Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pingdan

    Sometimes I think I live in a place with no history. With no lessons learned. That we had a Great Depression, that we had a Gilded Age when men bought labor like it was shelled nuts, when children under the age of ten worked 16 hour days, and yet we enter a new Millenia and decide... none of it holds water anymore. Only the strong should survive. The weak deserve their lot. They must have done something to deserve it. 
   The most primitive, Puritanical, Calvinist nonsense imaginable and yet here we are, at the border of 2017 and we're just gonna burn the books of experience on the pyre of success, in every town square in America. 
   In China, there's a lot of history.
  15 dynasties alone. From Song to Sung to Ming to Qing, you barely scratch the surface of a stretch of human existence most Americans can’t imagine.
   "Well my mother’s family has been in Philadelphia since the 1660s"….Say that to a guy from Bejing who’s 200 generations deep and you’ll get a glimmer. 
    I'm at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA -one of the finest acronyms in the country. 
Barely lacking being an acronym of "acronym" itself - (And in a city 54% hispanic bringing to mind, Lachrymosa. The tears of Christ. Or the tears of the mother of Christ I can’t remember.)
    A school of Chinese painters in the time of Rembrandt retreated into the mountains to avoid the censors and henchman of a new emperor. They painted landscapes to memorialize their lost dynasty, their emperor and his patrons. 
   Ink. Paper. Stone. 
   The three holies. Or is it four? Yes, "And a brush."
   I look at the collection and I think this is genius, how could they draw like that? But then I walk up to the Rembrandts and think, no he’s a lot better, far more realistic, more virtuosic and then I walked back down into the Chinese gallery and read that there’s a word, "Pingdan", which doesn’t translate maybe because we’ve grown up looking at Rembrandts, but which loosely means, "matter of fact", or hum drum, or something like “ you should imagine this was done without too much labor because I don’t want you to think it’s an overwrought masterpiece I spent my life training to achieve but rather something I tossed off in an afternoon, I thought you might enjoy. No offense. ” The strokes are intentionally simple, almost amateurish. The gestures made to evoke a world unspectacular, sketched, dashed off. But transfixing in its truth.
   The truth is these men practiced the movement of their brushes, their hands, their grip and their intent like workers worked in a Steel Mill in 1891. 12 hour days. And the long shift every two weeks of 24 hours straight. They drew like violinists practicing till their necks bled. 
   But essential to their art was the sense that it not impose itself. Life was greater, the work shouldn’t embarrass the living but rather remind us of some fleeting beauty, some grace notes, the presence of the divine caught while we go about the day. 
  The Western artist builds a career on a series of greater glories, finer achievements, perfected craft, the journey of which is played out before the viewer. Genius made demonstrable. 
   The Chinese painter’s genius is in creating a masterpiece one would hesitate to say the reasons why it's a masterpiece.
   I drive across the Rankin bridge which used to cross over the Eastern end of the Homestead works, a Steel mill where the labor movement was crippled for 40 years, but also where more steel was made in one set of Western Pennsylvania structures than in the entire Ruhr Valley in WWII.
   It's a mall now, selling jobs that pay on average 8 dollars an hour unless you work at Starbucks and then you get some stock as well, some company script. There's an access road to the mall over the old train tracks that fed the mill countless cars and it often bottlenecks because the County built it on the cheap.
   I sat there of an afternoon, an afternoon like any other, matter of fact, a random hum drum day in my life itching to get going, and as I'm sitting in the car cursing the light and the first guy in line who keeps staring at his phone instead of the green, I glance over at the roadbed. There's grass, growing between the street and the fenced off car lot beyond.
    Here I am, almost to the off ramp into the mall, the stretch of flood plain below where the Pinkertons driven out of town in 1892 by the striking citizens once hid, and I notice this grass, tufts surviving in a detritus of concrete and exhaust and garbage tossed from folks like myself, but alive and bright green and drawn simply into the air as if some artist had just thrown them into being.  

15 comments:

  1. Enjoyed reading this. If u ever come to philadelphia, u should check out the Barnes Foundation, it has some post impressionist paintings by Cezanne, Matisse, and others. Went there a couple years ago with some coworkers, there were some interesting paintings.

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  3. Yes, I think you really have it there. Mastery and humility boiled with service. Good to read and great to reflect upon.

    It's cookie time again, bring your palette.

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  4. I follow NATGEO, NASA, NOAA and Scott Kelly on instagram, I've never seen the Sistene Chapel in person, I've only seen photos I'm sure there is no comparison but they have all taken my breath away and I don't feel any less for it, only more.

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  5. David your descriptions are so vivid. Never stop writing,you are awesome.

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  6. David your descriptions are so vivid. Never stop writing,you are awesome.

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  7. The script of the brush is always mind eye hand except for moments of blissful intervention when we feel,'divine-hand' and there are no words to describe.

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  9. Very nice piece, good comment on art being where you find it. Like at a pool table at CMOA

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  10. Love your writing. Such a talent. Thank you.

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  11. Love your writing. Such a talent. Thank you.

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