Sunday, August 7, 2016

back at the games with Crow




On his way home from visiting his condor clan buddies in the Andes Crow stopped off to see how preparations were coming along for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. Wishing all those people well, let’s just leave them to their events while I tell you a couple of the stories he’s shared with me about the Games that began in Ancient Greece more than 2700 years ago and were performed every four years for a millenium. The contemporary ones began in 1896.


One thing Crow insisted I understand is that Ancient Greece was considerably larger and more influential than the country as you know it today. Here’s a map so you can see just how much territory it covered. You’ll notice there are lots of cities, or city states as they were known then, nearly a thousand of them besides the ones whose names are familiar like Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Syracuse, Aegina, Rhodes, Argos, Eretria, and Elis. Whereas the biggest was Sparta, Athens, Rhodes and Syracuse possessed large naval fleets which also allowed them to control wide areas of territory across the Aegean. People being not too different from what they are now the city states of Greece were often at war, a situation that made travel between them dangerous.


The Games were held in honour of Zeus, king of the gods, and were staged every four years at Olympia, a valley near a city called Elis. People from all over the Greek world came to watch and take part. As a religious festival the Games were more important than war so a ’sacred truce’ was enacted three months before the Games so the athletes and tens of thousands of fans could travel safely. Olympia was a pretty cool place with training facilities, pools and all the necessities to make the athletes ready:

 It is all hilly and shaded, and has many springs...The city is well provided with public buildings, gymnasia, stoas, temples, theatres, pictures, statues, and an agora which is excellently situated for all trading purposes.
 ~ 3rd century BCE description



But so much for history - you probably know all about it anyway. What was more fun for me was hearing Crow’s stories, a couple of which I’ll share with you. There are hundreds of events staged at the modern Summer Olympics but back then, and for the first fifty years or so, there was only one - a race from one end of the stadium to the other. Then everybody would pack up their tents and go home. Eventually, once the organizers came to understand it might be more amusing for everyone if the Games lasted a bit longer, more events were added to make four days of competitions. They included wrestling, boxing, long jump, throwing the javelin and discus, and chariot racing (no horse races because saddles hadn’t been invented yet).

Competing in the nude became the rule after a young wrestler whipped off his loin cloth before a match so he had more flexibility. This was before spandex was invented. A version of wrestling, the pankration, was probably the nastiest event because there were almost no rules. While biting and eye gouging was officially banned the decree wasn’t always enforced. I’m not even going to mention the fighter who won a match by breaking his opponents fingers at the beginning of the match. oops.. However, cheating was punished. Anyone caught cheating, trying to bribe an athlete for instance, was likely to be flogged and had to pay for a bronze statue of Zeus, as a punishment. There were many statues of Zeus at Olympia.

Women were not permitted to participate in or watch the events although young girls were allowed in the crowd, the sole exception to this rule was the priestess of Demeter who had a special viewing platform.

One of Crow’s favorite stories is about the woman who broke the rule against women at the Games (although I’m sure there were many cooking dinners back at the tents). Anyway, a lady named Mrs. Kallipateira was the racing trainer for her son Peisirodos, Pez and, naturally enough, wanted to see him perform. When he won his race Mrs. Kallipateira’s experienced a fashion emergency of such severity (prompted by all her jumping up and down) that made it apparent to all that she was indeed an adult female. In order to avoid such an occurrence in the future rules were established that all trainers also had to be naked.

Yes, we enjoyed more than one snifter of Remy as Crow reminisced about the past and offered his suggestions for the future. In 2004, the Summer Games were held in Athens, close enough to make us think fondly about returning them to Greece, if they are to continue at all. So far that hasn’t happened, the Games moved on at the direction of all of those who profit from the bribes and chicanery that goes along with membership in the I.O.C.

We found it very interesting to learn that a number of cities have cancelled their bids to host the next Winter Games:
Oslo because there was so little public support for it.
Stockholm withdrew for similar reasons.
Krakow after a referendum found almost 70% of residents opposed the bid..
Along with Munich, Davos, Barcelona and Quebec City.
Leaving them with two potential hosts: Almaty, in the dictatorship of Kazakhstan, and the other was Beijing. Beijing won.

The same thing seems to be happening with the Summer Games:
In 2015 Boston withdrew its bid for the 2024 Summer Games because of low public support.
Hamburg pulled out after the local government lost another referendum.
Toronto’s mooted bid was scrapped.
The four candidate cities left are Rome, Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris - and Italy and Hungary are dubious.

We shall see, or should I say we’ll wait upon Events? Best wishes to all the Athletes in competition now and in the future. The Summer Games began with one competition and few contenders, now there are about three hundred events and nearly thirteen thousand challengers. They could use a permanent home.

❤️

* The picture at the top was made when Crow attended the hero’s welcome of an Olympic winner on his return home.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

troll bridge


'There are no roads where we are going.'

***

and some thoughts from Richard Feynman as we negotiate our way:

“Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn't stop you from doing anything at all.”

"I have a friend who's an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say "look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing," and I think that he's kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is ... I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it's not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there's also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.”

“I... a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.”

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

“I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.”

“The highest forms of understanding we can achieve are laughter and human compassion.”

 


Timeless wisdom always seems best when the outside world becomes incomprehensible. I hope you're enjoying the peace and tranquility of soft summer days.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

last best of

After two years of performing moderator duties on a specialty watercolorists gallery at Deviant Art, I'm retired from that post as of the last day of June. I should probably explain that since the group allows anyone who uses water based media to show their work there are big gaps in quality of the work accepted for general display. While we have no criteria regarding skill and professionalism some artists are far better than others.

Over the course of my term there I've been responsible every other month or so to choose ten favorites for our regular feature. As I just finished making the list and having written brief comments about each image (for the last time) I thought you might enjoy looking at the:


Best of June 2016 at dA Watercolorists!



Comic by Martidy
Proving the point that comics are a vibrant art form, we have this fine example of narrative art that needs no words to further its story. The layout is beautifully balanced and the colors and forms a visual delight.



Spices by jackfox2008
The white background of this elegant still life forces us to focus our  attention on the objects. Timeless and unattached to a specific location their subtle colors and shapes show us a meaning beyond the ordinary.




Between Dreams and Reality by beyondpat
 Free association unrestricted by reason can produce surprising, unexpected imagery. With a clever and whimsical disregard for tradition this artist has produced an imaginative and intriguing image.





Night owl by 0618623
 By envisioning the essence of a nighttime city, rather than its exact parameters, the artist has presented us with a dreamlike landscape of shadow and light. Whether it's a place in reality is left to our interpretation.





Wooden church from Kotan by GreeGW
 The strong colors of this watercolor entertain the viewer with a  wonderfully fresh, luminous style that transforms an otherwise ordinary scene into a unique surrounding full of deep meaning.



Another Wednesday Walk by Odditorium
Watercolor and fantasy have always been a good match. This fine illustration shows a the artist's skill and restraint in its elegant arrangement and subtle coloring as the open spaces pull our eyes toward the main figures. It'd definitely a painting that tells its own story.



Shire hills by SarkaSkorpikova
The graceful verdant hills of this beautiful and evocative vision of Tolkien's Middle Earth make it a magical landscape. While there are no hobbits, elves, dwarves, magicians or any other mythological characters in view, the picture is full of their presence.



Watercolor22 by Viktosa
This is a beauteous cat, a cat of character, a cat of determination, a cat with dignity, a cat whose tiny prominent teeth make me want to give him a home. The fine design and subdued palette almost make me forget my preference for dogs.



Red Squirrel Painting by EsthervanHulsen
I'm never quite sure where the boundary lies between realistic and photo-realistic but I do know painting realistic watercolors takes time.   This wonderfully detailed painting shows the spark of personality and character that makes even the smallest creature a unique being.




Rose garden by eiger3975
Using high contrast light and shadow, clear and uncompromising colors, and strong design, this artist is skilled at mixing contemporary images with an art deco style. This is just one example from his fine gallery of images.




I hope you enjoyed seeing them and the links if you felt like looking at more of their work. Now I'm no longer responsible for going there every day I may just get on with some of my own work. Maybe..

current events

I missed posting last week so I'll put up two today - this one because Matt Stoller described something in a series of Twitter posts I'd never heard of before. Come to think of it you could write a book about the things I never heard of (Crow agrees).

(1) The basic dynamic re: #Brexit and #TPP is that post-WWII we stretched multinationals around the globe to keep nation-states from warring.

(2) National industries and nationalism were seen as causal factors in two recent wars that killed tens of millions.

(3) Some, like George Ball, were explicit.

(4) "to fulfill its full potential the multinational corporation must be able to operate with little regard for national boundaries..."

(5) " - or, in other words, for restrictions imposed by individual national governments"." Ball helped create the post-war trade agenda.

(6) Ball was a huge proponent of the EU. Opposed Vietnam War, seen as very liberal. Supported multinationals over national sovereignty.

(7) By late 60s Nixon opposed free trade. Maurice Stans negotiated textile controls w/Japan/Taiwan/Hong Kong, was called racist for doing so

(8) The Ball generation sought to prevent war, understood the multinational as a responsible actor constrained by antitrust and regulation.

(9) Lifting of restrictions on multinationals in the 1980s/1990s led to monopolies, financial disasters, w/no sovereign capacity to govern.

(10) Sovereign state power to make war originally would be checked by corporate supply chains, free trade, orgs like IMF

(11) But the cure for nationalist warfare - multinationals - mutated. And multinationals unfettered do not meet human needs.

(12) So people are crying out for some sovereign aside from the corporation (which is a grant of sovereign power). And nationalism is back!

(13) But this is not a right-wing phenomenon. Many on the left, though not socialists, want localism. Nation-state is more local than IMF.

(14) But the old DNA of George Ball is still there. If you do not see the virtues of free trade and multinationals, then.. warmonger!

(15) For globalizing elites, it literally is unthinkable to stop stretching corporations around the world. They cannot imagine it...

(16) ... because they see it as restarting World War II. They think they are peaceniks.

(17) That is why Germany, France, etc want to punish UK or Greece for bucking them. Don't these people realize that WORLD WAR will come?!?!


Next is Professor Mark Blyth of Brown University regarding Brexit. This is quite entertaining.



Thursday, June 16, 2016

getting it right


One of the more frustrating things that can happen when attempting to get a true image of a painting is the result you see here. The tree trunks have almost no yellow when I look at the painting, but no matter what settings I used for the scanner or how I tried to manipulate the colors with my rudimentary PhotoShop program, I simply couldn't get it any closer to how the picture looks in reality. So this is it - pretty enough that I wanted to share it with you, but hardly satisfactory when it comes to a real translation of the image. If you've ever looked through Google images of famous paintings you'll see I'm not the only one to have had this kind of problem.

Recently,  I came across some words in languages other than English that describe things familiar to all of us. The more words we have about the natural world, in my opinion, the better.

Mangata (Swedish): The road-like reflection of the moon in the water.

Ammil (English, old Devon): The thin film of ice that lacquers the outdoors when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.

Komorebi (Japanese): The sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees.

Gurfa (Arabic): The amount of water that can be held in one hand.

Poronkusema (Finnish): The distance a reindeer can comfortably travel before taking a break.

Eit (Gaelic): The practice of placing shiny stones in streams so that they sparkle in moonlight and attract salmon in the late summer and autumn.

Murr-ma (Wagiman): The act of searching for something in the water with only your feet.

Kalpa (Sanskrit): The passing of time on a grand cosmological scale.

Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods, an easy solitude and a connectedness to nature.


Kintsukuroi (Japan):  the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver joining the pieces and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.


Quote of the week:
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

~ Bertrand Russell

Thursday, June 9, 2016

now and then



Although I didn't take this picture the lady slippers are in bloom in our favorite park again. I didn't know they were a kind of orchid until today. Aren't they pretty?

I've also been thinking about the future and how the ideas of experts have often been wrong:

'I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.'
~ Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and inventor of Ethernet, writing in 1995. In 1999, addressing the Sixth International WWW Conference, Metcalfe put a copy of his infamous column into a blender, pureed it, and drank it.

'There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.'
~ T.A.M. Craven, Federal Communications Commission commissioner in 1961. Needless to say, Mr. Craven is no longer the commissioner of the FCC.

'I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.'
~ Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM in 1943. Of course, Watson was referring to room-size mega-machines filled with vacuum tubes. But still..

'The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.'
~ Sir William Preece, chief engineer, British Post Office in 1876. Messenger boys?

'This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.'
~ Western Union internal memo in 1876. Western Union sent its last telegram in 2006.

'Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.'
~ Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox in 1946. He was right. Now we've moved on to aluminum and plastic televisions.


I kind of like this girl's idea about the future of robots. Only time will tell if she has the right idea:


'It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.'
~ Yogi Berra

Thursday, June 2, 2016

elephants and oliphaunts


I've not been having an easy time these past months actually finishing pictures. I'll get so far and then stop for some (or no) reason. The one above is a case in point. My first plan was to draw an old fashioned  circus parade with animals and people in all their finery gaily tramping along a modern street while a distracted child looked elsewhere - maybe at his hand held game machine. After several tries the background buildings looked boxy and boring and the kid made me sad.

Next, I drew an elephant that I liked just to see if that might inspire me to continue. He was okay but the adult riders just looked too strange, maybe I didn't draw them well enough. Then it occurred to me to place a howdah on the elephant's back with a little girl riding inside, the image you see here in it's initial stage. I liked the idea of her waving at someone and the little boy holding flowers appeared in a sketch - and what's a little boy without a dog? You can see I was venturing far along the path of childhood fantasies here.

Anyway, there I was with some main elements and preparing to draw in the background - probably an old village street or a cottage doorway, something bucolic. Then I came across some stories about how badly elephants are treated in Thailand and other countries in SE Asia where hundreds of them are rented out to carry and generally entertain tourists. In particular, I read that elephants can only safely carry 150 kilos (330lb) on their backs, and howdahs alone weigh 100 kilos. More than that can make them suffer debilitating back injuries. I read more awful things as well that I won't tell you but the end result was I didn't feel like working on this picture anymore.

It seems to me there are things that are fun to imagine that don't work out quite so well in the world as it is. We've all watched chase scenes in movies that have kept us so caught up with excitement we didn't allow ourselves to realize that if this had happened in the real world then we just watched passively as a whole bunch of people were maimed or killed. I'd like to think that somewhere a little girl can ride inside a howdah and wave to a little boy who has brought her flowers, or that people can ride on elephants without hurting them, or that somewhere lions are lying down with lambs. In the meantime I'll put that particular image on the back burner while I think of something even more fantastic.. and much less painful for any of our fellow creatures.

On a happier note, last month The Ringling Bros circus sent its performing elephant troupe into early retirement with their friends and relatives in Florida.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

other people's work 0.000001


As a child I was the proud owner of a special silver crucifix. What was peculiar about it was that in the centre there was a small glass circle that, when holding the cross up to the light and peeking inside, revealed the Lord's Prayer written on a mustard seed. It was a frequent source of amazement to me that anyone could write anything at all in such tiny script, never mind the Lord's Prayer which, as you may recall, is lengthy enough that writing it on a post-it note would take up the entire space. The crucifix disappeared long ago - I think eventually the centrepiece fell out and after that it was just a cross with a hole in the middle.


The reason I mentioned this is that a while back I came across an article about a man who makes the world's tiniest sculptures and when I say tiny I mean unbelievably, microscopically small. Willard Wigan makes his sculptures out of dust particles, sugar crystals, grains of sand etc. and then positions them inside the eyes of needles or on the heads of pins. Spending months meticulously carving his materials into micro-figures like the ones displayed above Wigan is a 'micro-miniaturist', an artist known for creating some of the world's smallest sculptures.


From his website:

“It began when I was five years old,” says Willard. “I started making houses for ants because I thought they needed somewhere to live. Then I made them shoes and hats. It was a fantasy world I escaped to. That’s how my career as a micro-sculptor began.”

Willard’s micro-sculptures are now so minute that they are only visible through a microscope. Each piece commonly sits within the eye of a needle, or on a pin head. The personal sacrifices involved in creating such wondrous, yet scarcely believable pieces are inconceivable to most. Willard enters a meditative state in which his heartbeat is slowed, allowing him to reduce hand tremors and sculpt between pulse beats. Even the reverberation caused by outside traffic can affect Willard’s work. Consequently, he often works through the night when there is minimal disruption.






I've seen pictures of Willard Wigan's studio setup and have seen him interviewed, but after searching the internets looking to find how these sculptures could be made and what tools could possibly be used I'm still at a loss. It's either magic or something so close to magic it makes no real difference. I still wonder about the Lord's Prayer on a mustard seed too, but I know it was real because it was mine for a time.




I believe in magic.
How about you?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Crow hill


Almost every day I read the news because I want to stay informed about what is seemingly going on in the world outside my house and neighborhood. These days this is an unpleasant experience. The more I read the more worried I get. Things do not seem to be going well. The news about what is going on out there and what's going on inside myself seem mutually to freeze one another into place and a desperate kind of negative reinforcement takes place.

But when I put the computer aside to read a book, listen to music, paint or go for a walk I begin to thaw out. The frightening aspects of the world disappear and my body and mind relax into a state that may be the opposite of distraction. Art and direct contact with the world of the senses saves me from freezing. I wonder if people naturally tend toward ice (or stasis) as we crave a fixed sense of things and reliable truths we can depend on. It seems to me we love young children and the idea of childhood because through them we can re-experience a time before the self freezing, necessary for gaining discernment, took hold.

Imagination soothes the body, warms the soul in a reality wider, deeper, and more mysterious than we can directly sense or rationally know. Imagination sees into and through the apparent world to another world, luminous and significant. 

from: Talks with Crow

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

room for all




From what I've read it appears the terrible fires are still raging around Fort McMurray in Alberta. It's a sad thing and sadder too to think just how stuck so many of us are in the current economic paradigm. We don't like what burning fossil fuels is doing to the environment but at the same time people need jobs. It's just the same for every other unpleasant business or practice we might condemn.

I did find out one thing that happened during the major evacuation that I'd worried might have been forgotten. People weren’t the only ones who needed to escape, hundreds of pets needed to evacuate too. While airlines typically restrict how many animals can be on board, for a number of pilots, the choice was simple: no matter what the rules are, those pets wouldn’t be left behind.

Pilot Keith Mann, Suncor Energy’s manager of flight operations, is the owner of a “four-month-old golden retriever” and empathized with those trying to save their furry friends. He said, “the terminal was quite a sight. Just full of animals. We did everything we could to keep pets with their owners, and insure that the flights were safe. That’s the Canadian way. We wanted to help.”

For about 50 hours, his planes saved cats, dogs, bunnies, frogs, hedgehogs, and even a chinchilla from the inferno. At times, there were close to 40 animals on board one flight, yet Mann reported that the trips were mostly peaceful.


See? A nice story. Hopefully it won't be long before Canada, among many other countries, gets behind diversifying its economy. I'm sure that would make many more people and animals feel safer again.