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September 12, 2010 - 8:52am
posted by Joseph Langen in meaning.

What Is Art and What Is It For?

Sculpture in Gijon, Espana
Sculpture in Gijon, Espana

A man who works with his hands is a laborer;

a man who works with his hands and his mind is a craftsman;

a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.

~ Thomas Aquinas

In 1963 I began the reluctant study of Scholastic Philosophy as set out by Thomas Aquinas. The thirteenth century Dominican monk interpreted what Aristotle had to say on the subject of philosophy and how to understand the world and our experience of it. I still remember how Aquinas defined art, “right reason about something to be made.” That made about as little sense to me as the rest of his writings.

Preparing for this column, I reviewed his writing to see if I had been overly harsh in my judgment of him. In the process I ran across the quote with which I started above. Finally I had discovered a bit of Thomistic thinking which made sense to me.

I have been puzzling on a daily basis over the meaning of art since reading a newspaper column a few weeks ago about “bad art.” Do I believe in such a thing? Do I believe in Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny? Does it matter?

I also recalled a recent conversation with an artist at the GO ART! Orleans County Artist Trail. Admiring his work gave me a sense of joy and peace. I asked if he had considered exhibiting at one of the GO ART! Galleries. He looked a little surprised. After a little discussion, the truth came out. Standing amid his paintings in a tent out in the country, he admitted that he wasn’t sure his art was good enough for a gallery.

So what makes art good enough? When first exposed to art materials, children produce wonderful images of how the world looks to them. As they are taught the “rules” of art, their spontaneity often evaporates and they revert to what we think of as childish art. Critics have standards by which they judge the quality of art. Galleries have standards for what they will display. Patrons like some art, are indifferent to some works and dislike others. Yet critics, galleries and patrons don’t agree among themselves or each other on what art is or what makes it good or bad. Many artists, musicians and writers only found recognition long after they died.

I have started asking artists why they do what they do. Jen Scott said she uses her art to express her emotions in a therapeutic way. Doug Domedian uses his photographs to show people what is out there in nature. There are probably as many motivations for producing art as there are artists. I guess it is up to each of us to decide what art is and whether it is “good” or “bad.”

Life Lab Lessons

  • What do you think art is?
  • What do you like and dislike about art?
  • If you haven’t created any art lately, try it.
  • How does that make you feel?
  • How willing are you to share your ideas about art?
December 24, 2009 - 12:41pm
posted by Joseph Langen in writing, meaning, clarity.

 Oak Bluffs Sunrise

(Oak Bluffs Sunrise)

I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written on it
~ William Faulkner

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. Merry Christmas. There you go with your Latin again.
JOE: Sorry I couldn't resist after reading what Faulkner said.
CALLIOPE: Translation please.
JOE: It means,"What I have written, I have written." For the whole story, see John 19:22.
CALLIOPE: So share your thoughts on Faulkner.
JOE: Okay. What he said resonated with me, especially in keeping my journal.
JOE: I often write to myself about issues, concerns or possibilities I don't quite understand. Writing about them helps clarify my thinking.
CALLIOPE: Why do you suppose this happens?
JOE: I often shared my understanding of the process with clients during the course of my psychology career. The way I see it, my mind often swirls with partially formed ideas sending me in many directions. In contrast, I can only write one thing at a time, focusing my thinking and clarifying it.
CALLIOPE: Interesting perspective. Are you ready to let the wheels rest for a couple days?
JOE: I am. I'm looking forward to Christmas with those I love and care for.
CALLIOPE: I hope you find it joyful and peaceful.
JOE: Peace and joy to you as well and to all my readers.


September 29, 2009 - 7:55am
posted by Joseph Langen in writing, meaning, values.



(Allegheny Sunset)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. I wonder about your wisdom project and why you chose it.
JOE: Good question. I think it sprung from my mother's recent ninetieth birthday. It made me stop to think what's important to me at this point in my life.
CALLIOPE: What did you discover?
JOE: First, I discovered what's not so important. I have been pursuing marketing as a way to make money.
CALLIOPE: Something wrong with that?
JOE: No, but to do justice to the Guerrilla Marketing I have been reading about as a path to making money, I would need to devote the bulk of my time and energy in the pursuit, pushing writing meaningfully to a secondary importance.
JOE: I am starting to see what's important to me. I think more money would be nice but would also distract me from my goal.
CALLIOPE: Which is?
JOE: To help other see the value of the collected wisdom of the ages and live in tune with our earth and its community rather than selfishly grabbing what we can.
CALLIOPE: A tall order.
JOE: I know. It's not one I can do alone. Others have gone before me in the effort, others are active now and I am sure others will follow. But I want to do my part.
CALLIOPE: Sounds like you want to make your contribution to living meaningfully.
JOE: Correct. Now to do it. Talk with you tomorrow.



July 13, 2009 - 8:28am
posted by Joseph Langen in words, meaning, control.


 Footsteps in the Sand

(Footsteps in the Sand)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. How are you today?
JOE: Refreshed from a wonderful weekend but still perplexed.
CALLIOPE: Tell me about the weekend first.
JOE: Carol and I dined with friends, walked to the Farmer's Market, swam in our friends pool and best of all returned to Spiritus Christi for an emotional reunion with fellow travelers on life's path.
CALLIOPE: Sounds great. Why are you perplexed?
JOE: Last night Carol told someone of our joyous spiritual experience. The response was to try to pin down her beliefs and see whether we fit into the other person's neat box of religious beliefs.
JOE: No. In our search for a context for our spiritual journey, some people seem to insist that we see things from their point of view and tell us what we can or should do rather than accepting our choice to follow our own path of discovery of our relationship with God.
CALLIOPE: How do you feel about that?
JOE: You sound like a counselor. We don't like to be put into someone else's box no matter how much they say their words are motivated by concern for our souls.
CALLIOPE: Understandable. What do you plan to do about it?
JOE: Probably be a little more careful about who we choose to share our enthusiasm for our journey with.
CALLIOPE: Perhaps a wise course.
JOE: Agreed. Talk with you tomorrow.



May 20, 2009 - 10:05am
posted by Joseph Langen in marriage, words, meaning.

(Wedding Bower)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. Were you serious about contacting William Safire or just kidding?
JOE: Serious. After some sleuthing to find his email address at the New York Times, I sent him a post suggesting he consider the meaning of the word marriage.
CALLIOPE: Do you think he will?
JOE: I am sure he has many requests for topics. I always appreciate requests from my readers and usually end up honoring them in one form or another.
CALLIOPE: That's a good way to be sure you aren't just talking to yourself or me.
JOE: I agree. Although I enjoy our talks, I like it when readers chime in as they have lately on the topic of marriage.
CALLIOPE: Are you done with this topic?
JOE: Hard to say. My column for Saturday, also to appear in Sliding Otter News, looks at the issue further.
CALLIOPE: What feedback have you gotten from your readers?
JOE: Some didn't see what the big deal was. Just let everyone choose whatever relationship is comfortable.
CALLIOPE: What's the likelihood of that?
JOE: Not so great, I'm afraid. Some people feel threatened by people messing with their institutions and cherished beliefs.
CALLIOPE: Any other thoughts on marriage?
JOE: I found a good brief history which gave me food for thought at
www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/ATLAS_EN/html/history_of_marriage_in_western.html . Talk with you tomorrow.
May 19, 2009 - 9:56am
posted by Joseph Langen in marriage, words, meaning.

(Wedding on the Veranda)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. You had more to say about marriage?
JOE: I did. It seems to me that the word itself is confusing the debate about who should be allowed to use the word "married."
JOE: Most people don't object to other than heterosexual couples having civil unions. They just object to calling it marriage.
CALLIOPE: I see. Civilly, Marriage refers to a legal union regardless of whether there is a religious ceremony.
JOE: Right. It also refers to a religious ceremony, regardless of whether it is legalized with the government.
CALLIOPE: So you can be married in the eyes of the government alone, a church alone or both.
JOE: Right. I think it's too much work for one word to do.
CALLIOPE: What would you call it then?
JOE: Good question. Reserving the word for people in one set of circumstances is likely to alienate everyone else. Maybe we need several words to make everyone's situation clear.
CALLIOPE: Is anybody even discussing this possibility?
JOE: Not that I know of. That's why I brought it up.
CALLIOPE: Do you think anyone else is interested in the issue?
JOE: Perhaps William Safire would be. I'll ask him. I'm not sure anyone else has the emotional energy to enter into such a debate. We shall see. Talk with you tomorrow.
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