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ARTISTIC VENTURES

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler

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What a great book for me!  While a senior in high school, I belonged to the Book Club.  A group of us would meet once a month to discuss a book chosen by a faculty advisor.  He prepared questions for our comments.  Our first reading was Adler’s book.

This now-favorite and well-used book (first published in 1940) is still available in both “real” print and “electronic” print.  I have gone through two or three copies–and have given copies as gifts.  Were I to point out a most influential book in my life, Adler’s would be one of the three (followed by The Power and the Glory [1940] and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [1943]).

Often I see Adler’s book staring at me from its place on my bookshelf.

Looking through this book not long ago, I was searching for an answer to some question about my teaching career and about students: “…although the teacher may help his student in many ways, it is the student himself who must do the learning.  Knowledge must grow in his mind if learning is to take place.”

At that point, in a special mental instant, memory-filled, I became so aware of how far I had come in my learning and discovering, by reading.  Then there occurred a light-bulb “Ah-ha!” kind of connective moment,

light of reason

not about reading but about my own discovering, by do-ing.  I stood before my bookshelf, holding Adler, musing: What have I done? 

When I was being presented with my retirement gifts and honor plaque, “For his twenty years of full-time service…,” I stood there–really–thinking about my grandfather teaching me how to do “hands-on”: the practical, not the theoretical.  Nailing and sawing and shoveling and painting and gluing.

So much of my teaching career was not “hands on”–except, of course, when I would finger paint with my Head Start students; except, of course, my writing class notes on black, green, and white boards; except, of course, for correcting-annotating-commenting upon hundreds and piles of student papers; except, of course, for typing lesson plans, calculating and entering grades and achievements.  (Late in my career, though, I was doing “hands-on” computer instruction.)

Adler’s how-to book came long after some of my how-to experiences.

While in grammar school (elementary school), I did babysitting duties: bathing, feeding, and bedding (and changing diapers).  Yet I also was able to get a “real” job at a local grocery story.  I put up stock, helped clean up, but most importantly (since I was an experienced newspaper delivery boy), I was able to be trusted to deliver groceries.  Not as easy as it sounds, considering the delivery vehicle:

grocery bicycle

DELIVERY BICYCLE [RUSTED]

Careful and skillful, I did not let the bicycle tip or turn, spilling the contents of the basket–well, not often.  I learned then about center of gravity.  (The turning bike wanted to pull me over.)

Sometimes “all thumbs” at changing faucet washers, and driving nails, I still managed to be “hand-y”: knowing how to paint, scrub floors in the local school with a temperamental scrubbing machine, do dishes (glasses, knives and forks first; dishes, pots and pans last); mow lawns, shovel snow, change tires (automobile and bicycle).  (Later in life, in my automotive-mechanic stage of life, I actually installed water pumps, changed brakes, and even added a Holley 4-barrel carburetor to my 1954 Ford!  What achievements!)

1954 ford

I could tie a tie, long after learning how to tie shoelaces; shave my face, handwrite, and sign my name.  I hate to dust, but I can organize dirty clothes and do laundry.  And from observing and reading, I could/can make a “signature” meatloaf!

While working in a foundry, handling a swing grinder and hand tools, I made, fashioned, and finished dies for plastic companies, or was grinding off mold-edges on fire hydrants or small engines, still hot from the casting.  This work was dirty, sweaty, and hands-on. 

Yes, I have been a doer, with hands and fingers.  And I am pleased. 

I did, though, have my creative artistic attempts, like drawing flowers that looked like lollipops; then had twenty good years using my hands with glass, colored and contoured, fabricating flowers and shapes and geometrics that let the light shine through: my stained-glass years.

The Maltese Blue--One of the Best

THE MALTESE BLUE

All this and more.

My story of learning and discovery, however, cannot end without mention of one of my other greatest accomplishments of manipulative making.  I was privileged, honored, to be able to use my hands in a bookbindery.  Now how is that for a Mortimer Adler segue?

As a college junior, I found a place in the college bindery, an opportunity for me to come in contact with paper, cloth, glue, drill presses–to love books even more and realize the sacredness of pages put together.  There I folded and bound papers and pages into sets, the fascicles; sewed and pulled and tightened using needles and “thread” to sew units, not unlike Shakespeare’s quartos and octavos.  I grouped, squeezed, and pressed together the clusters of papers, then glued and waited.  The ends of the pages were trimmed with large-bladed cutters; I lost no parts of any fingers or thumbs. 

I learned how to make covers of cardboard and cloth, uniting the covers to the sewed and glued pages.  I pressed all parts together, and waited for drying.  I even learned to print titles, imprinted, impressed, using fonts of type and gold leaf foil.  I bound magazines, students’ notes, paperback texts, library journals, old books.

book edge of grant memoirs

I was proud of my work; I did my job.  I was good at my work and all the work I have done “with these hands.”

From all of this–from my reading, from my doing, from my remembering–it is that when I consider this “do-ing,” I am well pleased, something akin to sticking in my scarred thumb and pulling out a plumb–and saying, “What a good boy am I!” 

I did well, with my fingers and my thumbs. 

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

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Each of us brings our personal history to the table of writing, revision, editing, and criticism.”  –Roy Peter Clark, HELP! for Writers [Little, Brown, 2011]

. . .

Writing movie reviews and book reviews in a journal or as a blog is an excellent opportunity to write briefly, succinctly, pointedly.  Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, and the New York Times can serve as good sources and models for their exposition and narration.

Writing reviews is, first, self-expression.  The author is able to use simple critical writing skills and the basics of criticism: to discover PURPOSE; to judge the WORTH; and to criticize the TECHNIQUE.      

Some movie critics remind writers first to enjoy and to realize the entertainment, then to express that enjoyment–or disappointment.

The review is a free form; for in a review virtually everything is relevant: subject matter, technique, social and intellectual background, biographical facts, relationships to other similar works, historical importance, and everything else.  Evaluation is only one of the aims; for there may be other elements of the work under discussion, special difficulties . . . to explain, and special features . . . to note.  –Edgar Roberts, Writing Themes about Literature (1964)

In addition, the reviewer can consider tone, ideas, characters, story, imagery, symbolism, style, music, and other aspects and techniques–and, of course, include a list of favorites, from time to time.

As time passes, the favorites list will change; new films and movies will be produced.  However, one thing for sure, “We’ll always have Paris.” –or we can always “Round up the usual suspects.”  A journal-er or blogger will never be at a loss to find a good movie to watch, and talk about, and think about:  a review.

Some All-Time Favorites: Casablanca  Love Actually  A Room with a View  Singin’ in the Rain  Girl with a Pearl Earring  Moonstruck  West Side Story  Forbidden Planet   Doctor Zhivago  Some Like It Hot  To Kill a Mockingbird  Fargo  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  Metropolis

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“We are what we believe.”  –Mary Hambidge [1885-1973]

A lifelong pursuit of creativity, along with a love of dynamic symmetry and natural beauty, led Mary Hambidge to develop an artist’s community in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Rabun Gap, Georgia: Located in northeastern Georgia where the Blue Ridge and Nantahala Mountain ranges meet.  Hambidge is 100 miles from Atlanta, and 80 miles from Asheville, North Carolina.

Hambidge is the oldest artists’ residency program in the Southeast, and one of the oldest in the nation, founded in 1934, to provide artists and other creative thinkers with the setting, solitude, and time necessary to create,

HAMBIDGE CENTER

Meeting House from search Courtesy of Hambidge House

Mary Crovatt became involved with Jay Hambidge (1867–1924), an artist and writer who achieved fame with his books on design and “dynamic symmetry.”  Though they never married, she took his last name.  After his death, she had envisioned a place in the Georgia mountains where crafts and agriculture could be practiced according to the principles developed by Jay.  She expanded dynamic symmetry and imagined a self-sufficient lifestyle emerging from the practice of balance and proportion.  In his memory, she created the Hambidge Center, believing that creativity can best be nurtured through working closely with nature.

In the early days of Hambidge, she employed local women to create exceptional weavings, but with the industrialization of the 1950s and the availability of steady mill jobs, the weavers slowly disbanded.  Hambidge broadened the scope of the center and invited creative artists and friends to come for extended stays there.  

One landscape architect often brought his son along with him; Eliot Wigginton returned to the Hambidge Center while a teacher in the area in 1966. Discussions with other Hambidge guests inspired him to develop the Foxfire program, in which students explored their local and regional heritage for the magazine that they created under his guidance.   

Foxfire books  from eBay“The teacher’s approach put to action John Dewey’s progressive premise that classroom learning should be a form of democratic life in which students actively demonstrate their knowledge and skills by immediately using them to improve society.”  [in Carl Glickman, KAPPAN, Feb. 2016: p. 55]

Foxfire remains alive where it was created.  For others, “it is realistic and imperative to expect that students today can apply what they are learning in English, math, science, history, and the arts to making their communities healthier, more caring, economically viable, and aesthetically better places to live.  That would be the ultimate success for Foxfire and for our country.”  [Glickman, p. 59]

Mary Crovatt Hambidge, from native of coastal Georgia to New York model and actress, to student and creative artist and weaver, to builder and visionary to missionary for the arts, remains in spirit as a driving force at Hambidge today.

. . .

The Hambidge Center has gathered many of her writings and papers and put them together in a book Apprentice in Creation: The Way Is Beauty.

“Work is one form of worship.” 

“I’d rather be one little cog in the wheel of truth than the entire wheel in a machine of lies.”

“What the world needs today is love, not religion.  …psychological love.  Religion comes from love, not love from religion.  The world was created by love, not religion.  Religion is man made.”

“Never have the forces of the world met together with such power.  Shall it be for destruction or creation?  I believe in the divinity of man and the immortality of his soul, therefore I believe that creation will triumph.”

“All life is working towards a state of exaltation.  One does not stay in this state, but by means of it, one is led into that world of beauty where one remains.  Moments of ecstasy come when the divine inner beauty of things, of life, is overpowering.”

“One knows that everything that contributes to this life that goes on, this making of perfection, is important.  Everything we suffer, every shortcoming, every weakness we must struggle against is the result of someone who has gone before who has not conquered it.  If we abandon the fight, it is not only we who suffer but those who come after.”

“I know now that to lose one’s faith in humanity is to lose one’s faith in God.  Humanity is God.  Life only is God, and humanity is the highest expression of Life.”

© The Jay Hambidge Art Foundation Question_mark_(black_on_white)

 

 

“You can’t tell a book by its cover.”  “Read the book first.”  Really?

“Time traveling is very confusing.”  –Rachel McAdams

“A movie, for me, is a completely heart-, gut-level experience.  And occasionally, the mind comes into play to sort of engage what’s happening…but mostly movies are not observed in the mind.  And often, when your energy goes into your mind to watch a movie, you disengage from the story, and it takes a little while to get pulled back.” –Bruce Joel Rubin, Screenwriter

“The movie is gonna exist alongside the book.  But I think you can get in trouble if you don’t give the movie a life of its own.  If you don’t have time to tell it in the movie, you can’t assume the audience knows it, because you have to tell your story for people who haven’t read the book, and who are maybe gonna read the book later as well.”  “  Gomez,” Ron Livingston

“You can create the illusion of a novelistic feeling in a film, but it’s not really what film does best, for the most part.  I think films are probably closer to a short story.  Films work toward a single cataclysmic event…most of the time at the end, and that’s a short story: ‘When is it gonna happen?  How is it gonna happen?’”  –Robert Schwentke, Director

“…there is a presence that goes beyond death.  I play with that a lot in the movie Ghost.  I play with it a little bit in Jacob’s Ladder.  It’s a theme I really care about.  The great love stories are always stories that are ultimately about loss…about not being able to have forever, in the physical sense, the one you love. 

“As a writer, I get this enormous joy of knowing I get two hours at any given moment to talk to the world.  But I realized early on that each movie is like a sentence, an idea, one idea.  

“And a career, if you’re lucky to have a career, is a paragraph.  And that’s what I want.  I want to be able to have one paragraph of understanding that I can share with the world.  And all of these films put together, I think, create that paragraph.  And Time Traveler’s Wife fits into that paradigm perfectly for me.

“It’s not a full 100-percent statement of what it means to be free of death, but it is a real intimation of love continuing beyond time.”  –Bruce Joel Rubin

© 2008 Internationale Scarena Film.

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