Saturday, December 8, 2012

Finding the View

Front of an optical viewfinder system
(subject side)
The groundglass was an early and major innovation in composing the photograph and it was soon followed by the viewfinder. While the groundglass was a "focal" (image producing) type of system, the viewfinder is a distinctly "afocal" (non-imaging) scheme. The point of this particular compositional aid is not to produce a duplicate, or surrogate, of the photographic image, but to allow the photographer to continue looking "out into the world"– with the additional assistance of a synthetic framing boundary overlaying the visual scene. This artificial frame represents and marks the region of the scene that will be captured by the actual photograph.

Rear of optical viewfinder system
(eye side)
The first (and most rudimentary) viewfinder was a simple set of wire frames through which the photographer viewed the scene directly with his eyes, with no intervening lenses or other optical components. This simple metal framing device was something akin to the aiming sight on a rifle or gun. It allowed the photographer to retain a fairly intimate connection to the real world while, at the same time, having some objective means of properly aiming the camera and understanding what the photograph's ultimate composition would be. The photographer simply lined up the two metal frames with each other and then observed what part of the scene appeared within the frame. It was simple, quick, cheap, and effective– a very attractive combination of attributes.

As photographic hardware developed over the decades optical technology became not only more sophisticated but less expensive and, therefore, more available. This made it possible for the viewfinder to advance from a simple pair of geometric framing devices to a true optical system comprised of multiple optical components. The optical viewfinder system would allow placement of the camera close to the photographer's eye, and through which the photographer would be able to view the scene, with the ultimate image conveniently framed. The effect of this was something like viewing the world through a telescope or binoculars, albeit with a rectangular rather than circular framed field of view.
Looking into viewfinder

The optical nature of this viewfinder system also allowed many new additions to what this device was capable of. Precision reticles could be inserted into the interior of the viewfinders that would allow changing the field of view to match whatever lens (for example, wide angle or normal) happened to be placed on the camera. The optical components of the viewfinder could also be mechanically coupled to the focusing system of the camera's main lens to help the photographer know when the camera was properly focused without moving his eye from the viewfinder. As practical zoom lenses were eventually invented and added to the photographer's bag of tricks, the viewfinder became a zoomable device as well, with its zooming capability coupled to the main lens's zoom state, thus providing the photographer with an accurate view of the photograph's composition.

As cameras became more and more electronically instrumented, the display of the camera's exposure state (shutter time, lens aperture, and film speed) was ultimately incorporated into what could be seen within the viewfinder. At this point the photographer no longer had to take his eye away from the viewfinder to adjust the camera settings. He could remain looking at the composition of the photograph while simultaneously and actively manipulating the exposure state, lens focus, and zoom of the camera. This was a powerfully attractive capability, but as with most powerful technologies there was a price to be paid.
Scene framed in viewfinder

Just as the groundglass caused earlier generations of photographers to retreat from the real world under the isolation of their blackout cloth, this new generation would be isolated behind the camera body, with their open eye pressed up close to the rear of the optical viewfinder. The world beyond the photographer (the subject) could not now maintain true eye contact with the photographer, who began to appear as something of a mechanical man– his head and face replaced by a black rectangular box and a glass lens as his Cyclopean eye, staring coldly out into the world.

It would seem that regardless of the technology involved, there is always a tendency for the photographic artist to be removed from their immersion in the real world and be inserted into an isolated, artificial world. And perhaps that is the bain of all artists– that their art would attempt to dominate and replace the real, objective universe and the real human lives within it with a world of their own making. The power and beauty of artful creation can be seductive– for the creator as well as the beholder.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Groundglass

Composing a photographic image is really the "guts" of the photographic arts.  A little while back here I delved into many of the details involved in the decisions that must be made in order to arrive at a particular composition. Those particular decisions I examined were independent from any hardware considerations. All of these "editing" choices were influenced solely by the mind and artistic sensibilities of the artist. I'd like to turn now to the various hardware (and their related techniques) that enable the photographer to make those choices and effectively arrive at a successful composition.

How does a photographer know and select when the right image has been achieved? Three basic methods (and their respective hardware systems) have been developed over the past couple of centuries: the groundglass, the optical viewfinder, and P&S (point and shoot). Although this list is more or less an historical sequence it does not quite reflect a linear evolution as it has ebbed and flowed and produced hybrid results along the way.

Rudimentary groundglass setup,
using a magnifying glass as the imaging lens,
 and white plastic film as the groundglass,
© Bill Brockmeier, 2012
Early in the development of photography the photosensitive material responsible for the recording of the image was in the form of a plate. In the beginning it was the metal plate (daguerreotypes, tintypes, etc.), which eventually gave way to the glass plate. Since these rigid and planar photosensitive surfaces were modular in form it was pretty obvious early on that they could be simply exchanged for a similar-sized glass plate that was "ground" rough on one side (frosted). This frosted surface would diffusely scatter the image's light, and would act as a kind of projection screen so the image itself could be viewed and focused properly. This would also allow the photographer to adjust the location and direction of the camera while watching the image in real time.

Fundamentally, the operator was looking directly at what the final photograph would look like, identical in size as well as composition, albeit upside-down due to the geometric realities of lenses. When in place, the groundglass became the surrogate for the photographic plate. Once the proper focus and desired composition was set the groundglass could be removed and the actual photographic plate inserted in its place. Finally, the image would be exposed onto the photographic plate and recorded for posterity. With the camera work complete all that remained was to chemically reveal (develop and stabilize) the image on the plate.

HIS OWN WORLD, © Bill Brockmeier, 2012
all rights reserved.
This ability to directly see what the final photograph would be seemed axiomatic for the definition of photographic art. Analogous to a painter viewing a scene and then manipulating pigments on a canvas, the photographer would view the scene directly and then retire to beneath his blackout cloth to view the image on the groundglass and manipulate it by modifying the location and direction of the camera and its lens settings.

Hidden beneath his black cloth and behind his camera, the artist is optically isolated from the real scene and is alone with his illuminated image on the groundglass. Of the three basic composition systems I mentioned above this method probably most removes the artist from the external reality which is the source of his image. This situation, coupled with the fact that the image is being viewed upside-down, provides a certain level of abstraction of the image. Only by frequent immersion in this inverted image-world and by a dogged determination to see the real world-as-it-is beyond this inversion can the abstraction be avoided.

The image on the groundglass is actually evidence not of the scene (the objective reality) but rather of the photograph– the image, the art, even the mind of the artist (the subjective reality). This groundglass method of composing the image, as archaic and outmoded as it seems today, has achieved a high renaissance in recent years. Although most don't realize it, modern computerized digital cameras possess their own high-technology version of the groundglass– the electronic display.

The electronic display–
a modern version of the groundglass plate,
© Bill Brockmeier, 2012
This electronic display sits on the back of the camera, just like the real groundglass of more than a century ago, and is the ultimate result of an image focused on the photosensitive surface inside the camera. While the true groundglass reveals the image simply and directly, the electronic display is coupled to the image by a hidden and unimaginably complex chain of digital electronics. The photographer here, as with the groundglass, is looking at a surrogate of what the final photograph will actually be, rather than somehow looking out directly into the scene itself. One difference, however, is that modern camera makers have bowed to conventional notions of reality and have re-inverted (or maybe un-inverted) the image so the photographer views it right-side-up. Although most users probably appreciate this I'm not sure this is actually a plus for the artist. I believe that leaving the image upside-down can allow a more intimate access to the actual power and subtlety residing in the composition of the image.

Also, because the photographer is looking at an image that is within arm's reach (for both the groundglass and the electronic display) he is further separated from the external world. The fact that this image is physically close to the photographer causes his eyes to accommodate, or focus closer, on this nearby object. That may not seem like much of a consideration, but the brain interprets what it sees substantially based on this level of accommodation. Certain powerful optical illusions (like the "moon illusion") depend heavily upon the degree to which the eye's lens is focused. Looking at an absolutely identical image at close range is perceptually very different than seeing the original scene at a distance. This effect can further abstract the image for the photographer.

These abstracting aspects of the electronic display– the new "groundglass"– have revolutionized my own approach to this art. Once I became connected to the immediate ability to hold in my own hands a replica of the final photograph– before it had even been taken– I couldn't imagine ever going back to the "dark ages" of shoot-and-hope.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Deep Communication

I was recently present at a "celebration" event (some would have referred to it as a funeral, but that would be a misnomer in this case) for a woman I had met a few years before. Although I did not know her well, I was happy not only to attend, but to participate on some level as well. It was a remarkable conclusion to a remarkable life that had been lived well and to more than the fullest extent.

You might wonder what a funeral might have to do with photography or art. As I sat among the group celebrating this lady's life, and being surrounded by some marvelous and captivating music, I began to ponder some of the more profound aspects of this thing we call art. What is it about artful expression that so captures us and draws us into its sphere? How can it gain such access into the deeper regions of our minds, our emotions, our spirits? Why are some of us so driven to produce it and attempt to excel at it?

The music I was hearing was certainly calling out, and speaking to my soul. I experienced the need to respond, and so I did at the appropriate opportunities which were offered. The art of music is obviously brimming with what we would call communication– not simply the transfer of information, but the interchange of something much more more significant and vital.

UNEXPECTED LIGHT, © Bill Brockmeier, 2012
all rights reserved by the artist.
Several times the event was punctuated by profound and relevant periods of prayer. These were not intrusions or distractions in the least, but existed entirely within the flow of the moment. Prayer led to music which flowed into prayer which curled around more music which embraced yet more prayer. The praying and the music all seemed to be involved in the same process, which was a conversation involving those in front who were leading this celebration, as well as those of us in the "audience," and of course, God Himself.

It was clear that there was a profound parallel and resonance between the communication offered through prayer and that offered through musical expression. It was only the mode that was different, and that not by much. The depth, the intensity, the value, and the beauty of each was similar. Each was concerned fundamentally with taking a precious and rich gift from who knows what depths of the heart, bringing it to the surface, and expressing it to one who was listening.

On the drive home I thought more about this and realized that nearly every art form, whether sculpting, painting, poetry, or <<fill in the blank>>, has the goal and capacity  for deep, rich conversation between two or more individuals. And, of course, that is precisely the point and power of prayer as well.

I remember the now-cliched zen koan– "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"  I would paraphrase that as– "If someone produces a creative work and no one is there to receive it, is it really art?" I am convinced that real art must have this aspect of true human conversation to it or it is sterile and empty.

And finally, "If someone 'prays' out into the void, not knowing for certain if there is Someone there listening, is it really prayer?" Simply speaking out into the universe is not really conversation as much as it is wishful thinking. First of all, know Who you are speaking to, and then take sufficient time and attention to listen. You might be amazed at what you hear.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Unexpected Gold

Growing up in the Midwest, I was absolutely enamoured with the deep pine forests of the Rocky Mountains. I had been born in Denver, but after our family moved to Kansas City we only visited the mountains as tourists once a year. The plains of Kansas and Missouri surrounded my home for a hundred miles in every direction and these were not populated by large forests of any kind, let alone the lofty pine. These evergreen trees were exotic to my young mind and seemed so different than the few hardwoods I was familiar with. The pines were incredibly tall, and rather than spreading broad branches in a horizontal scheme, they seemed to soar straight up into the heavens, their tops even tickling the feet of angels flying "up there."

Another way in which these pines seemed so superior to the oaks, maples, and sycamores I knew was that their "leaves" were made for the long haul. Unlike my lowly hardwoods, which weakly dropped their entire crop of leaves as the weather turned cool in the fall, the ever-green pines had wonderfully exotic needles with which they eternally clothed themselves. Even through the coldest arctic blasts the proud and stoic pines kept their deep green cloaks wrapped tightly about them. Never naked, never shivering in the cold, they seemed to laugh at what the winter threw their way.

BARELY GREEN, © Bill Brockmeier, 2012
All rights reserved by the artist
When I moved to South Texas thirty years ago, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered the "secret" held by the magnificent cypress tree. The Hill Country in which I live is filled with the clear, cold, fast rushing rivers and streams which host the wonderful cypress. These trees nearly always grow at the very edge of the rivers, thrusting their feet and legs– up to their knees– into the fresh water and solid rock limestone bed. Some of these huge seniors are known to have seen over a thousand seasons, and who knows how many floods.

These cypress giants seemed so much to me like the pines I idolized as a boy. They were incredibly massive and tall, as were the pines. This was certainly a "tree's tree" that fulfilled the biblical description of the "Cedars of Lebanon." And the finely divided leaflets seemed so much like the pine's needles. These were clearly in the "evergreen" class of trees. Or so I thought.

BROAD PALLET, © Bill Brockmeier
All rights reserved by the artist
After our first summer in South Texas, with the coolness of autumn descending from the north, we began exploring the Hill Country in earnest. As we approached one of the seductively clear rivers on our journey, I noticed something strikingly odd about it. This stretch of once magnificent cypresses was turning brown and some were already bare and apparently dead. How could this have happened? Was it some strange tree-specific blight killing them in succession? Was some out of control insect species to blame? Had something been dumped in the river and poisoned them? What a tragedy!

As we drove on and came to another river the same depressing scenario appeared at the river banks. We couldn't believe how badly this plague had progressed. We were somewhat deflated as we finally arrived home.

That evening, as I read about the bald cypress in our field manual of trees, I suddenly realized the ignorant mistake I had made. These cypress were NOT the evergreens I had supposed them to be, but were actually classified as deciduous trees! These trees were supposed to drop their leaves each fall. I sheepishly told my wife about the truth I had just discovered.

In the few decades since that time I have come to appreciate the rich gold, amber, and orange show the cypress makes each November. I now actually look forward to this unusual autumn display of deciduous splendor. It is kind of ironic that growing up in the Midwest, where gorgeous autumn trees are the norm, I now live in South Texas where most of the oaks are "live" (nearly evergreen), and this seemingly "evergreen" cypress is one of the few deciduous trees. As a wise man once said: "Go figure..."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Solitude, Silence, and Stillness

About a week ago I took the opportunity to visit my Art and Conservation project site in the Texas Hill Country. If you recall my posts of the summer, I had been assigned a Nature Conservancy land trust that is located somewhere between the little towns of Sisterdale and Comfort. The trust is situated along a nearly one-mile stretch of the cold, clear Guadalupe River.  This was my first chance to return in a couple of months and I was looking forward to spending nearly a full day there: capturing images and getting to know the place.

I had called and left a message with the landowners informing them of my trip out there. Since they hadn't responded within a day of my phone-call  I didn't expect them to be there, and they weren't. I would have this huge natural gem to myself– I almost felt guilty about it.

I had arrived a couple of hours after dawn. Even though it was well into morning, the fairly high bluff on the southeast bank of the river was still deep in shade and the day seemed younger than it was. The air was crisp and new. 

I drove my truck slowly over the nearly invisible trail on the precipice above the silt plane adjacent to the river. The bank on this side was already well lit by the sun. The sun's beams had not yet illuminated the river itself, still a hundred or more yards away, but I imagined I could see ripples sparkling on its surface. I parked and exited my truck, attempting to close my door without breaking the silence that surrounded me. The only sound I could now hear was the whispering babble of the river in the distance, but perhaps I imagined that as well. 

CYPRESS LANE, © Bill Brockmeier, 2012
All rights reserved by the artist
It is really remarkable when you finally find yourself in a place where silence reigns. No street traffic, no humming AC units, no TVs inanely yakking in the distance...not even an aircraft in the clear blue overhead. It is amazing how the immediacy of life comes to the fore when there are no external sounds to distract you. All of a sudden you feel your own heart beating in your own chest. You can feel/hear the rushing "whoosh" of your blood as it streams through the capillaries of your inner ears. And then you start to "hear" your own thoughts. They become so clearly audible that you'd swear you were speaking them, but then you realize that your lips and tongue are not moving and your mouth is still closed. 

The lack of external sound can also amplify the sense of vision. Magnificent, large cypresses lined the river in front of me and their deep green leaves were brilliantly backlit in front of the yet-dark bluff behind them. Even though a hundred yards off, it seemed I was seeing the finely cut "needles" in perfect clarity and in higher resolution than my eyes were physically capable of. 

COLOR IN THE SHADOWS, © Bill Brockmeier, 2012
All rights reserved by the artist.
I headed down to the river itself after taking a few exploratory photographs from afar. Now at the immediate banks of the Guadalupe I could hear the actual sound of it. The audible sensation of running water is something exquisitely marvelous and magical. I don't believe I could ever tire of it. The hearing of it is, to me, as refreshing and enlivening as taking a long, slow drink of it. My ears drink in the sound of it. 

I continued to photograph throughout the day, moving freely through the conservancy trust. It was not only the lack of man-made sound distractions, but also the total absence of any human contact for seven or eight hours that was refreshing and invigorating. It is marvelously cleansing to be immersed in nothing but the Creator's handiwork. And when you come so face-to-face with His Art, it makes communication with Him that much more immediate and powerful.

Personally, I take great joy in talking with people about my own creative work– hearing what they think and feel about it, and giving them my insight into how the work came about and what it means to me. I believe it is the same with the original and authentic Creator– He, and we, can take great joy in conversing about His work as we experience and consider it. And He will give us insight into how this creation came about and what it ultimately means.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Après le Spectacle

As in the past, this year's Texas Hill Country Invitational fine art show was a memorable and valuable experience. One of the best components of the show was the opportunity for frequent and extended interaction with the other artists. It's great to be able to hear about what other people are doing in their work, both creatively as well as business-wise.

SHADOWS ON THE SUN, © Chris Gray, 2012
All rights reserved by the artist
As I spoke with Chris Gray, a fairly recent member of the BPA, he walked me through the interesting process he uses in composing his "tribal art" pen and ink designs. When you simply look at the final product of someone's art you can make guesses at the detailed steps they take to make it, but often you are totally wrong. This was certainly the case for the Chris's work.

On the last day a woman came into my booth and had much to discuss with me concerning my photographs. She happened to be a fiber artist and mentioned to me something I might consider for my images. What she had to say was not an entirely novel thought for me, but it certainly dusted off the cobwebs of an old idea I'd had some time ago.

EXPLORATION, © Kay Reinke, 2012
All rights reserved by the artist.
Adjacent to my booth were the displays of Kay Reinke's paintings and her sister Karen Cruce's fine art pottery. I recounted for them the discussion I'd had with the fiber artist, and they both jumped on the "new" idea for making my images available to a whole new set of possible collectors. Their excitement was contagious and I promised to attempt developing the required process over the next month or so.  I'll let you know how this turns out.

And finally, despite all of the wonderful aspects of this year's THCI, there was a darker undercurrent lingering through the three days of the show. It is clear that the economy of the US is not even close to being healthy, as sales of work— my own and others— were decidedly puny. Even though the show itself was absolutely wonderful and easily the pinnacle of what Boerne Professional Artists has produced over the years, people obviously did not come to buy. Fine art is, and always has been, a luxury item. When an economy is down, purchases of fine art are probably the first thing to drop off the budget as not a necessary expense. When fine art sales return then you can finally say that the economy is on the mend.

SUNSET HORIZON, © Karen Cruce, 2012
All rights reserved by the artist
Here's looking to next year's Texas Hill Country Invitational– may it build upon the successes of this year, and add robust sales to boot!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Elegance and Art in the Hill Country

Cana Ballroom, Entrance Tower and Catwalk
© Bill Brockmeier, 2012
The Preview night and opening of the 2012 edition of the Texas Hill Country Invitational was an elegant evening and celebration of the creative arts. The show's venue at the new Cana Ballroom was the perfect location for such a fete. With the panoramic vista of the sun setting beautifully over the Texas hills, the wine corks popped and the crowd buzzed. The grand piano near the lobby served up a musical breeze that wafted through the night air.

The art collectors and lovers who came from across Texas to enjoy this weekend of art were not disappointed. The fine art displayed at the Preview party covered a wide spectrum of media, styles, and subjects. From the intricately executed, but boldly designed "tribal art" of Chris Gray to the sensitively modeled and dynamic western women sculptures of John Bennett, there was something to intrigue everyone. This was a veritable smorgasbord of fine art fare.

Halfway through the evening, the results of the independent judging of entries was revealed. I was quite surprised and pleased to hear that one of my own entries, "Beyond the Stone," captured the award in the photography division. John Bennett's powerful "Accordianist" sculpture was awarded the "Best of Show." Although having been named "Texas State Sculptor" in 2010, John Bennett was visibly quite moved to receive the "Best in Show." John is not only an amazing artist, but a wonderfully humble man as well. Well done, John.

BEYOND THE STONE, © Bill Brockmeier, 2012, all rights reserved by the artist, 1st Place Photography 2012 THCI
On Saturday, the day began with an opportunity for art patrons to gab informally with the artists over coffee and fresh pastry before the show itself formally opened. Then the QuickDraw event witnessed the rapid-fire work of a half-dozen or so painters as they created "instant" works of fine art in the brief span of only 60 minutes. Later in the afternoon, these works would be sold in a live auction to the gathered crowd. These works were so new and fresh, that the new owners had to be careful taking them home so the still-wet paint wasn't smudged. Kind of like getting incredible fresh-baked bread, still warm from the oven.

The afternoon was a rich opportunity for those who attended the many art-related demonstrations and lectures. These twenty-minute segments showcased diverse techniques and offered insight into creative efforts.

Sunday will see the final installment of this year's edition of the Texas Hill Country Invitational. Although all of the other surrounding events are now history, you still have one last opportunity to see (and own) some marvelous creative works. Come out to Boerne, enjoy a beautiful Hill Country October afternoon, and take home something you will treasure for years.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Weekend of Art

It's October, and the first hints of autumn in South Texas have arrived— last night was our first "quilt night" and this morning was our first occasion to fire up the heater. And this means that the Texas Hill Country Invitational is just around the corner. I always look forward to this show, and in many respects it is the highlight of my artistic year.

This year promises to be even more of a highlight as I and my colleagues of Boerne Professional Artists are making great strides to move this art show from a regional classic to one of national significance.  Previously, the art show itself was the singular wonderful event of the weekend. For the 2012 edition we have added numerous associated events to the line up.

JOYOUS APPLAUSE (fragment), © Bill Brockmeier, 2012
The weekend of art happenings starts on Friday morning with a "Paint-out." This is a collection of fine art painters who will be stationed throughout the city of Boerne– downtown  the plaza, the Heart of Boerne Trail meandering along the Cibolo Creek, etc.— and who will be painting "plein aire" (on-site) some wonderful scene before them.  This is quite an interesting treat to be able to observe an accomplished painter do their creative work. And as you walk throughout Boerne you'll be able to see multiple painters working in quite different styles, mediums, and so on. These works will be completed during this one day and then will be hung as a collection on a separate wall for the entire weekend of the show. During the show you'll be able to bid for your favorite in a "silent auction," with the results to be made known Sunday afternoon.

Friday night will see the opening of the fine art show itself at the posh new "Cana Ballroom" behind Saint Peter the Apostle Catholic church atop the hill on Main Street.  This night is billed as the "Preview Show" and is a ticketed event which will feature wine, catered hors d'oeuvres, live music, and most importantly, your exclusive first opportunity to select your choice of the incredible new work that is being shown for the first time by these top-notch artists. The event will be semi-formal-South-Texas, so put on your new blue jeans, shine yer boots, press yer best shirt, and don't forget yer steppin' out hat! If you'd like to obtain tickets, you can call or email me.

Cana Ballroom, © Bill Scheidt, 2012
In past Texas Hill Country Invitationals, a single, highly respected artist from outside the Boerne area has been invited to the show.  This year, we are expanding the invitation to eleven invited artists from across Texas.  Including the Boerne Professional Artists members who will be there, the show is featuring the new work of nearly forty fine artists who work in a host of various media: oils, acrylics  watercolor, pastel, bronze sculpture, stone sculpture, photography, ceramic, and fine art jewelry (I hope I haven't missed someone!). You are sure to find something intriguing.

Saturday morning really ramps up the art weekend with the public opening of the show with a "Breakfast With the Artists."  This is your opportunity to enjoy a pastry and coffee while you chat informally with the artists on the patio outside the ballroom. The patio has a wonderful view overlooking the Hill Country and downtown Boerne. This is a great opportunity to ask the artists about their work, and "what makes them tick."

The Patio, © Bill Scheidt, 2012
The morning then continues with another exciting art adventure with the THCI "Quick-Draw." If you have never attended one of these, you are in for a treat! The dozen or so artists who have entered the event will have only one hour to start and complete a finished work of art. You will have the opportunity to observe these amazing artists work at a fever-pitch. The artists will participate in several painting mediums as well as sculpture. Immediately after the event, each of the artworks will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, and you will have the opportunity to go home with a piece that you actually watched being created— from start to finish!

After the Quick-Draw, the main event of the Texas Hill Country Invitational begins. The show will extend through all of Saturday and through Sunday afternoon. These professional artists are known for their work far beyond Boerne and will be showing some of their newest work— most of which has not been seen before by the public. You will also enjoy talking with each of the nearly forty artists who will be able to fill you in on the details and background of the works you will be seeing.

While the show continues Saturday afternoon there will be numerous art-related lectures and demos in the ballroom to provoke your interest and deepen your understanding of art. These events will be produced by some of the artists in the show, as well as others from outside the BPA.

All in all, this promises to be by far the best and most amazing Boerne Art Weekend ever, and there will be something to keep you interested all three days. Make plans now to travel to Boerne and immerse yourself in what is coming to be known as the "Little Santa Fe of Texas!" 

Check here for a posting of the detailed schedule of times for the events I have mentioned above.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Ties That Bind

During an extended break in my recent jury duty in district court I remembered that a Fiber Art exhibition had been showing in the downtown gallery in New Braunfels. I made my way down there and was extremely gratified to find out that it was still on display.

© 2012, Nadia Kahn
photograph © 2012, Bill Brockmeier
Several years ago, the gallery had hosted a similar show and it was one of the most creative displays I had seen at the gallery. I believe this current show has topped that one. The exhuberence and passion these twenty-two artists have for their medium of choice is obvious in the works they have produced.

The range of style, approach and technique shown throughout the show is remarkable. There are small scale but serious works, like seen in the vertical showcase housing an incredible array of birdnest-like baskets. The colors, textures, and details displayed by this collection is wonderful. And then there are large, elegant, and thought-provoking works like the huge, vertically oriented silk design wafting in the breeze of the overhead fans.

While fiber-based works are not at the top of my mind when I think of creative pursuits, whenever I have the opportunity to view some serious examples I am always impressed by the possibilities. It's astounding to realize how this media can cover much of the same ground as painting, sculpture, architecture, and even photography. On top of that, you can even wear some of it!

The Feminine Thread

Though most of the works in the show are abstract creations meant to be displayed by hanging on the wall or standing on a table, there are certainly many that were made to be displayed on the human body. Of these, the great majority were scarves, hats, jackets, and dresses that were clearly intended to compliment the feminine form. And I suppose that is as it should be. Of the twenty two artists showing their work there, every one of them is a woman. Of course, not every single fiber artist in the world is a woman, but there does seem to be some sort of natural bond between the feminine psyche and the "thread."

© 2012, Nadia Kahn
photograph © 2012, Bill Brockmeier
The sculptural qualities of these garments are quite remarkable. Even as static sculptures draped upon abstract manniquins in the show they are very dynamic in their form.  I can only imagine how truly dynamic they would be, draped upon a living, breathing, moving woman of flesh, and sinuously waving in the currents of air as she walks down the street.

The Masculine Scarf

Not every item of apparel in the show was intended for the feminine form. There was a trio of neckties that caught my attention. Even if not worn on the body these ties could be marvelous abstract paintings, worthy of framing and hanging on a wall in a place of prominence.  Their colors were sumptuous and their designs intruiguing. On top of that, they were fabricated from silk, insuring a tactile sensation satisfaction.

I'm a sucker for the feel of certain fabrics. Some of my earliest treasured memories (before I entered school) are times that I accompanied my mother to the various fabric stores she frequented. I loved leaving her behind as she scouted the store for some specific need. I would find my own adventures among the endless aisles of bolts of fabric that towered above my four year old frame. The colors and patterns alone were amazing enough to the sensation-sponge that was my mind, but what really hooked me was the way these fabrics felt to my little fingers and face. I couldn't help but touch them. To this day I can't go into a fabric store and only look.

Like the majority of men these days (at least those born post-mid-twentieth-century) I was not at first a fan of the "noose."  I viewed neckties as not-quite-necessary evils to be endured only once or twice a year, and I would avoid that if at all possible.  But several years ago I began to see them as something else. They seemed to have become such a rarely worn item around a man's neck that they have now transcended what they once were– a required uniform of drudgery– and are now a new freedom, offering a unique and refreshing opportunity for a man to wear art.  A generation or two ago, our culture afforded only women the common luxury of being draped with beautiful designs and creations.  Now men can just as easily (though maybe not as naturally) don the beautiful.  (...and if you need to learn how to tie a necktie, check out these manly videos...)

So, I paid for the two ties whose colors I especially appreciated and told the gallery docents I would be back to pick them up at the close of the show. I am looking forward to wearing these ties at the Texas Hill Country Invitational show in which I will participate the third weekend of October. Come see me there, and I might even let you touch my tie!

By the way— the beautiful neckties I now possess (and illustrated above) were painted by Nadia Kahn, an incredible silk artist whom you can contact at:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another Dimension

In the physical universe there are multiple spatial dimensions: three translational and three rotational, as we have seen. But there is also a single dimension of time. It is this time component that is of paramount concern to the photographer. Once all of the geometric choices have been have been made (the translational "where" and rotational "what") there is still one more dimension of choice to be made– the "when."

© Bill Brockmeier, 2012
Once a specific shot has been completely set up in a geometric sense– the camera is attached to a tripod, then aimed and locked in a specific direction and orientation, and the focal length selected– the specific, unique image is still waiting to be determined. What will actually constitute that image will only be revealed as time unfolds, and at some specific instant a choice is made by the photographer to release the shutter and record the photograph. At that singularity the moment crystallizes and the photograph is born. The image now has creative life. Once having existence only as objects in the physical universe and ideas within the mind of the artist, these two combine in a mysterious transformation and transition from a fleeting existence in the physical realm to a more enduring existence in the photographic universe.

All around us the flow of time streams on, inhibited by nothing. All in the physical universe is moving, changing, living, dying. Nothing remains as it was. A rock, half buried in the surface of the earth, seems to be inert and unchanged by the years. And yet it is part of this globe that spins on its axis at a thousand miles per hour, and revolves around its parent star at sixty times that speed, and through this galaxy at who knows how fast. And given enough time on a geological scale it will erode away by wind and water and chemistry, carried into the planet's oceans, deposited on the sea floor, and possibly carried downward into the hot interior of the earth to be melted once again.
© Bill Brockmeier, 2012

But the photograph lives outside of the physical universe that gave it birth. This extra-physical existence is now outside of time and outside of the movement of time that changes everything. This is an absolutely different kind of existence. Even if the photograph itself, the printed form, degrades, erodes, and fades away, the photograph itself– the crystallized vision of the artist– remains the same. Though derived from material existence and objects, the photograph has a fundamentally different type of existence.

One can have a camera on a tripod, locked in a specific direction, with the focal length fixed, and take a virtually limitless set of different images. As the sun rises in the morning, arcs across the zenith, and settles below the western horizon, this single day alone can provide a wealth of diverse photographic ideas. As the seasons change– fall, winter, spring, summer– what is seen by the camera is continually growing, moving, morphing. And as the decades and centuries and millennia fly by the view continues to change, evolving from what was to what is and ultimately to what will be.

And all the while the photographer is there, waiting. Waiting to grab the moment that will become his art, his image.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

High Yield Crop

Once the location of a photographic shot has been chosen (the center of perspective), and the direction and orientation of the camera has been selected (the center of the perception), there is yet one more significant geometric choice of editing to be made. After choosing the place from which to observe and also the direction to look toward, there is still most of the universe to see. The action of what has come to be called cropping a shot will further limit the scope of the view to the final image (this is another segment of the "what?" editing dimension).

There are actually two components to the crop. The first occurs in the camera. The selection of the lens focal length is actually a cropping action. The longer the focal length (this tends toward telescopic or "telephoto") the narrower the camera's field of view, and thus, the smaller the piece of the universe that the camera can see. As the focal length is shortened, the wider the camera's field of view becomes, and the larger the piece of the universe it can see.

crop A,
© 2012, Bill Brockmeier
crop B,
© 2012, Bill Brockmeier
Once a photograph has been recorded by a camera, there is a final cropping action that can yet take place. Before or during the printing, or otherwise displaying of the final photographic image, the frame can be further cropped. Although the field of view of the image can no longer be made wider it can be made smaller and the orientation even rotated somewhat.

The two photographs I have shown here demonstrate the dramatic difference a slight crop at printing can make in an image. Both images were derived from the same original full panoramic photograph, and both have exactly the same size and aspect ratio (height to width ratio). The first crop (on the left here) reveals more of the immediate objects at hand near the original observer, including the floor on which one would be standing. This gives an immediate connection with what the environment was like in the location, and puts the viewer of the photograph back at the scene.

The second crop (on the right) tends to extract the viewer of the photograph from the original location and brings more of a thoughtful, abstract quality to the image. The overall effect of the image is to cause the viewer to raise their vision upward, from the little light below to the more celestial bluish light that illuminates the upper portion of the image. The objects in the image are now all unconnected to the floor upon which the viewer would be standing and moves the viewer's thoughts from down here below to up above. While the depth of the former image was very much locked within the original location, the depth of the latter image is definitely moved beyond the simple physical reality of the original space. This second crop, although derived from exactly the same image as the first becomes an entirely different photograph.

These cropping edits at both ends of the photographic process cannot alter the geometric relationships between objects within the view, but its main function is to select or limit which features reside in the image. The narrower the image is cropped, the more the image reveals the details and subtleties of the remaining objects. The wider the image's view (the less it is cropped), the more the objects are shown in relationship to their surroundings.

Cropping is also a way of eliminating distracting or irrelevant features from the image. The more that objects are cropped from view, the less the remainder is connected to its environment, and the more abstract it tends to become.  The less that is left in an image, the less distractions there are, and the more opportunity there is for the viewer to think on what remains– and to think on what is not visible to the eye.

Next stop in editing— the Time Zone. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Center of the Perception

After the Prime Location– the Center of Perspective– has been selected the second dimension of editing that a photographer normally enters into is the direction into the universe that the camera is aimed. Before this choice is made, the camera is free to rotate in any direction, pivoting about the center of perspective. This pointing in space is the axis, or vector, that further defines the image to be created. Just as the location of the center of perspective is a choice of one spatial point out of the infinititude of possible points, the direction that the camera is ultimately to look must be a single choice out of equally infinite possible directions.

Direction of View, A
And as the point of perspective defines the center of the photographer's perception, so the direction of view of the camera will define the center of the final image, or the center of interest for the final observer of the photograph (this is part of the "what?" dimension of editing). While the point of perspective is the place the photographer is looking from, the direction of aim (direction of view) is the point infinitely far away that the viewer of the photograph will be looking toward. This is not to say that the major point of interest for the photograph's viewer is always the geometric center of the image, as that is rarely the case in reality. But it is to say that this is the cardinal reference point for the viewer– the point to which all items of interest in the image are referenced or related.

One could think of the point of perspective as the center of the perceiver (or the camera), and the direction of view as the center of the perception (the image).

Direction of View, B
 There are two rotational dimensions that comprise the camera's aiming direction. These are commonly called the elevation and the azimuth. The elevation is fairly obvious– this is how high above (or how far below) the horizon the camera is pointed. The azimuth, while not quite so obvious, is basically what "compass direction" the camera is pointed toward.

The three photos to the right may not be all that interesting from a visual standpoint, but they will serve to illustrate the issue at hand. Even though the camera's entrance pupil is at exactly the same place for each shot, pointing the camera in a slightly different direction drastically changes the composition and substance of the shot. And even much more subtle changes in the camera's direction than I have used here can still dramatically change the look and feel of the final photograph.

There is another part of this rotational editing that generally occurs at the same time as the direction of view. But unlike choosing the direction that the camera is aimed, this choice is nearly always by default. This is the orientation of the camera, or the angle of rotation between the bottom edge of the image and some reference plane in the universe (for instance, the surface of the earth).
Direction of View, C

Nearly always, the photographer leaves this to the conventional choice and doesn't even think about it. That, in itself, is a choice. Convention would declare that the bottom edge of the image should be parallel to the horizon– and that "down" in the image should conform to "down" in the real world. But there is nothing that says this orientation is the only useful, significant, or valuable orientation possible. It's just the most obvious. In fact, if this orientation is actually allowed to be anything within the 360 degrees of rotation, whole new possibilities of creativity begin to reveal themselves.

We saw previously that the point of perspective is defined by its location in space, and this location is  composed of three translational dimensions– how high, how far left or right, and how far forward or backward (or as the mathematician has it: the X, Y, and Z).

Interestingly, the vectors that define the aiming of the camera are also three dimensional. There is the single rotational dimension of the image's orientation, and then there are the two rotational dimensions (elevation and azimuth) that define the camera's pointing direction. These two sets of three dimensions (three translational and three rotational) comprise the complete complement of what the physicist or mathematician considers the six spatial "degrees of freedom."  These "degrees of freedom" are what give the photographer the freedom to choose any possible shot from the limitless possibilities.

Use your freedoms wisely and don't simply settle for the obvious. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Center of the Universe

I wrote previously that editing is one of the fundamental tools, maybe THE fundamental tool, of photography. The photographer starts with an external, previously created universe and then begins a process of decisions culminating in either inclusion or exclusion of various components of that reality. These decisions can be incredibly detailed and complex, but for the most part they tend to fall into three primary dimensions of choice.

Often the first dimension of decision that a photographer makes is one that I would call the point of perspective, or the point of view, or maybe the center of the photograph's universe. This has to do with the photographer's location, or more precisely, the location of the center of the camera's entrance pupil.

It has been said that "the eyes are the windows of the soul," and similarly, you can think of the entrance pupil of the camera as the window of the "soul of the photograph." If you look into the front of a camera's lens, you will see a dark hole right in the middle– the entrance pupil– the gate through which all light that ends up producing the photograph is channeled. And for the photographer, the camera's pupil becomes an extension of his own anatomical pupil. In this article, I will use the two interchangeably: the photographer's own pupil, and the entrance pupil of the camera.

When you open your eyes and look out into the universe, in a sense, you are at the geometric center of everything you perceive. For better or for worse, you ARE the center of your own perceptions. Your perception of the universe is limited by your own location. The way everything looks to you is based upon where you stand– your location in space. The visual relationship of various objects outside of you is a function not only of their geometric relationship to each other in space, but even more so of your geometric relationship to them.

Center of Perspective
at first location
(three poles aligned)
© Bill Brockmeier

Center of Perspective
farther to the right
© Bill Brockmeier
Center of Perspective
slightly to the right
© Bill Brockmeier
The phenomenon of parallax is the prime example of this principle. If three objects are aligned with each other, and you view them directly from the front, the one in front and the one in back appears neither to the right nor to the left of the one in between ("first location" in photo above). But if you move off to the right of them, the one in front now appears to be to the left of the middle one (tall white pole), and the rear (crossing sign) appears to the right.  And if you move even farther to the right, they appear separated even more. Although the three objects appear to be moving in relationship with one another, they are actually fixed in space– it is your own motion which has caused the apparent motion of the objects.

Center of Perspective
at street level
Center of Perspective
three floors above street level
How things appear is largely based upon where you stand– what your point of perspective is. And it is the same with a photograph. How things appear in the photograph is largely based upon where the camera (and most importantly, its entrance pupil) is located.

The apparent geometric relationships of the objects in a photograph are formed and then secured by the location that the photographer chooses for the camera. And this location not only affects where they seem to be in respect to each other, but their relative sizes as well. It should be obvious that the closer the camera is to an object the larger it appears, and vice versa.

So, where the photographer chooses to set up his camera is the first decision of editing that must be made. This will drive a stake in the universe at the center of perspective for the image. The infinitude of other possibilities for the arrangement of objects in the universe has been excluded, and this singular point in space now begins to define the potential image.

Two other dimensions of editing will be explored in following articles...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Editor's Knife

Photography, for the most part, is not an art based on creation ex nihilo, out of the void, but it relies instead on working with something that came before– something that already exists.  Down at the very ground level the photographer's task is that of an editor. The ever present questions before the photographer are— "what do I leave out of the image?" and "what do I incorporate into the image?"

The media– the raw materials and components– from which the photographic artist composes her "work" is the physical universe itself. The environment, the surroundings, the ambience in which she is immersed is the canvas and pallette and pigments that she will use to paint her creations. But maybe more to the point, and a better analogy perhaps, is to liken the photographer to a sculptor, whose work it is to take an existing mass of stone, imagine within it the art she desires to express, and then cut away everything from outside that does not match that artistic vision.

Unfinished Slave ("Blockhead Slave")
by Michelangelo Buonarroti,
housed in the Accademia in Florence
Near the top of nearly everyone's lists of remarkable artists is the Italian sculptor (and painter and poet and architect and engineer) Michelangelo Buonarroti. His work is extraordinary not only because of the virtuosic technical skill he enjoyed, but maybe even more so because of his profound and penetrating grasp of the creative purpose and process. One of his enduring perspectives on this process is his statement that the most significant sculpting is about understanding the art– the figure– that already exists within the physical stone. He wrote:

"In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it."

According to Michelangelo the sculptor must strive to see the figure hidden within the stone, and in the same way the photographer must work to see the image that lies beyond a surface view of the world. And then, just as the sculptor must be an editor of rock, chiseling off, chipping away, and grinding down the original raw surfaces, the photographer must be at work selecting a specific place to shoot, a unique direction to aim the lens, a singular cropping for the final print. The decisions to be made by the photographer are manifold, and laying out the whole spectrum of them deserves an article of its own.

It mostly comes down to the need to use the "knife." The photographer must cut keenly between what exists in the physical universe that belongs in his image, and what does not. There is an infinite amount of material that must be eliminated from the potential image, with only a trace– just a whiff– of the universe left. Ruthless decisions must be made. It's either in or it's out.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Ferment

We just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York City. The opportunity to stay in an apartment in Midtown Manhattan was just too tempting to pass up. While there, we took the liberty to experience some of the unique possibilities only available in this City Of All Cities.

If I could describe our time there in just a few words, the first things that pop into my mind are very sensory-based: rusty, noisy, filthy, stinky. If you have a soft spot in your heart for NYC you might be offended by this estimation, and I apologize if I have touched a nerve. My point here is not to offend, but simply to report my honest human perception of the place.

Peeling Paint in 53rd Street Station
© 2012, Bill Brockmeier
But this is clearly not all of what the city holds. If that were the case, it would not be possible for a landlord to rent out a fifth-floor, walk-up, single bedroom, spartanly appointed flat of only 360 square feet for a few thousand dollars per month (as is the case for the apartment we called our home-base for four days). There are literally millions, maybe tens of millions or even hundreds of millions, of people who would love for the chance to live in this city. There must be something more here than the visceral description I used above.

I was amazed at the incongruity that seemed to present itself around every turn. Walking along a street in Midtown, we passed under an overhead bridge that was constructed who-knows-when, and covered in thick rust that was busily exfoliating onto the street and sidewalks and pedestrians below. Talk about infrastructure that needs more than a face-lift! And just turning the corner we would be treated to the astounding sculptural sight of an architectural wonder rising majestically high above us.

Then, we used the extensive subway system to make our way to a new location in the city and were frequently treated to a barrage of olfactory overloads. Though the puddles of urine and deposits of feces were invisible to the eyes, they were plainly "visible" to the nose! After arriving at our stop, we hurriedly walked up the stairs to the street above, while a finely appointed young woman rushed down the stairs next to us, trailing in her wake wisps of the incredible fragrance of the lavish perfume she was wearing.

One World Trade Center Under Construction
© 2012, Bill Brockmeier
These contrasts were jarring and continual. Living far out in the Texas Hill Country had not adequately prepared me for the roller-coaster ride of the senses that awaited me in Manhattan.

All of this reminds me of something that my Dad said to me not long ago. I was having lunch with him and my Mom and as we sat down to eat he said "Would you like some of this cheese? It's pretty good!" I asked what it was and he said that it was a really nice Liederkranz, similar in some respects to the German Limburger. I respectfully declined, and he said to me "Ohhhh, just get beyond the fragrance of it, and the taste is just wonderful!" He finally talked me into it, yet even after tasting it, the smell was still too much for me. But he sure was enjoying it.

I recently finished writing an extensive essay titled "God of the Compost" which features the bewildering ways that decay, rot, and decomposition can ultimately give rise to a host of marvelous products. Probably the single best word to use for these sorts of highly useful processes is "fermentation." I think this is at least part of what is at work in New York City, and why so many are willing to put up with the assault on their sensitivities. The smell of decay is certainly not appealing, but the resulting mature wine can be a feast for the palate!


Note: if there is enough interest in the essay I mentioned above (please leave a comment here) I may publish it somewhere on this blog...Thanks!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Richer For It

He is not only a professional photographer but a window-cleaning professional as well. My friend, whom I had not seen in quite some, time stopped by unexpectedly and we shared some truly enriching conversation. His unusual mix of creative and practical work always brings an interesting perspective to our conversation.

The two hours that we spent yacking (or is that "yakking?") covered a lot of ground and of course we solved many of the world's ills in the process. One thing that came up was the intriguing interplay between individuality and community in creative pursuits.

As an artist it is always obvious how personal the act of creating is. It is about taking something that is very significant personally, and expressing it. It is about taking something internal, hidden, and owned, and making it external, visible, and in a sense, giving it away. Art always starts with an individual personality who values something deeply. It always starts with some one.
Frozen Mustang Grapes—
Turning them into wine, the project at hand
© Bill Brockmeier, 2012

If anything is to happen creatively an artist must initiate– he must seize those nuggets of inspiration and take a risk. The artist has to act, or risk losing those glimmers of what might have been.

If I have learned anything about photography (and art in general, for that matter) you can't see something and then say to yourself– "Wow...that would make a great shot! I'll have to remember to come back to that when I have time tomorrow..." No, you'd better at least attempt to take a great shot of it now, as tomorrow will, most likely, never come. If inspiration strikes, the moment needs to be seized, or the moment (and the art that accompanies it) will be lost. This is the personal prerogative of the artist, and he can blame no one else if he let's the potential creation slip away. The inspiration comes in a personal way, and the person is responsible to act on it.

As our conversation continued, we began to discuss the fact that art and its creation is not entirely individual and personal, but is also a function of community. I have already indirectly referred to this communal aspect when I mentioned above that the internal, personal creation must ultimately be given away. Yes, this giving away is a personal act, but obviously it must have an object; there must be someone to whom it is given. Without some audience, without someone to see, hear, feel, or otherwise evaluate and appreciate the creative work, this art is simply a masturbatory excercise. If the art remains a personal thing and doesn't connect with another, it remains pointless and empty– sterile.

And the importance of human relationship to art is not only that someone is out there to receive it. Our ability to "speak" creatively to the community is not simply a one-way street, for if we only ever spoke, and never listened, this, too, would end up being empty. We have ears to listen, and eyes to see, and we need to be taking into our personal, internal beings what others are communicating to us (whether those others be artists or not).

As my friend and I conversed, I was reminded of some experiences of several years ago. A co-worker, who happens to be both a jazz saxophonist as well as a mechanical designer, was commenting one day on some of my photographs. He spoke in some detail about all of the things he was seeing in my work– geometric relationships in the composition, the emotional ground and tone of the images, and so on. I had to admit to him that I hadn't really seen some of these things before in my own work, and, frankly, I was amazed that these things were there. That simple interchange caused me not only to see those things in my past work, but to actually look for them in the world around me so I could consciouslly strive to incorpororate them into new work. And it also causes me to now look (and appreciate)  much more deeply the work of other artists.

The direction of the conversation that my friend and I had been pursuing began taking another turn. We realized that so much of what were talking about was incredibly parallel to what we both know of true spiritual community. He and I have known each other for many, many years, and before we ever shared common interests in photographic pursuits, we knew each other as spiritual "brothers." In true, Christian spiritual community, the term "brother" is not merely a cliche to be thrown around trivially, but is a vital truth of our existence. And it is in this sense that we began realizing the dual, two-track nature of our conversation.

Just as with the artist, the creative act begins for our spiritual nature as an intensely personal thing. These "things" rise up within us, striving and yearning to make it to the surface, struggling to burst out of us and become external realities. These "things" are the "creative," spiritual acts that are generated, not by us, but by the Holy Spirit of the Creator Himself– God Almighty actually living in us, and in some miraculous, incomprehensible way, through us.

And just as with the artist, we believers have a choice before us. We can either respond by saying "Wow, that was a great inspirational thought or understanding or impulse...I'll act on that when I have more time tomorrow...," or we can choose to actually act on it and say "Wow...there is no time like the fact, there IS NO TIME BUT THE PRESENT! I will take a hold of that inpiration and flesh it now to the best of my ability, for there may not be any further opportunity to act on this. Thank you Lord!"

The interesting thing of this is that even in this intensely personal act, it begins not actually with us, but with another– the One Who is the ultimate Creator! We simply need to respond to His creative impulse, so even in this we have community and relationship at work.

But then, there are the more obvious relational aspects of the spiritual life– the "brother"-liness (and sister-liness) that I mentioned above. Just as with the creative expression of an artist, the true spiritual person aims for her life to connect with others, for her spiritually creative impulses (initiated by the Spirit of God) to impact the lives of other people. If we sit on these "things" and don't let them see the light of day, they are pointless, void, and sterile. We need to seize these nuggets of inspiration and breathe life into them by breathing them into others' lives.

Finally, my "brother" and I agreed that the other direction of relational life is just as important for our spirits as it is for the artist. To listen intently to others, to try to see what they are trying to show us is essential for our lives. It is essential for a properly balanced view of ourselves, as well as for an accurate view of others. We seriously need to cultivate and attune our receptive skills. The musician calls this intonnation, and he values this as one of his most important attributes– the ability to listen carefully and precisely to the other players in the ensemble, so he can effectively "play in-tune" with them and thereby produce powerful and beautiful and timeless music that can take the breath away.

He had to leave, and I had to finish the project I was working on, so we parted ways that day, both the richer for it.

Don't make the mistake of waiting for "just the right time" to act on creative impulses: either artistic or spiritual. And don't make the mistake of thinking that artistic pursuits or spiritual life are only singular, personal pursuits. Live in the community as well as your own skin, and your life will certainly be the richer for it.