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Monday, February 25, 2013

Naomi Shihab Nye

"The story is given to you through the process of writing.  I always encourage my students to trust the process of writing.  It will take them somewhere, and it may not be where they thought they were going."

Naomi Shihab Nye
American Poet
1952 -

Sometimes we plan too much.  We want to control every detail.  We need to learn to follow the story.  It is a gift.  We need to trust the discovery process.  The story will not betray us.  

Creative Practice
This week write a poem or short story starting with the phrase, "On the day that I died ..."  Follow where the story leads.  Trust the writing.  Go where it goes.

Background on Poet
Naomi Shihab Nye was born to a Palestinian father and American mother in St. Louis, Missouri.  She began writing poetry at the age of six.  She spent her high school years in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas.  She received her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio.

Nye described her writing experience in the Four Winds Press:  "My poems and stories often begin with the voices of our neighbors, mostly Mexican American, always inventive and surprising.  I never get tired of mixtures."  She describes herself as the wandering poet and interacts with different cultures.

Here is a video of Naomi Shihab Nye talking about inspiration:

I believe that people have more similarities than differences.  Yet people tend to focus on what makes them different than what makes them the same.  In this next video Nye describes a poetry class she taught where she used poems written by both Jewish and Palestinian women.  She used poetry to show that we are more alike than different.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Philip Pearlstein

Self Portrait (2000)
"The sexual, psychological and social readings put on my paintings by anyone, even a professional art writer, are beyond my control and certainly beyond my concern."

— Philip Pearlstein
American Artist
1924 -

We live in a world of critics and fault-finders.  Turn on the television and some commentator has a politician in the crosshairs.  As a society, we put people on pedestals and then proceed to throw stones at them.  Creative leaders face these same negative critics and it can feel very personal.  We are emotionally connected to our creative work and when someone attacks our work we can become very defensive.  Even the best artists, writers, musicians and actors have their critics.  For me, actors have it the worst.  Not only do they face criticism of their creative work, but also their physical appearance.  I appalled by these commentators who criticize what the actor or actress is wearing.

Pearlstein is on target with these comments.  Criticism is beyond our control.  We cannot stop others from attacking us.  The key is how we respond.  If we let it hurt us, it can damage our future creative work.  If we believe it to be true, we may change our creative work to please the public.  We must learn that it doesn't matter what other people say.  What is most important is what our heart tells us.  We must trust ourselves and not be swayed by the opinions of others.

I once shared some of my short stories that I wanted to publish with another writer.  She told me that my male characters weren't real men.  My response was to back off and stop writing stories.    Not a good response, I admit.  I let another person's negative comments change what I did.  And I am sure this as happened to some of you.

Some people have learned to harness the negative energy of others as a motivator.  The negativity inspires them to prove the person wrong.  In an introduction to psychology class in a junior college, the professor told my wife that she would never graduate from college — that she was not smart enough.  My wife transformed this negative feedback into the inspiration to finish college with honors.

How do you handle criticism?  Do you back off and stop doing what you were planning to do?  Or do you transform the criticism into a positive force in your life?

Creative Practice
Identify the negative, fault-finding people in your life.  Ask yourself if you need and want this person in your life.  If you don't, then let him go.  Negative people in our lives are very destructive.  They can cause emotional, mental and physical harm.  If you love the person and still want him in your life, then find a way to transform the person's negativity into a positive force.

Background of Artist
Philip M. Pearlstein was born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1924.  During the Great Depression, his father, David Pearlstein, sold chickens and eggs to feed and support the family.  His parents were very supportive of Philip's interest in art and sent him to the Carnegie Museum of Art for classes.  His studies were interrupted by World War II.  He was drafted and was stationed in Italy where he was exposed to much of the art in Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan.  After the war with the help of the G.I. Bill he finished his schooling and moved to New York City.  He was a realistic painter in a time when abstract expressionism was the dominant form of painting.

Pearlstein married Dorothy Cantor in 1950 and they had three children.  He spent much of his career as a professor at Brooklyn College.

Here is a video with Pearlstein and others discussing his work.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pablo Picasso

"What I want is that my picture should evoke nothing but emotion."

Spanish Artist
1881 - 1973

Does your creative work evoke the emotions of your audience?  Does the work touch people's hearts?  Or is it an exercise in intellectual games?  The best creative work, the work that will last, touches people deeply and evokes emotions.  Think of the music the you like or the paintings that you enjoy.  They touch some part of you very deeply.

Are you in touch with your emotions?  Or do you hide your emotions from yourself and others?  When was the last time you had a deep emotional cry?  Do you believe that it is okay to cry?  Movies, more than novels or poetry, tend to touch me very deeply and often make me cry.  I have recently been watching the first season of the TV show, Touch, starring Kiefer Sutherland.  Every episode has filled my eyes with tears.  I have been emotionally touched.

What creative works have touched you deeply?  Have made you cry?  Or laugh?  Or scream?  Or frightened you?  Think of those thriller movies that some people love to watch.  Years ago when I attempted to read Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, it made me sick to my stomach and I could not finish it.  

Creative Practice
This week ask yourself if your creative work touches the hearts of other people.  Does your creative work evoke the emotions of others?  Then create a new work from the heart.  Create something that evokes the emotions others.

Poems That Touched Me
This past week I identified ten poems that have touched my heart over the years.  If all my books were taken away and I only could keep ten poems, these would be the ten that I would keep.  All ten poems can be found on the web.  I have linked the titles to copies of the poems.  If you have not read them, you should.

1.  The Waking by Theodore Roethke  
2.  The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
5.  anyone lived in a pretty how town by e.e. cummings
7.  Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)
8.  Underwear by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
9.  What I Learned From My Mother by Julia Kasdorf
10.  Watering the Horse by Robert Bly

What poems have touched your heart?  What paintings have evoked emotions in you?  What novels have left you sad?  Glad? Or mad?

Artist Background
One of the greatest artist of any century, Pablo Picasso was born in Spain but lived most of his life in France.  As an artist, he was constantly reinventing himself.  Known for founding the Cubist movement, he was a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and stage designer.

Here is one person's listing of the top twenty paintings by Picasso.  Not all would make my list, but the top 2 would.

Monday, February 4, 2013

George D. Green

"If you make pictures you are bound to be an abstract painter on some level."

American Artist
1943 - 

People are often divided between those who love abstract art and those who love realistic art.  Just like readers have different tastes in literature.  A few love poetry.  Most hate it.  Some love romance novels and a few look down their noses at people who read romance novels.  Yet all literature is made up of words.  And the same is true of art.  At its core, all art is abstract.  The artist must create the illusion of realism, because a painted tree is never equal to a real tree in the backyard.  Writers, when they tell their stories, are creating illusions of reality.  The fictional world they create is never real no matter how much they base it on the world they live.  Narrative non-fiction may blend the worlds of fact and fiction, but if the writer strays to far from the fact he is considered a liar and may have his books removed from the bookstores.  Yet all writers at some level write fiction.  The world we write about is not the real world.  Even when I write a story about my mother, the character is not my mother.  She is my fantasy of my mother.  At some level all forms of art — painting, music, literature — are not real.

Creative Practice
This week paint that tree in your backyard as an abstract picture of your mother.  Or write a story-poem in the first person voice of your mother describing the tree in your backyard to her mother.

Bones, 1982

Artist Background
George D. Green was born in 1943 in Portland, Oregon.  He received a B.S. degree from the University of Oregon and a M.F.A. from Washington State University.  He had his first solo exhibit in 1968.