Last night, as we were arriving at a friend’s home for dinner, a taxi pulled up with a strange man carrying a strange metal box. Not one of our usual group, I thought. Ours is a fun group, close-knit old friends who know how to laugh and enjoy one another’s company. We were all surprised when our host’s guest took an oud out of its box.
Born and raised in Kurdistan, Serwan Yamolky has a degree in music from the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad. He’s a well-dressed, good-looking man of about 50, with a shock of gray hair and a seemingly permanent smile. Poet, musician and composer, he’s traveled widely with his own and traditional renditions of music of the Middle East. Several years ago he and his family immigrated from Iraq to Canada. “Wonderful country — superb,” he said, “But someday I will return a visit to my old nation. It is wonderful too.” Serwan picked up his instrument — sort of like a lute with no frets and a bent neck. “The oud is the ancestor of the guitar,” he said, “played in Mesopotamia before 3000 BC. This one was made in Turkey; it is the voice of my work.”
Placing a shiny shoe on a small pedestal, he rested his instrument between his knee and his chest and began to play and sing. A song of Kurdistan, its snow, its majestic mountains and refreshing brooks. Then a Lebanese song about the blessing a man feels when he has a beautiful daughter. Another, from Egypt, about flowers, and how, from them, the artistic and poetic mind can learn of love and life. The music was soft, then loud, earnest with undulating rhythms, some in quarter-tone, an education for Western ears. His was a feeling of timeless beauty floating over a pristine, peaceful countryside. Serwan caressed his oud with professional abandon, his voice rich and intimate — sometimes with drama and high energy. You could see where Flamenco and Fado came from.
Sipping our wine, we old friends — ten of us — sat at close quarters. We were lost in the ebb and flow. You could hear a pin drop. The air was filled with a sense of our privilege.
If art is a universal language, let’s have more art.
PS: “Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.” (Kahlil Gibran)
Esoterica: The oud (or oude) has eleven silk or (now) nylon strings, ten of them doubled in order to extract more volume when needed. Fingering must be precise. The rounded belly of inlaid ebony and camphorwood produces a deep tone that rings with the magical semi-quavers of the Arabian Nights. “Which of you would be silent — when all else sings together in unison?” (Kahlil Gibran)
by Aleta Pippin, Santa Fe, NM, USA
The vibration of music has the power to change our moods, as does the vibration of color. That is because we are ourselves vibrational and the interpreters of vibration. A key intention when I’m in the process of creating is that the final piece be joyful, uplifting and filled with love. I believe that this intention becomes infused in my art and those who come into contact with it will be positively affected, just as your group of friends were positively affected when Serwan “caressed” his oud. In the very word “caressed” you know that he was sending loving energy through the instrument, out into the room, ultimately into the world and universe.
Language of our souls
by Kathleen G. Arnason, Willow Island, Winnipeg, Canada
I was at a brainstorming session for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra recently in support of how best we could imagine the future for the orchestra. One lady spoke of how the public needed to be educated in classical music. My response was that music was the universal language — one which spoke to our souls — the only language which was interpreted by our body and our minds together at once. Your experience speaks to such an interpretation; your words have described the language of our souls.
Art is wonderful
by Patty Harrison, Surrey, England
This summer we went to France and my 8 year old, knowing only a few words of French, befriended a French girl in the next caravan. They sat down and coloured together for hours. They tried to communicate verbally but the act of colouring kept them together for a long time — without any words.
Music as therapy
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
The oud player you described is one example of musical art with physiological influence. Here in Russia we have similarly the Ukrainian Bandura and the related small instrument — Kobza. Influences are strong and directed deeply inside of souls. Possibly, combinations of different national musical strings (and some other instruments) and imaginative arts might be used for therapy in specialized clinics. On another odd note I translated “Serwan caressed his oud,” as old Russian/East Slavic word that means man’s personal tool. This is ‘word language,’ but art is universal language — it is the reason we must “have more art.” Also, as the life indicates, arts are related. Some influences are mutual. Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters might be more rich if we were to put additionally MP3 records option at Clickback page. Other, smaller size and more convenient is instant direct stream of RealMedia musical format.
(RG note) Yaroslaw Rozputnyac translates the twice-weekly letter into Russian.
Dance, music and children
by Susan Burns, Douglasville, Georgia, USA
It’s hard to imagine the schools without art or music. In our district, we have cut back on just about everything. Every day, when my son was in second grade, he would get off the school bus and be angry at me, (screaming, kicking, throwing things). This didn’t make sense because he was not a difficult child. I inquired more about his day. I found out his classroom had no windows, his teacher didn’t like to take the children outside — she explained that the minimum requirements set by the state of Georgia for outside recreation were met. (One time per week, and not necessary if the weather was bad. Who checked anyway?) I volunteered to dance and exercise to music every day, and the teacher didn’t mind too much. We had a great time. We were all very giggly for a short part of the day. Everyone was more productive. My son’s mood changed.
Recently, International Plein Air Painters hosted the first worldwide paint out. Artists globally painted simultaneously. The purpose of IPAP is the execution and advancement of plein air painting without restrictions of regions or borders. The feeling most expressed by the artists after the event, was the thought that they were in ‘communion’ with painters all over the world and that they were already planning for the 2004 paint out. The Internet has made things like this possible and now art as a universal language has a new meaning.
Demo doesn’t dumb down
by Theresa Bayer
With regard to the remarks of Karen R. Hersey in the last clickback, “Other memes like “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”; “Paint what you see”; “Learn by Doing” and “Teach by Demo and Do,” also contributes to the dumbing-down of the majority of artists today.”
I’m going to have to take an argument against part of the above statement. I do not believe that teaching by demo contributes to the dumbing-down of artists. On the contrary, I have learned a great deal from watching my sculpture colleagues at work in open sculpture studio. I have also learned a great deal about sculpture watching the instructors do demos in courses I have taken. The improvements I’ve seen in my figurative work came entirely from watching demos, whether done formally or incidentally.
Apart from teaching, artist demos also help promote art. Artists who demo at shows have the advantage of showing the public that their art is indeed original and not mass produced, and that it takes a lot of time, skill, and labor to produce a piece of original art. A public educated by artist demos will buy more original art, because they get the message that art is still being made here and now, not just long ago and far away. On seeing the artist at work, people can buy with confidence knowing that they are the proud owner of a piece of original art.
Conquering your fears
by Cathy Fink, Victoria, BC, Canada
In response to Susan’s fears in the last clickback — I am 45 years old, a mom with an 18 year old, and I am an artist. Everything Susan wrote has been me as well. Especially the fear. I had wanted to be an artist all my life. Finally I could ignore myself no longer and took a deep breath and jumped in. I’ve been working in my studio for four years now and in this last year the fear is appearing less and less (or I am learning to ignore it!). Here’s what has helped me at different times and in different combinations.
Find some art friends and get together regularly. You will find you are far from alone in your questions and doubts and fears. Every artist I know has dealt with some of this in their turn. Meeting and talking with other artists is very energizing to your need to create. It will bring you ideas and solutions and a share in other artists’ experiences.
Go to the art section in libraries and bookstores. Find artists whose work interests you and spend the time looking at their work and reading about their lives. When I was too scared to work at my easel, I would pick a book on a favourite artist, stay in my studio and look slowly at each image of their work. Besides learning a lot, they inspired me to paint.
Books that helped me the most:
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Life, Paint and Passion by Michell Cassou and Stewart Cubley
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg
Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World by Natalie Goldberg
Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel
Set an appointment with yourself for painting, and tell others about it. “This is when I’ll be working in my studio.” Keep the appointment. It is being kind to yourself to keep this appointment as you would any other appointment with someone else. It means you care about yourself and you are taking seriously your love and need to make art.
Put on the radio to a favourite station, talk show or music, or a book on tape, while you work. I’ve found that this helps entertain the part of me that thinks too much at times and makes itself scared, and lets the rest of me get to work painting.
Work even though you feel scared. I found that most days the fear disappeared as I became involved in what I was painting. The more days I kept working like this, the less the fear bothered me. I realized that for me the fear is part of my process. It’s not easy, but as the number of days that I painted accumulated, it gave me more courage to continue. Celebrate the days that you go to your studio and paint. Mark them on the calendar so you can actually see them and your courage accumulate!
Be kind to yourself on the days that you just can’t paint. Care for yourself as you would a close friend that wants to do something but is terribly afraid. Tell yourself what you would tell her. Tell yourself that you are painting for yourself today and only you will see what you are painting. There’s no rule that you have to show it to anyone. Trust yourself.
by Jurate Macnoriute, Vilnius, Lithuania
They say that girls sense better than men, but men are able to express their feelings in art, literature or music better than girls. It seems the case of Inga Titova gainsays this allegation. She is able to express her feelings fine. Delicate girlish dreams, lightness, warmth, joyful sensation of life, dashing movement, nice people who are able to love and not to hate and infinity of flowers that quasi form spontaneous waters of sea. There is goodness and no evil. We may compare Inga Titova’s art philosophy with Fra Angelico, Sandro Botticelli, Rafael, Nicolas Poussin, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. As is the majority of visual artists from former Soviet Union Inga Titova is excellent educated. From childhood she studied art and music in different schools of the Far East of Russian Federation and after she became a teacher herself. For the most part Inga Titova works in realm of clothing design, she perfectly wields technique of batik (pictures written on silk) and has been winning recognition from the viewers in Russia, Germany and China.
by J Bruce Wilcox, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Your letter on Changing Standards?” pushes all the buttons for me. In a state of cynical optimism, I encourage everyone I know to express creatively and do whatever it takes to succeed, never giving up on his/her creativity. For centuries the powers-that-be have been abusing the creativity out of us all. Treading lightly and lovingly will never solve the problem. All it will ever do is let people accept less of themselves.
Have your standards slipped? Mine haven’t. Am I a bit more permissive about my standards? Not for one eternal second. Am I more open minded about other people’s standards? What for? I expect the best out of myself. Why should I expect anything less from them? Do I get less? All of the time! This ends the association. If they can’t be bothered to pursue excellence, why should I be bothered with them?
Doing is very important. Doing the best you can is more important. Learning how to do it properly is necessary, especially if you intend to break the rules successfully. Few respect excellence, and fewer still, care. Makes me not care about them. Quality already went to Hell some time ago. You want somebody to practice his/her skills? It’s too much work. What were you thinking?
“Criticism is like a sandwich; it ought to be layered between two slices of praise.” This statement makes me want to throw up. I pity the poor artist who can’t handle criticism. Unfortunately, unlike your magazine reference, most criticism comes from people who know less than the artist.
Finding the inner artist is crucial. Training that part of the self to be all that it can be is paramount. An artist who intends to succeed will go up against criticism his/her entire life. Spend 25 years entering juried shows. This process is entirely about critiquing. Can’t handle rejection? You’ll never get anywhere, because the key is to be able to not only handle it, but to keep on creating in spite of it and somehow never stop. Can’t persevere? No staying power? Can’t handle critical confrontation? Is your ego too fragile? Did somebody scream at you when you were a child saying you couldn’t do something? Do it anyway. It’s called growing up. Please don’t come whining to me.
My artistic peer group is mostly women. Most can’t handle any kind of confrontation. All they want to do is nurture and support the (stuck in the abyss of conformity) status quo. Challenge them? Was I out of my mind? What was I thinking?
oil painting by
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, 2003.
Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, California, wrote, “At the First Congregational Church in Berkeley we have an amazing bass vocalist, Frank Thomas. The acoustics in our New England style church are wonderful. We have good recording equipment so we are going to preserve his voice on a CD featuring African-American spirituals.”
Gennadiy Dmitrenko, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, wrote, “Colour is a seen octave of a sound. Colour is transfer of feelings from artist to spectator. I draw feelings arising at dialogue with subjects, phenomena, events.”
Selma Blackburn wrote, “Your letter is a welcome insight and delight for me and many friends and students.”
Gail Griffiths wrote, “I could see, smell and feel the essence of the evening with the oud player.”
Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Canada, wrote, “In my naive way I think if only the leaders of the world could put away the cruel words, the rhetoric, the guns and could listen to each other’s music, surely there would be peace.”
Joyce Butler wrote,”These letters and the responses are worth waiting for each Tuesday and Friday.”