Category Archives: Art & Literature

Ai Weiwei

Image result for Ai WeiweiAi Weiwei once dropped a Ming vase for artistic purposes. The photographs above record this.

His Sunflower Seeds Exhibition is a room full of ceramic sunflower seeds that are so authentic, people are afraid to walk on them. Chairman Mao was the sun while the Chinese people were the sunflowers, who supported the revolution.

Since the revolution, everything is checked by the government to make sure it’s politically correct. Unfortunately, Mao made young people turn against their families, the police and their teachers. It’s estimated that 70 million people were murdered under his regime.

Image result for Ai WeiweiAi says the West tolerates China, but that won’t help them become a modern society.  Ai’s name is blocked in China. His phone is monitored, and his blog is censored. Social media is also blocked because the free exchange of ideas threatens the Chinese dictatorship.

The Chinese government beat Ai, imprisoned him and bulldozed his art studio; and yet, Ai says he still trusts people. Ai created an installation that replicates the Chinese interrogation rooms. He said he didn’t get a lawyer after they arrested him, and they threatened to lock him away forever.

His crime? Creating artwork and blogging.

In spite of this, Ai Weiwei encourages young people to get involved with social media because of its power. He says one individual can make a difference.

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Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovic is a performance artist from Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Like many artists, she deals with pain through art. Marina never felt loved enough. Her mother beat her; she never kissed her. Her parents fought. In spite of this, Marina wants to lift the human spirit through art.

The best advice a professor gave her: “A good artist creates one good work in her lifetime. A great artist creates two good works.”

Marina’s advice to artists:Image result for Marina Abramovic

“If you draw with your right hand, keep drawing until you can draw with your eyes closed. Then stop and draw with your left hand. Don’t ever get too comfortable.”

When Mariana taught art, she told her students to take a hundred sheets of paper. Over the course of the semester, she made the students write down all their good ideas and put them in a stack. The bad ideas were thrown into a wastebasket. At the end of the semester, she said it was the bad ideas that were the best ideas. In other words, go where you’re afraid to go. Try new things. Failure is a teacher.

Artist William Kentridge would agree with her. He said sometimes the best ideas are really bad.

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William Kentridge

Image result for William KentridgeWilliam Kentridge is a brilliant artist from South Africa. His background is drawing, theater and film. He does a cross-medium between different genres. He doesn’t work with a script or a storyboard. Oddly enough, he had no work experience by age 30, so his friends said no one would hire him. Then Kentridge concluded that he was an artist.

Kentridge uses art to make sense of the world, particularly through animated films. Like Enrique Martinez Celaya and Marina Abramovic, Kentridge believes in the power of failure. He said you can be rescued by one’s failures, and sometimes the best ideas are really bad.

Profound Statement One

Kentridge says there’s desperation in all certainty. People will come in with armies to prove their certainty. Uncertainty is okay, whether political or religious. You can see the world as a series of facts and photographs, or you can see the world as unfolding.

Historically, Kentridge is right. If you disagreed with the Inquisition, the leaders of the French Revolution, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, or Mao, you were either killed or sent to prison. Sometimes your friends and family were also killed. Today in America, if you express a different opinion, the Press comes after you, or you’re crucified through social media. But to be open-minded, to see the world as unfolding is exciting.

Profound Statement Two

Kentridge said every artist uses other people’s pain as well as their own. There’s an appropriation in other people’s distress in being a writer or an artist.

He’s absolutely right! Thank goodness art helps us make sense of the world. Not to mention, art is a healing tool.

William Kentridge is not only an artist, but a philosopher.




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Maya Lin

Image result for vietnam war memorialMaya Lin is the creator of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. She’s an architect, a landscape painter and an environmentalist. All her artwork is focused on nature, terrain and topography. She grew up in Ohio, where she spent a lot of time in her dad’s ceramics studio.

Lin is sensitive to her Chinese cultural heritage. Between 1872 and 1940s, the Chinese couldn’t become American citizens. They were the first to sue for civil rights. I write about the American government’s discrimination toward the Chinese in my book The Preacher’s Daughters.  

Lin says the past is here to inform us. But do we learn from the past? Professor J. Rufus Fears from Oklahoma University says, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but men and women repeat history.”

Image result for maya linLin tells people to get back to the child in you. Get back to discovery. Be curious. Just experience something; be in the moment. She describes art as another language, another voice. It captures the time we’re in, and art will be with us until the end of time.

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Jeff Koons

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Balloon Dog

Jeff Koons is a great source of inspiration to me. He said his older sister did everything better than him; then he found something he was finally good at: art.

Art gave Koons a sense of self. He was trained at the Chicago Art Institute. His art is expensive to make and to buy. One of his balloon sculptures sold for $26 million dollars in London. His Balloon Dog is very popular; his Silver Bunny is an icon.

Like Andy Warhol, Koons is a celebrity artist. I admire his uplifting statements.

Koons said, “What people want to do the most in life is what they avoid the most. The job of an artist is to make a gesture and really show people their potential; then people will live to their full potential. It’s not the object or the image that’s important. Art happens inside the viewer; that’s where the value is.”

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Michael Jackson and pet

How true! Art isn’t about the sculpture, the painting, the movie or the book. It’s how art impacts you and has the power to change your life.



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If You’re Going to Fail, Fail Better

In western society, we’re judged by how much money we make and by our position. Perfectionism and hard work are highly valued, and unfortunately, lead to burn out. In America, more people visit the doctor for stress and for stress-related illnesses than for any other reason. Failure is not tolerated.

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Marina Abramovic

Why not?

Performance artist Marina Abramovic said failure is a teacher. Artist Enrique Martinez Celaya agrees with her. Celaya says the art process leads to many failures. The avant-garde believed that failure led to success. Eastern religions believe in “failing better.” After all, failure taught Thomas Edison to repeatedly innovate. Regarding the lightbulb, he said, “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

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Enrique Martinez Celaya

As a writer, I wrote for many years before my first book was published. Now I realize that failure and rejection should not depress or discourage us. Failure makes us develop a thick skin. It teaches us to innovate, and it leads to self-discovery. Remember, Mozart and Van Gogh didn’t become famous until after their deaths. But even if you don’t succeed in the world’s eyes, let alone become famous, it’s the process of making art that creates unspeakable joy and leads to self-discovery.

So don’t shun failure. Welcome it!

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Keith Haring

Image result for keith haringSince my daughter is getting her MFA, I’ve learned a lot about art over the years. Of course, we always loved modern and contemporary art, so I’ll do a series of posts on contemporary art, beginning with one of my favorite artists, Keith Haring.

Haring is a graffiti artist from the 1980s. When you’re an artist, art naturally comes out of you. Haring couldn’t stop drawing. He drew his figures on everything that didn’t move, including the New York subway, something he got arrested for. Still, Haring kept drawing. His figures are playful. They make people smile.

Haring attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Walt Disney and Andy Warhol greatly influenced him. Haring said images can function like words and drawings can become a vocabulary. Most importantly, art must be fun. After all, if it’s not fun, why do it?

Image result for keith haringWarhol taught Haring to be humble and generous and to love life. He said go against anything that hurts people.

Unfortunately, Haring died in 1990 of AIDS at the tender age of 32, but his work lives on.

What a talented young man!


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The Theory of Evolution Isn’t New

The Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun.

I recently learned that the Theory of Evolution isn’t new. The ancient Greeks believed that lower forms of life evolved into higher forms of life while other Greeks believed the world was “intelligently designed.” Even St. Augustine said you can’t take the Book of Genesis literally; it should be interpreted as an allegory, which many liberals would agree with.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a famous naturalist, described the course of life on earth as an evolutionary process; even kindness could be inherited.

Charles Lyell, a geologist, said the earth had evolved. Darwin’s grandfather also believed in evolution. Truly, the 19th century was the age of evolutionary thought. After all, man had evolved from cavemen. Now there were great advances in science and technology.

Then God reminds us that we’re not gods at all. We built skyscrapers like great mountains against a red horizon. Then the Titanic sinks and shocks the world. We built airplanes and made trans-Atlantic flights. Then airplanes were used as dive-bombers to murder innocent civilians, sadly depicted by Picasso’s Guernica, a painting that became famous overnight for depicting total war.

Then why does Darwin get all the credit for the Theory of Evolution?

Honestly, I don’t know. These ideas have been around since the ancient Greeks, and the same old arguments about evolution and intelligent design continue to this day.

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The Middle Ages

In western culture, the Middle Ages is the time after the decline of Rome and before the Renaissance. The knights we see in Hollywood movies don’t represent the conflicting views of this historical age. It was a time when society tortured people and burned them at the stake, but it was also a time of great art and architecture.

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Notre Dame, Paris, 1163 AD

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was built during this time. This was still during the Roman Empire. The reason building came to a halt was man forgot how to manufacture concrete.

The Duomo in Florence didn’t have its dome completed for decades until Brunelleschi and one of the Medicis visited Rome to study classical architecture. After they “rediscovered” concrete, the dome was completed.

The Medieval townspeople watching the Duomo being finished was a form of entertainment. Unfortunately, so were public executions. This is the strangeness of the Middle Ages: a time of Giotto, Dante, and Da Vinci, but also a time of backwardness based in Old Testament law.

Duomo, Florence, 1294

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The Black Madonnas of Europe

For years I’ve heard about “Black Jesus.” I personally know a ministry that split over this. It’s sad what people focus on. And yet, a man is suing a New York City art museum because of European art depicting Jesus as Caucasian. The man said these paintings made him feel inferior.


Yes, really.

Afrocentrism points to the Black Madonnas of Europe to “prove” that Jesus and his mother were black. There are about 400 to 500 Black Madonnas in Europe, some in the Byzantine style.

My Polish grandmother had Our Lady of Czestochowa hanging over her bed. As a kid, the icon looked creepy, so I disliked it. Then one day the painting suddenly disappeared, so I asked about it.

My grandmother said the painting mysteriously fell off her wall; then a neighbor died. Some time later, the painting fell off the wall again, and then a friend died. She put the painting in her basement, so no more harm would follow.

Black Madonna with Caucasian features

There are many legends surrounding Our Lady of Czestochowa, the protector of Poland. One legend said Poland’s enemies found the icon and tried to destroy it with their swords. (The painting has a gash in Mary’s right cheek.) Then the raiders tossed the icon in the fire, but the painting wouldn’t burn: the faces merely turned black.

Now let’s look at the facts…

My daughter was an art major. Her adviser from Yale taught an art interpretation class. When you study art, you examine every aspect of a work like a detective. You only look at the facts. The title of a work may or may not be a clue about the work’s meaning. Some artists like Mark Rothko refused to label their work. Other artists purposely mislabel their work.

After you examine every aspect of a work, you compare it to a similar work of that period to see if there is a trend or other similar features in that work. Then you carefully summarize your conclusions.

Pharaoh with Negroid features

The Black Madonnas of Europe were from the medieval period. Not everyone in Europe is light-skinned. The people of southern Europe are dark-skinned. The reasons are obvious: southern Europe is close to Africa. Intermarriage and slavery contributed to a mixing of the races. However, if you study the facial features of the Black Madonnas, they are Caucasian. By this, I mean their eyes, nose and lips. Whereas, if you study sculpture from southern Egypt, you can tell the Pharaohs were black, even though they are made of stone without any pigmentation.

Pharaoh with Negroid features

Remember, every aspect in art lends a clue. Art interpreters are detectives, who examine clues.

Therefore, I conclude that the Black Madonnas of Europe were…

Purposely painted that way—dark-skinned with Caucasian features.

Whatever the case, the artwork is fascinating, and so are the legends behind it.

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