Archive for Art


I am starting a series of poems that use heteronyms in the title.  Heteronyms are words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently when the meaning changes.  For instance, tear.  A tear fell from my eye when I heard the fabric of my dress tear. 

Some words are homophones, like knight and night.  They sound the same but mean something different.  Heteronyms are more interesting because their pronunciation changes as well as their meaning.  Of course, this can pose a challenge for readers if the word is used in an ambiguous way such as in the title of a poem:   Tear is not a Simple Word

Last Saturday I was at the Art Institute of Chicago.  From small town to big city in three hours.  Just point your car toward the Southeast and soon enough, there is O’Hare International Airport – ORD – one of the largest in the country in terms of moving huge numbers of passengers and waylaying luggage (mine, April 2011). 

And then there’s that cluster of skyscrapers in the distance – John Hancock is my favorite.  I love the two antennas that stick up off its roof like they are signaling to space aliens.  By now my heart is really humming.  Then suddenly we are off the freeway and into a funky neighborhood heading East on Ohio toward Michigan Avenue and there is Millennium Park and, ta dah, the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Inside, I snagged a docent tour of Ab X art – abstract expressionists – starting with Jackson Pollock.  Toward the end of the tour the docent showed us Andy Warhol’s gigantic silkscreen print of Mao Zedong.  It’s fabulous.  There is Mao in his grey jacket emerging from great swatches of paint and he’s made up in drag with pink cheeks and blue eye shadow.  And it is huge.  No small life size portrait like Warhol’s multiple Marilyns.  Mao’s dimensions are 176 ½ inches by 136 ½ inches.  That’s over 14 feet tall.  Powerful.

When I got home, I asked my husband how he would pronounce MOW.  He said, mmm – ow, which rhymes with cow.  It could be pronounced mmm-o, like the word low (long o sound), as in, “Please mow the lawn.”  But we call our cat MOW when he’s being noisy and making those loud, demanding MOW sounds.  His name is Rio (rhymes with chee-o), which is a heteronym for the town of Rio, Wisconsin (long i sound like ri-ot).   

So for us, Mao and Mow are homophones, words that sound the same but with different meanings.  Sadly, however, not everyone recognizes the Mow that rhymes with cow.  There is a website called Rhymer at  When I entered Mow, all of the words that are listed rhyme with JELLO.


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Community Poems

The theme for submissions to the 2013 Wisconsin Poets Calendar was “community.”  I submitted three poems and one was accepted.  The following was not.  That makes it perfect for my blog.

Reception at the Chazen Museum of Art

On aurora-rose limestone stairs,

the Director points to the diamond ceiling

and tells a story about an artist who drove

from Milwaukee for the Iron Man Contest.

The genius ladies arrive, wearing earrings

 and bracelets from the Art Fair on the Square,

when a silver case, steaming with dry ice,

enters the door bearing four kinds of

Babcock ice cream from high up on Bascom Hill.

Smoked salmon snakes among chunks of cheese

and spears of chicken satay stand at attention,

naked without their peanut sauce.

A young couple in black cling, oblivious

to the charm of their matching nose rings.

Frozen strawberries, like lost party goers,

float past the ice-maiden in the punch bowl.

Above, Mrs. Pearce, in her yellow shawl,

mocks the crowd below, too busy talking

to abandon their glasses of white wine

and drift upstairs to look at the art.

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The Three Perfections: Chinese Painting, Poetry and Calligraphy



Chinese paintings have writing on them.  Sometimes it is the artist’s name and personal seal.  But the writing can be a philosophical treatise or a kind of journal entry about the painting – the style, the occasion, the artist’s feelings at the time, or relationships with friends or patrons.  Michael Sullivan, in his book, The Three Perfections:  Chinese Painting, Poetry and Calligraphy, says that “…the idea that writing and painting belong together is a very ancient one in China.”

The inscriptions may be distinguished as follows:  those written by the painter, those written by friends, and later comments by collectors or connoisseurs.    Sullivan says, “Needless to say, no one would, or should, dare to write on a painting unless his handwriting were accomplished, and the sentiments, however conventional, were elegantly expressed.” 

Friends might add a bit of social history about the painter and the painting, but comments by great critics or connoisseurs would add to the value of the painting.  The Chinese do not see the painting as a complete artistic statement, but “…as a living body, an accretion of qualities, imaginative, literary, historical, personal, that grows with time, putting on an ever-richer dress of meaning, commentary and association with the years.”  Of course, imperial inscriptions were in a class by themselves, sometimes commonplace and sometimes beautiful poems.

Sullivan writes about the interplay between poetry and painting.  A Sung poet wrote that the writings of a famous poet are paintings without form; and a famous painter’s work is a poem without words.  According to Sullivan, “Painting was often called ‘silent poetry,’…and thought of as a way of release of feelings that need not, or sometimes could not, be put into words.” 

During periods of political repression, a painter/poet could not express his opposition in words.  Sullivan sites an example of a painter who expressed his feelings about the Mongol invasion by painting uprooted orchids and adding a very neutral sounding inscription.  Later, scholars added inscriptions interpreting the painting more explicitly than the painter could express himself.

When they could express themselves, painters felt that a landscape without a poem would be without interest.  The painting must be “…developed as it were, like a photographic image, by the poems, before the viewer can become aware of it,” Sullivan writes.  “When painting and poem appear together, the one reinforces the other, taking the idea far beyond the visual or verbal images, and meaning and feeling vibrate in some mysterious way between the two.”

A philosopher may write about truth that is obtained through his experience of the world and especially nature.  A painting, by evoking the images he experienced, is a symbol of his spiritual journey.

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Winter Mmmmusings

We finally have snow, a little, at least.  But better yet, there’s fog.  Nice romantic fog… ‘mmmm.

M – along with L, N and R – is a liquid letter because of the fluency of its sound.  I know this because Mary Oliver in her book, A Poetry Handbook, describes the sounds of letters as liquid, aspirant or mute.  She is quoting from an 1860 book of grammar by Goold Brown, called  Brown’s Grammar, Improved

M is my favorite letter, not least because it’s the first letter of my first name.   A few years ago I was interested in fractals and learned about the Mandelbrot Set or M-Set, which describes the fractal shape mathematically.  I wrote a Haiku:

I am an M-Set:

expand to infinity,

or shrink to nothing.

Being a Mary, I have a special fondness for the Virgin Mary.  I believe she is my namesake, after all.  Actually, Mary was an extremely popular name when I was born, so it’s a very common name among women of a certain age.   I am more interested in the idea of the Virgin Mary:  I am entranced by paintings of the Annunciation, when the archangel Gabriel came to Mary and told her she was going to give birth.  Her expression varies from sweat serenity to shock or dismay. 

I have dozens of postcards from museums and photos from art galleries of the Annunciation.  My favorites are the very reverential ones done by Fra Angelico, the one by Leonardo in the Uffizi in Florence, and the one in the Tate by Dante Gabriel Rosetti from 1849-50 that is quite modern and very haunting.  Mary and Gabriel are dressed in white and the walls of the room and the bedding are white.  Mary looks like she just woke up and she recoils at the news.  This is perhaps one of the more realistic versions of the Annunciation.

However, tonight, New Year’s Eve, I will sign off not as a Mary, but in honor of Rio, the cat in the photo:

In the Chinese way,

I will sign my name as


Happy New Year!!



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Captivating Art

We subscribe to a magazine called ITN – International Travel Network.  The articles, reviews and critques are by ordinary folks who travel.  Sometimes the editors request participation.  One recent request was this:  “In the course of your travels, what work of art took you by surprise in that it affected you deeply in some way?” 

I immediately thought of a painting I’d seen on our last trip to Germany.  I sent in a description.  After a few weeks, an editor e-mailed and asked me to add my personal feelings about the painting.  It was difficult to express, which was why I had not included my feelings in the first submission.  I thought about it for a few days and finally replied to the editor.  Here is what was printed in the August 2011 issue of ITN:

After taking a class in German paintings of the era 1350-1530, I looked for Stefan Lochner’s “Madonna of the Roser Bower” in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum when I visited Cologne in September 2009. 

It is a small picture, for private meditation.  A sweet-faced Virgin Mary holds the baby Jesus.  Mary and the baby are surrounded by a rose arbor, and angels offer them roses and apples.  The roses likely allude to love and to Mary as a “rose without thorns.”

A quartet of angels at Mary’s feet is playing nusical instruments.  In the top corners, two angels pull the curtains back from the surrounding golden sky, temporarily revealing the vision below.  God the Father looks over the garden, and the Holy Spriit hovers below Him.

When I look at this painting, I simply stop, and a feeling of deep peacefulness comes over me.  I want to enter the garden to absorb Mary’s serenity and innocence.  I want to abandon my cynicism and believe that salvation is possible.


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Zentangles ®

Zentangles® is  … well, it’s doodling, but with a structure and purpose.  I took an introductory class the other night and finally know what it’s about.  I thought it was just doodling, and it is that, but instead of random patterns, there is a set of patterns to choose from.  In addition, the doodle starts with a “string,” which is simply a line that divides the 4×4 inch card, or “tile”, into four spaces.  Each space is filled in with one of the patterns, then the patterns are shaded with a pencil. 

Zentangles is an art form and method that was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas.  Their web page is at

It is a meditative process, which was the whole Zen-ish point of the exercise, and the cards are small, so it’s easy to finish a design in a few minutes, and even feel a sense of accomplishment.

However, part of me thinks this is silly:  take a simple act like doodling, then standardize it and make it costly and competitive.  There is a process to become a certified teacher, there are special supplies and DVDs, there are challenges to create more and more wonderful designs, etc., etc. 

Still, for someone who is not naturally artistic, it is easy to learn and execute, and it is relaxing (as long as you do not compare your weak-kneed design to some of the almost professional designs you can find on the internet).  My teacher kept saying there are no erasers in Zentangles because you can’t do anything wrong, but that’s not true.  I had trouble with one of the patterns, Cadent, which draws a line clockwise around a dot, down and counterclockwise around another dot.  My  little clocks would not reverse themselves with the required consistency. 

Will I spend $29 for a stack of little tiles, pre-cut and of a special Italian paper that absorbs ink beautifully?  No.  Will I do-odle using the Zentangle patterns?  Yes.  And I may create a few of my own.

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Retirement Garden

 “The Emperor’s Private Paradise” is an exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum this summer. It features furnishings and art works from the garden that the Qianlong Emperor designed in the 18th c. for his retirement. The Qianlong Garden is two acres within the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. After the Emperor abdicated, he did not retire to the garden, but it was left intact for 200 years. The objects in the exhibit have been restored and are on view throughout the U.S before returning to China.

The exhibit is fabulous, but even better are the names of the buildings in the garden…

Gate of Spreading Auspiciousness

Pavilion of Purification Ceremony

Pavilion of Brilliant Dawn

Bower of Ancient Catalpa

Hall of Fulfilling Original Wishes

Building of Extending Delight

Supreme Chamber of Cultivating Harmony

Building of Luminous Clouds

Lodge of Bamboo Fragments

Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service

Three Friends Bower

Studio of Self-restraint

Pavilion of Picking Fragrance

Pavilion of Propriety

I plan to start to name the rooms in my home. Perhaps Cat’s Bower of Sitting Alone. What about, Supreme Chamber of Doing Nothing? Building of Un-Realized Dreams? Or, Pavilion of Retreating from the News of the Day?  The possibilities are endless.

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