art


Review (plus a personal note): Round in Circles: Poltergeists, Pranksters, and the Secret History of Cropwatchers by Jim Schnabel.

Mr. Schnabel wrote this book in the 1990s, an American post-graduate student living in England and specializing in science writing. He himself turned hoaxer after studying the phenomena and, more closely, those caught up in the excitement of the phenomena. What I really liked about this book is that he manages to show the parade of human folly and the will to believe—the need to believe—without being mean-spirited. There’s plenty of understated humor, but mostly he allows people to display their nature in their own words. He captures the awe while still showing the painful and hilarious lengths people will go to protect their pet theories (and continue to get media attention and earn dollars, to boot). Even when these theories are debunked, some still can’t let go, resorting to conspiracy theories and black magic tales to save face.

The book demonstrates, although this was probably not Mr. Schnabel’s intent, how Trickster manipulates us all. Whether that trickster is embedded in human psychology or an outside force I will leave to others to decide for themselves. Mr. Schnabel admits that there is something mysterious at work which compels people to go into the fields and make pictograms and other ephemeral art in the secret dead of night. He does quite a nice job of evoking that mystery and compulsion. And when something genuinely unexplainable happens—a tractor driver caught on film being buzzed by a mysterious metallic orb comes to mind—Mr. Schnabel doesn’t shy away from showing it and doesn’t try to explain things away with strained rationalization. Even if the vast majority of these circles are hoaxes, he allows wiggle room, a tacit suggestion that perhaps a few may have some other explanation. The cropwatchers, however, are so caught up in their own theories that it’s an all or nothing for them. Mr. Schnabel lets us draw our own conclusions, and one of those is that many of the cropwatchers were missing out on a much grander mystery: that of the human imagination.

A Personal Note

I admit: I drank the Kool-Aid back in the day. I was swept up in the wonder and awe of the crop circles. To this day, even accepting the hoaxing, even after decades of serious disenchantment with the New Age, one of my regrets is that I missed seeing this formation by only two weeks:

Formed in July, it was harvested in mid-September, and I was at Silbury Hill in late September. I didn’t find out that I’d missed it until I was already back in the States.

But my awe didn’t need to actually witness one of these for myself to be caught up in the sensation of it all. Especially after this beauty appeared in a field near Alton Barnes in 1990 (a village I visited in 1988) and was broadcast all over the world:

The phenomena was evolving! The messages were getting more complex! I even incorporated a part of this one in some of the artwork I was making at the time:

And therein hangs a tale. Because it turns out most of the crop circles were all about art. Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, two 60-somethings, finally came forward and admitted they had started the craze and were doing circles as far back as the 70s “for a laugh” and for the pure joy of making large folk art in the fields. They never claimed to have made all the circles, although the newspaper that broke the story said they did, but D&D showed it was possible to hoax even the complex shapes that crop circle aficionados claimed (and still claim, some of them) could not have been done by the hand of man.

And that’s what catches Schnabel himself up in the hoaxing craze: the pure joy of being out in the English countryside in the darkness and making something bigger, grander, more magical than his individual self. And therein hangs another tale. These lovely things don’t need to be made by UFOs or earth spirits or fairies because all of those things live inside us, we complexly-layered human beings who often respond emotionally to things our intellects can’t grasp entirely. Trickster ties threads to our hands and feet, making us dance in the fields with crop stompers and think it’s all our idea.

Sure, it’s our idea. On the surface. But beneath the swirled grain of our imaginations lies a whole chthonic realm where other forces call the dance.

The Crop Circles

Round and round in a circle,
but not a circle: a cipher—
blank, yet potent with meaning,
universal and profoundly personal.
Each eye that falls on the corn
sees their own life rippling
through the wind in the fields:
their deceit, the circles deceit;
their pain, the circles pain;
their joy, their sorrow,
their wonder and fear
all caught in the circles’ round
and etched in the corn.
And what is the true meaning
of the patterns in the fields?
Only the same meaning
that each day brings:
I know that I do not know.

—PJ Thompson

(If any of you are interested in seeing more of that metalwork piece, I’ve put the pictures beneath the cut.)

(more…)

Random quote of the day:

“Art is magic, emancipated from the lie of being truth.”

—Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (tr. Dennis Redmond)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

Random quote of the day:

“The doodle is the brooding of the hand.”

—Saul Steinberg, quoted in Saul Steinberg by Harold Rosenberg

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“I believe that art puts down its roots into the deepest hiding places of our nature and that its action is akin to the action of certain delving plants, comfrey for instance, whose roots can penetrate far into the subsoil and unlock nutrients that would otherwise lie out of reach of shallower bedding plants.”

—Jeanette Winterson, “Writer, Reader, Words,” Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“We do not escape into philosophy, psychology, and art—we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones.”

—Anaïs Nin, “The New Woman,” In Favor of the Sensitive and Other Essays

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“We must surrender the idea that this perfection that we see in the mind or before our eyes is obtainable or attainable. It is really far from us. We are no more capable of having it than the infant that tries to eat it. But our happiness lies in our moments of awareness of it.”

—Agnes Martin, lecture, Institute of Contemporary Art, February 14, 1973

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 


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I finally got around to reading my thank you and goodbye email from Elizabeth Warren. It made me just as sad as I thought it would.
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Clearly, I need to get out more. I’m watching a show on the search for Queen Boudicca’s treasure and I just yelled at the TV, “Boudicca’s booty!” Somebody help me.
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Mike Bloomberg on Super Tuesday: “Please, sir, can I have Samoa?” #DickensPuns
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No matter how much you do in your life there will always be people who say it isn’t enough. So do what you can and realize that most mortals have to choose their battles.
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Certain songs always make me start doing my very bad Billie Holiday impression. (And I always resent it when other singers try to do these songs because, dammit, they belong to Billie.)
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Yep, the three tones in E10 of Hellier S2 still make me nauseated and anxious even after 5 watchings. And when episode 10 finished Amazon suggested I watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
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We had a squirrel living in the yard for many years that we nicknamed Twofer because he would come up and take a peanut out of our hands, shove it into his cheek and reach up so you’d give him another one. And we always did.
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Disabled people aren’t included in most emergency evacuation plans. I found this out when I could no longer easily walk down 3 flights of stairs from my office for evacuation drills. “Stay at your desk & someone will get you after everyone else is out.” Using a cumbersome evacuation chair that the one time we tried it no one knew how to operate.
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What my VRS thinks of this election: “Doesn’t matter who I want to be president, if Bernie is the eventual nominee he’ll get my boat.” It’s a leaky boat but whatever.
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I attempted to read a book by Louis L’Amour in the last couple of days but I have failed in that attempt. The writing was just so clunky I very soon ceased to care about the resolution of the mystery and consigned it to the recycle bag. Go ahead, call me a snob, I don’t care.
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We always walk beside the Veil, but most times we choose to look straight ahead.
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Big brother with a kink? The alarm went off to tell me to take my chicken out of the oven and I said “I’m coming.” (Because doesn’t everyone talk to their alarms?) And the Google speaker on my phone said “That’s good.”
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One of the web crawlers that shows up frequently on my Statcounter account is China Unicom, but I ALWAYS read it as China Unicorn.
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I was watching Vienna Blood on PBS and they had a corpse lady laying out naked on a slab with boobs on full display. Later, they had a live lady with boobs on display but blurred them out. So I guess on PBS dead boobies are okay but live boobies are not okay to show. Go figure.
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I whine, therefore I art.

Random quote of the day:

“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life….This is the artist’s way of scribbling ‘Kilroy was here’ on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.”

—William Faulkner, The Paris Review, Issue 12, Spring 1956

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Because I have an abiding love for folklore and all things odd, because I create art out of the liminal aspects of the world in which we live, I can’t very well be in the business of passing judgment on stories of the strange. Folklore is a living, breathing thing, a constant new creation from the imaginations and the deep psyche. So if someone tells me a story of a personal encounter with fairies, or about the ghost they saw, or the strange lights in the sky, I treasure these stories as a peek into the spontaneous eruption of spirit and imagination in the world. As long as human beings roam the earth, new beliefs and tales of the marvelous will erupt from the aether. This is the wellspring of creativity, the fundamental food of imagination.

By necessity, this food is always going to come at us from the fringes of society. It will never be found in the dead heart of academia because by its very nature it is the antithesis of academia. Academia is about cataloguing and studying that which is; folklore and the folk imagination is about creating new from old and old from new, and it is a rich source of spiritual replenishment. Academia has many important functions and I demand that it stay rigorous because we need the rigorous walking hand in hand with the fanciful. Both functions make society cohere.

I don’t buy into everything with one hundred percent credulity. Healthy skepticism is a necessary function of living in both complex societies and less complex. I grow impatient, however, with those who have taken up skepticism as a replacement for religious belief. Their skepticism is as sweeping and dogmatic as ever any organized religion. Theirs is an unhealthy skepticism. The marginal, the liminal, the odd, and the fanciful enrich the world. The more skeptics try to suppress it, the more creative ways the underworld finds to rise to the surface. One of the best analyses of the liminal I have ever seen is The Trickster and the Paranormal by George Hansen. Mr. Hansen uses exhaustive detail and thorough analysis to show why it will never be possible the suppress this underworld.

Yes, we all know about the excesses that beliefs of any kind are prone to, the persecutions that arise from the bonfires of unquestioning faith. That is not what I’m supporting here, what I’m cherishing, because that is not about the spirit. That is dogma—and I do judge dogma. If academia is the antithesis of the creative upwellings of the psyche, dogma is the antithesis of the spiritual. The silly stuff, the stuff that stretches credulity is as necessary to the health of any society as skepticism; it is the breath inside the lungs of culture. The danger comes from the other side of society’s fringe, the extremes of belief, the codifying of the spirit, the hardening of the arteries of fancy.

Judge not lest ye be judged. Judgment, sorting out the good from the chaff is healthy; judgment, the trumpeting of one belief system over another, is a form of societal death. I open my arms to extreme possibility, not to the extremes of judgment.

I was initially drawn to this deck when one of the people I follow did a reading featuring the Knight of Swords (yes, that guy again) and used the Familiars deck. The suit of swords in that deck are crows and as some of you may remember, I have something of a thing regarding crows. I thought, “Oh, I have to get that one!” (Any excuse to buy another deck.) But in poking around on Amazon I came across the Crow Tarot by MJ Cullinane. It looked great, and since I didn’t have the money for both decks, I bought that one.

I can’t tell you how much I love this deck. It’s not only beautiful it just—I don’t know, feels good. In the interview I did with the deck, when I asked, “What are your limits as a deck?” it answered with the Moon, which I took to mean, “I dwell on the shadow side and illusions.” But I haven’t found that to be so. Maybe if I work with it a bit longer I will, but so far I have found it otherwise. “How can I best learn and collaborate with you?” I asked. “I will show you play and wonder, new ideas.” (Page of Cups)

As soon as I took the plastic off the deck and looked at the first card (The Fool), the crows started cawing outside. This is not such an unusual thing as I feed the local murder and they’re always about in the neighborhood. But the timing was amusing. All through my two readings they were cawing and making noise walking around on the metal roof of the art room (also known as the bird’s room from when my pet starling lived there). They don’t often do that—but I had fed them a couple of hours earlier so maybe they were saying thank you?

This is a very “jumpy” deck. I’ve started using a loose shuffle technique to give cards a chance to “jump out” of the deck while I’m asking a question. (As the saying goes, “If it falls to the floor, it comes to your door.”) With the Aquarian and the Marseille, which I’ve also used recently, that didn’t happen too often. It happens a lot with the Crow Tarot. Also, it’s not uncommon for a small group of cards to turn themselves perpendicular to the rest of the deck, as if trying to reverse themselves. If that happens, I push them back in that reversed position and keep shuffling.

My friend came over Sunday for a “craft day,” something we do on a semi-regular basis in order to encourage each other to do work on projects outside our normal range of arty stuff. (She’s a painter, I’m mostly a writer, and taking an arty break from our usual disciplines sometimes shakes things loose in the more “serious” projects.) It’s also a great excuse for kibitzing. I was showing her the Crow Tarot because it’s so beautiful. She was going through it and talking about how she wants to get a deck and do daily cards, but she was also talking about her current struggle with her painting. She wants to go in a different direction and she has a clear vision of what she wants to do, but something inside her is resisting, holding her back.

She handed the deck back to me and I was just about the put it away when The Fool jumped out and landed on the floor between us—reversed for me, upright for her. I read out the reversed meaning, assuming it was for me, but it didn’t seem to fit my current situation without stretching things. I put the card back and asked her if she wanted to do the card a day thing with this deck. She did, and shuffled the deck, eventually turning up the top card: The Fool, upright.

“…The Fool card asks that you have faith in the universe and live fearlessly. You will come through the storm. If you allow hope to replace fear, imagine the adventures you have waiting.”

“All right, already,” she said. “I get it.”

I should also note that my card of the day for yesterday was The Fool. Upright. All right, already. I get it.

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