The Blog of John Walford, British-born, but long resident in The United States. I am an art historian, currently studying satire in Netherlandish art, an amateur photographer, and occasional writer, who writes here about art, photography, and the human condition--some of it ekphratic poetry, responding to works of art. This is to be a site for words and images, interacting on one another, as vehicles of human expression.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Flickr's Algo's "100 year hand," of 2005

100 year hand, originally uploaded by algo.

I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose this photograph, by Flickr's Algo, and my reflection thereon, written in 2009, with what I wrote today, on seeing a reworking, in B&W, of one of his other "Hand" series:

"A Hand - A History"

It was so long ago, I do not recall,
And nor does she, long gone.
But this hand of mine once did grip
Its pink and pudgy flesh around
My Mamma's finger; and I looked
Up into her eyes, and wondered,
What will my Mamma feed me,
When bath me, when lay me
Down to rest, shake my rattle, sleep.

Mamma, now long gone, her eyes
But a feint memory, lined by age,
Her fingers, that touched so tenderly,
They let me go, and so did I grow.
Over so many years, so much I saw,
Before my hands lost their pulp.
Taught skin, gradually did sag,
Showing my bones more than I care,
Needs rest them now upon my purse.

Like the rings in the trunk of a tree,
These wrinkles of mine, they tell
A story, of fat years, and lean,
Laughter, joy, pain, and sorrow,
The motor car, a swirling satellite.
In war, famine, again war, and peace,
These hands have cut onions, sewed
Well-worn socks, turned the newspaper,
And opened my birthday cards,

One hundred times.
These hands of mine, that speak,
Algo saw, glowing in light,
And shared what few might see,
Hands, ripened by history.

--JW, for esteemed Algo, Nov 9, 2009.

Flickr's Algo's "hands," (B&W version), 2005/2011

hands B&W, originally uploaded by algo.


In well-nigh one hundred, well-lived years,
I've touched so many, varied, other things;
And as many others have touched me.
Gently, softly, fiercely, harshly, tugging,
Pushing, bending, reaching, scratching,
I have laid my fingers out for others, --
As well as for my own will and grasp.
And I keep on scratching, reaching, still.

These fingers of mine, once the marvel
Of my mom and dad. They counted them,
And touched them, one-by-one, softly
Separating each from its neighbor,
Each a wonder, formed in the womb,
By manufacture, which no man touched.
The wonder of ten little fingers, poked
Into every crevice, holding a 'sippy cup'.

They have held my bottle, put ten thousand
Treats into my mouth, held pencils, pens,
Pots and pans, and, yes, knitting needles.
They have reached out, caressed the boy
I first did love, reached out again, yet again.
They fended off unwanted advances,
Straightened the creases of a party dress,
And now they are entwined around each other.

What yet will they touch, what germ, unwittingly
Bring from another to the nose? - And so to the lungs.
And what then? Gradually, they may lose their grip
On this transient world, and grasp at eternity. There
They will find a pair of hands, unlike all others,
Reaching out, ready to receive, merciful, warm,
Full of charity, ready to raise up, warm, and comfort -
An eternal balm, for all the aches that withered them.

-- JW, July 17, 2011, in honor of the this extraordinary lady, well nigh 100 years old, and still carefully trimming her nails, and to Algo, whose B&W version pleases my eye for its rich shadows.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Flickr's Ned Lyttelton's "birdshit," 2011

birdshit, originally uploaded by Ned Lyttelton.

"Bird Stained Glass"

Some little bits
Caught in the
Oriental's brush.

--JW, July 16, 2011, for Ned Lyttelton,
master of the mundane, yet extra-ordinary.

Flickr's Ned Lyttelton's "nature imitating nature," 2011

nature imitating nature, originally uploaded by Ned Lyttelton.

"What thrives, flies"

Plants branch, and spread their wings,
Reaching for bright light and warm air,
Which in turn lures the chrysalis to fly,
And flutter bye cast shadows on a bench.

--JW, July 16, 2011, in honor of the poetic sense of Ned Lyttelton, as seen here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Andrew Herther (Picasia), Jedburgh Abbey, 2004

"Long After the Monks Departed"

Sorry sight, the monks long gone -
Driven out by lofty reformers,
Timbers perished, vaults collapsed,
Stained glass ground back to sand.

No more the sound of the pig's squeal,
Slaughtered to fatten greedy monks.
No more the sound of the bell tolling,
Its mournful peal heard for miles around.

The bell called their sated bodies to prostrate
Themselves, thanking God for plentiful pork.
Fattened against the winter chill, warmed by
Deep red, raw and lusty drafts of wine.

Grass now grows where the canteen once was,
Fertile from many a spilled pot of goodness,
Idle hands fumbled from out their coarse robes,
Dropping goodness on the ground, in disregard.

And so it came to this. Proud abbey, so finely crafted,
In the best of local stone, glowing reddish-brown
In the soft evening light, grey in cold winter storms,
With little to block the cold, but ale and the fat of pork.

Here once chanted monks in deft unison, or sang
Their beloved Gregorian chants, echoed off the stone,
Vaults that sent plaintiff sound, destined for heaven,
Bouncing bank on the ears of those who chanted it.

Now but a lofty perch for occasional passing crows,
And, in winter, some resistance for the howling wind.
Its graveyards holding the secrets of bygone days,
Cottagers, before their eyes, sad memento mori.

-John Walford, for Andrew Herther, in thanks for stirring my heart, through his photography, with fond memories of Scotland and the Border Country,
July 13, 2011.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Flickr's Rita Crane's "Garden Glimpse, Mendocino Cafe," 2011

"Footsteps at the Gate"

Should I awake, this path to see,
Would think 'twas in a dream,
That still I slept, and dreamt,
Of a quiet retreat, atop a hill,
Where no car, nor phone was
Ever heard, but the sound
Of gulls, swooping in the bay.
And a rustic postman, unlatching
The gate: all's well with the world.
--JW, for Rita Crane, in boundless admiration for your art, July 12. 2011.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Flickr's Esthersita1's "Dream Variation, 2011.

Dream Variation., originally uploaded by Esthersita1.

Sharp angles, crisp edges,
Translucent glass, so pure,
Passionate colors, forms,
Suspended for eternity
In frozen order, mesmerizes.
--JW, for Esthersita1, a little tribute, July 10, 2011.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Alchemist's Workshop, VII, (or "The Pursuit of Knowledge"), 2008

Prudence and the Internet: An Exchange of Ideas

I have been discussing with a bright, but younger friend, who studies Communications, the tricky issue of how to confront the pervasive, negative aspects of contemporary media, such as the easy and pervasive access to pornography, exposure of our fertile, but corruptible imaginations to every imaginable form of violence, and/or the temptation to spend hours alone at home, on social networking sites, as opposed actually being sociable. Thus, for example, we risk ending up to having a legion on-line virtual “friends,” but actually experiencing the social isolation of having live access to few, real, practical, helpful friends. To these examples we can all add other, analogous ills, that every parent of teenagers – even of yet younger children -- know all too well, to say nothing of what can equally come between a husband and wife.

In exchanges with my young friend, I had referred to the wise counsel of Martin Luther in face of analogous social ills of his time – such as the idolatrous and misleading power of art as used in the church of his day – who sagely cautioned that ‘abuse of a practice is not grounds to reject the practice per se, as otherwise one must first go out and destroy one’s own body.’ I have pondered the wisdom of Martin Luther’s counsel for years and years, and perceive it’s perennial wisdom, in face of whatever are the social ills that confront any of us, in our own time and place. His point is that all human culture – wherever found, whenever made, is shot through with intertwined, and virtually inseparable elements of good and evil. This is because all human culture proceeds from the human heart, which itself, as the generative force working on the potential of the created order, leaves its mark of intertwined good and evil in whatever it touches. The child carries the genes of the parents, the created order carries the marks of its Maker, and all the techne that humans devise is shot through with our own DNA, itself a mix of brilliant, good, not-so-good, and evil energies, powers, and devising.

I have therefore concluded, from Luther’s insight, that the challenge for those of us who seek to nurture what is good and curtail was is bad - to state it without nuance - is not to seek to eliminate the bad, and flee from it, because, firstly, where is there to go, where the corruption of the human mind, as well as its brilliant ingenium, has not gone before us, or, at very least, goes with us. Secondly, what then is left to us to embrace and enjoy, since all good is nevertheless shot through with traces of a downside, that is less desirable, to state it softly? Will we cut ourselves, and our children, off from the very technology and media that our own minds have devised, and which shimmer with potential – albeit, and as always, for good and evil alike? My conclusion is than we not isolate our children, or ourselves, from the technology and media of our day, but rather teach prudence in their use, and learn to manage ourselves, as users, rather than censor the technology, as vehicles and providers.

My thoughtful friend, in reaction to some of the above, responds, and I quote, “I am dissatisfied with responding to a wide-spread social problem (such as the effects of television and the Internet on literacy) with merely saying "use prudence! Become a master of the tool, do not be mastered by it yourself," when the reality of the situation is dire indeed. I feel like it's akin to moving to the suburbs as a method for dealing with inner-city crime. Sure it fixes YOUR problem, but what about the rest of the people who aren’t blessed with the resources (intellectual, social, monetary or otherwise).”

In turn, I respond as follows: “Yes, that is a fair critique, yet the response of "use prudence" should be taken also in a wider sense, "TEACH PRUDENCE."

Expanding on this idea, I seek to support my point-of view, and suggested strategy, with another theological perspective: The bible teaches that it is not what enters a person that corrupts them, but rather that "out of the heart of mankind proceeds all the issues of life." Now, think about it. If we were to face all the evils of society with a big stick, beating down every one until none was left standing, we would discover that we were striking Medusa, since for every head we cut off, six more would appear. Why? Because there is no end to what proceeds from the heart of humanity, and humans will always devise yet further perversity - until redeemed.

Thus, to raise children in the wisdom of the Lord, to teach discernment, to teach prudence, is to influence people’s attitudes and behaviors for good, which – to a degree- is an attainable goal, whereas overcoming the evils of society is beyond human reach. But as more people choose the good and refuse the evil, less people will devise evil, and more people will learn to live as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves, exercising discernment, and prudence, in their cultural dealings.

I acknowledge that there is certainly a place for lobbying for political action to abolish slavery, indeed injustices of all and any kind. That, equally, there is a place for the occasional Jeremiad about the evils of the Internet, there is for each Jeremiad the need for ten thousand voices, in ten thousand different places, teaching by example and instruction, however issued, on how best to handle the available resources with prudence and wisdom - whether the resource in question is oil, air, water, and/or any natural resources imaginable, be they brain cells, adept fingers, sperm, eyes, and those extensions of ourselves, that include email, texting, twitter, fritter, flickr, YouTube, blogging, Google +, Facebook, TV, movies, CDs, DVDs, mp3s, digital image manipulation, animation, Skype, etc. etc.

It always, and has always, come down to the heart, the spirit, the mind and the will of those who devise, and those who use, techne - ingenium - the devising of humankind - and always has been, ever since Cain used a club to kill his brother, when he could have used that same club to fend of a ravenous bear. Are you going to blame the club - or the one who wields it? I never heard a prophet or Christ, or an apostle preach against anything that humanity devised - but rather they preached against the usage to which humanity put such tools. Remember, we are created in the image of God, the prime deviser, and hence our capacity to devise. But the wrong is in our hearts, out of which proceeds all the issues of life. Scripture makes that very clear. Hence the prime target is not the devise, but the operations of the human heart. Hence the need, above all, to teach wisdom and prudence, as I indeed here strive to do. As a footnote - short of the Internet, I would not have been continuing this exchange of ideas, with my young friend, or at least it would have had to be deferred until we next saw one another. Whereas now, I have heard his critique of what he perceives as the apparent cop out of teaching prudence, and he can be thinking about his response, so that when we next see each other, we can proceed yet further. Besides, by writing my response to him, via Facebook, this text could be copied and pasted, as now it has been, and published for all who are curious to consider. Thereby a discussion between the two of us, can even reach a wider group, and in turn receive their consideration and subsequent input. Thus, I believe the Internet is an ideal forum for such exchanges of thought - and it costs far less, in time, effort, and money, that for all interested parties to fly or drive to a conference center, to thrash it out in a rented hall!

John Walford, Professor Emeritus of Art History, Wheaton College, Illinois, July 1, 2011

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John Walford

John Walford
Not All That Meets The Eye

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I am a British-born, art historian, teaching in the USA; I studied law, in England,1964-68; worked part-time in the art world, 1968-69; then studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 1969-76; completed my Ph.D. diss. at the University of Cambridge, 1981; moved to the States in 1981, and have since written, or co-authored, other books. I am currently studying satire in Netherlandish art. My wife, Maria, was born in Milan, Italy, where she worked as an interpreter, in business; she spent seven years in Switzerland, at the University of Lausanne, 1963-70. She came to Amsterdam in 1971, and we soon married. She is a wife, mother, literary critic, of Italian (and French) literature, and completed her Ph. D. diss. in 2002, at the University of Chicago, on Cesare Pavese and His Critics. We have three married children, and eight grandchildren, all of whom we excessively adore! I welcome dialog about art, photography, human behavior, beliefs, and motivation from all comers, regardless of race, color, gender, orientation, values, or beliefs. This is to be a site for words and images, as vehicles of human expression, around topics of mutual interest.

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