Art is Fundamental

Toucan Snail by Barry Midgorden

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” ~ Martin Luther

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~ Edgar Degas

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” ~ Jonathan Swift

Many of you know that I have degrees in theatre, I’ve taught English and theatre for many years. And I’m married to an artist. Which means, art of all kinds is extremely important to me. I think it’s important to all of us, though often we don’t know it.

Last night my husband and I watched an episode of Origins: The Journey of Humankind on NatGeo. The episode was about how, beginning with graphic representations, communication helped make humans the dominant species on the planet. It happened as those graphic communications morphed into story telling with words and dance. From there we developed ever more complex ways of communicating with each other until now we can reach anyone on the globe in an instant.

It’s the art left behind on cave walls, in archeological digs, and in ancient writings that help us understand how we have evolved, and how we have stayed the same. Art is communication. As the narrator of Origins, Jason Silva says, “Studies have shown creating art rewires our brain, increasing the gray and white matter in the cerebellum. This increases overall cognitive function.” Creating art helps us understand the intangible undercurrents of human emotion. And because of art we have the ability to get underneath the artist’s skin and experience life from his or her point of view. Because of this, art is fundamental.

I hate it when school districts need to make budget cuts, it’s always the arts that get cut first. As if communicating on deeper levels, is not important. So, I’m against this current push toward STEM education, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. I know that those things are important, but we wouldn’t have any of those disciplines without first having invented art. Art encourages creative thinking because to participate in art is to think outside the limits of what we already know.

I don’t mean to say that scientists and mathematicians are not creative. They can be but they need to be able to do what Picasso says, “The artist is a receptacle for emotions (ideas) that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” In my limited experience, people who are involved in the STEM disciplines see the world in a particular concrete way and are uncomfortable with ambiguity. Artists love ambiguity because it’s not linear thinking. Ambiguity is where the magic happens, the visions for a better world, and the innovations come from. I believe great scientists use ambiguity too.

I would love it if art were given its due and instead of this push for STEM in education, we included education in the arts as well. We should make our educational model STEAM instead to include all students. Not everyone is suited to think in linear ways. Some of us are out on the edges of human emotion and thought. We see things others may not even have a clue exist. I don’t want us to leave those students behind as if they’re not important. After all, how many novels, movies and TV shows have predicted, or caused future inventions. I don’t think it’s an accident that the novels, 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale are flying off the shelves during these turbulent times. Those and many authors, felt the coming of dark times and wrote about them. Some of them envisioned solutions that have little or nothing to do with mathematical equations, building structures or proving new scientific theories.

It takes all kinds to make this world a better place, and to paraphrase Winston Churchill, if we don’t appreciate art, then what’s the use of all the struggle? It’s the beauty of the flowers, the sunrise, or sunset, the fluidity of the moving human body, the smile on the face of another, the colors of the painting, or the words or music that touch our heart and make life worth living. Jason Silva also said on Origins, “No human society has ever been found without music. It lies at the core of our culture.” So, it is art that touches our souls and help us appreciate each other. That’s where the next innovation needs to take place, in our hearts. We can have all the fabulous gadgets in the universe, but what good are they if we are fighting with each other and destroying our planet?

I didn’t mean to get so philosophical. It’s just that as I develop as a writer, I’m able to express that I’ve felt for a long time that we humans sometimes get our priorities mixed up. We think that art is a frivolous thing, but without art, we never would have evolved to where we are now. I know from experience that every time I see a movie, or a play, read a book, listen to music or see a painting, my point of view about the world is altered. I can’t say that about seeing a mathematical theorem. That might happen when I see great architecture, but then again, an artist had to create the design for the building. It seems to me without art, STEM might never exist.

Thanks for reading. I hope you leave a comment or share with friends and family.

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Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

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Art Changes People

Carved African Faces. One of my cherished Christmas Gifts
Carved African Faces. One of my cherished Christmas Gifts

“The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed – because people are changed by art – enriched, ennobled, encouraged – they then act in a way that may affect the course of events … by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.” ~ Leonard Bernstein

Last week I wrote that my resolution for 2016 was to be one light that helps dispel darkness by embodying love, empathy and peace as much as I possibly can. And one of the ways I do that is through my creative endeavors.

I don’t write much about the fact that I teach theatre classes at our local community college. It’s only part-time after all, because as Leonard Bernstein pointed out, the arts don’t get people jobs. It’s the artists struggle to get paid for the work they create. Some garner recognition, but most struggle along working to pay the bills while doing their artwork on the side. I’ve been caught up in those same struggles, but the point of this post is to share my thoughts about why it’s important to be creative.

I teach theatre because I love to see the light in my students eyes when they’ve taken my class because they need an art credit to complete their degree, then they receive compliments on their acting. Or the light of understanding dawn when they connect with the multi-layers of meaning in a play or movie. I love helping them discover things about themselves that they would never have experienced if they hadn’t taken one of my classes.

This past semester, I taught a class called theatre workshop. It’s a performance class where students get a chance to produce and perform in a play. This time, however, we performed five short student written plays. It all came about because somehow, miraculously, a few of my acting students began to write their own scenes. One thing lead to another and I thought of offering this class. I’m so glad I did because it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

The plays were fantastic and the audiences liked them so much that I decided to offer the class again this coming semester. I have students who had written plays that we didn’t get to perform the first time around. Getting recognition for something you’ve created is life changing. I want my students to know what that rush feels like. I want them to become empowered by the process of creating so that they will continue to produce art long after they’ve finished their school work.

If you’ve never taken an art class, this might be the year to stretch your creative horizons. The camaraderie that develops among the artists is one of the fantastic side effects, but you might also find a new passion that will enrich your life and make it happier and more worth living.

Here’s one final quote to end this post and this year. “We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.” ~ John Lennon.

Creating artwork is one way to nurture ourselves and others, to spread love and compassion, both internally and externally. We humans are imbued with creativity and like plants we wither and die if we are unable to use our talents. I hope you find new ones to share with the world this coming year.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a blessed 2016. Feel free to leave a comment, or share this post with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

The Terror of Winning

“Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk.” -Poet Antonio Machado

“Awards are so unnecessary because I think we get so much out of our work just by doing it. The work is a reward in itself.” -Natalie Portman.

“Awards are wonderful. I’ve been nominated many times and won many awards. But my journey is not towards that. If it happens it will be a blast. If it doesn’t, it’s still been a blast.” -Tom Cruise

 2013 Mayor's Arts Award Pottery Studio

This past Sunday, my husband won one of the annual Mayor’s Arts Awards in our city. Well, the pottery studio he founded won the award for Art organization that has made a significant contribution to the city and the surrounding county. It was a lovely event with five arts awards, and two humanities awards given to individuals and organizations.

It was lovely, and it made me uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my husband and his colleagues who make such a difference. I was proud of the way my husband, an introvert like I am, handled all the praise. He was gracious, humble and accepted the praise without deflecting it onto someone else. What made me uncomfortable is remembering how it feels to win an award, or even to receive praise.

I don’t do well with having huge amounts of praise heaped upon me, or having all the attention focused in my direction. If I’m teaching a class, or acting in a play, or some activity like that, I feel different about getting attention. In those instances, I’m encouraging learning, or I’m playing another person. So, the focus isn’t on me personally. But, when someone singles me out, especially in public to give me specific praise, I want to duck for cover.

I’ve just finished reading Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown, and I have to acknowledge that I do the “foreboding joy” thing when I receive praise of any kind. Foreboding joy is when something wonderful happens to you, or you feel great love or joy, and immediately you feel that some disaster is going to befall you if you lean into the good feelings. Even in little things, like when a student tells me they like the way I teach the class, I feel a twinge of discomfort before thanking them. When the praise is about a big thing, I almost feel physical pain. Here’s an example. I directed The Wizard of Oz last spring at a local elementary school. Almost all the children in the school were in the play, over two-hundred students. I got lots of praise, and it was easier to accept because of the personal work I’ve been doing, but when the praise came, I still deflected it to all the people who worked hard on the production. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good idea to give credit where credit is due. Nevertheless, I have trouble acknowledging my own talents. It was a huge undertaking, no one involved, except me, had ever directed such a large theatrical production. It could have bombed, but it was a success, because of my years of directing experience, and because I asked for, and got lots of help. I love that collaborative process of theatre, because I’m not out there doing the creating all on my own.

Writing is a completely different matter. The words on the page come from me, or my muse, and no one else. I can’t hide behind a collaborative group of people.

As I write this post, I’m in the process of revising my first novel. It’ll be published later this year. Yes, I have readers and editors helping me, but I’m the one who created the work. I hadn’t been thinking much about getting an award for it. Then just last week, I got an email from our POD representative about this years IPPY awards. He was letting us know about the awards for independently published books, and that just happened to coincide with the pottery studio award that my husband was going to accept. Of course, in my fanciful mind, I went off on a tangent thinking what I’d do if I ever won an award for my writing. How would I feel? I know I’d cry and not be cool, calm and collected. I’d probably be like Jennifer Lawrence and trip up the steps on my way to the podium. Somehow after reading both Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection, I’d be okay with that. Jennifer Lawrence, was cool, because she acknowledged how embarrassing it was to trip, and then she went on with accepting the award. She allowed herself to be imperfect. I liked that.

When Brené Brown was on Oprah’s Life Class, she said (I’m paraphrasing) “I’d mapped out a pretty small life for myself. Then my TED-X talk went viral, and I had to lean into vulnerability and acknowledge that I had to dare greatly and risk much so I could affect change and help people.”

Man can I relate to that. I’ve lived a pretty small and invisible life. And now I’m becoming a writer, and putting my work out into the world. I’ve had to embrace being vulnerable, risk failure, and criticism. My work may never go viral, but it’s still being read by people I don’t know, like many of you. That’s scary and exciting at the same time. And when people leave comments on my posts, I get a chance to examine my point of view. I get to expand my view of the world. Sure, I may get nasty comments too, but as my dad used to say, “People who hurt others are wounded themselves.” When I get those negative comments, I’ll allow myself to feel the pain, work through my process, and then move on.

Whether or not I win awards for my writing, I’m willing to come out of my shell, and offer my work to the people who will read it.  I hope that I can affect you and them in positive ways.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

Give the Gift of Art

Since this is the season of giving, I thought I’d give support to a few local artists, a local publisher and an author or two. After all giving a unique gift makes the season more special. And think of it this way, artists have bills to pay too. Not to mention, when you buy original art, you can be sure you’re giving something unique.

As a good wife, I have to promote my husband’s work first. When I met him, Barry was an art student. After graduation, he worked as a graphic artist always pining to get back to his fine art roots, and his first love, pottery. I was thrilled when he got a job as a production potter and teacher at Sophia Center, a spirituality center in the Portland area. He was in heaven for two years. Then we moved here to Southern Arizona and again, he got a job as a graphic artist. But he kept his hand in pottery by teaching and eventually a pottery studio was formed through the city’s Leisure Services department. Now, eleven or twelve years later, it’s a flourishing studio with lots of creative people attending. They also participate in the charitable event, Empty Bowls every year, for which they won an Arts and Humanities Mayor’s Award. Go visit their Facebook page at the address below. Barry also has a personal artist page on Facebook. Both pages have photos of the work of Barry and other artists.

Here are some photos of Barry’s latest non-pottery work. He’s created other non-Christmas card lines, which I’m not showing here.

Bazza Christmas Cards                Bazza print

The Pottery Studio at Sierra Vista
Bazza’s Facebook page

The next artist I want to promote is Heather Green. She’s one of the many wonderful artists I met through Barry. Her first love is print making, but she does other forms of art as well. When I directed The Wizard of Oz at the elementary school where Heather was the art teacher, I got to know her better. She’s a dedicated artist and supports other artists by inviting them to exhibit in her gallery, Heather Green Studios, 27 Subway Street, Suite F, Bisbee, AZ 85635. Here is a picture of her gallery and artwork she did for the Altered Books Show, a charity event held this fall at the SAMPOE gallery in Bisbee, Arizona.

 Heather Green's Studio            Heather Green Mobile

Heather Green Facebook  Heather Green website   Heather Green blog 

I met the next artist, Andrea, or more affectionately known as Madame Magpie, at a Small Business Development Center workshop several years ago. She’s a silversmith and creates the most beautiful jewelry. At another SBDC event, she had a raffle for a $25 gift of her work, and I won! The earrings I won are among my favorites. Her business name, Madame Magpie’s Shiny Things is whimsical like her jewelry. The photos below show just two samples. I encourage you to go to her Facebook page to see more of her lovely work. Madame Magpie has an Etsy Store as well, which you can access through her Facebook page. Also on her website, you can subscribe to her newsletter and see upcoming events where she will be showing her work.

Madame Magpie's Shiny Things earrings     Madame Magpie's Shiny Things necklace

Facebook   Madame Magpie’s website

A book is always a good gift for the readers on your list, so last, but certainly not the least of the artists I’m promoting today, is Harvey Stanbrough and his publishing company StoneThread Publishing. I met Harvey through a fellow writer and subsequently took several of his writing workshops. Since my background is in theatre, I’d only taken playwrighting classes, but I’d heard horror stories of creative writing teachers giving brutal critiques. That’s not Harvey’s style at all. He’s encouraging to the novice writer, because he’s also a writer and had his share of brutal critiques. He understands how self-doubt can eat away at your self-confidence when it’s just you and the paper, or computer screen. Earlier this fall, he sent out a request for readers. Two or three book submissions had come across his desk and he didn’t have time to read them himself, so he asked his students to help him decide if these books were ready for publication. As a reward for this service, he allowed us to choose a book from among the StoneThread Publishing list. I chose The Wallingford Files: Last of the Firstborn, by Glen M. Glenn. Even though it wasn’t due to be published until later that month, he allowed me to read it anyway. It is a fascinating sci-fi book, which fans of political intrigue and adventure will enjoy. You can read my review of it on SmashWords and Goodreads. The list of books Harvey has published are in a wide variety of genres. The Sweet Trade, written by Debrah Strait, a fellow local writer, was published by Harvey this fall as well. I’ve read Debrah’s work. I think you’ll enjoy this book about pirates. She has a way of grabbing your attention and not letting go.

Other services Harvey provides are: editing/proofreading, cover and website design, as well as face-to-face and online writing workshops. You can also sign up for his blog/newsletter on writing topics. Here are all of Harvey’s links.

Harvey’s instructional blog on writing
Editing and proofreading
Ebook cover design
Website design
StoneThread Publishing 

Make someone on your gift list happy this Holiday Season by giving them original artwork. You’ll be giving joy to the creator and the recipient.

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden