10 December 2013


by Andy Weddington
Tuesday, 10 December 2013

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it." Confucius

Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), a U. S. Navy admiral (among other things), is credited with conceiving the concept "seapower" - that is, the idea that countries with strong naval power will have a greater impact worldwide. Ergo America's Navy - yesterday and to this day - and America's global influence. Back to the good admiral in closing.

But today's comment is not about "seapower"; directly.  

For today, "seepower" -  that is, the idea, the fact, that people see differently. Ergo those who see differently (significantly so) have a greater impact on their social network; community; state; country; society at-large; and sometimes worldwide (and for a long time). As to artists, painters, who saw differently Hawthorne; Henri; Monet; Matisse; Sargent; Sorollo; and Zorn first come to mind - some achieving more fame than others but each leaving their mark on the world. Some were sailors (recreational) and painted from boats - before Mahan conceived seapower.

Conclusion: Seepower preceded seapower. Of course it did.


A cousin is a storyteller.

No, she's not a liar.

She tells stories, professionally. That is, storytelling is her art.

She tells true stories about observations, her life, and lessons learned - weaving them into interesting, thought-provoking, sometimes humorous but ever entertaining performances.

Having a way with words, Dottie Jean's always been a storyteller. But she was distracted by a career she enjoyed (that paid the bills) yet did not have passion for. That's not to say she did not find ways to enliven her work with stories. She surely did, as you'll read.   

She is a good storyteller. Now she wants to be a great storyteller (perhaps the world stage will one day be hers) but is struggling to find her way.

Her struggle is understood. Every "artist" - no matter the craft - faces struggle every day.

But how to overcome?


Sunday past, Dottie Jean posted some thoughts, in a sense a story, on Facebook that caught my attention so I decided to engage, to offer perspective.

Her opening...

"In an interview in the Dec. 9, 2013, The New Yorker, Liv Ullman says something that has been playing in my mind all week. Quoting Kierkegaard, she says: 'We come into this world with sealed orders.'

That each of us is born with a mission is an idea my aunt Virgie implanted in my young brain. She believed every person has a mission and she told me that God would reveal my mission to me when the time was right. Using the 'sealed orders' metaphor, God would open the envelope and allow me to read what I've been 'ordered' to accomplish.

I struggled with finding my mission all my life. God never spoke to me about my orders. Thus, I changed majors a few times in college trying to find it. After getting a BA in math, I decided that wasn't my mission so I got an MA in English Literature. Then, pressed with the urgency of making a living, I moved to NYC and got into a great IT training program at The Equitable and became an analyst/programmer.

But then I got the notion that perhaps I was meant to be a teacher. As I had an MA in English, I applied for college teaching jobs and got one at the University of Georgia (as an instructor, lowest level on the rung then, but it was full-time, non-adjunct, and had benefits and faculty status such as it was). I thought teaching would prove to be my calling. I modeled my teaching on Miss Helen Jenkins, the most influential teacher in my young life. But I lacked her passion and dedication. I struck teaching from the list of possibilities.

So I returned to my IT career where I stayed pretty much for the next 40 years. I enjoyed it. I used my analytical ability which is a gift but not a calling. I did a lot of teaching during these years. I taught IT courses as well as project management and my time at Ernst & Young allowed me to teach other, less technical courses.

What I found was that I loved one certain aspect of teaching: telling stories (of course,to illustrate the material). The students responded to the stories. I held their attention. They were engaged in learning but didn't know it. They thought they were enjoying a story. Their evaluations praised the stories and my telling. They called me 'brilliant.' Brilliant I wasn't. A storyteller I was. (Someday remind me to tell you how I used Mrs. Butcher's (my babysitter) fear of being killed by lightning to teach how to manage risk on a project.)

That was in the mid-90's. I got a peek into the envelope. It took a long time to fully act on those orders but finally, I've accepted my orders. I'm to be a storyteller.

I've been on this path for a few years and have reached a point where although I'm happy with my progress and want to be a storyteller, I want to be a storyteller in my unique way. I've done this on a couple of occasions but something's holding me back and forcing me into another model which I don't like or feel comfortable with.

What's holding me back? Interestingly, I ran across an interview with Agnes Martin, the artist, who said, 'I paint with my back to the world.' This is a clue. I've recently been constructing my stories with the audience in mind and with the goal of pleasing the audience. This is the path to becoming someone else's version of a storyteller. When I first started, I didn't think of the audience. I thought of the story first.

For example, I recently wrote and told a Christmas Story which consisted of a distillation of some of my Christmas memories. They were all just too pretty. No grit. No humanity. No real life. As I mentioned to someone, I don't want to be on Hallmark TV. Why did I only include the happy bits? Thinking of the audience, of course! I wanted to please them.

How to get out of this desire to please the audience? I think I've got to stop telling publicly for awhile and develop my stories as I want them to be. I'm not sure. Can you be a storyteller with your 'back to the world'? Is the solution to construct the stories with your back to the world but tell them with your face to the world?"

I posted...

"It takes a true artist to see the not-so-obvious obvious. This a lesson learned as a painter. Yes, you must turn your back on the world. For most of the world sees only that which they've been taught to see; it's comfortable. It's easy. Yes, follow your orders - to your own heavy beat of the drum. Startle the public! Awaken them! Show them boldly what you see. And force them to see and wonder. And use their brains. And smile! The public is intrigued by, and pays for, originals. Copycats are a dime a baker's dozen. The artist's way: See; Mix; "Paint"; Adjust. Simple as complexity can be. You're a good storyteller. Time to be a great storyteller. The best. What are you waiting for? Get busy!"

"E.g., my painting 'Clothes Call' - I walked right by the view, multiple times a day, for years. I didn't see it. I don't know why. Then one day - "My god!" And I could not set my easel up fast enough nor paint fast enough. A family strangers to me in Maryland saw it, called it genius, and bought it (since, I could have sold that painting 100 times, still get queries, and frankly wish I'd not sold it - though I know it makes folks smile and think). I am no genius. Hardly. I see differently. Sometimes seeing the not-so-obvious obvious takes those moments of quiet awareness. Pay attention! And start with the little things. Most all see the big, the obvious. So, show them what they are missing. And give them joy."

And back from Dottie Jean... 

"Andy .... I've been thinking about what you said. I don't know how to tell about things that are not 'Hallmark' pretty and still give joy. That's what I've got to work on. I'm thinking I could tell about the darker side of things and the listeners could get joy out of a well-told story. Or I can tell about troubles, challenges, the obstacles, the failings and they can get joy from knowing it's possible to move beyond them. But I feel constrained when I think I have to tell a 'pretty' story, one that gives the audience warm, fuzzy feelings. This trouble I'm having is a sign of my inexperience with the 'telling' part. I wouldn't worry about this issue in a story meant to be read and not performed."
And me in final comment... 

"Great art - of any sort - is not necessarily 'pretty' but it is beautiful - that's why it stops us cold. Great art is simple. Complexity, first - less simple framework, is confusion and causes disinterest. That is, simplicity and complexity are not mutually exclusive but inextricably intertwined - with simplicity giving rise. First, you must "see!" (that which others do not - until pointed out to them). Keep your art - storytelling - simple. From that will rise complexity - greatness, naturally. By the way, my struggle continues - every single day. It never gets any easier. Creativity, like discovery and invention, is not accidental but work. Turn to!"
'Clothes Call'
18 x 24 acrylic on canvas

Admiral Mahan fathered "seapower" - from "seepower." Aside from his love for and dedication to the sea, the admiral was a prolific writer; mostly on things naval. And though research failed to reveal whether or not he painted, most likely he'd have been good at it. For he saw what others did not - the core of invention whether with helm, pen, brush, or any old tool. Admiral Mahan changed the world.

As did Edison and Einstein and Gates and Jobs and Picasso and Pollock and Rembrandt and Salk and many more "artists" - who turned their backs on the world; to change the world.

They, all of them, saw - some struggling more than others but all struggling - what others did not. Could not. And they persevered.


Note that 'Clothes Call' is simplicity: three big abstract shapes of differing shape, size, and color - sky, sea, and a string of pins dancing across both - making for complexity. But mostly the painting is sea(power).



And, finally, note the opening quote refers to everything having "beauty" (not being "pretty"). A rare few know and so see. Others see - only when it's pointed out to them.

So ends today's comment - today's story.

You see, the laundry basket is calling, I've clothes to wash.

Post Script

There's a story for telling, and not a "pretty" one, somewhere in here for you, Dottie Jean.
Do you see it?


Dottie Jean Kirk said...

Andy, I love this. You've done a beautiful job of framing my story and your response with a great metaphor: seepower.

You've always been supportive and encouraging of me and shared your wisdom generously. Thank you. I value your experience as an artist and human being and learn from you.

Do you mind if I post on my FB page for my storytelling?


Thank you!

Dottie Jean Kirk said...

Andy .... that last challenge. I love it and accept it!