One of the participants in our recent workshop at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, B.C., Canada was Dick Lee of Amery, Wisconsin, USA. A Viet Nam fighter pilot who flew more than 200 sorties, he’s long since settled into watercolour. Blessed with curiosity and a gentle, soft-spoken nature, Dick makes friends easily. Good stuff is running around under his graying pony-tail. He thinks about “the safety of orthodoxy,” “the poverty of logic,” and “memory vs. creativity.” With a wry smile and a wink, he says his wife’s favourite oxymoron is “military intelligence.”
We talked about the job of being a professional killer and the terror of seeing buddies blown out of the sky beside you. We talked about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the lingering price of wars. Dick is the same age as I am, but he’s lived a thousand more lives.
The issue is memory and what you do with it. Like many before him and many who will come after, Dick creates each day anew. In our life in art we coax this miracle from paper or canvas. Each blank space is a new opportunity and a new beginning. Our personal efforts become a sanctuary and a shelter. Creation, we realize, is the guiding principle of our earth and our universe — every day tiny flowers reappear in our gardens and stars in the heavens are being born and reborn. As artists, we dare to become part of this principle. We are the ones who know that every created thing is a treasure. We are the lucky ones.
Our job is daunting because it’s possible to think we might be in competition with the great Nature — a power so magnificent and diverse that it would seem to dwarf our puny efforts. But we need not feel that way. Nature herself is fully familiar with her own false stars and failures. Designs stumble and promising lines become extinct. Nature, like art, is an ongoing creative experiment with no security or guarantee.
Faced with a blank canvas or a clean sheet of 400 lb. cold press, we need merely ask, “Why not?”
PS: “The painter’s mind is a copy of the divine mind, since it operates freely in creating the many kinds of animals, plants, fruits, landscapes, countrysides, ruins, and awe-inspiring places.” (Leonardo da Vinci)
PPS: “My trip to Cortes was a meld of ‘down the rabbit hole,’ ‘a stranger in a strange land,’ and a dose of serendipity.” (Dick Lee)
Esoterica: Dick and I concluded that creativity was the opposite of destruction. Creativity, we figured, has to do with love, tenderness, caring, respect, invention, courage and audacity. Dick told me that on the first day he moved onto his acreage in Amery, a deer entered the property. He went for his gun and shot it. Seeing the life fade from the animal’s eyes made him realize this sort of thing was no longer for him. Dick’s guns are now permanently put away. While memories persist, these days Dick has other things on his mind.
Opening up to creativity
by Alana Dill, Alameda, CA, USA
After trauma, its one thing to try living life on life’s terms on a mundane level — one foot in front of the other, not giving up, getting the job of living done. But it’s another thing to feel really alive and trusting. I think creativity is innate in human nature but if we are taught to shove our feelings down, it can become hard to feel anything and trust that it won’t kill us by making us too vulnerable. Opening up to creativity — even just a little bit at a time — is an essential part of the healing process. I wish art was offered to every human being, especially those in painful circumstances such as armed services, prison, reform school, shelters, etc.
Not a ‘professional killer’
by Trish McKinney, New Carlisle, OH, USA
Usually, your words challenge me to greater thinking in my art and within. Today, however, you lost me at the phrase, “professional killer.” I am both an artist and veteran myself. While I never served in a war and I cannot begin to understand what Dick has gone through with PTSD, I can assure you I was not trained as a “professional killer.” I was trained to be a “professional defender.” You could have made your inspiring point of “celebrating each day anew,” without that phrase. I enjoyed the rest of the article.
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The ravages of war
by Susan Hirst, Olympia, WA, USA
My thoughts go out to Dick Lee. My Brother Gene, a Marine fighter pilot in the Viet Nam war, also flew over 200 sorties. He passed away suddenly in June, 5 days after turning 70. He suffered his entire post war life with severe PTSD. Several years ago I invited him to sit for me for a drawing session and took some photos. I then did 5 large pastel paintings of him that reflect his struggle and our relationship. Now that he is gone, I (and his family as well) are thankful we have these paintings. Rather than portraits of him, they evoke emotion and understanding of his difficult life. Attached is one of the images.
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The value of destruction
by Marlene Lewis, Webster Groves, MO, USA
For me, creativity and destruction go together. It seems that that is part of being “audacious”… I definitely feel the other emotions that you speak about, but sometimes I just have to annihilate a part of a painting to find something new. Sometimes it works… often times, it doesn’t. But, it does feel necessary if I’m going to stretch my boundaries. I found the part about the deer very sad… I’m glad your student felt a change occur inside himself.
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by Julie Eliason, Royal Oak, MI, USA
Destruction is part of the creative cycle. I’ve heard it called “anal creativity.” It’s that part of creativity that knocks down the old building before the new one can be built or the mess that occurs when the lady of the house decides to rearrange a room. It’s not bad in itself; it’s just part of the process of creativity.
(RG note) Thanks, Marlene and Julie. You and many others who voiced this opinion are in good company. Pablo Picasso said, “In order to create you must first destroy.”
The lessons of Shiva
by Annie Shaver-Crandell, New York City, NY, USA
Our readers may be interested in looking up images of the Hindu deity Shiva as Nataraja, dancing the dance of creation and destruction.
This from Lower Manhattan, where we have witnessed a thing or two about destruction and creativity. As I write this, September 11 is four days away. I am a retired art history professor and mostly now landscape painter and tango dancer.
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by Peter Zdenek, New Jersey, USA
I like what Leonardo da Vinci said best in that “The painter’s mind is a copy of the divine mind, since it operates freely in creating the many kinds of animals, plants, fruits, landscapes, countrysides, ruins, and awe-inspiring places.” As an engineer for fifty years I know how much thought and effort goes into making a single useful product. Never, in billions of years would those components come together on their own. Often, it takes a lot of smart people to make something work as it should. When I paint, I am making my own feeble attempt to re-create a glimpse into the divine mind. Only an awesome creator could make us as we are and even create time itself as we know it.
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‘Creativity is God’s work’
by Lucy Foglietta, St. Johns, Nova Scotia, Canada
I had the pleasure of meeting and (getting to know), hosting (at my bed and breakfast) and taking a class from Calogero Termine (Sicily, Italy). A mutual friend connected me to Calogero and during his 2 month visit to Canada, I had the pleasure of his company a half dozen times. I was lucky enough to get a private lesson from him and as well as have him agree to be a guest instructor at the Artist Workshop of Norfolk County for a Still Life oil class. He got as much out of teaching as did his 10 students. I will never forget what he said to me. (Luckily I understood Italian.) He explained that “creating art is continuing God’s work. When you create art you cannot be any closer to God, for you are continuing his work. Nothing could be more rewarding; what a great honour.”
Accessing the ‘winner self’
by Roos Schuring, Netherlands
No matter what we decide one day to do or say, how we decide to say that, it will all be crap if it isn’t from the heart. A normal individual is sometimes high, sometimes low, and will reflect that in statements, comments, text. I think the way to come across is to just be your humble self, or winner self at times. The variety seems to me just ‘ human,’ and truth will have positive feedback, because people sense its truth.
Enjoy the past comments below for Memory vs. Creativity…
Featured Workshop: Barry John Raybould
And the band played on
oil painting by Andy Thomas, USA
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 Al Etmanski of BC, Canada, who wrote, “This piece about Dick shooting a deer reminded me of Aldo Leopold’s striking essay – Thinking Like a Mountain.
(RG note) Thanks, Al. A close analysis of Leopold’s essay, written by Susan Flader, is available at Amazon.com: Thinking Like a Mountain: Aldo Leopold and the Evolution of an Ecological Attitude toward Deer, Wolves, and Forests.
And also Mohammed Faris of West Vancouver, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Quite the story… what a transformation. Best wishes to Dick.”