Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday, Night Before

We've lost our Internet connection for the week and we're expecting to be snowed in tomorrow... so I'm posting this Tuesday eve in advance of the storm... just in case. Gotta be prepared.

The Writings of Marcel Duchamp

“Can one make works which are not works of art?” ~Marcel Duchamp

An education begins with an introduction to the basic building blocks of any field. In fifth grade we have enough understanding to grasp the reality that in history there is both a recent past and an ancient past. We learn about the main events, the big events that changed our world. It’s all about times and places and dates and circumstances. All this history gives us a foundation in order to later comprehend the ideas behind the events. What moved these men to do the things they did that so shaped the future they had as yet not seen? Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Marx and Engels, Lincoln, Lenin… What were the ideas that so impelled them?

Art history is no different. Our training in the arts may begin with learning about the basic materials and tools artists use and principles about color, line, perspective. The next level includes becoming familiar with the artists, the times in which they lived, the work that they produced. Whistler, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Rodin, Mondrian… Each has a style, and each a place in the grand scheme of things. But so often we simply stop there. We learn that Dali did melting watches and works that were weird, and that Picasso painted the Guernica as a statement about the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. But what were the ideas that impelled them?

Many artists have left behind not only their art, but also writings about that art. Kandinsky wrote, among other things, a book called Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Paul Klee left us his Pedagogical Sketchbook. In my hand is a book titled The Writings of Marcel Duchamp.

Duchamp, whose Nude Descending A Staircase created a sensation when it was painted in 1912. His Urinal, a shocking piece of found art when first shown, has been proclaimed by some as the most significant piece of art in the 20th century. Duchamp’s work foreshadowed the conceptual artists and happenings which would catch up to his ideas a half century later.

This blog entry is a review of The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, edited by Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson. The cover of the book features Duchamp’s "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even" which is on display in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The piece, sketched in 1913 and produced over a period of many years, ended up getting cracked on delivery. It is a large glass and therefore fragile, but substantial enough to withstand the shocks it experienced, as we ourselves often are in life.

The first portion of this book of Duchamp’s writings is about this piece, also referred to as The Large Glass, and I feel confident in saying that the multitude of meanings contained therein are completely veiled to the one who has not taken the time to access his notes on the project.

Something of a flow chart is here on pages 20 and 21 with some of the following text inscribed in boxes: Motor with Quite Feeble Cylinders, Wasp Sex Cylinder, Cage (contains filament material), Desire-Magneto, Capillary Tubes, Architectonic Base for the Bride, Oculist Charts, Oculist Witnesses, Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries, Water Wheel Mill, The Milky Way, etc. etc. The notes are full of playful suggestiveness and eroticism, even when there is nothing really erotically charged in the piece itself to the uninstructed viewer.

Duchamp’s experiments with chance are equally fascinating. The chapter on his 1914 Box begins with the Idea of Fabrication. “If a straight horizontal thread one meter long falls from a height of one meter onto a horizontal plane distorting itself as it pleases and creates a new shape of the measure of length.” Many of the notes are incomprehensible, and others impishly humorous, perhaps not unlike Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.

The various elements of the Bride Stripped Bare include notes on dust breeding, sieves and funnels, pistons, weights, waterfalls, and the famous chocolate grinder. “The chocolate of the rollers, coming from one who knows not where, Would deposit itself after grinding, as milk chocolate… The grinder is mounted on a Louis XV nickled chassis.”

More than half the book deals with The Large Glass. The following section of the book deals with Duchamp’s transformation into Rrose Selavy. (eros c’est la vie) Much of this chapter is in French and the reader is encouraged to look elsewhere for more about this segment. The Man Ray photo of Duchamp as Rrose probably says enough. Much of the chapter includes explanations of Duchamp’s wordplay in his notes. Straight translation fails to convey the subtleties.

The following chapter is an essay titled ‘The Great Trouble With Art In This Country,” a portion of which details how Nude Descending a Staircase was not influenced by Futurists like Severini but was more about deconstructing forms, as the cubists were doing. “Reduce, reduce, reduce was my thought,” Duchamp explains, along with the comment that his aim was increasingly inward as opposed to external. Nude Descending a Staircase, which is also housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, proved to be a necessary stepping stone to The Large Glass, and like a series of concentric circles rippling outward from a stone plunking into a pond, so the chapters of this book constantly reference this formidable piece to which Duchamp devoted nearly a decade of his life.

Bottom line: many artists from DaVinci to Dali were also writers. While it’s true that spectators can interact with a work of art without knowing anything beyond its shape, line, form or substance, we are much enriched if we also take time to read artist statements and the essays, books, letters they have left behind.

For what it’s worth… In the late 1980s I wrote a short story that was influenced by Duchamp and the gradual shift from visual arts to the minimalism and the conceptual presentation of ideas. Later, Terrorists Preying was translated into French in the 1990s and was ultimately included in my 2011 volume of short stories titled Newmanesque.


Top right: Hermeneutic Circle by Eris Vafias, used with permission.
Lower right: Abstract Fragment by Ed Newman

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cowboys and Aliens

Last night was Oscar night so our minds drift to Hollywood, the land of red carpets, limos and stars in sidewalks. By now you know The Artist took home its share of honors, and the best actress of our generation, Meryl Streep, won best actress. But I wanted to write about an entertaining 2011 film that I enjoyed this weekend on DVD, even if it was panned by the Academy.

Hollywood has a habit of returning to favorite themes: love stories, monsters, murder mysteries, the rich & famous, thrillers, musicals… themes of all kinds. But westerns seemed to really draw the attention of American television and movie viewers. Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Roy Rogers and Maverick were on the tube. And think of all those cowboy and Indians stories on the silver screen like the epic How the West Was Won to the more politically correct Little Big Man and Dances with Wolves. Clint Eastwood cut his teeth doing spaghetti westerns. The Duke finally got his Oscar in True Grit. So here is a film that has yet another twist on the cowboys and Indians saga that is both surprising and entertaining, even if improbable, Cowboys and Aliens.

The influence of all those old westerns could be seen in my second grade art class where I did some pictures of cowboys. One of my stuffed animals had a vest with a sheriff's badge on it.

From the very first, you can tell Daniel Craig was born to be a cowboy, gritty as any of the Magnificent Seven ever were. He must have had fun playing this role. He wore his chaps and holster well.

I could probably find out with minimal research but the location where this film was shot reminded me of the South Dakota Badlands, one of our family vacations when our kids were young. Nearby the film Dances with Wolves was shot. But a lot of Hollywood Westerns were shot in the neighborhood of Sedona, Arizona and that opening shot could have been there as well. We have a lot of beautiful landscapes in the country.

The story…. Good guys and bad guys and Natives and … well, aliens. If UFOs can come to earth in our modern time, who’s to say they couldn’t have come to earth just as easily in the 19th century…. or fifteenth… or fourth…. For the purposes of this story, they came in the 19th century, the wild west era, because folks in Hollywood know how much we Americans love Westerns.

These aliens were indeed gruesome. Why is it that Hollywood has such a fondness for making aliens, monsters and ghouls green? Is green really the color of evil? The aliens here are truly creepy with insect-like features, reptilian hides. E.T., the Mask and the Creature from the Black Lagoon come to mind here as green creatures. But look at the Disney world and we find plenty of other evil characters portrayed in greens and blues. (Insight courtesy artist Kim Abeles of Los Angeles.)

The stars are bright in this film, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford pre-eminent and Olivia Wilde being a heroine of exceptional beauty. You'll recognize other faces in this vast cast.
The special effects were as expected with a movie of this size. Director John Favreau, who did Iron Man, clearly knows how to play the special effects game. Though spectacular, they do not distract from the story, which was fun and full of surprises, though maybe a bit tedious at the end.

If you get the chance, give it a chance. Even if the critics panned it, a lot of film buffs enjoyed it. I'm one of them.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Proof of Life

Yesterday I was listening to a documentary about kidnapping and hostage-taking on National Public Radio. At one time Columbia led the world in number of hostages being held for ransom. If I heard correctly the program said there were 3,000 hostages being held at any one time by the FARC or the rebels at any one time at its peak ten or fifteen years ago. (Somalia, I believe, is now the leader in this enterprise.)

In fact, there were so many hostages held that a radio station in Bogota created a radio program that aired on Sunday afternoons for the purpose of transmitting messages from loved ones whose husbands (usually) were missing. Wives would tell their husbands that they were loved, that they looked forward to seeing them again, that sons and daughters were starting school next week or graduating, etc.

One of the reasons many hostages don’t make it is that they lose hope of ever getting out. As a result, they do not exercise or take care of themselves. This attitude leads to self-destruction when in reality the hostages have it as their aim to keep them alive because they are only worth money alive. This is a ransom situation.

To get someone returned a price must be paid. But the person paying that ransom wants proof of life first. Why give a million dollars for a dead man? Proof of life may consist of videos, tapes, letters… evidences that the captive is still there. At least this is the way it works in the hostage business.

As an aside here, it’s interesting the Bible talks about the human race as being hostages, that God sent his son, Jesus, as the ransom to get us back. One difference between that story and this is that in the Paul’s letter to the Ephesians God did this ransom transaction knowing we were dead. That is, we were “dead to God” or spiritually separated from life, which in the Biblical story began with being banished from Paradise or Eden where the "tree of life" is situated. This is a very unusual notion but at the heart of the “good news” that Christianity was originally all about. (Interestingly enough, the hero in C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy* is named Ransom.)

But as I listened to yesterday’s program and thought about it my mind latched on to this phrase “proof of life” but I wanted to apply it in a different way. What is the evidence we bring to this world that we are alive? After we’re gone, what have we left behind that proves we have lived? Certainly our children are a legacy. Do my writings count? My art? How about our acts of selflessness?

What are the proofs that you are alive? What proofs will you leave that you have lived?

*Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why I Don't Have a Fine Arts Degree

The war was still on, full force, with bombing and napalm and mayhem in Southeast Asia, and confusion amongst the students at home. Ohio University in Athens is my alma mater and for four years, beginning in 1970, I learned a lot about many lessons at and around that campus that sprawled along the Hocking River in those beautiful Southeast Ohio hills.

The early Seventies was a period of contradictions and "mixed up confusion." The Sixties ended with a man walking on the moon while events like Kent State, illegal bombings in Cambodia and My Lai were in the news. Whether it was public education, the times we lived in or simply the air we breathed, "Question Authority" was part of the attitude with which we learned to approach everything. Skepticism about the motives of our leaders, skepticism about our past, skepticism about our values... We were products of the Sixties.

One notion that took hold in me was the incorrect belief that the past had no relevance for what we were living through in the present.

Kate Ellis opens her essay "Parallel Lives: Are We Closer to the Past Than We Think?" with this statement: "Many people today consider the past to be an irrelevance. To a large proportion of the population history is something confined to theme parks, costume drama, museums and what is known now as the heritage industry." Where did this idea come from that the past has no relevance for us today?

Actually, I don't have time to explore that question. Of real interest to me here is that I bought into it. I accepted it wholeheartedly. And as I signed up for art classes at Siegfried Hall, the only art history that interested me was the one class on Modern Art. I had no use for the other art history classes, I believed. Except to graduate with a fine arts degree you had to have two, not one, art history classes. Despite my 90 credit hours of art classes I was still one point shy of obtaining that arts degree.

This is how I finished college with a General Studies degree, instead of Fine Arts. For what it's worth, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

By the way, week three of the Robert Hughes film series "Shock of the New" about the history of 20th century art will be playing at the Zinema 2 here in Duluth. Today's reel is titled, The Landscape of Pleasure with a discussion afterward led by Jeff Kalstrom, Drawing and Painting professor at UMD. Hopefully, I will see you there.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Culture Zoo Exhibit Showcases Emerging Artists

With so many other things happening again this weekend, I thought it would be worthwhile highlighting what is sure to be an interesting exhibit titled, "Culture Zoo: Looking In and Out of Our Cage."

The focus of this exhibition is to showcase emerging artists, reflect culture, and display art’s ability to quote the past, comment on the present, and look to the future. Artists include Vince Cody - Sculpture/Painting, Chelsea Morgan of Magic Box Photography - Photography, Christopher Selleck - Photography, Adam McCauley - Painter, Michael Smith - Painter, Jeredt Runions - Painter. Colin Wiita - Mixed Media.

Native American sculpture and painting, portrait and urban landscape photography, abstract paintings and mixed medium on canvas. Their work will fill the North End Arts Gallery at 1323 Broadway Street from tonight through April 21 which coincides with the Art for Earth Day Gallery Hop.

The North End Arts Gallery is upstairs in the same building that houses the Red Mug, a bakery, a chiropractic clinic and an assortment of artists associated with Art In The Alley. I remember touring this historic building that had once housed the Superior Police (Disclaimer: I am not from here originally and my have facts wrong on that one.) It had just been turned over to the arts in the early 1990's and publisher Mike Savage of Savage Press invited me to a book signing and reception in this very room where the gallery now resides. There were no other businesses here yet and it was interesting going in and out of various corridors, exploring spaces upstairs and down. I imagined being a little kid playing hide and seek, or a spookier game that my brothers and I used to play when my parents went out.

Earlier this week I contacted Jeredt Runions and asked if he had time to answer a few questions about tonight's event so I could share it here. As always, he graciously helped with the following information.

E: Who are the artists showing and can you describe some of their work?
JR: The 7 artists involved are Vince Cody, Adam McCauley, Chelsea Morgan, Jeredt Runions, Christopher Selleck, Michael Smith, and Colin Wiita. As for the artists’ work this is a show that the only two artists i know are Colin and Adam and their work is a combination of abstract, mixed media. Both artists are products of UWS Art dept so they have a very similar style that can be found in this school. The others, I have no clue what they do or who they are which makes it fun.

E: What is your current work about? New directions? What have you been wrestling with pre-eminently?
JR: My current work explores more of a world traveling theme. I traveled to Chile recently and the colors, along with the grafitti, changed my eyes for different colors and mood of colors. I have been going to UWS recently and exploring different media and ways to produce art along with styles to blend into my already distinct style. I have been making wood block prints, etching, and drawing a lot so those elements combined with collage have expanded my art outlook and has been building me into a overall better artist.

E: I see something going on in the Superior art scene that I haven’t witnessed before. What's your take on this?
JR: It has been really fun in the past couple years to see the building up of the art scene in the Twin Ports. I have lived here for a long time and have been showing my art around the area and have never seen the exciting energy that is going on here right now. More importantly, the art scene in Superior is growing at such an awesome rate that I feel that it could be the one thing that helps build this community up a little better and show the people of the area that Superior can be a great art town like Duluth!

E: I'll be there at six tonight and have been looking forward to it. Thanks, Jeredt, for all your efforts to help make art happen here in the Twin Ports.

There are still so many other things happening one has a hard time finding the time to take it all in. I can't let the moment pass without mentioning that Saturday evening Garrison Keillor is coming to town from Lake Woebegone for another edition of Prairie Home Companion. It may be too late for tickets, but if you tune in you may hear some of us Northlanders clapping, laughing and carrying on in the background. We're not all staid Scandihoovians.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Five Minutes with Cleveland Sports Journalist Terry Pluto

In the early nineties when AOL was king, before the real Internet stole us all away, every NFL football team had an AOL meeting-place for its fans. The most populated group of them all consisted of die-hard Cleveland Browns fans. Sadly, being a Browns fan these past forty years has been an exercise in futility. The only thing more painful than being a Browns fan is being a Cleveland Indians fan.

Nevertheless, even though Cleveland has left us little to cheer about in terms of championships, we have many great memories of great moments and, win or lose, we have some great sports journalists who continue to write with passion and earnestness. One of these is Terry Pluto, whom I first became aware of many years ago by seeing his name associated with The Amy Awards, in recognition of the best of Christian journalism.

But his awards don’t stop there, and I get the impression based on his output of 22 books or more that his writing is not going to stop anytime soon either. His book The Curse of Rocky Colavito was one of the most enjoyable and insightful sports stories I’ve ever read. This book should be mandatory for any living fan of the Tribe. I now understand what was behind the demise of the Indians that I witnessed in the early Sixties.*

On my current reading list, downloaded to my Kindle, is his exposition of the Browns’ more recent struggles, False Start. Perhaps what makes his writing zing is its pointedness backed by keen observation. You can tell he's well acquainted with his subject matter and has done his homework, or rather, legwork. For what it’s worth, whenever I want to check in on my Cleveland Browns, I look online for the Cleveland Plain Dealer columns of Terry Pluto.

Terry kindly accepted my request to be interviewed here about both writing and sports journalism.

Ennyman: You make a living as a sports journalist who has been continuously cranking out copy for 30 years. Have you ever had writer's block and how did you deal with it?
Terry Pluto: I hope it's a little better than "cranking out copy," or I wouldn't be around for 30 years. A big key is deciding what you want to say and how to say it... My job is to write, and it matches my passion. There always is something going on in sports if you are willing to look at high schools, small colleges, etc. Not just the pros.

E: Can I assume that you have been from Cleveland all your life? Describe briefly what it is like to be an Indians and a Browns fan the past forty years.
TP: I worked in Greensboro, Savannah and Baltimore when I was a young writer. I like sports, but love to write. My passion is finding good stories for fans who love sports... I prefer the teams to win because it's much more fun and makes for better stories but I never let the millionaires ruin my day when they lose or make a bad trade.

E: Why were Browns fans optimistic when owner Art Modell took the team to Baltimore?
TP: It seems like they became a start-up again. Most fans didn't understand the perils of expansion. I wrote a book about it, False Start.

E: What's been harder, being a Browns fan or an Indians fan and why?
TP: Browns fans are more passionate and have had far less success. The Tribe receives far less patience and harsher judgment from fans. Not sure why because the rules make it far easier for the Browns to be successful than the Tribe.

E: Which came first, being a writer or being a fan? If you had not been a sports journalist, what would you have been writing about these past many decades?
TP: I love to write, so I would have been writing something, somewhere. I do have a degree in secondary education, and spent much of my senior year teaching history at Lincoln-West. So I am a certified high school teacher, but I prefer to write.

E: You never saw Otto Graham play, a true great Browns quarterback. How would you compare Frank Ryan, Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar?
TP: Kosar was the most polished in terms of reading defenses and squeezing the most out of the offense. Sipe was very close. Ryan was an above average QB surrounded with tremendous talent.

E: How many years till we have a Browns team that can be competitive?
TP: If I knew that, I'd write it.

Terry, thank you.
To other readers here: You can find more about Terry Pluto and his writings at the following Internet places and spaces:

Terry Pluto: terrypluto.com
Facebook: facebook.com/terrypluto

Sports stories: cleveland.com/pluto/blog/
Faith stories: cleveland.com/pluto/faith

*When I attended the 1963 All Star Game in Cleveland, there were no home town players on the American League squad except pitcher Jim "Mudcat" Grant, who was no doubt selected as a token for the hometown fans. Pluto's book explains why this was so.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When John Brown Went Off To War

"Then conquer we must, for our cause is just..." ~Francis Scott Key

Here in Duluth, John Bushey's Highway 61 Revisited has become a fixture for many radio listeners. The show airs on KUMD each Saturday evening at 5:00 p.m. and has been nicknamed by some as "the Dylan hour." If you're unfortunate enough to miss your favorite program, the good part is that it re-airs on Mondays from five to six, or during drive time for your home commute if you're not working overtime.

Bushey does an admirable job with the program, which frequently has rare clips from concerts or rare clips from interviews. He sometimes plays music by other musicians who have done covers of Dylan's material, and sometimes will play the studio version of a song Dylan recorded when young and follow with the same song performed live later in the artist's life.

Last night we heard older and later versions of A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall, one of the great songs of all time. Bushey notes that the song was written during the Cuban missile crisis, and that "every line could become a song in and of itself." I concur. Another song that we heard older and newer versions of was John Brown.

I remember the very first moment I heard the latter version of this song. A salesman whom I had done business with took me to lunch nearly fifteen years ago and when I jumped into his car he said, "You've gotta hear this." Like myself he had grown up in the Sixties. If adolescence is challenging, adolescence while your country is in a war that doesn't make sense is especially so.

George Eliot once wrote, "We must not inquire too curiously into motives." That's the problem right there. We're born with inquiring minds. We are always wanting to ask "why?" We're too young to understand that this is considered impudent by our elders.

I'm not sure of the origins of "Just War Theory" but the ideas came to the forefront with Viet Nam. To say that such probing is irrelevant does nothing to bolster our confidence.

So the songwriters who gave us words, raised questions. How many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned? And how many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?

Dylan's "John Brown" germinated in soil such as this. It hearkens back to another war protest song from an earlier time, "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda." It personalizes the matter in a storyline that hurts.

John Brown

John Brown went off to war to fight on a foreign shore
His mama sure was proud of him!
He stood straight and tall in his uniform and all
His mama’s face broke out all in a grin

“Oh son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine
You make me proud to know you hold a gun
Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get
And we’ll put them on the wall when you come home”

As that old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout
Tellin’ ev’ryone in the neighborhood:
“That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know”
She made well sure her neighbors understood
She got a letter once in a while and her face broke into a smile

As she showed them to the people from next door
And she bragged about her son with his uniform and gun
And these things you called a good old-fashioned war
Oh! Good old-fashioned war!

Then the letters ceased to come, for a long time they did not come
They ceased to come for about ten months or more
Then a letter finally came saying, “Go down and meet the train
Your son’s a-coming home from the war”

She smiled and went right down, she looked everywhere around
But she could not see her soldier son in sight
But as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
When she did she could hardly believe her eyes

Oh his face was all shot up and his hand was all blown off
And he wore a metal brace around his waist
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know
While she couldn’t even recognize his face!

Oh! Lord! Not even recognize his face

“Oh tell me, my darling son, pray tell me what they done
How is it you come to be this way?”
He tried his best to talk but his mouth could hardly move
And the mother had to turn her face away

“Don’t you remember, Ma, when I went off to war
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home . . . acting proud
You wasn’t there standing in my shoes”

“Oh, and I thought when I was there, God, what am I doing here?
I’m a-tryin’ to kill somebody or die tryin’
But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine”

Oh! Lord! Just like mine!

“And I couldn’t help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink
That I was just a puppet in a play
And through the roar and smoke, this string is finally broke
And a cannonball blew my eyes away”

As he turned away to walk, his Ma was still in shock
At seein’ the metal brace that helped him stand
But as he turned to go, he called his mother close
And he dropped his medals down into her hand

Copyright © 1963, 1968 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1996 by Special Rider Music

Monday, February 20, 2012

I Changed My Mind About Women's Hockey

Saturday night was the last game of the season for UMD's WCHA hockey season. (For the acronym-challenged, UMD is University of Minnesota Duluth, and WCHA is Western Collegiate Hockey Assn., and Assn. is Association, a rock band famous in the Sixties for pop hits like "Cherish" and "Along Comes Mary.") Well, guess what? I enjoyed it. I was impressed. It was not what I expected.

Beforehand I'd been led to believe that collegiate women's hockey is boring, that the women don't skate as fast and there's less action so it's more like watching paint dry than "real" hockey. By "real" hockey I mean the kind where men race around and slam into one another knocking, knocking eyeballs out and plastering human body parts against the boards. It's where manhood is achieved, and anything less is not "real" hockey.

Now here's a disclaimer. I did not grow up in Minnesota. My first experience of Minnesota hockey madness was when Susie and I went to house sit for a couple in Minneapolis back in the Seventies. (I arrived in Minnesota from the Jersey Shore* in 1976.) On that occasion we walked in the door of this Bloomington home where two women were dressed and ready for a fancy night on the town, but their two husbands were still stuck in the living room, on their knees eighteen inches from an enormous television, arms gesticulating, screams of joy or pain or whatever it was filling the room as they urged their hockey team on. The women patiently waited in the foyer, glancing at their watches every now and then as if this were all very normal.

Yes, hockey in Minnesota is a ritual men must be part of. I have a friend who is a sensitive prolific writer, good-hearted, compassionate, tender... but when I visited one evening during a hockey game... It's like Jekyll and Hyde up here in the Northland. I mean, guys turn on the TV for a hockey game and they want to start breaking concrete with their bare hands.

So, if you get your opinions about women's hockey from a guy in Minnesota, you have to keep in mind, these are not always reliable. I went the game with so-so expectations. There was hardly a crowd, sad to say, and it would be impossible for us to do The Wave, I could see that immediately. Despite the lack of a audience, the lights went down and these uniformed maidens were introduced, many on our UMD team having come from all over the world to be here. Why? One reason is that our coach, Coach Miller has led this UMD hockey program to many WCHA championships. It's a privilege for any student athlete to be associated with champions.

The game began in the usual way, with a puck drop. And I noticed something pretty quick. These girls could stake. They were fast, agile, focused. They also demonstrated incredible discipline and teamwork. I'd been a soccer coach for seven years and I knew they don't just automatically become a team. Someone has to instill this.

I was impressed, too, with their keen awareness of everything that was going on around them, 360-degree concentration. That puck would fly here and there so that quick adjustments and instinctual movements were required continuously. Because body checking is verboten in women's hockey, the key here is finesse and these girls had it in spades.

I went down to the glass and watched up close and saw something else about these girls. They were just ordinary-sized like my 5'4" daughter. Audrey Courmoyer was five-three and center Haley Irwin of Thunder Bay was only five-seven. Jamie Kenyon, who scored two goals that night, is only five-five. I expected six foot four Amazons, I guess, but they played with Amazon sized hearts.

It was a great game, and an entertaining evening as UMD beat University of Minnesota, Mankato, 7-1. Congrats!

So, don't believe everything you hear. You have to go and draw your own conclusions. Isn't that true about a lot of things? Besides, next time I go I want to do The Wave.

*I made this up about the Jersey Shore. I thought it might help my Google rank. I lived an hour from the shore in a much less acrimonious environment.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Presidents Day Trivia

Next week is the Academy Awards, I think, so this is as good a day as any to think about presidents. By presidents we're talking about U.S. presidents here. Sorry, I mean no offense to my readers in Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Zambia or Laos who were not required to memorize U.S. president-trivia in their schools while growing up. For the rest of you, here's a quiz to help keep your brain cells from atrophying. You can check your answers against my guesses at the end of this quiz. Be sure to keep score.

Disclaimer: This quiz is for entertainment purposes only and should not be construed as having any usefulness for passing your U.S. citizenship exam.

1. Which president was nicknamed His Accidency?
a. Harrold Wilson
b. John Tyler
c. Chester Arthur
d. Grover Cleveland Alexander

2. Which President was called The Do-Nothing President?
a. Pat Buchanan
b. William Buckley
c. William Howard Taft
d. James Buchanan

3. Which president was sometimes called The Big Lub?
a. Gordon Lightfoot
b. William Howard Taft
c. Teddy Roosevelt
d. Herbert Hoover

4. Who was the only president with a Ph.D.?
a. Smedley
b. Woodrow Wilson
c. Calvin Coolidge
d. Benjamin Harrison

5. Who was the first president to actually dine with a black man in the White House?
a. Abraham Lincoln
b. Ulysses S. Grant
c. Teddy Roosevelt
d. John F. Kennedy

6. Teddy Roosevelt was evidently into pets. Match the the following pets to their names.
a. Guinea Pig
b. Snake
c. Bull Dog
d. Chesapeake Retriever
Their names were: Pete, Father O'Grady, Emily Spinach, and Sailor Boy... but in which order?

7. Who was the first president's wife to be called the First Lady of the Land?
a. Letitia Tyler
b. Lucy Hayes
c. Eliza Johnson
d. Frances Clara Cleveland

8. Who was the first president to fly in a helicopter?
a. Silent Cal
b. FDR
c. Ike
d. Harry S. Truman

9. Who was the first president to fly in an airplane?
a. Herbert Hoover
b. Teddy Roosevelt
c. FDR
d. Calvin College

10. This president raised 11 children, none of whom were his own. (He is one of three presidents to have had adopted children.)
a. Chester Arthur
b. Andrew Johnson
c. Andrew Jackson
d. James Polk

11. When he was vice president, he presided over the Senate wearing a pair of pistols, as a precaution against the frequent outbursts of violence. (See, contentiousness in the congress is nothing new.)
a. Hebert Hoover
b. Andrew Johnson
c. Martin Van Buren
d. Lyndon Johnson

12. Which president was the first to see a baseball game and saw the Cincinnati Reds beat the Washington Senators 7-4?
a. Benjamin Harrison
b. Teddy Roosevelt
c. William McKinley
d. Woodrow Wilson

13. How many presidents did not win the popular vote yet won the election?
a. 5
b. 8
c. 15
d. 11

14. How many Americans understand how the Electoral College works?
a. 5
b. 8
c. 15
d. 11

15. Who was the first president not born on the continental United States?
a. George Washington
b. John D. Rockefeller
c. Andrew Johnson
d. Barack Obama

Bonus: Which website did I borrow all this information from
a. ClassroomHelp.com
b. NationalGeographic.com
c. Infoplease.com
d. None of the above. I took good notes in school and remembered all this stuff.

1. (b) 2. (d) 3. (b) 4. (b) 5. (c) TR dined with Booker T. Washington. 6. Some of the pets TR had in the White House for his family included a Bull Dog named Pete, a Guinea Pig named Father O'Grady, a snake named Emily Spinach and a Chesapeake Retriever named Sailor Boy. 7. I think it was Lucy. 8. (c) 9. There is a dispute here as my sources conflict. One source says it was Teddy, the other says FDR. 10. (c) Yes, Jackson had 11 adopted children. 11. (c) 12. (a) 13. (c) 14. Trick question. Nobody knows how it works. 15. (d) He was born in Sasketchewan. No, wait, Rio. It was Hawaii, which was not a state until I was in elementary school. Bonus Question: a, b and c.

Score five points for having read this all the way through, and one point for each correct answer. If you did better than 18, you're pretty sharp. Take a bow.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Boogers Are My Beat

To you taxpayers out there, let me say this: Make sure you file your tax return on time! And remember that, even though income taxes can be a “pain in the neck,” the folks at the IRS are regular people just like you, except that they can destroy your life. ~Dave Barry

Drove to Minneapolis yesterday afternoon to spend the night with friends in order to meet my son at the airport in the a.m. It's always good to see old friends. And to see new ones as well. Where would we be without family and friends.

So, as is my custom I stopped at the library to select a book to listen to on the drive down, and in my usual indecisive way (when it comes to these kinds of things) I settled on four. One was a book of baseball stories that I'd already read, but immensely enjoyed. The second was a book about baseball co-authored by Ken Burns, producer of the PBS series that was so rich with trivia and baseball lore. The third was a sci fi collection of stories. Growing up I'd been big into sci-fi, influenced chiefly by my grandmother who had endless volumes of Asimov and the other greats through the past mid-century. Some of her books -- Planet of the Apes, Andromeda Strain, I Robot and others -- I'd read before they were ever even considered for the silver screen.

But the book I ultimately selected, once I'd started the engine and pulled out of the driveway, was Dave Barry's Boogers Are My Beat. A quick Google search shows that I have not written anything about this book yet other than to list it on a page of recommended readings at my original website.

For those who don't know, Dave Barry is a Pulitzer-Prize winning humor writer and columnist for the Miami Herald. I've lost track of how many books he's written as well as how many of his books I've read, in part because I sometimes read the same books over again. Yes, I'm one of those. I've read A River Runs Through It five times, for example, a feat that is easier to do when the book is short, naturally.

Boogers Are My Beat is likewise probably a shorter book, though you can't always tell with audio books. For sure it's much shorter than the Elvis bio I listened to, comprised of 47 or 48 cassettes. (That may have been Part 1.) The theme of Boogers at the outset is American politics. The first section of the book is a collection of columns dealing with the Bush-Gore campaign and election. As many people have long observed, from Twain and Mencken to Leno and Conan, politics offers an endless supply of material for humorists.

No question the GOP debates have helped a lot of late night show writers keep their jobs. If you can't find humor in this year's campaign, you're just a tad bit too serious. Both parties, though, generate plenty of material for humorists.

By changing some of the names, Boogers Are My Beat could be just as easily re-published to cover the current election year events. Take this excerpt, for example, about "Obama's $3,000-a-plate dinners to raise money to create TV spots portraying Republicans as the party of the rich." (The current Dem incumbent here was my insertion into Mr. Barry's sage observation.)

What's funny with this book so far is that despite the title he has yet to mention "boogers" even once. I remember one of his columns talking about how to write funny in which he remarked that whenever you can't think of something funny, just insert the word boogers and people will think it is humorous. I'm pretty sure he said that somewhere. He's certainly done it enough times.

In the meantime, as a cheap means of keeping you interested in my own columns, I will soon be talking about full frontal nudity. Specifically, my own. We'll see what happens. Maybe I'll title it Indecent Exposure. What do ya think?

Enjoy the day. And the rest of your weekend, too.

If interested you can read my comments on
Dave Barry Does Japan here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Who Decides What's Normal?

adjective 1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.
2. serving to establish a standard.
3. Psychology .
a. approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment.
b. free from any mental disorder; sane.
Every once in a while I get the urge to write about the word "Normal"... an urge that I suspect is itself abnormal at best, or simply uncommon at worst. How often does the "average" person think about the word normal? In point of fact, who wants to be average anyways?

One seed that grew many of the thoughts in today's blog ramble was planted in my brain while driving through Illinois many years ago as we took the Highway 70 route on our way east to see my family rather than the usual routes through Chicago, the nation's epicenter of highway congestion. Alongside Bloomington, IL is the sibling city Normal.
It set off a series of questions in this head of mine which had been voided by ten straight hours of driving. What is a normal life for people in Normal? Do people who grow up in Normal, Ill. feel abnormal when they move elsewhere? Who originally decided to name the town Normal? Did the guy, probably a man, declare, "This is Normal!"? Why? What is normal behavior on a Friday night in Normal? Is Normal behavior similar to the typical behavior of residents in Superior, Wisconsin? Are people in Normal typically more boring than people in San Diego, Sandusky or Sacramento?

In case you're wondering, Normal has a population of 52,497 as of the 2010 census, not a really big town even though it is the seventh-most populous community in Illinois, outside of the Chicago Metropolitan Area.

A second seed that led to this topic coming up today -- topics frequently emerge in my head like numbers in a Bingo machine -- was an Ann Mack YouTube video about social media trends for 2012. During her talk she several times cited "human pre-history" as the origin of our social behavior. I couldn't help but ask myself if there weren't some anti-social people in pre-history as well?

As for current trends in social media there's no question that all the real-time documenting of one's personal activities online is something totally new, and probably even considered bizarre in some circles. Let's pick a normal name like Rick. Rick is listening to Hey Jude on Spotify. Rick is reading, "Questions about the bombing lead to more fears in Middle East" in The Nation. Rick is brushing his teeth and getting dressed for work. Rick is reading, "Facebook Fatigue" by Will Smith on BBC Online. Rick is listening to Feelin' Groovy on Spotify.

Is this normal? In America today it appears to be typical. But is it normal?

In Huxley's Brave New World this would indeed be normal. The very idea of having a private life, a private self, was abnormal in that future 600 years A.F. (After Ford) In Orwell's 1984 the same depersonalization was at work. The kind of original thinking Winston was doing, and recording these thoughts in a private journal, was totally abnormal and illegal behavior. Real life, for him, was a process of trying to find those nooks and crannies where Big Brother wasn't watching.

How happy-go-lucky we American are, though. We hand Big Brother all of our most intimate thoughts on a virtual platter. And it all seems so normal.

It is increasingly normal to carry devices around with us so that we are continuously linked to the matrix, the web, the cloud, the wired universe with its virtual cables and pipelines of information and data streams. Mack said one reason so many plug in is their own fear of missing out. But what are we missing out on? Ultimately, perhaps we just want to be like everyone else... we want to be normal.

Oh well, we all know that what's normal today will be out of fashion tomorrow. The new thing will be... what? I'm not sure I want to go there yet.

Time will not permit me to elaborate on post-modernist philosopher Michel Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge, which addresses many of these same themes, albeit in a much more erudite manner. In the meantime, have a great weekend. Be grateful for all you've got, even if it isn't the latest and the greatest. Till we (virtually) meet again.

Note: Definitions supplied by Dictionary.com

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What is the Lifespan of a Work of Art?

My last semester at Ohio University I immersed myself in a painting project at Siegfried Hall. Throughout the spring I committed myself, among other things, to an immensely large eight- by twelve-foot canvas that was intended to demonstrate a philosophy I had concocted, that a painting or work of art is “alive” only when it continues to evolve or change or be invested with new energy by the artist/creator. My conviction, youthful and idealistic as it now appears in retrospect, was that the ever evolving process of change is an evidence of life. To cease changing was the equivalent of death.

So I painted three to five hours a day for many months. Perhaps it was a form of entertainment for others who used the room for drawing classes. My aims were ambitious because each iteration was so completely different. On occasion I turned the painting sideways so that it stood vertically, twelve foot high. Most often it lay on its side. I wrapped it in garden hoses. I punctured it and wove twine through it. I covered it with newsprint like wallpaper and painted over that. And throughout the process I took pictures along the way.

As graduation neared I planned to set it afire and ride through it on a bicycle. But the graduation ceremonies and eagerness of friends and classmates to move on with their lives made this imaginary spectacle seem like a waste of energy and life T.S. Eliot’s Prufock I disappeared with a whimper and not a bang. The painting itself was left for the janitors to discard.

This past month while cleaning my office I discovered that I still had in my possession many of the Ektachrome slides that I had taken of this evolving work of art. In translating these images to digital form a new insight about my premise or theory emerged. The work of art does not die when it ceases to change. After the last brushstroke, there is always the possibility of resurrection. And there are also the offspring.

Examples of offspring would include the countless works by countless artists inspired by Picasso. A couple years ago the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art displayed a travelling exhibition of works inspired Picasso. On the wall would be the original, and alongside might be pieces by Jasper Johns or some other modern era painter.

There may be only one Mona Lisa but her offspring are many, including Mona Lisas by Warhol, Picasso, Lichtenstein and ever the Simpsons' Matt Groenig. The famed woman with an enigmatic smile continues to inspire and bear children.

But what about the work itself? When it ceases from changing is it dead? No, it never stops changing. Time and the elements leave their fingerprinits. Colors fade, materials deteriorate. The arm of Michaelangelo's David was broken off when hit by a bench thrown from an upper story. (It used to be in a public space, not a museum.)

And then there are the unexpected twists that no one could foresee. For example, in converting my slides to digital I can begin to manipulate the images with Photoshop and other software programs, re-defining them, re-creating entirely new images, altering them to such an extent that they no longer resemble themselves... or simply enhancing them subtly, again impermanently.

At the end of it all I've concluded my college thesis about painting doesn't hold water. But it did hold my attention, and the pictures you see here were birthed in that studio space on the fourth floor of Siegfried Hall.

What "big ideas" about art or life did you have when you were young that have not stood the test of time? Something to think about.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wordless Wednesday (with Commentary)

It's a contradiction to add commentary on a Wordless Wednesday, but it seems necessary. The images here were all taken at the Diorama-rama in Duluth last Friday eve at the Sacred Heart. The dioramas were the creative expressions of people of all ages. Most fit on tabletops, but some were large enough to climb into. Some were sheer fun, but several were quite pointed, and the last image here was quite disturbing. The bound and gagged woman inside the monitor pleaded with her eyes for release from her cruel and merciless fate. The viewer became vividly aware that such things are indeed going on today, generating revenue for the perpetrators who are supported by this practice. On the screen these words were scrawled: "We no longer want you barefoot and pregnant. We want you barefoot and dead." This juxtaposition of beauty (the woman) and horror combined to make for an exceedingly disturbing image.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Here, There and Everywhere Valentine’s Quiz

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." ~Charles M. Schulz

Here's a little Valentine's Day quiz to put you in the mood for this very special day... or not.

1. The Transistor is...
A) A Free Twin Ports rag focusing on art, music and swearing.
B) A component in transistor radios
C) All of the Above
D) The key component of “grey cells” in human anatomy.

2. The latest Female Force comic book, to be released this Wednesday by Bluewater Comics, will feature:
A) Roseanne Barr
B) Jane Austen
C) Cher
D) And Cher Alike

3. Which name does not belong in the following list?
A) Whitney Houston
B) Jimi Hendrix
C) Eddie Van Halen
D) Heath Ledger

4. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred where?
A) In a New York subway.
B) In a South Chicago warehouse.
C) In a Grimm’s Fairy Tale.
D) In a North Side Chicago garage.

5. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred in what year?
A) 1918
B) 1891
C) Sometime during Prohibition.
D) At a time when people were less inhibited.

6. The seven men slain in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre were first discovered by…
A) A German Shepherd named Highball
B) A Beagle named Amelia
C) A tramp named Phil
D) A Poodle named Roxie
E) The Pointer sisters

7. Sir Benedict’s Tavern On The Lake is located…
A) On the California side of Lake Tahoe
B) On the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe
C) On the Canadian side of Lake Ontario
D) One the Southern tip of Lake Superior

8. Which one of these was NOT a top 20 search yesterday on Yahoo Buzz?
A) Billy Preston
B) Zsa Zsa Gabor
C) Twitter

9. When you TEXT Sir Ben’s you get…
A) A free music video
B) A free “mystery beer” coupon
C) Directions to Sir Ben's
D) I don’t know. I have never texted Sir Ben’s

10. Who would you rather follow for three hours on Route 66?
A) LeAnn Rimes
B) Zsa Zsa Gabor
C) Obama’s Mother
D) Randy Travis

11. The best rock concert you ever saw in person was…
A) Three Dog Night
B) Jethro Tull
C) Yes
D) No

12. Zsa Zsa Gabor was in the news yesterday because…
A) She fell down a flight of stairs and broke her hip.
B) She fell in love with a famous Duke.
C) Her husband is very rich and threw her a big birthday party.
D) Any story about her is newsworthy; there’s something exotic-sounding about the name Zsa Zsa that makes people want to read more.

13. What was Zsa Zsa Gabor’s real name before she became a movie starlet?
A) Jane Remington
B) Nancy something. (I can’t remember off the top of my head.)
C) Peaches Galore
D) Jane Brackenheimer

14. The Capital of Indigo is….
A) Blue
B) Pale
C) A slightly lighter shade of pale
D) Gleen

109. The song "Magic Bus" by The Who is about…
A) How many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.
B) Chuck Norris, because everything cool is about Chuck Norris.
C) Drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll.
D) Four minutes and nine seconds long.
E) None of the above.

44. My award-winning story "The Breaking Point" can be found in which of the following eBooks?
A) The Red Scorpion
Unremembered Histories
The Breaking Point and Other Stories

15. This quiz was…
A) Silly
B) Very stupid
C) A disappointing waste of time.
D) A semi-amusing introduction to Valentine’s Day.
E) Inspired by a Coleman Miller blog entry.
F) Living proof that you can never know what to expect at Ennyman’s Territory.

ANSWERS: 1 (C), 2 (C), 3 (D), 4 (D), 5 ©, 6 (A), 7 (D), 8 (A), 9 (D), 10 (?), 11 (E), 12 (C), 13 (F), 14 (G), 109 (C), 44 (Take a guess), E15 (E)

Happy Valentine's Day

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ten Minutes with Veteran Artist Martin DeWitt

I first saw Martin DeWitt's paintings at a show titled Homecoming this past November at the Duluth Art Institute. After this interview I was surprised at how much we had in common, from Tom Terrific to our love of both painting and Mexico. Though a bit long for a single blog entry, there are a lot of rich insights here. Take it in.

Ennyman: How did you first become interested in art as a career?
Martin DeWitt: Probably my earliest memory and taking notice was when we went to the grand opening of Disneyland in 1954 in Anaheim, Calif – and seeing the Monsanto sponsored “House of the Future” – even as a 7 year old kid, I was impressed by the cool design – and futuristic “products” that were sure to make our lives more efficient, easier, especially for the apron clad woman of the house (we of course now know that Monsanto developed other products – heavy into military weapons – Napalm used in Viet Nam.) Mid-century, science and design merge, space exploration, discovery, these ideals were the mantra of the 60s. Maybe because I really liked the “Tom Terrific and his Mighty Dog Manfred” Terrytoons TV show – all that travel in space and Tom’s ‘funnel” hat was especially impressive.

Both my older brothers are artists and they had early interest in art and design. My oldest brother Terry is an architect, and Mike is a painter. As a young kid I watched them as they started their interest in art and art careers and ended up following in their footsteps. Over the years, we have exhibited our work together in a few “DeWitt Brothers” exhibits. We moved from Southern California back to rural Galesburg, Illinois where I grew up in the 60s. We had a strong art program in the schools even back then. Our high school art teacher took our high school art club to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum. Plus, we had family in Chicago, so we drove in or took the train in to the city quite often, and visited the AIC and other museums quite regularly – it was great to be so close. In 1962, as young teens my brother Mike and I joined the local art guild – the group ended up renting a storefront in downtown Galesburg to open a community gallery, hold classes, and start an annual art competition, called Galex (now in its 46th year), its become a national recognized show. In addition, as a high school student, I won an art scholarship sponsored by the Univ. of Illinois School of Art & Design - a weeklong art camp at “Allerton Park Estate” in central Illinois. There I met other kids from throughout the state who were interested in art and were heading into art careers. In college, I moved into the studio area – and taking on the painting challenge – where I am today, still at it.

E: Who have been your biggest influences?
MD: My early years my artist brothers no doubt. My teachers over the years, mostly in art but also other academic course work, were always influential. Several remain mentors to this day. My college and university art faculty, of course, especially studio and art history faculty led the way in influencing a work ethic and exploration curiosity.

While working on my MFA degree in Illinois State Univ., I applied for a Painting Fellowship at the Brooklyn Museum School – and was selected – and ended up living in New York and Brooklyn for a few years in the late 70s and early 80s. This was a huge opportunity for me. With concentrated time in NYC I was able to get to the galleries – hang out in Soho, go to all the museums regularly, the Met, Whitney, MoMA, Guggenheim, Brooklyn Museum and Botanical Gardens (spending time in the Japanese Gardens at BM was a huge influence on me…and my work, as I was developing a direction and personal passion).

I remember going to a performance on a hot late afternoon at the Kitchen in Soho in 1977 – John Cage and David Tudor performed a concert called “Homage to Conch.” Cage had lined up a series of different size conch shells filled with water on a card table – Cage was sitting in front of an open window at the table with the conch shells – with all the sounds of the city going on, sirens, traffic fumes, taxis beeping, dogs barking – while amidst those sounds from the outside, Cage “played” the gurgling conch shells while Tudor played Satie on the violin.

Gosh, endless influences – the biggest...? Does “what” count as “who.”? If so, nature has been my muse – Lake Superior, Smoky Mountains, So. Cal. light and the Maine coast. Otherwise, taken from my artist’s statement... Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky’s “compositions” and his On the Spiritual in Art are classics I refer to regularly… Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics; Tantric focused imagery and ideation; the spirit filled Chi (“empty”) space in Chinese landscape painting; Giotto’s (13th c. Italy) wonder-filled ambiguous pictorial space and George’s (Morrison) surrealist and light filled Lake Superior horizon paintings; Robert Erwin’s “perceptual space”; Richard Tuttle’s sensory ‘no-things’, Corbu’s Ronchamp cathedral portals of light - have been there on the forefront in transforming space and form with light - the way we engage the community and the world. The likes of giants Gerhardt Richter, Howard Hodgkin, and Pat Steir are paint movers and shakers that require a point of reference and for me a frequent look see.”

E: In what ways has the fine arts scene changed since you were in school in the 70's?
MD: The biggest change in the current art scene from 40 years ago has been the influence of technology, social media. Artists can be immediately connected to other artists, the community, and the world actually. Collaboration was big even in the 70s, alternative spaces taking off. As grad and undergrad art students at Illinois State Univ. We sought out empty storefronts and secured cheap space to set up studios in downtown Bloomington – and started a co-op gallery along with a few art faculty. Some of the earliest alternative spaces were started up in Chicago in the early 70s and we were encouraged and followed that model. Our goal then was and we did go to New York City, a group of us, lived in Brooklyn and either shared or had small studios in cheap lofts. It’s so great to see so much going on at this very moment in Duluth and Superior, Grand Marais, Bayfield. No doubt part of a continuum of art and artists inspired by this place, on this big lake.

E: What was your take on pop art at that time? And how do you see it today?
MD: I loved it! The in-your-face imagery, mirror-ization was really Pop culture was really ramping up in the 50s-60s…growing up in So.Cal – as a kid – having more of everything was a good thing! The marketing boom was peaking - it seemed natural to respond to the Viet Nam era culture in some shape or form. Cool, calm and collected on the outside, rumbling on the inside – something had to give – explode! I thought that pop art was especially slick – and indeed did truly reflect our bulging consumer and mass culture. Again, it made for artists to respond. There was a global response to 9/11 - and now Iraq Vets and Artists Against the War - a big question is, how did Viet Nam and the anti-war movement change or impact the direction of contemporary art then – still wondering about that. Today? Technology and social media continues to have such a huge impact on contemporary cultures throughout the world. It seems natural for artists take advantage of technology as a resource, medium and art form – plus networking possibilities offer immediately response and opens for dialogue - an art form unto itself, and enhances the communication role that art performs. Back in the 80s – the notion of “pluralism” was bantered about – well, today, studios and galleries are filled with a limitless array of expressive response to contemporary culture – and rightly so – and I like it.

E: In what ways did your Mexico experience influence the direction of your art? (In what part of Mexico did you live?)
MD: I have maintained a special interest in modern and contemporary art of Latin America – with its bold colors, unique cultures, and its considerable social content reflecting the many successes and struggles of its people. I also remain intrigued by pre-Columbian art and architecture, on its own merit, as well as in relationship to Native American art on this side of the “border”. My wife Sharon and I have travelled to Central and South America every year for 25 years, the Caribbean including Cuba as well, sometimes with student or artists groups, on our own, or with family. The importance of the arts in these countries remains huge, essential to the culture. Very influential about these places, like here, has been the integral presence of the indigenous cultures – that to this day are vital.

Over the years, we have made a point of spending meaningful time in major art centers, like Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Taxco, Merida, Cuernavaca, Oaxaca, and San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. We have established life-long connections and friendships with artists and non-artists in these places – via study abroad student and artist trips and Sister City partnerships. Most recently, we spent three months in San Cristobal. We also made a recent life changing trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru, the major 15th c. Inca site – where I say in my artist’s statement, “…intangibles of space, time, place and light have played out…layered cultural memory has surfaced in my recent paintings” – due to these memorable experiences. Specifically, in our travels, we’ve seen decorative vinyl table cloths…in lavish or simple homes, tiendas, churches…while in San Cristobal, I searched out a source for these “El mantel de vinil” with colorful patterns and images, often directly related to the Central American culture…down in the San Cristobal market and shopping zone, I found an entire table full of patterned at a fabric store. I selected 3 different styles…and I incorporated these into the paintings I did while I was in San Cristobal – title of this series of paintings is “En la mesa donde la conversación se inicia I (at the table where the talking starts).”

E: What advice would you offer to young people interested in a career in the arts?
MD: Spend as much time as humanly feasible making art – being expressive. Look at as much art as possible – get to galleries, visit museums…get out of town. Get off the computer and learn to draw. Take drawing seriously as an art form unto itself. Learn history and art history – make the connections, consider the impact and influences. If in school, travel, study abroad. Talk to people from other cultures. Be active in your local community, volunteer in a museum or art org. (looks great on a resume and may even end up as a part time or full time paid position let alone the experience of meeting great people and serving) -- join or start an arts group. Duluth is where it's “art” – get active and be involved. Seek out cross-disciplinary collaborations. Get on the grant trail – and when you do write a grant, make sure you have a “community” component linked to your proposal, if that is an option. Also, consider learning a skilled “trade” – or other moneymaker, like: electrician, welder…or health related job, that may pay the bills and studio overhead. This requires a longer discussion.

E: As do many discussions here at Ennyman's Territory. Thank you to those who have been reading. Enjoy the week.

Top photo, left to right: Martin DeWitt, Simon Grey and Sharon Sanders at the Stagecoach Gallery

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