Envy

“Who, in this sorry world, can escape the darts of envy? The more outstanding a man is in the opinion of his fellow citizens, the more eminent and respectable his position, the better target does he become for the poisoned shafts of the envious. Oceans of calumny rise to hurl their waves of infamy against him. No reputation, however unblemished and immaculate, no glory, however pure, is above attack.”

However, one must learn the difference between attracting the unsolicited envy of others and seeking it out purposely.  The former is the unfortunate consequence of fulfilling one’s higher purpose by respecting the gifts and talents with which one was either endowed with at birth or else acquired through hard work and self-discipline.  The latter is the provenance of fools who have nothing more to offer than a bit of bling and an over-abundance of attitude.  If you have to sing your own praises, as opposed to others singing them on your behalf, then you know which type of person you really are.

Jorge Amado

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The River of Time Is A River Without End

"If You Sit by the River Long Enough, the Body of your Enemy will come Floating By, Buddhist Proverb." Jim Denomie. On exhibit in Cargill Hall, Minneapolis Central Library

“If You Sit by the River Long Enough, the Body of your Enemy will come Floating By, Buddhist Proverb.” Jim Denomie. On exhibit in Cargill Hall, Minneapolis Central Library

Everyone of Jim Denomie’s paintings tells a story, one of which I got to enjoy at the Minneapolis Central Library while visiting their open to the public exhibit “Transmissions: Contemporary American Indian Art, 2003-2013.” Other artists are on display, however, it was Denomie’s work and this painting in particular that caught my attention. As I sat in the gallery, thankfully alone, a few minutes after the library opened, I found myself trying to see the proverb giving the work its title through Denomie’s eyes. In which case, I saw irony, humor, and a sardonic wit expressed in the juxtaposition of feathered Indians and sunbathing whites, complemented by a man wearing what looks like a Billy Jack hat mowing the lawn while a man and woman water ski down the proverbial river. The titular proverb is ascribed to the Buddhist tradition by the artist, meaning that in his mind it refers to that spiritual tradition (as opposed to Confucius or Sun Tzu who are also given credit for this bit of wisdom). In any case, the image suggests many things, such as the fact that the Indians are still waiting for their enemies’ bodies to float by, that their wait may be futile, that retaining the anger of conflict has become absurd, that old enemies have been living side by side for a very longtime, or that the white community better enjoy their fun while they can before the wheel of karma slowly and inevitably turns. While I cannot help but think of the tumultuous and violent history that occurred along the banks of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, which cut across the southern part of the state, I also cannot help but laugh at Jim’s sense of humor. Ultimately, this painting is a delight to look at and it makes my heart smile. Hopefully, it makes you feel the same way.

[photo credit: David Martínez]

“L. W. S. 2.” (2001) by Ashley Bickerton, b 1959, Barbados, West Indies

On display at the Burnet Gallery, Minneapolis, MN

On display at the Burnet Gallery, Minneapolis, MN

One of the more peculiar encounters I have had with a work of art occurred in Minneapolis, MN, where I stayed at Le Meridien Chambers Hotel on the corner of 9th & Hennepin. Adjacent to the hotel is Burnet Gallery, which had this rather startling image hanging in a hallway conjoining the gallery with the hotel. I was immediately taken aback by its uninhibited strangeness and its disturbing but thought-provoking narrative. According to Jennifer Phelps, who graciously answered my questions about the work, “Yes, this piece creates a lot of discussion. I believe Bickerton is trying to confront and challenge our social culture that stresses the individual and technology over human contact.” Which may be a polite way, in this case, of saying that this is a commentary on how porn addiction has become a part of the fabric of “normal society,” in which one may appear to be a respectable citizen, complete with a professional career and the outward signs of middle-class affluence. However, behind the “American dream” (signified by the flag) are the symbols of our salacious instincts, which are evident in the blow up doll on the bed and the rows of pictures of nude women on the wall. This is an icky picture, yet one which compels us to acknowledge that people like the man in this picture exist, worlds and lifestyles like his exist, and they are made possible by a sex industry that is all the more pervasive because of how easily accessible it is through the computers that inhabit the countless spaces in which we live and work. Ultimately, though, this picture is a condemnation of the digital objectification of women as sex toys and other forms of sexual entertainment. In a sense, the room depicted in this image dwells somewhere deep in the male psyche, which too often yearns for sexual contact with women, not as friends and lovers, but merely as bodies willing to satisfy unchecked male desires. The expression on that man’s face is one that has been around since time immemorial, evoking a smirky and obscene disdain for women, many of whom are forced into lives of misery and exploitation.

[photo credit: David Martínez]

“Mushroom-Shaped Cloud”: How Man Destroys What the Gods Create

mushroom cloud

HORIKOSHI Susumu
6 years old in August 1945

[image source: MIT Visualizing Cultures]

“Human morality has atrophied. Humans themselves have failed to notice. It is impossible for anyone whose morality has atrophied to notice the atrophy itself. Just look at the many Americans who believe dropping a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was the correct choice. This is a point of view thoroughly debunked on both logical and moral grounds, but most Americans have never questioned their belief. Proof of this human inclination extends back before the start of the Common Era. In myths the world over, there are tales of a god who, enraged at the sins of man, destroyed the world in a great flood. Innocent babies and children must have died in these floods, yet these myths never mention them. The gods these people worshipped committed genocide. Humanity accepted and imitated the actions of the gods humanity itself had created. In the name of a just god, they let that bomb detonate, killing every living thing. Of course, humans have emotions like pity, compassion, and outrage. But the range of events that can provoke these emotions is staggeringly tiny. At best, they extend to the national level. If people from their own country are killed, they may express surprise, grief, anger, and sympathy. But if ten thousand people are killed in a distant, far-off land, they will not be the slightest bit affected, particularly if it was their own doing.” –Hiroshi Yamamoto, The Stories of Ibis