Clausism is one of our most endearing and unique superstitions. Even when people stop believing in the Jolly Old Guy with the nighttime chimney-work, they tend to carry on his regimen of giving and receiving. Remarkably harmless to innocent bystanders, you seldom hear of anyone driving sleds into tall buildings while shouting “Claus is Great!”
Santa urges his followers to go forth and be generous. Some years ago there was a movement to make him the Patron Saint of Artists. “An artist gives,” said Veronica Roth. “He gives visually, through courses, with free advice, through generosity of spirit and through a need to share.”
Fact is, artists are in the Claus game all year ’round. “Art is the giving by each of us of our evidence to the world,” said Robert Henri. “Those who wish to give, love to give, discover the pleasure of giving. Those who give are tremendously strong.”
And it’s this time of year when we artists get a chance to show just how strong we are. It’s not surprising that most charity fundraisers back their carts up to the Santa Season. When you think of it, we love doing the work — one fine way to help a children’s hospital, a dance centre, a small village in Africa, or further research toward a cure for cancer.
Then there are the little gifts we give on our own. I like the unwrapped, offhand ones — perhaps a small painting or drawing given with no clatter on the roof, no cookie crumbs to clean up. I think Santa likes to hear about these little services — and besides, it lessens his load.
More than anything, a gift that happens to be personally crafted by the giver is most likely to be a treasure to the receiver. It seems these days that Santa’s up-north workshop, once hands-on and all abuzz with creative elves, has now been transmogrified into a Chinese factory. All the more reason to get out your brushes and chisels. “It is when you give of yourself,” said Kahlil Gibran, “that you truly give.”
PS: “To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy, a whole heart, and a free mind.” (Pearl S. Buck)
Esoterica: Just being an artist is a big sack of abundance. Our blessings come down the chimney every time we squeeze our paint. A small effort is required to think and start, some fortitude is needed to stay with the vexing parts, some patience to stay and watch the miracle of the magic process, and some final joy to sign your name. It may as well be “S. Claus.” Ho ho ho, and by the way, Merry Christmas. “I am so rich that I must give myself away.” (Egon Schiele)
Claus not a superstition
by Leslie Edwards Humez, Painesville, OH, USA
Cute word, clausism. From a linguistic point of view, however, you missed the sleigh when you wrote that the belief in Santa Claus is a superstition. It is, in fact, a mythology. For example, bad luck that comes as a result of walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror is superstition. The belief that the god Zeus lived on Mt. Olympus was the personal mythology of the ancient Greeks. Will you correct your rhetorical error?
su*per*sti*tion An irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome.
my*thol*o*gy A set of stories or beliefs about a particular person, culture, religious institution, or situation, especially when exaggerated or fictitious.
(RG note) Thanks, Leslie. I stand corrected, I guess. But right now my thought is that Claus is neither superstition nor myth. Hes real. He has to be. He left a mess in our living room. Spilled eggnog. Cookie crumbs, Sooty footprints. Electronic gadgets.
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The Night Before Christmas
by Jim Lorriman, Shelburne, ON, Canada
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the shop, not a worker was stirring, all projects were stopped.
The chisels were left by the whetstones with care, in hope that the elves would come sharpen them there.
The tools were all nestled and snug where they lay, while visions of woodshavings danced on each blade.
Then up in the woodloft there came such a clatter, the whole building shook from the weight of the matter.
And there on the creaky tin roof did appear, a fine handmade sleigh drawn by ten dusty deer.
With a sparkly-eyed craftsman as spry as a buck, who went by the nickname of “Old Saint Woodchuck.”
He was dressed all in suede from his cap to his shoe, and his clothes were all covered with sawdust and glue.
A bundle of tools he had tucked in his sack, with a Japanese saw sticking out of the back.
On his face he wore goggles and a dust mask fit tightly, his cheeks were like rosewood, his hearing shot slightly.
His skills were the sharpest and best in the land, and he still had five fingers on each of his hands.
Then quick as a chainsaw his staunch helpers came, and he hooted and hollered and hailed them by name.
“Now Router, now Ruler, now Hammer, now Bitbrace; on Shaper, on Scrollsaw, on Jackplane, on Compass.”
All ran to the workbench and leapt to his call: “Now get to work, get to work, get to work all !”
So they dulled not an edge, but cut straight to their task, and sawed, planed, pounded and scraped till, at last,
All the toys the children were waiting to get, were finished and wrapped (though the paint was still wet).
There were jacks made of walnut and dolls made of yew, and an ash rocking horse with its tail painted blue,
A set of birch soldiers all carved from one log, and even a hand-turned oak ball for the dog.
Then the kindly crew tidied and swept every crack, and Saint Woodchuck thanked them while stretching his back.
Then he jumped to his stout sleigh and let out a yell, and they roared from that shop at the tone of the bell.
But these words he exclaimed as they vanished from sight: “Merry Christmas to all — that’s enough for one night!” (Henry Douglas)
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A world of good wishes
by John Dinan, Cong, County Mayo, Ireland
Just a seasonal wish and thank you for all your wonderful letters throughout the year. Hope you have a great Yuletide and keep up the good work. The attachment is a painting I did of our nearby village of Cong (famous as location for The Quiet Man with John Wayne, 1951 — and still living off it!!) as it appeared this time last year — it’s an amazing 25 degrees Centigrade warmer this time around — it was minus 15 degrees last year. Merry Christmas and go easy on that hip flask!!
(RG note) Thanks, John. And thanks to everyone who wrote with Christmas and other seasonal wishes. We lost track at sixty countries, but every one was read and appreciated. I feel truly blessed to have so many friends. It’s some sort of Earthly joy of sharing. If only all the world could be like the Painter’s Keys.
The value of ‘straight speak’
by Loraine Wellman, Richmond, BC, Canada
Thanks for another letter in “straight speak,” talking about how artists want to share. It is such a relief after reading a glossy art magazine full of “artspeak.” Nobody goes to their studio to “work” — they all have a “practice.” Never just inspired or fired up about ideas or needing to try to express beauty, they are all “conceptualizing” and being “informed by” experiences. One problem, after reading all that magazine wordiness is that a person can feel that they are just not “deep” enough. What a change to read about other artists who are just getting on with it! Happy holidays!
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A life of giving
by Elle Fagan, Hartford, CT, USA
Claus Factor, indeed! RGenn, you did it again — “hit the nail on the head” — I made a section of my site called “Art with Heart” for just that reason. I give routinely now for several years — and my donations often make hundreds of dollars each for people. The latest to Mark Twain House in November and, although I’d donated artwork sporadically earlier, Art With Heart started with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I remembered my “mommies” in girlhood (I liked helping and was already an artist). The mommies looked at my slender occasionally whizzy self and said, “OK you like to help, but later when you cannot, just donate your art to help for you.” Later College profs said the same. And later still, Small Business Administration recommended it for the good spirit, free ads, promotion of the artwork and tax deductions.
I had been Red Cross as leader and follower in two wars and assorted disaster responses and, as planned, since I was no longer able to run to “Ground Zeros,” I stuck to my College-trained arts and began to donate small studies , framed and unframed to some of the response groups helping in the massive response needs for Katrina victims. Me and my little Mac PowerBook G3 were like Peanuts’ Schroeder at his toy piano, as I ticked away with enthusiasm at the keyboard, making contacts, settling on the specifics and arranging drop-off and shipping. Things were in such a turmoil as all the states sent things to help ! I did not even realize how much I’d sent till the receipts for it all came in… I’d donated over a thousand dollars! Churches, Red Cross, Animal response, etc… just quietly doing my own little response thing, using my art to help.
I was quite disabled and my own life has had its moment , as I mended health and regained ground in my work and a normal life… and this Christmas, memories of those days are not so easy… but oh so proud. When the American Watercolor Society found out about my donations by way of response work, ‘kicked upstairs,” they welcomed me to join — an honor — and now I am Associate “newbie” — developing wins to the shows so that one day I may enjoy the “A.W.S.” after my name. I had no idea my May-born heart would win that bit extra for me. Always pays to be good I guess!
Memories of summertime joy
by Elizabeth Gallant
I was sitting here supposedly thinking of all the things I need to accomplish before midnight tonight when I realized that I was actually counting my blessings. I was thinking about the ladies I met while waiting for the ferry from Quadra Island to Cortes Island. Then I thought about Margaret who offered me a roof over my head when I needed to get to Campbell River in order to meet up with friends in Nanaimo after the course was over. I thought of the nice people in the ferry lineup leaving Cortes and the lovely views we had while waiting. I thought of the ferry workers who tried to ensure that all of us made that sailing (and of the people who missed it). I thought of the lovely time we spent on Cortes, the 37-stroke paintings, the 37-minute paintings, the deer inspecting the paintings and your ‘rescue’ demo of my 37-minute attempt at a painting. Thank you, and thank you to all your contributors and especially to all the participants in the Hollyhock, Cortes workshop.
A challenge for inventive elves
by Stella Reinwald, Santa Fe, NM, USA
I have a life-long gripe with paint packaging and wonder if anyone else wonders why no one seems able or willing to come up with a better design. The dysfunction of the common paint tube is universal, endlessly frustrating, wasteful, messy, and potentially dangerous (i.e. tracking Cadmium yellow across the floor for the kids/animals to walk in because the tube was leaking unnoticed until too late).
I searched paint tubes and came up with this interesting factoid from Windsor Newton: “In 1841 the American portrait painter John Goffe Rand invented the squeezable or collapsible metal tube.”
This innovation might have represented a real improvement over what was available in 1841 ( ! ) but it hasn’t changed much since then. As painters, we are forced to use a technology developed 170 years ago!! Not one manufacturer has had the foresight to improve substantially on this miserable, inefficient tool. Maybe they all count on the fact that the painter will eventually get so frustrated with the hassle and mess, that she will abandon the half-used tube and start over with a new one.
It just can’t be so hard to devise a container that will release the product without gumming up the outlet when the paint inevitably passes through it, won’t leak top and bottom, become easily punctured, torn, or burst its bottom seam. The cap often becomes so tightly glued to the tube, one is forced to use pliers and even the resistance can be such that the metal tube tears, spilling its contents. Plastic tubes are not significantly better. Caps (plastic and metal) are universally a problem as they all have tiny threads that get clogged from the very first use and are truly an abomination.
How is it that no one has devised a more clever system for storing paint? Can we all agree that this sorry state of ill-conceived and inefficient packaging needs correcting? Anyone out there up to the challenge?
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by Bruce Bundock, Kingston, NY, USA
Merry Xmas and Happy New Year! Let me take a moment to thank you for the energy you put out with your twice-weekly entries. I have saved over 350 of them and reflect on the content which is rich and varied. You struck a nerve with Howard Gardner as his work played an important part in my graduate dissertation. It may seem odd that I did not pursue an MFA but, instead, received an MA degree (master of arts in liberal studies). My reason was simple: I wanted to write. I wanted to write about the creative process across occupational domains. That I was a painter was a given. I wanted to convince others outside the sphere of art that its study and practice could enhance, expand awareness and provide additional resources with their own creative problem-solving in their respective occupations. Maybe it was a search for validation (I had an uphill battle in high school) or at least a call to be invited to the table — and not be marginalized. Gardner’s theory made perfect sense on a number of levels. It explained what I was feeling but could not put into words at the time. We are map makers with flawed cartography, all. We customize our lives according to our interests, yet there are always stones to overturn, discoveries to be made.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Pam Askew of Tuscaloosa, AL, USA, who wrote, “And what a gift you all give with these caring, insightful letters. Thank you and Merry Christmas!”
Enjoy the past comments below for The Claus factor…