Surprise, ucertainty, Uncategorized

Lessons Not Learned in a Pile of Books

There’s no art work in this blog post.  That’s partly because it’s that time of year for one last push to clear the house of extra things that might be useful for someone else–and thus could be donated to charity–and I inevitably get side-tracked in the process of sorting.  This year it’s a whole lot of books on my bookshelves dating back from, well, not so long ago that are distracting me.  One by one they fall into my hands, like this one called Superpower:  Three Choices for America’s Role in the World by Ian Bremmer (Penguin Random House, 2015), and I can’t help but take a look at the first page.  It reads:

“America will remain the world’s only superpower for the foreseeable future.”

Reading this in the context of the photos simultaneously coming in from the G-20 meeting this past weekend (December 1-2)  in Argentina made for some cognitive dissonance. I thought: when we did begin to see things differently?  Less than two years after the publication of this book, it seems to me.

Right next to it on the shelf was this book by the former Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, called Beyond the Crash:  Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalization (Free Press, Simon & Schuster, 2010).  Ignoring the cardboard boxes of boots and old frames precariously stacked beside me, I opened this one too.  Here again we have someone –a former British Prime Minister–reflecting on the tattered concept of “efficient markets” in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.  He writes:

And now in the first decade of the twenty-first century we have come to realize again that markets too can be shaped by vested interests, that economic players are not always rational, that markets are not self-correcting, that employment does not automatically recover, and that a wholly deregulated, passive model of capitalism and of absentee government cannot cope with extreme fluctuations and the shocks of the sort we saw in the banking crisis.”

This book could just as easily have been tossed into the box with raggedy old sweaters that have seen better days but instead, for some reason, it is the book out of the many on the shelf that I chose to consult more closely later that day on a train trip into town.  What were the lessons that Gordon Brown derived from the Financial Crisis and how do these lessons read in the light of today’s very different era?, I wondered.

Here was another one, for heaven’s sakes:  The Breaking of Nations:  Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century, by Robert Cooper (Atlantic Books, 2003).  Going down memory lane now, I decided to sit down and look at this one.  “To understand the present we must first understand the past,” Cooper writes in the first chapter.  Later he foreshadows trouble for the European Union, writing:

“It is striking that monetary integration has been achieved precisely by removing monetary policy from the hands of politicians and handing it over to the technocrats.  This may be no bad thing but, in the deeply democratic culture of Europe, the development of the European Union as a continuation of diplomacy by other means rather than the continuation of politics by other means may in the end exact a price.” He explains:  “International institutions need the loyalty of citizens just as state institutions do; and that can be achieved only by giving the citizen some more direct involvement in their management.”

And, finally, this one from 2014:

“Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings.  The cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions that scientists tell us are necessary in order to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe are treated as nothing more than gentle suggestions, actions that can be put off pretty much indefinitely.  Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an express of power and priorities as much as hard facts.  But we need not be spectators in all this:  politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too.”  This excerpt is from This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs The Climate by Naomi Klein (Simon & Schuster paperbacks, 2014).

Within the last few hours, my pile of charitable donations has been picked up outside my house, but I could not discard these and other books from the last decade or more.  It seems to me that there are some lessons we haven’t quite absorbed from the past that they cover, periods of crisis in the years since the end of the Cold War.  I’m thinking, as I put these books back on the shelf, that finding our way collectively to a better future might involve some real shifts–perhaps to more inclusive concepts of economic wellbeing or security (even “national” security!!).  At the very least, there might be some clues in this pile of books to how we got to now, which our social media-fueled Twitter-verse is usually poor at explaining.  (Without disrespecting the fine minds truly evident out on social media, there surely will be serious consequences if we do not tear ourselves away from Twitter now and then to dig deeper into questions regarding mankind’s current plight today.)

I am going through these books now with our present in mind.  It occurs to me that I cannot imagine a single book coming from the hand of any of our current US policymakers (at least at the cabinet-level) to explain and reflect on the policymaking being carried out in the name of the US since 2017.  It takes a policymaker or someone who cares about policy and its public impacts probably to even want to write a book.  So, therefore, I’ll look at what previous policymakers said, and thoughtful observers said at the time, and perhaps craft some lessons I hope will prove useful in guiding future policymakers –ones who care about the publics they’ve been elected to serve–at the end of this personal project of mine.  The results of my efforts may, meanwhile, be jotted down on a different blog (as this one has become more an art journal in recent years). If so, I’ll be sure to share the new blog’s name and address as soon as it is active.  I hope some of you will want to follow me over there, even as I continue to share impressions of my art journey here!  In the meantime, all the best for a wonderful Christmas and holiday season everywhere!

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

Painting a Lake Scene in Gouache

This semester one of the courses I’m in is a gouache painting course (for the second time, as it is difficult to find such a course).  Gouache is opaque watercolor.  It has a very interesting (to me, anyway) history going back centuries.  It handles very differently relative to better known transparent watercolor.  In class we are regularly reminded we are not doing watercolor.  Later I tried recreate the evening sky scene from yesterday’s walk around a nearby lake.  These gorgeous colors and lights and shadows are everyday occurrences around here.  As many already have commented, the trees still hold their green leaves, with some yellow edges in places.  It is a different kind of fall season but no less spectacular with everyday light shows.  The gouache allows for applications of lighter colors on top of dark backgrounds.  Gouache lake scene

Illustration: “Evening sky”, approximately 9″ x 6″ gouache on watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

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oil painting, Uncategorized

My Younger Brother’s Birthdays & Shenandoah Colors

It was beautiful along Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park this past weekend.  A precious and crisp light made everything seem celebratory.  And, indeed, we were there to remember and celebrate the birthday of my younger brother, who passed away last year shortly before his 56th birthday.  His love of the outdoors means that we mark his birthday by continuing his tradition along with his wife and daughter of going camping on his birthday weekend.  This time, though, instead of in tents, we were in a lovely house on a ridge overlooking wetlands on the edge of Strasburg, Va.  It was a wonderful time despite the painful loss we all still feel. Shenandoah 1

Illustration: “Shenandoah,”  20″ x 34″ oil on canvas by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

A Birthday Note:  “Me at 43”

Soon after we returned home, Andy’s wife shared with us a note she had found in an old desk she was about to discard, a note written by Andy on his 43d birthday. I’ll share it here because, in our social media-frazzled times, it’s wonderful to peer into a brilliant mind capable of sitting down and reflecting on things–and not needing to show his thoughts instantly to all the world.

CarolMarkandAndy2

Photo: Andy with his older brother and sister in the 1960s

Andy, who it is still hard to believe is not here, had a great sense of humor, quick wit, and enormous reservoirs of empathy–all traits we’re missing today in our national daily discourse. He made friends all over the world and was an avid explorer from the islands of Comoros off the east coast of Africa to the islands of the Caribbean and even islands along the coast of Washington state.  (He was expert on sustainable tourism for island economies.) He also traveled across Argentina, Spain, Germany, England, Israel, Australia and Africa.  Andy was a voracious reader especially about indigenous peoples and colonial expeditions and settlements.  He was a nature lover and enjoyed hiking in remote places. Andy indeed never really took to social media though, in fact, he was tweeting about America’s desperate times on the day he died, without warning, on 26 July 2017 from complications of a seizure.  (He was greatly troubled by what was happening to our nation but his seizures were an unexpected side effect of surgery he’d had in 2014.)

Andyasbaby

Photo: Andy as a baby, smiling

Andy wrote the following in 2004 and apparently never showed it to anyone.  If he had, we might have questioned his memory of his birth weight being “over 10 pounds.”  (His birth weight was 7 lbs. 12 oz.) I am showing it here as a way of remembering and sharing a little bit of my younger brother, who loved life and made the most of it.

AndyBdayLetter

 

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Weekend Sketching at Union Station, Washington, D.C.

Of course it was supposed to rain this weekend; we all expected it. Thus the weekend sketchers met up inside Union Station in Washington, D.C.

Union Station 1

Illustration: “Sunlight-filled Union Station D.C.”, Watercolor and pen-and-ink in a sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

The weather ended up being sunny and muggy. Inside the train station it was cooler, and it was possible to stare at the ceiling without getting in anyone’s way.  Nowhere near as grand as Grand Central, there nonetheless is a lot of see inside this train station, including multiple identical statues of Roman soldiers each holding an identical shield.  Bright light filtered through the many windows above onto the cavernous hallway.  As one of the people who has rushed through here with scarcely a glance at my surroundings, it was nice to have a chance to try to take it all in.  It’s a busy place, including visually, and a good place to practice with perspective.  For this watercolor sketch, I was back to using Stillman & Birn Zeta soft-sided sketchbook and working across the binding between the pages, in an oblong portrait format. These days I am also using Noodlers #41 waterproof brown ink.

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Plein Air Under Wet Skies

Yesterday there was time to slip one more plein air effort in under the wire of arriving rain showers, now torrential.  Standing in the garden behind a popular area restaurant, I focused on a fountain; the sound of falling water is so relaxing and makes painting more enjoyable.  It was suddenly like a day in November, chilly and wet.  There were no interesting shadows to work with, due to overcast skies.  The lion face in the fountain was difficult and I should have slowed down and focused on a piece of this, but the statue in the background also appealed to me.  Working plein air is for me mostly fun but also an organizational challenge.  I need a flat surface nearby on which to rest stuff, and usually don’t have one; brushes roll off the easel and into the grass.  (I suspect that whoever invents a light-weight mobile solution to this will make a lot of $$.)

Illustration: “Oasis,” watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Arches watercolor paper approx. 11″ x 8″  by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

This was the last chance to try for another painting under the rules of the “plein air” competition ending today.  With the heavy rains now, it may be a challenge just to get over to the gallery with my work as some roads around here flood quickly.  But two paintings are now done in a 24 hour time period.  These days, when we all sense how little we actually ‘control,’ there is some satisfaction in this!

 

 

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Great Falls Annual Plein Air Competition

Days of high humidity continue but this hasn’t deterred plein air painters this week from getting out around Great Falls, Virginia during the 4-day annual plein air competition going on now.

Colvin Run Mill Path

Illustration: “Colvin Run,” Watercolor on Arches rough watercolor paper, approximately 11.25″ x 8.25″ by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

I set up my easel on a gravel path on the grounds of the Colvin Run Mill, which was built in 1811.   It’s a still-functioning mill where mill stone wheels grind wheat and corn.  The grinding stone wheels set inside a hillside in the park here have caught my attention on previous visits.  I decided they would be my subject on this sweaty afternoon!

Colvin Run Mill easel

Illustration: Photo of author’s easel set up today at Colvin Run Mill, Great Falls, Virginia

Rain is in the forecast for the rest of the weekend so it’s hard to say if I’ll produce any more paintings in time for the contest’s deadline on Sunday afternoon.

Stop by the Great Falls Art Gallery on the Village Green if you’d like to see what area painters have produced during this competition–and this painting on the gallery wall!

Colvin Run Mill Grinding Stones

Illustration: Photo of Colvin Run Mill Grinding Stones (Pinterest)

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Dumbarton Oaks Gardens Watercolors

When you visit the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens in Washington, D.C., you’re drawn to the airy, light-filled Orangery, a wonderful room decked with vines of ivy across doorways and windows opening on gardens in three directions and a fourth wide entrance to another room.

Orangery Final

Illustration: “Orangery,” watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

The gardens were the project of Mildred Bliss. She and her husband, Robert Woods Bliss, owned Dumbarton Oaks, now a Research Library and Collection, a century ago.  (The mansion of Dumbarton Oaks, where the library and collection are, is somewhat removed from the gardens, a couple of blocks away.)

Art collectors, philanthropists and involved in diplomatic life, the Blisses were world travelers, and arranged for a series of important diplomatic meetings to take place at Dumbarton Oaks in 1944. These meetings, known as the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, hosted delegations from China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Dumbarton Oaks photo

Photo: Dumbarton Oaks delegates meeting in 1944, Getty images

Here the participants considered ideas for an organization “to maintain peace and security in the world.” Not long afterwards, their proposals made up the United Nations Charter adopted in San Francisco in 1945.  The goal was to shape the future for a better world, something which can only be carried out with the cooperation of multiple nations sharing a sense of a greater good.

Amidst the chaos and uncharted territory of our times, it’s a bit of an escape to visit these grounds near where the United Nations began.  Beyond the inviting Orangery are winding paths, terraces, urns, benches, fountains, a pebble walk, sculptures, gates, and lots of trees and flowers.

FountainEllipse

Illustration: “Dumbarton Oaks,”Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Arches CP watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author, (2018)

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