Friday, January 22, 2010

Storms and a Tree of Life

Last night the winds were howling. This was no gentle evening breeze. It was frightening, ferocious...willing to tear up anything in its path. It roared 'round the house, literally ripping off soffits and siding as it went. I am not a fan of these ruthless, raging storms. Whether they're blowing specks of dust in my eyes or messing up my hair is beside the point. I don't like the fierceness and chaos and destruction that seems to ride on these tempests. Strong wind makes me feel like the universe is angry, reckless, and out-of-control.

This morning as I drove away from a friend's house, I noticed that a tree in the neighbor's yard was blown right over by last night's storm. A strong tree, with roots and branches. Yesterday it was standing tall, and now it's lying on the ground, with all of its branch tips stumbling over the gutter and into the street. Gone. Just like that.

As I looked at that broken tree, ravaged by last night's winds, I felt something start to snap inside me. That tree doesn't even belong to me, yet I was somehow hurt by its fall. And I was amazed by the unseen force that caused it to fall. Sometimes I forget how powerful winds can be.

Winds are everywhere around us figuratively, too. Unseen forces of destruction, leaving chaos and upheaval and sadness in their wake. Honestly, the winds rattling the windows last night are NOTHING compared to the storm that rattled our family last year. And we're one of the lucky ones -- we're still standing -- together, supported, loved.

With increasing frequency and intensity, the winds are breaking down will-power and leveling self-respect. They're bulldozing marriages, fracturing families. They're even rumbling through the stock market and turning mortgages upside-down...because everywhere the storm rises, integrity falls.

I felt myself want to cry out, like the disciples of old, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?"

And then I remembered the rest of the story:
"And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?"

(Mark 4:37-40)

There IS an antidote to all the destruction, a way to stand fast in the face of the fiercest storm. The only real safety and peace hinges on our faith in Him:
  1. Alma 26:6
    Yea, they shall not be beaten down by the storm at the last day; yea, neither shall they be harrowed up by the whirlwinds; but when the storm cometh they shall be gathered together in their place, that the storm cannot penetrate to them; yea, neither shall they be driven with fierce winds whithersoever the enemy listeth to carry them.

  2. 1 Ne. 18: 21
    And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord; and after I had prayed the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm.
The winds are everywhere, and they are far more powerful than we think. But He is there for us, with a peace that surpasses all understanding. This I know.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Queen Shares A Day With King

My friend Jennifer made me this fabulous crown, which I am planning to don for much of the day today...because once in awhile a girl deserves to be Queen! And today's my day.

But after forty-plus years of celebrating this day, I prefer to celebrate someone else. Someone who actually DESERVES a crown. Martin Luther King.

Aside from the fact that sharing my birthday with King gives me an automatic 3-day weekend every year, I am in awe of the vision, courage and power of this great man. I spent some time poring over his famous I Have A Dream speech this week, and realize we have come such a long way...yet we still have a long way to go.

My students created this portrait of Dr. King in December. And tonight they won first place in an exhibit honoring the civil rights movement. I love the way it turned out, and I love the meaning hidden within the constraints of the assignment. It's called Judge My Value, Not My Color.

Each student was given a 2” square grayscale image and assigned to create a stand-alone abstract painting. They were given total freedom of expression in terms of style, technique and color. The only constraints were size (the final image had to be an 8” square) and value (the final piece had to match the values of the supplied image).

The students were not told that these pieces were part of a single image, let alone a portrait of a historical figure. To them, the squares appeared to be small, abstract value studies.

Many students struggled with the abstraction. They didn’t know how to handle so much freedom. They wanted something tangible, concrete. But with some introspection they began to realize that the concepts they’d been taught throughout the semester (color relationships, value, contrast, rhythm, luminosity) applied without having to represent anything recognizable.

This is our result. Upon assembling the finished squares, we discovered that -- despite all the differing styles, colors, and approaches -- there was a strong sense of unity. The result is a visual “symphony of brotherhood” and visual proof that when our focus is on VALUE rather than COLOR, the image comes through with even greater vibrancy.

We learned that the greater the diversity, the freer the individual expression...the stronger and more dynamic the whole. Most important, we learned, as Dr. King so eloquently stated, that we were “able to work struggle together...that we will [succeed] one day.”

I also included one of my portraits, begun as a class demonstration and finished later in the studio:

This is a portrait of Ruth Gooden. We were roommates at an art workshop several years ago. Although she was learning to paint for the first time, she seemed perfectly comfortable painting in a roomful of professionals! She is one of the most authentic, inspiring and radiant people I have ever met. She has hiked the 2000-mile Appalachian Trail not once, but TWICE, and says the best part of the trail was all the people she met. She dresses impeccably, tells wonderful stories, is joyful and engaging, and makes a friend of everyone who surrounds her.

In this portrait the hat casts a shadow on her face, symbolizing the darkness of segregation and injustice that was likely a part of her growing-up years. But this portrait is not about that shadow. It is about the light that reaches her smile, about the way a human soul has triumphed and flourished and outshone the injustice in its path.

I have chosen to include this portrait because Ruth embodies the realization of Martin Luther King’s dream. She is respected, loved, admired. She is judged by the content of her character rather than the color of her skin. Her sense of self is unshakable. In every sense of the word, I believe Ruth is free. And I hope to be that free myself someday.