March 25, 2017

Jade Snake for Earth Day

The muslin wrapping, or skin, of my next Liberty Snake for Earth Day has just been painted. This one took about two days to paint for the overlapping patterns and textures. This time I used a series of small stamps to build up the patterns. 
As this project is progressing, I am interpreting "snake" with greater artistic license. They are increasingly just long paintings with a head and a tail. In fact the head and tails even have different patterns. For this last snake, I even painted both sides of the snake with different patterns. And looking towards a future when someone might like to have one, I now only letter the slogan on one side, leaving a proud owner of the work the option of hanging the work with just the design side showing. 

My pet name for this snake is The Jade snake, so named for the vibrant dark blues and greens. It reminds me of some of the dark jades I used to see in China. Jade snake is embellished on one side with prints of leaves. It seemed fitting for Earth Day. His slogan calls for the preservation of the EPA. My reading material for my painting this week has been a history of the Environmental Protection Agency. We need it.  

I am hoping to find someone with a sewing machine willing to have a try at sewing this snakes up. I fear though, that they might be too heavy and that I’ll be obliged to painstakingly stitch them by hand. I was originally going to make ten. I might just cap this project at seven.

March 22, 2017

A Liberty Snake for Zika Vaccine

I have returned to my Liberty Snake project. In order to decide what to write on the snakes for The Science March on Washington I have been doing more science reading. I just finished a book on climate change. Yesterday I read up on the Zika virus. After reading CDC reports, a great op ed piece by Bernie Sanders, and a New York Times magazine article on families in Brazil raising zika brain damaged children, I lettered "Don’t Tread on Our Right to Vaccines" on my white snake.

Follow the links here to the original articles: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/11/health/zika-virus-brazil-birth-defects.html?_r=0

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/opinion/bernie-sanders-trump-should-avoid-a-bad-zika-deal.html?_r=0

The patterns on the snake were mostly done with large stamps over acrylic washes. Details were painted on with metallic pigments and liquid graphite. The colors were influenced, rather oddly, by the costumes in a performance I was watching of Der Rosenkavalier, by Richard Strauss - all those silks, satins and lace!

Certainly the festive colors on the snake belie a sobering story. What Bernie Sanders is railing against, and rightfully concerned about, is Trump’s potential "deal" with a French pharmaceutical company, giving them sole rights to the vaccine. Putting these rights in the hands of private industry would mean that they can set any price they want to for the vaccine. Senator Sanders points out that American Taxpaper money has already been spent, to the tune of billions, for the CDC to develop the vaccine. Now if a pharmaceutical company is given free reign to charge anything they want to dispense it, we essentially have to pay twice. But perhaps the ultimate danger here is that zika, as we have seen in the infants born with devastating microcephaly (mini-brain), potentially has broad implications for our public health.  We have a man heading our Health and Human Services who belongs to a fringe organization that does not believe in mandatory vaccines, (and who refused to answer the question about whether he supports mandatory vaccination at his confirmation hearing) a president who has superstitions about vaccines and may be setting up a system that could financially discourage citizens from getting the vaccine.

Could this mean that the U.S. might end up like Brazil? Babies born with a profound birth defect to mostly the poor and the young? I think possibly yes. We live in a country where there has been a growing indifference to civic responsibilities - if it doesn’t affect me then why bother? And our present administration encourages that shirking of responsibility towards our fellow citizens - all in the name of "freedom of choice." Men don’t give birth to babies so why should they have to get a vaccine? Never mind that zika can be sexually transmitted to a pregnant woman. I’ve already heard plenty of conservative males complaining that they shouldn’t have to pay for insurance that also covers the health care needs of women (although they’re often okay with women having to pay for health care needs peculiar to men). Rather foreshadows a potential debacle ahead if this sentiment extends to vaccinations.

March 20, 2017

Abolish the NEA? An Observation about the Old Debate

For the past week, I have been trying various methods to manage a downturn in health. My approach to pain management is perhaps somewhat unconventional but effective for me. I sit underneath a warm blanket, take my antibiotics, sip my warm liquids and read government documents. It took a whole day to read The National Endowment of the Arts, A History: 1965 -2008. It was exciting, informative and thought provoking literature for me. It felt, at least in a tangential way, autobiographical. The NEA was founded when I was just eight years old, in 1965. In my own life time of devotion to creating art, educating about art, and developing a non profit art corporation I’ve seen many social and economic changes with regard to who funds art, how it is funded, and for what purpose. That is why this book I was reading paralleled my own life in many ways and felt more like an intimate reminiscence than an objective historical overview.

The day after I finished reading this document, a former colleague brought George Will’s opinion piece in the Washington Post to my attention. It was funny to read his calls for the dismantling of this agency after reading the NEA document because here was an example of history repeating itself in the person of the same dark knight that was trotted out by the media when the NEA was going to be dismantled under President Ronald Reagan. The man and his message have not changed at all, despite time, change and opportunities to learn. This time, Mr. Will has others who rally to the cause, albeit in slightly different ways. Having worked so long in the arts and having just read a history, perhaps now would be a good time to take a fresh look at an old struggle in hopes of finding better ways of forming solutions.

Firstly, meaningful discourse can only happen when people are on the same page with regard to facts and actual occurrences. This happened. How do we feel about it? Are there different ways to solve the problem? But around controversial issues, like the recent calls to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts, for instance, a simple formula seems to be promulgated that serves no one well. The formula is this: A conservative writer writes a piece that includes a range of misleading presentations, out of context observations, and fragmentary information. The liberal, or left leaning response is to wax sentimental about how we feel about such things, throw platitudes at it if feeling philosophical, or invectives if feeling outraged. Little to no fact checking seems to be involved. So we end up with different interpretations of alternate realities from which no one can possibly learn anything because nothing consequential or evidence based is presented.

I will illustrate with two example of a conservative’s call to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts. The first comes from George Will. Here is a link to his article. http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/03/the_nea_is_a_government_frill.html I would like to examine a statement from this article:

" Let’s pretend counterfactually that the NEA no longer funds the sort of rubbish that once immersed it in the culture wars, e.g. "Piss Christ" (a photo depicting a crucifix immersed in a jar of the artist’s urine" and "Genital Wallpaper" (don’t ask). What, however, is art?" -George Will

First of all, counterfactually is not a word. Let’s pretend that George Will means "counter to the facts" or counter factually. This implies to me that George Will thinks that not only has the NEA funded this "rubbish" in the past but is continuing to do so. He doesn’t help us out much by not including the context, time, place or even so much as the artists’ names so it forces readers to do some research - if they are so inclined and unfortunately most are not. Nor do they have the time and energy. Writers like Mr. Will count on that.

First, let’s look at context. The "Piss Christ" debacle, as well as the "Genital Wallpaper" incident, are both about three decades old. "Piss Christ" was a piece that was included in an exhibition funded by the NEA. "Genital Wallpaper" alludes to an artwork that was not funded by the NEA. (In other words, not true). "Piss Christ" was indeed a photograph of an ivory colored crucifix surrounded by a murky gold. I recall seeing the original photograph some decades ago. It was actually not offensive to me. The title was what people found offensive - that mixing up of the sacred and vulgar - and the fact that it confessed to being the artist’s own body fluid. The artist was photographer Andres Serrano, and submerging objects into bodily fluids and photographing them was how he made his pictures in the late 1980's. http://www.artnet.com/artists/andres-serrano/ His work caused great controversy and brought such criticism to the NEA that the agency’s then director had to resign and the agency never fully recovered from the negative media hype, and neither did our country’s artists. That was three decades ago. Contrary to George Will’s "facts" this is not an ongoing phenomenon. In fact, the debacle of the late 1980's and early 1990's "culture wars" caused the NEA to shift its policy and not award grants to individual artists. And it has been that way for the past thirty years. Poets, writers, musicians welcome. Visual artists and all your descendants not. The issue remains one of controversy. Interestingly, the visual artists who were the centers of those controversies from the so-called "culture wars" of the late 1980's were largely performance artists, and one could argue that their performances were really theater rather than visual art. One of my former graduate school professors from Parsons School of Design in New York, felt that to be the case. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/11/03/arts/endowment-ends-program-helping-individual-artists.html Nevertheless, an American painter or sculptor will be required to pay ad infinitum for a few artist’s acts from three decades ago, not only financially, but in the court of public opinion, media exposure, and in access to recognition. A thirty year old sculptor may now pay a penalty for things that performance artists did before she was even born. Is that fair? I wonder how Congress, who had pressured the NEA for restrictions on artists, would feel if they had their free health care revoked for several decades and perhaps permanently because Congressman Joe Wilson shouted "You Lie!" at President Barack Obama during the State of the Union address back in 2009? Doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, Republican or Independent, you’re a Congressman and a Congressman was rude several years ago so we’re taking away all your funding permanently. Permanently! And don’t expect tax payers to fund your travel, your election campaigns, your meals.

The second art work that George Will alludes to in his opinion piece is ostensibly the work of Robert Gober. Contrary to George Will’s "facts" again, Robert Gober was not funded by the NEA. The reason why his work (it does indeed include white traced drawings of genitalia on black wall boards), comes up in association with the NEA is that the artist sued the NEA for not funding his exhibition. This incident is also about three decades old. I wrote to George Will recently with a polite request for him to correct his mistake. I doubt anything will come of my request and most assuredly the false information will continue to spread like wildfire.

The next conservative call to abolish the NEA that I wish to have a closer look at comes from the Boston Globe. This one is interesting because the writer shares with his readers examples of artists and art organizations that "thrived" without government support. The writer is conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby and his illustrious examples of non-government supported artists are Aaron Copland, Phyllis Wheatley and myriad Shakespeare companies, the last of which he graciously supplies a link to.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/02/28/scrap-nea-and-america-arts-scene-will-thrive/FIUUzXoTbG6sOzwK0QdMQL/story.html

Following this link on the last one I see that these groups have been funded by the NEA. That would seem to undermine his premise a bit but we’ll move on. How about Aaron Copland? Aaron Copland was a strong supporter of government support for the arts and even chaired an early panel on the NEA. Copland’s own work was supported by the government of France through his study at the Fontainebleau Conservatory. Hardly an example of an artist without government support. And then we come to poor Phyllis Wheatley, an early colonial African American poet. She was not supported by the American colonists financially, except with room and board by the couple who purchased her. Funding for her first publication of poetry was found nevertheless through a British patron. Perhaps her money did not come from the American government - there wasn’t one at the time - but it did indeed have to come from somewhere. But was she "thriving" as Jacoby proposes? Her biographers tell us that she died in abject poverty, unable to sell her work, at age 31: "She was reduced to a condition too loathsome to describe. ... In a filthy apartment, in an obscure part of the metropolis ... . The woman who had stood honored and respected in the presence of the wise and good ... was numbering the last hours of life in a state of the most abject misery, surrounded by all the emblems of a squalid poverty!"


https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/phillis-wheatley

So much for thriving without support. But I must confess, that despite the fact that Jacoby would like to see artists thrown in to the sink or swim American economy alone without a government life jacket, I almost felt sorry for him with the attacks levied upon his column from fellow Bostonians of a more liberal bent of mind. Still, I could not help but wonder why they were calling him out for his conservatism but not for his facts, which would seem to be more immediately pertinent? I wrote to Jeff Jacoby recently to inquire as to why he did not come up with examples that would serve to bolster his opinion instead of negate it. Why not, for instance, include an artist like Jan Steen, who supported himself in seventeenth century Holland by running an inn?

In the upcoming months, there will probably be much more debate on whether or not the NEA should be "scrapped" to use Jacoby’s term, or seen as an expendable "frill" to quote George Will. I would hope that in this upcoming debate, discussions can be based upon facts rather than rhetoric, with the media being more responsible for fact checking and respondents more discerning about what stories they share. For a history of the National Endowment for the Arts, here is a link to an online book that provides an in depth look into what has actually been funded from 1965 to 2009. https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/nea-history-1965-2008.pdf It is a document well worth reading for anyone who wants to know better the history of government support for historic preservation ( the founding of the American Film Industry for the preservation of early black and white films is one fine example) early support of individual artists , bringing arts to under-served communities, museums and veterans. The Obama years have not been included in this text. Despite his education, Barack Obama does not seem to have been a truly ardent supporter of the arts and humanities. Any commentary on what was actually funded during his tenure on my part will require more reading.

I will continue to advocate for retaining a National Endowment for the Arts. I might just suggest that it actually be expanded and that grants to individual visual artists be restored again. Why beg when it is would seem appropriate to demand justice and equality?

*It is early yet but I have not received replies from my inquiries or requests to George Will or Jeff Jacoby. I’m certain they are deluged with emails and mine would not be considered of much importance. But I will post a response if I do get one. For now, I can at least answer George Will’s question, "What is art?" That part is simple: art is what an artist makes. If the artist is fortunate then someone pays for it.

February 17, 2017

Reflections on the Gottman Ratio and Why We Rember Bad Things Better Than Good Ones

I had an interesting conversation recently with a patient in a support group for people with rare and poorly understood illnesses. She wrote about the frustrations of dealing with a medical system that is not structured in a way that would benefit patients with complex, time-consuming conditions. Other patients have frequently noted that the doctor-patient relationship is often fraught with tensions due to lack of time, resources and expertise. The patient in question related a particularly bad experience she had with a physician. I thought about it a moment then asked her if the better doctors outweighed the bad one. She said perhaps it should but she remembers that bad doctor more acutely than the others.

I had to admit, despite having some very good doctors on my own team, I have had a similar experience. Despite the doctors who worked so hard on my case and were congenial, the face of a doctor who left me in great pain and simply smirked at me when I complained of pain seems to have burned a more vivid memory in my brain. That made me curious. Is there a reason why we remember bad experiences and the people who dispense them more vividly than good ones? And could it perhaps simply be wired in to our genes to do so as a biological necessity?

Some researchers have studied this aspect of human memory and do indeed come to an evidence based conclusion that the bad most definitely outweighs the good and that bad memories are secured more indelibly into our brains and are more easily retrieved. Some of these researchers speculate that this might be an evolutionary key to survival. It just might secure your survival to have a better memory of a large animal that was intent on devouring you than for one that was a vegetarian.

There may even be a relationship between the body’s chemistry in a state of excitement and the way memory is recorded. This has great social and educational implications. There is buried deep in the medical literature, for instance, findings that point to fear of punishment being a better impetus to learning than reward. Uh oh! Bring out that yardstick! (Seriously, I’m not advocating a return to corporal punishment in the classroom).

The hard wiring and activation of bad memories over good ones, however useful it may have been in the preservation of our species, could most certainly cause some havoc in modern day life. The patients who have had bad experiences with doctors, for instance, may avoid seeking prompt and necessary medical attention. People who have had a bad experience with someone of a different race or gender would be vulnerable to developing a harmful bias, then, in their future interactions with a member of the "threatening group." And the implications for partisan politics is disturbing.

There is some research to demonstrate that "bad experience" may be not only apply to personal experience in real life but in second hand experience through story telling as well. I have experience with a transferred narrative after a prolonged stay in The People’s Republic of China. At the time my husband and I resided in China, we came to know elderly people who experienced the Japanese invasion of their homeland during World War II. Their first hand accounts of rape, torture and murder were horrifying. The telling and re-telling of these incidents over the course of four years served to etch a fairly strong anathema in to my brain. Their narrative became my narrative. As a consequence I found it impossible to interact socially with Japanese men of my own time in my own generation and I carried those sentiments with me after leaving China.

A transference from the Sino-Japanese war shaped my consciousness in a way that I did not like. I felt that something had to be done to extricate this negativity from my brain. The solution for me at the time was to offer English lessons to Japanese men from a local corporation. I got to know them and some of their wives. They were fine people who helped balance a weight implanted by another people from another time. (1)

I later applied the above soul cleansing principle to my first hand negative experiences with about ten neurologists by reading the works of Oliver Sacks, a famously empathetic neurologist. To my amazement I found that this author and I shared the same interests in art and fascination with paleo-botany. Sacks was refreshing to say the least but perhaps not quite enough to undo the damage of bad medical experiences. Why?

I found an explanation for this is in my reading about the Gottman ratio. This ratio was formulated by Dr. John Gottman’s experiments in human relationships, tabulating exactly how many positive interactions or experiences it would take to offset the negative. His experiments suggested that the number of good experiences needed to offset the bad were at least five to one. If correct, this five to one ratio explains much. It might explain why, for instance, when someone apologizes for an offense and we say "apology accepted," deep down we think "but not really." As Gottman would have it, five apologies would actually be needed to even the score. That would explain then, why three books by Oliver Sacks could not outdo ten bad neurology experiences - it would take fifty!

The Gottman ratio can be daunting to consider not only with regard to how negative experience received might permanently color one’s perception of others, but how a negative comment or action dispensed would take five positive examples from people who might represent one’s perceived group to counter or offset the offense. So if I behave badly as an artist, at least in someone else’s perception of me, would it take five "good" artists to offset the damage? What about my behavior as a woman? As a liberal? As an American?

How might the Gottman ratio play out in virtual communication? Might this relationship ratio have a bearing in a larger social and political context? This brings me to one of the problems of political communications, in particular, Twitter. I do not have a twitter account, and wish not to have one. Frankly, the current United States president ruined any desire on my part to communicate via this medium. I do not wish to be inundated with these communications, and the responses to them. These days, I am thinking of social media communication venues such as Twitter within the framework of the Gottman ratio of five positive experiences to counter one negative. From what I have seen thus far in the published tweets from our tweeter-in-chief, for instance, there are so many insults to so many groups of people in so many parts of the world, a five to one ratio in terms of apologies needed to counter the negative effects of these put him in a deficit of about 35 billion by now. And yet he persists! Why? His claims are that he must counter the negativity of the media. Tone, in some cases, could rightly be more tempered, as our president’s own words should be sufficiently appalling enough when reflected back by the media mirror. I don’t need to be persistently told how bad they are. The public, myself included, does need to be told when words and actions are illegal, why they are illegal, and what to do about it. We need to know what proactive measures need to be taken to preserve a democracy, and not merely be subjected to a yelling match after the fact. For as Gottman points out with regard to his ratio, the yelling match may produce in broad socio-political terms, what occurs in interpersonal relationships: partisan divides etched ever more irrevocably and deeply into our social fabric. And it will remain there for easy retrieval, perhaps for generations to come.

My illustration for the Gottman ratio is one big bad rotten apple with worms offset by the five smaller good apples required to nullify it. One plus five equals zero. In Gottman terms, this is what it takes to nullify the rotten apple. I hope that my color drawing makes the bad apple big and rotten enough for people reflect on its presence. In the mean time, I will find some more books to read by Oliver Sacks and company, and emphasize positive protest to defend what I wish to preserve in my democracy.

And this just in: I notice the writing of a woman neurologist. Looks like a good apple!

Bibliography

Colleen Cancio "Do we remember bad times better than good?" 4 October 2011.
HowStuffWorks.com. 13 February 2017

Roy F. Baumeister "Bad is Stronger Than Good." 2001, Review of General Psychology, Vol. No 4 323-370

Susan S. Lang "Dopamine Linked to a Personality Trait and Happiness," 24 October 1996. Cornell Chronicle

Www.gottman.com The Gottman Institute

(1) Some acknowledgment is due here, however, to the usefulness of storytelling, good or bad, for the role that this also plays in the relating of tales that serve as cautionary, educational, or therapeutic. By this I mean those tales that serve as historical warnings, tales to overturn commonly held misconceptions, and narratives that renew faith in humanity and democratic institutions.

February 10, 2017

A Shrine to Common Sense

My art project, The Liberty Snakes, is underway again with snakes for science in the works. The Science March on Washington on Saturday, April 22, will have a sister march in Columbia, SC, which I hope to attend. I will post my snaky signs for this march as they progress.

In the mean time, I prepare for this physical march with a mental march. For it is not just climate change science that is under fire, but the entire realm of scientific thinking. And this has actually been going on for a long time. My experience teaches me that what is usually behind this is selfishness, laziness and greed. Greed for money, power, and attention. Laziness to get out of physical work and mental exertions. Selfishness in not sharing resources, influence and opportunity with those not within one’s own narrowly defined community. Exposed for what they are, they would be anathema to any clear, fair-minded person. That is why they must be marketed via appeals to the laziness, greed and selfishness in everyone via channels that strip people of their curiosity and reason.

In order to find the antidote to the above constrictions on intellectual liberty, perhaps the cure begins with sharpening the skills necessary to combat them. To this end, I am reading books on logic, the scientific method, psychology, and politics. I just finished reading Professor Brian M. Hughes’ book Rethinking Psychology: Good Science, Bad Science, and Pseudoscience. The book offers a good review of the basics in scientific method and logic, and then invites the reader along in "armed battle" to analyze the thinking, or sometimes the lack thereof, behind both contentious and accepted ideologies in the science of psychology.

I am now halfway through with Mike Hulme’s Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity. This book offers a thorough grounding in the history of anthropogenic climate change and the policies that have developed in response to scientific consensus.

My drawing for this post is called "A Shrine to Common Sense" and lists three methods of reasoning that might be useful to study and review; abductive, inductive, and deductive reason. Of course there is always the technique of just spewing off conjectures and "alternative facts." I like to call that seductive reasoning, as it requires little to no mental exertions. The Hindu reference in the shrine is something of an irony and refers to a doctor who once told me that sometimes, one has to reconcile oneself to the fact that despite cogitations and scientific work, definitive answers can sometimes be elusive, requiring great patience and common sense.

February 9, 2017

A Liberty Snake for Arts Advocacy Day with More to Come

My first Liberty Snake was rolled out in to the public sphere on Tuesday, February 7th, at the South Carolina State House. The "Don’t Tread on our Arts" snake, fashioned after the "Don’t Tread on Me" American Gadsden flag, was a lively presence at Arts Advocacy Day.


The snake was filled with recycled plastic bags filled with recycled styrofoam peanuts. A recycled plastic bottle filled with polyvinyl resin bits and small tacks made for a rattle. The corrugation on the plastic bottle even looked like a rattle snake’s rattle.

My next Liberty Snakes will be for the Science March on Washington. The skin of the first one is already painted and lettered. Fortunately, the Science March is not until April 22, so I still have some lead time for these.

Because my home is basically a small cottage, I am having to come up with ways to store these snakes when they are not in use. I came up with the idea of sealing them with velcro, so that they can be unzipped and emptied in between events. I may also change the filling to recycled gallon water bottles taped end to end. Perhaps I may fill these as well to make the snake very noisy indeed.

February 4, 2017

Liberty Snakes for All that is being Taken Away

Our former governor, Niki Haley, was always trying to cut off funding for the South Carolina State Arts Commission, which receives funding in part from the National Endowment for the Arts. Many artists and art supporters rallied against this and won. Six years ago I too, wrote letters and attended the Arts Advocacy Day carrying a large snake that Julia Wolfe and I had painted in her studio. The snake sign says "Don’t Tread on our Arts." We had a lot of fun with that snake at the State House as it was long enough to throw over a balcony to protesters on the other side of that balcony. It created an arch that legislators were obliged to walk under (Some of them got scared and took the long way around).

After the rally I gave the snake to the arts commission, thinking that I would never use it again. Was I ever wrong! It appears that we are now in need of many more "Liberty Snakes." I calculate if I painted one for every liberty that is now being threatened on a national level, it might require about a hundred or more snakes. So I have begun the task of creating them.

The rattle snake as a symbol of American protest is very old, as the rattle snake is indigenous only to North America. The very first political cartoon was of a snake divided, made by Benjamin Franklin, who had also apparently taunted the British with a tongue in cheek comment that he would ship our rattle snakes to them.  http://www.foundingfathers.info/stories/gadsden.html

The "Don’t Tread on Me" slogan is probably familiar to all, from the famous early Gadsden flag featuring a coiled up snake. Most of my own three dimensional snakes then, will carry the words "Don’t Tread On...." followed by whatever it is that lawmakers wish to take away from us. It seems to be much these days...the environment, climate science, civil rights, LGBT rights, reproductive rights. The list is endless. My drawing draft is just a rough mock up of some of the things the snakes could say. I welcome any more suggestions.

I have just enough muslin to make three long snakes. I could use more if anyone wishes to join me, please. I’ve begun to paint the "skins" downstairs in my studio by stretching the muslin across a long sheet of plywood and sizing with gesso. I apply a color texture with acrylic paint and stamped designs using bubble wrap. Because I am so bad at lettering I’m using stencils for the words. ( Dang that I left out the "t" in don’t on the "Don’t Tread on Our Humanities" sign and had to squeeze it in after the fact!).

I am open to suggestions and any offers of help for my Liberty Snake project. I am still a bit too much on the feeble side to attend long rallies personally but may in the future. Until then I could possibly lend the snakes out. Arts Advocacy Day in Columbia SC is coming up soon. I hope I have a snake ready.  Below is my snake, yet to be stuffed and sewn up.  That is why he still looks like someone really has tread upon him.

December 6, 2016

Boss Tweed Versus Boss Tweet: A Nasty Cartoon about the Trump Cabinet Picks

"I don’t care a straw for you newspaper articles, my constituents don’t know how to read, but they can’t help seeing them damned pictures."

-Boss Tweed

"Just tried watching Saturday Night Live - unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can’t get any worse. Sad."

-"Boss Tweet" (aka Donald Trump)



The first quote at the beginning of my story is attributed to William Magear Tweed, a corrupt politician noted for his cronyism, graft and an unbridled greed that eventually led to his arrest in 1873 and the dismantling of his infamous Tammany Hall in New York. http://www.biography.com/people/boss-tweed-20967991

I first became acquainted with "Boss Tweed’s" Tammany Hall in late nineteenth century New York politics through the drawings of political cartoonist Thomas Nast. As "Boss Tweed," observed, Thomas Nast’s caricatures of his visage were scathing. It is entirely possible that they may have had enough influence on public opinion to have played a role in his eventual ouster from public life. http://www.biography.com/people/thomas-nast-9420600

Recent political events have reignited my interest in the cartoons of Thomas Nast, often referred to as the "father of American political cartoons." These early political cartoons are fascinating for their exquisite narrative details and complex compositions. Unlike cartoons of today, they were complete story lines contained in a single picture. Today cartoons are more like a one-liner, punching out a central idea to be held up to ridicule (We have comedy skits like Saturday Night Live for narratives). In Nast’s cartoons, we get the whole picture of just about every transgression foisted upon the public by ne’er do well politicians and their cronies. It tends to make things a bit jumbled, but interesting. An illustration of Nast’s technique is shown below in the picture of Boss Tweed and his cronies in the guise of predatory birds, ostensibly vultures, picking apart the hapless public.

Because Boss Tweed sounds very much like "Boss Tweet," it occurred to me that it would be interesting to transpose this latter day "Boss" and his recent picks for cabinet appointments on to a Thomas Nast- like nineteenth century cartoon format. Doing so required reading a considerable amount of news and commentary in order to find out what the most fuss was about, then encapsulate all this in one picture. Channeling Thomas Nast from nineteenth century America, I placed the faces of Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Tom Price, on to the bodies of birds. More could be added, of course, but I ran out of bird space!

In my "Boss Tweet" rendition of a Nast style satire, Donald Trump is cast in the role of bird in chief. The "Tweet" part of his title, refers, of course to his favored medium of communication with his supporters. Although it is rather small and difficult to see, his talons grip a padlocked suitcase containing his unreleased income tax returns. In choosing photographic information upon which to base my portrait, I found that our president-elect has offered a treasure trove of unusual facial expressions. Modern cartoonists seem to favor a facial expression that exudes arrogance. I chose the ubiquitous "I can get away with anything" smirk.

"Boss Tweet," in my cartoon, points to vice-president elect Mike Pence. Although volumes can be written about the more dubious aspects of his political leanings, I chose to highlight just one. The "not allowed" circle on his chest refers to his difficulty in accepting same sex unions as a right to be respected and protected.

Peering over Donald Trump’s right shoulder is his pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Alluding to the racial slurs that cost him a federal judgeship, a tiny, cheering hooded Klansman perches on top of Session’s head. For Mike Pompeo, there has been much commentary written about his Tea Party politics, his stance on tougher interrogation techniques, ties to Koch industries, and his appeal to overturn the Iran nuclear accord. But for the sake of brevity, my cartoon makes reference only to his advocacy for a return to bulk collection of America’s domestic calling record - hence the "CIA Sees You" label and the tearing up of the fourth amendment (protecting citizen’s rights to illegal search and seizure) in the bird’s talons.

Staring out from the background is a caricature of Steve Bannon. Once again, volumes could be written on his ties to disreputable news agencies and propagandistic rambles, but for the purpose of summary, I just place a teapot on his head, alluding to Tea Party politics. While looking over images of Steve Bannon, what struck me was his persistent five o’clock shadow. So this very simple cartoon face features that same stubble, with the teapot having hair stubble as well, just for good measure.

This brings the last cartoon portrait to the pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price. Because Health and Human Services funds Planned Parenthood and Tom Price is purportedly against government funding for Planned Parenthood, birth control, and reproductive rights in general, this does not bode well for the future of women’s health care. Many of those who oppose legal access to abortion services call themselves "Right to Lifers." Since nothing they advocate has anything at all to do with preserving or protecting the lives of adult human beings and may even put these lives in jeopardy, I prefer to call a spade a spade here, as the saying goes, and refer to the new Price is right agency as "The Office of Pregnancy Enforcement." I would not wish to disparage those whose religious beliefs confer personhood to a cluster of fertilized cells. I would argue that this is more of a living thing with a potential to become a person, though, and that in such a case, the life and health of an actual living person takes priority.

But perhaps the most disturbing thing that has come to light about Tom Price’s affiliations is his membership in the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. This is an organization that has come under fire from mainstream doctors and medical associations for its pseudoscientific proclivities. Most appalling to physicians is the organization’s soft stance on vaccination requirements, citing a link between vaccinations and autism - despite repeated demonstrations that there is no causal link between the two.

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2016/11/30/the-new-secretary-of-health-and-human-services-is-a-member-of-a-fringe-medical-organization-heres-what-that-means/

A grass roots effort has been under way for some years now in the United States for parents to assert their rights to refuse childhood vaccinations. This has unfortunately led to a resurgence in potentially deadly childhood diseases such as Pertussis (whooping cough). http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/why-pertussis-is-making-a-comeback/?_r=0

It would be cause for concern then, and a scarey prospect for the health and welfare of American citizens, to have a "vaccination denier" heading up the agency that is supposed to be protecting us against plagues. At this point, we may not know to what extent the views promulgated by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons reflect the personal views held by the prospective head of the Health and Human Services, but in keeping with the AAPS’s purported positions, in my cartoon I have Tom Price rolling out the welcome matt for Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Zika and Polio. One can only hope that common sense will prevail here, and that the American public will not be put at a significant health risk or the nation at large put at a national security risk. As to the latter, just think of it - an open advertisement from our government that we intend to be sitting unvaccinated ducks. Coooome and get it!

Getting back to Thomas Nast and a borrowed cartoon, one often sees in these nineteenth century drawings images of a hapless public being eaten by something or crushed under the weight of some public policy or indiscretion. For this I submit that twenty-five million dollar wall with Mexico that president-elect Donald Trump has committed to building. So if Mexico won’t pay for it, then who will? A hint here can be found in the arms and legs coming out from underneath the wall with the labels "Tax payers" on them.

This might be the last of my political cartoons. They are actually quite difficult to do! Of course I made the job much more difficult by attempting the complex style of Thomas Nast. Something perhaps only a Nasty woman would think of.

November 29, 2016

Alternative Facebook Icons

My work on my paintings began to slow down, as did my work on my book manuscripts. I found that I was spending more time on Facebook than I would have liked. As I clicked out of my account there the familiar "thumbs up" for "like" icon appeared. For some reason, I started looking at this emblem differently from how I had always seen it before. It had previously had no more consequence to me than a commercial sticker. But looking at it this time I thought, "I can do something with this." I traced it on to a piece of paper directly from my computer screen and transferred it on to ten different sheets of paper. Thus began my "Alternative Facebook Icons" series.

I’ve been making about one a day, posting them on to Facebook along with short explanations. Earlier I had posted icons for "Troll Be Gone," and "Toilet Talker Flusher." I posted my last one, "First Peel off Label," today. I made this one in response to all the labels for people of various socio-political persuasions that are being slung around in social media. I try not to use any of them. I suppose that is why there is a "no entry" mark on the thumbs up hand in this drawing. My drawings in this series are all 8" x 10" in dimensions and done with charcoal and pastel. Some of my friends on Facebook are actually using these as alternative icons when the choices for the real ones are limited.

Since most of the choices, given social media emoticons, encourage emotional reactions, I thought it would be interesting to make fanciful drawing icons that included actions and thoughts instead of emotional reactions to things. Would it make social discourse more thoughtful? Who knows? But they were fun to make and I post them here so others can enjoy them. The others included here are: "Beautiful," "Makes Me Think," "Great Idea!" "I’ll Work on It," "I’ll Study this More in Depth."

I have two favorites from this series. The first one is "Facebook Fake News Alert," because the duck with the human foot wearing a fake chicken hat and surrounded by a fishy sea is so irreverent. It reminds me of the funny cartoons I used to make as a teenager. My other favorite is "I’m Listening." I made that one in response to situations where social media discourse devolves in to an "all mouths no ears" forum. I think that I like the classic style of drawing on this one.

I do hope that people enjoy these. I had fun making them. I believe that this short series is finished for now - unless I come up with something for "social bubble." Funny where a source of inspiration can spring from!

November 19, 2016

You Know You're a Nerd When....

I take what has happened in my country very seriously.  But sometimes the news has to be balanced with a temporary release from the cares of the world.  To that end, I tried on some self-deprecating humor with this post about my own interests in obscure subjects and my tenacious pursuit of these subjects.  Riffing off of Jeff Foxworthy's "You Know You're a Redneck When...." I decided to poke fun at stuff that I actually have done and call it "You Know You're a Nerd When..."  Here goes:
You know you’re a nerd when:

*You open a shop for your art works on Etsy, then type words in the search bar like, "Pseudo-Dionysis the Aeropagite." Then you wonder why your shop isn’t getting any hits.

*Spell check highlights at least one word in every sentence you write when you know that you’ve spelled the word correctly.

*You think that Game of Thrones refers to the internecine conflicts of sixteenth century Tudor England.

*You do a Google search to find out more about an obscure topic and the only thing that comes up is an article you wrote yourself in 1986.

*A fellow nerd with opposing political views posts a response to your "I voted" post on Facebook by asking if you were celebrating Walpurgisnacht. You get hot under the collar because you know instantly what he is insinuating.

*You consider responding to the above with an equally acerbic comment that perhaps his own vote for Trump was cast by consulting the Malleus Maleficarium.

*Your other friends on Facebook do not jump in on conversations like the above because they are wondering what planet you both are from and spell check is going wild.

*Your idea of a good time with friends is to hold a contest to see who among you can use the most alliterative words in one sentence.

*You name your recently completed sculpture after a molecule you read about in a neurology textbook.

*You then find that the molecule was named after a video game character that you didn’t know about but millions of people around the world were familiar with.

*You often notice on the back flap of library books that you are the only one in the history of the library to have checked that book out.

*You are married to someone who shares the above experience and laughs at your jokes.

*The books you wish to recommend do not appear on "Good Reads."

*You write poetry about the structure and function of the autonomic nervous system.

*You hide jokes written in dead languages in your art work.

*You sing favorite tunes from Peking Opera in the shower.

*You discover Mongolian polyphonic singing on the internet and consider giving that a try as well.

*The most nerdy man on campus is the only one who "gets" your allusion to a specific aria in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman in a song you just wrote.

*You write to The Huffington Post to complain about errors in their science articles.

*You write to The New York Times to complain about an error in an op-ed piece. It took reading a law center’s list of 892 organizations in order to ferret out the error.

*Your blog posts have a dedicated international following of twelve people.

*You have delayed filling a prescription medication because you are using the written script as a book mark in Alexander Von Humboldt’s Views of Nature, which you are the only one in the history of the library to have checked out.

*You cook historically accurate meals. Tuesday evening: Pullus Frontanianus from the chapter A Convivium in Ancient Rome, in Phyllis Pray Bober’s book Art, Culture & Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy. You own this great book because you personally knew the author.

*Your doctor’s eyes glaze over when you tell her that your allergy to methyl-paraben should also include local anesthetics in the ester family because these are broken down by the body in to para-amino benzoic acid, which is also a metabolite of methyl-paraben.

*You find that doctors often respond to your questions with "I’ll have to look that up."

*You watch Tavis Smiley at night.

*No matter how much you read, you always know that you are woefully undereducated.