Monday, October 31, 2011

26 per cent of Brits support EU membership; 100 per cent of their political betters support it

And yet, facing imminent surgery for cancer, I'm still obsessed with European politics.

...polling makes the British public's position devastatingly clear (summary here). It shows that just 26 per cent view our EU membership as a good thing.

Yet this is the view of 100 per cent of the main parties in the House of Commons. There is a large democratic deficit here, a gap that might yet be filled by another party.

...these issues are complex, lawyerly – can we expect ordinary folk to reach an informed opinion based on a hunch? Does the bouncer's opinion count for as much as the barrister's?

To me, this questions cuts to the very nature of left vs right. I'm a free marketeer because I believe that the masses are smarter than the elites.

Stanford academic Thomas Sowell argues that the world is so complex that no one person can possess "even one percent of the knowledge currently available, not counting the vast amounts of knowledge yet to be discovered". So, "the imposition from top down of the notions in favour among elites, convinced of their own superior knowledge and virtue, is a formula for disaster".

Hence central planning, the Soviet Union, etc. As Sowell says, the real ideological fault line – rather than the diminishingly useful party political labels – can be drawn here.

How do you define knowledge? Do you see it as something that is concentrated (i.e. in universities and libraries) or spread across society? If you believe the former, then you're on the side of the Polly Toynbees and the Tory Paternalists who believe power (and money) should rest with an enlightened elite.

If you believe the latter, then you'll be in favour of transferring power to the many, not the few, and be against nicking their cash.

I think this is the problem with the whole left/right paradigm, as it is now manifest in American politics. I thought it was interesting that the OWS "protesters" used the term "Republican" exclusively as a political insult. I imagined what they would make of me, a right wing Anglo-Canadian who lives in Europe. I would obviously have had to correct them if the epithet Republican were aimed at me, because I am not an American and, frankly, don't know very much about the details of American politics (it's not my beat).

The idea that Fraser Nelson puts forward above shows a basically stagnant, and unwinable, situation in the political realms in Britain and the US. While in most of Europe, the "right" has failed and when one is presented with even the most extreme, fringe "right wing" parties like the BNP you find that a brief analysis shows they are still in favour of state-enforced wealth re-distribution that we used to recognise as socialism.

What is needed is a genuine new paradigm. I am not myself qualified to offer one, but I believe that the Catholic Church offers a solution that transcends the inescapable battle over class wars, top-down elites vs. freemarketeers. The trouble with the Marxian paradigm is not that Marxism, whether cultural or the more direct kind in China and the former Soviet Union, presents a threat to the "free world". It is that the Marxian worldview, the framework and terminology presented by the Marxist idea, has cornered the market on political thought. No one in the business of political and economic ideas seems capable of thinking outside the Marxist box.

No one, including the left in the Church, seems to have read the social encyclicals in the context of Catholic moral teaching.

I wonder, however, if a door and a path out of the interminable lockdown of the Marxist paradigm, can't be found by looking there.


The Home Stretch

I'm back to the Gemelli tomorrow morning, with surgery scheduled for Wednesday, and will probably be there for the rest of the week. They will use laparoscopic surgery to remove the tumour, then send the tissue to the lab for examination. This histological examination will tell them if there is any cancer left alive to worry about. If the answer is no, then we will be finished.

I'm going to bring the computer and the mobile internet stick to the hospital to keep myself entertained. Don't know how much posting I'll be able to do, but I'll give someone the passwords to this and to the FB acct, and let y'all know if they've accidentally cut my head off.



Sunday, October 30, 2011


Well, I think the time has come to let the cat out of the bag.

I've decided to write a book. I want to write about my combined experience of coming to live in Italy and learning to be an artist.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, and while I was going through the process of dealing with it mentally and emotionally, I found that my long-time problems with depression, perhaps surprisingly, have been greatly eased. I have been thinking a great deal about this, but not writing much about it. I think I have talked a bit about how cancer forces you to deal in the here and now with what's really going on. And depression is largely about succumbing to Fantasy. The conflict in your mind between The Real and Fantasy is, I think, largely what causes depression.

Two things have greatly affected this conflict: studying art and dealing with cancer.

All while living in a weird foreign country where I don't speak the language very well and am far away from all that was familiar.

The book will be about all these things: living in Italy as an Anglo-Canadian ex-pat, studying art, and dealing emotionally and spiritually with cancer.

One of the things I need to help with all of this is a few books. One of the ancillary consequences of the revival of serious art instruction is a burst of re-publishing of old classic art instruction texts. I have put a link to my Amazon wishlist on the sidebar. If any of you are inclined to lend a hand in this project, I would be very grateful to receive any of the books on the list.

One of the things I found myself wanting very much when the cancer thing was over was to be able to do more. More work, more art, more writing, more Italy, more museums, more reading, more gardening, more travel. More life. Life is happening now and I can't slow it down. I think I want to start running to keep up.

My three highest priorities after looking after my health, must be work, art and the book. This may mean that blogging will slow down a bit. Or a lot. I'll think about this some more.



Saturday, October 29, 2011

Another contemporary realist blogs

Stapleton Kearns studied with R.H. Ives Gammell, a major link in the great chain of the classical realist revival movement.

It is very difficult and takes a lot of determination to learn to do the art thing without the direct in-the-flesh help of a competent instructor, but it is not impossible. Recently, there have been a number of books published, either old books renewed by such outfits as Dover, or new books on old subjects by contemporary instructors like Juliette Aristides.

It may sound a bit silly, but there is also YouTube that has a great vast panorama of videos showing speed drawings and some giving pretty good instruction on the basics, things like how to handle charcoal, basic stuff about values and the use of various media.

There is also an increasing number of working and teaching artists who blog and who make videos, like Sadie Valeri (I really wish she would do more videos) and Scott Waddell, some of whom I have found and looked at and used myself and who are featured on the sidebar.

A big part of what you have to overcome is your fear. It can be very difficult for adults to endure being bad at something long enough to get better at it. As y'all know, a huge part of my process has been to overcome my fear of being really crummy at first. But this fear is the biggest obstacle to making progress.

That and sheer laze, of course.

But the thing that can really help is success. Even a little success. A little sketch that turns out looking like the thing. Even a little part of a drawing that you particularly like. When I did my first still life in charcoal, the silver tea pot on a linen drapery, I had a really hard time, struggling with learning how charcoal works and how to make the grey scale toned paper take up some of the slack in the values. All issues I am still working on. But in that drawing there is one little bit, the part where the little feet of the tea pot sit on the cloth and the shadow goes out behind them. I love that bit, and it really encouraged me to try another one.

I think I wrote about how I have this mean bully in my head that was constantly barking at me about this whole thing being a waste of time, that I'm no good at it and ought not to bother, that I'll never be as good at it as I want to be, and how I ought to just pay attention to things I already know I'm good at, like words.

This inner bully, I refer to as the Talking Brain. Drawing Brain doesn't really communicate in words and abstract things like symbol systems, so it is easy for it to be silenced by the mean schoolyard bully Talking Brain. Fortunately, I have The Will, which I liken to the nice teacher who runs blockage for the bully, encourages the quiet kid to just get on with it and see how things turn out.

I am also learning that Fury can be a great help. Fury comes in when I can't get it right. I become so furious that I keep doggedly trying and trying until I get it right. But I think this system is somewhat inefficient.

What to do about Sheer Laze, I have not yet figured out.


Trois Crayons

The still life I'm trying is on medium tone grey scale paper which I bought because I am enamoured of the drawing technique called Trois Crayons, the three pencils being charcoal, sanguine and white chalk on grey or tan toned paper. The most renowned practitioner of this technique was Watteau.

But of course, it was used by all the great artists either as an art in itself or, more commonly, as a preliminary to painting.

Here is a trois crayon drawing of Sir Thomas Elyot by the greatest portrait master of all time, Hans Holbein.

Trois crayons is the drawing technique that most fascinates me. So far, I've been strictly using pencil to learn to see with. Went to a figure class this week and did pretty well with the proportions and whatnot, so that's coming along.

I also finished my third Bargue this week,

the side-view horse head. This took me about 50 hours all together.

This is Andrea's Bargue horse head from when she was a student at the Florence Academy. It shows how much this course is a handed-down tradition. I once found Picasso's version of a Bargue student drawing, the same one I was working on at the time. Mine was way better. Picasso always sucked.

(Pictured: not mine. Someone else's)
But the fourth class thing is going to be Bargue's Belvedere Torso in charcoal which I'll start on November 21 and work on for three classes until Andrea goes to Australia. I am greatly looking forward to it because I really need instruction in charcoal.

Skills with charcoal and sanguine are what you develop when you do the

trois crayon technique.

One of the main things I wanted at Zecchi in Florence was some chunks of pure sanguine that you can get almost nowhere else. They didn't have much left but the lady brought out a big plastic box that had several fist-size chunks and a whole lot of powder and little broken-off bits. I realise now I should have bought a big bag of the powder and little bits as well.

Pure sanguine - the batch I got at Zecchi has a nice pinkish glow - has some interesting properties, one of which is its great friability and smudginess. As I've been fooling about with the chunks, I've been trying several ways to use it. It blends beautifully. You can take a bit of it, sharpen with a knife and a piece of sandpaper, and use it straight on the paper getting a nice clean line. You can grate it on a cheese grater and mix the powder with water and use it as a kind of red ink that has very pleasing effects. You can apply the powder directly to the paper and blend it all over with a tissue or sponge to tone white paper.

I also picked up a couple of white chalk pastels which lay down a much thicker layer of white than either a conte or a white chalk pencil. White chalk pastel goes over top of other mediums and can be used right over top of charcoal, but someone out there in the art internet said that a little touch of gouache paint does the same thing only better and recommended touching up the chalk or pastel highlights once the drawing is finished. It also happens that I have a little tube of white gouache.

A while ago, enchanted as I am with what I now know is called Trois Crayon technique, I bought some big sheets of grey scale paper. With the Dramatic Tea Pot still life, I realised that it is going to be a perfect subject to do the three colours, the white linen table cloth and tea pot are white with grey shadows ideal for rendering in charcoal on a grey background, and the carved wood screen as background can be all done in various shades of sanguine.

We'll see how it goes.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Bean Pickles

Many years ago I grew my favourite garden thing in all the world, scarlet runner beans. When the harvest time came, I realised I had way more beans than we could eat before they either got too big and tough on the vine or went funny in the fridge. I was reluctant to freeze them, so I made them into pickles.

The other day, a friend gave me a jar of her absolutely wonderful tomato chutney. She makes a small batch every year and gives little teeny precious bits of it away to friends. I decided to reciprocate this nice gift with a jar of pickled beans.

Yes, it sounds weird, but they're way better than they sound.

I couldn't find Scarlet Runners here in Italy, but I got a big bag of something close from the local farmers' market.

Looking around for a recipe, I came across this cool site.

Food in Jars.

For those who long for lost domestic skills.

When I find the recipe, I'll let y'all know.


Turns out it's incredibly easy. I did two batches, one where I steamed the beans a couple of minutes to just barely soften them, and the other batch the beans are raw. I added some carrot slices and cauliflower florets.

I didn't really measure anything, just winged it instead, soooo:

Equal parts white wine vinegar and water
generous scoop of sea salt (maybe a cup for the whole thing)
smaller scoop of white sugar.

Cut up about a pound of beans, three large new carrots, and a fist-size clump of cauliflower.
Slice in to large chunks some fresh garlic and dried Thai chilies.

Other than that, you will need pickling spice and whole bay leaves.

Boil the vinegar, water salt and sugar together until the salt and sugar are dissolved and the whole thing is on a light rolling boil.

Wash your jars in nice hot soapy water. I don't have the equipment to boil the jars so I took a tip from my Auntie Gill who said that after you wash them it works just as well to stick them in a hot oven for 20 minutes. Wash the lids (the plastic coating is where mould spores tend to collect) and then boil them in water and salt.

Allow the jars to cool on the counter for a few minutes before putting anything in. This is important, since even though it is boiling, the brine will still be cool enough to crack the hot jars. Learned this one the hard way when I lost my best hinge-top jar making peach preserves last year.

The jars can still be pretty hot when you pop the beans in together with the other veg, a bay leaf each, a few large chunks of garlic and a few of the sliced chilies.

While the jars are still hot, and when the brine is on the boil, pour the brine over the veg to completely fill up the jar, right to the rim. Fish the right lid out of the boiling water and put it on very tightly. You know you have done it right when the little button things on the lids are depressed. As they cool, if there is a seal, the thingy doesn't pop down when you push on it.

The batch I did made four large-ish jars of pickles. Let them sit in a cupboard or other cool dry place for three weeks to three months. If you feel like you want to do something, you can shake and turn them, but this is only to make you feel like you've got something to do, it doesn't make a lick of difference to the pickles.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing..."

The Bad Catholic writes:
Thought Experiment: Two people are watching a beautiful sunset. The first person watches. The second person pulls out his iPhone, snaps a shot, tweets it with a caption ‘watching a beautiful sunset’ then gets back to watching the sunset. Who is watching the sunset?

The second has certainly conquered the moment. It has been captured, sent, and subjugated to description. But I hold that the greatest moments should conquer us. All moments should conquer us. That’s what it means to be open to God; to be open to having our wills entirely conquered. To live in the present moment is to live with the willingness to be swept away. Is to name moments – to update your status with them – to lose them? Maybe. Sometimes.

I don't "Tweet," and I use Facebook for work and to keep in touch with friends, (not, by the way, "friends". Something I really don't get about Facebook is this weird habit of just collecting masses of people on your list whom you don't know. Maybe I have totally misunderstood the purpose of Facebook, but I get loads of "friend" requests from people I've never heard of. I always refuse them, but it's weird and slightly creepy.) When I post status updates, it's mostly to keep people I know either personally or through work updated on my cancer issue. I use it to make jokes that only my friend will get and to upload photos because Mac has an automatic thing that makes it much easier. I have moved around the world a lot in life and have really liked having Facebook to help me not entirely lose the people who stayed behind. But I see people with lists of 4000 "friends" and it's weird. What's the point? Those 4000 people aren't going to get your jokes.

But I do blog, and have been doing it now for seven years. I mainly do it for the same reason a person with a tick twitches, because I can't stop. I also treat my blog like my living room and, though I realise that it can be read by anyone with an internet connection, I normally treat it like a tea party at my house. I more or less subconsciously expect that only about ten people read me and they are all people I know either in the flesh, people who just happen to live 6000 miles away, or people who I've got to "know" through the internet, like Evil Steve and Dale Price.

I blog for them. People I know, or at least "know". I don't write for the faceless masses, for 4000 "friends" or "followers," but for Ann, Tracy, Edward, Fr. Tom, Fr. Paul, Sally, Vicky, Chris, Gregory, Deb, Giancarlo, Dale, Dorothy, Evil Steve, Other Steve, Other Other Steve, Ian, Karen, Scott, Billy, Paul, John, Six-Bells John, Other John, John Henry, Kathleen, Louise, Sean and Tom.

I've occasionally struggled with the idea that blogging is a thing that contributes to the Great Retreat from the world, my own and that of my readers. Am I helping or hindering? I think in the years I have been doing it, I've worked out how to do it in a way that doesn't contribute to the problem. I hope so anyway.

When I blog, I try to blog about The Real. Things that are actually happening that I have experienced or that I know are really going on. And I am writing to people I know and like. (It isn't hard, by the way, to get on that list, but the reason I insist on real or at least plausible sounding names, is that in writing about The Real to real people, I think I have a right to insist that the people writing back declare themselves to be a part of that, and fearlessly.)

Bad Catholic's comments about Facebook and Twitter and all that social networking and media stuff are really about our cultural loss of The Real. There is this thing in Catholic spirituality, that you can find in Buddhist and other kinds of beliefs: being in the present moment. Be where you really are, right now. Only the Real counts.

BC again:
That’s not at all to say things shouldn’t be shared, but we share them like words on a tombstone, brief summations of the life of the thing – that really amount to its death. Why? Because as soon as we move from the event to the status update, when we give the event a small conglomerate of signs and symbols that by their nature as words cannot fully describe – hence, “you had to be there” – we make our events small, and then we are done with them.

This is probably why we are so irritated with tourists who take pictures of everything in sight. We instinctively know there is something wrong with it. I stopped taking pictures several times in Florence because I realised I was trying harder to save Florence for later than I was trying to actually be there at the time.

It is only in the here and now that life can actually be lived. When you are thinking about doing an act of charity or committing a sin, you aren't actually doing it. The act itself is the meritorious or culpable thing, not the contemplation of it. Humans in the West have been retreating from The Real for a long time. The reason Twitting is so popular is that it offers us a new way of doing what we have been doing for decades, pulling back and becoming observers rather than participants.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Rolling eyes

Surgery postponed for a week.

Annoyed at first, then thought, hey, I can go have an art class. Tomorrow from 3-6. First one since May.


Accademia di Belle Arti

After getting chucked out of Zecchi (we had arrived 25 minutes before closing time), I found myself strangely inspired to do arty things.

We had neither the money nor the time to go to all the galleries we would have liked. We tried to book ahead for a spot at the Uffizi but it was booked solid all weekend (there really isn't an off season for Florence).

So we decided not to rush around trying to see everything and spent most of the day Sunday at the Accademia to see the David and the Prisoners there, doing what the Accademia was established for in 1563 by Cosimo de Medici.

What art students have done in Florence for centuries.

I especially liked Bartolini marbles and plaster casts.



Got the call from the Gemelli on Thursday. I'm to "be ready" to go in today with the intention of having the surgery by Wednesday (tests and stuff in between). So, in order to avoid spending the weekend sitting around the house moping and worrying,

me n' Vic went to Florence!

We went on Saturday morning, on the 7:08 (the first) train to Pisa, switching to the Florence commuter route and got there by 11:30 on the dot. The first day we mostly spent just walking around and looking at things. It was surprisingly cold for the time of year, so we kept moving and didn't stop to sketch things outdoors.

We got a nice clean little room in a small pensione, quite comfortable and decently furnished with friendly staff, for 40 E each a night. Early Sunday morning we went straight to the Accademia museum (the one with the David) and ended up spending the better part of the day in there drawing the sculptures. We had hoped to get into the Uffizi but couldn't get a booking and didn't want to face the queue.

Assuming I don't die and the Parousia holds off for a while, there will definitely be more Florence going on around here.

What the Ponte Vecchio looks like on the inside.

A saint. On the Duomo.

We had many adventures, including visiting the greatest art store in the world, none of which I have the energy to relate right now. But since I'm supposed to be in the hospital two days before having surgery, and there aren't going to be any poisonous chemicals involved, I'll have plenty of time later while sitting around in my pajamas waiting for things.

Florence had many shiny shops. Not as shiny as Venice's shiny shops, but pretty sparkly nonetheless.

More later.

(All pics h/t to Vicky.)


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Bleg

Juliette Aristides has produced another book. The Classical Drawing Atelier was amazing, but it was very short on actual instruction. It was meant to be just an examination and explanation of the classical drawing instruction that almost died out in the first half of the 20th century. (Which story you can read all about here.)

Her most recent book is the actual lessons and exercises.

If anyone would like to help out, I would be very grateful. (I'd cheerfully buy it myself, but the only means I have to pay for things online is PayPal, and apparently there is some kind of rivalry thing between Amazon and PayPal... V. annoying, but probably a good thing in the long run that I can't just go spend all my money on Amazon.)

* ~ * ~ *
Also, for the young lady who emailed me asking if she could get formal instruction in Alaska, I think this book and her Classical Drawing Atelier might be a good place to start.


Learning charcoal

This is my second value sphere. I didn't do it from life, but copied it from Juliette Aristides' book, the Classical Drawing Atelier. When I looked at it, I kind of sighed, knowing that I had to do it to learn what I wanted to know, but sort of assuming it was going to be a bore. Turns out it was anything but. There are a great many things to think about when you're looking at how light behaves when it strikes a solid object.

I realised that I just didn't have the skills with charcoal to make a go of the Dramatic Tea Pot still life. I was attempting to play a concerto without ever having practiced scales. But if I'm going to go where I want to go with this, the only way is the slow way.

There are a bunch of formal exercises like these that teach your brain and hand now to handle the medium. When I said below that it is possible to learn to draw, this is the sort of thing I was talking about. Learning Classical Realist drawing and painting is more or less the equivalent of learning a musical instrument and requires the same kind of application, something I was certainly not capable of doing when I was younger.

* ~ * ~ *

Also: Here is a website that allows some very close examination of the charcoal figure drawings of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, the 19th century painter and draughtsman. I don't think his paintings particularly stand out from the crowd of 19th century academic painting, but his drawings have a special glow. His technique is well worth looking at if you want to know how to do rounded figure drawing with strong light/dark contrasts in charcoal.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's Vicky Day! and I'm in such a good mood,

that it's time for some punk rock.


(Some day I'll tell y'all about the time a giant punker broke my foot at a punker gig in Victoria. I was about 17. He apologised profusely; well, it was Victoria, after all.)


Never a hurricane around when you need one

So, the reason I don't buy the idea that Katrina was the vengeance of God on the moral sewer of New Orleans, is that there are a world of better targets out there about which He's just not doing anything.

Berlin, for example:
At some point I wound up at a sex museum. I was greeted first thing by a wall of plaster genitals, both male and female. While I was led to believe they all belonged to humans, I’m not entirely convinced. Surely no man could fit a ten inch member the width of a soda can into a normal pair of pants. But there it was pointing at me in the hall, along with several other startling configurations.

Berlin is unabashedly sexual. Ads for couples’ sex clubs were all over, porn played free on the hotel television, prostitution is legal and generally not frowned upon. The sex museum was no exception. I was embarrassed for half a second, until it occurred to me that I should probably abandon my puritan mores at the plaster dongs if I wanted to enjoy myself. From there I took it all in shamelessly, snapping pictures with abandon, laughing at slide shows, inspecting ancient sex toys.

Other than sex tourism and massive crippling financial bailouts for financially malfeasant countries like Ireland and Greece, what is Berlin offering the world? At least in New Orleans there's jazz, and the food's really good.



Monday, October 17, 2011

What Novusordoists and Necons don't get:

That if you spend years or even months exclusively assisting at the Traditional Rite, you can see much more easily just how bereft and barren is the new. You get re-sensitised. I have people all the time telling me, "You should go to both". I am going to assume that they don't know, because otherwise, I would start to suspect they want me to be miserable.

This was the reaction from a friend in the US:
"Went to a Novus Ordo Mass today for the first time in months. Spiritually, left me desolate. On a human level, mortified, disappointed, and above all, sad."


Sunday, October 16, 2011

If only the evil old Catholic Church would let priests marry...

oh, wait...


Friday, October 14, 2011

Yes, you can definitely learn to draw.

and it's getting easier all the time to get good instruction, though it is still almost totally ignored in academia.


Some notes from the Georgetown Atelier in Seattle giving general principles.

The Block-in overview:
Learning to work from the ‘Broad to the Specific’ is a reoccurring theme and educational cornerstone of the curriculum I teach. The visual world is full of complexity. Learning to simplify that complexity in an elegant manner is a top educational priority and tall-order challenge. In other words, seeing the ‘big picture’ is much harder then seeing the minute detail. It is a natural tendency to gravitate towards the details at the expense of the broad design; to jump into rendering the eyelashes and fingernails without building the ‘archtecture’ of the figure. Take a moment to view the Bargue drawing below.

Take notice of how the block-in on the left is a simplified or ‘distilled’ version of the further developed image on the right. The block-in on the left not only establishes the proportions and anatomical structure, but also links together the shapes and forms in a designed manner. The illustration below highlights some of these design themes.

It’s important to understand the block-in as much more then ‘simple outlines’ of a drawing or painting. The block-in should contain all Proportional, Structural, Graphic and Rhythmic themes in a work. The rendering or painting process executes the Value, Form, and Color aspects. Think of your drawing or painting not in photographic terms (as a snapshot) but as a construction of a temple where the block-in functions as the foundation and scaffolding. After learning to harness these capabilities working from a single figure, the artist can expand this tool set to organize more complex multi-figure compositions. Caravaggios ‘Entombment’ is a good example of this:

The rest...

It is a lot to learn. In fact, it's a whole language and system of seeing and thinking, a set of mental skills that take only a few months to start, but years, possibly a lifetime, to grow and perfect. Enough to keep my mind occupied anyway.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

On Bad Catholic art

I saw this on Facebook: a young girl apparently gifted out of the blue with strong religious belief (good) and the equally strong belief that she can paint (less good). She's the latest religious child prodigy. I won't post anything she has painted here because I don't want to make your eyes ache unnecessarily. (But Kat should have a look if the neocons at Patheos let her continue her series on craptastic Catholic art.)

A link to it was posted on Facebook to a chorus of oohs and aahs from earnest readers saying how wonderful it is that this miraculous gift was given to this little girl...blah blah blah...Of course, being me and all, there was just no way I could let it pass.

Is it important? Yes. Because bad religious art is bad for the Faith, even when it is "granted miraculously". And religious believers calling bad art good art only because it's religious art is bad for the Faith. Frankly, it makes us look like chumps.

It reminds me of that dreadful film about St. Therese of Liseux that all the nice sincere Catholics were raving about a few years ago. It was truly dreadful, but because it was "orthodox" it was automatically supposed also to be great art, and a great "advertisement" for the Faith in the secular world. But it wasn't. Lordy, it really was dreadful, and I argued at the time that it sent the worst possible message to the secular world, about Catholicism, about Catholics and about St. Therese.

So, yes, it's certainly nice that a sweet little girl was "miraculously" given the gift of faith by God, and in person I'm sure she's a sweetheart, as most little girls with sincere religious belief are. But is it a good idea for her to become - or more specifically for her parents to have allowed her to become - a postergirl for this kind of naive religious enthusiasm? And is it helpful for the Faith in general to have more religious shmaltz posing as divine revelation?

Click over there for a moment and, while looking at one of her paintings, imagine that it was done by Some Guy instead of this (highly marketable) little apple-cheeked poppet. Do we still think it's art worth ten grand a pop? But more importantly (really, who cares if people want to spend that much on more shmaltz, it's their money, after all) is it good for the Faith to be represented this way?

Flannery O'Connor would doubtless have said no and would have said that it is not a trivial matter. From “The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South”,
…the average Catholic reader…(is) more of a Manichaean than the Church permits. By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to pious cliché and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms, the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former, while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him. He forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence…We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality…

Denys Powlett-Jones, writing on the Catholic public's desire for sentimental novels, puts his finger on it:
Cardinal Spellman’s Foundling seems to serve as a watchword for all that she found defective in mid-century American Catholic letters: dreary prose, implausible characters, a sentimental plot built upon moral pieties about what ought to happen, all derived from an underlying mistake: the confusion of subjective intentions, however noble, with artistic skill, which is the only thing that can justify a work of art.

To want only simplistic sentimental stories is really to want to be lied to, and while there is no shortage in our age of those willing to lie to make a buck, the Christian artist, bound by his theology to see the world as it is, and sanctioned by his morality against deceiving anyone, cannot in good conscience join in.

Which, I suppose, is why on the one hand I actually recoil from the sentimentalist, enthusiastic rubbish this nice little girl is producing, and on the other, why I find such spiritual solace looking at a good still life of a peeled lemon.

And why I'm not myself ever going to produce art for religion's sake.


"You seem a decent fellow; I hate to kill you."

"You seem a decent fellow; I hate to die."

I was a fencing fiend at the time, and all my fencing nerd buddies agreed that it was THE greatest fencing scene ever filmed. Better even than the Basil Rathbone/Errol Flynn scenes in Captain Blood. The most perfect form, the best staging, the best flourishes and timing and precisely the right amount of improbable dash.

And, if you know about period fencing schools, it's a treat, because as they are discussing their technique, "You are using Bonnetti's defence against me..." "I find that Thibault cancels out Capo Ferro"...they are actually doing the things they're talking about.

And here it is.

"There's something I ought to tell you..."

I used to fight a guy who would switch hands and it was indeed incredibly difficult to come back from it, since, unlike the guys in the movie, he was never polite enough to warn me when he was going to do it. The jabs were just suddenly coming from a different direction and the microsecond it took you to switch to defending on that side was almost always enough for him to get a touch in. But then, he would also sometimes parry with his feet, which also drove me nuts.

"Rocco Bonetti opened the first School of Rapier Fence, or Colledge, at Blackfriars in London in 1576. He prefered to deflect jabs and wait for mistakes to be made rather than rush into attack. Ridolfo Capo Ferro taught a linear style of Fence, saying "The cut has little place in rapier play". He published his work Gran Simulacro dell' Arte e dell' uso della Scherma in 1610. Girard Thibault taught the Spanish Style of Fence in which parrying maneuvers ruined jabbing attacks. He published his book Academie de l'Espee in 1630. Camillo Agrippa was regarded as the man who defined the rapier as a thrusting weapon as well as one to be used for cutting. He published his book Trattato di Scienza d'Arme in 1568."


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Every child a wanted child

...the unwanted, please take the line on the left.


"...a sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises!"

For no reason at all, I was watching some LOTR footage on YouTube last night, and I was reminded just how visually cool so much of that franchise was. Whatever your feelings about Peter Lordoftheringsguy's handling of Tolkien's story (and personally, I am still furious about the lack of the Scouring) he did the visuals. Um-BOY!

I mean, holy man, the Charge of the Rohirrim...!

Holy crap-on-a-stick! I'd get out of the way too, even with ten to one odds. Three thousand huge, be-piked cavalry men with nothing to lose? You bet!

Some of these battle sequences are so virtuosic it's easy to start thinking that it really looked like that... and then you have to stop yourself and remember that it didn't actually happen at all.

This is why I still like the movies. And why I still really want something that a friend of mine got when she bought the full set some years ago. They were sold with little dodads from the films, one of which was a set of Argonath bookends.

If anyone knows where, (EBay?) you can get one, let me know.





Triassic Kraken and flying squids

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth...

* ~ * ~ *

I haven't posted much lately on the cephalopod threat, knowing that my readers are probably more or less saturated with scary news and probably would rather I talk about art. But I just couldn't let this one go.

Scientists are postulating the existence of an ancient super-duper-giganto-squid. Like really really freaking huge. The Triassic Kraken, the story goes, was so big it hunted these things. And was so smart it made art with the vertebrae of its prey.

Someone who has been following my efforts to raise awareness of the threat posed by the radially symmetrical sent me the link on Facebook. He said, "Don't worry, they're supposed to have died out millions of years ago..."

Yeah, that's what they said about these things too. I'd like to know how my friend thinks he knows they've all died out. What the hell is really down there? No one knows, buddy. No-one.

And here, we have another example of why I exclusively support Bilateral Symmetry. I mean really, flying squid? 65 feet?! Seriously?!

I've said it before. Water reduces the effect of gravity on the things that live in it. This does nothing but encourage all manner of morphological excess. It is our duty to eat everything in the ocean.

This site is sort of fun, and it also has a "Squidwatch" section.

Word is getting out.

"I saw them come for the sperm whales, but I was not a sperm whale, so I did nothing. Then I saw them come for the walruses and other land/sea mammals, but I was exclusively a land-dweller so I didn't do anything..."


This is why I'm a conservative

Specifically, an eeeeeveel, small government, (anti-Distributist), warmongering, cut-taxes, anti-union, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-choice, social, fiscal and moral conservative... politically speaking that is.

Because conservatives are funny.
Never yet met the lefty capable of laughing at himself or who didn't fly into a rage when countered.

It's the unconquerable earnestness that gets me down. Oh, how well I remember those tones from my mother's feminazi friends in the 70s.

I once scared a priest friend of mine with my feminist impression. It's pretty easy to imitate. You just lower your tone and drop all facial expression, lower your chin an inch or two so you look like you're looking directly and "sincerely" into the person's eyes and making some really profound point, and say everything in a monotone and pause...between...every...word. Remember to nod slightly as you talk. The secret is never to smile. Earnestness is the watchword.

He jumped back in his seat and said it was just a little uncomfortably too close to the evil troll feminist anti-nuns who ran the show at his seminary. Yeah yeah, cry me a river. I was raised by the trolls.

And what is it with that bizarre chanting thing? Isn't there something about it that sounds familiar? Ooooooh yes...

"Yes! We are all individuals!"

The Dale Price law of Monty Python strikes again!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Here is something about drawing that I've noticed since I was a kid: such a lot of pencil-waving before you make a mark. Watch the first bits of the video. He does a lot of wavewavewave-mark, wavewavewave-mark. High waving to marking ratio. I used to watch my grandma draw and she always did tons of waving with the pencil before there were any lines appearing; I guessed it was sort of like practice waving so you can figure out where the line is supposed to go. Which it more or less is.

Also, got to get me one of those precision pencil-eraser things for the wee teeny erasing bits.

One of the things I like best about this is all the cool little gadgets and neat things you get to buy. They all have a really high retail therapy delivery payback in that they don't, individually, cost very much... pencil holders and fancy charcoal-by-the-piece, but have a lot of concentrated coolness per piece.

(Yes, yes, I did do some work today. Experimenting with toned charcoal drawing...I'm DOING it already!)



My friend, who is coming next week to stay, has been encouraging me on FB to get started...

I've been watching charcoal drawing videos on YouTube
I'm scared to start my drawing

[Vicky Van]
yes, the world will end if you eff it up
so don't eff it up

that's what I thought
(Oh dear)
< wringshands>

[Vicky Van]


[Vicky Van]

< hidesheadunderpillow>

[Vicky Van]
I have to send off a few emails and go to sleep
go draw

If you wake up tomorrow and the universe has ended, you will know I made a mistake

[Vicky Van]


[Vicky Van]

< sighsandhangshead>

[Vicky Van]
Go make the world proud


Monday, October 10, 2011

Learning technique

I've been puzzling over the best way to approach my still life. I've only done one thing in charcoal before, and I didn't really take a lot of time to learn all the things you can do with the medium. This time I'm going to do a bunch of preliminary drawings in my sketchbook to see what the best approach is. I'm using grey toned paper and have black charcoal, sanguine conte and white chalk pencil. But I have been watching a lot of charcoal drawing videos and think I should try a bit of white pastel as well.

These are fun, by the way, and there are a lot of them on YouTube. Most of them are just mediocre speed drawings of celebrities, but a few of them are actually pretty respectable and worth looking at.


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Peace in Still Life

Jo Bradney, not a "classical realist" but lovely still life.

The more I look at still life, the more I am drawn to it. I've started my charcoal drawing, Still Life with Dramatic Tea Pot and am considering trying combining charcoal with coloured pastels. (And it's always fun to go to the art supply store and buy a few shiny new art-things.) The meditative act of drawing combined with the atmosphere of calm that still life brings is something I want a lot of in my new life.


Coming back to life

This morning I went to Rome for Mass and was going to attend a little luncheon do to say good bye to a couple of friends who are moving back to N. America, but like an idiot, forgot my pills. I had parceled them out into my little pill container and had poured a bottle of juice to take them with. They're timed, so I couldn't take them before it was time to go get the train. So there we are, sitting in the little compartment, I pull out my bottle of juice... DANG! foiled by stupidity again!

By the time Mass was over, I was being reminded quite forcefully that I still really need to take my pills, so instead of going to the nice luncheon, I got back on the train and went home and then slept all afternoon. This little incident has reminded me that chemo really did happen and that it's not over yet.

But of course, this also means that, at some point, it will be over, and I've been thinking about what comes after. Of course, I'm going to have to have tests every couple of months for a few years, and then regularly for the rest of my life, however long that is going to be. Recurrence rates with this type and stage of cancer, and with the treatment I'm getting, are wondrously low, but of course, cancer is weird and unpredictable so...

Nevertheless, there is going to be an after, and there's nothing like a brush with a deadly disease to make you reconsider things. What has surprised me about the outcome of my thinking is how happy I am with the way things have turned out. (Those who still think that living in a weird foreign country is all yachts and champagne may feel free to laugh hollowly now). After a rough first thirty years, I feel I'm finally pointed in the right direction and moving along.

I remember being young and the one thing I remember most is how horrible it was. I had a note this evening from a Picnicker who told me about how sorry she was when, at an insupportably young age, she felt she needed to "put away childish things" and got rid of a beloved teddy bear. I commiserated. I never felt guilty about having kept my bear, but I do remember well the feeling of having to force myself to do things that felt unnatural and unkind because I was now supposed to be a grown-up. What a horrible thing it is to be young in our times.

How much worse off are the twenty-year-olds now than they were in the 80s when I was there. The directionlessness, the feeling of never being quite sure you are doing it right, the agonising over mistakes and faux pas-es. The terrible harshness with which we judged ourselves and others. On my fortieth birthday, a friend complimented me then took a quick step back and said, "That is, if you're happy with that..." I said that I was just glad I had made it this far. Past the terrible twenties.

Of course, The Crazy, the bouts of depression and the lack of personal security are likely going to be with me forever, an ineradicable holdover from my unstable upbringing. But there is something about having made it into one's forties with most of my faculties and health intact. When cancer came along, it made me realise just how well things were turning out, and how disappointed I would be if I didn't get to finish certain things.

Of course, I know that nothing in life is going to be "finished", even if I were to live in good health to a hundred. I remember only too well how strange and unnatural was the death of John Muggeridge, one of the best people I've ever known. As though he were cut off in mid-sentence during an especially engrossing conversation. We all looked around, rather shocked, and said, "But where's John?" If he had lived into his second century, there wouldn't have been enough time to spend with him.

But this feeling of pointing in the right direction, of going the right way and in the right manner, is something I never expected to experience. This is really why I am so relieved that the cancer thing is turning out OK. I really do want to keep doing what I'm doing, and do more of it. More work, more painting, more Italy, more learning. And I want to do something for all the people who have been kind to me and helped me. I've given Other People such short shrift in my life, I'd like a chance to make it up to the human race.


Friday, October 07, 2011

Mr. Bear has been an important part of my cancer battle. His wisdom and calm has helped me calm down on many tearful nights. He's not only good with the monster sword but has a contemplative nature and very good manners. He's a very good influence on me.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Double sixes

Had a consultation with the doctors at the Gemelli today. The news is that the chemo was effective. The tumour has shrunk and the structure of blood vessels feeding it has disintegrated, so the whole mass is dying. This means that the surgery will be the small conic excision surgery. They then have to do a histological examination of the tumour itself but if that goes as expected, the surgery will be the end of it. Cancer will be finished.

I hardly know what to say about it at this point.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I find that it's much easier to read stuff about drawing than to actually, you know... draw something.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011


yep, they're odd...
You won’t believe this but we had some visitors from Europe two years ago – Christians, some sort of Protestants – who said they didn’t believe in the power of relics!”

The monk stroked his beard, wide-eyed with disbelief.

“No,” he continued. “I’m not joking. I had to take the Protestants aside and explain that we believe that St. Antony and all the fathers have not died, that they live with us, continually protecting us and looking after us. When they are needed – when we go to their graves and pray to their relics – they appear and sort out our problems.”

“Can the monks see them?”

“Who? Protestants?”

“No. These deceased fathers.”

“Abuna Yustus is always appearing,” said Fr. Dioscorus matter-of-factly. “In fact one of the fathers had a half-hour conversation with him the day before yesterday. And of course St. Antony makes fairly regular appearances – although he is very busy these days answering prayers all over the world. But even when we cannot see the departed fathers we can always feel them. And besides – there are many other indications that they are with us.”


Monday, October 03, 2011

Islamic family values

This is the country where the Western powers think they're going to install a liberal democracy.


Small is bright

as well as beautiful.

But I do have one question about this whole "living in darkness" thing.

Why no windows?


Face it hippies,

it's over.


Sunday, October 02, 2011

I wish I'd known this before I'd had chemo

Nono Cat

I don't know, the cat looks kind of crazy.

What do you think? Cat-psychotic, or just really assertive?


Saturday, October 01, 2011

More Contemporary Realists

Here are some more contemporary realist and classical realist artists whose work I like.

Christopher Stott, a man after my own luddite heart: wind-up clocks, rotary dial phones and manual typewriters.

~ * ~

Odd Nerdrum, damn disturbing at times, but ... holy moley! When I can paint like this, I'll be done.

I know I've posted about him before but he's always worth coming back to. Very often, Nerdrum's paintings leave me in a profoundly perplexed state. They confuse and upset me

and I can't stop looking at them.

~ * ~

Michael Naples. I mentioned once to Andrea that when I was younger, I couldn't understand the point of still life, but now I am interested in almost nothing else.

Whenever I look at the portfolio of an artist I always click over to the still life section first because it gives me the best idea of his ability and interests. She said that it is easy to make grand subjects look wonderful and if all artists ever did was portraits of famous people or heroic scenes from history, art would be very dull. "If you can make an onion look interesting, you've really got talent."

~ * ~

Mark Haltoff

I'm not entirely sure what it is about still life that so grabs my attention. I know that I can't stand busyness, noise, kerfuffle. I hate going to Rome. I have hated big cities since I started living in them in my early 20s. I have an idea about heaven, that it is, above all, quiet.

Or maybe it's simpler than that. Still life painting always reminds me of painting in the dining room with Grandma. We're really never so sophisticated as we would like to think, are we?