Hues of Humanity: Expressionistic Faces and Figures

Skin color is something that virtually everyone thinks about. It more often than not determines who is loved or hated; married or discarded; becomes rich or poor; exalted or exterminated.

When looking at skin pigmentation, it occupies a very small group of hues in a broad spectrum of natural color—just black to brown to tan to pinkish to anemic white. Even if we consider ourselves anti-racist, it is probably the first thing we notice when meeting someone for the first time.

The following mixed-media pastel drawings were done in an expressionistic style that relies on emotionalism rather realism to get the viewer’s attention. 

As a young artist growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and ‘60s, there were many outstanding German and German-Jewish refugee artists and intellectuals who made their way in the New World as teachers. They brought with them an expressionistic ethos and lens on the world. They had endured and escaped the horrors and ruins of Hitler’s Europe, and the collapse of the old order.

Nothing was certain anymore in the arts and sciences—but everything was possible.

At the time, I was trying to endure and escape the ennui and anomie of Mid-century, Middle America with its race riots, anti-war protests, and profoundly disorienting sexual and psychological experimentation care of the Pill and LSD. It all seems so long ago—and like yesterday.

Now in my 70th year, I am contending with the collapse of global capitalism, with its unfettered free markets for everything under the sun, and a  coronavirus pandemic that is wreaking havoc on everything and everyone in its path.

The expressionistic eye seems to me to be an appropriate way to look at this wreckage and possible transformation. In many ways it is the most human and immediate response to all that I feel. Perhaps the images may also reflect some of your interior emotions.

View the full exhibit at CreativeShare.com.


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Drawn to Me: A wordless diary in torn paper and line drawings in a time of pandemic

One of the most frustrating tasks that an artist confronts is to publicly explain one’s unconscious creative process. It is a mystery to oneself, and trying to make the ineffable understandable to others is something of a fool’s errand.

What I do know is that in early June of 2020, I began making collages from black ink line drawings.

The drawings were penned on either white or cream-colored paper. Most of these rectangles were torn at the edges and surrounded by geometric shapes that were cut by eye. The color palette is subdued. The overall look of the pieces is restrained.

My best guess is that I was trying to both express and contain my anxiety about the Covid-19 pandemic that was beginning to accelerate in St. Pete. A  significant portion of the local population remained oblivious to the dangers posed by the coronavirus and refused to wear masks in public spaces. This selfish stupidity crossed all age, gender, and racial lines. It demonstrated a genuine “equal opportunity” dumbness and lack of concern for your neighbors.

I completed about 27 collages over a three-week period and then stopped. As the medical experts predicted, there was an exponential rise in Cv19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by the premature opening of bars, restaurants, and businesses.

Both my wife and I are well over 65 and diabetic. If we contract this particular infection before there are effective drugs to control and kill the coronavirus, we will likely suffer major organ damage and possible death. That stark reality drained my usual enthusiasm for art-making for a few weeks. Like a character in a Kurt Vonnegut novel, I just stopped because I could not think of a good reason to move forward.

But, as the old Yiddish proverb says:

“God should protect us from what we can learn to live with.”

My creativity returned and the “Drawn to Me” series has transitioned into the “Hues of Humanity” mixed-media pastel collages. These images are juicier and more unrestrained than their predecessors.

So it goes.

View the full exhibit at CreativeShare.com.


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Staring at Pavement: The beauty of weathered, worn, and cracked surfaces

Like many people who liked to work out in well-appointed and air-conditioned gyms, I was forced by the coronavirus pandemic to start walking outside for my daily exercise.

It is a safe, cheap, and readily available way to get fresh air into the lungs and the blood circulating, and avoid dangerous virus-laden interior public spaces.

I live on the edge of the leafy, lovely, and historic Old Northeast section of St. Petersburg, Florida. It has one of the largest number of charming, early 20th century craftsmen-style houses in the country. But for some reason it also has some of the most visually intriguing but poorly maintained sidewalks on the planet.

This state of disrepair necessitated that I constantly look down at the pavement to make sure that I don’t trip and break a hip or sprain an ankle. As someone long-in-the-tooth and gray-in-the-hair, those are dire prospects.

But as a lifelong artist and student of Asian art, I immediately realized that I had stumbled onto a cornucopia of “Wabi Sabi.” This is the Japanese aesthetic that finds beauty in the imperfect, impermanent, incomplete, rusted, ragged, torn, decaying, chipped, fractured, and irregular.

Wabi Sabi celebrates the changing and transitory nature of all things and beings in this world. And the inevitable movement from new to old, bright to dull, and complex to elemental.

That is an apt description of the world in the grip of a seemingly unstoppable Covid-19.

These images were taken with my old iPhone. Initially, I also had a few of the jpgs manipulated in Photoshop and printed out onto cotton rag paper. I then drew on them with metallic markers to create abstract designs—all very Wabi Sabi.

I hope the images tempt you to reflect on the unexpected and imperfect beauty that is all around us—even beneath our feet. Ultimately, we are embedded in natural world that we can little control or much understand.

View the full exhibit at CreativeShare.com.


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I Am Your Leader

This short digital slideshow explores the serious basis of leadership in a humorous way. The soundtrack was produced as part of an organizational development program for middle managers over two decades ago. The art was created at the start of Donald Trump’s presidency in 2016. Mixed together, they produce both a laugh and a shudder.


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Creative Workers in a Post-Pandemic World: Dreams, Disappointments and Opportunities

This blog entry was primarily written for creative GenZers and Millennials who are hoping to establish careers in art, design, and communications in scary times.

This audience includes people between the ages of 17 to 35 and their parents or partners. But the content of the blog might also resonate for mid-career creative professionals and other knowledge-based white collar workers.

I am a 70-year-old white male and diabetic. This puts me in the “high risk” category for succumbing to COVID-19. This is most definitely a distinction rather than an honor. But it is not the first time that I have had to cope with the imminent prospect of death, chronic pain, and disability. So this makes me something of a cautious optimist by both circumstance and temperament.

https://www.creativeshare.com/bio.php

My art and video work has dealt with Post-Holocaust themes for over 30 years. Their leitmotif is the primacy of human resilience and creativity amid unimaginable death, destruction, and disruption.

https://artnothate.com/index.php

The horrors of World War II, the Holocaust, and Nazi fascism can give us both a wider historical perspective and concrete reasons to hope for a considerably better future.

In the six years between 1939 and 1945 there were a minimum of 55 million military and civilian deaths, and at least 20 million deaths from war-related starvation and famine. Germany, Russia, and Japan lay in ruins after the conflict. There were at least 9 million displaced persons and refugees in Western Europe alone after WWII.

According to Google articles, at this moment, there just under 2 million people infected worldwide with COVID-19 and about 123,000 reported deaths.

Yet most of the developed world still has electricity, potable water for drinking and sanitary purposes, adequate food, functioning municipal government, uninterrupted phone and internet services, functioning pharmacies and emergency medical services, and daily mail and package deliveries.

Any discussion of possible future scenarios requires some reasonable current assumptions. Here are mine for you to consider:

  1. It is most likely the pandemic will end with a whimper rather than a bang in about a year. No one knows exactly what the economy or political situation will be. But, as always, there will be winners and losers. For those who provided essential online services, their careers will probably continue to flourish. The healthcare industry most likely will continue to struggle long past the pandemic.
  2. Most educated young Americans will have a life expectancy of at least 80 years (possibly a lot longer). And advances in medical science will allow you to function at a very high level of both mental and physical agility well into your 70s and beyond.
  3. AI (artificial intelligence), VR (virtual reality), PA (predictable analytics), and 3D printing will permeate all the creative fields. It will demand that most “creative types” have a basic grasp of computer science, statistics, and economics, as well as the basics of their current creative domain.
  4. You will probably change jobs and spouses/partners multiple times over your lifetime and have few if any children. So life will always tend to be in flux and self-involved (because of small extended family and few real non-digital friends).
  5. There will be some form of universal basic income, universal healthcare, and universal access to lifelong learning in all technologically advanced countries. But this will not likely happen in the U.S. for another 25 years (until most of the Baby Boom generation has died off).
  6. The threats posed by climate change, nuclear war, biological war, cyber war, internet collapse, species extinction, pollution of air and oceans, pandemics, global economic inequality, and societal Future Shock will still challenge humanity in the future, much as it does today. This Pandora’s box of problems will cause pervasive pandemics of psychological depression and anxiety disorders in a digitally connected world.

Below are two thought-provoking quotes worth considering as you begin to both plan for your uncertain future endeavors and negotiate a precarious present.

The first is from a futurist and polymath named Peter Russell:

Unexpressed grief is often sublimated into anger and blame. It is easy to get angry at the corporations, the politicians, the wealthy, the Church, the military, the terrorists, or anyone else we think is to blame for our predicament. They may to be blame for particular situations that have arisen, but ultimately there is no one to blame for the overall unraveling.

It is the inevitable exponential development, with all its consequences, that has brought us to this point. We’d have ended up in a similar situation whatever path we took.

Will we be able to move beyond fear, denial, anger and blame to allow in our grieving and through that move on to acceptance, facing an unknown future with courage and an open heart?

Will we be able to let go of our attachment to how things should be, our hope that things will turn out well in the end, and accept that this is the way it is for a technologically empowered intelligence spinning ever-faster into the eye of its evolutionary hurricane?

The final thoughts were written by the bongo-drum playing, Nobel-prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman:

Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter.

Explore the world.

Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best.

Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.


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Can an invisible gorilla help you to think more clearly while under stress?

Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.

This basic psychology experiment has a group of students divided into two cohorts wearing black and white shirts. They pass a basketball around among themselves.

A short video of the game is shown to another group of students. They are asked to count the exact number of completed passes.

During this short experiment, a person wearing a gorilla suit wanders through the passing game, pounds chest, and walks out of the frame of view.

When the psychologists questioned the observers after watching the video, roughly half the students had not seen the gorilla.

They were so focused on trying to correctly do the assigned task that they missed the gorilla.

But do not be quick to laugh off this academic exercise. All of us tend to see only what we are looking for and miss a lot of other important stuff.

In a stressful period of ongoing pandemic, optimists will tend to unconsciously look for news stories that confirm their positive point of view. For instance, the 103-year-old Oregon man who beat the coronavirus and lived to celebrate his 104th birthday.

Conversely, pessimists will unconsciously seek out articles that confirm their more negative view of the world. This includes horrific stories and photos from New York City of overflowing makeshift morgues.

Both the more sanguine and morose among us are each seeing a very real part of the picture.

Perhaps the most important question to ask is what information can help me, my loved ones, and my community to better cope with a pandemic of uncertain duration and outcome?

Metaphorically, it means both carefully counting the passes and keeping an eye out for a menacing gorilla—or the faint fluttering of a bluebird of hope.

For those of you who wish to learn more about the famous “invisible gorilla” experiment, here is a link to a short and insightful Scientific American blog post. It includes videos of the “invisible gorilla” experiment.


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Assessing risk…one bite of chocolate at time.

Most of us are not credentialed insurance actuaries or bio statisticians. We cannot do technical risk analysis; we cannot see through our clouded emotions to ascertain the most likely outcomes of our actions.

Even the experts doing the big-picture mathematical modeling of the coronavirus pandemic are the first to caution the public that their projections are founded on “best guess” assumptions, and insufficient and often flawed data.

(These disclaimers are seldom touted by the media in their quest for capturing eyeballs and clicks.)

Unfortunately, circumstances now demand that all of us must make daily calculated risks without sufficient expertise or complete information. And, for those of us over 60 with compromised immune systems, these mundane decisions could be matters of life or death.

Even seemingly healthy people in the prime of life can catch COVID-19 and have a terrible time with the fever and associated respiratory problems.

Also, it seems that one can get sick from the virus more than once. A single bout of the disease might not ensure immunity to future infection.

My wife and I just completed a rather mundane, and in better times, trivial “risk analysis” about me going out to purchase dark chocolate.

Our 34-year-old daughter has been grocery shopping for us for the last several weeks. It is something for which we are most grateful, but not happy about. But we accept the situation as the new normal.

Unfortunately, the Publix food store near her was totally out of chocolate. However, an independently owned Schakolad Chocolate Factory shop near us was open and largely bereft of customers.

Both my wife and I are diabetics and can only eat a small amount of sugar-free confections, or items with very high cocoa content and low carb. But, slowly eating dark chocolate brings considerable pleasure into our lives. It is about the only sweet confection in which we can occasionally indulge.

After a few days of Hamlet-like rumination of to “buy or not to buy” and analyzing the various slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, it was decided:

Amy will place a pick-up order by phone. I would wear a wife-made DIY mask and white cotton photography gloves, and take delivery outside the confines of the shop.

As it turned out, the streets of St. Petersburg were largely deserted and the Schakolad store empty of customers. The whole transaction of phoning the clerk from outside the glass door and retrieving the bag of goodies was literally under 20 seconds—maybe less.

The total purchase was about $71.00 for about 2.5 pounds of delicious sugar-free chocolate. This modest purchase will help the entrepreneurial owners of the chocolate shop pay their hardworking and dedicated staff.

By chance, while I was typing this blog entry, my wife was perusing Facebook.

She noticed an entry on a local page that the Schakolad Chocolate Factory had just donated well over 100 goody-filled Easter baskets to the children of healthcare workers at St. Anthony’s Hospital.

Now everyone can have some sweet moments in a dark time.

Our small risk/reward decision turned out to be a good one. The pandemic is projected to peak here in the Tampa Bay over the next four weeks. It will inevitably kill the most vulnerable.

Yet there is reason to believe that kindness, goodwill, and self-sacrifice will also reach its zenith during the period of ascending misery.


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DON’T DO ANYTHING! please sit still

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

These words were written by Blaise Pascal over 400 years ago. He was a distinguished French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic theologian.

Pascal was most definitely not a Dr. Fauci or Dali Lama in a time of global novel coronavirus pandemic and panic. But this French genius polymath really understood the human dilemma.

Our mind does not like to be quiet enough to hear what that “small still voice” within us has to say.

We will do literally anything to avoid spending time observing our own thoughts without the usual  chronic chatter, commentary, regrets, resentments, self-pity, and big definitive opinions on everyone and everything.

The most basic economic and public health truths about the Cv19 scourge is that a large portion of the American public needs to sit quietly at home for an extended period of time while essential workers do what needs to get done.

This sidelined group includes furloughed and fired workers, seniors over 60, children and teenagers, cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, and the disabled.

We are talking about at least 120 million Americans, which is about 30% of the total national population. These are mind-numbing numbers.

The best guess by social scientists is that approximately 75% of Americans are primarily extroverts. They like to party, gossip with friends, and spend the bulk of their waking hours interacting with others.

Although America’s historical roots are to be found in isolated farms, small villages, and “home on the range”, that was a long time ago.

Currently, around 94 million Americans live adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico. Add in the large inland metropolises of Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Phoenix, Denver, and over half the country is decidedly urban.

For these metropolites, social life often centers around stadium sports, concert halls, parks, mega-churches, shopping malls and restaurants, crowded beaches and waterfronts, and over-crowded highways.

Now government authorities have shut down virtually all public venues. Citizens have also been sternly advised not to congregate in groups of more than 10.

Without Facebook, YouTube, Google, Cable TV, and all the delectable diversions to be found in cyberspace, much of our population would literally being going mad from the social isolation.

But there is a viable solution to the emotional difficulties often associated with both too little in-person social interaction and too much digital media consumption.

It is Mindfulness Meditation.

In the end, we all have to live in our own mind and body as they are. And learn to accept what cannot be changed in the present moment.

Please consider adding a 10-minute meditation practice, twice a day, to your schedule. It will tend to make you more cheerful, more centered, and less emotionally reactive to disturbing news and stimuli.

Many hours spent hiding in front of a glowing screen can create mental dullness and needless ennui. We will need our personal reservoir of untapped psychological strength for the uncertain and challenging days ahead.

Below are several web links to meditation resources that I have found insightful and helpful.

Meditation in an emergency: A podcast with Sam Harris

Guided Mindfulness Meditation with Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat Zinn

Healing from Within: Jon Kabat-Zinn (PBS/Bill Moyers)


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Introducing Cv19 Musings: Engaging our creative spirit in a time of pandemic by Bob Barancik

Voices of Faith & Doubt: A dialogue for a time of pandemic

I produced this video in May of 2011. The global financial crisis was at rock bottom and I had just passed my 61st birthday. My prospects in this world were winding down quite fast. Or so it seemed.

Like countless post-war Boomers, I have tried to find a spiritual rock to anchor myself amid the inevitable vicissitudes of life. But, as a lifelong skeptic of both traditional religion and cleverly marketed “new age” spiritual remedies, art has always held more meaning for me than any of mankind’s creeds or sacred texts.

That said, I have always had a soft spot for Ecclesiastes from the Hebrew scriptures and the King James version of the 23rd psalm.

The former speaks starkly of the absurd vanities of powerful men and futility of all human endeavors in the face of death. The latter exquisitely renders the certainty that we all can dwell in the house of the lord forever—presumably in a state of eternal joy.

Now, as a newly-minted 70-year-old “veteran artist,” I find myself in St. Petersburg (Florida) typing out a blog entry when the world, as we knew it, seems again, to be ending.

But one of the very few things that I am certain of is this:

The COVID-19 coronavirus does not spell the demise of the human race or the human adventure. Although I may die during the pandemic, as may you, world civilization will muddle through. It just might not look or feel quite the same as before the pandemic.

Here is a link to a thought-provoking article from Singularity Hub on 16 ways coronavirus may change the way we look at the world.

On a final personal note:

For well over 40 years, I have created videos, paintings, artist books, prints, and web pages on creative responses to a Post-Holocaust world on ArtNotHate.com.

Over the decades, it was my privilege to meet and talk with at least a hundred Jewish survivors of the Nazi death camps. I always asked them if they still believed in God after their ordeals.

The answers were illuminating.

Basically, those who believed in God before WWII still had religious faith. Those who were agnostics and atheists before Hitler were still among the nonbelievers.

But all of these survivors had managed to successfully resettle from Europe to America; find gainful employment; create families; and educate their children. Many lived well into their 70s and contributed to their communities in a myriad of ways.

These survivors gave me a real faith in human resilience and the sanctity of each life.

Perhaps that is a source genuine solace and hope in these perilous times.


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Our Pale Blue Dot: Astronomer Carl Sagan on the smallness of our planet and smallness of our leaders

In the 1970s, Carl Sagan was a distinguished but obscure astronomer at Cornell University.

Then he started appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and writing popular science books. He quickly became both a national celebrity and figure of fun with his stilted manner and quirky voice. Remember “billions and billions?”

Back in those days, NASA was source of great national pride for successfully orbiting astronauts around the earth, and landing Americans on the moon.

It seemed like there was no problem that American can-do ingenuity and technology could not solve. Be it poverty, famine, cancer, war, plague. Whatever the challenge, Uncle Sam could fix it.

 The “Pale Blue Dot” image taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft

But by the late 1980s, Sagan could see that both the earth and global civilization were in dire crisis. The “Pale Blue Dot” was his warning to mankind that this planet is all we have. He beseeched us to treat the environment and each other with respect and love. It was the only path to survival in a cold and desolate universe.

Fast forward to March of 2020.

There is a global pandemic of a novel coronavirus that is severely damaging the world economy, killing thousands of innocent people, and sowing seeds of doubts about the very idea of human progress.

So far, the response by the President of the United States has been mostly short sighted, wrongheaded, and self-serving.

If I were to list web links from respected and generally reliable news sources to all his disgraceful statements and policy blunders, your eyes would glaze over. Why bother to state and restate the obvious, ad nauseam?

Well…

According to the Washington Post on Trump polling data from March 2020, nearly half of adult Americans think that President Trump is doing a good job in managing the crisis.

This would not be life or death news in ordinary times. The usual “different strokes for different folks” philosophy of civic engagement has kept American society largely free from the very worst excesses of political polarization and strife.

But, if nearly half of all Americans prematurely choose to go back to work, return to school, and avoid the chore of frequent hand washing, there is a very high chance of many unnecessary deaths from the coronavirus—probably in the tens of thousands or more.

Perhaps of even greater concern, a sick workforce will struggle to provide the general populace with adequate food, water, electricity, phone and internet service, medical care, mortuary services, police and fire services, education, and public transportation.

Factor in summer hurricane and wildfire season, and you get an unprecedented and genuinely terrifying disruption to daily life for many Americans.

At that point, it is possible the military will declare a state-of-siege if our democratically elected federal, state, and local governments cannot contain the pandemic and provide the most basic necessities of daily life.

I hope that this disturbing scenario is just the product of a feverish imagination and not something within the realm of rational possibility.

Although I believe that the U.S. economy will manage to cope with this emergency in the short term, no one can say for certain what the country or world will be like in 5 to 10 years time.

One hopeful scenario is that the Millennial and Generation Z generations will make things better. These young people are much maligned by many Boomers and members of the Silent Generation.

But if there is one thing that the Cv19 makes most clear, these scolding and entitlement-guzzling old folks won’t be around for all that long. And I speak as a 70-year-old American white male.

Fortunately, those Americans born between roughly 1982 and 1997 harbor more humane attitudes about race, sexuality, and income distribution than previous generations.

The respected Pew Research Center has been perceptively and statistically documenting generational change for over 15 years.

These attitudes suggest a very different and potentially better country for the second half of the 21st century.

Here is a relevant link to the Pew research.


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