Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Purdy Crawford Centre For The Arts

I am looking very forward to a group exhibit featuring Maritime Artists in Parrsboro at the Art Lab Studios & Gallery. I have a painting in this exhibition. This celebratory event takes place October 3rd at 7:00 p.m.

I am also very honoured, and excited to have been asked to be a part of the Mount Allison University Alumni Exhibition at the Purdy Crawford Centre For The Arts, October 2nd 2014.

The Mount Allison Fine Arts Alumni Exhibition will feature more than 60 works by 64 years of MtA Fine Arts alumni.
Organized by the Mount Allison Fine Arts department, alumni from the classes of 1950 to 2013 have generously contributed their works for the first-ever multi-generational alumni fine arts exhibition.
The exhibition will run from Oct. 2-Oct. 9 in the atrium of the Purdy Crawford Centre for the Arts. List of alumni participants: Robert Barritt, Class of 1950 Christopher Pratt, Class of 1957 Mary Pratt, Class of 1957 Tom Forrestall, Class of 1958 Dale Dunning, Class of 1969 Herménégilde Chiasson, Class of 1972 Michael Coyne, Class of 1975 Jane Irwin, Class of 1977 Barbara Safran, Class of 1977 John Armstrong, Class of 1978 Dianne Bos, Class of 1978 Stephen Scott, Class of 1978 Lucy Hogg, Class of 1979 Alice Reed, Class of 1980 Robert Tombs, Class of 1980 Ann Manuel, Class of 1981 Dan Steeves, Class of 1981 Karen Buck-MacKintosh, Class of 1982 William Forrestall, Class of 1982 Janice Wright-Cheney, Class of 1983 Steven Dixon, Class of 1983 Stephen May, Class of 1983 Peter Bjerkelund, Class of 1985 Jennifer Walton, Class of 1986 Kathleen Sellars, Class of 1986 Timothy Johnston, Class of 1987 Christina Nick, Class of 1989 Michael deAdder, Class of 1991 Isabelle Devos, Class of 1991 Alexandrya Eaton, Class of 1991 Will Gill, Class of 1991 Nancy Schofield, Class of 1991 Paul Griffin, Class of 1992 Lesley Johnson, Class of 1994 Dennis Austin Reid, Class of 1996 Patrick Visentin, Class of 1998 Michael Walsh, Class of 1998 Jon Claytor, Class of 1999 Melanie Hamilton, Class of 1999 Karen Stentaford, Class of 1999 John Haney, Class of 2001 Maskull Lasserre, Class of 2001 Melissa Marr, Class of 2003 Courtney Chetwynd, Class of 2004 Meaghan Haughian, Class of 2004 Deanna Musgrave, Class of 2005 D’Arcy Wilson, Class of 2005 Melanie Colosimo, Class of 2006 Evan Rensch, Class of 2006 Jessie Dodington, Class of 2008 Anna Williams, Class of 2009 Corey Isenor, Class of 2010 Keeley Haftner, Class of 2011 Erika Sullivan, Class of 2011 Catherine Meyers, Class of 2012 Christiana Myers, Class of 2012.

It so wonderful  to see the Purdy Crawford Centre For The Arts building finally opened, and I must admit, I am just a little envious of the new Fine Art students. I hope they appreciate what they have. It's a far cry from the days of sharing a studio cubby hole space, with another Fine Art student in the Gardiner Building. But I have some great memories, and I was very fortunate to have had the best ' cubby buddies ' a person could ask for.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Alex Colville - 110 Paintings

Seven Crows - Alex Colville
This Alex Colville painting is my absolute favourite of his. Perhaps because it embodies Nova Scotia to me, and where I live on the edge of a tidal river, were the sea marsh lies, and the crows fly. It is a scene I see from my studio window everyday.

This morning I was looking very forward to, and excited about listening to the Sunday Edition with Michael Enright, because of the interview and walk through tour he was going to have with Matthew Teitelbaum, the Curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The very special exhibit at the AGO, is the biggest collection of 110 Alex Colville's paintings.

The interview and Matthew Teitelbaum's talk certainly did not disappoint. It was excellent, and I hope you will take the time to listen.  http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/The+Sunday+Edition/ID/2530851581/

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Art 21

Graciela Iturbide
When I went back to University as a mature student, at Mount Allison University to finish my Bachelor of Fine Art degree, I watched a whole lot of Art 21 in class. I loved these videos, and it was one of the best  parts of my art education. A particular artist I saw on Art 21, was one of my teachers at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design back in the 70s.

Looking back, it really was a wonderful experience generally, to have had the opportunity to be taught by visionary artists, and teachers, like Krzysztof Wodiczko , Jeff Wall, Dan Loomis, Huge Leroy, John Clark, Tom Klink, Eric Fischl, Ken Pittman, Harold Pearse, just to name a few. Yes, I know they are all men. That's the way it was generally, back in the early 70s. However, it is this fact this helped to shape me into the feminist I am today.. Many women at NSCAD were right on the front lines of the second wave of feminism then, with the influences of such artists like, Miriam Shipiro, Joyce Wieland and Martha Rosler.

I still love to watch Art 21, and am really looking forward to seeing what is in the new line up for Season 7. Especially artist Graciela Iturbide who documented photographs about Frida Kahlo. As well, the documentary entitled, The Two Virginias  featuring photographer Sally Mann . Mann reflects on the woman who raised her, Virginia Franklin Carter.
These women, Frida Kahlo and Sally Mann, are two of my favourite artists, whom I admire greatly.
It warms my heart to see how women mentor one another.

                                                               Virginia Franklin Carter,

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Neurochemistry of Story Telling

 I'm always looking for meaningful information about the power of story telling. I found this video yesterday. I think it's a good one!

"  Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds but, in doing that, they change the way our brains work and potentially change our brain chemistry — and that’s what it means to be a social creature. "

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Truck Drivin' Art Critic

As an art student who attended NSCAD in the 70s, and then again as a mature student at Mount Allison University, I learned to develop a thick skin, not too thick mind you. As well, I learned not to be so precious about my work, or about my 'feelings'.  I put my big girl dress on, with big bloomers too!

 Everyone wants and needs a certain amount of recognition, but ultimately we have to be our own fan, and have the conviction to believe in our work, and be able to carry on a discourse about what we are doing. If you don't have the confidence, no one else will either.

 More or less, my 'give a shit' stopped working some time ago.

I admit, I'm not that familiar with many so called professional art critics, as I really don't take them too  serious and will call them the art gnostics and they take themselves too seriously. There is however one I like a lot, Jerry Saltz.
He's down to earth, shoots from the hip, cuts through the BS, and most of all he has a great sense of humour. I think besides the fact that Jerry Saltz is no intellectual slouch, he is so down to earth and was once a working stiff, a truck driver. You can't get much more down to earth and unpretentious than that. His truck driving career makes him a one of a kind art critic.

Here's a great interview that was done in 2008 Irving Sandler from BrooknRail, had with Jerry Saltz. It gives you good overall impression of the man. Of course I'm sure he isn't every one's cup of java, but he sure is mine.

Portrait of Jerry Saltz. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.

Here is an article from the site Skinny Artist that gives some thoughts how to deal with creative criticism.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Creative Block

Creative Blocks
Brain Pickings had a great article today about creative block , and how artists respond and cope with this state of mind. Having a creative block is something I know exists, and I certainly experience it, from time to time. I expect it means different things, to different people, involved with the creative process as artists, whether they be visual, performing, designers or writers, and it can be brought on but a variety of reasons.

 One of the most important lessons I have learned as an artist, is the importance of doing something, or specifically, one creative activity habitually, that you enjoy doing daily, every day. This has been very helpful, in that it keeps the negative inner critic ramblings at bay and improves my creative process and builds upon my creative practice.

Friday, September 19, 2014

" More People Should Write "

I am presently reading a compelling book, by a really interesting fellow, Chris Guillebeau, the book is The Happiness of Pursuit. It's a wonderful read, about finding a quest, meaning, and purpose in your life. Chris has been described as being an adventurer, and sage combined. How true this is. He takes no only the physical world adventures, but the inner journey as well and his book is the documentation of the stories of people who do the same. It is full of wisdom and true inspiration.

I told Chris I read his book in bed at night, and always look forward to doing so, because I feel like I am going on an adventure. I know it doesn't say much for my love life, but I certainly do love his book! After writing this blog for nigh on six years now, and having recently started another blog, I am more enthusiastic than ever about writing.

I went to visit Chris's blog and found a whole host of interesting topics, This one in particular immediately sparked my interest from James Somers blog post entitled, More People Should Write. He puts into words very succinctly why it is I write and what happens when I do! Fantastic!

Here's another interesting item I found about how writer's have a serious advantage over the rest of us and how it's good for your health.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sunken Underwater City

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with ancient Egyptian and Greek culture. The cultures were rich with art and beauty. Here is a video about Heracleion , a prosperous port city that once thrived at the mouth of the Mediterranean along the Egyptian coast.
Once mentioned in the historical writing of  Herodotus in the 5th Century BC, this incredible discovery demonstrates the richness of Egyptian culture in a compelling riveting manner.

Eye Of Horus - Catherine Meyers

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Art of Mark Bryan

The New Normal - Mark Bryan

 I first came across Mark Bryan's work online a number of years ago. His work makes me laugh our loud, and I love that. It is funny, disturbing, thought provoking, and frankly, I think brilliant. His imaginative satirical  renderings cut to the quick, make you question ' normal,' and will set you on your ass when you first see his work, because it is are honest commentary about his observations of the crazy mixed up world we live in.

 Although the presentations and executions of his subject are very humourous, the subject matter under the surface are often not so funny, in that many of the topics are serious.

Mark Bryan has the talent and ability to express what I think many of us feel, about the state of the world and the many monkeys in it.

Mark Byran reminds me of Michael Moore, or maybe the Lewis Black of the art world, honest; real, with an intelligent social conscience, all wrapped up in satire and funny. God only knows we need more of this kind of individual in society.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

' Wisdom In The Age of Information '

Wisdom In The Age of Information is a great article about the essential importance of story telling in the age of information. I think about this often, and because I have been in a 12 step program for 20 plus years, I have come to understand how story acts as a guidepost, to enable us to find our way along the path of life. Our experiences, strengths and hopes are shared with one another, though each story is different, as is each individual, nonetheless we relate to the feelings, and this is the way the program works.

As an artist I am passionate about story telling through what is referred to in this video as being symbol, metaphor and association.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Happiness of Pursuit

Chris Guillebeau's self-help book, The Happiness of Pursuit, published by Random House, is a real good one and I highly recommend everyone to read. Chris is an inspiring adventurous and wise fellow, an old soul I would describe him.

I'm about half way through this book and am finding very insightful wisdom, and practical advice, manifested within the stories of those who have sought after their goals by pursuing personal quests. I identify greatly with this book, as I have had many of my own person quests and journeys that have tested my own personal fortitude, made me a stronger, more compassionate individual and changed my life.

 Especially touching and poignant to me, was the story about a remarkable human being, Phoebe Snetsinger who came to deeply understand life through facing her own mortality, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Her quest became even more clarified and she went after her goals with more passion and commitment than what she possessed before she was diagnosed with cancer. This story reminded me of another story I read in  Dr. Clarrisa Pinkola Estes' book, Women Who Run With The Wolves. It was entitled Skeleton Women an Inuit story about embracing life death and life cycle.

In my own life because of the loss of many people that I deeply loved I came to see life as precious and my priorities in my life became clear and paramount to me. I was able to discern what was absolutely important and my perspective changed. I learned not to sweat the small petty things and not to pet the big sweaty things!

Skeleton Woman - Egg Tempera on Wood Panel 12"x12" 2012 - Catherine Meyers

Friday, September 12, 2014

Judith Joseph

I first met Judith Joseph online on this site http://www.egg tempera.com 
I was very excited to see her work and have been a great fan of hers ever since and have great admiration and appreciation for her talent, skill  and especially her passion for creating the most beautiful Ketubahs. She is a beautiful human being, humble and gracious.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Hole In The Soul

Some time ago I thought to myself, I have spent my life single and alone. Growing up with a brother ten years older, I was by myself, mostly, other than when I was with adults, or my friends. I was profoundly aware of my aloneness, I was used to it, even though I didn't appreciate or understand what it all meant.

I believe I am fortunate to be a creative individual, because I found solace, and a diversion in creating art, entertaining myself, making others laugh, or playing music. I am a social  individual who enjoys the interaction with others, but in moderation. I can be one of those who at times, prefers the company of animals over humans. Animals have always been my companions who will love and accept you unconditionally. I'm lost without my critters.

As a young teenager I craved the business of city life, being brought up in Toronto and in other cities. I attended art school in the city. There were many people, places, and things that I loved about it, but simultaneously I was loosing myself, and my way in life, being consumed with substance abuse and continuous unhealthy relationships. This all resulted in what I call, the hole in my soul, which I could never fill, but was desperately trying to do find something to complete me. I was never comfortable in my own skin, and was unhappy with my life with really no sense of where I belonged or who I was.

After coming to understand, in a painful way, that I was very unhappy, I reflected on asking myself, what I really wanted in life, and what I needed to be happy, and how I could go about finding the answers to my questions. The one paramount question I asked, made all the difference for me, when I finally got the answer. When was the happiest time in my life? The answer to my question came immediately, and quite easily, and I think the question had been waiting to be asked. The answer was when I had the experiences of being with nature, in the countryside, during my childhood, particularly when my family would take that seemingly never ending road, trip eating copious numbers of my mother's sandwiches, while my father drove like he was on a mission, right through, from Ontario to Nova Scotia.

It was a wonderful feeling to finally arrive at my grandmother's house. Everything had and was in it's own place, and this was mine, Nova Scotia. I would play for hours by myself with her nick-knacks on the living room floor, creating  menageries and the world of my own imaginings. Spending glorious Summer days playing the piano,  painting pictures, or going for long walks with my mother, or swimming in the ocean.

 Being in the garden with my grandfather, or on the swing that he'd made in his old shed especially for me, all these are memories of comforting solitude, and happiness for having had a strong sense of belonging, because I was surrounded with nature and I felt love.

Today I enjoy my solitude every day, living in the countryside, close to the woods, to the water, and surrounded by nature. This is so good for my soul and I feel a deep sense of happiness because this is where I belong and I know I am loved. 

People ask me, do you like living it there? I answer, I must, I've lived here for twenty years, alone, comfortable in my own skin, clean and sober for twenty years and I no longer suffer from the hole in the soul.

Today I have posted the following article about solitude and creativity, from one of my very favourite sites, Brain Pickings.

 How to Be Alone: An Antidote to One of the Central Anxieties and Greatest Paradoxes of Our Time

“We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.”
If the odds of finding one’s soul mate are so dreadfully dismal and the secret of lasting love is largely a matter of concession, is it any wonder that a growing number of people choose to go solo? The choice of solitude, of active aloneness, has relevance not only to romance but to all human bonds — even Emerson, perhaps the most eloquent champion of friendship in the English language, lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude, the very state that enabled him to produce his enduring essays and journals. And yet that choice is one our culture treats with equal parts apprehension and contempt, particularly in our age of fetishistic connectivity. Hemingway’s famous assertion that solitude is essential for creative work is perhaps so oft-cited precisely because it is so radical and unnerving in its proposition.
A friend recently relayed an illustrative anecdote: One evening during a short retreat in Mexico by herself, she entered the local restaurant and asked to be seated. Upon realizing she was to dine alone, the waitstaff escorted her to the back with a blend of puzzlement and pity, so as not to dilute the resort’s carefully engineered illusory landscape of coupled bliss. (It’s worth noting that this unsettling incident, which is as much about the stigma of being single as about the profound failure to honor the art of being alone, is one women are still far more likely to confront than men; some live to tell about it.)

Solitude, the kind we elect ourselves, is met with judgement and enslaved by stigma. It is also a capacity absolutely essential for a full life.
That paradox is what British author Sara Maitland explores in How to Be Alone (public library) — the latest installment in The School of Life’s thoughtful crusade to reclaim the traditional self-help genre in a series of intelligent, non-self-helpy yet immeasurably helpful guides to such aspects of modern living as finding fulfilling work, cultivating a healthier relationship with sex, worrying less about money, and staying sane.
While Maitland lives in a region of Scotland with one of the lowest population densities in Europe, where the nearest supermarket is more than twenty miles away and there is no cell service (pause on that for a moment), she wasn’t always a loner — she grew up in a big, close-knit family as one of six children. It was only when she became transfixed by the notion of silence, the subject of her previous book, that she arrived, obliquely, at solitude. She writes:
I got fascinated by silence; by what happens to the human spirit, to identity and personality when the talking stops, when you press the off button, when you venture out into that enormous emptiness. I was interested in silence as a lost cultural phenomenon, as a thing of beauty and as a space that had been explored and used over and over again by different individuals, for different reasons and with wildly differing results. I began to use my own life as a sort of laboratory to test some ideas and to find out what it felt like. Almost to my surprise, I found I loved silence. It suited me. I got greedy for more. In my hunt for more silence, I found this valley and built a house here, on the ruins of an old shepherd’s cottage.

Illustration by Alessandro Sanna from 'The River.' Click image for more.
Maitland’s interest in solitude, however, is somewhat different from that in silence — while private in its origin, it springs from a public-facing concern about the need to address “a serious social and psychological problem around solitude,” a desire to “allay people’s fears and then help them actively enjoy time spent in solitude.” And so she does, posing the central, “slippery” question of this predicament:
Being alone in our present society raises an important question about identity and well-being.

How have we arrived, in the relatively prosperous developed world, at least, at a cultural moment which values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfillment and human rights, and above all individualism, more highly than they have ever been valued before in human history, but at the same time these autonomous, free, self-fulfilling individuals are terrified of being alone with themselves?

We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.
We see moral and social conventions as inhibitions on our personal freedoms, and yet we are frightened of anyone who goes away from the crowd and develops “eccentric” habits.
We believe that everyone has a singular personal “voice” and is, moreover, unquestionably creative, but we treat with dark suspicion (at best) anyone who uses one of the most clearly established methods of developing that creativity — solitude.
We think we are unique, special and deserving of happiness, but we are terrified of being alone.

We are supposed now to seek our own fulfillment, to act on our feelings, to achieve authenticity and personal happiness — but mysteriously not do it on our own.
Today, more than ever, the charge carries both moral judgement and weak logic.

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from 'Open House for Butterflies' by Ruth Krauss. Click image for more.
Curiously, and importantly, mastering the art of solitude doesn’t make us more antisocial but, to the contrary, better able to connect. By being intimate with our own inner life — that frightening and often foreign landscape that philosopher Martha Nussbaum so eloquently urged us to explore despite our fear — frees us to reach greater, more dimensional intimacy with others. Maitland writes:
Nothing is more destructive of warm relations than the person who endlessly “doesn’t mind.” They do not seem to be a full individual if they have nothing of their own to “bring to the table,” so to speak. This suggests that even those who know that they are best and most fully themselves in relationships (of whatever kind) need a capacity to be alone, and probably at least some occasions to use that ability. If you know who you are and know that you are relating to others because you want to, rather than because you are trapped (unfree), in desperate need and greed, because you fear you will not exist without someone to affirm that fact, then you are free. Some solitude can in fact create better relationships, because they will be freer ones.
And yet the value of aloneness has descended into a downward spiral of social judgment over the course of humanity. Citing the rise of “male spinsters” in the U.S. census — men over forty who never married, up from 6% in 1980 to 16% today — Maitland traces the odd cultural distortion of the concept itself:
In the Middle Ages the word “spinster” was a compliment. A spinster was someone, usually a woman, who could spin well: a woman who could spin well was financially self-sufficient — it was one of the very few ways that mediaeval women could achieve economic independence. The word was generously applied to all women at the point of marriage as a way of saying they came into the relationship freely, from personal choice, not financial desperation. Now it is an insult, because we fear “for” such women — and now men as well — who are probably “sociopaths.”
This fairly modern attitude, which casts voluntary aloneness as a toxic trifecta of “sad, mad, and bad” — is reinforced via rather dogmatic circular logic that doesn’t afford those who choose solitude the basic dignity of their own choice. Reflecting on the prevalent response of pity — triggered by the “sad” portion of the dogma — Maitland plays out the exasperating impossibility of refuting such social assumptions:
If you say, “Well, no actually; I am very happy,” the denial is held to prove the case. Recently someone trying to condole with me in my misery said, when I assured them I was in fact happy, “You may think you are.” But happiness is a feeling. I do not think it — I feel it. I may, of course, be living in a fool’s paradise and the whole edifice of joy and contentment is going to crash around my ears sometime soon, but at the moment I am either lying or reporting the truth. My happiness cannot, by the very nature of happiness, be something I think I feel but don’t really feel. There is no possible response that does not descend almost immediately to the school-playground level of “Did, didn’t; did, didn’t.”
Underlying these attitudes, Maitland argues, is the central driver of fear — fear of those radically different from us, who make choices we don’t necessarily understand. This drives us, in turn, to project our fright onto others, often in the form of anger — a manifestation, at once sad, mad, and bad, of Anaïs Nin’s memorable observation that “it is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar.”

Illustration by Marianne Dubuc from 'The Lion and the Bird.' Click image for more.
These persistently reinforced social fears, she notes, have chilling consequences:
If you tell people enough times that they are unhappy, incomplete, possibly insane and definitely selfish there is bound to come a grey morning when they wake up with the beginning of a nasty cold and wonder if they are lonely rather than simply “alone.”
(This crucial difference between aloneness and loneliness, in fact, is not only central to our psychological unease but also enacted even in our bodies — while solitude may be essential for creativity and key to the mythology of genius, loneliness, scientists have found, has deadly physical consequences on our risk for everything from heart disease to dementia.)
Paradoxically, Maitland points out, many of our most celebrated cultural icons had solitude embedded in their lifestyle and spirit, from great explorers and adventurers to famous “geniuses.” She cites the great silent film actor Greta Garbo, a famous loner, as a particularly poignant example:
Garbo introduced a subtlety of expression to the art of silent acting and that its effect on audiences cannot be exaggerated… In retirement she adopted a lifestyle of both simplicity and leisure, sometimes just ‘drifting’. But she always had close friends with whom she socialized and travelled. She did not marry but did have serious love affairs with both men and women. She collected art. She walked, alone and with companions, especially in New York. She was a skillful paparazzi-avoider. Since she chose to retire, and for the rest of her life consistently declined opportunities to make further films, it is reasonable to suppose that she was content with that choice.
It is in fact evident that a great many people, for many different reasons, throughout history and across cultures, have sought out solitude to the extent that Garbo did, and after experiencing that lifestyle for a while continue to uphold their choices, even when they have perfectly good opportunities to live more social lives.
So how did our present attitudes toward solitude emerge? Maitland argues that our lamentable refusal to afford those who choose aloneness “the normal tolerance of difference on which we pride ourselves elsewhere” is the result of a “very deep cultural confusion”:
For two millennia, at least, we have been trying to live with two radically contrasting and opposed models of what the good life would or should be. Culturally, there is a slightly slick tendency to blame all our woes, and especially our social difficulties, either on a crude social Darwinism or on an ill-defined package called the “Judaeo-Christian paradigm” or “tradition.” Apparently this is why, among other things, we have so much difficulty with sex (both other people’s and our own); why women remain unequal; why we are committed to world domination and ecological destruction; and why we are not as perfectly happy as we deserve. I, for one, do not believe this — but I do believe that we suffer from trying to hold together the values of Judaeo-Christianity (inasmuch as we understand them) and the values of classical civilization, and they really do not fit.
She traces the evolution of that confusion all the way back to the Roman Empire, with its ideals of public and social life. Even the word “civilization” bespeaks these values — it comes from civis, Latin for “citizen.” (Though it warrants noting that one of the greatest and most enduring Roman exports issued the memorable admonition that “all those who call you to themselves draw you away from yourself.”) Still, the Romans were notorious for their lust for power, honor, and glory — ideals invariably social in nature and crucial to the political cohesion of society when confronted with the barbarians at the gate. Maitland writes:
In these circumstances solitude is threatening — without a common and embedded religious faith to give shared meaning to the choice, being alone is a challenge to the security of those clinging desperately to a sinking raft. People who pull out and “go solo” are exposing the danger while apparently escaping the engagement.

Maitland fast-forwards to our present predicament, the product of millennia of cultural baggage:
No wonder we are frightened of those who desire and aspire to be alone, if only a little more than has been acceptable in recent social forms. No wonder we want to establish solitude as “sad, mad and bad” — consciously or unconsciously, those of us who want to do something so markedly countercultural are exposing, and even widening, the rift lines.
But the truth is, the present paradigm is not really working. Despite the intense care and attention lavished on the individual ego; despite over a century of trying to “raise self-esteem” in the peculiar belief that it will simultaneously enhance individuality and create good citizens; despite valiant attempts to consolidate relationships and lower inhibitions; despite intimidating efforts to dragoon the more independent-minded and creative to become “team players”; despite the promises of personal freedom made to us by neoliberalism and the cult of individualism and rights — despite all this, the well seems to be running dry. We are living in a society marked by unhappy children, alienated youth, politically disengaged adults, stultifying consumerism, escalating inequality, deeply scary wobbles in the whole economic system, soaring rates of mental ill-health and a planet so damaged that we may well end up destroying the whole enterprise.
Of course we also live in a world of great beauty, sacrificial and passionate love, tenderness, prosperity, courage and joy. But quite a lot of all that seems to happen regardless of the paradigm and the high thoughts of philosophy. It has always happened. It is precisely because it has always happened that we go on wrestling with these issues in the hope that it can happen more often and for more people.
And wrestle we do, often trying to grasp and cling our way out of solitude — a state we don’t fully understand and can’t fully inhabit to reap its rewards. Our two most common tactics for shielding against solitude, Maitland notes, are the offensive fear-and-projection strategy, where we criticize those capable of finding joy in solitude and condemn them to the sad-mad-bad paradigm, and the defensive approach, where we attempt to insulate ourselves from the risk of aloneness by obsessively accumulating a vast network of social ties as a kind of “insurance policy.” In one of her most quietly poignant asides, Maitland whispers:
There is no number of friends on Facebook, contacts, connections or financial provision that can guarantee to protect us.

One of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original watercolors for The Little Prince. Click image for more.
Our cultural ambivalence is also manifested in our chronic bias for extraversion despite growing evidence for the power of introverts. Maitland writes:
At the same time as pursuing this “extrovert ideal,” society gives out an opposite — though more subterranean — message. Most people would still rather be described as sensitive, spiritual, reflective, having rich inner lives and being good listeners than the more extroverted opposites. I think we still admire the life of the intellectual over that of the salesman; of the composer over the performer (which is why pop stars constantly stress that they write their own songs); of the craftsman over the politician; of the solo adventurer over the package tourist… But the kind of unexamined but mixed messages that society offers us in relation to being alone add to the confusion; and confusion strengthens fear.
Among Maitland’s toolkit of “ideas for overturning negative views of solitude and developing a positive sense of aloneness and a true capacity to enjoy it” are the exploration of reverie and the practice of facing the fear. She enumerates the five basic categories of rewards to be reaped from unlearning our culturally conditioned fear of aloneness and learning how to “do” solitude well:
  1. A deeper consciousness of oneself
  2. A deeper attunement to nature
  3. A deeper relationship with the transcendent (the numinous, the divine, the spiritual)
  4. Increased creativity
  5. An increased sense of freedom
In the remainder of How to Be Alone, Maitland goes on to offer a series of “exercises” along each of these five directions of aspiration — psychological strategies for retuning our relationship with solitude.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Keeping A Diary

Keeping a journal for so many years, I sometimes think, wow, what dribble. Intellectually I know this isn't the truth, and it's just my inner critic speaking, as I do believe and have experienced the creative benefit of journaling especially because helps me as an artist.

A journal for me is a confidante, best friend, therapist, archive, prayer, sometimes entertainment, my memory and reflection. It is a daily life story, regardless of how trivial, or mundane.

 When I have looked back over the 30 years of entries, I've on occasion hardly recognized myself, but I know this is my journal, and I wrote it. I write for no one but myself, so it matters not what the content is, my pen to pages.

Yesterday I read an interesting and affirming Brain Pickings article, about the thoughts of famous writers on the benefits of keeping a dairy or a journal. It's worth a read.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Exhibiting and Promoting Your Art Work


I had in the past downplayed the idea of exhibiting my work, or never attempted to apply for any available artists grants. It was one of the main reasons I returned to University to complete my Fine Art degree. I needed to get out of my comfort zone, over come my fear, get over myself, my preconceived notions and misconceptions and really learn about the business of art and being an artist.

Many art students and artists are not comfortable in promoting or marketing themselves for a whole host of reasons. During our art education we are often not schooled in the marketing end of art. Art is business and we can, and need to educate, and advocate for ourselves, fine tune our skills through a number of resources, instead of the hit and miss lessons we often learn the hard way, that can be disheartening, disillusioning, and set us up for discouragement and failure; all those 'd' words.

Business skill is such an important matter for any artist. As an artist of a mature age who returned to University at 56 to complete my BFA degree, that I had started way back in the early 70s at NSCAD. At that time, there was next to nothing in the way of learning about self-promotion as an artist, or being educated in the business of art and marketing. Having the opportunity to return to art school, I did in fact see some improvements in this area, but there is still much work to be done in terms of educating and preparing the art student about self- promotion, and the fundamentals of business, particularly relating to the art world which can be very daunting.

Agora Art Gallery has a great article entitled, How to Promote Your Exhibition in 9 Steps in their blog about getting reading for an exhibition that is very helpful and informative in preparing the artist to promote their work and how to go about doing so through a number of promotional and logistical steps.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

No One's Girl - Ashley Ash

Over a period of twenty years my vocation was that of being a Youth Care Worker. People would often raise their eyebrows when I told them I worked with Young Offenders, and youth at risk as if they thought it would be the worse job in the world. The truth is, working with these kids was the easy part, it was my vocation and I was dedicated to Youth Care. Where the frustration, disillusion and heartbreak existed, was in attempting to work within the system, which was lacking in help and support for what these youth needed, and seeing them along with their families, fall between the cracks.

Here is the very powerful, hopeful, and  personal story of Ashley Ash, written in her own words. She advocates for herself, like no one else in the system ever can, or could. She is a shining light of hope, for a generation of youth within in a very broken system.

A lot of people assume that adopted children are orphans, but I wasn’t that lucky. I know my birth parents are alive somewhere in the vastness of India. Unlike an orphan, I’ll never have the relief, the closure that I imagine comes with the death of one’s parents. I know that sounds awful and of course I sympathize with orphans. I read their stories in the popular media: the orphan reunited with her long-lost sister, or the orphan graciously taken in by a rich family, never again to question her early beginnings. Unfortunately, I am not a red-headed, freckled girl whose quirky attitude attracts a Daddy Warbucks. I am one of the thousands of children born in the slums of Amritsar, India, shadowed by the majestic Golden Temple, children who are discarded by our parents because they could not afford to have another child and yet did.
Taken from India at the age of one, I was first adopted by a visiting Canadian family who were so overcome by my helplessness that they decided they had a moral duty to save me. My series of unfortunate events started upon my arrival in Toronto. My adopted mother was bipolar, depressed, and paranoid, a trifecta of mental instability. Let’s call her Mom Two. As a child I could not understand my mother’s erratic personality. I remember standing outside the door to our apartment trying to hear if she was yelling or having a fit. I got so good at it that I could almost intuitively sense her anger through the door.
I have many souvenirs of my time with her, a personal favourite being a grade school photo showing my bruised face after one of my mother’s episodes. She and my father were separated but they couldn’t stand to be far from each other, so he lived on the tenth floor of the apartment building and my mother on the eighth. My father did nothing to help me; he would side with my mother, sometimes joining her in tormenting me. When my mother got so angry with me that she couldn’t even bear to look at me, she would send me up to my father’s for the night, while telling me that men were awful and that I stood a good chance of being sexually abused one day. So I would weep and beg her to forgive me, to let me stay with her. I can still feel the cold metal stairs on my feet and the salty tears in my mouth as I walked two flights of stairs up to my father’s. He was so devoted to her that he could not see she needed serious help. He failed me as a father. I was not a daddy’s girl; I was no one’s girl. He was just the man who made my breakfast and took me to school because my mother was still sleeping when I left.
School was my only escape, six hours a day when I could be a kid, and do normal kid things, like jumping off swings and getting married to my best friend on the playground. I would wish that my kind teachers were my parents and that maybe they would like me enough to take me away from my home, but my wishes never came true.
The scars that never go away are the ones that cannot be seen. The daily reminders of my past come to me in the simplest of forms. Crying while studying genetics in biology because I don’t have a clue what my birth parents’ phenotypes are. A nagging voice in my head telling me my test scores aren’t high enough, courtesy of Mom Two. The unrelenting feeling that I am undeserving of love. These are the things I cannot forgive, the things that I usually manage to keep to myself.
I ignored the enormity of my emotions until I had no choice but to feel them. I would seem happy and fine at school, and then I would have days when I would cry in the office for hours, until I was too exhausted to move. That’s when they would lay me down and buy me a McDonald’s Happy Meal, which did, in fact, grant me some happiness.
My last stay in a foster home was the result of my mother’s worst episode. I had gotten a scab from playing on the carpet at daycare. I didn’t think it was worthy of my mother’s attention so I kept it to myself. One day while I was tipping my cereal bowl to drink the leftover milk, my mother caught sight of the scab and asked what had happened, and if I had cried. I honestly answered no. All was fine until the next evening, when my dad was home—things were always worse when the two were together. It was a couple of days before Halloween and I was watching Beetlejuice in my room, pretending I could levitate like Winona Ryder’s character. My mother started asking me again if I had cried. When I again said no, she took a pen and tried to stab me with it to see if I would cry then. Of course I defended myself, and in the ensuing struggle she cut herself. That’s when my dad stormed in, looked at what I had done to my mother, and came after me. The next day at school I tried to hide my red cheeks with a scarf, but I had to take it off in class. I thought it was very fitting that on Halloween I looked like a monster.
The school knew what to do because it wasn’t the first time. I would be put in the library to wait for the women in pantsuits to come get me and take me to the closest available foster home. They were more like taxi drivers, driving me to the home and leaving immediately after their job was done. Inevitably, my social workers and the Children’s Aid Society would send me back to my parents, and I hated them for it.
Between the ages of three and ten, I lived in a total of eight foster homes. Want to know what it’s like in the suburbs of Peterborough, Pickering, Scarborough, and Mississauga? I could tell you which schools to avoid and which families seem sweet for fostering children but really do it for the money. I can’t remember the earliest foster homes anymore, which is a blessing, but in the last one I was in, when I was ten, I remembering getting a simple radio for Christmas while the foster parents bought their biological daughter the latest game console. There is a great divide in foster homes between the “real” children and the foster children; we are always left out of family dinners, vacations, and events. I would be starting to settle into a foster home, starting to make friends, actually talking to the parents, and then I would have my monthly visits with my mom. She would nitpick and find fault, whether I was too skinny because they weren’t feeding me or I wasn’t being taken care of because my hair was too long. Nevertheless, I always wanted to go home with her. She was the only family I had, the only place I thought I belonged, no matter how awful it was. When you see children in public being abused, sometimes you wish you could go up to them and take them away from their parents, but do you think they’d actually leave their parents to go with you, a stranger? When you’re a child, you know nothing but the security of your parents, no matter what kind of people they are. You have no choice.
After the eight foster homes, the workers at the Children’s Aid Society finally decided it was best if I did not return home. Perhaps they got tired of shuttling me around, or maybe they finally realized that my home environment was not a safe place for a young child to grow. When I got the opportunity to be re-adopted, I ran after it like a dying woman coming across the elixir of life. After meeting the first potential parent, a single mother who had already adopted a child from Guatemala, I felt like I might have a chance at a normal life. Three months later, I was moved in, eager to start anew. My social workers implored me several times to think carefully about my decision. They were worried I was moving too fast, but things couldn’t move fast enough as far as I was concerned. The first thing Mom Three did was put me into therapy, to which I replied, “I don’t need it! I’m not crazy!” But after four years of her helping me through some tough mental work, I fully credit my therapist with saving my life.
My transition was not easy. Learning to love someone after the experiences I had been through took time. I would resist any physical affection, and for the first year the word “mom” was not one I uttered easily. In my mind, I felt like loving and accepting another family would be a betrayal of my old one.
Five years later I can honestly say that I am happy to be where I am: lucky enough to be loved unconditionally in a family where I don’t have to worry about what my adopted mother’s mood will be when I walk through the door. I can have normal fights with my new sister about sharing sweaters or how she takes an hour to get ready in the mornings. There are of course times when I retreat into myself and my past experiences, but those times are becoming fewer and further between. I have things to look forward to, and these things, the hope of something to come, keep me going.
I’m lucky enough to be one of the thousands of foster kids, abused children, to make it out, for the most part sane. I think it just comes down to the age-old fight for survival. Surviving doesn’t always mean fighting back; sometimes it means keeping quiet, enduring what you must to continue living. There were many times I felt like giving up—the human mind can take only so much, and although a child’s mind has a certain elasticity, mine had been pulled too taut. I remembering being so frustrated and confused in my first family that the very first time I thought about suicide I was only seven. I am so proud of myself for not plunging that steak knife into my chest that night 11 years ago, because I would not have been here, alive, thriving in my new life with my new and final family.
If you’ve ever studied math (and if you haven’t, I understand, because math is gross!), you know that a slope is the distance between one point on a graph and another. I see my life resembling a parabolic function greater than zero—a line that started at a low point but has an increasing slope. I am moving forward. I am growing up.
Ashley Ash is the winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Student Nonfiction Writing Contest, open to students in grades 9 to 12.