Monday, February 4, 2013

Role Model

Growing up during the 1970’s and 1980’s, I was fascinated by commercial art or graphic design. Who were these people who took something as simple as a need for a new soup can label and create a work of art that’s a joy to look at and makes the viewer compelled to buy it.

I was also fascinated by the conceptual artists behind the greatest SF movies of my life time. It would be hard for me to choose just one, but there was Roger Dean who created the incredible album covers for rock groups like “Yes” and “Asia” and did some phenomenal book covers. There was also Ralph McQuarrie who took George Lucas’s script and painted a dozen conceptual paintings that inspired Alan Ladd Jr. into bankrolling a motion picture that redefined the term “blockbuster.” Then of course there is Andrew Probert who did most of the conceptual drawings Gene Roddenberry’s projects and made the fictitious 22nd and 23rd centuries come a life and just as real as our own past and present.

Before I was freshman in high school I had all these artistic ambitions. I wanted to be one of those people who took an idea from the mind and made them real on the paper or canvas. I wanted there to be a teacher who would help me take my raw, juvenile talent and guide me into becoming a better artist.

The only class I was really looking forward to the summer before my first year of high school was art. I was a horrible student in all of my other classes, so horrible that I debated on taking my own life since all I head when I was at home was that I was no good and I wouldn’t amount to anything. My fantasy drawings would never take me anywhere.

Right way, when I met my teacher Mr. Blomgren I knew that this man was going to have a positive effect on my life. What I didn’t know that this memory would someday become my moral compass; whenever I thought about doing something that was stupid or wrong I always thought about him and what he would think if I screwed up.

Early on when I showed him the sketches I had done before we met he knew what I was trying to do. He immediately saw that I was trying to take viewers of my work on a journey – some place where they had never been before. He also saw that I drew my inspiration from some of the greatest SF books of that era, up to and including the release of the theatrical version of Frank Herbert’s DUNE.

Rather than encourage me to “get real” he helped me push the envelope by simultaneously teaching me how to draw things in the real world with genuine realism via texture and shading. How can I bend and break the rules of “art” if I didn’t know what the rules were.

There was one moment when I turned in a project that wasn’t my best and he knew it. Immediately after class was over and the bell rang, we all started to stroll out the door to head to our next class. Mr. Blomgren said; “Not so fast, Mr. Fisk…”

I stood there while he said; “You can do better than this. As a matter of fact, you will to better than this! You’re staying after school and you’re going to give this project 100%”
Either in this conversation or in a one we had at another time he told me “I don’t just deserve better than this, and it’s not just the rest of the world that deserves better than this; you deserve better than this. You’re short changing yourself and the rest of the world from your art when you just phone it in.”

By no means do am I employing that he was constantly stern or excessively tough; Mr. Blomgren was a teacher who was over-brimming with complete and utter joy for teaching and had genuine compassion and love for his students. He had a better understanding of me more than most members of my own family.

When I learned that he died earlier this year I had to go to his memorial service that was held at the high school and I was overwhelmed to see the auditorium packed with people standing outside the isles.

After the service I found his classroom, since it had been moved at least once in the past 20 years. The sights and the smells were the same; the odor of linseed oil and paint and a few other cents from a dozen other art supply tools and medium. I sat at what would have been my desk from so long ago and I wondered about the time that had pasted and my genuine regret of not reaching out to him before now.

I can’t help but wonder who or what I would have been if it hadn’t been for him and others like him.

Friday, February 1, 2013


I would like to make a prediction that within 150 years the Catholic Pope and her husband will be leading the fight to prevent people from marrying their android/synthetic lovers. I’m absolutely sure that will be the great moral debate as we become closer to creating artificial life that’s almost identical to people.

I say this as we open up the journal topic to “tradition” and what do they mean? Do they still sever a purpose? Are they still a necessity? Or is this a gray area where there are some traditions that we should cling to and some we should agree let go?

My family and I have a tradition every Saturday morning; I make French Toast for my wife and kids while they begin to wake up. Over coffee I plan the weekend, check out my website’s forum for any threads that need help, and decide if we need to make any trips to get materials from Target and Home Depot for projects around the house.

Every-other Friday – “Pay Day” for our family – We indulge in Chinese food from one of our favorite restaurants which varies from time to time. If there’s a new one that opens along the route my wife takes to get home, she’ll stop there and order take out. It’s another family tradition to find new favorites.

Another tradition we have is doing something special for the member of the family who is celebrating a birthday. First we have the annual trip to The Mystic Aquarium on my oldest son’s birthday. For my youngest son’s birthday we go to Welles Beach in Maine, while the tradition for my birthday usually has something to with Astronomy or Space Exploration. One year we went to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center where we enjoyed the planetarium shows and the kids bought me some rubber replicas of vintage space craft. The tradition for my wife’s birthday varies since October is such a busy month for all of us. We’ll just buy a couple bottles of wine and have a big fancy dinner.

These traditions help us celebrate how important we are to each other. We like to indulge in activities that are very special to the member of our family who has the birthday, as if to say that not only are you special but the things that are special to you are important to us as well.

These traditions are important for our children to add more structure to their lives, the find comfort in the predictability. They know that when it’s a specific day of the week a specific thing will happen. When it’s a specific day of the year, specific events will happen on those days, as well. These family traditions help soften the blow of our chaotic lives that occur through-out the week and the school year, they can rely on the structure we give them on the weekend and special occasions.

There are other traditions with-in societies that are important to people for the same reason, to provide structure. We call these events ‘Rites Of Passage.” When people reach a specific age specific things happen to them. When you reach 5 years old, you go to school for the first time the following September.

When a young man reaches 18 years of age he has to register for the draft, while men and women at that age are able to participate in other aspects of adulthood like voting and are able to make decisions on their own. In America you’re a full-fledged adult and can legally drink alcoholic beverages.

There are some traditions that still add structure to our lives but I’m not sure if we should continue to honor them. To celebrate the birth of the Christian Savor and Son of God, we drag a cut evergreen tree into our homes and decorate it before putting gifts underneath them on the night of December 24th to be opened the morning of December 25th and play “make-believe” that a fat magician dressed in red and white from the North Pole brought them with the aid of flying reindeer and pointy-ear midgets.

Another pagan tradition with a Christian name is “Easter,” we celebrate the resurrection of the aforementioned Savor and Son of God who was punished for telling everyone who he was and how wonderful the world would be if we were all nicer to each other… punished by being nailed to a piece of wood and stabbed in the gut with a spear. We celebrate Christ’s resurrection by painting hardboiled eggs and hiding them with candy around the house or the yard and lie to our children that another mystical creature – this time a sentient rabbit – did this.

Later in the year we celebrate the signing of a piece of paper declaring our independence from an oppressive country while at the same time oppressing other people of color from yet another region of the world by sending colorful rockets into the sky and watch them blow up. The exclamation of “ooohs” and “ahhhs” might seem compulsory but are in fact optional.

These two traditions seem normal to most people in the western world but if we had to explain them to aliens from another planet or the same aforementioned Christian savor, they might think our “traditions” are examples of mass insanity.

My personal tradition is asking if these and other traditions are necessary. Do we really need to perpetuate the fantasy of magical creatures bring gifts and candy to children who steal the credit from the loving parents who are doing all the work? Especially when these magical fantasy beings have about as much to do with the Christian historical events as I do with the intergalactic trafficking of contraband literature to third-world planets.

Also troubling is the responses I receive when I ask others about why we do what we do; “because it’s tradition.” When asked about the origin of these traditions, I’m surprised when there are few genuine answers beyond “it’s just the way it is.”

How much of the genuine suffering exists in the world because of tradition and “that’s just the way it is?” How many people hate other groups because of tradition? How much of our time and resources are devoted to a tradition when there is no true genuine joy? I believe that in this age of social media and interactivity we need to re-evaluate why we do what we do and maybe there are some traditions that need to be laid to rest, not just the prohibition on homosexual martial unions of clitoral circumcision in Middle Eastern but some of the ridiculous rituals associated with legitimate holidays.

We’ve reached beyond the reach of the guilt from our elders and now it’s time to ask, “Why do it if there’s no benefit.” I sure don’t want my grandchildren and their children to come to celebrate “Space Exploration and Astronomy Day” on July 23 without remembering the reason why. If any tradition doesn’t offer structure and unity to a group, it’s time to let it go.