October 27, 2013

The Opening Paragraph of "Strangers On A Train"

"The train tore along with an angry, irregular rhythm. It was having to stop at smaller, more frequent stations, where it would wait impatiently for a moment, then attack prairie again. The process was imperceptible. The prairie only undulated. like a vast, pink-tan blanket being casually shaken. The faster the train went, the more buoyant and taunting the undulations."
--- Strangers On A Train, Patricia Highsmith

October 23, 2013

"Why Done It" - A Short Review Of "A Judgement Of Stone" By Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell, writer
Ruth Rendell, writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"Eunice Parchman Killed Coverdole family because she could not read or write." This is the first line of the mystery fiction A Judgement Of Stone, by Ruth Rendell. So there is no mystery. But really, I read on with great interest, because what would be a greater mystery than "who done it", is "why done it".

Eurince Parchman is a illiterate by chance, or by misfortune. This "handicap" brings her discomfort, humiliation, and ultimately: fear. To avoid this fear, she is incredibly ingenious in handling "dangerous" situations. But how much she can do to avoid nightmares created by herself? How could such a simple problem not being solved through the course of her 48 years life? We would have clues after we read the book.

Not only this book displays a stunning darkness of human nature and how it was shaped, but also it reflects an unfortunate fact: there really is a limit of what our kindness can do. Sometime, our good will could be extremely fragile when facing some twisted personality that has been gone too far, too stubborn that it is impossible to be mended. It becomes a "stone", not anymore a human being.

This is the first book of Ruth Rendell I read, already I am impressed by her genius insight of humanity. I am excited to read more of her masterpieces. Thanks Ruth Rendell for rendering such a profound insight into a brilliant art work!

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Apathy Or "Joyousness"? - A Thought Over The Darkness of Human Nature

Empathy (Photo credit: TonZ)
In recently days I had some emotional disturbance over a small casual "social" encounter. This small social event again, demonstrated some dark image of human nature to me, that is the lack of empathy. Actually "lack of empathy" is an underestimation. What I really saw is a kind of mental state which I would name it as "an unconcealable joy upon others' suffering".

Yes, lack of empathy is far from the worst. I just finished reading a mystery novel "A Judgement In Stone", written by Ruth Rendell, in which she brilliantly demonstrates what is "lack of empathy" (This book is a real classic!). Lack of empathy is just apathy, which would not motivate people to do harm to others, unless their lives are threatened. No, what I refered here is much worse. it is a kind of "joyousness" brought by others' suffering. Yes, this kind of feeling does exist in plenty of people's minds, and when facing others misery, they feel so "happy" that they could hardly disguise their emotion as anything else.

Sadly, I witness this fact through my ordinary daily life, now and then, more or less. Am I too sensitive? Or am I exaggerating facts?

It is one thing to kill for survive, another to kill for pleasure. I always wonder why during those historical disasters so many people were capable of committing stunning atrocities, wonder why those serial killers, torture or death executioners could go through all those gruesome "procedures". The answer is "pleasure". They "enjoyed" what they did.

I am not saying those people I interacted with are exactly this kind of "evils", but they do remind me this mindset. I believe this mindset truly is the "champion" of the darkness of human nature, and it is responsible for many unnecessary man-made miseries, and it exists widely, more or less, consciously or unconsciously, in many people's minds. And when time is "right", it will do great damage, just as we witnessed before in the course of human history, again and again. Like Hu Ping (a contemporary Chinese philosopher) said: "People always put the word "kind" to all the weak individuals, but what they do not know is, the reason some of these individuals appear to be "kind" is only because they do not have chance to be evil."

It will be a much more serious topic to think of why people act like this. By studying history I have some clues, but it would be too immature for me to explain in this short post. All I must point out here is, that the people who possess this "evil" mindset are not "evils" by nature, they are normal people, even "kind" or "nice" people in many people's eyes. Truly, if we look at human society from evolutionary perspective, there is really no "good" and "evil" exist, only "mechanism". That is, what drive people to "good" or "bad" sides are not "God" or "Satan", but natural elements, include the genes, natural or social environments, experience, etc. So by this view, we would understand better why people act like this way. (Really, if you read "A Judgement of Stone", you may really understand why Eunice Parchman kills Coverdale family with cold blood.)

However, isn't this view harder for our human to swallow than the religious view, which we could put responsibility to "God" and "Satan" for all our “deeds”? Do we not to feel more lost, more helpless if we know that all these tragedies were driven by natural causes? My answer is "yes". But to know is better than not to know, because only if we understand darkness better, could we do better to avoid it happens.
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October 15, 2013

Religion And Morality

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
--- Steven Weinberg, physicist.

October 14, 2013

"Can I Paint Background Black?" --- A Question That Challenge My Patience

#10 (1952) by Mark Rothko
#10 (1952) by Mark Rothko (Photo credit: wordherder)
Quite often, I heard some of my students asking me "Can I do this?' or "Can I do that?" I repeatedly told them, that in this class, they have 100% freedom to do whatever they want to do with their projects. The question that "bugs" me even more is "Can I paint background black" or "yellow" or "orange", some of them even asked me with a expression of ridiculousness, implied that there must be something you just CANNOT DO. Of course, my answers would always be: of course you can, if YOU REALLY LIKE IT!

Seemingly these are questions long for freedom, but somehow I saw just the opposite: they are asking for permission, asking for demand. These students really wished me to give them a certain rule to follow so they could be successful with every single projects. I often see this attitude among those whose parents have the highest expectations, those who also have high expectation on their teachers (in this case it's me). And these students would be  frustrated or discouraged, even stressed if they could not reach their goal in very short period of time.

Since the beginning of my art classes (2009), I was clear with what I could and could not do with my teaching. What I could do is teaching students some basic techniques and giving them opportunities to discover themselves; what I could not do is giving them inspiration, making them "talented". I told my students that I do not teach "how to paint a tree", "water", "mountain", or any specific subject, rather, I only teach "how to paint". In other words, I teach basic rules (such as perspective, shading, color principles, etc.), and let students use these basic rules to deal with subjects by themselves. Most of students (especially those self-motivated) could understand this idea quickly, put themselves in "experiment" and have fun with it, but some students couldn't seem to understand, only feeling lost when there are no certainties to rely on.

Averagely, I found younger students seemed to welcome this teaching method more than older ones. Also same students could change through time. i.e., one girl was very creative when she just came to my studio a few years ago, now she is over 10, she seemed to try very hard to find some rules to follow, and confused when I refused to give her specifics.

Sometime I would feel impatient when facing such kind of questions too often, especially when I saw the mental laziness or complete dependence (on me) in their attitudes. But sometime I would remind myself that they are still too young and could be very confused by all different kinds of influences surround them. So I took a deep breath, be patient again next time.

Freedom is a good thing, is the soul of art, soul of joyful life. Unfortunately, it is not always comfortable. I knew this when I first read Erich Fromm's Escape From Freedom (and later my life experience seems to prove his point). Now, teaching young kids, I realized, that even at this early ages, freedom is not welcome to everyone.

October 11, 2013

It's Not About Art, But "Who I Am"

Out-of-print books may be found at libraries o...
Out-of-print books may be found at libraries or specialty book stores. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
An old friend just called, informed me that she knew a gallery in New York, which collects print-makings, which she thought I would be interested. After thanking her for her good intention, I told her that I was not interested. I do not have any print-making works on hands. "Why not make some?" she asked. I said I could not make "some" just by demand. If I do any, it has to be by inspiration, which I don't get very often, and which means I am not qualified to be a professional artist. She mentioned that reason I had problem with art was that because I didn't value art as "high" as it actually is, and she thought that I did not appreciate myself enough. NO, I said firmly, I know how valuable art is, but it's just not WHO I AM.

I got this comment very often through my life. So many people looked me in a way they looked at a master, mainly because my skill and my background. For many people, choosing a career is a matter of its "social value", which means how others value the things we do, not the value how much they enjoy doing them by themselves. Art seems to be something revered by most people in this world, that's why many people often told me that it is a shame if I don't continue doing art. Especially, considering that I had already spent so much time of my life on this career. But deep inside, I knew if I forced myself doing what people think I should do, I would feel miserable all my life, no matter how many compliments I receive everyday. I still remember long time ago, when I was found "hiding in home" studying math for one whole month, one of friends stared at me with remark: "Are you out of your mind?" The truth is, I had most fun in that one month.

Well, it is true that I had spent 30 some years in art career, and 30 some years I struggled trying to get rid of it as a profession, which imposed on me since I was too young by my parents. Now I did, by teaching kids art, I could spend most of my spare time without doing any art works. I just cannot imagine anything better than that.

Yes, life is short. We all have right to be happy. Now a cup of tea in hand, a book in another, I am simply in heaven. Of course, if my readers and I think I hate art, will not do any in the rest of my life, I must say, we are all wrong. I never know what I want to do tomorrow morning, even next minute after this moment. Isn't this a fun mystery to play with? Yes, life is a mystery.

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