The Panorama of Fear

The Panorama of Fear

Creating a Legacy

2019.08.05

 

“We and all creation reflect the image and nature of God the Divine Artist. Creativity, the ability to make or think new things, is of God’s essence. Creativity reflects God.”  These words of Br. Luke Ditewig sounded so wonderful to me the first time I heard them.  It was during a sermon and I was an impressionable teen-ager.  Suddenly from the pew behind me I heard a very gruff whisper.  “Oh yeah?  Then how do you explain heavy metal music?”  The elderly gentleman’s wife saw my shoulders move as I tried to stifle my chuckle.  After the service she turned to her husband and gave his shoulder a marvelously targeted punch:  “Maybe heavy metal music is what God sounds like when he’s mad,” she replied and then winked at me.

 

Recently a young child was asked how God sounded when mad.  I remember being told as a child that thunder was just the angels playing ball or perhaps yelling at each other.  I expected this child to say something similar.  Instead, with a great deal of confidence, this child loudly proclaimed that the sound of gunfire was the sound of an angry God. 

 

Every day we all create our life and our legacy.  It is up to us to have opinions and act upon them.  We have brains and we, hopefully, think so we are going to have an opinion.  IT is also up to us to make sure that those opinions and actions are creating a positive future, though, and that does not always happen.  We have stopped the dialogue of creativity and have become critics instead.

 

We are all critics.  Seriously.  If we are to be honest, we really are all critics.  Everyone knows what they like and what they do not like.  We also all want to matter.  All lives do matter; it is not a new concept.  However, history seems to have forgotten how to record and address the critics.  Instead we have tried to sweep them under the carpet.  History tells us that people are not so easily silenced.  The creative arts are also evidence of this.  It may seem that the artist owes his/her audience something delightful but the truth is…What the artist owes the world is an honest reflection of the moment in time they are capturing.

 

Any creative work is a dialogue between the artist and the audience member and no two audience members are going to hear the exact same dialogue.  Criticism is also dialogue and an important form of feedback that the artist should not ignore.  First, if someone takes the time to critique you, they are honoring the time you spent creating.  Negative critiques do not seem like a compliment but they are.  They also offer a chance to evaluate your work.  Not every critic is going to understand your intent or perhaps the meaning of your work.  Not every critique needs to be followed but they should be given respect and heard.

 

The language one uses in response to criticism is vitally important. Never engage in an argument. Instead, turn the exchange into a discussion about how to resolve the differences or what was unclear.  Most create because we have a burning need inside to let that creativity out.  However, we do need the audience, the viewer, that person who listens to what we are trying to say in whatever form we are creating.

 

“The Critic as Artist” is an essay by Oscar Wilde, containing the most extensive statements of his aesthetic philosophy. A dialogue in two parts, it is by far the longest one included in his collection of essays titled Intentions published in May 1891. “The Critic as Artist” is a significantly revised version of articles that first appeared in the July and September issues of The Nineteenth Century, originally entitled “The True Function and Value of Criticism.” The essay is a conversation between its leading voice Gilbert and Ernest, who suggests ideas for Gilbert to reject. 

 

Through the title, Wilde explores the fact that even a critic is an artist and the critique is in itself a creative art form.  The essay champions contemplative life to the life of action. According to Gilbert, scientific principle of heredity shows we are never less free, never have more illusions than when we try to act with some conscious aim in mind. Critical contemplation is guided by conscious aesthetic sense as well as by the soul.

 

The soul is wiser than we are, writes Wilde, it is the concentrated racial experience revealed by the imagination. Criticism is above reason, sincerity and fairness; it is necessarily subjective. It is increasingly more to criticism than to creation that future belongs as its subject matter and the need to impose form on chaos constantly increases. It is criticism rather than emotional sympathies, abstract ethics or commercial advantages that would make us cosmopolitan and serve as the basis of peace.

 

“Critics don’t help you at all, they are not better than a randomly-picked person,” says Dr. Pascal Wallisch, a psychologist at New York University.  A 2017 study by Wallisch and perception researcher Jake Alden Whritner found that our taste in movies is highly idiosyncratic — they’re peculiar to an individual. Their paper, entitled ‘Strikingly Low Agreement in the Appraisal of Motion Pictures’, also revealed that our preferences are often at odds with those of film critics.  Wallisch and Whritner gave almost 3000 people a list of over 200 popular films — major motion pictures released from 1985 to 2004 (including some in the Star Wars series). The data was collected over 10 years (2005-2015) via an online survey where participants were asked to rate every film they had seen and give each movie a star rating on a scale of 0 to 4 stars.

 

The scientists compared everyone’s scores with everyone else’s in a pairwise manner, compared people to 29 professional film critics (like Roger Ebert) and compared individual scores from those groups with aggregated sources of reviews, including Rotten Tomatoes and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).  As reported earlier this year in Forbes, “Prior to our research, what was shown is that critics agree highly, but no-one’s ever looked at how critics correlate with regular people,” says Wallisch. “What was relatively unusual is that the average rating between critics and movie-goers was so different. This is the only research that actually shows scientifically that critics and people don’t agree.”

 

In a 2014 New York Times article James Parker answered that age-old question “Should we respond to our critics?”  Parker’s answer was succinct and to the point.  “No. … Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. We’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere.”  He continues:  “Sometimes you are the pigeon,” Claude Chabrol said, “and sometimes you are the statue.” Wonderful, Gitane-flavored words. But we are not statues — we are not made of stone. Anointed with guano, do we not feel it? And right now everybody feels it. Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. Writers and non-writers, mandarins and proles, we’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere, at the bottom of some page. Scroll down, scroll down, take that Orphic trip into the underworld of the comments section, and there they are — the people who really object to you. Their indignation, their vituperation, is astonishing. It seems to predate you somehow, as if they have known and despised you in several former existences. You read their words and your body twitches with malign electricity. You must get out of this place immediately, run toward the light. Let the dead bury their dead. And don’t look back — because if you do, like Orpheus, you’ll lose what you love the most.”

 

The critique is a reflection of the moment in which it was given, nothing more.  In his memoir, “Prince Charming,” the great poet Christopher Logue, in mellow old age, speaks of diving into “a chocolate-liqueur box filled with dated clippings of every review that my books, plays or radio programs had received since 1953.” It is there that he made a discovery: “How differently they read now. At the time, oh, the complaining: That fellow failed to praise me for this, this fellow blamed me for that. . . .”   Now, Logue has a different perspective: “How fair-minded their words appeared, how sensible their suggestions for my improvement.”

 

This blog is a creative work and, like all other creative works, merely a reflection of the moment in which it was written.   Today, August 5, 2019, is a reflection of thirty-six hours of death, the death of innocent people, creative souls in their own right.  It has been thirty-six hours of sorrow and disbelief, a panorama painted with blood and fear, based upon hatred.   I do not know what lessons we will learn from these events of El Paso and Dayton.  Later this week we celebrate the second anniversary of a similar event in Charlottesville.  It would seem we have learned little and yet…  Dialogues have been created and our legacy from these events is one of continued effort. 

 

All the minutes we live and survive are creative efforts.  To honor those who died and to give faith to all still living means we must carry on and have hope.  Acceptance, faith, and hope are the steppingstones of the past that lead to a productive future.  We and we alone will create the legacy of today.  I pray it is one of joy and generosity and kindness to all. 

Scheduling Creativity

Scheduling Creativity

2018.09.26-28

The Creative Soul

 

I really did not plan for this post to be so late.  However, being a female in the USA for the past week has been rather difficult.  A brave woman came forward, as one is always encouraged to do regarding public appointments and instead of being applauded for that, the entire gender has been under scrutiny.  The Appointment in question requires approval from one governing body and instead of hearing the accusations and then launching a nonpartisan inquiry, things went upside down and catawampus.  It was, quite simply, very taxing on some of us and utterly incredibly stressful.  My apologies but I needed a break from social media and posting.  The answer to the last challenge will be posted Wednesday, Oct 3rd, by the way.

 

Ironically, though, my refuge and stress reliever was to be creative – to view lovely photographs by talented artists, to engage in some coloring for myself, to exercise (I am not good enough to call it dancing) and move.  I realized my stress level and scheduled some creative stress relief.  Can one also schedule creativity for outcomes’ sake?

 

In a podcast for Behavior Gap Radio, entitled “Want to Be Creative on Purpose? Schedule It,” Carl Richards wrote:  “What if you don’t have to be “creative” to create? We all know the archetype of the creatives, right? Eccentric, weird, scattered, messy. The creatives are plagued perpetually by writer’s block (or sculptor’s block or painter’s block or whatever block). They spend most of their time lazing about gloomily, smoking cigarettes and cursing this cruel world. But then, every once in a while, the creatives are so touched by the muse that they are forced to immediately drop everything, go into a trance and become a funnel for the beauty of the world.”

 

Richards continued:  “Personally, I think that’s a bit too precious. This notion to wait around in the rain until you get struck by lightning to make art (or anything) doesn’t mesh with my experience at all. What comes much closer is the famous Chuck Close quotation:  ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.’   The major implication of Mr. Close’s quotation is that you don’t have to be creative to create. So here’s a secret ninja trick that will help: Don’t wait around for creativity to strike. Strike creativity! Invent an obligation for yourself so you have to be creative on purpose.”

 

If you google “How to be creative?” you will get an answer – about 959,000,000 results.  Perhaps the question is not so much how do we become creative but how do we stay creative?  Small toddlers think nothing of twirling around, making up their own music and singing their own original songs.  The word critic is not in their vocabulary yet and so, they are fearless.  They are perhaps the most creative humans on the planet. 

 

I personally think the first question we should ask is “Why do we want to create?”  This past week I did not want to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, quite possibly the only week in the past fifty years that I did not want to win it.  I simply wanted an escape, a place to mindlessly write a response to writing prompts I’d collected.  It did not matter if my poem about some obscure fish I’d never heard of was accurate.  It answered a need to mindlessly do something without it needing to be great.

 

Also this past week I colored – nothing outstanding and yes, it was in a coloring book from a dollar store.  It was relaxing and fun and a distraction from the political blowhards that seemed to be on every communications channel and Face Book post.  I viewed lovely photographs and became seduced by the art, reminding myself that creation is beautiful and even when it seems the world is against you, there is beauty in living.

 

This weekend I will again get out my expensive pens and pastels, compose something topical and do some research for the upcoming blog series.  I will also prepare 162 gifts and letters for an upcoming spiritual retreat.  I am refreshed in spirit and soul and my mind is brimming with ideas.  Sometimes the best way to get back on the creative track is to take a detour from it.

 

Many people schedule their creative time – writing in the middle of the night or early morning; painting during lunch when the light is at its fullest; sculpting while the laundry finishes its cycle.  Other people create when the mood is right.  I think we all have our own identity and also our own creative schedule.  What matters is that we realize each day is a new opportunity to experience creativity and to create something ourselves.

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.