Sunday, June 17, 2018

Matt Oman's Species of Art

Unconventional means someone who doesn't follow conventions. Matt Oman's garage is not a garage at all. It's an art gallery. I've known people who can't use their garages because they're so full of clutter. I have not known any who turned their garage into a gallery. (I do know a few who have converted their garage into an art studio though.)

Friday I went to visit Matt Moan and see what's new in his spaces. (His home is itself an art gallery as well.) The images here on this page are from his garage.

Something I've always enjoyed in his art is the unexpected. One of his pieces has this message on it: I have been abducted by aliens. Now how do I tell my parents and who knows what else I have to do.

How do you top that? The compositions vary. Some are catchy and all intriguing. Most are compositions in the range of 9"x 12" or slightly larger. His pieces show a fascinations with symmetry, sensuality, global themes, color themes -- once again primarily highlighting red blue green and yellow -- dimensions, and unusual juxtapositions,

Recurring patterns and themes include Lincoln,  and faces that appear contemplative, thoughtful, concerned, and not necessarily cheerful.

There is a piece that has these readings on it: the nature of earth, There are 7 billion, greed, necessity, Johnson, how will you deal with it, economic growth, unemployment, inflation, the balance of trade, etc. There is the famous Japanese wave and four tiny maps of Korea in flux during its war years. May 1950, is half red half green. September 1950 is almost totally over run by red. November 1950, the green is now moved up almost totally taking the peninsula. July 1953 we see North Korea and South Korea divided again.

Another piece has a hand written, “I am the United States of America” and then "I am mutated."

Baseball is another recurring theme. Sports. Nature.

I was also invited to take a tour of the house again. His dog Species passed away this spring, which was exceedingly painful. The dog food company sent him a small painting of a white Labrador retriever like his own companion, in an expression of supreme knowing. Matt called the loss of Species his "worst day ever."

I look on his bookshelf and see all great books such as these: The Jungle, Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, the complete short stories of Mark Twain, Light in August, Team of Rivals, Black Elk Speaks, and the book I hold in my hand, David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest. There is Demian by Hermann Hesse, another book that influenced me when I was young, The Idiot by Dostoevsky, The Diary of Anne Frank, A Farewell To Arms, Coal, Elie Wiesel's Night, a book on Huey Long, a book by Steinbeck, A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike, The Age of Analysis and 1984.

The whole effect of being here is to make me want to try new endeavors that I’ve not tried before, to experiment. On one of the doors there is large piece of paper filled with names written in different colors on it. What names would I write if I were to just hand-write a long list of names in different colors? I’m just not sure what I would find off the top of my head but it would be an interesting experiment, a means of self discovery, a way of seeing possible new relationships within my own subconscious self.

Here was another interesting statement on a downstairs wall: “Michelangelo, arguably the greatest painter and sculptor of our time, came to believe architecture is the highest form of art proper.”

In short, the visit was stimulating. Much like the discharge of an incoming stream stirs up the sediment on the bottom of a pond, so my own thoughts were stirred anew.

Related Links
Matt Oman's Series of Art
Duluth Man's Home Is His Canvas
The Memory Palace

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Quote Nearly Guaranteed to Surprise You and Make You Think

I've been doing some housecleaning the last few days. By housecleaning, I mean organizing the files on my Mac, as well as some of the content on my blog. It was while doing the latter that I came across the following quote last night:

"The world is too big for us, too much is going on, too many crimes, too much violence and excitement. Try as you will, you get behind in the race in spite of yourself. It's a constant strain to keep pace... and still, you lose ground. Science empties its discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment. The political world is news seen rapidly, you're out of breath trying to keep pace with who's in and who's out. Everything is high pressure. Human nature can't endure much more."

Can you believe it? That was published 135 years ago on this day in the Atlantic Journal, June 16, 1883. I hear Twilight Zone music.

* * * *
When I first started blogging it was out of a desire to learn what blogging was. There were very few rules so it was like feeling my way along in the dark. A lot of those early blog posts began with . excerpts from my 30 years of journalling. Usually I would copy the journal segment and then expound on it, but on a few occasions I simply shared something from my journal as I did on June 22. This was my shortest ever blog post.

Observation from William E. Simon's A Time For Truth. He compares freedom to air. It's something you take for granted until you're without it. 
Sept 4, 1985

* * * *
Today is Grandma's Marathon here in the Northland. For the moment it appears that the storms our weather folk predicted are being graciously held at bay, most likely due to the Lake Effect which makes nearly all weather here unpredictable.

The Marathon easily triggers images of runners, and when I think of runners this verse from Ecclesiastes often comes to mind: "I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all." --Eccles. 9:11

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Embrace it.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Flashback Friday: Remembering Private Ryan

They say the book of Job is the oldest book in the Bible. Whatever your take on this piece of literature, whether divinely inspired or one man's remarkable effort to make sense of the universe, this book about the sufferings of Job is an incredible achievement.

The first chapter sets it up. Picture a theater with a lower stage and an upper stage. Job, his family and friends live in the lower stage. Theater goers see that God resides in the upper stage, but Job is unaware of what is going on there, a transaction between God and Satan. 

The story moves to the lower stage and we see Job smitten, but he remains faithful to God.

The next scene is back at the upper stage and we see Satan asking for permission to cause yet more suffering. Satan says, in essence, to God, "Job loves you because everything is going his way. God, you turn off the faucet of blessing and you will see Job turn his back on you because the core of this man is like all men. People are fair weather friends. People are basically selfish."

Once again even greater tragedy and suffering befall this man, with the result that he is destitute, covered with sores, sitting on a dung heap. All this occurs at the very beginning of this remarkable story. In literary lingo it would be called the setup.

There is a sense in which Steven Spielberg's potent war drama Saving Private Ryan becomes art by becoming metaphorical in the arc of its storyline. My poem Private Ryan will have no meaning without seeing the film or having a basic understanding of the story, so I will attempt to briefly summarize.


The context for the film is D-Day, the Normandy beachhead, and its aftermath. Tom Hanks is Captain John Miller, a soldier who leads his platoon into the bloodbath chaos that is war. Rated R for "intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence" is an understatement. One difference between the realistically graphic landing and real life is that in twenty minutes the film version of the Normandy landing was completed. 

Meanwhile back in Washington another scene is taking place. It is learned that a mother with four sons in the service has lost three of her boys. The fourth is somewhere in France. After the beachhead has been secured, and long before the war is over, Capt. John H. Miller is handed a new mission. He must find Private James Francis Ryan and bring him home. Like the story of Job, this is the setup. The rest of the film is about the challenges of completing the mission.

It's a costly mission, and in the end Capt. Miller is forced to sacrifice his life to save the young private. He knew what he had to do, and he did it, but he also wanted Private Ryan to understand the importance of his actions. His last words to Pvt. James F. Ryan were these: "Earn this."
Private Ryan

He understood the burden for
He carried it all his life.
A man had died to save him,
And for what?
He was nothing but a man.

One day he returned to France
To thank the man who died;
He wept, wept deep and deeper still,
His family by his side.
“Did I live a life that was worthy
Of what you did for me?”

As the wind swept through the gravestones,
No voice was ever heard;
The universe was silent…
It never said a word
And the bones where Ryan knelt that day
Were silent ‘neath the sod.

But Ryan knew what happened
On the day his life was spared.
A man had given his life for him
And he knew to make it count
He’d have to sacrifice his own,
Give back the same amount.

July 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Mark Joseph Talks About His Latest Book: Rock Gets Religion

His book, published in 2017, is titled Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil's Music. It's actually Mark Joseph's third volume of anecdotes and insights related to the relationship between rock music and musicians of faith.

A speaker at one of the writers conferences I attended in the 1980's described how all the major New York publishing houses had a wing devoted to Christian publishing. With the upheavals of the Sixties, a "Jesus Movement" followed in its wake, along with a return to the kind of fundamentalism that the publishing houses didn't understand. The Charismatic movement was similarly a strange animal to these publishers who weren't sure how to produce books that connected with this surging demographic. They lost money on many new product intros and most washed their hands of it all as numerous new Christian publishing houses sprang up, along with Christian book stores. This same process must have been happening in the music scene as a new genre emerged called Christian Contemporary Music.

Mark Joseph's newest book is about Christian artists who have crossed back over from the CCM pasture into the all-encompassing mainstream. Many of these artists never identified with the CCM subculture. Others, like Amy Grant, were successful in the CCM world but moved into the mainstream and had some success there as well. Separatists can quote Bible verse to support their view: "Love not the world..." The other side of the coin is Jesus's admonition to be "in the world but not of it."

In reading about the life of St. Augustine I learned that his first brush with a Bible turned him off. He was given a very poor translation of the Scriptures and felt it could hardly be God's word if it were so badly written. He was a lover of Greek philosophers and the writings of Cicero were among the most beautiful words in literature. Ten years later he did indeed encounter a good translation of the sacred texts when his life was bottoming out. He became receptive.

Augustine, however, never stopped appreciating the writings of Greek scholars. When criticized for this, he pointed out how the Israelites when they left Egypt brought gold with them. Augustine justified this love of classic literature by declaring that the gold of Egypt was still gold.

When it comes to rock and rap and other genres, some of the issues become controversial. Is it a compromise of one's religion, or the fulfilling of urgent need to affirm faith in the midst of the culture as opposed to standing on a pillar in the desert, a la 4th Century pillar saints. Mark Joseph delves into all of it in this volume.

EN: What was your purpose in writing this book?

Mark Joseph: I like to tell stories, whether through films, music or books and this is a great story that I've been telling in different formats for a quarter of a century and for the most part it's one that has slipped under the radar of popular culture. It began with a piece I did for Billboard Magazine back in 1994. When I was just getting started I realized the parallels between what was happening in Christian rock and what was then called the Negro Baseball Leagues and how in both cases the story was more complicated than it appeared to be--it wasn't as simple as black hats and white hats. I realized that it wasn't just racists who wanted to keep blacks out of major league baseball, it was also those who ran the leagues that were for blacks only--they had a vested interest in keeping the races separate. And the same was true in music. While many Evangelicals claimed they were being kept out of mainstream music, and there was some truth to that, there were also leaders of Christian music who were actively working to keep the music industries separate because that's how they made a living.

EN: In the 60’s and 70’s there appeared Christian publishers, Christian music (CCM), Christian television, Christian movies… Often of quite uneven quality. How did this “Christian” subculture develop?

MJ: It's a frame of mind that many Christians fall into--a kind of 'if I can't get my way on everything I'll take my marbles and go home" attitude. Life is about give and take and working together and sometimes you don't get everything you want and you have to keep at it, not run away. There has been cases of more secular people trying to block religious expression in popular culture, I document it in the book, but the answer isn't to run and create a safe harbor but to stay put and negotiate those differences. The LGBT community has done a great job in this area and Christians would do well to emulate their success. They don't escape and create gay subcultures in media, they work hard to be a presence in the mainstream. In my view, attaching the term "Christian'" as an adjective to describe various art forms is a huge mistake. First, it's not theologically accurate since Christian is a noun not an adjective and no thing can be Christian. But it's also a huge turnoff to those who aren't already devout. It makes art feel like it's not for them. American popular culture should be a place for everybody to share their ideas without being segregated into this or that camp by religion or political views.

EN: You produced the soundtrack for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Based on your own experience and observations, what are the special challenges that Christian actors, producers, screenwriters face in Hollywood?

MJ: The challenge that Christians in Hollywood must face and succeed at is working hard to not just preach to the choir but also to ensure that their art simultaneously reaches those who don't agree with them as well and this can be done. Narnia is a great example--a good part of the audience believed as C.S. Lewis did that Aslan as a stand-in for Jesus Christ. Others just enjoyed the story of a kind-hearted lion--and both groups enjoyed the show. That's something to shoot for. It's ok and important to tell religious stories or films that faith is present in--but it has to be done in a way that still allows the story to make sense to those who don't believe. Christians should always try to remember their own frame of mind back when they didn't believe and never forget to tell stories that can reach the people they used to be, in addition to the people they've become.

EN: Music has played such a major role in shaping our culture. What’s interesting is how many musicians of whom we’re all familiar with have been influenced directly or indirectly at one time or another by The Vineyard Church and its offspring. (eg. Bob Dylan, Mumford & Sons). Who are some others that come to mind? And how was it that the Vineyard was so successful in this regard?

MJ: The Vineyard has had a massive impact in this area--it and Calvary Chapel are largely responsible for much of this. Lifehouse is another band that grew out of the Vineyard. These were two churches that took music seriously and didn't look down on musicians but celebrated them. If more churches emulated that attitude, we'd see another explosion of talent in the next two decades.

EN: Alice Cooper’s foreword is very direct and thought provoking. How did that come about?

MJ: Alice and his wife Sheryl have been friends and always supportive of the things I've been doing. We talk often when they're on the road. In many ways he has lived out the premise of the book that runs counter to the popular narrative that religious people have to flee public life. I've always maintained that if you're good, people will put up with your views even if they think they're archaic or quaint. That's Alice. He believes. And who better to listen to than a guy who knows and has experienced the dark side and the bright side? I had originally just asked him for a one line endorsement. But when the publisher sent me the cover I just thought it was such an Alice looking cover that I asked him to do the foreword instead. And he did. Our culture needs more Alice Coopers who are winsome, excellent at their craft, unflinching in their beliefs, but still fun to be around.

Related Links
The Rock & Roll Rebellion: Why People of Faith Abandoned Rock Music and Why They're Coming Back (1999)
Faith, God and Rock & Roll: How People of Faith Are Transforming American Popular Music (2003)
Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil's Music (2017)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Like Dylan, Artist Daniel Botkin Reconfigures American Classics

Dylan Crossing His Delaware (Detail A)
One of the speakers at this year's Duluth Dylan Fest was Harvard Classics professor Richard Thomas, author of Why Bob Dylan Matters. One of the features of his lecture, extensively expanded upon in his book, was the concept of intertextuality as a response to the accusations of plagiarism in Dylan's work. According to Wikipedia, "Intertextuality is the shaping of a text's meaning by another text. It is the interconnection between similar or related works of literature that reflect and influence an audience's interpretation of the text. Intertextual figures include: allusion, quotation, calque, plagiarism, translation, pastiche and parody. Intertextuality is a literary device that creates an 'interrelationship between texts' and generates related understanding in separate works."

North Country Gothic
Intertextuality has to do with texts, so I don't know what the word would be to describe artists who draw upon the works of other artists. A number of years ago the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art hosted a exhibition of painters whose paintings were influenced by Picasso. Each room would have a Picasso painting with two or three paintings by others that were echoes of what Picasso had done. I specifically recall one piece by Jasper Johns in this show.

All this is by way of introduction to the four paintings Daniel Botkin contributed to this year's Duluth Dylan Fest art show. What follows are his artist statement and descriptions of the four pieces he shared with us in late May.

Bob Dylan borrowed elements of American folk music and wove those elements together to create brand new songs. Following Dylan's method, I have borrowed pieces of popular American folk art and used those compositions to create brand new paintings that blend Dylan and Americana.
-Daniel Botkin

Dylan Crossing His Delaware, full painting
When the Ship Comes In: Dylan Crossing His Delaware
Dylan crossing over from all-acoustic to electric. "Another Side" was his last all-acoustic album. "Bringing It All Back Home," his transitional album, was acoustic on one side and electric on the other. It was followed by "Highway 61 Revisited," his first all-electric album. Some fans considered him a traitor for going electric, one of them famously yelling "Judas!" at a concert. That fellow is in the lower left corner of my painting.
Oil on canvas, $778.

Forever Young
Patterned after Norman Rockwell's Triple Self Portrait. The small pictures on the easel are from Dylan's early career and his childhood home in Duluth.
Oil on canvas $678.

Bobby's World: Stuck Inside of Duluth and Hibbing With the Freight Train Blues Again
Patterned after Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World. The yellow house is the Dylan home in Duluth and the blue house is the Dylan home in Hibbing. The title of my painting is a tweaking of Wyeth's title, followed by a blending of two Dylan song titles, "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" and "Freight Train Blues."
Oil on canvas, $578

North Country Gothic
Patterned after Grant Wood's American Gothic. Young Bob Dylan with Echo Helstrom, his high school sweetheart, with the Dylan home in the background. Echo died in January 2018, just about a month before this painting was completed as a tribute to her for being the inspiration for Dylan's song "Girl From the North Country."
Oil on canvas, $578

Dylan Crossing His Delaware (Detail B)
Dylan Crossing His Delaware (Detail C)
Related Lnks
Until death it is all life. Embrace it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Two Powerful Songs in Response to the Cold-Blooded Murder of Medgar Evers

On this day in history civil rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated. Born July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi he became, in 1954, the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi. As such, he organized voter-registration efforts and economic boycotts, and investigated crimes perpetrated against blacks. For these "subversive" activities he was assassinated outside his Mississippi home 55 years ago today. It took more than three decades to send his killer to prison. Such were the machinations of Mississippi justice.

Evers served in World War II from 1943 to '45 and returned, like many other African Americans of his generation, to see the Jim Crow South with new eyes. He graduated college on the G.I. Bill and soon became involved with civil rights work. In 1954 he came field secretary for the NAACP, travelling extensively throughout the state, a witness to the widespread injustices that were a way of life there. For context, 1954 was the year of the landmark legislation Brown v. Board of Education, 1955 the death of Emmett Till.

After years of organizing and standing up to the powers that be, "Evers's efforts made him a target for those who opposed racial equality and desegregation. He and his family were subjected to numerous threats and violent actions, including a firebombing of his house in May 1963, shortly before his assassination."(1)

* * * *
August 28, less than two months later, proved to be one of the most memorable days in our history as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march on Washington for jobs and freedom, galvanizing the civil rights movement with his epic "I Have A Dream" speech, which reverberates to this day.  A young Bob Dylan was one of many singers who had been invited to perform at the event.(2) Even though he'd just released his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, with a number of suitable songs for the occasion ("Blowin' in the Wind" and "Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" come to mind) he sang three songs from his next album, including "Only A Pawn In Their Game" which he'd written in response to the shooting of Medgar Evers.

It's not possible for me to hear this song without being moved, and for decades I felt it to be the most powerful response ever written in response to Evers' assassination. Eventually, thanks to the Internet, I discovered Nina Simone's response to this and everything taking place in Mississippi at that time, a song which -- for reasons self-evident -- would not have been aired on the radio stations most of us listened to while growing up in the Sixties. It's called "Mississippi Goddam."(3)

The chorus, which also opens the song, goes like this:
Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi goddam

Lyrics like these reflect the burden of being black in the Deep South at that time:

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day's gonna be my last
Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time

I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer
Don't tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I've been there so I know
They keep on saying 'Go slow!'

It's a painful song, but its despairing tone reflects a strange beauty that I find incredibly moving. 

Like Dylan's "Only A Pawn" it's the manner in which the song is sung that goes right through you. Let's mark the day by remembering. 

(1) Medgar Evers life at Biography
(2) Music of the March on Washington
(3) Full lyrics, Mississippi Goddam

Monday, June 11, 2018

Items of Note: Two Calls for Art Plus the Free Range Film Festival

Zeitgeist Seek Artists for Public Art
The Zeitgeist is looking for contributions from local artists to decorate a new Parklet that will be installed next year. They are seeking to display up to 18 submissions from artists of all levels, beginners to veterans. The concept you submit will be a draft, not finished pieces. They will select artists and then give plywood to all those selected for completing their ideas. Drafts can be submitted on paper in person at the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe: 222 East Superior Street, or can be scanned and emailed to  For more information visit the Zeitgeist Arts Parklet Arts page.

City Pages Call for Comix Artists
City Pages in the Twin Cities is looking for talented artists to submit work for their annual City Pages Comix Issue. This year's theme: Summer Jobs. Cartoonists must submit work that flows as true sequential art that tells a full story while adhering to our designated image dimensions, but there are no restrictions on the number of panels or how you use them. Guidelines and full details HERE.

Free Range Film Festival

The harvest is in for the Free Range Film Festival and 29 films have been deemed chemical free and fresh for viewing. 2018 marks the 15th year for the Festival. A cult favorite since it started screening films in 2003, the festival provides a forum for filmmakers, film lovers, as well as barn enthusiasts and country living aficionados. With an earlier date for the barn screenings, festival organizers are eager to share the schedule with consumers.

This year’s crop of films includes a documentary about semi-aquatic beaverlike rodents with giant orange teeth that live in Louisiana, a virtual reality music video from the duo “Maple & Beach”, the story of local artist hero Chris Monroe’s last window exhibition for Treehouse Records, and a lot of movies that include exclamation points in the title.

“I’m particularly excited about our Saturday afternoon block of programming this year” says one of the festival organizers Annie Dugan. “We have a ton of filmmakers who will be in attendance that afternoon with great opportunity for Q&A and discussion. Plus, this is the first year that our Saturday afternoon screenings are completely rated G!”. Dugan continues that even if the films might not suit a particular audience, “there is something about watching movies in a big old barn that give people permission to relax and try something new. If they don’t like something, they can look up at the rafters and daydream. Its just such a beautiful space.”

The diversity in directors and subject matter is also of note in the 2018 schedule. Dugan points out that “One of the things we continue to be proud of in our programming is that over half of the directors are female, something you don’t usually see on the festival circuit”.

For a full schedule and more information on the Free Range Film festival: The harvest is in for the Free Range Film Festival and 29 films have been deemed chemical free and fresh for viewing. 2018 marks the 15th year for the Festival. A cult favorite since it started screening films in 2003, the festival provides a forum for filmmakers, film lovers, as well as barn enthusiasts and country living aficionados. With an earlier date for the barn screenings, festival organizers are eager to share the schedule with consumers.

For a full schedule and more information on the Free Range Film festival, visit

* * * * 
Special Message from Ennyman
It's never too early to introduce your kids to the arts.
My parents enrolled me in a ten-week program here at the
Cleveland Institute of Art when I was five. It changed my life.
Cleveland Institute of Art
It's Never Too Late to Start Making Art
You can find all kinds of art classes here in the Twin Ports, from Zentangle Designs with Esther Piszczek to all the assorted activities at The Duluth Art Institute, Pineapple Arts and Art on the Rocks, just to name a few. Learn something new. Expand your horizons. Creativity is in your DNA. Wake up your Inner You.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Engage it.