artist’s intentions because the meaning of a work of art can be very complex and multi-layered.” She says her cairn sculptures are tribute to the rugged North Atlantic landscape.  Roberge created the first Rising Cairn in the late 1980s when she was a fellow at Harvard University and creates them on commission today. “Each time, I am surprised that the process is still interesting to me,” she says. “I was just installing a cairn in San Francisco last month and I noted that they are never the same: different place, different light, different stones, different siting in the landscape, different energy.”

 

I think her last sentence is an important thing to remember whenever we critique any art form or piece of creative effort.  Where we are, physically and personally, the light with which we view or hear, the light within our souls or the lack thereof at that particular moment, the energy we feel or do not feel – all of these things affect our response.  It is in sculpture that we are able to see, touch, and even stub our toe on the art form.  Sculpture as an art form helps us rise above our past like cairns, creating markers along the history of humankind in our sculptures as we move forward.