Sunday, July 26, 2020

Welcome To Carnival - Reprise

     In my blog entry for last weekend, my thoughts about the poor response we have
made, to abate the pandemic, became my primary focus, so once again I didn't say
much about the painting.  I will try to correct that now, but I have to first take note
of some of the developments which have occurred this week.
     Things seem to be growing a bit darker with each passing day.  The death toll is
now nearly one hundred and fifty thousand, and we are loosing over a thousand more
victims every twenty four hours.  If that continues, more than a quarter million Americans
will have perished before our presidential election in November.  If we think about that,
it will be as if all the people in an American city of a quarter million, were wiped out
in just a matter of seven or eight months time, leaving nothing behind but the forgotten
dreams of its citizens, and a dead and abandoned city.
     Trump's falling, popularity-pole numbers have convinced his new campaign team,
that he has to start acting like he is concerned with the health and welfare of people
other than himself for a change.  So, he is finally saying that we should wear masks,
to slow the spread of the infections, but when he says that, his hollow sincerity level
is something like what we might hear if Pinocchio were president.

     Now, as to my choice of subject matter for the painting Welcome To Carnival,
the theme is probably self explanatory to some viewers, but some additional, factual
references and information may be helpful.  The well known Carnival of Venice, is a
popular, annual event in that fabled city.  During Carnival, people compete to win the
competitions for the most elaborate masks and costumes.  One of the more frequently
seen mask and costume variations, is that of the court jester or "fool", and another is
the mask of the plague doctor, a visual reference to the long history of plague in Venice.
The combination of those two characters seemed to reflect what is happening in
America today.   They symbolize the foolish, suicidal behavior in which some of us
are engaged, while our health-care professionals are struggling to cope with the mounting
toll of infections and deaths.
     I chose to leave the face mask of the fool, plain and undecorated, rather than
painted and jeweled, because I wanted to place the emphasis on the eyes of the
person, peering out of the holes, with a perhaps sinister motive, as he or she invites
the viewer to come to Carnival.
     The background figure is a hybrid combination of monk and plague doctor.
During the plague pandemics of Venice and the rest of Europe, the monks and other
tender, care givers were among those most likely to fall victim to the disease, because
of their close contact with infected patients.   It was the plague doctors who wore
the face and head covering masks, with the big, bird beaks and goggle eyes.  They
also wore an outfit of full, protective covering, from head to toe, including boots
and leather gloves.  They stuffed their beaks with fragrant herbs or vinegar soaked
sponges to ward off the smells, which they considered the possible sources of the
infection, and they carried canes to uncover and examine patients from a distance.
There is an engraving by Paul Furst, from about 1791, of a plague doctor in Marseilles
he called Dr. Beeky of Rome.   I 'm showing that image here.

     Now that we better understand the origins and causes of new contagious diseases, our
dedicated, modern scientists are working rapidly to try and come up with a preventative
vaccine, and there seems to be some hope that this medical miracle could be available
next year, or even a bit earlier.    But in the meantime, an increasing number of homes
across America, will have newly vacant chairs around their dinner tables, and nightly,
tear-stained pillows on their beds.

Friday, July 17, 2020

To mask, or not to mask? - and, Welcome To Carnival

                                                  Welcome To Carnival
                                                  An original acrylic painting, on primed canvas panel
                                                  24" X 20", unframed

                                                   ( click on image to enlarge )

     "To be, or not to be?"  That was the question that Shakespeare's Hamlet posed for
himself, and that life-or-death question is still the one which remains for us today,
although in a slightly different form.  Now the debate asks, "To mask, or not to mask?".  
     Masks seem to have become as much of a political issue as they are a beneficial
means of reducing the spread of the pandemic.  The irrational refusal of some people
to comply with such a sensible precaution, seems to be increasing exponentially with
the surging rise of infections and deaths.  The most shocking examples are the reports
of people entering stores and brandishing weapons, demanding to shop without the
inconvenience of wearing masks.

     The madness of crowds is also still evident in some areas, despite the efforts of
some governors to restore a shutdown of bars and clubs.  Our nightly newscasts
continue to show us examples of happily, oblivious party-goers and revelers, gathered
in crowds, without a sign of masks.  When these new groups are questioned about
their irresponsible behavior, they tend to proclaim that they have the constitutional and
God-given right to risk their lives in any manner they choose.  Again, they don't seem
to give any thought to the notion that their actions could put other people's lives in
danger, nor do they question what kind of God it would be, who would condone
their possible transmission of this lethal disease to dozens of their fellow party-goers.

     Some unbelievable examples of this kind of stupidity, are the stories about the people
who attend "covid-19 parties", where the first one in the group to catch the virus is the
"winner".  If we did not know it was true we would swear it was fiction.  It sounds a bit
like some kind of drunken, Russian roulette game, where a revolver, with only one of it's
bullet-chambers loaded, is given a spin and passed around to see which man would get
the final, fatal pull of the trigger.

     One man who became seriously infected at one of the covid parties, said that he
had thought the disease was a hoax.  We can all recall where he may have gotten that
warped idea.  One of Donald Trump's first claims about the spread of the virus was
that it was a hoax, created by "the Dems", as a political attack on him.  How insane does
a man have to be, to say that some mysterious, political entity created a world-wide
pandemic, just as a personal attack on him?  And yet he still continues to try and hide the
truth about the growing danger to all of us, by weakening and hindering the work of the
Center For Disease Control, and making personal attacks our medical authorities, just
because they are telling us the truth about what we need to do, to slow the spread of the
     Trump expresses no empathy for the victims of this cruel pandemic.  His attitude
is much like that of the observations of Samuel Pepys during the Great Plague of
London ( 1665 - 1666 ).  Pepys wrote in his diary, about the inconvenience to him,
of having to step over the bodies of plague victims, which would accumulate in the
streets at night.  Because of that hazard, he tried to leave earlier from his government
office in the evenings, when there would be fewer corpses cluttering up his route home.
     Trump continues to act like this disease is simply going to melt away, and that we're
all going to get back to normal, with everyone working, and the economy booming,
before the November elections.  He doesn't talk about about the true nature of plagues.
The history of plagues shows us that they can linger for years, and then come back
again, in repeated waves of death and disaster. The Italian peninsula was struck by
outbreaks of plague in sixty eight percent of the years between 1348 and 1600.
There were twenty two outbreaks of plague in Venice between 1361 and 1528.
An especially deadly outbreak struck in the republic of Venice from 1478 to 1482.
During those years, in the Venice-an territories, well over three hundred thousand
people died.
     Now, with Trump's encouragement, the madness continues.  He holds his
no-mask political rallies, like a performing, court jester, where hundreds of people
can sit side by side to applaud his clownish inanities, while some giant amusement
parks are also opening to senseless crowds of people.  It's party time!
     So, come one, come all! Come to the party. It's Carnival!  Don't sit at home!
Drop all your cares and worries and join in the fun.  There's nothing to fear. Just drop
those masks and join all the  people.  Listen to the bands, drink the wine, spend some
money and have a good time.
       "Welcome to Carnival!" ...........( Or should that be, "Welcome to Cabaret?",
and should I be singing that, in English, French and German? )
     Oh, and by the way, don't pay any attention to the guy in the plague-doctor mask.
he's a real party-pooper!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Mort Noire - second page

     I am adding this second entry to my post from yesterday, because my post became
so long-winded with my thoughts about irresponsible people spreading the pandemic,
that I failed to say anything about the woodblock print in the title.   But at least, in the
hours since I posted my views, I am glad to see that the governors of some states are
now closing down some of the bars and clubs where the most thoughtless individuals
have been congregating. ( That's not to say that my words have any influence anywhere
or on anything. )

     The woodblock print is an old one: it dates back to a time when I still had some
living grandparents, and before the horrors of Vietnam, and more decades ago than
I like to calculate.  I ran across the print in storage recently, and since the image of
the dark, mask-hidden figure, seemed to fit in with my observations about all the troubles
our nation is having now, I decided to include the print in yesterday's, blog posting.

      Artists have always used the death figure as subject matter in their work.
The traditional image is a usually a skeletal, shrouded figure, carrying a scythe
and an hourglass, to symbolize lives being cut off, as our time on earth runs out.
Sometimes the artist's used such simple reminders as skulls, placed somewhere
in their compositions, perhaps labeled vanitas, or perhaps  Thanatos, for the Greek
god of death.
       It is those imponderable questions of life and death, which always occupy the
minds of our philosophers, poets, composers, playwrights and artists.  It is not
just how long we live which is their major question, but how well we use the time
we are given to be on this earth, and then how well we face our deaths, when our
time comes to go.  We see the results of their thoughts about those questions,
when we see their creative work, on stage, or on canvasses, or in great books,
or when we listen to their music.  Those great questions may not always be overtly
visible in the work, but they are always there, at least in subtext, or else the work
will seem fairly shallow.

     The woodblock was never really completed.  In my youthful enjoyment of all
things dark and macabre, I hadn't considered the idea that most art collectors
might not find death to be an appealing theme, no matter how abstract and
strong the artist's composition might be.  At the time that I was cutting the design,
I was planning to add other elements, including a skeletal hand emerging from
the robe, to hold the mask, and a skeletal foot below the robe's bottom hem.
Later on, as I was beginning  to have second thoughts, I decided that perhaps
I should change those particular elements to be a gloved hand and a fancy,
dress shoe.  But then, before I could continue, as so often happens, there were
interruptions of some kind, and the block was stored away, to be finished at a
later time, and then it was eventually forgotten.
       After I discovered the print, I went digging to see if I could find the
woodblock, and to my surprise, I found that I do still have it.  So now comes
the question of whether or not it has been worth keeping it all these years.
Is it likely that I will ever pick up the block and work on it again, after all this time?
Who knows? ........But I'm not dead yet.


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The madness of crowds -- and, Mort Noire

                                                             Mort Noire, an original woodblock print
                                                             14" X 32" , unframed
                                                             ( artist's proof --  unfinished )

     There is a long-standing myth, that says lemmings have a tendency to
commit mass suicide.  Modern studies have proven that myth to be false,
despite the on-going efforts at reinforcing that myth, by such distorted
film making as the old Disney studio's, wild-life movie about the Arctic.
In that supposedly true-life, animal film, the production crew gathered
lemmings and tossed them over a cliff, in order to film them falling, as if
the rodents had herded there en-mass, and were then busily hurling
themselves to their deaths in the ocean.
     The human species does not easily give up its mythological beliefs.
The primary examples are the creation myths, invented by tribal elders,
to help explain our existence on this planet, before we had the revelations
of science.  Those myths are the foundations of the worlds religions, and
 a majority of people on this earth will continue to hold them to be true,
to their dying breaths, despite the irrefutable, scientific proof to the contrary.
We humans are all masters of denial.
     What I've been getting around to saying is, that it is the human species
which most often displays behavior resembling the myth about the mass, suicidal
habits of lemmings.  As our exploding pandemic continues, every night on our
news broadcasts, we are treated to scenes of people, herding together, and
partying in bars and restaurants, and at pools and beaches, without a sign of
masks or social distancing.  When these fools are asked about their irresponsible
behavior, they say that they are making a political statement, in line with the
president, about expressing their personal freedom of choice.  In the meantime,
they remain in total denial about the rising numbers of infections and deaths,
from this highly contagious virus.
     Their behavior reminds me of the final scenes from an old movie.  I believe
the title of the film was The Day The Fish Came Out.  The plot concerned an
accidentally disastrous release of highly radioactive materials on a small, Greek
island, which was becoming a tourist destination.  The tourists are experiencing
something like a nuclear meltdown, while being totally unaware of the intense
radiation which will soon be fatal for all.  At the end, the dead and dying fish
are floating to the surface of the bay,  while the clueless tourists are dancing the
night away.  They are the dancing dead.
     Is that too dark a comparison, with the fools who go partying in the bars and
resort areas of our cities, during this lethal pandemic?  The movie was fiction,
but this lemming-like, stupidity and denial on the part of these party animals is
a very alarming reality.    

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Gardens of lost innocence - and, Alice In The Garden

                                                  Alice In The Garden - an original acrylic painting
                                                  12" X 16", unframed - 17" X 21", framed

                                                           ( click on image to enlarge )

    How often do we remember the definition of the word kindergarten?   Do we  think
enough about the truth of  that idea, that all children are similar to tender, young plants
in the gardens we create for them, in which they can learn and grow, and that we, the
adults, are the gardeners. who may not always give them what they need to grow up well?
There is an old saying which cautions parents against dishonest and distorted lessons
in human behavior: "As the twig is bent, so grows the tree."   We were all innocent
children in our parent's gardens at one time, and our parents passed on the lessons
they received from their parents, often without considering whether or not what they
were saying was true.  Innocence is often lost at a very tender age.
     The saddest thing about telling little children lies, is that they accept everything adults
say as the truth.  And so we often grow up burdened with a heritage of distorted thinking
and ugly prejudices.  What about our little girl Alice, for example? What is she thinking
about, in her innocent garden?  Did she perhaps just recently overhear one of her
parents using an ugly, racial slur?  If she did, she has processed that as the normal mode
of reference for a specific type of  people, and her innocence is already tarnished.

    Now our nation is embroiled in a series of violent protests and riots, due to yet
another brutal example of twisted thinking on the part of a man who has a distorted
idea of different races of  people.  While at the same time time. the twitter-twerp
who is supposed to be the leader of the nation, is fanning the flames of hatred and
violence, instead of calling for justice and reform in all our law enforcement agencies.
      Another little girl named Alice, is a classic British literary character created by
Lewis Carroll.  She had a cat she called Dinah, and one day she followed a
white rabbit down a rabbit hole.  Her adventure that followed was something like
a bad,  acid trip, a century before that kind of substance abuse became a fad.
That surreal world of mindless creatures, is a reminder that every day in this
country, has seemed like just such a bad, acid trip, ever since the current
administration assumed office in 2017.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Social Distancing, and A Place In The Sun

                                           A Place In The Sun,  an original acrylic painting
                                           16" X 20" , unframed

                                              ( click on image to enlarge )

     My last posting to this blog was titled Beware the ides of March.  I was using that
famous quotation as a duel reference to both our current pandemic as well as in its
original, ominous warning to Julius Caesar in forty four BC.  Caesar didn't heed the
warning, resulting in his assassination, followed by two hundred years of bloody, civil
war, and culminating with the new emperor executing the Roman senators who favored
the loosing, republican cause.
     Last January, we had our own ominous warnings, about this deadly, new virus
which was headed our way, but the leadership in Washington didn't heed the alarm.
Trump dismissed this new threat as just another simple, flu outbreak, which would
evaporate when the weather warmed up.  That miscalculation on the part of the
president, resulted in the nation being ill-prepared and ill-equipped to fight off this
catastrophic disease.

   So, now we have to learn to accustom ourselves to a whole new lifestyle of social
distancing, isolating and hiding away in our individual bunkers.  This is particularly
hard to bare for the extroverts among us, for whom the daily interaction with others
is like the bread of life.  It is going to be difficult for many, to try and adopt a more
introverted, self-sufficiency, and find comfort in our own. inner beings.
     This situation is not really new of course.  When we review the relatively short
history of western civilization, we remember that plagues have been a fairly frequent
occurrence.  The most devastating was the black death pandemic (1347 to 1351 in
Europe) which resulted in global deaths of up to a hundred and a quarter million,
and killed thirty to sixty percent of Europeans.  It took two hundred years for the
European population to recover to its former levels, and some regions (such as
Florence) did not recover until the nineteenth century.
     The Florence region served as the setting for a literary classic of social distancing.
Boccaccio's Decameron is a collection of a hundred tales told by ten people, who
fled from Florence to a country villa, in an effort to escape the plague.  While they
maintain their distance from the plague ridden city, they tell each other stories, as a
way to entertain themselves during their isolation. The book had a far reaching
influence, including in the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Perhaps this current stay-at-home policy will give us all an opportunity to become
better story tellers.
     As our cabin fever continues to rise, maybe we should try to emulate the attitude
of our cats.  Cats have never had any difficulties with social distancing.  They often
disappear completely, until they hear the call of the food dish. Give them a quiet,
cozy spot in the sun to take a nap, and they are in utter contentment.  Perhaps, if and
when this is all over, we will be able to find our own, quiet places in the sun, to lick
our wounds and heal, but not forget the heroic efforts of all our health care workers.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Beware the ides of March.

     Last month I added a Valentine's Day posting to this blog, in which I remarked
about how little we human beings have changed in the past three millenniums, as it
is evidenced by our same unchanging obsession with love and romance.  But that
is not all that we still have in common with our "ancient" Greek cousins.  The deadly
influenza outbreak which has begun to erupt across our country, has created fear,
panicky hording, and a steep decline in commerce, which is lowering the value of
our stocks and currencies, a situation which the residents of Athens, in 430 BC,
would have been all too familiar.  That was when the famous Plague of Athens
took place, while the city was besieged by Sparta, during the Peloponnesian Wars.
It is estimated that over twenty five percent of the population died, including their
commander Pericles and his sons.  Athens was so weakened after the epidemic
that its final attempt to outmaneuver Sparta ended in a disaster and total.defeat.

     All shares in businesses, and currencies are only as valuable as the strength of
the companies and nations they represent, and they quickly become worthless when
companies and countries fail and fade away.  But the coins which are produced
at that time do at least retain the intrinsic value of their metal content, if not the
original intended buying power of the coin.  The more ephemeral instruments
of commerce are soon lost to time, but some of the old coins still remain as
testaments to history.

     The drawing below is a fairly accurate rendition of the design of a silver,
two-drachma coin from Greece during the time of the Peloponnesian Wars.
I have darkened the silver background of the coin to help the figure be more
distinct. It is a tiny rendition of the sun god Apollo, who was also the god of
such things as music, dance, poetry, and, interestingly, also the god of disease
and healing.  Historians reported that the citizens of Athens were appealing
to Apollo for help during the disastrous plague, but as their dire situation only
worsened, they felt that he actually favored the Spartans.  All gods seem to
become deaf during epidemics, but at least some of them are a bit more
entertaining than others.

     In this little vignette, Apollo is evidently out for a stroll, on a nice sunny day
(naturally) and he has paused to kneel down and pick a flower, to admire its
beauty.  He is also carrying his lyre, in case he decides to rest in the shade by
a peaceful stream, and compose a few top-forty, hit songs, which would
of course be instant classics.
     Considering the very small design created for the coin, the skill of the artist-
craftsman, has to be admired.  He had to engrave it into a solid surface, to serve
as the mold, to accept the measure of molten silver, and then press that in with the
reverse, designed side of the coin,  And he had to do all that without the aid of
modern tools or magnification assistance.

     Now we are hunkering down in our homes, hoping that the war against this
new pandemic will be successful, so that we will never have to endure anything
near what those poor, trapped people suffered in Athens, twenty five hundred
years ago.  And, as we wait, let's all try to be kind and considerate to our fellow
over-stressed and worried citizens.