"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Joanne Mattera and the Ico Gallery - an Unlove Story

I read Joanne Mattera’s blog on an infrequent basis. Mattera literally wrote the book on encaustic before it became the hot trend that it is. She lives and works in New York City and definitely has a finger on the pulse of what’s happening and popular. She writes a column every Monday on the business of the arts and it’s obvious that she’s well connected to the NYC gallery scene.

Enter Ico Gallery. Actually the full name is Icosahedron Gallerie so you can see why they go by the short version. Ico Gallery is a vanity gallery – that is, they show the work of artists who have paid to be shown. Vanity galleries are on the bottom rung of the gallery ladder, because theoretically no one wants to pay to show work in a gallery if they can get an invitation to show for free.

Fast forward to the point of my post. Ico Gallery invited Joanne Mattera to show with them and she turned them down. They took offense at the turn down and gave Mattera the Hillbilly of the Week Award. If you go to Mattera’s blog, you can follow the whole exchange of comments, recriminations, insults and one up-manships.

It reminds me of the Healthcare debate and of the current state of almost everything in this country. Some people have a vested interest in keeping things status quo, and some people – obviously those on the outside looking in – want to crack the code and even out the playing field.

I looked at several of the Ico Gallery catalogues – all of which are available in their entirety on the website. Some of the work is really interesting and some of it is crap. My opinion? Definitely. Would you agree? Probably in principle but perhaps not case by case.

I looked at the work Mattera posted this week in honor of the Vernal Equinox. Some of it was really interesting and some of it was crap. You get my drift.

What I find troubling is the vehemence of the attacks on both sides. Yikes. Everyone knows common courtesy and respect have both flown the coop, but I can’t seem to adjust. Whatever happened to the big picture – the high ideal – where we strive to be respectful and honoring of others and their beliefs? Where’s humility?

The skeptic in me thinks it must be good for both sides because a good public fight will get their respective blogs a lot of hits. And bloggers love hits. I’ve already wondered whether writing this will get my blog more hits because entering one or the other of the subject’s names into Google might lead to me. I’ll report back.

However. My real point is this – it’s easy to be egocentric and to believe the world revolves around you – or collectively us – that is, those of us who are both in agreement, and friends. And then it’s easy to start making offhand, flippant comments and throwing around insulting names like hillbilly. But anyone who has visited rural Appalachia in the past twenty years and witnessed the devastating poverty there would never ever call anyone a hillbilly again. Not even in fun.

And being bestowed with that title shouldn’t be bandied about. It should be ignored. It takes a certain grace to turn and walk away from insults. I’d like to see a little more of that grace in the world.

Another time: Am I a party pooper? If it’s funny, isn’t it ok? That fine line between mean sarcasm and good humor.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Green Dressing

I love to cook. I keep it simple. Recently our local grocery store HEB, discontinued a marinade dressing we loved. My friend Linda Dawson, in St. Petersburg, especially liked it because it meant her husband could use it as a marinade and then Pete cooked. Everyone loves it when someone else is going to cook. So this recipe is dedicated to Pete Dawson. Try it on salad, or as a topping for chicken or pasta.

¼ c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
¼ c. low fat peanut butter
1 bunch cilantro – discard stems
4 - 6 T. fresh squeezed lime juice (basically to taste)
¼ c. white balsamic vinegar
1 jalapeno chopped and seeded (less if you prefer a milder dressing)
1 T. minced garlic
1 – 2 T. honey (or more if you like dressing on the sweet side)
Dash of Cinnamon

Put everything in the blender and blend until the dressing is smooth.
It will keep at least a week in the fridge.

If it gets thick in the fridge, bring to room temperature before using, or next time leave out some of the olive oil. This cuts down on calories and may taste just fine.

Experiment and let me know what changes you make and how it affects the outcome.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Time for Change

Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
Where the heck the flowers is?

This ditty from my childhood, which somehow seems fitting on this first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere, might make you think I didn’t get much culture growing up, but you’d be wrong. When I was nine we went to see Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. I sobbed my way right through the tender love stories and across the street to a family restaurant where we ate fried chicken and biscuits before we drove home. I can still sing this song from the movie by heart:

When the sky is a bright canary yellow
I forget every cloud I’ve ever seen
So they call me a cock-eyed optimist
Immature and incurably green.

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we’re done and we might as well be dead.
But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
And I can’t get it into my head.

I hear the human race is falling on its face
And hasn’t very far to go
But every whippoorwill is selling me a bill
And telling me it just ain’t so

I could say life is just a bowl of Jello
And appear more intelligent and smart
But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
And I can’t get it into my heart.

According to psychological research It takes ten weeks to forge a new habit. So forget New Year’s resolutions. Why not start something new today – on this, the Vernal Equinox? Let the optimist in you OUT and claim a little incurably green for yourself, while you’re looking for those flowers:

1. Guard your creative space. You can’t make if you don’t leave time for making. There will always be too much to do. Small blocks of time add up. If you can’t set aside big blocks of time, go for short but steady. People who can’t find time haven’t usually made any effort to make time.

2. Get over feeling sorry for yourself. Maybe it’s not enough studio time. It is what it is. Refer back to Item #1. Only you can take care of you.

3. Give something up. Honor yourself and care about making. This doesn’t have to be forever. Only long enough to see whether it works. Chances are very good that you won’t even miss whatever you gave up.

4. Rebuke the tyranny of unfinished projects. If it isn’t finished there is probably a reason why. Screw up your courage and get out all those UFOs. Sort rigorously into four piles –

1. I want to finish this and I am eager to get back to it.
Good. This is a great place to start working a little at a time until it’s done.
2. I want to finish this but I’m stuck.
Pin it up and think it over. No one can critique from the back of the closet or the bottom of a drawer. Give the piece a chance to speak to you.
3. I don’t care enough about this to invest more energy into it.
This is why they invented trade days at the guild, and also Goodwill.
4. I hate this and I hope I never see it again.
This is what scissors and matches are for. And also Goodwill.

5. Claim your right to be an artist. Resolve to answer the question “What do you do?” with the answer, “I am an artist.” when it comes up in the next ten weeks. Say it defiantly and with zeal.

6. Show a little respect for your Mother Earth. Are you recycling to the full extent of your abilities? Paper, plastic, cans and bottles? How dare you buy a crappy iron just because it’s cheap? How many crappy irons does one person have a right to toss into a landfill? Right now the human race IS falling on its face. So help out. Get right with the planet.

7. Quit kidding yourself. Get some perspective. Make a list of what you do during a week and arrange it in order of preference. If making is low on the list it must not matter that much to you. If it doesn’t matter that much, quit worrying about it and proceed with your life. There is enough bad work in the world already. Don’t feel an obligation to add to it. Feel free to attend to the activities that made the List’s top five.

8. Let yourself off the hook. If you love whatever you’re making, that’s fabulous. Drop judgments about whether it’s meaningful enough.

9. Look for meaning. On the other hand, eventually you might get to a place where you just aren’t getting that jazzed about making anymore. If that happens maybe it’s time to think about message, and how to get it into your life.

10. Clear out your creative space in real time. Stuff weighs down making. Yes, it IS possible you will need those bags of denim scraps as soon as you get rid of them. Once again, this is why they invented Goodwill. Get rid of one thing every day for ten weeks. This studio diet will result in a leaner, cleaner space and will return spaciousness to your thinking. Your creative self will thank you.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


This week art quilters are holding their collective breath, waiting to find out whether their quits got into the San Diego Visions exhibition or not. It’s a big deal, because the show is right up there with Quilt National as validation that you’re doing good work in the art quilt world.

Here are my quilts. Both from the Sacred Planet series. Digital prints transformed into yardage by spoonflower.com. Over-dyed, assembled and screen printed before I layered them onto Ecofelt, and added the stitching. I love them.

Neither got into the exhibition. And yes, I was disappointed.

But not surprised.

I know it’s time to admit I’m not really an art quilt maker. I’ve been rejected from lots of quilt exhibitions over the past three years, and every time the thought runs through my head that I ought to wake up and smell the coffee. I’m not getting into quilt shows because my heart isn’t into making quilts. Entering quilt shows is a fall back, because it’s familiar, it’s popular, it’s easy, and it used to work. I know how to do it. But that doesn’t make it right.

Of course, you may be thinking that maybe my work just wasn’t good enough. You could be right. The pieces I entered in Visions in 2008 were definitely not resolved – my work was transitioning and I didn’t know where it was going. The pieces I entered had potential, but they weren’t any good. I wasn’t at all surprised when the rejection notice arrived in the mail. I cut up the quilts, made small wall pieces and kept struggling to find my center.

But that isn’t always true. What is true? Sometimes jurors don’t like the color, or they don’t like figurative imagery, or they want more stitching. Sometimes jurors cut deals. I know this. I’ve been a juror. Knowing this, it’s relatively easy not to take rejection personally anymore. It might not be about me.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t have any business entering art quilt shows. Here’s the truth: I never quilt a piece anymore, unless I want to get it into a quilt show. And that’s just bad form.

For one thing, it doesn’t honor the artists who adore art quilts and relish every stitch required to complete a piece. Those are the artists who deserve to be in Visions. So congratulations to them. And if your work is good, and you didn’t get in, don’t take it too personally. Someday your juror will come. In the meantime, keep working. Get better.

As for me, I guess it’s time to read the writing on the wall. No more art quilt shows. I’ll do the part I love – all that seductive, slurpy surface design - and I’ll let go of the impulse to turn it into something it’s not.

Anyone interested in a 950 Bernina?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Welcome to the Neighborhood

I adored Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Ok, so at fourteen I was probably too old to watch a children’s show on PBS, but the sneaky part of me loved the bits I saw while sitting on the couch with my youngest sister, eating chocolate chip cookies after school and procrastinating on the homework front. No matter what you thought about Mr. Rogers, and plenty of people made fun of him in the ensuing thirty years, he was authentic. He didn’t apologize or minimize his feelings or ideas and he was always kind. Mr. Rogers was generous and thoughtful. He knew how to bake and he had good taste in sweaters. Mr. Rogers wasn’t afraid of anything. He liked to talk about the big issues in his neighborhood with the children and creatures who lived there with him. Issues like feeling left out, and bullying. The joys of friendship and play. Mr. Rogers was a real guy and his neighborhood was positive real estate. It was a great place to live.

I enrolled in a creativity course in February. My teaching was spinning along. New book in the works. A year of Daily Visuals satisfyingly behind me. But I felt the need for a challenge. Something inside was transitioning. A friend’s email described a program she’d begun and it resonated. I wanted something like that. Fresh ideas. In the words of the blues legend John Mayall - room to move – psychically and experientially.

And so, through the class, I was introduced to the concept of existential intelligence. The inexplicable part of a human mind that wants a better angle on the BIG questions – Life, death, creativity and meaning. Wow. Humbling and incredibly energizing all rolled into one thought package. A fortune cookie with a fortune I actually wanted to manifest in real time.

And if the concept of existential intelligence grabbed me, wasn’t it likely that there were lots of others out there who would love to explore the wealth of ideas bouncing around inside this Pandora’s box?

...probably a whole neighborhood of artists, writers, musicians, car mechanics, short order cooks and other people who like to think.

So here it is. The grown up version of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. The Existential Neighborhood, where we can gather to share ideas about art and making, kindness and authenticity, meaning and the creative Life with a really big L. Welcome to my neighborhood.