Monday, December 31, 2012

Who Is Rhoda Colville?

Today, on the news I heard, Rhoda Valentine (nee Wright) Colville, died at the age of  91 years, on December 29th, 2012. She was a talented artist and poet, wife of renowned Canadian painter, Alex Colville, his muse, and subject of many of his paintings.

Looking at Alex's paintings of Rhoda, I always sensed he was very much in love with her. They were a handsome couple indeed.

My years of attending many Art History seminars, and learning about numerous artists, has been a great education. What was and is often, more interesting and compelling to me, is the many women artists, the wives of those male artists, who unfortunately in most instances, there is little to nothing known or even mentioned  about these talented women artists, their lives and the art they made. Many women artists seemed to live in the shadow of their husband's careers, due to the cultural mores of the generation and times. Fortunately times have changed however you still have to dig for historical information regarding women artists.

I searched for information on line about Rhoda Colville. I found some basic facts, and mention of her talent as an artist and poet. She attended Mount Allison University, where she met Alex Colville. They were in the same fine art class. She wrote a booklet of poems entitled, Rhymes For Alex, dedicated to her husband.

I found this fine and lovely photo of Rhoda and Alex Colville  in Wolfville home, taken by artist, Tim Lowly. They both look very happy and of this I am certain they must have been, after seventy years of marriage. In this soon to be New Year of 2013, it is a rare and beautiful thing to see  love like this between two people. Here's to Rhoda and Alex, and creative love. Long may it live.
Alex and Rhoda Colville

Friday, December 28, 2012

Shin Dong-hyuk Escape From Camp 14

Here is an incredible story, based on his best selling book, Escape From Camp 14, told briefly in this TED talk, by  Author and Journalist, Blaine Harden about, Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped from the North Korean Camp 14, one of several camps that exist in North Korea though the Korean government denies there are camps.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Life Death Life Cycle

Caitlin Doughty is a Los Angeles, CA. mortician and a writer who started The Order of The Good Death in 2011. I heard an interview with her on CBC radio for a second time. The first time I didn't listen as intently as I did on this occasion. Why I paid close attention today was because a close friend's brother-in-law died just a few days prior to Christmas. I came to the realization that I think deeply at Christmas about those that we love and loose to death, under very difficult and painful circumstances, that perhaps we can ever imagine.

Amidst the Christmas festivity, and celebration of the birth of the Christ Child,  present to me, is a pervading sense and reminder of death. This may sound morbid, but I have come to realize this is all part and parcel of  cycle of life. It is what Jungian analyst, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola  refers to, in the story about Skeleton Woman, as being  the life-death-life cycle.  There is life after death I believe. I am not just talking about Heaven or the after life, but the kind of life we choose to live when we can face our fears surrounding death, confronting and accepting our mortality.

 I am someone who has personally experienced a lot of death with the loss of a husband at the young age of 27, loosing my mother in 1995, after one year of sobriety, and then ten years later loosing my father and my older brother within two months of one another. In considering what I have lost and what I have gained, I am amazed and so grateful to be able to celebrate on January 2nd, 2013, nineteen years of contented sobriety.

The death of my loved ones has given me an appreciation for life and a wisdom that I would never have otherwise. I learned many hard lessons from death and continue to do so. What I have gleaned from these lessons, I have to share, pay it forward, in hopes of perhaps helping another, the way others have so generously helped me.

I remember many years ago reading, Love and Will by Rollo May. He makes some profound statements that have long resonated with me, about the relationship between Love and Death. This is clarified for me is his quotation from  a letter written by Abraham Maslow, who was recuperating from a heart attack.

" The confrontation with death-and the reprieve from it-makes everything look so precious, so sacred, so beautiful that I feel more strongly than ever the impulse to love it. My river has never looked so beautiful....Death, and its ever present possibility makes love, passionate love, more possible. I wonder if we could love passionately, if ecstasy would be possible at all, if we knew we'd never die."
"Death is always in the shadow of the delight of love."

He speaks as well of the other side of the death and love relationship.

 " The obsession with sex serves to cover up contemporary man's fear of death."

At one time death was not so much at arms length as it is today in the twenty first century, much to our own detriment.

When I first came to the realization I am somewhat preoccupied with contemplating thoughts about death, especially around this time of year, at Christmas, I didn't really want to admit this to myself. However today, after closely and intently listening and reading what Caitlin Doughty has to say, I can  better embrace my thoughts and feelings about death and mortality. I now understand  and know this is healthy and normal considering what my life experience has been.

Caitlin says, "Many of us have thoughts of death, but we don't see them to the end. We get stuck in the loops, reliving the scary part over and over but never the resolution."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I have a subscription to a great blog called, Artsy Shark written by, + Carolyn Edlund the Executive Director of the Art Business Institute. The blog is a very practical and informative, and strives to enable emerging artists to educate themselves about the business side of being an artist and much more.

Here is a wonderfully helpful article about one my favourite nemesis, procrastination. It was once aptly put but some of my very favourite comedians. 
Procrastination is like masturbation.  At first it feels good, but in the end you’re only screwing yourself.
Monty Python

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Prayers For Newton

My passion for creativity always has coincided with what I considered  to be my life long vocation, as a Youth Care Worker. I was very involved in the field, for approximately twenty years, for most of my working life, on the front lines with troubled youth. At one point I made the commitment and became a foster mum, or what was officially referred to as a, Therapeutic Parent Counsellor, which meant I would take on the most challenging kids, with  serious behavioural issues, living in my own home. Suffice to say this eventually became an impossible situation, primarily because my foster daughters and I did not receive the kind of support we were told we would have. I had no illusions about how the system is basically self serving, as I saw many youth and their families fall between the cracks, however I expected more, but my experience ultimately culminated in being greatly disappointed and disheartened by what is a broken system and a broken society.

During my years as a front line Youth Care Worker with troubled youth, many  would be of the opinion these kids were the worst of the worst, with every kind of diagnosis, classification and label included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
 The challenges I faced as a Youth Care Worker did not lie with the youth I worked with, but with the glaring reality of systemic problems and the overwhelming, ongoing  failure to provide these youth and families, with real, affective and  available help and support , in particular in the areas of aftercare, poverty, drug addiction and mental health services, that were and are gravely lacking. I have been personally affected and touched by most of these issues throughout life, in one way or another, and I believe this was one of the main reasons why I felt, being Youth Care Worker was my vocation.

Growing up as a troubled youth, art and creativity provided me with a refuge,  an opportunity to express my suppressed, repressed thoughts and feelings, so much the result of hurt and dysfunction. A life long involvement with the recovery process, from  this very personal experience, combined with my creative skills and a desire to be pursue art, and a few caring adults,  made all the difference to enable me to use these insights and skills as a Youth Care Worker , and I found it very helpful to the youth I worked with every day. It was much easier for them to talk about themselves through their art they had created, developing a sense of  awareness, esteem, healing, and self empowerment. These are great conduits for positive change and understanding.

The most significant thing I consistently and painfully became aware of, as a Youth Care Worker is knowing what a serious crisis we have among our youth today, and I am afraid we are failing them in ways I am not certain we will ever be able to avert. I am always hopeful, however not so optimistic in light of the current events within a world that seems to be lost on the wrong road, and on a collision course with destructive pursuits, instead of social justice, human rights and peace.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Are Video Games Art?

As a creative woman , who lived through the second wave of feminism, I have  been committed to feminist goals, ideas and issues throughout my life and within the art world, and I have long been aware of the sociological, political, institutional and cultural contexts , in which art is made and presented. I especially became more acutely aware of these in a profound way, after returning to University to complete my Bachelor of Fine Art Degree, having been out of school for thirty years. I was privileged to have had the experience of being taught wonderful art history and art seminar classes by Professors with a feminist and contemporary perspective. It was truly an eye opening and educational experience in every sense of the word. I came to discern how things have progressed for  female artists, but in some ways regressed.

That said, I was compelled to write this post after listening to a CBC Q debate, regarding the upcoming exhibition, by  the Museum of Modern Art, where numerous video games are to be displayed and considered as  art. The debate was about video games and whether they are art or not; between Guardian art critic, Johnathan Jones, who wrote the article, Sorry MoMA Video Games Are Not Art, and President  of Rhode Island School of Design , John Maeda .

 I had to listen to the debate twice, because of my initial negative gut reaction toward  the aptly described, dismissive, Johnathan Jones. Upon listening a second time, I concluded, that he epitomized the historically perpetuated, misogynistic, narrow minded perspective, that negates the kind of open mindedness,  required to foster and nuture creativity, learning and imagination.
There was no mention of any women artists, to ever be included in so called, non-interactive art, and his pantheon of historic masters was overridden by his seemingly , man crush on Pollock and his ilk, of abstract expressionists that Johnathan Jones references, as if they were like demigods, remaining forever embedded, and entrenched within those "hallowed halls", never to be usurped, replaced or changed because they are some how unequal or unparallelled to those mentioned artists. As if to imply, this art was "real" art.
Art is life, art and life change, art changes everything and change is good!

I have always had the belief we are all born creative and as children, what we express is art, because is it is an expression of ourselves, and our imagination, and that's what art is, yes it can be about reality but mostly it's about our imagination and perception. Art critics do not and cannot dictate what art is or isn't, regardless of their high standard and opinion. I suggest that Mr. Jones take a lesson  from MoMA,  take a risk, start colouring outside the lines and give Journey, Flow, or Flower a try before dismissing them as being a "cheap standard"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Robert Pope

 After a phone call this afternoon to my good friend, we were discussing art and she shared her recent experience of seeing a show at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, of the late painter, Robert Pope She asked if I knew who he was, as he'd attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design around the same period of time that I did. Unfortunately I did not and I believe we attended during difference years and just missed one another, as he was ahead of me, as was Alex Livingstone, who had a studio just across the hall from me. I did a search of Robert's name and found this profoundly moving documentary about him, his art and his life. It moved and touched me very deeply, and his story is a real testament to the power of art and the artist.

 I am sorry I never had the privilege of meeting Robert, however I am very grateful to my friend for telling me about him and his work.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Creative Art of Letter Writing

Being without the internet or phone, and even my vehicle for so long, has resulted in some deeper reflection  upon my co-dependent mind set, around the online experience and social interactions.

I've had enough time now to re-adjust,  re-format and re-route my hapless braincells.  I've been contemplating, thinking about instant communication versus slow communication, and spent several months daily writing in my journal, more so then usual, without the ready accessibility of posting on my blog and daily online usage.

Instead, I  wrote several letters to friends, and generally applied myself to painting  everyday, on a regular basis, for many continuous hours, over the last three months.

In retrospect it been a very positive experience, and I learned a valuable lesson I intend to put to good use. Without my internet for this duration, I understand  on a deeper level the importance of habitual writing long hand in my journal before starting my day. I believe it depletes and wards off my co-dependence of the online world that seems to feel all consuming at times.

Numerous letters written and sent, resulted in the feeling I was actively building and taking care of my friendships through the process of letter writing ; as opposed to instantly signing into Facebook  to view the ridiculous, the most recent and never ending tedious timelines. I appreciate knowing what most of my "friends" are up to, others, well sometimes, you know TMI!

 I certainly appreciate all that the internet has to offer, but I am glad I understand the benefits of slow communication and greatly appreciate writing and receiving hand written letters. I love the papers, the pens, the inks, the envelopes and even  the stamps. It truly is a creative act, as Catherine Field states in her article, The Fading Art of Letter Writing written in the New York Times. She very eloquently and accurately described this creative act.

"A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do. You savor their arrival and later take care to place them in a box for safe keeping."

I have a close, long time friend, that lives an hour away. We have written each other regularly  for years, in spite of living an hour apart and being able to see one another without difficulty. We have agreed to do this for one another, and it gives us both great pleasure, a valued sense of appreciation and gratitude for our friendship. I have another close artist friend from University, and we have been regularly, corresponding. She told me in her last letter, writing has been a "glorious therapeutic mental element", which I do understand from my own personal writing experience over the years. It makes me happy to know this and to have that kind of appreciation for the simple gesture of a hand written letter.

And so, I have resolved to do my journal writing, first thing before I get online, in order to foster and focus on my creative and healthy pursuits for each day.

I will never be a Luddite, but I can make a steadfast resolve to maintain a balance between technological instant gratification of this fast moving world, and that of the little by slowly, found in the ancient art of writing.

I might not be fast but I'm slow!