Uncommon Art for the Common Man

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


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.


Pentecost 58

Pentecost 58

My Psalm 58

Make New Friends, Keep the Old

Recently, in a discussion with a twenty-something young man, I asked: “What is a friend?” His response started out very much like what one would expect but then took an interesting turn. He replied: “Someone to trust, rely on, and care for.” For him, friendship was a two-way street. Friendship was not something we valued in the reception but a living growing entity that required as much giving as taking and receiving.

Author Bella DePaulo, PhD., has written extensively about relationships and considers friendship to be the forgotten, overlooked relationship and remarks about how important friendship will become in the twenty-first century. In a 2012 article published by Living Single, she told of a research study that had people estimate the steepness of an incline before them. When people stood next to a friend, the incline seemed less steep. The findings agreed with Helen Keller: “Walking in the dark with a friend is better than walking alone in the light.”

De Paulo, in an article for Psychology Today concluded: “We also like ourselves better when we think about the friends who are important to us. Taking a moment to consider what we appreciate about our friends can also help us cope with our own shortcomings. In several studies, people took a test and then spent some time thinking about a warm and positive friendship, a cold and negative relationship, or a neutral relationship with an acquaintance. Then they were told that their performance on the test was not very good. If that happened to you, what would you want to do? Banish it from your mind and walk away? Or accept an opportunity to learn more about the skill that was tested and how to improve it? In the study, the people who were most open to working on their deficiencies were those who thought about their good friends.”

Building the Robert Louis Stevenson quote that “A friend is a present you give yourself”, politician Hubert H Humphrey stated: “The greatest gift of life is friendship and I have received it.” Greek philosopher Euripides felt that “One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.”

Dr Christine Brooks and Sean X began in 2013 a project they call scienceoffriendship.com. Believing that the digital connections of the modern age have affected friendships, they started with considering the “the multi-layered scaffolding that is our body, our minds, and our culture”. Their project will have a three-tiered approach: “The scope of our work covers Wellness and how we treat ourselves and others, Social connections, networks, and communication dynamics, and Neurobiology and the aspects of it that fuel connection, friendship and bonding.”

In the early 1900’s George Engel began his medical career in New York. Like most doctors of his time, he was focused primarily on the disease. Medical convention at the time felt if you knew and cured the illness, the patient would be cured. Dr Engel was a physical physician and disdainful of psychosomatic medicine. At the start of America’s involvement with World War II, Engel accepted a research fellowship position at Harvard, appointments in Cincinnati and later the University of Rochester where he introduced a treatment profile involving psychiatric interventions with patients. His biopsychosocial model, as it became known, believed that health and illness are consequences of the interconnected factors in our lives of biological, psychological, and social factors.

Dr Engle’s biopsychosocial model would help explain how a hill can seem less daunting when we consider traversing it with a friend. It also explains why people with similar healthy immune systems but active and vibrant friends’ support system progress better than those who live secluded lives yet may in fact be healthier from a physical standpoint.

In the Oprah.com recommended book, “Prince Harming Syndrome” author Karen Somalsohn references Aristotle’s three types of relationships: relationships of pleasure, relationships of utility, and relationships of shared virtue. Somalsohn maintains that a relationship serves two purposes: “den of pleasure; laboratory of growth”.

Perhaps a true friend is the one that not only provides an environment and rapport that can be enjoyed but also one that encourages us to grow. That, however, is still a rather one-sided experience and does not address the young man’s caveat that a real friend is to be nurtured themselves. Are our truest friends those that need us as well? Is the need to nurture, to contribute, a necessary element of friendship?

Friendship is, at its core, community. As Rollo May once said, “Communication leads to community – that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.” Ralph Nichols continues this in his comment: “The most basic of all human needs of the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Even King Solomon agreed: “Give me the gift of a listening heart.”

Man is a pack animal. His creation was not to be alone, regardless of whether you choose a creation-type of beginning or an evolutionary process of beginning. We need our friends and true friendship is a two-way street. We need to be valued but we also need to feel we can offer something of value to another.

You may not believe fully in the Japanese “kenzoku”, a word which translates as family, but friends are those with whom we have a similar commitment, a shared connection. Whether or not that leads to a shared destiny or reflects shared lives past, our friends are family. Friendship, real friendship, must be nurtured and cannot be allowed to become stagnant. Whether your friend is someone you see daily or a simple name clicked on FaceBook, it is the nurturing communications in which we engage that grow the friendship. After all, whether the friend is an old one or a new one, whether silver or gold, all are precious and must be valued.

My Psalm 58
(I should tell you this is NOT one of my favorite psalms as I am really not that vengeful of a person and this psalm is all about vengeance!)

Dear God, I am mad.
I am really, really angry.
I feel betrayed;
The betrayal of a friend is the worst kind.
I want them to hurt as I hurt.
When they lying mouths open,
I want their teeth to fall out.
Their promises are like evaporating water
And their mark in my life leaves my soul withered.
I want someone to run over them
As they ran over my hopes.
Our friendship has withered into dust.
They are a slimy snail slithering away.
I want them gone from my memory instantly.
I want the sun to set on our friendship.
Mostly, I want it to stop hurting.
O Lord, the faithful will be rewarded, I know.
Vengeance is not mine to deliver.
Help me feel your love, O Mighty One.
To you I am precious, I know.
You will judge and you alone.
Let the sun set on my pain and anger.
Help me to go forward, Father Almighty.
To You, I call out for help and mercy.