When I read and I come across a phrase or passage that challenges or inspires me, I record it in one of my Commonplace Books. Today I share with you a passage from “We are Called to Rise,” by Laura McBride. It’s one of those books that link different lives to a situation and you don’t quite know how until the end. It is also loosely based on a real situation involving police and guns, a bit timely right now. It is intense. (and Missy, if you are reading this, I don’t recommend it for you.)
Advent Day Eight, 2014 Melanie Mowinski
It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says goodnight, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.
What is most beautiful is least acknowledged.
What is worth dying for is barely noticed.
We are Called to Rise, Laura McBride, p. 197
At my bench in my studio is a bulletin board filled with various cards and other things that inspire me. Some of these cards are over 10 years old. Some of the sentiments are even older, like the August will take care of August one. A dear relative said that to me when I was fretting about what I was going to do in August in March. And next to It’s fine it’s up there in my personal mantras.
I’ve been looking at the board lately and trying to decide if there was anything that could be swapped out, or eliminated. And I decided on this little gem that adorns today’s collage, I might exaggerate a little, but... Other pieces of this collage are from a drawing from college. I’m looking to old work to see what I might be able to discard, reuse and incorporate into what I am doing today, with the ultimate goal of eventually minimizing my belongings. This was another sentiment that used to adorn the bulletin board–also along the lines of minimizing. I might exaggerate, but I’m really working to simplify. And today’s entry is a declaration to that.
Fear less, hope more;
Eat less, chew more;
Whine less, breathe more;
Talk less, say more;
Hate less, love more;
And all good things are yours.
Lord John Fisher(1841-1920)
20 years ago I was preparing to move to the tiny island of St. Kitts to begin my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was supposed to have left in July, but two weeks before my departure, my service was delayed, and I
got stuck, had the opportunity to live with my parents for six months. (More about that in the next couple of days.)
I often played Sheryl Crow’s first album Tuesday Night Music Club and one of my favorite memories of all time is my mom singing along to “All I want to do is have some fun” the top hit from that album. That song could be my mom’s anthem…my mother loves to host a party, go to parties, and have fun. Today’s collage reminds me of this memory…
Advent Day Six, 2014, Melanie Mowinski
When I was in college, I remember a conversation with a fellow art student about living in one place for the rest of his life versus moving often and looking for new horizons. We were sitting in front of the Fredrick Erwin Church that the Cleveland Museum of Art owns. I remember thinking he was CRAZY. For so many reasons, from boredom to lack of imagination. But he was adamant. That there was much to discover by staying in one place. In relation to this, Mrs. Flax in Mermaids comes to mind, “Death is dwelling on the past or staying in one place too long.”
As I have gotten older, understanding what he was describing resonates with me more and more. Watching how the same place changes subtly and profoundly over the course of many years now fascinates me.
I’m thinking of this right now because my winter break is approaching. We often travel during this time because it’s the only time that I can really disconnect from school and PRESS. And it allows me to feel like I’m not “staying in one place too long.” I’m good at that–going to new places. I’m only becoming better at staying in one place slowly.
Advent Day Five, 2014, Melanie Mowinski
But this year we are going to stay home, and address the internal. Doug will do a cleanse, I will work in my studio. We will practice lots of yoga, meditate, go to Spartan, sleep, walk, I will hopefully run a lot, and enjoy the wonderfulness that is here in the Berkshires. And I will work in my studio. I’m much better at exploring new horizons and distracting myself from the work that needs to be done in there. I don’t know why. Whenever I do dig in, it’s always for the better. But lately, well, hmm.
What keeps you from doing the thing that you love? How do you overcome it?
Today is Rainer Maria Rilke‘s birthday. I often turn to his writings, and have since college when I first read Letters to a Young Poet. Today I share with you a poem from his Book of Hours.
Advent Day Four, 2014, Melanie Mowinski
I’m too alone in the world, yet not alone enough
to make each hour holy
I’m too small in the world, yet not small enough
to be simply in your presence, like a thing—
just as it is.
I want to know my own will
and to move with it.
And I want, in the hushed moments
when the nameless draws near,
to be among the wise ones—
I want to unfold.
Let no place in me hold itself closed,
for where I am closed, I am false.
I want to stay clear in your sight.
I would describe myself like a landscape I’ve studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I’m coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtimes;
like my mother’s face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.
- From Rilke’s Book Of Hours translated by Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy
The Vandercook Universal III, the letterpress machine that is the center of my PRESS project is only as precise as the operator. It’s possible to line up very complicated changes of colors, multiple plates, and other ways of designing intricate creations through measuring and placement. It’s one of the more fool-proof ways of printing a reduction cut. But if the operator isn’t paying attention when feeding the paper into the machine, it adds up to a very long day of printing and fussing. If the paper goes into the machine just ever so slightly off, the subsequent layers will be next to impossible to line up.
One of my students is battling with this right now. But as I often say to my students, there is always a way. To overcome this particular operator error, she has to first print on a piece of clear mylar, then overlay it on her print, adjust the paper settings, take another test, make another adjustment, until she has it right. Then she wipes down the press, prints her print and begins again. Sounds laborious, right? Thankfully her edition size is small.
In overcoming this she is learning a few important things:
- To feed the paper in as precisely as possible to avoid this in the future.
- To understand the way the paper-guides work with the form and how to adjust them.
- To understand the importance of paying attention to all aspects of the process.
- To problem solve and trouble shoot and be good natured about it.
- To learn that a big part of being an artist is finding one’s way through a challenge.
- Patience with herself and with the process.
To get better at anything requires practice, right? During that practice problems will surface, mistakes will be made, failures will occur. What’s most important is how we tackle those moments. It can be easy to walk away, but digging in and figuring out the problem, mistake or failure adds to the skill. (and sometimes, in a very crazy way is a whole lot of fun.)
Here’s to problems, failures, mistakes and operator error, and the patience and willingness to overcome it when it arrives.
Advent Day Three, 2015
I attended a meeting yesterday about leadership and innovation, partially centered around the question “how do you inspire students to go from community engagement to political action?” (Heck, how do I inspire myself to go from community engagement to political action and what does political action mean anyways?)
Nothing was decided, solved or determined. But good questions were asked. Like
- How can we use leadership, innovation and design thinking to solve some of the bigger social problems that exist in our community?
- What skills can we teach/must we teach our students, members of our community and beyond that will allow them to be leaders, innovators and creative thinkers in the 21st century?
- The future lies in today’s student. What do we think are important skills for them to have as they become tomorrow’s leaders?
We did not get to action. But it was one of those preliminary meetings that you leave knowing that something will come from it. You don’t really know what, and you don’t really know what your part will be, but you are thinking. You are looking at your own life and asking, how is my work serving the greater good? Is my work contributing to these questions? What do I need to do more or less of going forward? Is this worth suffering for? And if not, what is? How do I want to contribute to this beautiful life, and am I doing it?
So maybe some of the first steps to getting to action is asking the right questions. What are you asking yourself right now?
What do you want to begin? What stands between you and whatever that is?
When I think of this phrase, I think of my friend Valerie Carrigan who decided that this year was it, time for her to start anyways on her dream of having a studio large enough for her to do her own work and in which she can hold workshops in book arts and printmaking. There are many reasons why she could have chosen not to start this endeavor. (Full-time mom, near full-time college professor, wife, friend, daughter, time, money, etc. etc.) She acknowledged them, and started anyways. A few months later she has her studio, was the recipient of a grant from the Martha Boschen Porter Fund, a Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Foundation that allowed her to buy a press and is working in her studio regularly. The joy of this success floods her face when she talks about her work and her dreams that she is realizing. What would happen if you decided to just start anyways…to put your idea into reality.
Advent Day One, 2015
Today begins my third year of making a collage-a-day as my way of honoring the Advent season and celebrating my love of Advent Calendars. I can assure you, there are many excuses that could keep me from doing this again, but I’m going to start anyway.
I invite you to join me with your own practice, to “start anyway” regardless of the myriad excuses that could get in the way.
Follow me here or on Instagram every day through the 25th.
In a little over a week, I will begin my third annual daily Advent practice where I make a 5×5 inch collage and then write a short reflection/blog post inspired by the collage or vice-versa. Read more about it in this article Create_your_own_Advent_calendar and this one Advent_calendars_repurposed. I post each collage to Instagram and the subsequent blog post to Facebook. Follow me at either one of those places, or subscribe to this blog by clicking on the link to the right.
To prepare, I have cleaned my studio, accessing what supplies I need. See that tiny little pathetic glue stick. That is the only glue stick I have. How is that possible? And it’s not even a good glue stick. I typically only use Uhu glue sticks. I will be buying a few of those this week.
I’ve also inventoried the collages of the past two years. Many from 2012 have sold. Many of the remaining ones from 2012 and 2013 will be on sale beginning December 4th at MCLA Gallery 51′s Art to Go Exhibit, the annual 99cent and up art sale. Some of my collages will be available for bargain prices! Come to the show to see for yourself.
Can’t make it to the show? Take a look at my daily practice page. If you see one you like, contact me and I can tell you more. Please note, not all of the collages are for sale.
I’m looking forward to this third edition of this practice. I look forward to having you join me along the way with your own special way of honoring this season. Please share your stories!
If you’ve searched google today, you saw this image by Corita Kent.
I first encountered Sister Corita’s work as a young art teacher. Someone, I wish I remembered who, gave me a copy of her book Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit as a graduation present from undergrad. Corita would have been 96 today, and I am so grateful that Google reminded me of that. And that Retro Renovation extraordinaire Pam Kueber alerted me! Thank you Pam! (and for the fun Merry Kitschmas, too–you are an inspiration!)
Some of you might remember Corita because of her love stamp, but probably only if you also remember that you used to have to lick stamps…ah, those were the days!
I am currently in the homestretch of printing our 2015 PRESS calendar along with fabulous interns Jonas McCaffery and Isaac Wood. These two young men are embracing the sentiment of Corita along with me as we make our calendar of sayings that will hopefully both inspire and challenge you. We are even including one of Corita’s rules, Rule #9: Be happy whenever you can manage it, enjoy yourself, it’s lighter than you think. Corita’s exhibit that Skidmore College organized at the Tang will be opening at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh on January 31, 2015 running through April 19, 2015. I was lucky enough to see it in Cleveland where they also had a Cleveland only work of Corita’s, the Beatitudes Banner. I wrote about that here. My favorite part of the exhibit was the movie that featured a few interviews with Corita. Watch it here.
Next up on my list is Primary Colors, a 60-minute documentary of her life from 1991, who wants to come over and watch it with me??