Art Appreciation

by Randy Munch

The Joy of Writing Club members were presented with a color photo of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting The Luncheon of the Boating Party. The assignment was to write an art appreciation essay on the masterpiece. However believing me, a linear thinking professional engineer, can write an intelligent dissertation on a Renoir masterpiece is as absurd as thinking that masterpieces are painted on black velvet canvases. But what the hell – engineers are known for thinking that with a little study of the subject they can figure out how most everything works …. So here goes!

I like paintings that are realistic. The perspective must be accurate. Walls must be portrayed as vertical planes that intersect at right angles and parallel lines must extend to the same vanishing point on the horizon. I expect water surfaces to lay flat reflecting the sunlight as opposed to standing straight up and down like a window pane. I suspect that my preferred style is realism and “the Luncheon of the Boating Party” is an example of impressionism. Art historians write that Renoir’s preferred style in his early years was realism. One of his early works was a most realistic study of a buxom nude. The picture was considered improper by the French – by the French no less! So he put a hunting bow in her hand, a dead dear at her feet, and the skin of an animal across her lap to make her nakedness less blatant.  He then named the painting Diana – Goddess of the Hunt. While the subject was hardly realistic in that only a fool would go hunting in the woods completely naked, his adaptation to produce a work that could be placed on sale in a public gallery was economic realism. That painting went on to become one of the great figure paintings of nineteenth century realism.

I like art work that induces you to think about the subjects and a possible sub-plot. Art historians write that the “Luncheon” is an actual party with Renoir’s friends and over the years each person has been identified. There is a story there amongst the guests. They are of the upper class evidenced by their top hats, bowlers, and yellow straw boaters and the fact they are attending a party on a deck overlooking the Seine. Were there really six people at the party wearing yellow hats? In France yellow signifies betrayal and weakness. Had some of them lost favour with Renoir? Or does Renoir just take direction from Van Gogh – “How wonderful yellow is”?

I like art works that contain various peculiarities scattered across the canvas. In many of Renoir’s paintings there is an uncanny amount of portrayals of the hands of his subjects which are painted most realistically. This is evident even in his impressionistic works. In the “Luncheon” there are 12 hands clearly evident. Such a strong focus on hands is ironic in that toward the end of his career he suffered from severe crippling rheumatism in his hands. Art historians expound on how Renoir changed his style of painting throughout his life concluding that during this period he changed his preferred style to reflect different brush strokes with less definition. Seems to me that being so handicapped that the fact he couldn’t pick up his brush on his own would dictate a different quality to his work and not some preconceived  change in style.

Questionable observations of this nature by art historians and art critics are all too common. Recently while visiting our nation’s capital city and touring the National Gallery of Canada we came upon a large room that displayed a highly recognized piece of art. The room was empty except for a piece of string that was connected at the floor in one corner of the room and that extended kitty corner across the room to be attached at the opposite corner on the ceiling. I was infuriated that my tax dollars funded a National Gallery that would display such a worthless piece of junk; that my tax dollars paid the salary of a curator, presumably an art aficionado, who would actually approve the display of such a waste of rental space in the building, let alone suggest that it was art. I appreciate that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder but there was nothing to behold but the utter stupidity of including the string as a work of art.

In 1990 that same Gallery purchased an 18 foot tall canvas with nothing more than a vertical red stripe between two blue stripes for $1.8 million. At that time Canadian tax payers were infuriated. The purchase has since been justified by the fact that the value of the painting, and others by the same artist, have inflated over 20 times the original purchase price. Which in of itself is ludicrous?

 The demand for this type of art and the gullibility by the art community and the art critics that promote these pitiful works confirm the message in Hans Christian Anderson’s nursery story that embraces authenticity. The public feared being seen as stupid if they were to assert that the emperor wore no clothes and thus they cheered him along his route. But his lack of beautiful new garments was clear to the eyes of an innocent child.

Romantic Mysteries (Fortune Cookie)

by Randy Munch

A long time practice of mine is to remain quiet when all the Asian cuisine diners are reading their fortune cookies. Invariably they insist that I tell them what mine says so I offer with something to the effect …. “there are gorgeous women who think you are handsome and intelligent who are asking about you” …. Most smile and my wife always replies … “you are such a liar”

Getting home last Monday after writing class I sat down beside my wife as she worked on her easel. I boasted of my creative endeavors and of my next assignment. I opened my fortune cookie while she watched and I read it exactly word for word … “A romantic mystery will soon add interest to your life”  ….  “she promptly put down her paint brush and said …. “You are such a liar”.

At that point my fortune cookie had added more ridicule than interest to my life. Knowing full well that the chances of a romantic mystery actually occurring in my modest existence is about as likely as seeing a screen door on a submarine. I therefore presumed that the fortune was proposing that the writing of a romantic mystery would bring interest to my life.   

        Wikipedia tells me that a romantic mystery generally refers to a work of writing where the mystery is the prime interest of the plot with the love interest being secondary. The romantic aspect allows the author to give some reality and life to the protagonists.

In keeping with the cookie wisdom my wife tells me …. “expand your horizons and write some romantic fiction”. She’s saying that to a husband who loves her dearly but gave her the extra-large, gift wrapped order of Omaha steaks for a Christmas present. Anyway Margaret Attwood, a highly successful Canadian novelist, says that a good writer is a good reader and you must read reams of work written in your genre of interest. Nora Roberts is a highly successful romantic mystery novelist and she has written more than 200 novels. There are 500 million of her books in print. She began writing under the pseudonym of JD Robb because she was writing too many books to publish under one name. The exclamation mark of my ignorance regarding romantic mysteries stands with the fact that not only have I not read any of her 200 works but I didn’t even know who she was.

Actually I completed four years of an undergraduate degree and a couple of post graduate years in a college of engineering in the late 1960’s. That’s six years of continual reading books on technologies. Unlike Frank Lloyd Wright’s school of architecture in Scottsdale there was no requirement of engineering students to have any or to learn of any of the fine arts.  For that entire period the closest I came to reading a work of fiction was Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. Her book marked the beginning of the environmental movement and at the time I was studying for a career as an environmental engineer. Thus there was an underlying motivation to read it. Since then I have found little other motivation to read fiction.

Except of course the time when one of my daughters was at university majoring in English literature. She insisted that her Dad, if he was to purport to having even a semblance of worldly intelligence, had to at least be familiar with well-known Canadian fiction writers. Subsequently I read a couple of the works of Robertson Davies. His books “The Fifth Business” and “The Manticore” were my ventures into the world of fiction. While his books were strangely entertaining the one thing that I remember thinking was that the dude that wrote that stuff had a mind that worked in some weird and bazaar ways. I politely passed on any more recommended readings from my daughter.

So it’s no mystery why I won’t be writing a romantic mystery or most any noteworthy fictional work. I read biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, some history, and I especially like investigative journalists. I think Margret would see me and romantic mysteries as likely as those screen doors on submarines.

It’s An Ant’s Life by Antonio, the ant

By Larry Meath

(This was an activity in anthropomorphism, giving human characteristics to a non-human object.)

Let’s start with this fact, there are lots of my relatives on planet earth.  Twenty quadrillion, give or take, by latest count.  Yeah, you heard me right–even though you probably have no idea how many that really is.  That’s a 20 followed by 15 zeroes.  Or put another way, that’s nearly three million of us for every human on terra firma…or even terra not so firma.  There are only roughly 7 billion of you—way too many in my estimation—but humans are a tiny minority compared to us.  You are an ant-iclimactic statistic in our view.

According to Dan the man Webster, we are of the family of colonial hymenopterous insects.  That’s a mouthful, I know, but basically, we are highly specialized critters.  Furthermore, we have a complex social organization and various castes performing special duties.  Like ruining picnics and building tunnels.  Our ant-ics aren’t always appreciated. 

But before you get too ant-sy about our numbers, let me tell you some fun facts about us.  You guys have been screwing up the planet for a measly 200,000 years but we’ve been trying to improve things for closer to 2 million.  We watched the dinosaurs come and go and we’ll likely do the same with you.  You could say we are ant-iques on the planet’s timeline.

And we’re practically everywhere.  Ant-arctica is one exception.  Clearly the name is a misnomer. 

We communicate in sophisticated ways: not with phones but pheromones to be exact.  And we have a sort of group think where we act as a collective…one for all and all for one…kind of like a football team.  We are the ultimate team players—the ant-ithesis of humanity’s narcissism.

We make up roughly 15-20% of earth’s biomass despite our small size.  Thank goodness we don’t taste all that great although I have heard of people who cover us in chocolate to make us palatable.  I’m not sure what goes into ant-ipasto, but despite being named Ant-onio, I’d be careful around Italians. 

And speaking of eating, some ant species enslave and even eat other ants.  Yeesh!  Cannibals!  They apparently do this without Pepto Bismal or other ant-acids

But overall, we just want to live in harmony with humanity.  Make love, not war.  But don’t forget…we can also sting if need be.  So, a final word of caution–don’t ant-agonize us. 

On the porch.

By Henry Dumas

September 25, 2022

The assignment: Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to something that isn’t human, such as an animal or object. Write a scene or story that includes anthropomorphism.

            That evening, Steven and his girlfriend sat together on a wooden swing on the front porch, watching the sunset over the mountains as the last moment of daylight disappeared. They both wondered what the next few days would bring, and they hoped for a good outcome.

            Cindy, his black Labrador retriever, laid on the cool cement porch next to Steven’s girlfriend and enjoyed having her ears rubbed as her dark brown piercing eyes investigated the darkness.

            “What’s out there?” Cindy said to herself, trying not to look alarmed. She didn’t want to disturb the humans from their mating ritual. She knew they had special plans tomorrow, and it included her carrying a ring to Steven. A task she had practiced for several days in secret and she didn’t want to mess up such an important job. The thought of making a mistake caused her to whimper, and the unseen disturbance in the tree lined meadow across the street didn’t help her anxiety.

            Cindy sat up and said out loud to the humans sitting on the porch swing. “I can see something across the street,” she whimpered at the humans.  She could see movement in the darkness, but couldn’t identify what was moving. Her long black hair on the back of her neck stood up like porcupine quills as she leaned forward.

             “Do you see something in the dark, old girl?” Steven asked.

              Cindy was too occupied to reply with words. The only thing that came out of her mouth was a growl.

             “I hope it’s not the black bear everyone has been talking about,” His girlfriend said out loud to no one in particular, as she squeezed Steven’s hand firmly.

            Steven reached under his shirt, gripped his concealed weapon, and put his hand on the back of Cindy’s neck.

            “I know what it means when he puts his hand on my neck.” Cindy said to herself with a loud growl, letting Steven know she was ready.     

             “Get it!” Steven shouted.

               “I got this,” Cindy said out loud as she leaned forward on her tippy-toes and leaped off the porch like a swimmer, jumping into a pond of muddy water not concerned at what was at the bottom, and ran into the darkness, barking and snarling at the unseen danger. 

              A small gray squirrel darted up a tree, making chirping sounds and yelled, “better luck next time you stupid dog.

             “I’ll get you next time, you furry squeaky rodent,” Cindy yelled loud enough for all the forest creatures to hear.   

           “Good girl,” Steven said. As Cindy jogged back to the porch with what looked like a smile on her face, knowing she had saved the day.

            “Looks like you saved us from a wild squirrel,” Steven jokes.

            Cindy took her place next to Stevens’ girlfriend on the porch knowing lots of ear rubs were coming her way, closed her eyes and drifted into a deep sleep dreaming about tomorrow and the special job she practiced, knowing she could do it flawlessly.

How I spent my summer vacation.

By Henry Dumas

September 11, 2022

Assignment: Write about that happened in your life since our last meeting in June

 I wish I had something interesting to write about, like traveling to far off galaxies or meeting a beautiful, older, busty alien female that needs to be rescued from evil green skinned androids. I could write about riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after. 

Continue reading “How I spent my summer vacation.”

An Airplane’s Orchestra

The airplane’s landing gear drops, kerplunk         

All passengers, as if on cue, jump.             

As it descends to the landing strip,          

nervous passengers tighten their grip.   

The wheels hit the ground, a loud thump they make       

and screech as the pilot pumps the brakes.

A chorus of cell phones when turned on,

chromatic dings creating a song.

Seat belts unfastened, click, click, click, click,

adding percussion to the mix.

Overhead bins opened with a bang,

add unique sounds to the strain.

Passengers head to the exit, quick, quick,

toward destinations they all had picked.

A Deck of Playing Cards with Attitude

My brothers, sisters in law, nephews, and I gathered one Saturday night for a rousing evening of playing games.

One game required several decks of cards, so we opened new packs and threw them in the mix and the game began.

We had neglected to remove an information card from each deck and simply tossed them aside and kept playing.

At the end of one round, I read the card. I re-read it. I read it aloud. It contained the following script:

Thanks very much for playing car brand playing cards, these cards are made of worldly best paper which is imported from German and it deal specially with exquisite procedure. We believe that you will feel the special softness, flatness, and folder-proof when you playing it. Its feel and quality is obviously larruping.

Everyone stared, then looked incredulously at me, and then started laughing.

We speculated as to which country produced the cards. Couldn’t the manufacturer find someone who could speak and write the English language? We think we figured out the overall message but had differing ideas on some of the phrases. Of course, that is a lawyer’s delight-to argue differing meanings of the same written word. And three of us are attorneys, so we spent far more time on this than necessary.

For instance, what on earth is “worldly best paper?”

A dictionary defines “worldly” as relating to, or devoted to this world and its pursuits rather than to religion or spiritual affairs or possessing or displaying significant experience and knowledge about life and the world.

Could it have meant “made of the world’s best paper?” Or is the paper a material thing of the earth and not a spiritual thing? How can paper be capable of either? I guess it could be from the earth if the paper is made of the wood from trees, which have their roots in the earth. Was the writer using personification? Based on the poor grammar throughout the card, I think not.

And that worldly best paper is imported from German. Does it mean imported from Germany? Or imported from a German paper manufacturer? That does not necessarily mean the paper was produced in Germany. Or is the producer/manufacturer of the worldly best paper named German?

That worldly best paper, imported from German, it deal especially with exquisite procedure. What is it? Is it the German manufacturer who produces the cards with exquisite procedure? Could it mean imported from Germany? Or is “it” the way cards are dealt in play, that is, does the manufacturer deal cards with exquisite procedure?

Which led us to wonder what exactly is an exquisite procedure? The dictionary defines exquisite as “of special beauty or charm, or rare and appealing excellence, as a face, a flower, coloring, music, or poetry; extraordinarily fine or admirable; consummate; or intense; acute, or keen, as pleasure or pain, of rare excellence of production or execution, as works of art or workmanship.” We examined the cards, and all agreed the cards looked like any other cards, we could not ascertain any exceptional differences.

We decided at this point another round of adult beverages would be in order.

We tried to picture an exquisite procedure on many levels, such as a surgical procedure, written procedures for employees to follow, directions for filing court documents, computer manuals, electrical engineer’s schematic circuit designs, recipes, and on and on. We failed to identify any procedure as “exquisite.”

Next, we tackled the phrase We believe that you will feel the special softness, flatness, and folder-proof when you playing it.

What is “folder-proof?” There are fire-proof folders, water-proof folders, accordion folders, manilla folders but we could not find anything remotely to folder-proof. Are the cards designed to not being able to be placed in a folder? We thought it refers to the fact that the cards are sturdy and do not fold easily. Conducting our own quality testing, we felt the cards to see if we felt any special softness, flatness, and folder-proof qualities. OK, now we were really getting a kick out of how do you feel whether or not a card is folder-proof? So, we bent one. It bent like any other card. But we also ran our fingers over the cards with many oohs and aahs as we noted the special softness.

We almost reached hysteria as we read the final sentence- Its feel and quality is obviously larruping. Seriously? Skipping the obvious subject and verb error, we concentrated on the word larruping. We had to look it up in a dictionary. It means very or exceedingly. As we examined the cards, we all agreed that it was obvious the cards were larruping, even to the most casual observer. How could we not find otherwise?

We continued to play that evening, occasionally pausing to comment on the special softness of the cards. Who would have thought a deck of cards would provide such larruping entertainment? Plus, we all learned a new word.

While we had different opinions on the meaning of several phrases, we all agreed the manufacturer should have quit after Thanks very much for playing car brand playing cards.

Once upon a time

July 29, 2022 / Henry Dumas

By Henry Dumas

The assignment: Take an old fairy tale and reset it in modern times and in your hometown. 

            Once upon a time in a far-off land called West Jordan, Utah, there lived three fairies.

            Elfie, Lucy and Sadie buzzed around the garden, protecting it from unwanted pests. They weren’t beautiful like Tinker Bell with her long blond hair, blue eyes, and skinny body. They looked more like bumble bees; short, fat and a little frumpy.  

Read more: Once upon a time Continue reading “Once upon a time”

My life in a song

July 4, 2022

By Henry Dumas

The assignment: If each decade of your life was represented by a pop song, what would each one be? And why?

               Nineteen forty-nine to nineteen sixty. Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys by Waylon Jennings. Life was always an adventure playing cowboys and Indians with my next-door neighbor and nephew, Tim. An old tree grew up the side of their garage at the back of their yard. We thought we were invincible supermen, because we could climb the tree, get on the roof and our mothers couldn’t climb up the tree or make us get down when it was time for lunch or baths.

Continue reading “My life in a song”

What If

Topic:  What if

By Larry Meath

(The actual topic was “If Only” but failure to read carefully combined with old age resulted in the following poem.

It happened so suddenly

My ears had quit ringing

As I stepped onto the deck

And the birds had stopped singing.

It struck me as odd

That those sounds so sweet

Were replaced by the roars

Of only cars on the street.

I stepped back inside

And spotting my guitar,

I plucked an old tune

But the sounds were bizarre.

Instead of a melody

Or chords that were soothing,

The only sounds to be heard

Were cacophonous and bruising.

Now in a panic

I searched on the dial

For a musical station

And sounds less vile.

But all I could find

As I searched out in vain

Were the rantings of people

And news filled with pain.

“What’s happened to the music?”

I screamed out aloud.

The world has gone crazy

Sounds are wrapped in a shroud.

No matter my efforts

The results were the same:

The music was gone.

Was I going insane?

But as quickly as it started

I realized no harm

As I sleepily reached out

And turned off my alarm.