Hey, That’s MY Idea!

25 03 2015


You’re only as original as the obscurity of your sources.  Pablo Picasso

I am a visual artist; before that, I was a (very minor) professional musician.  I have come to my own ethical conclusion regarding originality – not a valid legal one, to be sure – that, as long as I am making art that comes from and is imbued with my personal perspective and my voice, I am not taking anything that is not mine; I am giving something of me to the work.

The recent legal dust-ups in the world of pop music (Sam Smith/Tom Petty and Estate of Marvin Gaye/Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and Clifford Harris, Jr.) have given me more than a bit of creative heartburn, so this morning, I took a Google stroll through the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the word original, which led to the definition of the word copy, which led to the word similar . . .

Except for making my brain hurt, this exercise did very little to help me understand the extremes to which it seems we have gone, as a society, in terms of what determines that something is an “original” idea.

It’s hard for artists, sometimes, to see that their work might be (who am I kidding – IS) derivative. Sometimes, our sources are so obscure that we aren’t conscious that we are drawing from those works, ideas, concepts, and techniques of those who came before.  Other times, they are more obvious.

Back in my bar band days, our trio used to sing these three 3-song medleys to show that lots of  old music is new and new is old:

Louie Louie 1955, Hang On, Sloopy  1964, Wild Thing 1965

Cherry, Cherry 1966, What I Like About You 1980, R.O.C.K. in the USA 1985

Here, There, and Everywhere 1966, Sunshine on My Shoulders 1971, Longer 1979

Go ahead.  Pull up one on You Tube and sing along – sing any one of the three along to any other.  Big Fun! (and Paul McCartney never called for John Denver’s head on a platter.) My musician’s ear hears that, while they are not exact copies, they are surely as close as Blurred Lines is to Got to Give It Up.

Every human being is an original, yet we have common component parts, much the same as those who came years before us . . . We’ve been walking this planet with pretty much the same hearing and sight abilities for a very long time.  Let’s all just lighten up a little and acknowledge that we did not invent color or sound. Let’s be grateful for what we can see and hear and all play happily together.

Our band, Crippen, in 1983. We played happily together for (too) many years. Thanks Ken and Hank.

The Will to Bloom

18 03 2015

I’ve been a plant-geek, dirt-digging, landscape lover for a long time.  It’s a little bit embarrassing that it’s just now occurred to me to appreciate these lessons from my little yard.  Guess the March winds finally blew (open) my mind.

How hard must the tender first shoots of spring fight to press upward through frozen earth to find the light; to right themselves after one of March’s windy tantrums has battered and beaten them down. What fierce and unquestioning dedication to their task – to grow, to flower, to share their beauty with the world.

It is easy to forget that we carry within us a bounty of potential blossoms – love, compassion, kindness, generosity, laughter.

We are meant to bloom.

Why, then, do we often stunt our own growth?

Are we sure that we are not meant to bloom because we are being discouraged by others (or our own brat of an inner child)?  Check the daffodils who’ve broken the soil surface by several inches this week and who will likely be covered in snow in a few days. They’ll not take the snow as an omen they are not meant to bloom. They will – literally – rise above that hardship and fulfill their glorious destiny.

Are we afraid that if we let ourselves bloom we’ll look like we’re showing off?  Does that rangy ancient lilac, the one that perfumes that corner of the garden to the point of drunkenness, care what its neighbors think?  Does that harlot red peony worry it might be too old to wear carmine petals?

Perhaps, we just feel like we don’t have the energy to bloom.  Plants don’t blossom in a vacuum; they depend on nature – the sun and rain and workings of soil microbes – to help them fulfill their destiny.

Don’t stunt your growth. You have energy you haven’t tapped.  You have beauty to share with the rest of us.

Don’t let unfriendly winds stop you; you can outlast them.

Don’t worry about what others might think; the only fair assessment of you is you.

Don’t think you have to go it alone; cherish friends who feel like sunshine to your soul.

Spring is the time for renewal and growth and hope. Let’s do this!

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Of Lions and Lambs

11 03 2015

March is a month of emotional highs and lows for me.

My mother, who is strong and healthy and happy and funny, celebrated her eighty-fifth birthday yesterday.

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My sweet daughter would have been twenty-five on the first, but she’s been gone for almost five years.

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To honor my Jessica, I am sharing this (just ignore the commercial lead-in) video of another child with challenges she does not deserve to have (Jessica was autistic) and let you in on some lessons I am so fortunate to have learned from the experience of mothering one of these special children.


The lessons are:

  1. Special needs kids get to do some awesome things “regular” kids don’t, but never forget all the things our special kids will NEVER be able to do, and don’t ever begrudge them a single gleeful moment.
  2. Special needs kids are capable of great joy, so never assume that “they don’t understand,” or that their feelings can’t be hurt. Every kid deserves our attention, respect, and kindness. Don’t dismiss any of them as “less than.”
  3. There are a lot of really great people in the world. Some of them are professional athletes; some are doctors; and many are the folks who work at the grocery store, live next door, or drive the trash truck.

Be nice to everyone.

Chances are most of us deserve it and, without a doubt,

ALL of us need it.

The Nose No’s

4 03 2015

Actual Nose that Knows – Actual Size!

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, one in twelve of us has asthma and more than one in three have nasal allergies. Furthermore, a university study determined that over 30% of Americans find scented products to be irritating – causing sneezing, watering eyes, difficulty breathing, and/or headaches.

Why am I quoting these health statistics?

Because, earlier this week, in the ladies locker room at my gym, I was a victim of an unprovoked cologne attack!


The perpetrator, whose locker happened to be three doors away from mine, blithely and blindly (and blindingly for me and my very angry contact lenses) spritzed herself and everything within a three-foot perimeter of her with a fog of some fragrance that I am sure she found delightful  . . .

It was anything but delightful to me and to a number of other ladies who were choked, nauseated, or just olfactorily violated.

Folks, please respect the personal space of others and make sure you point your smelly toiletries directly at yourselves – and don’t use so much that you leave a fragrance wake.  While the careless slathering, smearing, and spraying of smelly stuff might only be a pain in my ass; it could be a (migraine) pain or asthma attack for others.  For some of us, it’s just a nuisance; for others, it can be a serious health concern.

Respect others’ space, please – including their airspace!


28 Days of Grey

25 02 2015

All discussion of long-term climate change aside, it’s been stupid-cold for too long now.  I, like many folks, wilt during winter’s weak and brief periods of sunlight and severe and extended periods of frigid temperatures. With that admission on the record, here are

The Top Ten Reasons It’s Time For March.

10. Daylight Saving Time arrives, dropping the green flag on the race to spring!

9.   Dressing like Michelin Man to get the mail is getting exhausting.

8.   Static electricity:

I can fry the TV with an index finger, if I forget to touch other metal first.

7.   Fewer snotty noses . . . can’t vouch for attitudes . . .

6.   I look less crazy at the ice cream shop.

(I will eat ice cream in any weather; I just look less abnormal when it’s not two below.)

5.   The end of the mattress sale (and mattress commercial) season.

4.   The top news headlines won’t be dominated by meteorologists.

3.   Cars can begin to return their natural color, instead of road salt gray.

2.   February Funk replaced by March Madness.

1.   Mad Mildred (my mom) will celebrate her 85th birthday –

2-25-15 probably by bowling a 200 game.


February, it’s not you; it’s . . .  wait, it IS you.

You are a cold, menacing, ugly, grey jerk and I won’t miss you one bit!


Has the Jury Reached a Verdict?

18 02 2015

For my friends who participate in the work and full-contact sport of fine art and craft shows, this is the start of nail-biting and calendar-reconfiguring season: applications and acceptances for all the important 2015 shows are in play right now.

As hard as it is to make art, it is also hard work to get accepted to a show. The artist must complete forms, submit photos, pay application fees (most of which are non-refundable, without regard to whether or not they’re accepted into the show), and wait for the verdict, at the mercy of nameless and faceless show jurors, who may or may not have a particular bias for or against their medium or style.

The opportunity to sell work and earn income is, of course, a big part of needing to be accepted into these shows.  The need to be accepted is also tied – even though we know better – to our self-esteem. When our application is declined, our first thought is not the right one, which is, most often, that our work and the show are not a good match. We think nobody loves us. It’s a natural and irrepressible reaction to rejection. Some of us are better able to get our perspective back, but for others, especially newer artists, it can be crushing . . .

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post. This brilliant comment came from a Facebook art group participant in response to another member who was in the throes of “Why (not) me?” after receiving a rejection notice.

Just keep moving. Artistry is mastery of your medium; if they can’t handle that, then give them the best possible image of you walking away.

This advice is good for way more than craft show applications; I think it’s a pretty fine way to cope with pretty much everything.

You are the master of your life. Don’t explain yourself; just BE yourself. Folks who can’t appreciate you don’t deserve you. Really. Oh, and if you smile as you wave goodbye, it will make them crazy.


Cheshire cat grin, courtesy of my lovely niece Katy.

I certainly appreciate your acceptance of this post. Thank you.

Do You Have to be Such a Tool?

11 02 2015

Besides her art, one of the things I like best about watercolorist and teacher June Rollins ​ is her never-flagging positive and generous attitude about her art and art, in general.

In one of her recent posts –  https://junerollins.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/be-careful-when-drawing-on-watercolor-paper/ –  June opened up an interesting side discussion of camera obscura and other tools artists use to aid in their process.

The argument – carried on across a number of articles, blogs, and other threads – boils down to two factions:

1. Real Artists always free-hand draw their subjects. Anyone who uses a tool (camera obscura, overhead/opaque projector, grid – you get the gist) to help them draw is a cheater and should not dare call themselves an artist!


2. Artists have always adopted tools that make them more able to produce better (in their own eyes, for that’s all that matters) art. Get over it!

As with a lot of arty things, I formed a pretty quick opinion, but – as with some of my other hastily-formed opinions – after more thorough consideration of the big (overhead-projected-traced) picture; I’ve changed my mind. ( I love that about the older me, by the way.)

While I initially sided with the “must free-hand to be artist” argument, some brilliant counterarguments began to overtake me.  We do not doubt the physician’s commitment to his art because he chooses to use a stethoscope, instead of relying on his unaided ears.  Prima ballerinas are not less magnificent because they wear pointe shoes.  Beethoven was not diminished as a composer because he used more instruments than had been available to his predecessors.

Common sense led me to conclude that artist’s tools are no different: brushes, hammers, cameras, rulers, pigments . . . they are tools.

My now-well-considered opinion is that, to be an artist, simply have your own original thought. Once you do that, the manner in which you render that idea doesn’t really matter.

Engage brain.

Drop barriers.

Make art.



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