Self-Portrait, oil/canvas, 12×9″
Reality is a slippery thing. Every time I paint a portrait I discover that my mood and the mood of the sitter creeps into the paint. The expression of a painting can completely change if a slight twist of the lips or a squint in the eye is added. How do I catch the reality of a person if they keep metamorphosing right in front of me? Objects in still lives are easier to pin down, but if I look at them long enough I discover hidden shades and colors that I hadn’t noticed before, and my perception of the whole is changed. Landscape subjects flicker and move continuously with every stray breeze or the passing of a cloud. What then is real about a street or a tree? Nothing is still and unchanging if I’m really paying attention.
Is it worthwhile to keep looking for reality? I think so. Reality is a process of discovery, of finding new things in what appears to be obvious and familiar. It cannot be circumscribed or pinned down, but its open-ended nature makes life that much richer and mysterious. Art critics have long ago declared that realistic art is dead, and those who persist in this tradition are morticians applying cosmetics to a corpse that should have been buried long ago. But of course the naysayers are not practitioners in capturing reality and have no idea that it is an ever expanding field.
Bust, charcoal, 17×14″
I’ve been following the news about the Democratic Party and their search for a new message that will revitalize political fortunes for its brethren. I’ve also been thinking about the Republican drift into fantasy and anger driven polemics. The GOP has based its political fortune on stoking the fury of its adherents by offering them false narratives. Scapegoating, denying science, flag waving in the service of suppressing dissent, and ignoring the facts of recent history are some of the tools they’ve employed to seize power.
If the Democrats truly want to distinguish themselves and to set an original agenda they could identify themselves as the Reality Party. Search out the real, proclaim it, and offer concrete solutions in response. Never try to recreate a world that has long past, but respond to problems as they arrive with a clear eyed resolve to do the best for the most people. Never promise a one size fits all solution to any one dilemma facing our country, but attack any difficulty with all the tools at hand. If there are no tools, then figure out how to make them.
Wouldn’t it be great if politics graduated from its current practice of engaging in ceaseless dogfights for cash, influence and power? What if Lincoln’s vision of a government that is “by the people and for the people” came to fruition and our elected officials focused on doing practical things for the benefit of all? I’d vote for any candidate that fit that bill regardless of party affiliation.
I sometimes tell my Drawing I students that I’m teaching them to search for What Is. They often prefer to hold onto What They Think Is There. They struggle with the basics of perspective because they refuse to draw what they see and hold tight to drawing what they thing ought to be there. Some get upset when they discover that their assumptions about reality are wrong or do not predict all possibilities. But if they stick with the process they discover that What Is is a wonderful field of open inquiry, of ever expanding horizons. And isn’t the “pursuit of happiness” most likely to succeed when it’s based on such a search for reality?
Bougainvillea Looking West, oil/canvas, 20×24″