Monday, February 20, 2017

Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Thinking)

I've long been a fan of books with collections of essays around a theme. The public library has shelves full of books in the literary criticism section dealing with the works of famous and lesser known authors. I discovered Nobel laureate Andre Gide through one of these books. I later purchased a fairly fat Norton Anthology that was a collection of essays on Joseph Conrad's story Heart of Darkness. The books can be compared to a curated art show featuring works by different artists, except that in this case the "art" comes in a literary form.

In 2015 I purchased a book of this ilk called Bob Dylan and Philosophy. Published in 2006 by Open Court Press, it has been my current bedtime reading for the past couple weeks or so. I only recently noticed that it is numero 17 in a series called Popular Culture and Philosophy. Other topics in the series include Seinfeld, the Simpsons, The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lord of the Rings, Baseball, Woody Allen, the Atkins Diet, Superheroes and the Chronicles of Narnia, among others. The subtitles are clever. The Seinfeld subtitle is A Book About Everything and Nothing. The Superheroes essay is subtitled Truth, Justice and the Socratic Way. In other words, there's a playfulness in their seriousness.

The sixteen essays in this book are served up as if tracks on an album. The first eight are listed as Side 1 in the table of contents. The second set is, naturally, Side 2.

I've not finished yet, but every passage I've read has been solid. The writers, who are listed as The Mongrel Dogs (a reference to a line, or concept, in "My Back Pages") have bios in the back of the book that include playful references to yet other Dylan songs. Francis Beckwith's begins, "ever since he was street legal (he) knew he had to strengthen the things that remain.

Playful as their asides might be, the essays contain seriously rich insights into the philosophical subtext of Dylan's life, drawing from not only his lyrics but also his interviews, his performances and his writings.

The first essay compares Planet Waves to Plato's Symposium. Doug Anderson proposes that the album is essentially a collection of songs with various answers to the question "What is love?"

The second essay examines the existentialism that runs through Dylan's work in an essay titled I Used to Care, but Things Have Changed: Passion and the Absurd in Dylan's Later Work. The author here takes his cues from Kierkegaard and Camus, and deftly extracts the repeated themes of existential philosophers through the past two centuries, echoed in the lyrics of a half century of Dylan. This chapter ends with a summing up that begins, "Dylan looks directly at a world lacking any clear purpose and makes an appeal that is filled with absurd faith in what is still possible. This is what may remain after a person has sounded out the depths of existential despair and come to terms with a finite and sometimes tragic life on the other side. In a universe from which all the stars have been torn down, a human being feels like a stranger. But it is not impossible to keep on living under such conditions, and Dylan shows us how it might be done."

The third essay in this book focuses on the question "Who Killed Medgar Evers?" As everyone familiar with the song knows, Dylan somewhat absolves the actual killer by saying he was only a pawn in a bigger game. This is not to say Dylan is asking the murderer to go free, but he uses the incident to point to a much more pervasive issue, institutional racism. After introducing the story, writer Avery Kolers points to other "morally charged songs" by Dylan. One of these is the story of a boxer, "Who Killed Davey Moore?" which Kolers calls a companion piece to Only A Pawn.

"Who Killed Davey Moore?" is a song about a boxer who died as a result of blows from his opponent. In the song, the narrator interrogates the suspects, and each declares innocence--the referee, the angry crowd, the gambling man, the sportswriter, and ultimately the man "whose fists laid him low."

It's interesting that in The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, which appears on the same Side B as Only A Pawn (The Times They Are A-Changing), the one who struck her with his cane is mentioned by name, along with other details of the crime. In this song, Dylan avoids mentioning Byron de la Beckwith so as to spread the blame across to the various politicos and law enforcement agencies that helped foster the culture that produced this act of senseless violence.

It's a powerful essay about a powerful song, one still relevant in our current cultural landscape.

Other themes explored include bootlegging (The Great White Wonder), the meaning of freedom, post-modernism, Christianity and Dylan's gospel influences, the Second Sex, creativity, truth, predestination and free will.

I like the cover copy on the back, which calls Dylan "the Troubador who has given English more phrases than any poet since Shakespeare." Interestingly, when Dylan was selected to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature this past fall, the Shakespeare comparisons were a-plenty.

Much more can be said but we'll close shop here. The book is a penny used or 17 bucks new here at Amazon.

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Plans for the 2017 Duluth Dylan Fest are taking shape. Currently you'll want to bookmark the DDF page on As events firm up information here will be updated here. Wherever you are, you're invited to celebrate with us here in the Northland, May 21-28.

Meantime life goes on all around you. Get into it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Local Art Seen: Pop Evolution Exhibit at the Tweed Is Worth Writing Home About

"Turning a Blind Eye" by Jerry Ott
"I am a deeply superficial person." --Andy Warhol

Sixties Pop had come of age when I was becoming an art student at Ohio University and, to be honest, I didn't like it. At the time I was immersed in the painterliness of the abstract expressionists and modern impressionists. Dada and surrealism captured my imagination, and Warhol's screen printed gaudiness did not. And I especially hated Lichtenstein's blown-up cartoon panels.

Despite my own feelings about the movement, which originated in New York with the likes of Andy Warhol (who I did feel was doing interesting things) and Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and James Rosenquist, the movement was highly influential, opening up new terrain for young artists and altering the landscape significantly by once again forcing the question, "What is art?"

All this to say that there is an exciting new exhibit in the Special Exhibitions Gallery at the Tweed Museum of Art through the end of March. The show is titled Pop Evolution, with works curated from the Tweed's permanent collection.

"Truck" by Warhol
What's impressive about the Tweed show is that it shows how widespread the Pop Art influence became. The superstars of this movement may have been the ones with top billing in New York, but the streaming colorwheel of their influence flowed everywhere. The ubiquitous Andy Warhol may have been the ringleader, but he hardly acted alone. Artists like Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Larry Rivers may have helped pave the way by knocking down some of the fences, but art wanted to be free... free from constraints, and to a large extent free from the galleries. (Warhol's art today is hardly free, though. Van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol works are among the most expensive a billionaire collector can own.)

When one reads about Pop Art today, the art history books make reference to the subject matter being one of its hallmarks. That is, instead of being about important subjects, the lens of the artists' eye was focused on the mundane, the ordinary, and in the case of soup cans or Brillo boxes, commodities. This later led eventually to installation-type shows that the general public would have yet greater difficulty appreciating or understanding. At least Warhol's Marilyn was interesting, even if gaudy. But what does one make of a dozen railroad ties lying in the middle of a gallery space?

"Love Cross" by Robert Indiana
Two pieces by Mildred Howard on collaged found papers.
"Sitting Bull" by S. Patricia McMahon
The dada movement that preceded Pop was anti-art and anti-capitalist. Andy Warhol emerged from an ad agency background that had Capitalism written all over it. In some ways Madison Avenue and Warhol's Factory were two peas in a pod.

Pop Art was in many respects a mirror of what was happening in the broader culture as values of all kinds were being brought into question. Here are some links about Pop Art that you may find informative:
What Is Pop Art?
Pop Art -- The Art of Popular Culture
The Emergence and Evolution of the Pop Art Movement

Pop Evolution is just one reason to get up to the Tweed. There's plenty more to see in the museum's various galleries. If you have not been there in a while (on the UMD campus) then you owe it to yourself to find a way.

EdNote: Bill Shipley, who spent most of his career in the Big Apple art scene, will be giving a gallery talk about this exhibition on March 11, from 2-3 p.m.

Jerry Ott, "Turning a Blind Eye"
Art is exciting, and there's a lot of it happening here in the Twin Ports. This Thursday will be the closing reception to the Duluth Art Institute Member Show and opening for Carla Hamilton's Gezielt (Targeted) and Elizabeth Kuth's "Rooted Expression." Also on display will be the Emerging Photographers exhibit in the corridor gallery.

And this coming Saturday the DAI Art Film Series begins, eight art films with discussions afterwards. The first film is "Frida" with UMD's Jamie Ratliff leading the post-show discussion. The films begin at 10:00 a.m. at the Zinema. (Admission is $5)

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Emerging Artist Christie Carter Eliason Shares Her Journey

She's been an artist all her life, at heart. But like many of us, life gets in the way of living that artist dream. Through March and April, her work will be on display at the Red Mug Coffeehouse in Superior, her first public show. The opening reception will be Saturday, March 11, from 2 - 4 p.m. and I, for one, am looking forward to it.

Birds can be endlessly fascinating, hence the abundance of bird feeders and bird watching in our country. I've painted birds myself on occasion, but thought first of Ann Klefstad's paintings of birds from the crow/raven family. When I saw the invite to Christie Eliason's upcoming "Inside A Raven Conspiracy" exhibition, I was immediately drawn.

EN: When did you notice you had skills as an artist? Did you draw better than other kids in school? How did that come about?

Christie Carter Eliason: I remember as a young child sitting in my mother's studio and drawing or painting. My mother was an artist and she nurtured my interest in art. She saw to it that I never went without a sketchbook and pencils. She was always enrolling me in classes. The first class I can remember was at the Memphis Academy of Art in Memphis, TN, where my artwork was chosen to represent the youth exhibit. I was very young, maybe 6 years old. In addition, my mother took me to many art galleries to see art of all sorts. Because of her encouragement, I have always been able to see myself as an artist. What a gift to know that about myself so early on in life.

I decided to pursue a career in teaching and set my sights on becoming an art teacher. However, life happened and I temporarily set school aside for marriage and children. When I returned to college, I was going through a divorce as a single mom and faced with making myself as marketable in the work force as possible. I pursued elementary education instead of art. I have never regretted this choice. I love children and I love teaching.

EN: When you were younger you had a desire to be a children's book illustrator. What turned you on to this idea?

CCE: I have always felt a great love and appreciation for children's picture books, so much so, family and friends would give them to me as gifts, even in my teenage years. I admire the way a picture book succinctly conveys so much with so few pages. I love the way that the illustrations and words collaborate to provide multi-layers of a story. This inspired my artwork. I dreamed of creating my own picture books. I attended many workshops, conferences and classes revolving around this aspiration. I developed characters and wrote stories.

EN: Your career has been in teaching and your life taken up with raising a family. What prompted you to get back into art and why painting?

CCE:  I got back to making art because I have always known I'm supposed to make art. It is very much a part of what makes me who I am. I guess I can't NOT make art. It was just a matter of freeing up my time and space. I was chomping at the bit to get back to it. Why painting? I have dabbled in a number of mediums, but there is something about seeing paint strokes on a surface that draws me in.

However, in addition to a teaching career, my life was full with parenting four children alongside my second (and favorite😊 ) husband on our small family farm. I found little time, energy or space for making art. As my children began to launch themselves into the world, I was able to shift some of my focus back to making art. For whatever reason, I felt mental roadblocks when I considered my dream to illustrate, so I put myself on a different path, at least for the time being. My commitment was to paint often and to put my work out into the world.

EN: What is the backstory on your current show at the Red Mug? Why "Inside A Raven Conspiracy"?

CCE: We paint what we know, or love, or want to better understand. I started with painting my dogs, then other peoples' dogs, then wildlife such as foxes, bears, moose and birds. I painted a raven and suddenly found myself digging a little deeper to find what lies beneath the surface. I tried to imagine how they might appear to one another. I wanted to paint portraits of them, as if seen through the eyes of another raven. Of course, I am limited by my own humanness. I found myself comparing and contrasting myself with them. My mother said it is like a metaphor for what is happening in the world around us. As we attempt to better understand those who seem unlike us, we end up learning more about ourselves. And I suppose she is right. In the process of exploring corvids, I found myself again as an artist. There will be new explorations in my future, but I will always hold a special place in my heart for crows and ravens.

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 Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Incident That Triggered My Book on How to Teach Writing

“Since attention follows interest, it is folly to attempt to gain attention without first stimulating interest.” -- John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching

Like many American boys, I grew up playing baseball, football and basketball. We had pickup games throughout the year and intramurals at school. Many of us even earned our varsity letters in one sport or another. Soccer was not one of them.

With the exception of California it seemed there were few, if any, organized soccer teams--high school or otherwise--when I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties. So it was an interesting experience becoming a soccer coach when my son took an interest in this exhilarating sport at age six or seven. His first attraction, I believe, was the international character of the game. Soccer cards depict every nationality and the corresponding flags of a multitude of nations.

Though I'd only a modest relationship with soccer, I accepted the responsibilities of coaching and determined to excel at it. To do this I did what I usually do: I visited our local library and found books on the game. I studied the drills and exercises to develop my players’ skills. And I learned the rules.

At one point I also attended a clinic for coaches conducted by Buzz Lagos, head coach of the Minnesota Thunder professional soccer team. It was from Mr. Lagos, or “Coach” as he preferred to be called, that I learned what I consider to be the most important principle for writing teachers.

During the clinic we spent most of our time playing various games designed to teach soccer skills and develop our awareness of key principles. At the end of the evening we then gathered for a question-and-answer period.

During this Q&A one of my fellow coaches asked a question that was undoubtedly a burning issue for a number of us. “Sir, what skill level should my kids be at when they are 10 years old?” Here it was. What are the benchmarks that our boys and girls should aspire to as they advance in age? How deft should their ball handling be? How strong and true should they be kicking? How skilled in passing and receiving? How effective their ball control and other maneuvers?

Coach Lagos stunned me with his answer. He said, “Don’t even think about it. Only one thing is important, that they enjoy the game.”

Interesting answer.

We all know it’s true. The key to success in any endeavor is motivation. And that’s how our kids are going to become better writers, not by being forced to write but by wanting to and learning to enjoy it.

Your student or child will write more if she enjoys it rather than hates it. Think about this as well. The more they write, the more sentences and words you’ll have to grade or edit. You’ll also gain insights into your child's thinking. You’ll receive glimpses of who your students and children really are.

Though I created the exercises in my book to be fun, their aims are serious. Kids will learn not simply to write in sentences. Rather, they’ll learn some of the methods professional writers use to create interesting sentences. Kids will learn how to use the tools that help professionals become better writers.

Good writing is more than simply writing technically correct sentences with proper verb tense and punctuation. Good writing is writing that engages readers.

I strongly believe that learning how to communicate by means of the written word is a key component of any successful career. Kids who learn to write well will obtain more career opportunities and find more open doors than those who neglect this vital skill.

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Writing Exercises: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else is available here at

Find information on all my books at

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Quitters Never Win, Winners Never Quit

"Quitters never win, and winners never quit."

That's the way it is. Without persistence, we are guaranteed to fail. The reverse, however, isn't necessarily true. Sometimes we persist, we finish the race, and yet we don't get the prize. This can be a hard nut to swallow.

I love the verse in Ecclesiastes that says, "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong... but time and chance happen to them all." (Eccles. 9:11) Why do I love this saying? Because it gives us a much needed reminder that things don't always work out. That's reality.

For example, there are no guarantees that if I say all the right things I will "close the deal" in business. Or get the job. Nor am I guaranteed to win the big race at the track meet if I prepare better this year than last. Nor am I guaranteed to become a famous novelist by writing lots of books. In all of these examples there are many factors outside of our control. Illness, strong competition, a car accident, even death - the list of things outside our control is limitless. As we all know, none of us is God. We are finite creatures with limited capabilities.

Nevertheless, there is one thing that is in our control. We can choose to give up, to quit, or we can choose to keep going. Those who quit pursuing their goals or dreams are certain never to reach them. Those who keep going, who persist, will find that the dream inspires and strengthens them.

Whether we reach our dreams or whether we don't, we can be an inspiration to others to pursue their own dreams. This is why we continue to the end. In this way we can finish the race with our heads held high.

Twin Ports Arts Happenings: Highlights for the Next Four Weeks

"Why fit in when you were born to stand out?" -Dr. Seuss

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There's plenty happening in the Twin Ports arts scene, both above and below the treetops. If you have a visual arts or spoken word event coming up soon and you don't see it listed here, feel free to add it in the Comments so we can all learn about it.

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Tonight is Spoken Word Open Mic @ Beaners. Linda LeGarde Grover is the featured poet this month. The even begins at 7:00 p.m.

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Submit a Living Lab project proposal
You are invited to transform an unused space on the UMD campus into your own sustainable laboratory by submitting a Living Lab project proposal. Campus grounds and buildings are not only a backdrop of campus life, but can be used as a medium for innovation, testing, demonstration, and learning. Selected proposals will receive campus space and assistance with the facilitation of an approved project. Application Deadline: March 20.  Details Here.

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Anishinaabe Kwe @ the Holden Fine Arts Center at UWS

Here's an opening to look forward to. Local Native artists Sarah Agaton Howes, Ivy Vainio and Leah Yellowbird will have their work on display March 1 - 31 at the Kruk Gallery, Holden Fine Arts Center, UW-Superior. (1805 Catlin Avenue) This oft-overlooked space has had numerous really excellent shows and this one will be equally stimulating. Looking forward to it. The Opening Reception is slated for Tuesday, February 28, 5-7pm. Will I see you there?

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Steve Boyyi @ the AICHO Galleries 
The first week of March Ugandan artist Steve Boyyi will be showing his work at the AICHO Galleries in Trepanier Hall in Duluth. Here's a story on this remarkable young man. More details coming soon.

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Christie Eliason @ The Red Mug
I owe the Dr. Seuss quote at the beginning of this blog post to Christie Eliason, who is having her painting displayed in her first public exhibition next month at the Red Mug in Superior. She has a great spirit in my recent correspondence with her and I look forward to sharing her work here in the next few days. The show is titled Inside A Raven Conspiracy, and there's plenty to see and like. The opening reception will be March 11, a Saturday, from 2:00-4:00 p.m.

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Adam Swanson @ Pizza Luce
Next time you get a chance, grab a lunch or libation at Pizza Luce and check out this month's featured artist, Adam Swanson. Swanson's paintings give any room a lift, which is my you may want to own one of your own someday. You won't have to wait till your next show to enjoy it. You can get that pick-me-up every time you come home after a rough day, for the rest of your life.

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Book Club at Tweed Museum of Art 
There's a new book club formed, meeting once a month at the Tweed. I can't imagine a better location for an art-themed book club. But the books aren't what you'd expect, so if you're looking for a new book club, this one has some lively fans of the written world. Next Tuesday Claire Kirch is the moderator and the book they are discussing is an art sleuth novel about Abstract Expressionists and the drama of World War II. Free and open to the public. The book is The Muralist by Barbara Shapiro. Here are the details about when and where they're meeting.

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Seeking artists to contribute to a Dylan-themed art show during Dylan Fest 2017 in May. Here is the original announcement... with more details coming soon. We have secured a location for this year's Duluth Dylan Fest art show: the Zeitgeist Atrium.

ALSO, we're looking for artists to do more paintings for some of the windows at The Armory. Would you like to paint a panel or two for public display. Next time you drive by (down on London Road across from Valentini's) check it out... Then reach out to me via PM on Facebook of ennyman3 AT gmail DOT com.

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DAI Opening Reception for two exciting artists, Carla Hamilton and Elizabeth Kuth is Next Thursday, Feb. 23. This will also be the closing reception for the Member Show. ARTISTS: Don't forget to pick up your work the following day.

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EdNote: If your event is not listed and you want others to hear about it, share your details here in the Comments.

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EdNote: I now have links to all my books listed in one place. Check out

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Recent and Miscellaneous

Cowboy Angel Blue @ the Kom-On-Inn. A former drummer with Steppenwolf
was in the crowd that evening.
Friday, February 24 Cowboy Angel Blue will be performing at VIP in Superior. 
Proceeds above expenses for the band will go toward the 2017 Duluth Dylan Fest. 

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it.