Tuesday, December 29, 2015

". . . if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract," Ellsworth Kelly and Haskell Wexler

The LA Times had two front page obituaries of people whose names weren't on the tip of my tongue. But they both struck me as people I would have liked to have known.

The first obituary was about Ellsworth Kelly, an abstract artist.  Here are a few things about him from the article that caught my attention.
The key to creative inspiration was in the world around him, not in other artists' studios or at the Louvre. If he paid close attention to, say, the contour of a window, the shape of a leaf, the play of light and shadows on man-made and natural forms, his art would emerge.
"I think if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract," the artist told an interviewer in 1991, reflecting on the evolution of his work. Six years later, when a Kelly retrospective exhibition — organized by New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum — appeared at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, he told a Times reporter: "I'm not searching for something. I just find it. The idea has to come to me … something that has the magic of life." [emphasis added]

I like the conceit that if one can "turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract." That describes part of what this blog is ultimately about:  exploring how we know what we know.  How much of what we see in the world, we see because of the models in our heads that cause us to see what we've already been trained to see and to label in just one way.  People who don't know much about flowers may see "a rose" in many flowers because that may be one of the few flower names they actually know.  A police officer may see a life threatening man because his understanding of black men comes from movies and television and not from close black friends.  But if we can 'turn off the mind" then we can see the world fresh again, with all sorts of new possibilities.

Here are some pictures from the blog that show my attempts to see new things in the ordinary.

None of these were pictures I sought. They found me.

I'd note that none of these images was altered, except for the frame added around the onion.

I'd note the idea that the models in our heads cause us to not see what is really there was shown in a different light on an NPR piece this morning, talking about how the gambler's fallacy also tricked judges, loan officers, and others who made decisions about people.  The study showed they consider how the previous decision went when they are making the current decision.

The second obituary was about cinematographer Haskell Wexler.  These words grabbed me:

Despite his success shooting big-budget films for major studios, Wexler, a lifelong liberal activist, devoted at least as much of his six-decade career to documentaries on war, politics and the plight of the disenfranchised.
“His real passion was much larger than just making movies,” said son Jeff Wexler a few hours after his father's death at a hospital in Santa Monica. “His real passion was for human beings and justice and peace.”
Isn't that really what's important?  Justice and peace for human beings?  Our society is so distracted by the demand to acquire material goods, that we're all to willing to look the other way when confronted with injustice and war.  We excuse ourselves because we 'don't have time to get involved' or we 'couldn't make a difference anyway.'  Yet, if we don't do something, who will?  If we don't elect representatives who care, who will?   There are lots of stories about ordinary 'powerless' people who have made a difference.  You don't have to save the world, you just have to make it a little better than you found it.  If half the people did this, we'd be in a much better world.   The Wexler obituary reminds me that I need to do more.

And you've probably seen some of his films, like Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolfe?  or Bound For Glory  or One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest or In The Heat Of The Night.   If not, you might want to look them up.

Less well known and less seen was his feature directorial debut, Medium Cool.  I remember when I was a trainer for a Peace Corps group at Hilo, Hawaii.  Medium Cool was playing with another film, but the newspaper didn't say which one was playing first. (They still showed double features in those days where you paid once to see two films.)  So I called the theater and asked which film was playing first.  He responded, "Which one do you want first?"  After a second to digest this, I said, "Medium Cool."

From the obituary:
"Described by Wexler as “a wedding between features and cinema verite,” the drama about an emotionally detached TV news cameraman was partly shot in Chicago during the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention. 
At one point, as the camera inches closer to a tear-gas cloud and a wall of police officers, a voice off-camera famously can be heard warning, “Look out, Haskell — it's real!” 
Considered “a seminal film of '60s independent cinema,” “Medium Cool” was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2003."


  1. Wonderful images (that prove your point) and why I check out your blog every day. I don't always comment, but know that I am reading and looking. Thanks for all you do and Happy New Year.

    1. Thanks Barbara, your comments are always appreciated. And a healthy and happy new year to you and yours as well. And all the readers of this blog.


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