August 31, 2005

The Magic Powers of Photo Paper

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 10:11 pm

A recent episode of the Cathy comic strip had Cathy’s mom wondering what to do with all the photos people were emailing her or handing her on disk. She didn’t feel right about throwing them away but didn’t want to keep them, either. I felt her pain. I am equally perplexed about what to do with the unsolicited pictures people give me, digital or otherwise.

I used to think photo paper had a magical property that prevented me from throwing away any image that was handed to me by a friend or relative. From an early age, I remember politely enjoying the photo and then with great guilt, shoving it in a drawer until I could decide what to do with it. When the drawer was full, those photos convinced me they were worthy of being put in a memorabilia box.

Recently, I have been organizing and arranging all my memorabilia into scrapbooks. As I worked back in time to things I have kept from childhood, I was confronted once again by a lifetime of unwanted photos. Some of the pictures are of people whose names I can’t remember. But there is something about that photo paper that causes me to give time and synapses to contemplating whether or not these rejected photos should have a second chance at being glued down for all posterity.

My regard for photo paper was only re-enforced when my son was born 5 years ago, just about the time everybody was getting a digital camera. Since he was our first child, we took thousands of pictures. We posted the best ones on our Web site. Some family members emailed us that they were thrilled with the pictures, but wondered if we had any “real pictures” to send them. I knew that “real pictures” didn’t just mean printouts — they wanted images captured on film and developed onto photo paper.

I understood what they were saying and I complied. I also began to hypothesize that photo paper was powerless until it did a mystical and mysterious dance with 35 mm film. This had to be the reason that printouts of digital images on photo paper were second rate for my relatives. For almost a year, I shot everything digitally and on film. This is the awesome power of photo paper.

I also had a problem framing a digital image printout. I perceived the frame to have a certain worth, and the printout didn’t live up to that value. However, I had no issue framing mass-produced movie and theater posters and covering my living room walls with them. It occurred to me that maybe the photo paper wasn’t enchanting me, but rather the image was. It is said that when photography was first introduced to some cultures, they had an adverse reaction to it because they believed the image was stealing a part of the soul of the person in the picture. Maybe there is something to that belief, but instead of photos “stealing” the soul, they are actually capturing a bit of the soul.

By mentally replaying my relationship with photo paper, I realized that I never had qualms about throwing away a personality-free picture of a mountain or a cathedral. It was the faces in the photo that had a hold of me, not the paper. Even faces of people I don’t remember have value. It’s as if the human face is the art, and I feel it should be mounted on a medium worthy of priceless treasures. In my worldview, that means plain old ink and regular paper aren’t special enough.

As time and technology advances, I have come to accept that the image is the important thing, not the paper it is printed on. This means that without too much therapy, I can now frame a digital printout. I still have a tough time throwing away unwanted pictures or deleting an email with a photo attachment. I am the queen of purging in other areas of my life, but those photos have a spell on me that I still can’t break.

August 18, 2005

A Prayer for Artists is a Breath of Fresh Air

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 10:13 pm

The group I sing in, Chorus Cappella, was the guest choir at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church one Sunday last month. During the course of the service, we came to the Prayers of the People. That day, Saint Paul’s took their prayer from “Glimpses of Glory” by David Adam, and invoked from the “God of grace and goodness” some very relevant requests.

First, the prayer said, “We ask you to bless all who are overworked, stressed and overanxious; we remember especially those who have no time for their homes or for leisure. We pray for the work weary, the exhausted and the worn out. We remember children who rarely see their parents and who lack affection. We pray for all who are restless and cannot enjoy where they are.”

Then followed the most powerful, poignant and eye-opening portion of the prayer for me; “We give thanks for our homes, for places of peace and quiet, for places of leisure and recreation. We pray for all who help us relax: for musicians, artists, broadcasters and sportsmen and sportswomen. We pray for our friends and our loved ones.”

Wow! The idea of praying for the general well being of musicians and artists because of the vital, life-sustaining service they provide to humankind set bells off in my head. It’s so obvious to pray for the hungry, the sick, our armed forces in Iraq. These prayers are usual, and by no means unnecessary. But to lift artists and musicians into the realm of those who deserve a collective positive vibe is rather extraordinary. Broadcasters and sportsmen and women deserve no less, but the inclusion of musicians and artists struck me because it is their talents I call upon when I need to relax.

I admit, when I escape to the theater, or pop on my favorite CD, or search for a DVD at the rental store, I selfishly await the diversion from everyday life, the thrill of the experience, but I don’t stop to say a private word of thanks to those who dedicate their lives to providing me fantasy.

Although I consciously enjoy a beautifully decorated home, or a storefront filled with art as I walk by or a gorgeously landscaped garden, I don’t think about the welfare of the person who provided my eye candy.

I need to keep visual and performing artists in my thoughts and prayers if I am to continue to espouse the mandatory place the arts must have in all our lives in order to make us complete and whole human beings. If they don’t thrive, neither do the rest of us.

Coincidentally, last summer when Chorus Cappella sang at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church, a parishioner came up to me after the service to thank the choir for sharing our music in their Sunday worship. In an impromptu lecture, he told me that the Hebrew language has one word that means wind, spirit, and breath. It was a very hot morning and he felt that our singing had the same calming, comforting effect on him that air conditioning would have. It has taken me a year to figure out what he meant, but thanks to the prayer at Saint Paul’s, I finally get it. It was a huge compliment that we took his mind off the heat for an hour that day. We truly made a spiritual connection with him with a fringe benefit of providing psychological coolant. Now I need to be mindful of all the gifts I receive on a daily basis from the musical and artistic spirits who touch my life.

August 16, 2005

Artsy Twins

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 9:45 pm

When I was a child, I was fascinated by twins. Not having a twin myself, I romanticized the relationship between two people who once shared the same womb. I wondered about everything from what it was like to share a birthday to whether extra-sensory perception was a legitimate means of communication.

As I got older, I learned about the concept of twins in time — people who were born at the exact same moment you were. I wondered if my twins in time around the globe have anything in common with me other than the fact that we age at the same second every April 20.

Now, thanks to the Google search engine, I have discovered that I have an artsy twin with whom I share a name. Christina Engelbrecht came to my attention when I Googled myself one day and she popped up. I was surprised. Christina Engelbrecht is not the most common name and egocentrically, I thought Google would send me up first, since I’ve been published in a newspaper for seven years straight.

But Christina came up before me because she was a guest cartoonist for in 2004. My artsy twin is a visual artist! I should have known, since I can’t draw worth anything. She got the visual and I got the verbal in the family. We’re two sides of the same coin, a complete whole when put together. We complement one another, as twins should. Cool!

I started to go through my family and found that when my Google search consisted of a loved one’s name with the word “artist,” the world is full of artsy twins. My husband, for instance, has an artsy twin who is referred to as a “top New York interior designer” in a 2003 article from Art Business News. (By the way, my husband claims that in this exercise, he himself is indeed the artsy twin.) I’m thinking I should ask the New York artsy twin if he would come and do my house pro bono, being that we’re family and all.

My brother, a physician by trade, is part of artsy triplets. Both his “brothers” play in rock bands. One triplet plays guitar in Morgan Street, and the other plays guitar and vocals in a band called Murgatroid, which is called the “pioneers of Bacchanalian Rock” on the MySpace Music Web site. My brother has fantasized about being in a rock band for years. It’s nice to see two of three triplets out there living the dream.

My mother-in-law is also an artsy triplet. One of the set does graphic design and photography in Newcastle. The other is an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska who spoke on an October panel for the Arts Education Partnership to discuss “Effective Professional Development in Arts Education.” Think of the lively intellectual discussions at holiday gatherings between these three “sisters.”

One of my sisters-in-law is a singer so I could argue that she is the artsy twin in her pairing. But her namesake is the Director of National Media Relations for Sony BMG Music in Canada. If she and my singing sister-in-law got together, there could be a mutually beneficial record deal in the future.

My mother, who claims she is not an artist but only “follows patterns” while creating stunning quilts, dresses and other textile creations, is artsy twins with a painter in France whose paintings sell for thousands of dollars. My stepfather’s artsy twin makes jewelry, which is amusing because my stepfather loves to buy jewelry.

My lawyerly brother-in-law has an artsy twin whom does a radio show in Southern California about “The Ageless Wisdom,” a non-religious approach to spirituality, the nature of the Soul, and the development of consciousness. He could have some intense conversations with my engineering sister-in-law’s artsy twin, whose statement on Mytho-Poetic Expressionism reads, “Through my paintings I seek audience with intelligent people, people able to enjoy paradox, complications, ambiguities, the divine messiness of Life. Challenging, creative people, I invite them into reverie, an embrace of Soul.” These two sets of twins could have one interesting dinner party.

My father-in-law, who actually is a fraternal twin, has an artsy twin who writes arts criticism for “Source,” a magazine for contemporary photography in Britain and Ireland. Based on his art exhibit reviews, he seems to believe in making quality art accessible to all people, rather than being elitist about it. That’s someone I can relate to as an artsy uncle-in-law.

Of the friends and family I have Googled, so far only my brother’s wife has an elusive artsy twin. But she must be out there, or else my sister-in-law embodies all the arts in one persona. It’s been a flight of imagination for me, daydreaming about what familiar names are doing in an alternate reality. A little creative outlet on a hot August afternoon.