Blog post writing has taken a bit of a backseat lately. Preparation for classes could be one excuse, but it wouldn’t be true. I guess it’s because I’ve been doing more thinking than drawing in this age of discontinuity. The recent blast of winter in this area complete with snow and ice this year sadly has been too much for the many blossoms and flowers that proliferated here during an unseasonably warm February. Even the geese on a nearby lake are a bit confused by the eccentric weather.
This sort of disorientation (yes, that exhibited by the geese–as in “where are we?”) has been mirrored by the befuddlement of many people around the world at the jarring reports of current political events, especially domestically–more on that below. Just as the early blossoms thought that the Spring in February was real, we humans are confused as to the political climate we are living through….
Looking back to look forward sometimes is useful, as paging through older sketchbooks can remind one. While looking ahead to a forthcoming exhibition of my watercolors and sketches, I came across a few of my sketches from the past:
Illustration: Watercolor sketch, “Dupont Circle,” by Black Elephant Blog author (2016)
Lately, with the sun briefly peering out again, there are more inspiring palettes to explore in the near future…
Illustration: Watercolor sketch by Black Elephant Blog author (2016)
On the geopolitical level of human affairs, the emerging palette is more complicated–even “complex”– a crucial distinction not yet as appreciated as it could be, though “complexity”–as in complex systems–is something we spend a lot of time on in the university graduate class I teach. Making sense of complex problems is a necessary starting point to resolving them–and is too often a (very intellectually-demanding and time-consuming) step skipped over, as we have recently seen an example of in the healthcare arena.
Similarly understanding this moment in our collective human history requires us to draw from the experience “palettes” of a wide variety of people in order to understand our true options going forward. I would include in this “experience palette” respected contemporary professors of history, such as Dr. Timothy Snyder–whom I had the privilege of hearing speak in person at a local bookstore recently. People doing fresh thinking about economics also have an essential role
Illustraton: Watercolor, “”The Thinker’ at the Entrance to Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, PA” (2017) by Black Elephant Blog author
to play in the efforts to apply different palettes to our common future. And a look back to the founders and founding documents of this American nation would also be essential, as I just did a week ago by wandering through the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia again.
It’s true, at least for me, that once you become accustomed to painting–and more vitally, living and making choices– in ‘plein air,’ it’s harder to settle for bleak cold days–whether due to the weather or the political climate.
We can call up sketches of the past to help us make sense of the present. Are the things which divide us still more important than taking stock in a clear-eyed way of what actually has happened and what pathways forward lie ahead? These processes are sometimes known as “scenario practice,” “forward reasoning,” and simply “foresight”–also processes we focus on in class. There is no end to the usefulness of learning we can gain from those who have studied the past, I’ve concluded. As Professor Timothy Snyder tells us in his work linking the history of Eastern Europe to our present, the choice is (still) ours to make.