Wow, 2017 in the rear view mirror!


This year, for the two of us, has been a very interesting year. As we see it out in the next bit of time, we will enjoy the process of contemplating the blessings we have enjoyed. For all of you who have been part of our lives and have added to our warm memories, we are so grateful to you for being part of the mosaic. mosaic for blogI often mentioned the metaphor of a mosaic when teaching, as any individual seems to be her own artisan, breaking little colored ceramic pieces into myriad colors, seeking the proper hue for one’s current understanding of life’s picture, trying to figure out where it should be placed, all the while unsure of the final image. After more than seventy years, this simulacrum is attaining a clearer focus, one leaning towards a



 halcyon denouement.

How much do we control that image’s construction? I would like to think a significant amount, but, that is the story to be found in some future (or past?) blog. My penchant for epistemology is always blurring my own vision and it is sometimes preferable to let things flow, to listen to the wind, view the sea smoke, hear the crunch, tinkle and other chimes of the day on the way to the best wafting of scents one can ever remember. We have had our fair share. This past year has added so many.

My own tesserae seem to be coalescing around an image that points to one that has less and less motion. I think that is a good thing, for which I am finding satisfaction, maybe even resolution. We are nearing the anniversary of our reconciliation and assuaging of our common goals, the placing of all that we love, physically, metaphorically and spiritually, in one place. This does not mean that we are pigeon-holing our experiences, far from it. What we have found, though, is that it is enough much of the time on which to rely. Anything outside of the mosaic is a premium, sort of like having your Regal Card ring up a free movie, giving you a bonus experience. It has been a good year in spite of the obvious distractions. We truly hope yours, too, has been blessed, and, from the time we have spent dipping into your lives through the available social media reflections, we’ve viewed your many moments for which all of us can be thankful.

Some thoughts: Enjoyment in watching the recent Kennedy Center Awards, Norman Lear is such a blessing. How much he has guided us with his wit, moral compass and prodding. I agree with his moniker…a good belly laugh is spiritual. We need to make a belly laugh one of our most important tesserae as we place another piece in the mosaic this coming year.

Another thought: Mary and I just watched a program on Polish synagogues from the 17th and 18th centuries called, Raise the Roof. It is highly, highly recommended, but to fit in with this writing, I want to refer to what the college program leader discussed in the film. He was the head of an architectural program at an American university that ended up reconstructing a synagogue from photos, research and the very determined work done by dozens upon dozens of students over several summers who traveled to a field in remote central Europe and later to Warsaw to finish the job. Their accomplishment is now possible to view in Warsaw, in the museum constructed on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto-it is truly astounding and worth someone’s tessera…it has been added to ours.

This teacher had three universal truths he never spoke of in their entirety together. To paraphrase: Learn to love to work, for once you love to work you will never work another day in your life; Learn to love to learn, for once you love learning your life will be filled with wonderment; Learn to love to give, for when you learn to give the world and everything in it is yours. Another three tesserae for my mosaic.

One of our favorite mutual memories from long ago that is a anchor tessera that gets compared to the many new ones of the last year is a walk home from the opera in Vienna nearly four decades ago. It had snowed heavily throughout the day and was continuing through and after the performance that evening. It had not stopped the city, but had slowed it to a crawl. Workmen were out late at night maintaining the Strassenbahn rails to allow the cars to carry on. As we came out into the absolutely quiet, still night air for our walk across the 1st Bezirk to our home on the Wasagasse, huge snowflakes continued their quiet assault on every procumbent surface, leaving the city outlined in a bold white with the ground a deep, soft blanket. akkordeonThat walk home has been solace for more than half our lives and is referenced when we are reminded of all things good. This past two weeks have offered us many views to rival that night.

A fall walk in the vineyards of Alsace, a meal in the same region at the Auberge de l’Ill and shopping anywhere there is a long-necked Alsatian Riesling option in the bin in front of us connects all those earlier memories every time. Opening the door to our kitchen to greet the neighbors, the visitors from Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina visiting us this summer and fall, our return trip on the Stephen Taber this year with the Walkers to book end the one last year with the Barretts, the annual Vienna reunion with Edie, the Drapers and Barrs-with the addition of the Dawsons this year and their daughter, Mackenzie and husband, North, and son, Finn, at a later time on a trip to Belfast, the mail person and our quick exchanges, rekindling our relationships with the many people in Northeast Harbor at our little summer business, the visit with Allison, John and the kids there as well, meeting Hank Jordan on the island and his wonderful stories of his lifetime in the village, seeing Sandra King, Pat Conroy’s wife, in Ellsworth for a catch up, anyone who allows us the opportunity to engage in the outside world, each and every one of these have been part of the events from the year that pad our good memories…it always makes us happy. There were more than the usual share of good feelings this year. Our business took us to Brooklyn and Manhattan which always is a treat to reunite with old friends and we are just about to return in a short while…can’t wait.

Our internal world at 13 Mountain Street has been among the biggest of joys of 2017. Here, we have finally sorted our books and placed them in their new homes, which, after too many years of allowing them to lie fallow in their respective boxes, we found we needed so many more shelf feet of space to allow them to remain. That was its own project during the year. Now, we have even opened the jackets and perused their contents. That joy of reading by the window has been supplemented by our frequent walks down the block to the 1928 Camden Library. It was added to in the 90s by removing the adjoining hillside, Camden, Maine - October 19,2013building a whole new section under the original building in order to preserve it and then replacing the hill. It is truly a community center where we have heard great presentations and utilized their texts, audio books and videos. The much anticipated and repeated promise regarding the library has been realized, too, to sit in their comfy chairs that look at over the bay window while we peruse the periodicals with no schedule pulling us away during the day.

Using the kitchen to its fullest was another joy. In Belfast, the town to our north, is an excellent co-op that has dozens upon dozens of loose product bins from which we pull the respective levers to deliver portions of Dutch Cacao powder, organic rolled oats and coconut shavings for making granola, Basmati rice, various nuts, King Arthur whole wheat baking flour and such. There are all manner of loose ingredients for health, seasoning or scents. In the area we have about a half dozen coffee roasting operations, with Coffee On The Porch being one of our top choices when we look through our options and after having made our own sampling tasting of them all. Our local slaughter house, Curtis Meats, is one of those rare options in rural areas, a place where small farmers and ranches bring their cattle, hogs, lambs and such to be delivered to the public behind a small glass case full of the apportioned servings with wonderful local family helpers exchanging stories with their wares. As usual in Camden, any errand that you had anticipated taking ten minutes or so turns into a visit three or four times longer when you factor in the chatting time.

The Penobscot Bay continues to give us the backdrop we seek and the nearness to a body of water that we determined long ago was central to our happiness. The harbors, inlets, precipices along the shore, the mountains meeting the sea, all serve as destinations either in the early morning or just before sunset when the light is the most welcoming and filled with life. It matters not the season, though spring, fall and winter have equal claims to our love of the area. Summer is the high season in Maine, so no complaints about being here then, either, other than 40 million visitors also come across the line to swell our 1 million inhabitants count.cartoon

As we leave the detritus of 2017 where it deserves to be and look forward to better decisions, better options and new individuals of honor and deserved valor in the news, here’s hoping yours is the very best for you personally. Come visit.


#MeToo : History’s Heroines in Art and Life


In the 21st Century, we are becoming focused on gender equality in a way that feminists of the past could only hope for…the public is acting now in such a way that change is occurring at a breakneck speed, with all that that implies and all the fumbles that can occur. Are Minnie Driver and Kirsten Gillibrand the voices that need support, or are we looking for someone other than them to articulate the way forward? In basketball, one of the great coaches, John Wooden, used to say, “be quick, but don’t hurry.”

The turmoil begs for some form of discussion. My suggestion is that we use history for our guide. There, women have been pushed to the background, considered property and objects for much of history in the Western world, with the other cultures dealing with even more repressive expectations for the feminine sex. The States has been a beacon for much of what the humanists in the world hopes for for a long time until now. Our reputation, both for our domestic citizens but also for the world’s citizens, is at stake. So, the figures in history to our rescue. If we look at the 17th century figure of Artemisia Gentileschi, I feel we have an excellent metaphorical model with whom to work. The above painting can serve as her best moniker for feminism, too. Symbols can be such a powerful talisman.

In an earlier blog about a week ago, I wrote of major events occurring that changed the paradigm of society throughout history and I posed the possibility that we are in such a episode in history today. Sometimes these events are not realized at the time and are evaluated by history in a different light. There are various factors catalyzing us today, but gender issues are taking up a significant part of our cultural oxygen at present. One event that has had a significant impact on us in the past few months, one that is still unraveling the social fabric and one also with which we have not come to a comfortable resolution, is the Harvey Weinstein debacle and the fall out from it. This event has already begun its evaluation by history. Of course, the Trump presidency has spawned much of this discussion, for which perhaps this is the only example for which we can thank him for this exposure. The Resistance Movement and the color pink are welcome arrivals that are surely making America greater, though he may be a bit uneasy with taking the credit. Don’t expect a tweet on this subject….

The Founding Fathers knew of feminism as an issue and their language in the Constitution has been used to advance equality on all levels. After World War One, the right to vote for all American women and feminism had a tremendous boost in society’s discussion. Mary and I recently watched a film called, Only Yesterday. Filmed in pre-code Hollywood, it was based on Stephan Zweig and other sources and covered a woman’s life through flashbacks. It dealt with premarital sex, equality, socialism, and women as objects. Probably its most emphatic message was the use of individuals on the lower ranks of society by those in privilege. Our present discussion on these is not new, nor are they at a point of resolution. How we deal with them are important, though.

Since the postwar in America, this country faced an even more heightened struggle with feminism, even with how to define it. From the 60s forward the feminist movement has splintered, spiked and sputtered. For many of us, the most recent conflagration caused by Weinstein and the other resulting exposures of other male perpetrators has been both welcomed as well as evaluated for its intense reactions. So far, the best bull horns for the process are the Late Night and Cable Comedy hosts, most of whom are men and clearly unhappy with the state of the union. How can we forward a meaningful discussion of the issue for society that involves us all and seeks to limit the polarization that allows us to stay in our cocoons of knowledge and beliefs. Of course, there will always be those individuals and groups who remain outside of this process, though one must argue that it is the Constitutional process being expressed and that the social, political and legal processes in our American system endemically must support a reasoned decision about what is acceptable in gender relationships going forward.

It is exciting for me when an unexpected synapse occurs and two or more ideas are married. This happened recently when viewing a program in French with subtitles. It was called, Artistes femmes, à la force du pinceau or, its English title, Women Painters: Who Were They. The documentary was filmed by Manuelle Blanc, a French film maker. It is found on Amazon Prime. It covers the significant female painters from the time of the Renaissance up through the 20th century, with a nod to French female painters in the 19th century in particular for that era (now there are some real feminists!). This program encapsulated the problems women have suffered throughout history in gaining acceptance in society, and most especially women painters, and the vast forces released by society to shackle women when they broke free of male expectations. Indeed, often it was other women who supported the male dictates against unruly feminists and pushed back against gender equality arguments that would have given them more freedoms.

At the end of the blog, I’ll include a few of the paintings from the program as enticement and also to indicate the quality of the work presented. But, for the purpose of this blog, let’s concentrate on Artemisia Gentileschi, the creator of that featured painting. Hers is a story that lends itself so well to the current Weinstein saga and she has been the subject of her own controversy in 20th century interpretations by earlier historians of this age, portraying her as victim, fabulous artist and at times a slut.

She was an important figure in the early 17th century and belongs to the Baroque Era. Her image and legacy are still under scrutiny, which is why I find her story admirable and exemplary: she suffered rape, a trial, torture, humiliation and a judgment in her favor, even though the perpetrator was not punished with severity (there are competing historical accounts even of the punishment) and her stature in society was forever judged by this one incident of predation. The judgment of public opinion is always one that is quick and often ill-aimed, even though once released can be fatal.

Beyond her immediate seventeenth-century context, Gentileschi has, among all the pre-modern women artists, given us some of the most elegant and emotional representations of Baroque art. Yet, for the centuries after her death many of her paintings were attributed to males and much of her life was forgotten. The giant at the time was Caravaggio, whom she knew, appreciated and emulated. Her mother is buried in St. Maria del Popolo in Rome, just under the Caravaggio Conversion of St. Paul. Artemisia would have studied this and others as she learned from his example, even while as a young girl when she visited her mother’s sarcophagus. She even surpassed him on occasion, especially in the painting I would like to offer you as metaphor for her life, Judith and Holofernes. The two examples, one painted by Caravaggio in 1598 and the other some two decades later, follow:

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In our own time there has been an attempt to resurrect Artemisia, though even in our own society this has even met with controversy.  Note that some biographers judged her fairly harshly at the beginning of the 20th century, when men were men and in control of the scribbling of history.  Try to imagine her struggle in 16th century Italy when popes had mistresses, Machiavelli was the rage, you could be murdered for you religion (oh, we can imagine that today, can’t we) and a women’s place was in the home. A woman of stature would only be out in public dressed in her finest and with an accompanying servant to announce her stature but to also remain prudent. In spite of this, though, there are some fantastic examples of women leading in politics and royal circles and societies, even though they, too, had to suffer much scrutiny and opposition. Look at this link to see Artemisia’s other work: scroll down to the list.

That Artesia became a painter was primarily because her father was a successful painter. This was true for most female artists prior to the 19th century. By her teenage years it was obvious to him that she had phenomenal talent. The work below, completed before her seventeenth birthday, demonstrates her abilities with oil. ArtemisiaGentileschi-Susanna-and-the-Elders-1610In the early 1600s artists, mostly because of the influence of Caravaggio, were utilizing perspective in a new way, with the subjects placed off-center and dramatic angles used to direct the viewer through the painting. Her father felt she would benefit from lessons from an accomplished artist who understood this new technique and in town there was a colleague, Agostino Tassi, with whom he worked on fresco commissions. Tassi was an artist employed by the pope and nobility in Rome and was considered a great painter in his time, often doing ceilings that were so realistic in their troupe l’oeil illusions. Artemisia’s father employed Tassi to tutor the seventeen year old Artemisia in perspective painting.

During their lessons Tassi seduced and raped Artemisia, though the accounts of the incident that came from the ensuing trial are different from the accuser and accused’s perspectives, as you can surely appreciate from today’s post-Weinstein examples of controversial renditions of events presented in competing and alternative universes on the various media platforms. At that time, the relationships between men and women were not what they are today, which you can also surely appreciate. Historians therefore need to take into context much when they attempt to recount earlier incidents as do readers. That women had a very limited voice in the 17th century is a given. But, if a virgin was deflowered it was legally considered rape and could be prosecuted.

What we today need to understand in looking at the trial is that Artemisia’s father brought suit because of lost honor and that his daughter, a family possession, was dishonored, thereby dishonoring the family. Her father’s reputation was more important to him than satisfying the honor of his daughter.  For Artemisia, once it was established that she had been violated, her reputation was sullied and marriage was the only solution. Tassi did everything in his power to paint her as a harlot and some contemporary writers have taken his side in writing about the personality of Artesia Gentileschi. There have been more recently been books written and a movie made on her life, and these accounts also differ on their approach to her life, her personality and the all important trial. The transcript is still available and was used in her biography by Mary Garrard in 1998. I offer them as yet another example of how difficult the issue of women’s rights, gender equality and sexual harassment and predation are to explore. We have much further to go in this human rights issue, as is revealed on a daily basis by work at the NYTimes and others.

Before going further with this blog, perhaps you might have time to view the differing accounts of Gentileschi’s life offered in writing and film. At the very bottom is also the video produced and narrated by Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, who has spent the last three decades illuminating and enriching our knowledge through his documentary projects. The one of Artemisia is especially wonderful, covering the trial, her work, travels, family and lifetime issues.

The main focus of the blog is the linking of her most famous work, the painting of Judith and Holofernes, with the current #MeToo movement and suggesting that perhaps the movement should embrace this image and wear the T-shirts that are now available with the painting’s image imprinted on the front. It would be a dramatic statement to be sure.

The story of Judith and Holofernes comes from the Old Testament. Artists have treated this subject throughout history, but usually to portray the heroic and selfless actions of Judith in helping her people overcome a formidable foe. She was to seduce the leader, get him drunk and execute him. Here are examples from her time and before….

But, for Gentileschi, she used the theme for her own personal reasons related to the trial. It was painted immediately after the almost year-long trial experience and you can appreciate she had some very powerful emotions tied up with the rape, trial, her torture and outcome. Caravaggio had also painted the subject and she had her own twist to portraying the event.

The most provocative analysis of the painting came from Waldemar Januszczak in his 2014 series on the Baroque. His take in relating it to the outcome of the trial is that the composition is the metaphorical decapitation of male power. He looks at the arms of Holofernes and offers them as legs representing a torso of a woman and the head coming out of a womb, a unique look at the work. But, the work is without equal for its portrayal of a gruesome decapitation. Judith and her maid dispassionately complete the act with self-satisfying looks on their faces. Holofernes’ blood spouts onto the white coverlet with vicious ferocity. The Baroque is well-represented by the work of this young woman in her early twenties.  She will paint several more paintings on this theme immediately following the original decapitation. The metaphor seems fairly clear.



As we move forward with our own resolution to the gender issues of 2017 that have come to light with the assistance of the Access Hollywood Tape and the Weinstein Outing, we need to continue looking for our own heroes in this day. There are many from both genders giving us grace, articulation of the issue and possibilities for moving forward for all of us in America. I look forward to all these wonderful voices’ gifts.

Other female artists, in the examples below from the 19th century….





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Other wonderful links on Artemisia and other women artists (start with Palin’s film):  inaccuracies in the film

Fuck That Gator! BuzzFeed Article: Part 2 on American Culture

So, the title is out in the open. I don’t feel too embarrassed. If our president can choose salty language with which to utter his thoughts, I, too, can get crusty. If you have read the article, you have found “it’s complicated”. What seems obvious at first glance becomes something else the more you are informed. Thank heavens. If you haven’t read the article and are intrigued enough to invest more time, click on the above link and dive in. My own take after reading the article is that Tommie is an example of what is wrong with many citizens in America: they are too independent of the group, too lax in their appreciation for community expectations and their actions impact us and their own welfares on so many levels. Though, of all the things described in the article, his voting record and interest in politics were not covered. I suspect he is not part of the electorate. That is a good thing, actually. Would you agree?

I read the article with my own biases, but wanted to evaluate it based on it being considered for a prize in journalism. Where does it merit this accolade and what is the point of the article? First of all, it must inform. Does it need to entertain us? Should it tell us what to think about the collected information contained therein? Does it answer in the affirmative to any of these questions? If yes, it is diminished as a journalistic example of news.

So, what does it do? It tells you that a young man, drunk (how drunk? unknown. No test was administered to the corpse), comes out of a bar shortly after 2 AM. He is known at the bar and they have his welfare in mind. He decides, along with his female companion, to jump in the adjoining bayou to swim. The barmaid, who knows there have been alligators recently seen in the vicinity (because of that the owner has posted no swimming signs explicitly mentioning alligators), warns him off and pleads with him to desist. To no avail, though. Soon after jumping in he is attacked and his companion is nearby. She seeks help, 911 is called and help arrives in minutes, followed by Game Wardens, also notified in the process. He is not found immediately. It is claimed that the last thing he said to the barmaid, warning him of the danger and of alligators…..”Fuck That Gator!. (It could be argued that this is where editorializing took place…should there be an exclamation point?) There are competing ideas about this version from his family.

The lead for the article is, Tommie Woodward yelled, “Fuck that gator!” just before he was killed by one in Texas, and his death instantly became a national joke. For his family, grieving means having to rescue the person from the punchline. Okay, his death was a national joke. He was in Texas. His family wanted the public to know more than this about Tommie. But, what else follows? The character description of Tommie in the second paragraph paints him as a bit bullheaded, but others in the area had even swum with alligators in the bayou, which mitigated the threat to some degree, apparently, in Tommie or the author’s minds. We find out later in the article, though, there was real danger lurking that night in the bayou’s waters. The bartender, after trying to dissuade Tommie, went back to her duties. Our first impression of Tommie is that he is cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and he would have earned any he received. He was warned. But….

According to the next paragraph, the female companion immediately saw the gator and warned Tommie, who yelled his tombstone epitaph for all in earshot to hear. Turns out not too many heard as you read further. Did he? The companion, once he was attacked, ventured in and was told not to, after which she went inside for help. The barmaid came out with a flashlight and found Tommie after some few minutes, but he was pulled down and eventually disappeared in this first part of the incident. He was not found until two hours later. What do we, should we, think about Tommie at this time?

The next paragraph tells us this is the first death in Texas by alligator since 1836, but, more ironically and with some interesting wording (are we being entertained), the reference to the unfortunate contrast between the two deaths in that one occurred prior to television and social media on the internet. Because a lot of people took issue with Tommie’s character, his family, especially his sister, wanted everyone to know he was a person who was talented, enthusiastic, loved his nephew, worked hard and played hard in the outdoors. She said, “I was severely pissed off at a lot of people that I’ve never met before,” his sister” “I was mad at everybody.” We can all get behind her feelings after reading something on the internet, especially if it was disparaging your baby brother.

The next paragraph is a short one: But no one was affected like Brian was.

brianThe article immediately shifts from present tense to the description of the past tense when the author met Tommie’s twin brother, Brian.

The following many paragraphs that describe Brian are important. They describe his work ethic, what he thinks about wealth, employment opportunities and pay, what his skills at work are, his thoughts on rules, how much he drinks and what he can eat. He loves his mom. Is this informative? Important? What do you think so far…are you changing your original judgment? Also, how many beers are in a case? I found this a problematic question, but there is a near consensus on the number.

After the characterization of Brian is complete, the article returns to Tommie’s death and the official responses by the First Responders. It is here that the article gives the reader a more complete representation of what actually happened, the competing versions, the libertarian/mavericks who became involved, the legal ramifications and explanations for why the gator was dangerous at this particular time and who ended up killing the culprit that had drowned Tommie.

Once all of the information is provided, we, the more reasonable, find that the public reactions were too hasty, the legal response to the alligator’s killer reasoned and that, with full knowledge by all involved, even the deceased Tommie, there would be a very different version of this story.

My opinion is that this article, written by a trained individual who is at the top of his craft, demonstrates that society is best left to the experts and that we should seek to know the full story before we pop off. If we all did that outcomes would be best for the individual using the information and best for all of us….for damned sure. Bring on November’s election options for 2018, please.

@%#! That Gator? What comes First?: Our Founding Fathers Knew/ Part 1

david-brooks-large1The story about the death of a Texan that drew derision and despair. What floats our boats? Anyone tries to figure out how things work around them from the moment they become a rational being at the age of four or five, to maybe a bit later for many of us. Strike that. Rational being? This leans the discussion towards a Western concept of thinking, which, for me, is still a quandary. Being an educator for my profession, I am also a lifelong learner, but can’t escape the opportunity to pose a question for discussion and illumination. So, what floats our boats?

As Americans, we have been seeking this answer with more passion than is historically usual over the past two years. For Mary and me, the enjoyment of seeing how someone from another culture dealt with things- with money, sharing, values, food, crime, etc.- was always illuminating if one paid attention.

One of my very favorite memories is about the time we went on an outing in rural Austria. Mary and I drove out for a winter sojourn of cross country skiing and a meal, end up at a fabulous, simple restaurant to enjoy a meal that was definitely farm to table and only available during that season. Bringing the ingredients for such a meal at another time of the year from South America, Africa or Asia would have been both unreasonable from a cost effective basis, but also from a basis of elementary principles held by the restaurant’s owners, indeed also held by many Austrians… At some point I got up to use the restroom and wash my hands afterwards. In doing so, I took off my watch, at that time a not inexpensive timepiece. I forgot it there. We drove home and were more than an hour in route when I discovered the absence. We turned around and headed back, fearing the worst. Upon anxiously entering the bathroom, there it was. No one had disturbed its rest.

Another Austrian example came when Mike Marinucci’s sister visited for a holiday. Walking one day in the 9th District, she dropped her wallet containing more than $300. Mike sought the proper authorities in the neighborhood to see if it had been found and who put out the official notifications where they were expected, but nothing came of their Viennese quest. When Mike’s sister returned home a week or so later, a package containing the wallet, and the $300 intact, was waiting. There was no return address, only the reminder of honesty engrained in their culture.

These kinds of experiences were reinforced for us in many other countries and, indeed, often in our own country, especially in Maine. Having spent nearly half of our lives outside of America as anonymous ex-pats in the cultures where we lived- save for the very public sphere of the school community in which we worked and served- there is an advantage that comes from not being invested. But, in returning to the States more than a decade ago I have struggled with the investment. If one looked for information to inform investing in the stock market, sometimes they peruse the Dow Jones Average, 30 large, representative companies, whose aggregate values determine daily movement in the Dow Jones. I think we need a discussion about a Cultural Dow Jones Average, with 30 great principles and values to describe us. With this measurement today, I’m looking for my return. I’m trying to analyze our cultural market, see where the dividends will be best realized and what particular niche of the Cultural Dow Jones is worth following. I am not yet sure they are measuring the correct thirty investment options from which our culture should chose to better its values and principles at present, though.

Our Founding Fathers came up with ten options right off the bat, with number one being freedom of speech and all ways to insure that the public was offered clear and representative voices to allow us all to make choices on what the best practice and outcome could be for us, individually and as a group. This amendment, of course, has been dissected since its inception and competing versions of words’ meanings and context are important to understand such a discussion.

My own opinion is that the past two years have been most damaging for our comprehension of expectations around this first amendment. Others have, too. Steven Spielberg felt it important enough that he corralled the skills and talents of some fine actors and sought out a time in our country’s history for his current movie project when the 1st Amendment was also threatened. In early January, The Post will appear on screens in order to expose us to the story and hopefully rekindle feelings in the populace for the supreme importance of both the independence of the press, but support from the public in its mission. Many of us have binged Spotlight, West Wing or Newsroom to find sustenance. We in the country are divided on our thoughts on this topic.

Then, today David Brooks’ column centered on the Sidney Hillman Awards for Journalism. This award comes from a foundation Sidney-Award-Certificate_for-webthat was set up to honor the work of an American who started life here as an immigrant, first being born in Lithuania, which was part of the Russian Empire in the late 19th century when he was born. His work was always for the poor laborer and he championed the policies of FDR and social justice. The awards are given, one annually and the other monthly, to journalists for work on social justice themes and journalistic honesty. Brooks’ first reference in the column was about an article written in BuzzFeed by Thomas Golianopoulos called, “Fuck That Gator”. It is a very long article, one that I had no intention of devoting my Boxing Day morning to reading. But, read it I did. I hope you, too, will imbibe.

What is fabulous about the article is the journalistic rigor with which Golianopoulos attacks his story. What I hope you find and appreciate once at its end is the objective and thorough job he does to set up the story, deal with its many facets, expose all the issues that need to be explored and then give you enough information to have an informed opinion about the individuals and incidents described therein. It is truly fair and balanced, in my opinion. None of this FoxNews/Breitbart dribble that tell you what to think and give you nuicanced, half-truths and non-contextual references to slant the reader to their desired outcomes.

The story, from its title, is intriguing. But, what you will find from reading it is that there is more than meets the eye and, for me, it definitely informs my view of that Dow Jones Cultural measurement of who were are as a country. I have some thoughts about how I reacted to the individuals and incidents and, if you play along, you can look at my thoughts and see if they gained proper traction. End of Part 1


Wishing You The Most Beautiful, Joyous and Happiest of Christmases As We Look Forward to An Even Happier New Year

maryWhen one looks back to the blessings of this past year at this very special time, Mary and I have wondered at the life we’ve been given, especially this new one living on the Mid-Coast. Since finally claiming residency in Camden, for the first time in our married lives we have all our earthly possessions under one roof. Of course that means we have six or seven spatulas, a few sets of mixing bowls, perhaps a dozen pairs of scissors, too many electrical and computer connections to fit in a good-sized box, a collection of dishes and crystal, any single piece that we couldn’t possibly part with. We had to build many, many more feet of shelves to make homes for all the dozens of boxes of books we’ve become parents to over the years. We thought we’d pare them down, actually selling about six. But, within minutes of those leaving the house we lamented that choice. All now live under our cocoon and have been threatened with readership at some point.

Sorting through this collection has been a joy, especially the accumulated Christmas items dating from London “boot markets” and the Austrian years where we sorted through thousands of choices at fairs and markts that featured handmade weihnachtsmarkt-sliderworks from the Erzgebirge Region of Saxony to select a “few” ornaments, smokers, pyramids and nutcrackers. Of course, the occasional trip to Italy or France enhanced the collection and then the time in Switzerland only ballooned the offerings a bit more. Finally, we inhabited that land where all great Christmas ornaments originate now, Asia. Our six years in Taipei allowed us to amble through the stalls on the back alleys of the neighborhoods in the older part of town in Taipei, that seemed more an example of a benevolent Blade Runner metropolis, where blown glass figures were offered. These adventures featured the very traditional ornaments that hinted at the Erzgebirge, but sometimes more appealingly tugged us towards the more bizarre ones the could combine Christmas with space aliens, or have Santa riding a 1950s Ford pickup.

We finally pulled the boxes out of the various nooks and crannies into which they had been stuffed over the past twenty-five years and placed them in positions of honor around the house this year. On the mantel IMG_2795we placed the Roman-styled manger Mike Marinucci built for us nearly thirty years ago, surrounded by the creche figures accumulated from years of gifts from our dear Vienna friends. I think my favorite is the elephant. All of them were hand carved at the studio not far from the commissary that used to be located just inside the Gürtel in Wien.





Our past Christmases were blessed with trips to the center of London to enjoy the fabulous light shows it offered, to Strasbourg, and also Paris for a strangely secular approach to the holidays there, Rome and its wealth of history surrounding the event and various other locations that produced their own magic. Sometimes, we even came back to Maine for the holiday, enjoying one with Patty and Bob and their young family in New Hampshire.

For several years in Vienna, when we lived on the Wasagasse and our landlord, Dr. Eder, treated us to a trip out to his Schloss in the Wachau. We benefitted from his attempts to thin out his coniferous forest around a small pond. Our apartment on the Wasagasse had ten foot ceilings and we hauled back a 9 foot six inch tree to snuggle into the corner near the street, where we festooned it with flaming wax candles and hung it with all the accumulated ornaments of our fledgling collection. Today we have, with some chagrin, settled on the Chinese tree option, plastic. But there are the advantages that we accept from this choice. Our time with the Walkers and their love of Christmas began in Vienna and was rekindled by our fortunate proximity to Blue Ridge, their new home in Georgia, when we lived in Sweetwater.

Our first year in Taiwan completed a pledge made in Vienna some years before, when Larry Brown, who spent only two years shivering through his European Christmases, told us we needed to share a Christmas with him in Bali. Low and behold only a few years later we actually enjoyed that warm holiday with him in Ubud. We added Allison to the guest list that included Larry, Kathy and Leon. The trip allowed us to add hand carved Balinese Christmas figures to our collection, which also grace areas of the house. To have gamelan music be the holiday fare was special, as it was on other trips to Cambodia and Vietnam at the holidays. That Balinese Christmas was one of our more special holidays. Along with Christmas, then, we viewed and semi-participated in a three-day funeral, complete with a huge pyre, that culminated after a procession of dozens of triple life-sized figures of a bull and gods made of paper flowers.

Our time in Charlotte also allowed us to add to our ornament collection, as they had their form of Christmas markets. The time in North Carolina let us continue Christmas traditions with Paul and Ellie, and the Ahns. Our special time with the Phillips, whom we first met in Lugano and with whom we’d spent earlier Christmases, also continued in North Carolina. In those years, their family grew to six and the Miller family enjoyed many Christmas mornings, sometimes starting at the Phillips’ house at 6 AM in our pjs and robes to be there for the Great Unwrapping. We enjoyed a Minneapolis Christmas with them last year, having stopped to see Rina from AIS, Stephanie from TASIS, and Kathy and Charlie, also from our Vienna days, on the way up and back. The year before that we enjoyed the Bourbon Highway in northern Kentucky, where we learned much history and became great fans of Bourbon Balls. Our Charlotte and Sweetwater days brought us many special new friends whom we hope will part of our Christmases for many years to come. God bless them all.

After all of these years together, all filled with special moments, we, yet again, proclaim this one to be our favorite. Our good friends in Camden have made us so very welcome and we look forward to nurturing theirs and new friendships. Today we are nesting in a warm house full of good cheer, watching the snow come down, threatening to accumulate to six inches today in a wafting, light covering. Later, Bill and Lindsay will come over to continue their visit home from Lausanne. They have had a wonderful time in Europe and we have only scratched the surface in stories from their time there. Today we have to continue with questions regarding their trips to Strasbourg, Bordeaux, several times to Italy and the other regions of Switzerland that are on their doorstep.

Mary and I have loved, really loved, continuing our friendships with all of you through social media. For all its foibles and frustrations, these platforms are a true lifeline. In spite of my wholehearted attempts to get back to the Dickensian world of early Christmas experiences and the simpler life without all the technical distractions we suffer, the opportunity to know you across the miles and years is a true treasure. We wish you the very best in the New Year. God speed. Enjoy the lobster trap Christmas tree.


Make the Left Great Again

The Impetus for Change?: History has been described in great eras, resulting in breaks from the past. Are we now in a moment of decision? Who decides?

For the past few hundred and more years, change in the world was driven by the Europeans for the most part. During this era, technology and science were the double components chipping away at the dominance of society by the double components the church and royalty. There are many factors that also influence this equation; urbanization, exploration, industrialization, colonization, imperialism and such. All areas of the world experienced great change because of each of the factors, with some benefitting more than others and some groups of individuals in each area disproportionately gaining over their fellow citizens…sometimes by non-citizen rulers.

In those past few centuries, there have been prominent individuals who have surfaced, either because of circumstances or perhaps because of their personalities, and moved events in a different direction. This change may have occurred because of discoveries, inventions, new ideas, major battles, royal decisions and other such factors. Historians have recorded these events within the paradigms of their own eras, meaning that they interpreted the events and collected the facts and narratives in a way that suited them. History has been told through a lens that was often expedient, or at least viable to the powers controlling the dissemination of the new revised history. It is possible that after an era has evolved into a new paradigm, with new leaders, new powers, new ideas or new technology altering societies, that the later era will evaluate and describe the history of earlier eras in an altered, revised light. In fact, some things that held little prominence in their own time may be lifted to greater or even premier prominence for influencing change by later historical context. We are not always good at evaluating what is most important in our own times. Are we making significant mistakes as the events transpiring before us now ask for leadership and reasoned decision-making. History is often the source many go to in assisting in these decisions.

As we look back at history, there were times when contemporaries were unaware of how a new idea, invention or individual was going to impact the course of history. The unawares were made either less or irrelevant from the impact of some specific factor. Their job disappeared, their group or nation lost power, or they were forced to address a new attitude that could no longer be suppressed…indeed, sometimes this new attitude became the instant favorite and was adopted by a majority quickly. Note that ‘progress’ was not always the result. History has winners, but it is not required that the victor be beneficent of good for society, or the earth, in the long run. Think usage of petroleum, carbon emissions, plastic, atomic power, pesticides, and other seemingly positive additions to society that carried with them unknown and very unwanted unintended consequences. Indeed, for each of the factors I listed in the previous sentence, a short search will lead you to the hugely significant unintended consequences for each, should you not already be familiar with them.

What is certain in evaluating Western history over the past several centuries, is that the scientific method has been preeminent in forwarding its tenets, where objective truth is established through thorough observation, exploration, notation, comparisons and conclusion. We have moved our reality in a very specific direction based on this method, though we are now finding we have not considered enough in the process, both for the community as a whole and for each of its individual members. Who are the important individuals who have been neglected along the way, what ideas did not get credence, what factors were not considered. Future historians and politicians will seek to correct the misdirection that has occurred.

In my career as a historian, looking at the different eras in human experience through the millennia, where change has occurred and systems changed or societies were constructed based on new understandings, it was always more interesting to ask “what was the agent’s purpose affecting the change?” or “what was most important to the society being studied?” or “on what basis did the victors of a conflict between societies claim their solutions valid, authentic and justified?” or “Once the successful adoption of the agent of change altered society, what was gained and what was lost?…hopefully with an evaluation of comparison to follow in each instance.

In effect, this allows an individual to sort out what is important in respect to the individual living in any society and what the goals of any society are towards itself and to the other societies around it, and what consideration does any society have for all of its citizens, regardless of their status and importance to the society. This is the continuum of human history in a nutshell. Historians should also look at the creations accomplished by each of these societies, as those are how you will ultimately be measured. What were your achievements in the arts, in politics, in infrastructure, in philosophy, in science, in law and in long term goals that are viable. They should also keep in mind that a clear understanding of the impact the physical sciences have on us all. History is a human science, in that it measures human activity, which is perplexing, inexact, yin and yang, psychologically fraught and open to accident. Physical sciences apparently are not, though we are still learning of our limitations in describing epistemology. As we move into the 21st century, we find we have made many mistakes in the past three centuries. Can they be addressed, for the individual, the social systems extant in the world and the physical world we all inhabit?

Some thoughts to consider in this era of “False News” and claims of conspiracy, denial, obfuscation and siloing of the dissemination of knowledge. We seem to have far too many claims on the validity of knowledge to survive as a whole. Are we going to withstand this threat, a threat against the constitution, one empirically challenged and one, if allowed to fester and grow that could lead to a more vicious kind of civil war than we are already carrying out implicitly. We have had very difficult times in our nation’s history. Are we on the precipice of a new era, falling into it without tethers and unawares? There are people who are speaking up and sounding the alarm. Are they being heard or seen? My questions to ponder……

  1. As the world entered into the technological revolutions that have altered the earth so profoundly, both magnificently and maliciously, those who controlled the technology gained fantastic wealth. There followed an argument, one I feel is not resolved, about the concept of wealth and capitalism versus need and socialism. It has polarized often into great opposing camps, with the capitalists sometimes pulled towards fascism and authoritarianism to protect its tenets. Sometimes it has completely ostracized and alienated any thoughts of social restructuring through government means to the detriment of the ideological arguments of both the right and left. Recently, a few, some, have had a more reasoned approach to understanding the impact of technology on capitalism, but I feel we have either ducked the opportunity to address this issue or have not listened to the correct experts on how capital can and should be managed. In history, when the powers that be, whether they are royal, religious, owners of industry, robber barons or any other consumers and controllers of power, take up an unsustainable proportion of the nation’s wealth and leave the others below them to manage on an unsustainable proportion of the economic pie, change happens forcefully. The Trump election, though occasioned not from a majority of the population, but only with an electoral majority, but with one that demonstrated a hugely disenchanted group of the electorate (many or most also within the Clinton camp) who understood they were being left out. Unfortunately, too many of those in the Trump camp are not engaged enough in the self-education process to seek more viable solutions to their problems. Hopefully we are seeing a reapportionment of the Trump camp and his followers are diminishing enough to re-engage a meaningful dialogue. The Always Trumpers are looking backwards and will never get there. What is the solution that they should look towards, not for salvation, but resolution. Should they look to a more socialist resolution? Would they be better off looking at those countries that employ this system within the economic and political worlds? Some sources to consider…

Reclaiming the State

Factors that comprise politics are many. What is never extracted from politics is the economic factor. What a political decision will cost should always factored into the final equation.

Frederick Cayley Robinson: How does an artist make choices in subject matter, color selection and the message one wishes to convey through his art?

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationIf you love being introduced to new faces, observing for the first time a person’s work and enjoy surprises found in it that add to a body of knowledge you thought you had some Frederick Cayley Robinson Tutt'Art@ (1)modest appreciation and control of, then the story of Cayley Robinson should intrigue you.

He was of English descent, but his lifestyle took him to various places for periods of time where he both enjoyed and gained from the culture into which he temporarily settled. Being born in 1862, he was already destined to experience a lifetime filled with change, volatility and no small percentage of disappointment. His full name was Frederick Cayley Robinson and he lived until 1927, choosing as his profession painter and illustrator. As he traveled extensively, he was exposed to Europe’s great art, both its roots found in Florence, as well as its 19th century contemporary driving force, Paris, while also being influenced by the introduction of the Japanese print to Western thinking.

The volatility found in broader society was most profoundly felt in the world of art. From the mid-century on, artists were utilizing a mix of the ancient myths, looking back in themes called Historicism, flourishing through Romanticism, breaking rules in Impressionism, which went into Post-Impressionism, and the myriad branches of Western art that arise out of each attempt to push the envelope of “what is art”.

For Robinson, he found success in treasuring the past, but was most interested in moving away from realism and putting some mystery into his art. As the art world of the mid-19th century moved on, his work moved towards a stylized, mystical representation of scenes that were enigmatic and symbolic. While he enjoyed very good success during his lifetime, he only secured three one-man shows in his career, and was recently (2010) given a showing in London at the National Gallery, with this being a rare museum showing. The National Gallery exhibit was his first museum showing since 1977.

His work, while well-known and loved in his lifetime, has withdrawn to the storage of our minds and museum basements in recent times. At that exhibit, the National Gallery provided context to his own art experiences found in his travels and study by showing alongside Cayley Robinson’s works, National Gallery paintings by Piero della Francesca (The Baptism of Christ, 1450s), Sandro Botticelli (Four Scenes from the Early Life of Saint Zenobius, about 1500) and Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, who was his mentor at the Academie St. Julien in Parissummer(Summer, before 1873) by his teacher, Puvis.

When I explored those components of his life- travels, study and work- this partial unpacking led me to many questions and a blog, one of my own fun pastimes of late. Thinking back to the brackets of my life, which takes me to last mid-century, then adding another person’s life of that same length to my own birthdate, taking us back to the late 1800s, with only a third person added again to that roll and date to get us to the time just before Robinson was born, I pondered many things about his life that I could not uncover in my research through this one thought. Intriguing, isn’t it, that he could have lived his life and through some happenstance met an individual, perhaps in the 1920s, who, young in the 1920s, could have lived to overlap my own life. Then, this acquaintance of mine could have passed on all he knew of Robinson to me in my young life. Alas, that is not the case. But historical time moves quite quickly when viewed in this context.

I do now have the modern opportunity my younger self did not have, Google, the Worldwide Web and my own accumulated knowledge of art to ask some questions, make some observations and exhibit my own little showing of Robinson’s accomplishments for the small viewing public overlapping my own static/moving spark of inspiration and exposure on MaineMusings. Can we know him better just through viewing his work? By adding all we know together, I would like to speculate a bit and enjoy his work while doing so.

The first speculation: If those ghosts of the past could speak to us, what would they tell us? He was born in Brentford, Middlesex, which is now where the M4 motorway cuts through western London on its way out to Heathrow and beyond to Surrey, roads Mary and I have traveled often. His own childhood would have allowed him to wander the streets near the Thames, in Richmond. Perhaps he wandered through Kew Gardens: did his ghost look over our shoulders as we, too, ambled along those same paths some years ago?

His early studies took him to the St. Johns Wood Art School, located on Elm Tree Road just behind Lords Cricket Grounds. Again, Mary and I trod the streets of St. Johns Wood when we worked at the American School of London where we surely crisscrossed his spirit. There are pubs in the area we visited that he might well have frequented when he was a student in his twenties at the school: perhaps we sat in the same seats. Alas, the school closed in 1951 and the area has now been taken over by individuals who can afford the very rich price tag of a home in St. Johns Wood, home to the Beatles’ Abbey Road Studios.

In Robinson’s early life, one that triggered thoughts of art, what other factors moved his decision-making? In his twenties, rolling into his early thirties, he went to Florence, Paris, Cornwall and Scotland. These are among Mary’s and my favorite spots, too. He stood in front of many of the works of art we love, some of these works barely dried from their completion when Robinson first saw them, others still in their original locations in Florence having lived there for more than three hundred years at that point. The two of us surely shared the same floorspace when making our respective viewings of  these fabulous works. What did he think, how did he process the lessons found within each work and how did he incorporate the works of Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo, Raphael and the other giants of the Renaissance that peek through much of his work? He, too, must have gone through his own transformation, like Michelangelo did, while viewing the Brancacci Chapel across the Arno. It was here that Michelangelo earned and received his broken nose. What lifelong attachment was carried by Cayley for him to use in his work?

Again, what happened in Paris when he studied at the Academie St. Julien? This school was avant garde in so many ways:




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allowing females to study art, too, often alongside the men as they pursued all manner of radical approaches to art. That Paris at this time was part of the volatility of 19th century life is an understatement of huge proportion. It had suffered immensely during the Franco-Prussian War and the war’s aftermath of the Commune, when competing empires and political beliefs led to sieges, eating rats, escapes by balloon, and executions against the wall of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery. While the war and commune were more than a decade in the past of Robinson’s own experience there, his teachers were certainly formed by the world of 1848 to 1872 Paris, which was witnessing so much change. One important influence in his life, Puvis, certainly had an intriguing exposure to France’s world of art and himself influenced it mightily. 1886_group_portrait_Academie_JulianCould Robinson be in this photo from the early 1880s reflecting some students of the school?

In art, there were radically competing thoughts and approaches. At this time (1870s and 80s), though not very well respected in Paris, were the Impressionists. There was already the English school of Pre-Raphaelites, who in their own way were rebelling against expected conventions taught at the major academies. These schools, influenced by technology that saw photography bring new innovations to culture and brought painters into discussions about its usefulness to their own medium. The St. Julien, like the Wiener Secessionist  Movement that will shortly follow this Parisienne school’s lead, influenced so much of what happens throughout the world of art because of its work. Or, by the chemical revolution that brought new colors to the artists’ palettes and the pliable metal tube that contained them that allowed artists to venture out from the studio into plein air. The art world was beginning its wild ride in many directions that continues to this day.

Robinson veered from one to another, will ultimately choose a particular style in much of what he will do. In the discussion about the nature of art, its purpose, what should its subject be, should it be commercially viable, who was its audience and what message should be transmitted through its images, of course, Robinson engaged in all these questions.

He is labeled as a Symbolist. This means that he considered the Pre-Raphaelites, but didn’t agree with their dismissal of genre painting. He loved the Impressionists, but they were too tied to the real world. He loved the Renaissance, but he was pulled often to the mythical elements of its artists and loved to bend the rules of perspective on occasion. The mystical use of coloring he employed took him to the outer fringes of all artists, and he often had one or more of his subjects in his painting confronting the viewer with their gaze out into the present, much as Titian210px-Pala_pesaro_03 did in the Pesaro Altarpiece. Here Titian brought the future generation of the donor into the present, for all time. What did Robinson want to achieve when he employed this maneuver in his art?


Walter_Langley_-_Between_The_Tides_1901He spent time in Cornwall, with the Newlyn School, but could not completely remain true to their goals of capturing everyday life along the Cornish coast, as, when you look at his work, he will move towards the mysterious in many of his paintings. He even spent two years living on a yacht to capture life at sea and in coastal villages. He taught in Scotland and eventually returned to London to illustrate, paint murals, do commissioned work and exhibit in galleries on his own volition. He died there in 1927.Lansdowne_plaque

In his lifetime, with Dickensian perspectives on society found in abundance, wildly gyrating artistic viewpoints offered throughout Europe and America, changing economic and social ideologies offered to governments and citizens either peacefully or violently, and technology’s ever persistent push towards a future that could not easily be resisted, Robinson sought to find his way through this life in his own way. I think he was uneasy with it all as you view his art. I think he appreciated comfort, the past, great skill, fine meals, good friends and a crisp claret served in crystal. That he suffered poor politicians, the failures found in the fast growth of the large cities of Europe, wars of historical proportions and exposure to a pace of change that has only been eclipsed by our recent technological changes since 1990 must have accompanied him in thought as he sipped his wine.

When his most recent exhibition was mounted at the National Gallery in London in 2010, there was every effort made to present his work through a reasoned analysis. Let’s excerpt an article from the Guardian that attempts just this and place each picture next to its analysis. I will add my own thoughts, too….

Cayley Robinson’s art now appears bizarre to the point of baffling, as opposed to quite easily understood. This does not seem to have been the case in his own day (he was born in 1862) when critics praised his timeless idylls and allegories as if they presented no mysteries whatsoever. You can see why, of course: with their cool clear tones and deliberately positioned figures, each carefully contained in outline, every scene looks perfectly lucid. Yet something odd or irrational always threatens the composure.

Pastoral 1923-4 by Frederick Cayley Robinson 1862-1927Three figures stand on the edge of a lake with a flock of sheep (Pastoral, 1923-4). They clearly represent three generations, as echoed by the three generations of sheep. But the child is staring straight out at you as if she wasn’t in an allegory, the dying sun is casting a neon glare on the water so loud it shatters the silence and one of the sheep is about to bump its nose on the gunmetal surface of the lake. In the distance, a windmill pops up as if this cycle of life was taking place somewhere in the Netherlands.

sewingTwo women sit in a bare wintry room with a view of the dark city outside. The window opposite is cheerily lit – as in the bright side of the street. It looks a straightforward homily: women without men, perhaps widows, reduced to seamstressing to keep body and soul together. But the sewing machine on the table is so superbly painted in all its black ungainly force that it upstages everything else. A future in surrealism beckons. (In my own contemplation, Robinson has one figure confront you, the viewer, in the future, whenever that might be. Is he unhappy with their options? What judgments are being made about their lives?)

At first it seems as though some of these anomalies are hapless or cack-handed; plenty of effects in art are accidental. But not when one encounters the central works of the show: four vast oil paintings commissioned for the entrance hall of the Middlesex Hospital in London, on the theme of Acts of Mercy, that are fraught with internal tensions.




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Two split-screen panels show a procession of orphans, all sad-eyed and identically dressed in blue and white uniforms, winding their way through the orphanage refectory to receive identical bowls of milk. They could be little nuns – or little nurses – in their starched aprons. Calm, clean, orderly, serene: the ideal vision, the ideal conditions, for a hospital.

But one of the orphans breaks the frame, turning to look directly at the viewer. She is all pensive sadness. Nurses at the Middlesex, exhausted and frightened by the spectacle of death on the wards, have reported identifying with this girl as they passed her in the hall. Another orphan droops her head, disconsolate; those queuing on the staircase could be descending into a tomb, so sepulchral is the room with its massive walls. The panel on the left recalls Leonardo’s The Last Supper in its composition: the panel on the right is filled, so to speak, with emptiness – blank wall, bare table, vacant floor. The quality of mercy appears extremely strained.

How to read the tone of these paintings, made between 1915 and 1920 (the hospital’s purpose during this time was to heal, as best it could, the surviving victims of The Great War)? It gets even harder with the next two pictures, which show the hospital itself from the outside. Here the wounded of the First World War are arranged on the steps in their “convalescent blues” – loathed regulation garments – like figures in a Renaissance fresco, except that they are blank-eyed and listless. (We now know these damaged men were going to live a their remaining life woefully unsupported in their attempts to deal with both their physical and psychological wounds…did Cayley understand that as he worked on this commission?)

In the strange balance of this painting, as much weight is given to a patient as to his carpet slippers, and each man is cast as a type. It is an enactment, staged, distanced, almost alien in its ascetic clarity: an empty performance of real life.

It has been suggested that the doctor in the final painting is some sort of self-portrait, though I can’t see it myself. He raises his hand in blessing over a bandaged child and her kneeling mother, as if elevated to secular messiah. Is this sardonic or sincere, this vision of a world in which religion has been usurped by medicine? The meaning remains elusive.

But the bug-eyed gargoyle of a dog in that scene undermines the apparent piety of it all, like the self-possessed cat in the middle of the orphanage. The elements of these paintings are always pulling in opposite directions. You could make an atheist or a pacifist out of Cayley Robinson, you could deduce a contempt for doctors who see themselves as gods, for hospitals as grand as palaces, for a system in which patients are dressed like convicts. But you could never say he was putting politics before the patient’s need for visual calm and clarity.

What do they feel, what do they think? All the answers are frustrated. Why is there a grandiose equestrian statue on the right? Who is the emaciated figure in evening dress? No doubt Cayley Robinson had been looking at Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ – 526px-Piero,_battesimo_di_cristo_04which the National Gallery has introduced into the proceedings as if it were a piece of evidence – but that still silent masterpiece offers no clues for anyone trying to enter into the artist’s thinking.

The look of Cayley Robinson’s paintings, so distinctive, so clear, turns out to be much more than a synthesis of past art. It is precisely what allows subversion to hide in plain sight.

RETURNING TO THE BLOG AND ME: Looking at more of his work in the following section, I will pose some questions for us to consider, which, in their asking allows for bias in the viewer. If you have a few more to add, please comment to add to the discussion if you wish.

In the following painting, called Winter Evening, three females of various ages, one most likely the mother, pass the time. There is obviously an issue consuming the trio and it does not seem as though it will be resolved. The female near the window is also involved with a pamphlet or magazine. They share an uneasy understanding of some recent passing. Why the harp?

a winter evening

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

another painting with one figure addressing the viewer…what takes precedent in the work’s next moment: the next checkers move, the repose being served, a comment from the seamstress or the comment from the girl looking at us, who seems to have been interrupted by her thoughts by us, just walking into the room?


this painting reflects the artist’s view of the languishing sailor, viewing a huge liner in the distance. Does he bemoan its presence or wish to be on it?

frederic-cayley-robinson-to-pastures-new-dawn Cayley Robinson Tutt'Art@ (1)

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past” OR “The Past Isn’t Dead. It Isn’t Even Past”: Obama, Faulkner or Sullivan..follow the words

Recently, Mary and I began watching the new offering on Netflix called Mudbound. mudbountIt’s story takes place just at the end of WWII, following individuals whose lives inhabit the community of Tupelo, Mississippi. This community has had a checkered history in its contribution to the racial events that define this country’s past.tupelo_ms Elvis was from here and he acquired his fame from singing black music as a white man.  Overall, for its reputation regarding race relations, Mississippi is not a state forwarded as a proponent of racial diversity and acceptance, yet Tupelo is one that could judge its white citizens in more favorable terms in comparison to other whites in the country.

After getting to know two characters in the film who went off to fight in World War Two, one a white Air Force bomber pilot and the other a black tank commander, we are aware that life in Europe, while dangerous, was also very different from Tupelo. Their return home after the war is a shock for both men. They will end up appreciating their past connections through war more than their past divisions fomented on racial suspicions and expected hatred and become friends, albeit they have to forge and maintain this friendship in secret.

After only about a third of the film, though, it was apparent where its storyline must go, which made continued viewing for me untenable when placed against our own present American condition regarding race. Yet, Mary did return to it later to muscle through the inevitable white-might over black lives and to work through the film to the end. The resolution of the racial issues brought out in the film were not unlike what happened to many blacks facing the post war US paradigm that was miss flagchallenged by exposure to other approaches in the post war South. This paradigm was challenged due to increased scrutiny by the American public that led to changes, be those ever so slow in their expository unravelling. Note that the Mississippi state flag is still one in need of altering, in my opinion. From here, though, let’s move this blog to our own world of 2017.

What I wondered centered around the nature of race relations in the States in 2017, not 1946, and also when and why such a film found traction in its being pitched, written and filmed. Surely its life started before the Trump phenomena proved to be more prevalent in the body of the populace than one would have ever expected when Hollywood was considering this story. In the seventy-plus years since the end of the war, we have gone through tremendous change, but we now know there are sinister forces endemic in the branches of the tree of the republic and these forces probably pass down through the trunk to its roots. Yet, as I did a little research to support my own thoughts, it became apparent this blog would combine race, libertarian thinking, tribalism, technology and economics to make sense of what is happening, at least for me.

Regarding race. During the tenure of the first black president, there was a decision by the Supreme Court, in Shelby County vs. Holder, to weaken the provisions of the voting rights act, signed during the first year of LBJ’s tenure. What was at stake in this decision was exceptionally well-described by Professor Ekow N. Yankah  of the Cardozo Law School. Obama, also chagrined by the decision, reacted to it in one of his rare speeches during his presidency that dealt with race. Obama, one of our true intellectual presidents, slightly misquotes Faulkner,

but wants the public to understand Faulkner’s message and hope, that, eventually, America will find racism to be the lie that it is. The author might be saddened to travel forward seventy-five years and view its present iteration of his quote still unheeded. Go Down Moses is still relevant, isn’t it. Like Faulkner’s thoughts about options open to Southern blacks, a move away from the South in Mudbound is the option chosen by them, but where in America can a 2017 black move?

The reaction to Obama’s speech came in many forms. Of course, we are still reacting to it more than a decade later. When researching the impact of the Shelby County vs. Holder decision, including Obama’s reaction, Yankah’s explanation and the court reactions, I found one in particular, by Andrew Sullivan, to be the most interesting. Andrew Sullivan is an intriguing example: a Brit who became an American, a gay Republican who first embraced the Iraq War and now finds it a terrible mistake, a person who disdains ideology and who makes claims to positions that are ideologically rooted. It seems his fallback stance is libertarian/self-serving, allowing him to morph as needed. Here is another description of him by his own pen: “Perhaps I’m biased because I’m an individual by default. I’m gay but Catholic, conservative but independent, a Brit but American, religious but secular.” Hmmm

Sullivan’s response to Obama’s speech in 2008 brought me to him and this blog. His article then dealt initially with the quote President Obama slightly paraphrased. Obama spoke of “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” The actual line is, “The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past”. This article evoked a response which then analyzed the quote, its context and several other works by Faulkner in order to clarify the Southern approach to culture and history and the difficulties found in looking at this region through those two lens simultaneously. It is a wonderful exercise to follow.

In doing this, I was intrigued by Sullivan and returned to his work and issues he has found dear to him. His voice is one of the few Conservative ones that needs airing (even though his inconsistency in remaining true to his beliefs is often maddening), along with Brooks, Will and a few other Never Trumps, who knew early-on the damage the present tenor of the messages supported by the extremist base would wreak on the future hopes for the GOP. The GOP’s recent decision on taxes is further proof of their long drawn out seppuku.18-toc-tribalism.flag

In tracking Sullivan from that 2008 appreciation of Obama, it is especially interesting to see how he morphs over the next nine years as the problems and issues he faced in the 2008 discussion were either gone or had altered into non-recognition by 2017, or that what changed in politics was so far out of his periscopic view in 2008 that he is trying to make sense of the unfathomable mess that is now the GOP. What I found is that he is altering his discourse by the month. What he might have found offensive or objectionable in the summer of 2017, Sullivan now seems to be employing himself.

For instance, one of my favorite authors this past year has been Ta Nehisi Coates. Sullivan, too, admires his views, though he was critical of the corner Sullivan thought Coates had painted himself into when he wrote, only back in mid-September of this year, this:

“This atmosphere can affect even the finest minds. I think of Ta-Nehisi Coates, the essayist and memoirist. Not long ago, he was a subtle, complicated, and beautiful writer. He could push back against his own tribe. He could write critically of the idea that “there never is any black agency — to be African-American is to be an automaton responding to either white racism or cultural pathology. No way you could actually have free will.” He could persuasively push against “nihilism and paranoia” among his own, to champion the idea of being “critical, not just of the larger white narrative, but of the narrative put forth by those around you.” He could speak of street culture as someone who lived it and yet knew, as he put it in an essay called “A Culture of Poverty,” that “ ‘I ain’t no punk’ may shield you from neighborhood violence. But it cannot shield you from algebra, when your teacher tries to correct you. It cannot shield you from losing hours, when your supervisor corrects your work.” He could do this while brilliantly conveying the systemic racism that crushes the souls of so many black Americans.

He remains a vital voice, but in more recent years, a somewhat different one. His mood has become much gloomier. He calls the Obama presidency a “tragedy,” and describes many Trump supporters as “not so different from those same Americans who grin back at us in lynching photos.” He’s written about how watching cops and firefighters enter the smoldering World Trade Center instantly reminded him of cops mistreating blacks: They “were not human to me.” In his latest essay in the Atlantic, analyzing why Donald Trump won the last election, he dismisses any notion that economic distress might have played a role as “empty” and ignores other factors, such as Hillary Clinton’s terrible candidacy, the populist revolt against immigration that had become a potent force across the West, and the possibility that the pace of social change might have triggered a backlash among traditionalists. No, there was one meaningful explanation only: white supremacism. And those who accept, as I do, that racism was indeed a big part of the equation but also saw other factors at work were simply luxuriating in our own white privilege because we are never under “racism’s boot.”

The excerpt came from this article, written September 19, 2017, in the New York Magazine. The article’s title, America Wasn’t Built for Humans:Tribalism was an urge our Founding Fathers assumed we could overcome. And so it has become our greatest vulnerability, opined that we have congealed into two, distinct political tribes in America. Sullivan wonders if we can survive this shift. His description, though, was one of white vs. the other, and that it was basically the rural center, Protestant Evangelical Christians and South of America versus the left and right coast and urban-dwellers. Statistics may support this, but I think he has simplified the matter too much. For him, Coates had become more of a tribalist black. Sullivan claimed the GOP, regardless of the protagonist’s Christian views, supported candidates who were now isolationist, anti-immigrant, anti-federalist and were rooted to demographics. Those in rural areas who were white were backing anyone who would MAGA.

I, though, harken back to “it’s the economy, stupid”, to return to one of the factors I listed at the beginning of the blog. We have watched the rural/urban, coastal/central, Northern/Southern split impacted by immigration, yes, but its main component has been the evisceration of the economic base in the rural areas. Towns’ centers hollowed out, big-box stores on their edges, the internet delivery system growing out of UPS/Louisville or FedEx/Memphis, corporate farming, cheap products brought in by container, shrinking manufacturing that depleted all forms of manual labor’s value, and less and less support for higher education in solving this rural dilemma. If you left the sticks to get a college degree, chances were that you stayed where you got the degree, in a city. If you stayed out in the country to pursue work, the jobs keep disappearing or were paying less or were moving to “right to work” states near a city in those states.

After thirty or forty years, we now see the individuals left in the country living life within twenty miles of home, rarely venturing any further than the local college town and football stadium. This sort of supports Sullivan’s tribal thesis. But, I hope he is wrong about the White/Christian/educated/rural/American. I don’t believe they are racist, they are, in my opinion, afraid of the loss of their power, economically and politically. Yes, there are racists, though those seem to be the less educated, still behind their Willful Wall of Ignorance that allows them to strike out as they wish. Those individuals are now out in the open, though, aren’t they.

Where the traditional Republicans are conservative, it means they wish to have a comfortable life free of economic stress, with hopes of planning for a future that is not threatened by loss of income or debasement of property value or shrinking of savings or retirement hopes. They also do not like, even distrust, a large central government making decisions for them (even if many of them benefit from government programs and support).  This rural paradigm has had all three of these factors attacked for years now and those regions’ inhabitants have been looking for the villains who caused it. I feel they have been lazy in finding out who the culprits really are/were. They shouldn’t be voting Republican if their own self-interests are really considered.

Getting back to Sullivan and our tracking of race, libertarian thinking, tribalism, technology and economics, I outlined at the beginning of the blog, he seems to be pushing more towards the rural, Red American into a libertarian/tribal/Neanderthal, buffeted by technology that is threatening their values.

After his September article, he wrote this in October. We were heading for the abyss. The last two sentences of this article: And do not underestimate the stamina of the psychologically unwell. They will exhaust you long before they will ever exhaust themselves.  It seems here that he was judging the Red states inhabitants as harshly as Coates. His frustration at that time led to apocalyptic proclamations.

He has finally come around in November to this after the election for governor and state seats in Virginia. He still feels the tribes are there, and that may be the case since technology and the siloing of groups into webpage platforms, FB likes, radio program preferences and the spoutings of FoxNews all push a narrative of exclusivity and fear. Let’s hope the next few months’ revelations about the true nature of GOP governance and Trump’s actual involvement in behind the scenes political maneuvering are countered by sound decisions by the Democratic Party in articulating a program that deals with the economy, infrastructure, tax reform (with progressive liberal redistribution that makes society economically fairer and more just), immigration and minorities, in a clear and rational way. In other words, to ameliorate the effects technology has had on the rural areas and give the lower and middle classes a leg up in support. The field and legal/legislative system has been slanted for far too long in favor of the corporations and banks. They’ll do just fine as have all banks and corporations in European countries. The populism and nationalism rife in Europe and America needs to be tempered.

Sullivan ends in November with this: The power of the red minority does not look as if it’s waning; it’s just being more successfully countered. It’s still dangerous and potent, just currently on its heels. In other words, relief is fully justified. Complacency isn’t.  Looking forward on so many levels to November, 2018.

Enjoy the following links:   obama quote article

Sullivan excerpts: It’s not a surprise, then, that once-esoteric neo-Marxist ideologies — such as critical race and gender theory and postmodernism, the bastard children of Herbert Marcuse and Michel Foucault — have become the premises of higher education, the orthodoxy of a new and mandatory religion. Their practical implications — such as “safe spaces,” speech regarded as violence, racially segregated graduation ceremonies, the policing of “micro-aggressions,” the checking of “white privilege” — are now embedded in the institutions themselves.

AND     The rhetorical extremes have already been pushed further than most of us thought possible only a couple of years ago, and the rival camps are even more hermetically sealed. In 2015, did any of us anticipate that neo-Nazis would be openly parading with torches on a college campus or that antifa activists would be proudly extolling violence as the only serious response to the Trump era?

Retort to Sullivan in Slate