The Shack

the shack masks blog 2018
I created this digital sketch for my book, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”. Although the skills displayed are crude, the picture helps to tell my story and conveys the mood of the day.

I’ve been working on and off on a memoir, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”.  It’s an odd book.  Because it is about my early childhood, many memories are vague, but impressions are not.  As a consequence, I created pictures, using “Paint” and “Gimp”, to help recreate the scenes I recall.  The narrative below explains what is happening in the picture.  My book, in yet again under revision. I hope to be publishing it…soon.

 

As I explained earlier in this book, my first years in school were not successful. Everyone believed I was slow. This assessment persisted into at least November of the third grade, when my teacher wrote a sympathetic note to my mother and lamented my poor performance. Between November and the end of the year something remarkable happened. I learned to read. By June, I had become one of the most advanced readers in the grade.

With this improvement in skills came an insatiable appetite for reading material. There was none at home, until we discovered the shack. This humble building, shown above, was concealed by thick overgrowth in the forest. When we investigated, we found that comic books covered the floor of the ramshackle shelter. We helped ourselves to these, though we did not know who might have proper rights to them.

The shack was my library.

Reading was one of the great gifts of my life. Socially I remained awkward, but peers and teachers showed new respect simply because I seemed to be talented. The conversion from being a dolt to being an excellent student taught me an important lesson. I was the same person before and after my transformation, but people around me changed. Previously, they had punished me for being dull, a circumstance over which I had no control. And then they rewarded me for being bright, a gift I’d done nothing to earn. The folly, the sheer cruelty, of their early behavior enlightened me. It taught me to place little value on the judgment of others. And it allowed me, for the rest of my life, to see worth in people whom others disregard.

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Art and Life

plum website Lu Zhi
Plum Blossoms, by Lu Zhi,  Public Domain

Increasingly, I see no distinction between art and life, although there is a sense of the word “art” that suggests fabrication.  As a writer, or someone who loves to write (sometimes it feels pompous to call myself a writer), I have found art to be simply another form of expression, one that flows naturally as a complement to my words.  This is a view that traditional Chinese artists embrace, particularly those artists known as literati.

In literati painting, inscriptions on the work are intrinsic to the art.  The literati derive their inspiration from nature, tradition and philosophy.  In literati painting, art is an expression of character.  Technical skill, or “artifice”, is less important than the genuine inspiration evident in the work.

Traditional Chinese art often features one of four themes known as the Four Noble Ones or, the Four Gentlemen.  These themes are the plum, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum.  The essay below is adapted from my book, Four Masters of Yuan and Literati Art: Tradition in China from Mongol Rule to Modern Times.

The Four Gentlemen in Chinese Art

 

Literati artists have an affinity for nature. In their response to nature they believe they are revealing essential qualities about their own character. The qualities they hope to cultivate in themselves, they believe, are innate to certain plants. Four of these, called The Four Gentlemen in Chinese Art–the bamboo, chrysanthemum, plum and orchid–are said to embody different aspects of a noble character.  In fact, the plants are also called The Four Noble Ones.  Each of these plants has been featured across the centuries in exquisitely expressive art.

 

china bamboo elegant stone ni zan website public
Wood, Bamboo, and Elegant Stone, Ni Zan Public Domain

Wood, Bamboo and Elegant Stone, a painting by Yuan Dynasty artist Ni Zan (above), is part of a long tradition that reveres this plant.  Bamboo is seen as a natural embodiment of longevity, humility and endurance.

chrysanthemum website ong
Chrysanthemum, by Ong Schan Tchow, with an inscription by Lin Sen, President of the Republic of China.  Public Domain

Ong Schan Tchow, a twentieth-century painter, devoted a book to the study of chrysanthemums. This flower holds a special place in Chinese culture because the flower was first cultivated there. Chrysanthemums blossom in autumn, when winter is looming and other flowers are fading. It is the flower’s ability to flourish when others perish that makes it a metaphor for withstanding adversity.

Lu Zhi, an artist from the Ming Dynasty, was also a calligrapher and poet. His painting, Plum Blossoms, is featured at the top of this page. The plum tree blossoms in winter. This winter bloom, in harsh circumstances, represents to the Chinese the qualities of endurance and prosperity.

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Orchid, by Hu Zhengyan, Public Domain

Another Ming Dynasty artist, Hu Zhengyan, was also a printer and calligrapher. He was a traditionalist who featured a variety of simple, natural themes in his painting. The image presented here is “Orchid”.  In the orchid many see qualities of humility and grace. The orchid blossoms in remote locations and often exudes its fragrance in solitude. The nobility of quiet repose is much admired in classic Chinese art and poetry.

 

Modern Arcana Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, By Tom Wingerd: Book Review

FEMA_-_44376_-_truck_windshield_with_hail_damage_in_OK.jpg
Image from the FEMA Photo Library.  Picture taken by Win Henderson.  Public Domain.

 

In Modern Arcana: Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, Tom Wingerd writes about relationships–not the sort that exist between family and friends, but the sort we all have to everything and everyone. Wingerd writes: “Your house, car, office, city are all affected by your daily interactions in space.” He states further, “Your life is the combination of your movement through space, and the ripple impact of every one of your actions…”. These are weighty pronouncements, but they don’t come across as such in the book.

Mr. Wingerd offers prescriptions for existing in an interrelated universe. With each of his statements he provides a pictorial representation of the concept. The effect on the reader is not one of complements but of exponents. This may be by design or it may merely prove his thesis: everything we see and do, everything that exists, affects everything else. Mr. Wingerd has an analytic approach to his subject. Some of his propositions are structured as mathematical formulas and, he makes clear, these formulas operate in a relative universe.

Though this is a book with a philosophical perspective, Mr. Wingerd at times adopts a light tone. He writes, for example, about his bisexual wife and gay son. A few pages later he admits that his son isn’t “real” but is a “six year old figment of my imagination, named Orion”. In another segment he advises:

Trust your heart first
Your brain second
And your
Genitals
Well
They’ll do what they want anyway.

Before I began reading Modern Arcana: Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, I didn’t pay much attention to the title. After finishing the book I googled the phrase, “Not Responsible for Broken Windshields”. It turns out this is a statement likely to be found on the back of trucks that spew window-shattering debris. The driver’s message is clear: I’m not responsible for how my existence, how my behavior, affects you. Mr. Wingerd’s book is a refutation of that notion.

I enjoyed this book and I related to the author’s mindset. His pictures are as evocative as his words. The book would be a stimulating read for anyone who is inclined to be philosophical. It would be a great gift for someone who is not philosophically inclined, especially if that person is likely to post a sign that asserts: “Not Responsible for Broken Windshields”.

 

A. G. Moore October 3, 20017