Art for the Blind

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In the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, has a Touch Tour, for the visually impaired. In addition to sculptures that can be touched, there are three-dimensional representations of some of the pieces, including Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Standing in front of the majestic piece, we could simultaneously feel the winds showering her with roses and see them in full color. Her coy attempt to cover herself seemed every more futile under our curious fingers.

Of course, we recognize writing and painting as art; most of us can literally and metaphorically see the similarities. However, touch yields similarities in line and form.

http://www.uffizi.org/artworks/the-birth-of-venus-by-sandro-botticelli/

Consider the following vivid visual descriptions of “The Blind Woman” by Ted Kooser:

Her brown shoes splashed on
into the light. The moment was like
a circus wagon rolling before her
through puddles of light, a cage on wheels,
and she walked fast behind it,
exuberant, curious, pushing her cane
through the bars, poking and prodding,
while the world cowered back in a corner.
  • Read the start of the poem at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/42645; you can also listen to the piece at the same site. Describe your favorite color or time of day as if you are delivering it to a person who cannot perceive it with her eyes.

Ai Weiwei: Political Art

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According to Bertolt Brecht, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”

We could not know we were headed into Ai Weiwei’s brain from the lifeboats hanging from the Palazzo Strozzi. We knew, of course, the rubber boats represented the plight of refugees. We knew of Ai Weiwei’s reputation as a dissident, as a prisoner, as a spokesperson for justice and against corruption and censorship.

However, we were overcome with his grief, rage, and  agitation as we were delivered into his hippocampus. We recognized its horseshoe shape and how the monumental installations we encountered there helped him–and us–to process history and emotion.

In the second piece, Snake Bag, he sewed 360 backpacks to represent 360 children killed at a school when an earthquake in China’s Sichuan province killed approximately 90,000 people; as visible in the companion video that shows the recovery of the inadequate rebar, the massive destruction was due to the government cutting corners on construction.

In another series, we see Ai Weiwei’s left middle finger extended to the White House, the Eiffel Tower, Hong Kong, Tiananmen Square, and the Mona Lisa, among others; these pieces are title A Study in Perspective. His perspective is clear. He even has wallpaper that also has patterns of middle fingers.

An ivory porcelain plot of flowers is centered in the middle of one of the rooms. These flowers represent his rebellion against censorship, surveillance, and control. He further addresses restrictions he faced by recreating the surveillance cameras (in marble), handcuffs (in wood), and hangers (from his imprisonment, in wood).

Film, selfies, pamphlets, 32 Qing Dynasty stools assembled into a circle, 3200 porcelain crabs, Lego portraits of Dante Alighieri and Galileo Galilei and three self-portraits (also in Legos) further intensify the multimedia experience.

I am inspired by this tour of Ai Weiwei’s brain and heart. I am reminded that, especially in the face of oppression and restriction, we must use all of the resources we have at hand to fight for what is right. Art can be mirror, hammer, souvenir, warning, flare, lighthouse, tank, lifeboat…

 

The Mask of Evil

by Bertolt Brecht

On my wall hangs a Japanese carving,

The mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer.
Sympathetically I observe

The swollen veins of the forehead, indicating

What a strain it is to be evil.

  • Ai Weiwei’s installations and representations function as Brecht’s “mask of evil.” What does your character/speaker have or make to remind her of “what a strain it is to be evil?”

 

Florentine Violin Maker

violin-maker

My father was a woodworker. He could make cabinets, furniture, and fine designs with his hands. He would sand and stain and sand some more long into midnight.

He would deliberately discover a piece of art in the trunk of a tamarisk tree or a common two-by-four.

On a side street in Florence, M and I watch a craftswoman producing a violin. Peering through her workshop window. Though I often joke that my hands are made only for typing and should not be counted on to sew, to whittle, or even to cook, I can’t help thinking about how her work is similar to drafting a piece of creative writing, how the end product requires the effort to shape a piece into a beautiful sound as well as story.

Speaking of beautiful sounds and stories, spring semester means students are collaborating on blogs again:

Daily Bread 400: https://dailybread400.wordpress.com/

Blissful Binge: https://blissfulbinge.wordpress.com/

Passions of 8: https://passionsof8.wordpress.com/

World of Actions & Reactions: https://creativeblogforclass.wordpress.com/

All Things Dreamy: https://allthingsdreamyblog.wordpress.com/

Please follow them, like them, and tell your friends about these diligent and creative writers.

Hola, Gatito or Hello, Kitty?

Cat

Do you talk to the cat in Spanish? She has lived her whole life in a sunny garden in Oaxaca.

She is accustomed to tourists. Do you whisper to her in English?

What are you talking to the cat for anyway? I mean, what do you have to discuss? You probably shouldn’t broach politics or religion–even if that is what she seems to want to chit-chat about.

Certainly don’t mention Flaco, your dog friend in the park or the two felines you left at home. There’s no need to discuss plans for the weekend, progress on that writing project, what you like most about visiting her residence; these are all trivia.

Clearly, she agrees the weather is splendid and her coat is exquisite; words would be redundant.

Why waste a sentence when you can tell her how much you love her with a firm stroke from her ears to her tail?

A Little Language

–Robert Duncan

I know a little language of my cat, though Dante says
that animals have no need of speech and Nature
abhors the superfluous. My cat is fluent. He
converses when he wants with me. To speak

is natural. And whales and wolves I’ve heard
in choral soundings of the sea and air
know harmony and have an eloquence that stirs
my mind and heart—they touch the soul. Here

Dante’s religion that would set Man apart
damns the effluence of our life from us
to build therein its powerhouse.

It’s in his animal communication Man is
true, immediate, and
in immediacy, Man is all animal.

Read more at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46322

Listen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dIAqmJREMU

  • What do you or a character talk to the cat (or another animal) about? Why? Try out dialogue/monologue using this as a device.

 

Mariposa

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The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

http://www.phys.unm.edu/~tw/fas/yits/archive/oliver_thesummerday.html

Some of my plans for my wild and precious life:

  1. On the days I must work, as well as those dedicated to leisure, I will commit myself to absorbing the golden tips of daylight into dusk, of lingering with the cats into the cooling of the day—and season.
  2. I will hold the boundless freedom and joy of summer within me to help me as I strive to be fair and frank and kind to those I encounter on my path. I will leave no strangers in my wake.
  3. After traveling widely in new lands, I will open myself to learning from thousands of grasshoppers and butterflies. And, I will return with new seeds to sow and nurture.
  4. I will generously share the harvest and gratefully receive the bounty of others.

Speaking of bounty, fall semester means creative writing students are collaborating on blogs again:

https://literarytrailmix.wordpress.com/

https://d8lyrantsandreviews.wordpress.com/

https://buddingwritersdaytoday.wordpress.com/

https://socialhawkwardness.wordpress.com/

https://thedailyhassle.wordpress.com/

Please follow these explorers, comment on their words, and like them. They may, as I, have more questions than answers, but they will take you with them as they celebrate our world.

Spanish Class – Calaveras


Calaveras are small poems that are often political in nature and are common during the celebration of Dias de Los Muertos. Because early in the week, I wrote a piece that included Donald Trump having a nightmare (that undocumented people can vote), my teacher decided to have me try a couple of stanzas out about him. It was easy to find words that rhymed with hands and hair and, believe it or not, avarice, but I had to bury xenophobia and racism within the lines. The results were passable, nothing inspired.

The homework, then, was to practice the calaveras in their other form, between colleagues or friends with an exaggeration of virtues or characteristics. Thus, my teacher requested one about us. Harder than I anticipated. Much harder.

I’m starting with the Spanish:

Heather es una profesora con pelo gris.
Angeles es una estrella bella, una actriz
quien puede llevar los papeles de princesa o catrina.
Y Heather puede ser una pepinilla.

Heather is a professor with gray hair.
Angeles is a beautiful star, an actress
who can play the roles of princess or catrina.
And Heather could be a pickle.

  • Try out a calavera: see guidelines above, and it should be at least a four-line stanza with end rhyme (and internal rhyme, if you can manage that as well).