The Gift of being Thankful

A culture left behind?

It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything. One can construe I’ve nothing to share because in the areas of art and music I now lack common sense. But, in my defense, I share a new page on improvisation covering the use of the Alternate Bass and I am starting an new section of my own arrangements! You can look for them under Improvisation and Arrangement tabs.

4WH7044_largeI’ve been teaching drawing to a lovely young adult. The subject about clouds came up and I was explaining to her that as clouds approach us they are higher and farther up from the horizon line and this is very evident when viewing mackerel clouds. She had no idea what mackerel clouds. I explained these clouds signified wet weather in 36 hrs. She had no concept of forecasting weather before the age when satellite/radar imaging is seen on smartphone.

The youth of our country are missing out on a great deal of life experiences. Fewer go to orchestral or traditional, acoustical concerts, they don’t wait weeks for their favorite book to arrive via media mail, they don’t learn social skills by working out differences on a pickup softball or football game in the backyard and they occupy themselves most often by playing or communicating with digital devices.

A better Gift

You see images of children frantically ripping off giftwrap to get to the present. They see it and maybe ooh and ah a bit and then immediately go on to the next gift. They don’t comprehend the time, expense and or thought that went into the gift. When there is so much offered to them, they can’t seem to value that there was a cost to the gift. There was an expectation that the gift is to advance the enjoyment and development of the child.

It comforts me to know that children still prefer printed books over e-readers. Parents still value the importance of music lessons, especially piano. Children still like to express themselves artistically with hands on material. With the frenzy of gift giving, you would hope parents revert to the tried and true giving of gifts. Christmas and birthdays were never complete unless we received a book. Some years there were a few more presents, often just one or two more (and one or both were often clothes). My parents did well trying to give us one thing we would really use. It’s hard to go wrong with books, music lessons, art classes or archery instruction. These expand the child’s world through words or improves their sense of accomplishments and helps eye, hand and mind coordination through the mastery of a skill. Yes, these are often solitary pursuits, but they are shared socially. By the way, if one of us children in my family struck out in the present department, we still better not make faces, pout or not be thankful because giving thanks is giving back a gift in return. After all, even God thinks it is wrong to be unthankful (2Timothy 3:2 “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy…”). Much of our news is generated by stories of unthankfulness. It seems as if everyone is focused on how they are offended or unappreciated instead of being thankful for a country where they can express themselves and have the option to choose how they will live their life.

So, think about your gift giving, may you have a good response. Here’s a link to a past post about thanksgiving. Be Thankful!!

Advertisements

What IS Art?

The Artist
This has been a very revealing week for me.
Earlier, while reading posts to the Portrait Painters LinkedIn site, I found out some artists trace their work, then paint. I suppose it’s okay as long as the client understands the process. Somehow I have a feeling that I am part of a group of artist whose entries that are based on tried-and-true artistic tradition are competing with those who use projectors or worse – they print out the work on canvas and paint over it!!

“The Discovery” by Norman Rockwell

When this reality hit me, I felt like the boy in Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Discovery.” The truth absolutely shattered my fairytale expectations. Is it really unrealistic to expect an artist to draw his or her artwork? I’m not talking about someone who draws their original layout and then stencils to a final surface or uses a projector to enlarge it for a large-scale mural. The concept is theirs.  Tracing photos is hard to call original. Though I can’t seem to wrap my arms around the practice, I suppose it’s okay as long as the client understands the process.

The Art
Then, bringing up Rockwell’s work refreshed my memory of another revelation. I ran into a woman who said Norman Rockwell was not an artist, he was just an illustrator. Now, this cut me to the quick since that was my artistic thrust at the time. I was young and impressionable, but I asked myself, “Isn’t all art illustration?”  It illustrates places, people, vocation, moods, fantasy, aspirations, social issues.  The list is endless. I’ve heard people like to make such comments to impress others about their knowledge of art. Sure, I wouldn’t want to be remembered for just the painted logo on a van I did, but illustrative art can be very complex and demand high artist skills. Rockwell’s imagination and skill are seen above.

No one questions calling the sculptor an artist. Why, even hair stylists are called artists today. Maybe the word “artist” has lost some of its meaning. If a person renders a creation in or on stone, metal, paper, canvas or whatever, they’re an artist. If they copied a work or photograph, they’re a copyist. How good of an artist they are can depend on the viewer and the artwork. But if Reader’s Digest wanted to use “The Scream” by Edvard Munch for their cover would you have to call Munch an illustrator?

I would love to hear from critics and artists – is copying art? Is Illustration art?

What should we do with talent?

Where does talent come from?

 

I won’t try to pull a fast one on my readers or string them along with scientific studies (though many are interesting). I can only say,“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”(James 1:17) Now, I know this text refers to God’s gift of salvation and care for His children; however, “And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?” (Ex 4:11)   If God decides who will be dumb or seeing, He can easily decide who is artistic or musical, or struggles to appreciate creativity.The source may not be so elusive, but the why behind creativity remains.

 

Maybe more important – what do we do with talent?

Don’t you find it strange how differently people react to the arts and talented people?

Capture1Some are totally clueless in understanding what goes into a performance or project.

When I was the sole musician for a church and was accompanying two choir numbers, two other musical pieces, playing three Offertories plus attending the rehearsals and accompanying worship singing for three services each week, the music director looked at me in surprise when I mentioned I had to practice several hours each week.

Someone asked an artist how long it took for him to paint a picture and he replied, “All my life.” What a great response that is a bit tongue-and-cheek and yet it is all very real at the same time.

There is a lot of loneliness, too. We are those as children who brought home reports cards reading, “Loves to daydream,” “Great motor control but unrealistic use of color,” “Loves singing and sings with authority” and “Work well independently.” I remember the lonely hours as a stay as home mother. It probably didn’t hit me as hard as those personalities that need socialization. My poor children went to bed at 8 in the evening and I would begin painting (When your spouse works 2nd shift, you are almost a single parent) and would paint until my husband came home in the early hours of the morning. While church members socialized, I was practicing with those preparing their musical specials for upcoming worship services. I don’t say these things demanding pity, I am speaking a reality. Artists paint, sculpt, compose, write and practice away while peers shop, party and go to sport/art events.

Life experiences can bring lack of understanding and appreciation on the part of the viewer/listener. So people at recitals and show openings romanticize over the exciting life of artists and refuse to see the reality when an artists state that it can be a bit tedious (Don’t think so, ask Michelangelo when the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling was “unveiled.”) Don’t get me wrong, the tedium is worth it to the artist who has the result in his heart and mind.

In the late 1800’s there were over 2,000 piano makers in the country! Every household wanted a piano. Sacrifices were made to own one. Almost every house that had a piano had a child who took lessons. Playing piano was not only a form of entertainment, it was a status symbol. To some people it portrayed wealth, to others it meant refinement and an extra incentive for someone to marry plain old Betty. You can almost feel sorry for the nine-year-old boy who drops his fishing worms when his mother pulls him by the ear into the house for piano practice (lovingly, of course!). Now there were the good old days of discipline against selfish impulses for long-term gains.

Girl with a Pearl Eariing - Vermeer

Girl with a Pearl Eariing – Vermeer

Today we are overloaded with art that seemingly has no cost to it. The painting may be beautiful, but it can be easily mass-produced. The rare voice can draw tears, however, with a touch of a button it’s gone viral and everyone hears it.

Thank God there are patrons who do appreciate the object that delights their eyes and the nuances of sound that move them emotionally. I’m glad there are museums. Those hallways of subtle lighting drown out the noise of cheap entertainment and busy lives and make the viewer focus on life as seen through the artists. Sometimes it’s a life we may have forgotten.  I often wonder what “the art” sees in us as we view it?

How do You Know You’re Right?

Seeing art from the viewer’s eyes-
So, I’m painting a seascape – rather fun. I feel my blood pressure lowering with each stroke I apply. But I know not to rely on my immediate satisfaction. Sometimes in art I will view it upside down or in front of a mirror to CHANGE my PERSPECTIVE. The technique really is an eye opener and I find myself shortening the nose or moving the tree over. I found a website last week when I was looking for some equine inspiration. Horse Trainer Rick Gore has a page called “My Random Horse Thoughts” and the material in it is so mind compelling! (The link is:http://www.thinklikeahorse.org/Horse_thoughts.html)

I think this cartoon explains what I’m saying perfectly.

Everything is relative depending on who you are, what your background is, what your level of understanding is and what you believe to be true. Perception is reality. In the painting above the Rhino is only painting what he sees from his position. Others see what he is painting differently. Who is right?

Everything is relative depending on who you are, what your background is, what your level of understanding is and what you believe to be true. Perception is reality. In the painting above the Rhino is only painting what he sees from his position. Others see what he is painting differently. Who is right?

So – How Do You Know You’re Right?
What did you think 2013 would bring you? The same job? Same home? Same health? Same health care? So, we were wrong about a few things. You probably worried about what the year 2013 would bring. Did any of the worries come true? Maybe some did – a lost of job or decline of health, but you’re still here. You can let it get you down or surrender to what you think is a downward spiral of fortunes.

 

Perspective changes everything!
We all have been there. We see catastrophe all around us and a true friend will say to you, “It’s not as bad as you think.” Usually we find little comfort in those words, but then when we realize there are other tests to redeem our unpreparedness, other boy/girl friends to prove their faithfulness, and other chances for the body to heal and ways to cope with change – so – ah-ha! Life isn’t so bad after all!

 

There’s a song I use to sing as a child that adults sometimes forget –

 

“Why worry, when you can pray, trust Jesus, He’ll lead the way.
Don’t be a doubting Thomas, rest fully on God’s promise.
Why worry, worry, worry worry – when you can pray!”

 

The cartoon above stated perception is reality. But outside of what the artist renders as reality, that’s not often the case.  (If  it were true, car accidents would be rare, indeed!) Maybe if you and your friends can’t see the glass as half full, trust that God does (He probably sees the glass as FULL!) and He will care for you. Try seeing life from the Great Artist’s viewpoint.

John 10: 9  “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.   27  My sheep hear  my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:   28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

 

 

 

What is Christmas Anyway?

 

What is Christmas Anyway?

 

I remember teaching from a Christmas favorites book and my piano student asked me why do we celebrate Christmas. So I told him that it is a day to remember the birth of Jesus. He countered with “Who’s he?” I have to admit, I was a bit stunned, but thought maybe he’s Jehovah Witness or something like that and I tried to form a brief answer to the nine-year old sitting on my piano bench. “God sent His Son Jesus to earth to die for our sins. Jesus came as a baby and this is the way we celebrate the event. That’s why it’s a joyful time.”a-Light Echoes from Red Supergiant star V838 Monocerotis - Copy

 

I wanted to say it’s the most important act God ever extended towards mankind. I wanted to say that when I heard the Christmas story one year, it dawned on me how bad I must have been for God to resort to such extreme measures. I wanted to tell him how much joy there is in believing that God wants the relationship between mankind restored and that it can be – and has been for so many.

But I figured parents pay me to program their children to learn piano – not preach to them or give a testimony, so I did keep the answer “bare bones.” 

 

Not enough.

The parent talked with me about his plan to raise his son with no exposure to religion. When piano books are riddled with “Silent Night” and “Away in the Manger” it’s hard to ignore the reason for the celebration. It doesn’t matter, he had chosen the book and the child picked the song and I respectfully listened. But inside I thought, “It’s like going to a party but you don’t know who it’s for.”

God – the greatest Visual artist

 

Proof#1

 

I am glad our God is bigger than our opinions – and our imagination. Who else, other than God, would think to stoop to the level of a baby in a manger to paint the word “LOVE.”

 

All our altruistic depictions are nothing more than adaptations of “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” You must admit, Hollywood falls way short of inspiring in how it portrays love. I”ll take God’s definition any day.

 

It would be interesting to know:

 

How would you depict love in visual form?

 

until then – “Have a Joyous Holy-day!

 

How Does One meet A Day of Infamy? A Study in Contrast.

FDR said we will always remember this day as a day of infamy. The attack on Pearl Harbor was brutal, almost entirely unexpected and it roused the “sleeping giant.” The Great Depression and WW2 made the 50’s so much sweeter. But where is this giant the Japanese admiral spoke of? For the most part, today’s Americans are oblivious to the nation’s financial and leadership crisis. Many are struggling to find employment and cope with new governmental regulatory changes.We are in a darker period in America and many fail to see it, yet-

In all of this we are to still give thanks.

I am beginning to think God is One Who sees the glass as half full. (I’m slow.)

Our neighbor called this week to say their grandson’s Neuroblastoma cancer has returned. This is devastating. It is times like these we can focus on the good care available and the happy times Connor brings to those around him. For these we can be thankful. For those who care, updates on his condition and how to pray for him are in: https://www.facebook.com/PrayingForConnerHill.

Our lives are much like a work in progress. Good works or art consist of a delicate balance of light and dark, bright and somber. Can Debussy’s “Claire De Lune” draw the listener in if no notes on the bass clef existed? Visual artists know that beginning artists struggling with the use of contrast but it is the very use of this element that takes the artwork to the next level.  See the difference in the drawing below.

bad drawing Untitled-Grayscale-close-upGod puts the dark strokes among the light ones in our lives to paint a picture to glorify Him. It’s hard to appreciate the darker strokes in our lives, especially when it touches such young, innocent lives.

After all, if God can only be a good God in the good times, He’s not much of a god when the hard times come.  So have faith in God’s goodness and let’s pray for Connor and the many others like him -maybe it’s you – and give thanks to God for the blessings He has showered down on us and for holding His loved ones through the dark times.

                                                                                                                                 

Thanksgiving

What IS Thanksgiving?

Today, in the midst of baking rolls and pies, it is good to to rest the feet and reflect on what Thanksgiving means. Of course, we can say we’re thankful for family, friends, our freedoms as US citizens, health, possessions and jobs, but what if we don’t have them? Can we still be thankful? Consider this-

Martin Rinkart was a pastor at Eilenburg, Saxony during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Because Eilenburg was a walled city, it became a severely overcrowded refuge for political and military fugitives from far and near. As a result the entire city suffered from famine and disease. In 1637 a great pestilence swept through the area, resulting in the death of some eight thousand persons, including Rinkart’s wife. At that time he was the only minister in Eilenburh because the others had died or fled. Rinkart alone conducted the burial services for 4480 people, sometimes as many as 40 or 50 a day!

During the closing years of the war, Eilenburg was overrun or besieged three times, once by the Austrian army and twice by the Swedes. On one occasion, the Swedish general demanded that the townspeople make a payment of 30,000 thalers. Martin Rinkart served as intermediary, pleading that the impoverished city could not meet such a levy; however, his request was disregarded. Turning to his companions the pastor said, “Come, my children, we can find no mercy with man; let us take refuge with God.” On his knees he led them in a fervent prayer and in the singing of a familiar hymn, “When in the Hour of Utmost Need.” The Swedish commander was so moved that he reduced the levy to 1350 thalers.

This is the servant God used to pen the words:

“Now thank we all our God With heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things hath done, In whom His world rejoices;

Who, from our mother’s arms, Hath blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.

O may this bouteous God, Through all our life be near us,

With ever joyful hearts And blessed peace to cheer us;

And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed

And free us from our ills In this world and the next”

Martin Rinkart (1586-1649)

Translated by Cathrine Winkworth (1827-1878)

(Taken from “Crusader Hymns and Hymn Stories. Hope Publishing. 1966)

Walled in, no freedom, no food, little or no family, jobs, possessions and health, yet they gave thanks to God. God tells us in 1Th 5:18 “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” It is obvious that a thankful heart is not based on circumstances but perspective and frame of (spiritual) mind.

My prayer for you this thanksgiving is not that you will have an abundance of things and happy circumstances, but you will know that no matter what your life brings, God is always the certainty of love, grace and forgiveness. Maybe that’s what Martin Rinkart knew.

As my husband, Glen, and my worlds fill with challenges, it is good to take pleasure in the small ways laughter comes to us. Since I have no piano students this year, art projects are filling the hours (as if they needed filling!) I leave you with a pastel still in progress of the one that spends the most time with me-Kansa.

Kansa - 9 x 12 pastel portrait

Kansa – 9 x 12 pastel portrait

What do you value?

We just passed the season of gifts and giving. What was your favorite gift? My husband and I had the privilege of spending time with both our children and their families. That’s priceless. You only have a set time to create certain memories and this year my husband and I tried to make as many memories as possible.

But what else do you value?

Time

Have you ever been discouraged about your studio practice?

In my early years of teaching I would bring my husband to work and go home. Then I would teach my lessons and go home – only to turn around and get my husband at 11 pm and travel home. We could only be a one car family at the time, but we made my teaching piano work. However, several times I would drive up to a student’s house only to find they were out (The mother wanted to go to the mall.) – or still in bed! I decided to end the madness and only teach at home.

The wasted gas stopped; however, there were still calls canceling because students didn’t practice or worse yet the no-shows. I bawled in private but was gracious to those that little valued my time. But help came.

A colleague told me, “If you don’t value your time, the students will never value it. Charge them for their missed lessons.” So after five years of teaching I finally wrote a studio policy. Who would have thought boundaries bring…

Freedom.

When you know what the rules are you can point out to the parent the policy and say, “You agreed to these terms and I still get paid whether you practiced or not.” When I was called to jury duty, I reimbursed my students. My time became a commodity of a set value and my students, the parents, my family and myself knew what value I put on it.

Opportunity

Then there are the scholarships. I made it a practice to give greatly reduced rates or free lessons to one or more individuals each year. Over time I saw the result of my generosity. With one, maybe two exceptions, of the dozens given – the students didn’t value their opportunities. I sat amazed at the gifts given to them and the way they squandered their time and lessons. They were some of the most ill-prepared students and what once was desired became an annoyance to their daily schedule.

So, if I really feel the need to offer scholarships, then I have a 3 strikes policy. The first lesson they come unprepared I warn the student. The second lesson I give a written warning to the parent stating the scholarship is in jeopardy. The third lesson (and not necessarily consecutive) and the scholarship is withdrawn.

It may sound cruel. I am a soft soul and have given latitude for mid-terms and injury but what do I teach them to value if I don’t value the opportunity I have given to them?

I would like to know what you value? How do you protect what you value?