Art Is

Freeboarder has been at art school for a month, and already he’s questioning the need for an academy to teach him how to make something.

I’m proud of him for asking the questions. The same debate occurs in the world of poetry, with many wondering if there is a need for the now ubiquitous M.F.A. in creative writing.

One talented student told Freeboarder that “art is dead.” My answer to that statement is that art simply is. The student was probably trying to sound provocative and oracular. Maybe he wanted to psyche out his competition.

Going to art school allows the artist a chance to live within a community of skilled, committed people. Of course, we can create those communities ourselves, outside the Academy.

Atlanta has a thriving arts community that originates with the people. We have wall art, street sculptures, and spoken word events, all outside the ivory tower.

Freeboarder got a little shaken from the statement that art is dead. I told him that if art is dead, human culture is dead, because the act of making is an inborn, human right.




In an effort to work my way back to a daily writing practice, I’ve started sketching in my journal. It’s very relaxing because I have low expectations of the results. Drawing is a way for me to “rest on the page,” as Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way.

Another good writing book is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She practices Zen meditation, and she said one of her teachers suggested that maybe writing would be her ‘practice,’ as in a meditative practice.

She describes her daily writing as a focused free-write, not stream of consciousness. I’ve come to realize that my daily writing will not necessarily result in a poem or a story, but the practice itself if important to keep myself open to the world. Even when it’s as hot as a pizza oven in my city and I only like to go out in the evening.

Philosopher told me what he learned from his poetry teacher: if you sit down to write every day your creativity will come to you.


Art Matters.

Here’s what I wrote to my representatives about the controversy surrounding  the puny 50 million dollar budget devoted to the arts that some conservatives would like to ax.

February 12, 2011

[recipient address was inserted here]

Dear [recipient name was inserted here],

As your constituent, I hope you will vote against cuts to funding for the
National Endowment for the Arts during consideration of the FY 2011
appropriations package.

A society without the arts would be a world where true feelings are
ignored or repressed. The people need the arts in order to be whole.

The same creativity that sent the first humans to the moon serves as the
bedrock for the arts-patchwork quilts, ballads, landscape paintings and
stand-up comedy mean as much to people as solar energy.

What about film, documentaries, storytelling, music, dance? Aren’t these
endeavors part of what makes a society thrive?

My son is an artist. As a high school senior he has spent four to five
hours a day outside of his regular school day to prepare a portfolio for
a professional art program. Taking away grants and fellowships would send
a very negative message to hardworking, talented young students like my


Christine Swint

Baltimore Art Dreams

We arrived in Baltimore last night, dropped off Freeboarder’s portfolio, and ventured into the cold to eat at an Indian restaurant, Freeboarder’s first exposure to this cuisine.

We had poori, vegetable biryani, and a few different curries. An aromatic, spicy meal for a dark, windy night in a new city.

And now we’re at MICA, an art school that was founded in 1826. The students are all standing in different lines to have their art portfolios reviewed.

MICA is hosting a National Portfolio Day, and over 50 schools have come to review portfolios. The students have big dreams that someone here today will tell them they have what it takes.

Freeboarder is in line to talk to The Cooper Union, one of the hardest schools to get into–if you’re accepted, you pay no tuition.

So of course the lines for this school are the longest, and the art is phenomenal.

Some of the parents are quite crabby with their kids. They’ve obviously invested a lot of money already in their children’s art, judging from the size and quality of some of the canvases I’ve seen.

I’ve found a quiet corner where I can study for my poetry final, but all I really want to do is eavesdrop and take pictures.

The Kermess

My in-laws had a print of “The Kermess” in their cottage. I used to look at it quite a bit, but I didn’t know it was depicting a particular dance until I read William Carlos William’s poem about the painting, titled, “The Dance.”

In the poem Williams focuses on the dancers’ bodies–their bellies and shanks in particular, and how strong the dancers must have been to prance about so lightly with such large frames.

I like how Brueghel painted common folk, people who carried their own wooden spoon with them in their back pockets so they would always have a handy utensil for dining. There’s a lot to imagine in the painting, and I can see why Williams wanted to write about it.

Williams often wrote about the poor, even though he was a doctor and highly educated. There’s a certain kind of mythologizing present, almost a sort of nostalgia, when someone who is not poor writes or depicts the stories or the misfortunes of others. I know many painters, filmmakers, and writers do just that.

In my own poems I think of writing about social problems, but I want to be careful about not appropriating someone else’s story as my own. To avoid this spurious representation of myself as the other, I need to do what Williams did–show how I am observing and recording my thoughts and impressions. In this way there is still a need for the first person singular.

Not to get too theoretical, since all I know about literary theory is what I’ve heard from grad students and the bits I’ve read on Wikipedia. There’s also an eerie documentary about Derrida that gave me a few hints.

Dali and Poetry

I visited the Dalí exhibit again, this time with a poet friend who hosts the radio show melodically challenged on WRAS. Her program broadcasts on Sundays from 2:00-4:00 in the afternoon, and features poets reading their own works, along with music that enhances the show’s theme. One of the more recent playlists highlighted poems about birds, or poems that include birds. I intend to tune in this Sunday.

It was fun to walk through the exhibit a second time. At my friend’s suggestion, we used the audio tour as we progressed through the halls, and we ended up finding out a lot that would have gone unnoticed had we merely meandered along on our own. One interesting aspect the curators brought out was how Dalí experimented with how he applied his medium to the surface–he used a loaf of bread, his mustache, a rhinoceros horn (which he equated with the unicorn, a symbol of virginity), and an octopus. He also shot paint pellets out of a gun, a technique he dubbed “bulletism.”

I also found out why he was kicked out of the Surrealist movement: with Marcel Duchamp’s blessing he included a painting  with religious iconography in a Surrealist exhibit, a theme the surrealists rejected. So he was ousted. The title of this exhibit is Dalí, The Later Works, a time period that until recently has not been admired by art critics, maybe because of the religious nature of the pieces. I did read, however, that Dalí declared himself a “Catholic without faith,” and that he did not believe in miracles.

I’ve already written two drafts of poems in response to his paintings. This summer has been very contemplative for me. I’ve been reading After by Jane Hirschfield and studying Buddhism, meditation, yoga. All the mind work, plus lap swimming, to calm my inner waters.

Even though I want to be at peace, I’m very drawn to the zany world of Da Da, Surrealism, and dreams. I keep thinking that if I remember my dreams and explore the images the meaning of everything will fall into place. A pretty illusion.


Family and art at the beach

Night falls at the pier

Night falls at the pier

Spending a few days at the beach with my sister and her daughter was a welcome change from the ordinary, and it was also nice to see my husband, my son and his friends have a good time there. The boys bought a raft and a pirate’s flag to ride the waves, while the three adults took care of the three-year old. It can take that many sometimes… .

My sister is a single mom who does an amazing job with her daughter – so much patience and attention, which is what children need and deserve. In addition to being a skilled parent, she’s also an incredible artist. She can do it all really, sculpture, portraits, lithographs, but her specialty is 3-D animation with a focus in mat painting and landscapes. While we were at the beach she had one chance to go out to a pier to paint. Lately she has been interested in plein-air painting, and keeps a portable easel and paint set in the trunk of her car. This time she painted a tree with a view of the marsh in the distance.

Here’s a link to my sis’s website, which showcases some of her landscape paintings. Can you tell how proud I am of her?

If you’re interested in plein-air, here’s a link to the Plein-air Painters of America.