We attended a Sedar meal with our friends the Terras. Interestingly, when they married years ago they just came up with the name Terra and went with that instead of taking his last name… or hers for that matter. He’s an interesting guy, does ceramic art, some of his work is faces on the wall – some with clever phrases impressed into the clay with old pieces of letterpress type. She has the veritable light of life in her eye and has a way to just make things better. They own property on Lopez Island in the San Juans but moved here recently to dig our scene man.

Anywhichway, apparently, unbeknownst to me, he had thought about becoming a Rabbi at one time. So obviously he puts on one heck of a Sedar. I’ve only been to one other Sedar in my life entire and I can’t even remember the circumstance of that one. This one had all the basic ingredients, salt, bitter herbs, and of course the ritual dowsing of glasses of wine. He edited out most of the “chosen people” stuff (wasn’t Yahweh also the “chosen god” ?) and emphasized the personal responsibility sections. We all recited a promise together: when we return next year to the table we will have accomplished something that makes the world just a little better. That was very cool because although we often know this is the general idea of life on this planet, we usually don’t make it a public pledge. The evening moved on to an excellent full-course meal which featured middle eastern style chicken with prunes and olives (kinda tagine-like) and incredible marinated roasted eggs. We ended up the evening singing Old Testament stories in the form of lyrics to silly tunes like “The Adams Family”.

Around this Jewish table were people I assumed to be Christian (though unprofessed), an agnostic who shook his head “no” and another (me) who doesn’t really care for that label and tends to nod his head “yes”, and at least one professed atheist. The atheist happened to be ethnically Jewish, might just be why she was invited, who was was perfectly willing to join in on the more humanistic concerns while vocally gainsaying all the “God Stuff”. I don’t think we’ll ever agree and I understand why some people settle for atheism but to me its the “God Stuff” that makes this life interesting.

So that’s the basic extent of my spiritual experience lately. Other than daily life of course. I’m reading about the Scottish Enlightenment right now (think Hume, Locke, Adam Smith) and there’s a point in that history, after a young university student is hanged for daring to speak publicly about his issues with official church doctrine, that a movement begins to loosen the laws (meaning: “church law” which was one and the same with civil law at the time) to allow a more lenient approach to the personal spiritual path. They called themselves the “Latitudinarians” because they promoted more latitude in dealing with these renegade types.

So I’m a proponent of Latitudinarianism. Amazing what you find out about yourself by reading history. And I was thinking that I thought of it first.

The Smell of Fresh Donuts

There are two types of people in this world, those who think there are two types of people and those who don’t. Well I think there are two types, except I also think that sometimes we are one and sometimes we are the other.

If you don’t agree with me, you might want to read something by someone who thinks there is only one type of person in this world. Go read an article written by someone who thinks everyone in the world likes french fries. He would argue that those fries elicit a positive response from a set of receptors found in virtually every human subject. They are located in the brain’s “Fried Food” region. That region is mapped to the same spot in every human brain, with a neural connection the size of a T1 cable to both the salivary and the “Get in the car and go” regions.

I’m suddenly having a difficult time concentrating on the point I’m trying to make about there being two types of people. By stating the opposing view using the best possible argument I’m trying to remain true to the Socratic Method. But there’s a problem. My counter argument happens to involve something so distracting, so crisp and irresistible. So yummy!

By now it should be patently obvious that there are two types of people, those who stopped reading this to go to McDonald’s to get some french fries and those who didn’t. But why didn’t you? And why didn’t I stop writing? Well my reason is that I…must…continue…this blog. Those who left to go out for that universally scrumptious fast food did so because they became engaged with the image of “golden fries in that familiar red-box” that leapt off the page at the mere mention, and by now have followed it to its natural conclusion at the local franchise. The expectation of that predictably delicious experience in deep-fried comfort food was just too darn tempting to leave alone as unfulfilled temptation.

Okay, who’s left here? We few, we superior few. We are the ones who have not given in to gratifying the signals from our brain’s fried food region. So we must be looking for something else. And here I’d like to talk about a slightly different area of the brain: the area identified by leading scientists at a major university as “art receptors.” These areas turn on or off within seconds of encountering a new piece of art and result in either “Like it” or “Don’t like so much.” And though its possible to adjust this initial response through familiarity, or by providing background information on the artist’s intent, it remains exceedingly difficult to reverse that first impression. And I would argue that in the current era, this area of the brain has formed a major neural pathway to the fried food region.

This is not a man thinking about donuts. What were you thinking about?
This is not a man thinking about donuts. What were you thinking about?

So the art theory that makes the most sense to me is this: the art that I make should have something about it that is the equivalent of a fresh donut. Something irresistible. Not that the process should involve actually making donuts since that would entail developing a separate business plan. And not that the work should really be in any sense a meal of empty calories. This is about providing a certain initial attractive element, akin to the smell of fresh donuts.

And now the corollary to Dave’s Theory of Art: the smell of fresh donuts must be, in the end, false advertising. Once you’ve got people’s attention, once their noses are fully engaged with the idea that a good thing awaits, something else should be ready to emerge. That irresistible smell of fresh donuts must be the hook that grabs our curiosity. But that “something else” should be a real idea. That idea can start somewhere familiar and inviting… but it should also invite us to go off at some point, somewhere strange and surprising.

So there are certainly at least two types of people. But the real difference comes when you think about those types; there are those who think we are always only one of them, fixed and permanent. And there are those (like me) who think about what it might be like to be both of them.

Glories in the Air

My little garden experiment came crashing down last week. I rigged up an arch over our back steps to support some Morning Glory vines. The vines took readily to it and grew across the arch, vigorous and abundant. I was so proud. The entire materials cost was something like ten bucks. By July we had to duck under them if we meant to exit the house in that particular direction. Then an early fall rain shower brought the whole contraption down. Apparently some flaw in my weight-to-structural-integrity-ratio sort of thing was going on there.

Anyway, I made an attempt to rescue it using a kind of rope as guy-wire approach but soon realized all was lost and tore up the vines and tossed them out back in a pile. The weird thing is that now for the last week they’ve continued to blossom every morning.

Its been a rainy week and that’s probably the real reason that those Morning Glory flowers keep popping open every day, transcendently blue as always and cheerful. But seriously, I ask myself, would other flowers do the same? The pile of zinnias I pulled up at the same time turned brown as expected with nary a trace of further florescence. I can only conclude that these Morning Glories are a phenomenon; miracle flowers with no roots in this earth. Here’s an afterglow of summer marking the sacred point when life moves out of the earth and into the air.

Morning Glories bloom on
Morning Glories bloom on

Abstract Railing

I have a bias towards representational art and I confess to spending a lot of time and energy railing against abstract art because it seems so self-serving and narcissistic. I must also cop to a pet peeve about artists (seeing as I am one); we tend to be one self-important bunch of rascals! The very last word in this trend towards personal vision and individual inspiration seemed to me to be the abstract artist, operating in blissful isolation, creating pure sensory experience.

It made me weary, all this effort to be so darn pure and elemental. As if we could all do without the subject matter if we only tried. Is there anything really ultimate about art history? What’s with this idea that we are one some one-way ticket to art purity? There’s nothing necessary about reducing art to pure form, whatever that may mean. Anyway, I don’t see history as unidirectional. That’s only a generalization after the fact. Actually, I think we’re all headed in multiple directions simultaneously.

So my philosophical breakdown with much of modern art, whether it be abstract or arch-conceptual, is that it operates in isolation… the old “art for art’s sake” argument. I began calling this inward trend of art, “The Cult of Subjectivity” because it seemed to stem from some foregone conclusion about the nature of perceptual reality. All this talk about “it means whatever it means” just gave me digestive distress. I really refuse to believe that. Mainly since I know that shared meaning exists, and that we consistently tend towards it.

I wanted my art to hone closer to something like true communication. My concept of art had to do with becoming engaged with the world, creating a personal vision, then sharing that personal vision with others. And it all happens by way of the process of commenting and developing images of the world around us that have the potential to explode into new vistas.

But I am now learning that what has been known familiarly as “non-representational art” is in truth anything but. And it has changed my militant anti-abstract art stance. This idea came to me in the following way. Our minds are arranged so that we can never leave visual information undefined. Visual information is biologically vital to our survival. Words can be ambiguous and they can remain paradoxical. Visual information causes the human mind to drive inexorably towards meaning. And so, we make references. No matter what flavor of color-field, action-painting, “elemental art” abstraction we may confront, our brains will forever carve out some sort of subject matter. There is no such thing as non-representational art.

I came across an old piece of art journalism recently that helped me work out these anti-abstract devils. The author defined abstract art as “multi-referential”. Now there’s a thought; multiple-meanings are inherent, the salient meaning waits to be summoned forth in the course of the viewers exploration, by employing a personal frame of reference.

Kind of like representational art.

The Deal

Here’s the deal. Stefanie and I shared the Cowango Blog for several years and it functioned well as a forum for us to discuss our travel experiences and talk about some of the ins and outs of setting up homes in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Paducah, Kentucky. Ever since we completed the two house-building projects in early 2007 and stowed away our travel boots the energy placed into the Cowango Blog has taken a hit .  We’ll still be posting there occasionally, for the next year or so at least, but it’s time to move on.

Stefanie and I are still very much in love and I am more intensely married to her now than ever before but this connubial blog thing had to go. Yes, we are now going through a blog divorce. Fortunately, there are no children.

Stefanie’s new blog is called “Accidental Truths” and you can read her postings by following the link here or at the left. 

My new effort is called “Life in the Hyphen” because I’m all about that little dash. For me it represents the information flow between hard categories. It’s that little qualifier that keeps me from thinking I’ve nailed down the big “What It Is”. The process of discovery ends for me when I decide I know what I know. I love conversations that roll back in forth in the spirit of “Yes, but what about…” And so I use the image of the hyphen. The place between the two. Here are just a few that fascinate me:





When I explore the connection between these ideas I start to discover a motive for what I do when I’m working at art. A dynamic description comes out that is less “either-or” and more “both-and” (hmm… seems even trying to describe it requires hyphens). I find art and the art-making process incredibly hard to talk about because the descriptive categories we employ often seem so leaden and unfit. Yet I am driven to try anyway. Life in the Hyphen will be this attempt. That little dash will be my thread.