It’s All Beautiful

Pink Beds Loop, Pisgah Forest, NC

Think of how often we say something is beautiful—a painting, a home, a young person, especially a young woman. But what is beauty? How do we define it? Is it a vista of pink mountain laurel or a sunrise over a calm ocean? Is it red cheeks, softness, or tallness? And if we are visual artists, is it bright colors, a specific form, smoothness, roughness or texture? Or if we are musicians or dancers, perhaps it is sound and movement?

It is easy to understand why there are so many ideas of beauty—whether we are describing a person or a piece of artwork or the natural world.

Looking for Perfection

While I was hiking the Pink Beds Trail in the Pisgah Forest this past weekend, I noticed the numerous contrasts in nature. I photographed early flowers like trillium, mountain laurel, bluets, and one or two rhododendrons. But I was most drawn to the beauty of the dead trees either those left standing as food and habitat for birds and those already fallen lying in the bogs or creek.

Perhaps I was attracted by the rawness of the visual or even the shapes and dramatic look of the dark colors against the bright green and the pale sky. Whatever the reason, they touched something in me. I found these decaying trees beautiful in their less than perfect form.

Recognizing Myths

In a recent “Brain Pickings” blog, Maria Popova wrote “there are so many kinds of beauty.” She was writing about love and living with purpose, specifically writing about Rebecca Solnit’s Cinderella Liberator, which she called an empowering retelling of the Cinderella story—a story in which Solnit’s characters become their “truest” self—even the stepsisters.So, the limited view of beauty is certainly not the only myth expressed in this childhood story. There is also the limited view of love and what makes for a happy life.  

But perhaps if we can look at beauty differently, then we can also realize that there is more than one way of living a beautiful life.

Whose Story Is It

Embrace, 39″ x 34″ x 2.75″, Mixed media on board, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2019

Sometimes I feel that I am not so much the painter as the conduit for a painting. That is the case with many of the pieces in my current series about dementia. “Embrace,” the one you are viewing here, is about my personal journey with my mother, but it is also about other people. First, it is a story created by people who traveled the same path before me, though with less science and perhaps less support. It is also a story about those that traveled with me, those that cared for and about my mother. Finally, it is also about the people who are still on this path.

My Story

To me an embrace is normally a good feeling, a comforting feeling. But the term also describes how the lead and partner function on the dance floor as they glide across the floor. I always thought dancing was magical. Yet, after taking lessons, I found out about the hard work and frustrations as well as the rewards.

My husband and I were taking ballroom dance lessons just about the time my mother was diagnosed with dementia with Lewy Bodies. My father had already died; my brother was in another state and ill as well. So her care fell to me. I usually just take charge, but that doesn’t always work with someone whose judgement is impaired. She resisted strongly; I became frustrated. Much like a dance, we went back and forth and back and forth. I came to wonder was I her lead, or her partner?

Her Story

In reading Daniel Siegel’s The Developing Mind, one quote stood out : “A story is created by both teller and listener.” The quote made me question if this could also true of the visual story in my paintings.  When I paint, is it my story alone or is the viewer involved?

With my mother I attempted to understand how she was feeling? But I also realized that my capacity for endurance, pain, and suffering was different from hers or even my husband’s. I was left with my imagination and hopefully, my empathy. But I did wonder how she felt about being told she must move into assisted living, that someone would to be there when she showered to make sure she didn’t fall, and when she toileted to keep her clean.

Their Story

So what about the viewer or the listener?  I now recognize their part and know that they can add to the story or even change it.

I look at myself and other artists as both archeologists and architects.  We are diggers of history and truth, gatherers of ideas, and manipulators of bits and pieces. Perhaps none of my of my paintings are completely my own for I am history, a bit of this and a piece of that, a part of her and some of them.

Show Your Art Love

Disconnected from Time, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2016, 12″ x 12″ x 2.5″, mixed media on deep wood panel

So how do we show our love for art? Is it as simple as producing good art or going to openings or events? Or is there something else that is required? I was reminded recently by a blog by Goda Smiligyte (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/you-say-love-art-so-how-many-artworks-do-own-goda-smilingyt%C4%97/) that supporting the arts requires more than buying tickets to a play or going to a concert. It requires buying art that isn’t mine.

No Excuses

Because we have such limited wall space and storage, I admit, I don’t buy much wall art. Perhaps it is also why I have produced quite a few small pieces lately—no room (https://www.etsy.com/shop/PSRaibleArtMaker?ref=shop_sugg).

I have bartered for a couple pieces and bought one small original when we were in France years ago. Otherwise it is prints—and yes, early in our marriage signed posters. But we are better about other types of art. We have a decent pottery collection with inherited pieces and those purchased from places we have traveled (though we are trying to curb the habit). Still, I recently purchased several pieces from a Kings Mountain, NC, potter Renee Matthews. I have purchased numerous pieces of handmade jewelry over the years (the last piece from Lark and Key Gallery https://larkandkey.com/ ), and we also have a carved box from David Anthony Fine Art in Taos http://davidanthonyfineart.com/ ).

The Queen of Art Love

One of my artist friend Jen Walls (https://www.jenwalls.com/ ), who now lives in her beloved Portland, is wonderful about buying art from other artists.  Not only that, she always shows a photograph of the art and gives a shout out on Facebook. She is also great about commenting on other artists exhibitions, events, and publications.

Active Passion

So, if we love art and/or produce art, we need to find ways to support art beyond just buying tickets and drinking wine at a gallery opening. There are so many wonderful artists and craftspeople that produce not just paintings and sculptures, but handmade journals (Jackie Radford, https://etsy.me/2VQShWU), jewelry, carvings, clothes, and so much more.

And when we love a piece, it would be nice to let others know.

Art Stops Us In Our Tracks

“Can-Can,” Jane DeDecker, Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina

This past weekend I had the experience of a sculpture stopping me in my tracks, moving me to tears, and sending me on my way—feeling better and almost hopeful.

The Moment of Intrigue

My husband and I were camping at a state park on the coast of South Carolina and decided to visit Brookgreen Gardens on our way home. We were leisurely walking the paths admiring the plants as much as the sculptures when a small piece drew me forward. At first all I saw was movement, then I recognized them as figures. Finally, I saw them dancing. And since I’ve been working on a painting called “Come, Dance,” I was intrigued.

The Moment of Connection

Called, “Can-Can,” the artist Jane DeDecker, shows five dancers, which represents a cancer victim with four friends helping her through the process of dying. It was possibly more moving because of my mother’s recent death or because I could see the stroke of fingers in the work and was moved by the intimacy. Whatever the reason, I stood for a long time and walked on with a sense of awe in the human spirit.

That is art. It takes you in and moves you forward.

More Than Pretty Pictures

“Two Heads Are Better,” Diptych, 8″ x 16″, Mixed Media on Canvas, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2019

I know I’m “preaching to the choir” when I write this, but in case you’re not an artist, remember this:  art isn’t just pretty pictures and music isn’t just for dancing. There are benefits beyond what we can see with our eyes, and now someone is finally studying this and asking the right questions.

Art Lasts Longer Than A Fizzy

In the first study of its kind, researchers from the University of Arkansas National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab (https://nea-research-lab.uark.edu/about-university-of-arkansas-nea-research-lab/)  working with Atlanta Public Schools and Woodruff Arts Center ( home to the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and High Museum of Art) found that art experiences are clearly important in the “formative school experience.” This means that the experiences go beyond the technical learning process and include gained social-emotional skills.

In the study, researchers randomly assigned fourth-and-fifth graders to receive three field trips each to Woodruff’s Art institution in a single year. A control group within the same school and adjacent grades did not receive the same treatment. In this first for arts field trips research, the authors connected survey responses with student administrative data such as attendance, discipline, grades, and standardized tests scores.

More Pretty Pictures Please

According to the Northside Neighbor, here’s some of what they discovered with students receiving the three field trips:

  1. Higher levels of social-perspective and tolerance primarily through the survey item “I think people can have different opinions about the same thing.”
  2. More interest in school and positive academic gains.
  3. Higher test scores on standardized tests in math and English than the control group.
  4. A higher level of attention to detail by female students (and those who attended 6 field trips in two years showed even higher levels).

In general, they also found that students in the “field trip” group had a more positive view of school and more engagement in general than the control group—and they also had fewer disciplinary infractions.

Perhaps we could all use well …more music and pretty pictures.

Elevator Speeches for Introverts…Like Me

“Seeking Warmth,” 20″ x 16″ x 2.75″, Mixed media on Deep Wood Panel,
©Patricia Steele Raible 2019

I really don’t like elevators with or without speeches. They make me nervous, and no matter how hard I try to relax I always feel like I’ve left my legs on the floor where I got on. So I tend to smile nervously, face the door, and think there is no way I can turn and talk to another passenger.

No Infomercials

Having read advice in books and blogs from quite a few marketing gurus, I’m always thinking about what I should say when someone asks what I do. If I say, “I’m an artist,” I am usually asked a follow-up question about what kind of artist. If I say mixed media and leave it there, I know I’ve missed out big time. I have learned that this is an opportunity to share myself and to get to know someone if only for a very short time.

If you listen to the experts, they would have you prepare a two-minute statement that tells someone “why you create.” Unfortunately, I have found that doesn’t work for me. As an introvert, I come across as stilted, pompous, or stuffy. What I’m learning to do instead is tell them something about my current work. Chances are I’m excited about it and that comes through in my body language. It doesn’t come across as prepared or memorized.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

I’ve got less than a couple minutes, so I have to keep it really short. Second, if I want this to lead to a look at my website, a visit to my studio, or a possible friendship, then I need to know at least one thing about this person. So after describing my most recent work, I ask a question. “Are you involved in art, who is your favorite artist, what kind of art do you like?” Then I have a real conversation that I can continue briefly when the door opens or I can exchange information for a later date.

In my excitement talking about what I am working on, I have to remember not to overwhelm them. They don’t need an artist statement or a curriculum vitae. I try to connect with them by using descriptive language they can understand. If they seem sincerely interested, I invite them to a show or just to my studio.

Being Real

While I believe in being as prepared as possible, a canned elevator speech just doesn’t work for me. I can’t make it sound authentic. I have found it is far more important for me to be genuine—to be myself and talk about something that I am passionate about. That makes me sound…well, like me.

When Technology Goes Bonkers

An abstract collage painting called "Earthshine" shows line, texture and some color though not perfect taken with my smart phone.
I took this photograph of “Earthshine” with my telephone (not an iphone). It’s not what I would use for a juried show, but it’s fine for sharing. It shows texture and line—though the color is bit off. I love the ability to see what it’s going to look like when it’s finished.

How do we respond as artists when the technology we have been depending on goes a bit…well haywire? While most of my artwork is done by hand, the old-fashioned way, I do depend on my computers, various programs, and my printer.

When You Least Expect It

This morning I watched my husband as he dealt with the Bluetooth in our car. He said he was riding along when suddenly the Bluetooth announced that it was changing the language to French. He swears he pushed no buttons and even tried to fix it by calmly asking the “French woman” to change the language back to English. Instead, he got a terse, “Pardon?”

It was not quickly resolved. Even with manuals, the internet, two telephone calls to different car dealers, and a plea to a daughter fluent in French, no one could offer much help (though the daughter offered a few choice words he could say in French when it didn’t work). So like any good American he went out punching buttons. The first punch got him another language, but it was Spanish. No problem, our other daughter is fluent in Spanish!) All he had to do was figure out which buttons he had pushed in which sequence. Finally, on the third try he was able to get the car to talk to him in English again. And incidentally, the only car dealers that called him back wanted to know if he would like to trade the car in for another one.

Obviously, the younger artists are most comfortable with technology, but I have seen a few of them get frustrated when something didn’t work “as advertised.” I guess the reality is that when it works, it makes our life easier and probably more creative even if we produce primarily with our hands. I know being able use technology to view and discuss the work of other artists influences my work. Videos teach me about new techniques, and the simple means of communicating allows me to share my own work with thousands of people even in other countries.

Our Art and Soul

In some ways adaptation to different circumstances is the heart and soul of art. I recently discovered that Matisse began his “cut-out” series after cancer forced him to use a wheelchair. While the work was a departure from his large paintings, critics often refer to them as among the best works of his entire career. 

While I would miss technology, I believe artists are among the most adaptable people in our society. Perhaps it would be a good idea for all artists to develop their “other left or right hand.” By this I mean develop more than one method of creating, challenging ourselves to go beyond our daily borders.

Stepping beyond what has worked for us in the past might open the door to even better work in the future.