Highlight: John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) is one of the best known Pre Raphaelite painters, and the 160th anniversary of his birth has been celebrated this year. There are several exhibitions going on around the globe showcasing his amazing works, one of which is being held at London by The Royal Academy of Arts.

The site dedicated to John William Waterhouse's works, has an interesting article by Peter Trippi in which he comments on some of his artworks, giving some useful insight into the master's motivations and interests behind his creations:

Waterhouse's few surviving letters reveal a retiring personality probably more comfortable at home reading than attending Academy banquets...

He had long been fascinated with what Shelley called 'the loveliness of terror,' as seen in his decorous handling of such potentially gruesome subjects as the martyrdom of Saint Eulalia and the testing of Odysseus by the Sirens....

Even more than the Lady of Shalott or Ophelia, Persephone mattered to Waterhouse because her passionate awakening to sex, her death, and her metamorphosis conveys a hopeful message of natural regeneration, the survival of the mortal soul after the death of the body, and the potential for resurrection... [1]

In case you don’t know John William Waterhouse's works, below is a selection of some of his beautiful paintings. For more information, visit the site Jwwaterhouse.com.


Witnessing War

The Independent has posted an article about the passing of World War I veteran Harry Patch. He lived up to 111, and was the last living participant in the 1914-1918 war. It has some interesting insights about WWI and other matters.

The author, Bruce Anderson, begins by commeting on the preceding 1800s, saying that it was:

...a period of remarkable improvement in almost every area. By 1900, the world had been transformed. Though problems remained, it seemed that the West could look forward to steadily increasing prosperity, stability and freedom...

The 19th century really seems to have been remarkable in many ways: bold scientists daring to go beyond all limitations of the period's knowledge, exploring at large, both the microcospic and macroscopic realms, and developing the principles of everything that marks our times, from computers to airplanes; challenging thinkers breaking down all taboos and conventions, questioning religion, slavery, education, women and children's rights; artists revolutionizing painting, music, literature, theater and all the other arts, creating masterpieces, many of which are unsurpassed.

It seems like an exciting time, but as the period that came right afterwards showed, the changes were superficial, like stirred water raising the mud that lies at the bottom. The mud came to the surface and showed how much dirt was deposited on the floor, and the process is still going on.

Anderson continues:

1914-45 was the worst epoch in history since the Dark Ages, and there is a hideous paradox. We only recovered, avoiding a third world war which would have finished off most of European civilisation, because of the threat of nuclear war, leading to a dark age from which there could be no recovery. That threat is still with us – and to think that in the Nineteenth Century, men believed in moral progress.

Well, there has been progress. Only the blind pessimists don't see it. However so much dirt has been swept for millenia under the carpet, it's no wonder things don't seem that better at first glance as the process has only recently started.

Besides people never really changed. Take it for instance the chronicles of the Roman era, 2000 years ago, which show that people lived pretty much the same way we do, thought the same, made the same mistakes, etc. One can say that that's because it's "human nature" to be lewd, corrupt, proud, selfish, and all that, but if that were so, there wouldn't be people who aren't like that, or who manage to learn better in time.

What often happens is that people don't dare to acknowledge their flaws and fight them, with the same zeal they would fight for a job promotion, or the same persistance they reserve for playing the lottery. While people don’t realize the damages these feelings cause, and fight to eliminate it from their minds, we’ll still have wars, violence and all the evils they engender.

When talking about our times, Anderson raises an important point:

But it would be easier to take pride in such an event if we could also feel proud of the treatment of today's volunteers, who have earned the right to be numbered with the men of the trenches, in the long British muster-roll of glory and heroism.

There are hundreds of soldiers of our present wars, who are getting back home with grave mental and social problems. Such is the case with British Lance Corporal Beharry, who earlier this year in an interview (check article too) also for The Independent called attention to his own adaptation problems and that of his colleagues, who have a hard time adjusting to normal life after facing the horrors of war.

The health system and many members of society in the countries that have sent soldiers to the Middle East wars are unprepared to dealing with the delicate and complex cases of those men and women, and end up making things even worse for them.

Despite the terrible wars of our time that are shattering the lives of many of our countrymen, the worst ones aren't fought in a far-off desert, miles away from our homes. There's a silent war going on in our cities, in our families and even in ourselves.

The legacy of darkness of the first half of the 20th century is threatening us again, and we must not let it influence us nor take it lightly. The examples of bravery and moral strength like that of late Harry Patch, who refused to shot to kill his enemies during the war, must be remembered as proof that we can be better than what we are if only we put our wills to it, and as a consequence, the world will be better.

Just as the efforts of the 1800s' visionaries haven't been lost, like their dreams of ending slavery, emancipating women, promoting literacy and worker's rights, but instead they are already partially accomplished.


Highlight: Sarel Theron & Matte Painting

Sarel Theron is an amazing South African illustrator, who creates matte painting for commercials and movies, and concept art for book covers and a graphic novel. He has experience with oils and acrylics, but has specialized in digital art and has authored several tutorials for the CG Magazine, Advanced Photoshop Magazine, among others. He has recently received the Exposé 7 Master Award for matte painting and an Excellence award in the Transportation category.

Sarel Theron has been greatly influence by the Luminist and the Hudson River schools. He said about digital art: "I love the way it allows for the seamless integration of elements such as photographs and 3D CG models into a painting, something that is just not possible in any of the traditional mediums.

"For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of being an artist is when I persist with a painting I’m really struggling with, and through sheer dogged determination, turn it into something I’m really pleased with." [1]

In case you have no idea what matte painting is, it is a representation of a landscape, set, or some location that would be impossible or too expensive to built and is used in film making. Some of the most popular examples of its usage are the old Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Wizard of Oz movies, among others. Matte painting was created by applying oil paint on a large sheet of glass.

Here is some of Sarel Theron's amazing artworks. Check his site for more.

Source: Sarel Theron Making of Neokathmandu Matte Painting

Twisting Minds: Psychological Manipulation In Sales and Politics

The Canadian site Rabble.ca has published an interesting article about psychological manipulation in sales and politics, and why people choose one political ideology over another, sometimes favoring more conservative parties, despite the liberal aspirations they express.

It calls attention to some important points, such as:

"Consumerism, driven by the most sophisticated and manipulative psychology the advertising industry can buy, has had the effect of atomizing us. We are defined more and more by what we have, less and less by our relationships to family, friends, colleagues and community."

We have two grave situations in our society. The first one is: slaves enslaving slaves. That is, retailers, marketing people, salespeople, and other professionals, obviously with exceptions, make use of strategies to manipulate people's behavior in order to retain customers and increase profit.

That includes targeting people's, and worst of all children's, deepest yearnings, fears and frustrations, exciting ambition and vanity, etc. The customers for their part, don't question such manipulations, and like sheep, let themselves be lead, spending their hard-earned money on trinkets and clothes they don't really need. The professionals mentioned above are no less prey to such influence, after all, there is always a bigger fish...

This situation takes to another one, which is maybe even uglier: people lose their identity, being regarded for the possessions they display, their appearance, and not what they are. Many of us usually express our personalities in our clothes, but there's a thin line between balance and excess there, and that's not something that can be taught, only we can establish limits by considering when buying becomes a compulsion.

More importantly, we must re-program ourselves in order to place less value on what people look like and more on what people do, say and think. Most people in the world don't look like Robert Pattinson or Sharon den Adel, so get over it! This attitude is only isolating us, and we're the worse for it.

This article on US News gives some tips on how to be a "self-aware shopper", while this other one reports on the dirty techniques retailers use for behavioral manipulation. So, next time you visit a shop, watch out!

"An institution or social practice is to be considered efficient or productive to the extent that it fosters ethically, spiritually, ecologically and psychologically sensitive and caring human beings who can maintain long-term, loving personal and social relationships.

"While this new definition of productivity does not reject the importance of material well-being, it subsumes that concern within an expanded view of ‘the good life’: one that insists on the primacy of spiritual harmony, loving relationships, mutual recognition and work that contributes to the common good.”

Material things are important, but only moral things give us backbone. What we have is a suicidal system. This state of things has taken us to despair and depression that has only increased after the economical crisis, to the high levels of violence and deliquency, to the apathy and isolation so many people live in, to the indifference in families, to the shallowness in education and at work, to the pollution and degradation of the environment, to the cynicism and hopelessness many believe in.

It is urgent to review all our present values, and that isn't something that our governments must do, but ourselves. We can only really affect our own minds. All institutions and social practices that don't add value to our lives should be ignored.

"It raises the question of why people get engaged. Why is it that tens of millions get into an emotional frenzy over the death of a pop star or identify their lives with a professional sports team but can’t be convinced to fight for social programs that would increase the quality of life of their communities? Why do further millions identify with right-wing evangelical religion rather than the call for secular social justice?

"According to Lerner, they are in a search for meaning and in the context of the destruction of community of the past 30 years, they find in sports and Michael Jackson’s fandom pseudo-communities they can identify with."

Does that happen because many doubt the relevance of social work? Just because there will still certainly be poor, homeless people, addicts and abandoned children for the foreseeable future, should we cross our arms and do nothing?

Our actions and that of hundreds or thousands won't change the world overnight, still, the positive actions of a single person make a significant difference in people's lives, even if for a single hour or day. It means one hour of hope, one day without hunger or cold, the display of generosity one needed in order to recover some courage to face his hardships.

We shouldn't expect return for what we do either. Instead of expecting instant gratification like children do, we should do what we think is best for its own sake. Return comes as a consequence.

“We find thousands of Americans -- from every walk of life, ethnic and religious background, political persuasion and lifestyle -- with lives of pain and self-blame, and turning to the political right because the right speaks about the collapse of families, the difficulty of teaching good values to children, the fear of crime and the absence of spirituality in their lives. The right seems to understand their hunger for community and connection.” [despite] "the destructive and often vicious politics of the Right... most people vote for the Christian right because they feel understood and cared for by it, not because of its policies."

Back to the psychological manipulation mentioned above, that is another example of it.

Unlike the first example, this is not a sensorial trick that results in a psychological response, this is a more straightforward approach: they are meddling directly with our emotions and yearnings.

We are responsible for what we pay attention to, and consequently, for the effects it has on us. So, instead of letting your mind be flooded with all sorts of cultural garbage, question every piece of information, strengthen your opinions and values.

There are those who claim that movies, games, songs, words can't influence people's minds, but there is daily evidence that they do. Otherwise companies wouldn't spend millions on TV ads or retail stores wouldn't hire marketing consultants for strategies on behavioral influence.

"It’s time for reconstruction. The economic and climate change crises can serve as an enforced breathing space: an obligatory opportunity to get off the consumer/wealth accumulation/hyper-individualism tread mill for long enough to realize it was taking us over a cliff."

That says it all. Let us hope that when the crisis subsides, we will have learned something from it.


Facing Pain Clean

The site Healthzone of the Toronto Star newspaper published a compelling report on the struggle of Veronica and her fight to keep herself clean after years as a cocaine and alcohol addict.

She started doing coke to numb herself after her ex-fiancé died in a car crash. About that time, she says:

"There was a lot of pain, there was no closure ... The last thing I wanted to do was feel."

The first thought we have when we lose something and especially someone important in our lives is to keep out all the pain, and many people start using drugs, both legal and illegal, or develop some compulsion, like overeating, or buying compulsively in order to dull it. However, that's never the best solution.

Instead of losing touch with reality, we should try to focus our minds on something useful, that can bring some meaning back to our lives. Eventually, we'll find the strength to put it into perspective, and we'll be better fit to regard what happened reasonably, finding a place within ourselves to keep the good memories, and make room for the pain.

Further on, Veronica added:

"Nobody understands why people would want to hurt themselves like that, but they don't realize it's because of a lot of hurt and you don't know what to do with it. Nobody gives you a book on how to live life."

Besides the point raised above, there's the point that many people often don't know what to do with someone in pain. We live in a society that teaches that to feel (and especially react to) pain is shameful. So, in that context, we're not supposed to feel, and if we do, we're not supposed to show what we feel, and express it freely. When people do that, the first suggestion given is often "go see a psychologist", or "take that medicine", or even the cruel shallow brush-off "it'll go away".

Thing is, it doesn't go away! When you lose someone you love, or when you suffer a trauma, or become disabled, that is a big deep scar that will burn forever. The pain may subside in time, as we find other worries and responsibilities to fill our minds, however it will remain.

Those who are parents, relatives, partners, and friends of people who are living through such ordeals, must reach out to them, pay them more attention, respect their feelings, even if they seem exaggerated.

Is it a wonder that so many turn to drugs and other pain-killers, when they don't find support in those they love and trust, because these are too busy to really help them? And family and friends of addicts shouldn't expect rehab clinics and AA meetings to do their job for them, that is, to give full support to the addict, because those can only do so much. Strangers can't really give the love, attention and sympathy people in pain need.

Going on with her story, Veronica talks about one of the times when she gave in:

"I shouldn't have started drinking, but I was like, `I'm here and I've already screwed up and you can't screw up any further tonight as long as you stay here.'"

She sat on her bar stool, sipping away, thinking it was all right as long as Dave didn't know. "That stupid old stinking thinking came back."

After downing three cold ones, there was a break in the set and she and Dave went for a cigarette. But her slurred speech and glassy eyes gave it away. Dave gave her hell.

One of the first things you learn at the AA is that you can’t give in to the first drink. There’s no such thing as only taking a sip for an alcoholic. So if you're one, do your best not to give in.

"When I saw them stoned and the effects of the drugs on them, for some reason my brain was telling me`I want that feeling.' It's hard to just tell yourself `No.'"

When you’re doped, you can’t change things, you can’t improve or overcome them. If you lost someone, take it as a duty you owe him/her of living your life the best you can. If you lost a job, home, run up a great debt, only if you stay clean you can change that. You’re not helpless to put things right.

The comments of the readers are really helpful to give an insight in the process of overcoming addiction. I've selected these three:

I lost my job, my boyfriend and my apartment all in the space of a few weeks and in despair turned towards cocaine to try to feel better, even though it was a false feeling. This led to me not being able to find a decent new job, any decent friends or a place to live.

Luckily the Jean Tweed Treatment Centre in Toronto took me in and I lived there for a month getting help. I backslid afterwards but I've now been cocaine-free for 12 years after deciding to move to another city and making coke-free friends and meeting my beloved (non-drinking, non-drugging) husband. I now have a great job, great place to live, great family and great friends.

It CAN be done if addicts are given the chance to get proper treatment. I'm living proof.

- FH

Having been clean and sober for almost twenty years I can understand how easy it can be to fall back into old habits. When my son died a few years ago the urge to fall back was strong until I had a dream and my son's spirit talked me out of it.

I have a guardian Angel who looks out for me now since three years have passed since Logan died, he was ten years old. I miss him but I know that staying clean and sober is what he wants me to do. I promised him I would and will stay strong because of it.

I keep busy doing respite care work for disabled children and their families to keep my feet on the ground and give back to society for the mistakes I made.

- Mark-Alan Whittle

It took me many years of rehab and AA meetings, to finally achieve that elusive 1 year of sobriety. Now at 8yrs of being sober, I can actually have a tray of ice cubes in my freezer. Just the mere sound of the ice hitting the glass could start the insanity of addiction again in my early attempts to remain sober.

Cunning, baffling, powerful and very patient is this disease. A daily reprieve is all I can ask for. Being aware of all the subtle triggers is a necessity.

- Jolae

Best wishes to all those who face this terrible challenge, to their families and caregivers.


Highlight: Mark Mawson

The Telegraph site has published a gallery with pictures taken by British photographer Mark Mawson. He made those surreal abstract pictures by throwing blobs of paint inside a tank of water and photographing whatever forms the paint took in the few seconds before it reached the bottom.

Mark Mawson has worked for some newspapers in London, such as The Times, Sunday Times and Daily Mail for 5 years before changing to magazine and advertising work.

He moved to Sydney, Australia about 10 years ago, and has done several fashion and celebrity shots. One of his most famous series is the Underwater one, from which I've selected two pictures. There are many more on his site, so be sure to visit it.

Among his influences are photographers Gregory Crewdson and Erwin Olaf, and he says he aims at being "respected as a photographer & artist by my peers, to be able to continue shooting until very old age without retiring." [1]

Mawson also said that he loves "the whole process of creating a picture, from conception of the idea, to finding a location, to lighting, directing the subject and capturing the final shot."

Here are two pictures of his Aqueous series and then two of his Underwater.

Check his site for more amazing pictures.