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McDonald's Delivers and The Red Panda Effect

June 24th, 2021


The world has changed. But, then again, the world has always changed.

Have you ever seen a very funny video of a red panda (apparently at a zoo) who appears to be very startled when he comes out of his living quarters and sees a new rock in his enclosure? That cute little guy represents all of us. ANTIME something is added, taken away, or changed we stand up and take notice.

Have you seen any movies recently that were made in, let's say, the 1990s? The obvious changes in our world since then are the cars and the hair and clothing fashions. Perhaps the most obvious change from then to now, however, is the use of pay telephones. Our little phones have made so many changes in our lives it would make a red panda either giddy with joy or petrified with fear (I really can't tell if the red panda in that video is happy or frightened).

McDonald's is less than a mile from my home. If I want to partake in any of their offerings I could easily walk there. But NOW there is a sign on the window of the restaurant that says McDonald's Delivers! What? When? How? How much will this new service cost me? Who delivers one-dollar cheeseburgers? REALLY? Can we talk about this? And don't get me started with the URBAN delivery! REALLY? A guy on a bicycle is going to carry food across town in the rain?

Okay, don't panic. This blog post is NOT about McDonald's delivering. It is about change.

I will leave it up to you to decide which changes are for the good of humankind and which changes are for the bad. Some are obvious others are not.

See the painting I posted? It is titled "McDonald's Delivers." It was one of my first attempts at creating a painting in a very loose impressionistic style. Painting that way was a change for me. Most of my art has always been more on the realism side of things. I get lots of nice compliments on my realism work but, to be honest, I feel like I'm simply recreating a photo. Even if I set up the easel and paint "en plein air" and the result is realistic looking I get that imposter syndrome I've read about. So making a change to impressionism was a big change for me.

My partner, Robin MacBlane, is a master at impressionism. She doesn't seem to know it, but she is. So is her mother so I guess you could say she gets it naturally. Working alongside Robin all these years has helped show me the beauty of painting in a "painterly" way. Show the brush strokes, lay the paint on thick, exaggerate the colors, let the paint brush flow, and, most importantly, MAKE A PAINTING!

Old habits die hard, though. So my attempts at painting in an impressionistic way has always been tempered or tainted or influenced by my own tendencies to want to "make it look real."

I'm sure you've seen the early works of Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, or Vincent Van Gogh. Their early works clearly were more realistic than they were impressionistic. And, of course they were. Photography was either non-existent or in its infancy (depending on which artist we are studying) so making a painting as realistic as possible was very desirable. And when impressionism was in its early years it was horribly criticized. In fact, and this is ironic, the name of the style "impressionism," became popular after a scathing review by an art critic who attended an art show.

That critic was Louis Leroy who, in 1874 in the magazine Le Charivari, wrote “Impression! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished!" after looking at Impression Sunrise, by Claude Monet. And art critic Albert Wolff, critiquing Camille Pissarro, wrote, "Try to make Monsieur Pissarro understand that trees are not violet, that sky is not the color of fresh butter” adding “try to explain to Monsieur Renoir (Pierre-Auguste Renoir) that a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with those purplish-green stains”.


Fortunately, for me, when I first posted "McDonald's Delivers" the "red panda" effect on Facebook was much kinder. Those who expected my art to be realistic and beautiful stood at attention (like that little red panda) and took note of the change but they weren't unkind. I was glad of that, too. But, of course, I have those impressionists before me to thank. Had I lived in their day I may have feared for my life (or at least my livelihood).

The conclusion to all of this is that it is okay to try something different. It is okay to bend the rules. If nobody ever attempted to change anything we'd still be riding horses, or still be fetching water from the creek, or (God forbid) still using pay phones!

Of course it is ALSO okay to stick with tradition. Who wouldn't want to paint like Rosa Bonheur? (Check out her horses in "The Horse Fair")

And, a quick note to critics. Instead of paintings, however, I'll use music to make my point. It is probably a more relatable art form in today's world than paintings are. Rap, hip-hop, jazz, rock-and-roll, and even baroque were all dismissed as NON-MUSIC by their critics. In the publication Mercure de France in May 1734 a critic complained that the baroque style "lacked coherent melody, was filled with unremitting dissonances, constantly changed key and meter, and speedily ran through every compositional device." Sound familiar?

At 66 years old I am like the old dog trying to learn new tricks. But I didn't invent the tricks so maybe that's what makes it easier for me.

But if you are a young artist and your music or your paintings or your dance style or your writing or film making push against the so-called "status quo" then keep on doing what you are doing. The world will be a better place for it.

My proof? McDonald's delivers!

Calliopes That Crash To The Ground

June 23rd, 2021

Calliopes That Crash To The Ground

I'm guessing you are the creative type. Maybe you paint, maybe you write, maybe you create dance moves or you design elaborate dance halls or bedrooms. It's not a far stretch for me to guess that you are a creative type because, in some ways, I think we all are.

When Bruce Springsteen wrote the song "Blinded By The Light" I always imagined that the Calliope in the song ("the Calliope crashed to the ground") was a young, misunderstood, and very creative girl. I don't know this, of course, and I know many songologists will elaborate or maybe even leave troubling commentary to set the record straight (I like that: "set the RECORD straight). So before my point is derailed by my own "gun shy" delusions and I'm distracted by imaginary critics I will move on and leave the debate to those who like to debate these kinds of things.

Bruce's song came out in 1973. That is the year I graduated from high school. That is also the year I drove to New York City to meet with Ed Freeman, the record producer who worked with Don McLean on the American Pie album. The music in my 1970 Nova on the drive to New York that Summer came from a small cassette player. I had a box of a dozen cassettes or so. Among them was "Greetings From Asbury Park."

You see, I embraced New York City. I embraced it because it is where I was born, it is where I played when, at 14 years old, I figured out I could ride the train from Long Island and be part of "The City," and it is the place I missed immensely when, at 17 years old, my family moved to Dunnellon, Florida. So, I was listening to Bruce Springsteen a lot. (I know he's from New Jersey but, trust me on this, Springsteen, to me, represented the "feel" of New York.)

I was always attracted to artists like Bruce. He was gritty. He pushed against the "status quo." His music "cut like a knife." Same thing with John Lennon, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan.

So, let's get back to Calliope. Strangely, last year (2020), Dylan released a song called "Mother Of Muses," in which he writes: "I’m falling in love with Calliope. She doesn’t belong to anybody - why not give her to me? She’s speaking to me, speaking with her eyes. I’ve grown so tired of chasing lies."

Maybe Bob Dylan always thought of Bruce's Calliope the way I had. The creative girl. The muse. The goddess.

As a society we tend to look upon the truly creative people as weird or even as troubling. Yet, if they can break through all of that nonsense, we celebrate their creativity. We celebrate their weirdnesses. We even celebrate how they were troubling.

On Don McLean's album, "American Pie," he also included the song "Vincent." It is because of THAT song that I wanted to be part of that circle when I was in high school. It is that song that led me to write to Ed Freeman. It is the acknowledgement that there is something deeper in art than a pretty picture or a catchy song or a dazzling choreography. In Vincent, one of the most beautiful homages written about Vincent Van Gogh, Don McLean writes, "Now, I understand what you tried to say to me. And how you suffered for your sanity. And how you tried to set them free. They would not listen, they did not know how. Perhaps they'll listen now."

So I painted this picture and titled it "Calliope." She is a bit disheveled. She is posing by a chain link fence. She has a star painted around her eye. She seems, perhaps, a bit of an outcast and unwanted yet, at the same time, curiously attractive. Not just physically attractive but something undefined that tells us she is creative and pushes against the status quo.

Calliope is an artist in my reincarnation of her. Of course, she has always been an artist. Her poetry has been her art. In fact she, herself, is art. Think of Madonna, the pop star. She was the Calliope of her early years in the public eye. In fact in an interview in 1991 she is quoted as saying, "“I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art.”

But Madonna is one of those Calliopes that soared to amazing heights. So many other Calliopes "crashed to the ground." They crashed because of many reasons. The saddest reason, though, is feeling no self worth, being told she (or he) is no good at their art, being critiqued into submission, or simply being forced to abandon their dreams and sacrifice the creative spirit that was at their very core.

Vincent Van Gogh, you might say, was a male Calliope that crashed to the ground. He died without having sold any of his paintings (except one to his brother). Fortunately, for us, his genius was discovered after his death and that "crashed Calliope" found posthumous recognition.

Sculptor Augusta Savage was another "Calliope." She lived from 1892 to 1962. Augusta was born near Jacksonville, Florida, and moved to New York City when she was a young woman. In 1923 she applied for a summer art program but was rejected because of her race. Look her up.

There is an inexhaustible list of "Calliopes." My point in this blog is not to list them all but to call attention to the Calliope who might be reading this.

Yes. The Calliope I want to reach is YOU.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, however successful or unsuccessful you may become, don't let your own inner Calliope ever EVER "crash to the ground." Stay true to that creative spirit that is within you.

It is who you are.

Yes, you ARE Calliope.

A Dancer Dances

June 22nd, 2021

A Dancer Dances

A blank canvas presents infinite possibilities. The image painted on that canvas could be anything. The only one who should determine the final image on that canvas is the artist.

But what if, while an artist is working on that canvas, a passerby decides to pick up a brush and add to that painting? What if two passersby do that? What if a thousand passers-by do that?

Or what if the artist is working on the canvas and a tutor offers suggestions on the work of art? Maybe the tutor disagrees with the orange sky or the purple woman or the elongated fingers on the subject in the painting?

Outside influences may quickly change the painting. Are those changes for the better? Are they more a reflection of the tutor or the passerby? Are those changes forcing the artist to conform to someone else's view of what the painting should look like?

When we are born we appear to the world to be a blank canvas. Those around us look at the newborn child that we began as and try to imagine what we will become. We are humans. And, as humans, we have the unique capacity in all of creation to become, well, unique.

In contrast, the instinctive programming, if you will, of the animal and plant kingdoms predetermines their outcome and their behaviors. Each generation of hummingbird resembles and behaves like the previous generation. Only with human encounters have animal (and plant) behaviors been altered.

But humans are beautifully different. We each have the potential to be anything. Truly the thing we become comes from within ourselves. And the fact that we all become something different makes us unique as a species as well as unique as individuals. Or, at least, potentially.

"Potentially" because of those outside influences mentioned earlier. A good teacher, whether that teacher is a parent, a friend, a relative, or, a school teacher, will observe her student and perceive the innate talents of the student and then guide the student to become that person he or she was born to become.

A not-so-good teacher will impose their own ideas of the direction the student should grow. And, when a not-so-good teacher does this with good intentions it becomes very confusing to the student. After all, a loving parent only wants what is best for their child.

If you are the student, look inside and be honest with yourself. If your passion is moving you to become an artist, a dancer, an accountant, a protector, a singer, a baker, or anything, including becoming a parent or a teacher, then be true to that passion. Be persistent in nurturing those talents and those inner drives (yes, there are often several).

If someone else paints on your canvas and you don't like what they have done? Paint over it.

Robin and I recorded a song many years ago that is titled, "You Can Be Whatever You Want." When we posted that song, on the fledgling internet back then, we had a few negative comments that criticized our view chastising us for "giving children false hope" with the argument that "we can NOT be whatever we want."

Well, from the world point of view, that argument is only true if BEING something means earning a living (a paycheck) from it. But BEING something is not the same as making a career of something. For those lucky enough to make a career out of their passion it is true but for much of humanity we are who we are regardless of the world around us. Human Beings are who we are simply by BEING HUMAN.

And THAT is the point of all of this. Be who you are. Let others be who they are. Do what you have to do to survive, yes, but don't abandon your passions.

If you are an actor, find a stage and act. If you are a builder, find some lumber and build. If you are a musician, let your songs be heard. If you are an inventor, keep tinkering at the tools before you.

We are happiest when we are who we are.

That is why an artist paints.
That is why we climb mountains.
That is why we tell stories.
That is why a writer writes.

That is why a dancer dances.

Being A Dad

June 21st, 2021

Being A Dad

Yesterday was Father's Day. The joy of my life is being a father. I know that sounds, perhaps, contrived or corny or maybe even unauthentic. But I promise I am not understating the gratitude I have to God for allowing me to experience fatherhood. I have been both a father and a step-father. My love for both my son, Alex, and my step-daughter, Brie, are immeasurable. Again, you may be questioning my authenticity with such a statement but you'll just have to take my word for it.

So, as I mentioned, yesterday was Father's Day. I reflected quite a bit on my own father and on my role as a father. I wrote a piece about my own father, recorded a narration of it, and set it to a slideshow style video that I then posted to Facebook.

In the afternoon, yesterday, Robin and I drove over to my son's house. He is married and has a beautiful wife and a 2 year old son. They are all part of my circle of love.

My son and his wife gave me a card from their son. He calls me Poppa (or Papa, if you prefer). The card had a handprint from my grandson. It is a beautiful thing. Truly a work of art in that it stirs an emotion. That's what art should do. That is how art should always be viewed: as something created by someone that stirs an emotion. I imagined how fun it must have been for them to work with their little son to press his palm into rich blue paint and the press his little hand onto the paper.

See? That is also the unique aspect of art. While standing at a painting or a sculpture in a museum, while watching dancers engage in precision choreography on a stage, while listening to a song crafted by a composer sitting with her instrument, or even while experiencing the savory flavors of a work of culinary art, we can all stop and ponder the work that went into it and the emotions that may have been flowing through the artist as each work was being created.

So, back to talking about fatherhood.

The image I am including with this post is a pastel painting I did of my son back in 2001. During the last week of 2000 we drove from Florida to North Carolina with the hopes to see snow (it would be the first time my son, Alex, who was 14 years old at the time, would see snow). It was a great trip and I'll share the details of that trip some other time. The important thing for this conversation is that I took photos on that trip. One of those photos was the reference photo for the artwork you see in this post. I romanticized or dramatized the image a bit with exaggerated sun beams and glistening reflections but, hey, that's what artists do. Right?

I have held onto that pastel painting all these years. Until yesterday. Yesterday, on Father's Day, I gave my son that pastel painting. As he unrolled it and realized what it was I saw the smile that I was hoping to see. Clearly he was flooded with memories. Good memories. Memories of traveling with his father (me) to see snow.

The artwork does something a snapshot might not be able to do. Not because of the image on the paper but because at some point in time, maybe even at MANY points in time, Alex will look at that painting and know that my hands crafted each tiny stroke of the pastel to create it. He will know that my love for him caused me to spend time at the drawing board so that I could, in my own way, savor that moment that was so special to us.

Time is fleeting. Very fleeting. The memories we all have of our time with our loved ones are often the only thing we have.

But don't be sad. It's easy to read those last few lines and feel sad. No, feel happy. Happy that those moments happened. Happy that those memories are shared. And, if you are lucky, happy that the moment lives on in a work of art.