Saturday, December 24, 2016

Bookmark 2016

       This year's bookmark was inspired by all of the stimulating ideas at the symposium on critique at Columbia University where I was privileged to be a presenter. My gargoyle shows my gratitude. You can print it on card stock and cut it out or follow the directions on the 2015 Bookmark to "laminate".
Enjoy the season and all the best for 2017.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Meditation 3

Common Ground

The most universal understanding shared by all people is how we move in our surroundings. Even when our means of getting around is different we understand the meaning of the space around us. Getting from one place to another, navigating crowds, evading obstacles is part of every person’s life experience. Even though the details can be vastly different, the sense of where we are and where we want to go is a day to day action and a metaphor for a what’s necessary to achieve a goal that is shared by the species. Visual art expresses feeling through this foundation understanding of space.

Meaning is in motion. We share the primary instincts with other mammals and duck when something is flying through the air at our head. The depiction of visual motion evokes everyone’s association with that kind of motion. What’s hanging above triggers body reactions that the conscious mind becomes aware of as feeling. It’s a fluid dance of adaptation to the needs of the surroundings while propelled by personal direction. Because it is something everyone understands it is used as basis for comparison. The nuanced meaning of spatial situations, like inside/outside, aren’t good or bad in themselves but have a character that affect us, a confining inside feels different than a spacious one and either one has good and bad possibilities

The spatial metaphor of common ground is where people can come together. It evokes the place where groups with different views and interests congregate. To cultivate a world that appreciates everyone’s differences and unique abilities it’s necessary to build on what is already shared so that the deeper universal patterns can be observed in action. The ancient Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching) stresses that if you hope to communicate and work with someone of different views it’s important to first find some point of agreement.

 We all share one planet, and technology has collapsed the distances into nothing. Gregory Bateson challenged the previous view of survival of the fittest as referring to individuals fighting for their own interest. He suggested that the real unit of survival was the individual within their environment. Destroy the nest and destroy the organism. There is no survival if the environment itself can no longer sustain life. The health of the planet should be our common ground. Building walls keeps out the parts of the big picture that are inconvenient and thwarts understanding. If you only look at part of the picture, like profits, like coming out ahead, other things are damaged and neglected.

“Competition is the law of the jungle, and cooperation is the law of civilization.” Eldridge Cleaver

If cooperation was the rule of a global society imagine the evolution that could be accomplished. The bigger the society the bigger the neocortex. As we become more identified with the globe as our common ground our upgraded cerebral power may be up to the task of the serious global issues that face us. Artists can show problems more vividly and directly with images that stick in people’s minds until a critical threshold is reached. Before something can change we have to see the problems.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Baltimore Rising

City Planning  Oil over collage on panel   2016.
Currently in the Baltimore Rising Show at the Lazarus Center, MICA
Though I don't usually post from this body of work here, this post introduces my newest blog.
"Visual Commentary" which has almost the entire body of work that led up to this painting, a parallel body of work that goes back thirty years.

The blog has four empty galleries that I hope to fill with work sent to me on these themes.
Injustice      War     Violence     Capitalism
If you have something you would like me to consider for one of the galleries, send a jpeg under 2MG with the gallery name in the subject line to

The Wisdom of Cultural Expansion

“Wisdom is directly proportional to the size of the group whose well being it takes into account.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Evolving Self

    I remember sitting in a waiting room while my husband Michael was getting physical therapy after an operation to his hand. As a guitar player this recovery was intensely important so we were both concerned at how raw the wound still looked two weeks later. I was sitting next to a somewhat intimidating looking man in a sleeveless T-shirt. He took up more space than his waiting room chair but I crossed the silence barrier when my attention fixated on the enormous wound that snaked up his forearm, the center of which was as raw looking as Michael’s palm, the pink against the brown was the same color as the underskin on Michael's wound. My curiosity overtook my timidity,
   “How long ago did that happen?” I asked.
   After my surge of relief when he said it had been a month since his stabbing, I heard a life experience so unlike any I’d ever heard before, it was like traveling to a foreign country. What I was most taken with was his attitude. Right up to collapsing from blood loss on his father’s front yard he had this intense awareness of being. During his recovery he was all gratitude. He hadn’t been able to work at his job as a welder since it happened, but he was determined and optimistic knowing he would do what was necessary to gain full use of his arm again.  I left there feeling improved by the conversation.
    One of the purposes of emotion is to underscore the importance of an experience in memory, so the fact that I remember this so vividly after all these years is because it made a deep impression on my worldview.  Gregory Bateson defined information as “the difference that makes a difference”.
When a new bit of knowledge or experience actually changes the way we view the world, it enlarges the scope of our understanding. The world is full of untapped sources of knowledge from which to build a bigger picture of reality. Every human being is a library of unique experiences that form a particular window on the world. No one view can see it all. Each individual story has something to teach us. When someone else’s background is radically different from our own, we can learn more than we might from someone similar to ourselves. When we see or hear something we are already familiar with there’s no real change in our worldview though it may feel good to have our view supported. When we come across something different from what we’re used to we need to adjust our model, which is more difficult and often provokes resistance. Rejecting what doesn’t fit an existing view, using up intellectual resources in the effort to discredit what doesn’t match the existing outlook, is protecting a limited picture. The right/wrong way of seeing interferes with acquiring new information. To not get bogged down in defense of one way of seeing frees valuable mental resources for accommodating more, sometimes contradictory, ideas in the mind at once. This and a tolerance for uncertainty are characteristics of high intelligence that we would do well to cultivate.
    An appreciation of difference leads to the intellectual enrichment of us all as we come to understand how personal experience forms every individual viewpoint. To really see a circumstance requires as many views as available.  John Dewey wrote that when the personal was taken into account it would revolutionize philosophy. This revolution liberates us from the need to match a standardized way of seeing that denies us access to the full range of ideas that combine to create a bigger picture. Understanding that every point of view produces valid assessments of some aspect of reality welcomes the many ways of seeing that have been ignored in a world where power has decided what is true.
     To create an atmosphere that includes all points of view rather than setting them in opposition, invites knowledge. Put aside the competition to have the right idea and we can have a whole landscape of ideas to choose from to match a particular problem or situation. Insight into a range of ways to consider an issue offer more opportunities to think creatively. With a larger intellectual range established everyone is set free to speculate more widely and more interesting constructions and hybrids can occur. The greater the range of ideas from which to draw the better the final synthesis will be.
     Diversity is important for a robust ecology of ideas. Just like a larger gene pool creates hybrid vigor strengthening survivability, so can a larger idea pool invigorate the world of mind.

In his book, In The Mind’s Eye, Thomas G. West suggests that the skill of the future won’t be having the right ideas but ability to revise our thinking as new information flows in. He writes, “We spend almost no time on developing the intuitive core of understanding, on building up the ability to model reality in our mind.” Hanging on to one model of reality impairs the ability to grow. Letting go of the idea of one worldview that holds for everyone makes it easier to ride the flow of proliferating information and adjust our image as necessary.

This is a revised version of a post from several years ago that I want to emphasize in honor of the Baltimore Rising show, curated by Tony Shore who is to be congratulated on how much he brought together.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Meditation 2


The theme of connectedness is emerging all around us. It’s not hard to see why.
Our shared environment is a conspicuous truth in the digital “noosphere”. That was a word that philosopher/ theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin used to refer to the atmosphere of consciousness in which we participate. He saw individuals as thinking molecules in this larger whole, contributing our perception to a larger inclusive awareness. The Internet mirrors this, is isomorphic in structure. Every individual mind is the hub of a wheel of connections and life experience that creates a personal viewpoint that influences and is influencing the whole. Similarly, in the physical world, just as we are always adjusting to our surroundings, our surroundings are always adjusting to us. I walk down the path and the birds fly off. Leaves and twigs are displaced by my steps and the air currents my presence initiates. Squirrels that know I have peanuts run toward me. There is no way of standing outside, and those are just the visible reverberations. Whenever new ideas start pouring from me. I say an inner thanks for the creative source for which I’m privileged to be a conduit. The role of the being I am with its accumulation of knowledge and unique perspective are the material that tune me to new meanings and are my language to communicate. Increasing my learning increases what is available to me to access, like familiarity with the music played in a concert can increase appreciation of the meaning given to it by the musician. I’ve heard my husband Michael play the same jazz standards uncountable times, but they still have the power to stop me, make me listen and sink into the expression he gives it at that moment. I Ching speaks of the holiness of music and its power “ to loosen the grip of the obscure emotions.”

David Bohm used the word “artamovement” for the continuous act of “fitting” that is the essential quality of the whole. Rather than building blocks in the world machine, we are melodic lines in the symphony of consciousness.  We fit what we have to offer into the structure unfolding around us like jazz improvises around the shape of the tune.
Thinking of many modes of vibration in harmony would be a good image to contemplate Bohm’s conception of individual elements as abstractions from an unbroken wholeness. The worldview that sees reality comprised of separate building blocks leaves us alienated. The emphasis on competition for resources creates opposition and antagonism. With an image of a deity outside of ourselves, this separation underlies everything. In a worldview that sees all as continuous movement in which we participate, we are naturally inclined to cooperate, to add our bit to the ongoing creation. Guided by the image of music, we try to blend with the group, work together, harmonize, fit what we have to offer into a larger whole. We feel a greater sense of responsibility toward each other and our environment when we feel like part of the same thing, the body of life, and the entirety of consciousness.

A Muslim reader wrote to me about how the Christian image of God could get in the way of seeing the deeper, more comprehensive view of the Spirit. Even images can begin to operate like labels, replacing the reality of a subject with the definition and dogma that builds up around the image/concept. “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”

Just as Viktor Frankl concluded that the specific meanings are not as important as the search for meaning, we might be better off not clinging so tightly to the current images that emphasize separation.  Searching for new images, lots of them, can help us reflect and gain access to the pleasure of our pervasive connection.