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Amazing Grace

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A poem begins with a lump in your throat, a sense of wrong. A homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching out — toward expressionism. An effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.”

— Robert Frost

Scientifically speaking, ideas spark from reactions in our brain. It doesn’t feel like that though. My ideas feel like they come up as a heartfelt lump from my soul. Before I tell it vocally, I clear my throat to bring up the thought. It doesn’t belong stuck there, so I get it out by clearing my throat. It makes a sound that gives listeners around me a heads up that I have something to say, while working my way in, mid conversation to express my feelings in words. Clearing my throat also gets up phlegm.

There is a song. It goes like this:

Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come,
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Timestamp: The song was written in 1779

Grace is a tough one to describe. It is something that is always there. It protects you and gives you freedom.  Grace is forgiveness, even to those who may not seem to deserve it. Any one of us, from one time or another. Grace is that extra space that allows you to follow your heart, make mistakes and grow. Some mistakes are little and some are BIG. Grace is a second chance, a third chance, a fourth and another chance and another. Its Amazing.

One thing that we can say, is slavery wasn’t a good thing. Slavery is a horror, but this wrongness led John Newton to write Amazing Grace. With such a beautiful song, you would never believe that he was a slave trader himself. The song was developed as an expression of thankfulness, after he came to his senses.

Sixty years later (1840) Turner painted The Slave Ship. This is an oil painting of slave traders throwing the slaves — people that the traders had purposely gone on a mission to capture — overboard. Based on a true story (1781), the slave ship, ZONG, it’s captain and crew, were caught in a storm. They threw their sick and dying captives overboard to collect “slave” insurance money by claiming these people were ‘lost at sea’. Some were still alive. Imagine having to swim like hell to save yourself while feeling the sickest you’ve ever felt. Those dark rigid edges in the water are the bodies treading helplessly to save themselves. Who would want to give the people who threw living people overboard a second chance?

“I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”

— John Newton, 1788

John Newton started out as a Slave Trader, following his predecessor’s footsteps. The career was profitable and everyone else was doing it. He was blinded by the excitement of making money and sailing the seas. He had gotten carried away. Some time after jumping on the band wagon he turned around, recognizing the atrocity of what was going on and did the best he could to make himself better. At one point he was trapped in Africa by a female African slave trader. This woman treated him WORSE than you can fathom. She threw cold water on him while he was sick, with out a change of clothes, starved him etc.. etc..  He had never felt so homesick. With that, Newton opened up his eyes. He realized his wrongs. He took that lump of guilt in his gut and turned it into a song.

England was the beginning of the wave to abolish slavery. It is where John Newton is from, and a few decades later, Joseph Mallord William Turner (J. M. W. Turner) was born.  Turner is the one who painted The Slave Ship. Turner grew up in Covent Garden, England. A popular area in London with shops and stores. He would walk past print sellers displaying prints directly on the glass, a galleries of Britains Churches, monuments, Abbeys, and castles. He fell in love. He spent years studying the sky, the effect of wind on clouds, weather, the shape of the country side, trees, and light during different times of day, and the way the world behaved. He understood it so strongly and accurately that he was able to passionately extend his drawings with his imagination for that fiery, emotional and romantic painting. Combining elements of roughness with order, darkness with color and light. He grew a heart for the sea. Emotion transcends from the canvas of the glossy, stormy, green sea and golden glowing sunrise to your thoughts.

The Slave Ship is passionate and emotional. It honors those that were lost and it does not minimize or pretend that nothing happened. The song Amazing Grace is so good that it fills any ounce of homesickness or lovesicnkess you might have had before you listened to it, with good. A poem isn’t simply a Haiku or a Limerick or Rhyme. a poem is an expression from the heart. It can be written with a certain number of words, but it doesn’t have to be. What makes it a poem is the expression behind it. Grace isn’t only for John Newton, it is for everyone who believes. We all need it one time or another. Grace allows that mistake to not have to be the be all end all. Grace is the space between a wrong and a fresh start. Grace is Gods unconditional love. The sun sets, the sun rises and every day is a new day.

The song has been widespread and played by many. It brought attention to a movement to dissolve slavery and share the news about forgiveness. If you have time, listen.

Inspiration and Research

  1.  Turner, J. M.W. Slave Ship. 1840. Oil on Canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Web.  MFA Boston — Turner, Slave Ship
  2. http://britishromanticism.wikispaces.com/The+Slave+Ship
  3. Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. Print.
  4. Turner, Steve. The story of America’s Most Beloved Song Amazing Grace. An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. 2002. Print.
  5. McQueen, Steve, et al. 12 Years a Slave.
  6. Moyle, Franny. Turner, The Extraordinary Life & Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner. Penguin Press. 2016
  7. Django Unchained. Dir. Quintin Tarantino. Perf. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson. The Weinstein Company, Colombia Pictures. 2012. DVD.
  8. Tomlin, Chris. “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone).” See The Morning. September 2006. Six Steps (SIX). CD, MP3, Streaming.
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Image

The Sun That Rises 

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Young Woman with a Water Pitcher Artist: Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632–1675 Delft) 1662 Oil on canvas 18 x 16 in. (45.7 x 40.6 cm) Paintings Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889


I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

— C.S. Lewis

And so, it is still very early in the morning. Stars from the night begin to fade. With birds chirping as dawn approaches, the air is slowly turning from darkness to orange, or, are those colors the sunset? Either way, we are talking about the sunrise here. Meanwhile, by the sun, the morning glow brings life. Structures turn from solid flat silhouettes to objects with sides, color and depth.

And so, early in the morning, the sun is still just rising. First to wake, the young woman rises out of bed in the dark gray space and strolls to the kitchen. By a window pieced together with stained glass, light escapes from the outside in, inviting the young woman to open it, allowing life to flood into the house.

Soon enough the children will wake and stir through the rooms looking for waffles, pancakes and pofferties sprinkled with sugar, as they prepare for their day.

This painting is “Young Woman With a Water Pitcher” Vermeer painted this in Delft, more well known as the land of Amsterdam in 1662. It is oil on canvas hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is 18″x16″.

As she pulls the window frame towards her, dawn escapes in along with the morning cheers and sounds of brass bells rung by sailors on the boats passing through. Looking out the frame both east and west are the rays of the sun glimmering on gray waters of the Amsterdam canals.

And so, sidewalks on the perimeter of the waterways are just waking up. The temperature is still cool and damp. People are stepping out of their narrow, connected, forward leaning canal houses and out onto the brick walkways, sweeping away the morning dew with a broom. Friends are strolling to the market festooned with delicious sausages, meat, bread, cheese, tea, milk, tulips, cinnamon, woven lace, blue and white tiles and other lovely fineries to bring back home. Here in the heart of the city, perhaps Dam Square, friends are bumping into neighbors having friendly conversation, exchanging recipes, and catching up with each other.

In those days it was a time of good fortune for Holland. Delft was a prosperous city. With 165 canals of water (4 seriously major ones) and with names like Singel, Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht and other notable canals like Zwanenburgwal, Brouwersgracht, Kloveniersburgwal, Brantasgracht, Lamonggracht, Majanggracht and Seranggracht (can you pronounce these words? I can’t.), goods were easily transported in and out of the neighborhood.

And in those days Amsterdam was a calm and tranquil society. The people are free and at ease. They don’t look to argue. The village flourishes by their hard work.

Vermeer is a Dutch artist. His paintings do not tell stories, at best he captures the beauty of everyday life (also known as genre art).  “The Young Woman with a Water Pitcher” is one of 35 of Vermeer’s paintings. “The Young Woman With A Water Pitcher” expresses tranquility. Put together with moments and objects from everyday life, the painting is realistic and seems as if it is in a stop action shot. We are looking through the wall of this ladies home, but she does not know we are. The picture will unfreeze at any second and she will begin to move.

Noticing by the detail of the surrounding area, we see the kitchen of a modest home. Vermeer gives perspective to his carefully chosen objects, in particular the table, window, jewelry box, water pitcher and also the dish, giving them life.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art states: “The subject here is an ideal woman in an ideal home, where beauty, luxury and tranquility coexist. The map and jewelry box suggest worldliness, but the sliver-gilt basin and pitcher would have been recognized (despite their expense) as a traditional symbol of purity. The linen scarves covering the woman’s head and shoulders were usually worn during a morning toilette.” The stained glass window also gives the painting a peaceful delicate mood. Reputation of the primary colors red, blue and yellow bring the picture together. The woman’s vibrant blue dress juxtaposed to the red embroidered table cloth creates an outstanding image. Tapestry weaving was a popular product during the 17th century, during the time of Vermeer’s life. In nature the morning sun shining in through the window would cause many shadows. Chiaroscuro, the transition from darkness to light builds depth and structure. He captured the figures that were brought to life by light well. Vermeer lived from 1632 – 1675.

So, light floods in and falls quietly on the woman, the young woman is about to look out of a window, possibly thinking of the voyages of her fellow countrymen returning home. She may even be looking forward to the return of her husband from his new world journeys.

A little bit of history

During the 17th century, the Dutch society had reached a point of political, economic and cultural greatness. A time of such prosperity is considered to be a “Golden Age.” In the previous century  “The 17th century also brought heightened economic competition to Europe. Much of the foundation for worldwide mercantilism – extensive voyage and geographic exploration, improved cartography and advances in ship building had been laid in the previous century.

In the 17th century however, changes in financial systems, lifestyles and trading patterns, along with expanding colonialism, fueled the creation of a worldwide marketplace. The Dutch founded the Bank of Amsterdam in 1609, which eventually became the center of European transfer banking.” Traders could now exchange their heavy precious goods for money, which was much lighter in weight. They did not have to transport heavy goods to use as payment anymore. In the century before, the Dutch found a way to perfect their ship building. Shipping and a lighter load allowed a greater variety of goods that could be traded. Industries were expanding and goods that could only be found in other countries like coffee from the islands, and tea from China could now be brought in to add to the economic wealth. Slaves were captured and shipped to European colonies and the Americas they were used to harvest crops such as sugar, tobacco and rice.

Shortly after the Netherlands gained independence from Spain in the late 16th century, Dutch businessmen developed cities in the new world, such as New Amsterdam, now known as New York.

About forty years later the British wanted to fight for the land and the Dutch decided rather than to waste their time on war efforts they…. they would turn their heads and allow the British to have the land, and face to another direction, towards the East India Trading Company.

Holland was also the only society allowed in to trade with China, giving Holland a boost with economic growth. Ships could enter into China. Holland was seen as an unassertive trading country that minded its own business; the ships only sailed in to trade, with no interest in influcencing the culture of China to be like Holland, leaving Holland harmless.

And, all other cultures were banned from China because China wanted to protect itself from being changed by other cultures.

The Dutch East India Company, which traded in spices, tea, silk, and other much-wanted commodities from China, was the largest of its kind and — in keeping with Holland’s commercial lead over Britain at the time — it was more successful than the British East India Company.

The beauty of Vermeer’s paintings, is not in his choice of subject but in the ways his scenes are portrayed. It is in how he uses light and color, proportion and scale, to enhance the moods of his figures. He imparts nuances of thought and meaning in his sense which are at once understandable but not totally explicit.

Ultimately, however beautiful or sensitive his paintings may be, they continue to appeal because they can never be completely explained.

Through them, artists strive to relate stories, ideas and moods. But because paintings outlive the generation in which they were created, they take on added historical interest. They become visual statements of the attitudes, moods and ideas of a different age.

Vermeer’s accurate depictions of maps, musical instruments, and paintings within paintings, and his interest in recording differences in textures of materials and the effects of sunlight and shadow, can only be understood in these terms.

Nevertheless realism of Dutch art was not always limited to the precise depictions of objects and effects of light. It is not an exact copy of nature, but it gives the appearance of having copied nature. What is amazing about this painting is that it is real. People actually looked like this,  dressed like this and decorated their apartments like this. Vermeer’s figures are often quiet and reserved and portray no marked emotion.

Now, you might be wondering. Hey, what about the other stuff Amsterdam is known for? Well.. thats not the point of my story. Those details are for another day.

Vermeer is a poetic and not a narrative painter, and the nuances of meaning that one receives are often fleeting and incomplete.
And so, the question is, what is the young woman with a water pitcher doing?

And the conclusion?

Well — paintings are basically a means of communication. Vermeer communicated through mood, rather than narrative. It looks like the woman is about to open the window to allow the light of the dawn flood into the room. After a night of rest and darkness, the sun rises and glows outside waiting patiently to flood the room carrying life in with it.

And so, with the presence of the sunlight, we only know what we see. It is what it is. Standing there with her hand on the window frame. It looks like she is about to look outside the window into the beautiful morning, but really — we just don’t know. Only our imagination can tell us.

DP130155, 2/7/06, 11:18 AM, 16C, 6856x8852 (180+693), 100%, Rona Copywork,  1/30 s, R93.8, G57.6, B56.4  Working Title/Artist: The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji)Department: Asian ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 10Working Date: 1831-33 photography by mma, Digital File DP130155.tif retouched by film and media (jnc) 8_17_11

Inspiration
Young Woman With a Water Pitcher. 1662. Oil on Canvas. Marquand Collection/Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, New York. 

Feifer, George. Breaking Open Japan. New York; Harper Collins, 2006. Book.

Livingston, Jon. Moore, Joe. Oldfather, Felicia. 1 The Japan Reader, Imperial Japan 1800-1945. New York; Random House, 1973. Book

Wheelock, Jr., Arthur. Vermeer. New York; Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1981. Book.

Chevalier, Tracy. Girl with a Pearl Earring. New York; The Berkeley Publishing Group a division of The Penguin Putnam Inc. 1999. Book. First edition (electronic): August 2001.

Grattan, Thomas Colley. Holland, The History of the Netherlands. Charleston, SC. BiblioBazaar. 2006. Book.

Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Through The Age, A Global History, Thirteenth Edition, Volume II. Boston, MA. Thomason Higher Education. 2009. Print.

Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches. New York. Vintage Books, a division of Random House, inc. 1987.

Lewis, C.S. The Magicians Nephew, (1) The Chronicles of Narnia: New York. HarperCollins Publishers. 1955. Print.

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, (2) The Chronicles of Narnia: New York. HarperCollins Publishers. 1950. Print.

Lewis, C.S. The Horse and His Boy (3) The Chronicles of Narnia: New York. HarperCollins Publishers. 1954. Print.

For Some Reason. . .

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Katsushika Hokusai, Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), also known as The Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei), c. 1830-32, polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper, 10 1/8 x 14 15 /16 inches; 25.7 x 37.9 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

ForSomeReason

I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.**

FOR SOME REASON, everything works out the way it is supposed to. The world is filled with elements and each and every detail is here with a purpose. A machine is a noun defined as a piece of equipment with moving parts when given power. Our world is comprised of tiny details that work together to create one great machine.

One possible reason… originating from Asian culture, is that the world is based on five amazing elements; we have water, wood, sky, fire and wind. Water hangs out in the ocean, it evaporates into the sky and proceeds to fall from clouds as rain or snow. Some snow lands on mountain tops, freezes and melts, flowing down hills into running rivers. And you see, the moon and sun control gravity, so depending on this planet and star, water’s currents are pushed forward, sometimes with strong pressure, other times with gentle pressure.

And if you’re living, you have to eat! Thankfully the wind can carry your boat that was made with wood collected from trees, out to the ocean where you can catch fish or all sorts of crazy creatures under the sea. You can bring them in for a meal or sell in exchange for steak from the butcher or potatoes from the farmer or rice harvested from the water fields near the running rivers from down the mountain slopes. Once the food is prepared you can enjoy your dinner while watching a show of Sumo wrestlers as you are safely protected by the Samurai guys, And with pleasure, have a glass of sake poured for you by Geisha ladies, fermented from the harvested rice.

You see that? every element in our world works together, like a machine.

For some reason Katsushika Hokusai depicted Mt. Fuji in a scene with a great big wave surrounding it. Mt. Fuji, in fact, is a sleeping volcano. It is the highest mountain in Japan. During winter, snow sticks to the top. During the warmer months it melts into flowing rivers. It has a chip off the top from its last lava flow in 1707.  The peak is standing confidently, resting quietly and humbly surrounded by roaring, fierce winds and cold currents splashing in a violent direction. Cobalt blue waves of a tremendous size, give off white sprays of water, landing like sharp fragments. These ambitious fishermen are here caught on the sea in the storm. Not to worry, sailing comes as second nature to these go getters, it is what they do. These men are secure in their boats, made of wood which is at ease on the sea. Bravely they sail, carrying the fishing expedition through. Mount Fuji is standing there quietly in the background reminding them of peace, strength and tranquility.

Put together in the time of 1830-32, The Great Wave, is a ukiyo-e / woodblock print comprised of a good balance and proper arrangement of elements. If it was here by itself with out the surrounding details, we wouldn’t really understand its importance. It runs in harmony with the waves and its fishing men. The colors, the wide currents and the surrounding pieces tell us a story about Japanese culture. Like a machine, all of these natural roles work together to tell a story of Japanese harmony.

Traditionally ukiyo-e prints were designs of courtesans and actors. Instead, Hokusai focused on the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels (which, I’d like to add, is something of Genre Art). If your still curious on these prints and would like further detail on Japan, there are plenty of books out there about the specifics.

Mt Fuji is a tiny little triangle and plays a huge role in the perspective of the print. Three repeating points of Mt. Fuji and two waves bring things together. The waves even kind of look like the snowy top of the mountain. To keep it simple, the design is blocked with four basic colors of yellow, blue, white and beige. When looking at the picture the eye begins at the top of the volcano and carries through the story of the first fishing boat to the next fishing boat, to the small wave then to the third fishing boat and then the final hugest wave, and then starting all over again, in harmony to the top of the mountain.

Now, Geisha women, are a distinguished staple in Japanese society. Not to say that other persons are not a key factor. But in the book Memoirs of a Geisha a discussion takes place on the topic of  water and the five elements and the world working together in harmony. Here we have a conversation between Mameha and Sayuri…….

“Waiting patiently doesn’t suit you. Water never waits. It changes shape and flows around things, and finds the secret paths no one else has thought about. There’s no doubt it’s the most versatile of the five elements. It can wash away earth; it can put out fire; it can wear a piece of metal down and sweep it away. Even wood, which is its natural complement, can’t survive without being nurtured by water.

Those of us with water in our personalities don’t pick where we’ll flow to. All we can do is flow where the landscape of our lives carries us.

I’d never understood how closely things are connected to one another. We human beings are only a part of something very much larger. When we walk along, we may crush a bottle or simply cause a change in the air so that a fly ends up where it might never have gone otherwise. And if we think of the same example but with ourselves in the role of the insect, and the larger universe in the role we’ve just played, it’s perfectly clear that we’re affected every day by forces over which we have no more control than the poor beetle has over our gigantic foot as it descends upon it. What are we to do? We must use whatever methods we can to understand the movement of the universe around us and time our actions so that we are not fighting the currents, but moving with them.”3

So when you look at it like that, you can relax freely. Just let the waves carry you along and make your decisions accordingly. Every element including you and I allow our universe to flow in harmony.

Ukiyo-e is the name for Japanese woodblock prints made during the Edo Period. Ukiyo-e, which originated as a Buddhist term, means “floating world” and refers to the impermanence of the world. The earliest prints were made in only black and white, but later, as is evident from Hokusai’s work, additional colors were added. A separate block of wood was used for each color. Each print is made with a final overlay of black line, which helps to break up the flat colors. Ukiyo-e prints are recognizable for their emphasis on line and pure, bright color, as well as their ability to distill form down to the minimum. 1


Inspiration

** The quote was discovered and brought to my awareness by my cousin Al.

** Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Scholastic Press: New York, 2007

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/korea-japan/japanese-art/a/hokusai-under-the-wave-off-kanagawa-the-great-wave

2 “Mount Fuji Symbol of Japan.” National Geographic Education.  Sue, Caryl. Web. 6 April 2015. <http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/media/mount-fuji/?ar_a=1>

3 Griffis, William, Eliot Griffis. History of Japan 660 BC to 1872 AD.

3Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha. Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc.:  New York, 1997

Feifer, George. Breaking Open Japan. New York; Harper Collins, 2006. Book.