Friday, October 28, 2016

Suffering for your 'art'

Many readers probably don't know anything about my background in dog dance. For several years I coached and choreographed in the (then new) sport of dog dancing. It has subsequently been 'professionalized' and is divided into several categories of competition. Heelwork to Music is exactly what it sounds like. Freestyle gives the competitors much more freedom to tell a story and do innovative moves.

One of the reasons I left the sport is that I thought many really bad decisions were being made, and rewarded by the judges. There was too much emphasis on costume and the human part of the pair and too little on good dog training. That has changed over the years but I still wince when I watch the world championships. Yes, there are some beautiful routines which bring tears to my eyes. But there are also some performances which are in incredibly bad taste. On the bright side, the dog training has improved immensely.

The routine below is not to my liking but I giggled when I got to 3:30 and what follows. There is someone who suffered for her 'art'. The hours of training that went into that element of the routine must have left the handler bruised and covered in slime.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Richard McVetis

I have written before about It supplies a continuing flow of inspiring images and text to my inbox. Yesterday I learned more about Richard McVetis.

50:29 by Richard McVetis

The original TextileArtist piece is here. I love what I see - simple repetitive imagery, neutral colours, perhaps a tendency to the obsessive.

In the interview he is quoted as saying "..... each work of art is created into modular sections. They can then be reorganized and reused to create new works."

That is a thought that has been rumbling around in my head but I haven't taken concrete steps to make it happen. Perhaps now is the time. I want to bring a small stitching project with me to a retreat next weekend. My current plans are to dig out some light moss green embroidery floss and a pseudo-linen loose weave fabric sent to me years ago by an art quilter I met on the internet.

I won't copy McVetis but I will use his ideas as a jumping off point.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Is it Art?

I was doing a New York Times crossword puzzle in the middle of the night when I was stumped by a clue about the phrase "Is it art?". When I completed the puzzle I Googled the poem to learn more about it. It is a lesser known work by Rudyard Kipling. I read several analyses of the poem but I don't think they added anything to my thoughts. Like most art, it is better evaluated in the context of the beholder.

What does it say to you?

    The Conundrum of the Workshops

      WHEN the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden's green and gold,
      Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
      And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
      Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, "It's pretty, but is it Art?"

      Wherefore he called to his wife, and fled to fashion his work anew --
      The first of his race who cared a fig for the first, most dread review;
      And he left his lore to the use of his sons -- and that was a glorious gain
      When the Devil chuckled "Is it Art?" in the ear of the branded Cain. 

      They builded a tower to shiver the sky and wrench the stars apart,
      Till the Devil grunted behind the bricks: "It's striking, but is it Art?"
      The stone was dropped at the quarry-side and the idle derrick swung,
      While each man talked of the aims of Art, and each in an alien tongue. 

      They fought and they talked in the North and the South, they talked and they fought in the West,
      Till the waters rose on the pitiful land, and the poor Red Clay had rest --
      Had rest till that dank blank-canvas dawn when the dove was preened to start,
      And the Devil bubbled below the keel: "It's human, but is it Art?" 

      The tale is as old as the Eden Tree -- and new as the new-cut tooth --
      For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;
      And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,
      The Devil drum on the darkened pane: "You did it, but was it Art?" 

      We have learned to whittle the Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg,
      We have learned to bottle our parents twain in the yelk of an addled egg,
      We know that the tail must wag the dog, for the horse is drawn by the cart;
      But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: "It's clever, but is it Art?"

      When the flicker of London sun falls faint on the Club-room's green and gold,
      The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their pens in the mould --
      They scratch with their pens in the mould of their graves, and the ink and the anguish start,
      For the Devil mutters behind the leaves: "It's pretty, but is it Art?"

      Now, if we could win to the Eden Tree where the Four Great Rivers flow,
      And the Wreath of Eve is red on the turf as she left it long ago,
      And if we could come when the sentry slept and softly scurry through,
      By the favour of God we might know as much -- as our father Adam knew!

      Rudyard Kipling



Sunday, October 23, 2016

Listen to this woman

I am naturally a fan of Canadian music but I am particularly sensitized to identifying new music because a hallmark of my indoor cycling classes is my use of at least one song by a Canadian artist in each class.

In November 2013 I was driving to Maine and I heard the end of a song on CBC radio. When the announcer said the name of the artist I repeated it over and over until my next stop so I that I could write it down. It was Tanya Tagaq and the song was Uja. I subsequently bought the album Animism and incorporated that song and others into my classes.

The album subsequently won the Polaris Music Prize for 2014. Tagaq's live performance at the awards ceremony was extraordinary. What you can't see from the video is that she projected the names of Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women on the screen behind her as she sang.

Last April she performed live with several collaborators in the CBC studio. I am haunted by this and listen to it often.

Her new album, Retribution, dropped this week. It is still possible to hear it for free on CBC First Play. Or check it out on iTunes. I may not be able to use any of it for my classes but I will definitely be listening to several of the songs. My current favourite is the title track, Retribution.

While Tagaq's music moves me I think I am drawn to her more because she has such a strong point of view and has not compromised that in her pursuit of a musical career. And she is brave. I heard her in an interview the other day when she said that she was intentionally not going to listen to a collaborator's input to a joint project because her part was going to be improvised. She would be unable to be spontaneous if she heard the direction he was taking the piece.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What do dentists do on their day off?

When I call my dentist's office I get a message that tells me that the office is closed on Fridays. I never stopped to wonder what he does on his day off. Now I know.

Last Friday I was his patient as he participated in a meeting of the RV Tucker Study Club. What, you may ask, is a study club? Well, I asked for you (I sometimes think I get invited to do things like this because I do ask questions). Study clubs are a continuing education model used by dentists. A small group gets together on a regular basis to explore a specific area of interest and expertise. Each group works with a mentor. There appears to be an important historical aspect to the model. For example, I was told several times that the local group's mentor had in turn been mentored by RV Tucker, the founder of study club #1. 

I loved the experience of participating. Eight dentists got together for a day - in this case to work on cases involving conservative cast gold. At each step of the process my dentist took photos and invited the mentor to look at this work and give him a critique. Then we did another step and the mentor returned. The mentor, Dr. Randall Allan, was fantastic. He was incredibly calm, especially given that he was bouncing from chair to chair all day long, and he has mastered the art of not seeming to be rushed or impatient. His demeanor with me was very gentle but what was more important were his interactions with the members of the study club. I could overhear what was happening in two other rooms and, of course, got to see him in person many times.

Dr. Allan was thoughtful, clear, and always reinforcing but complimentary only when it was deserved. I was particularly impressed that he never left the room until it was clear to him that the dentist understood and could visualize what he was describing. It was obvious that the members of the study club love him and really want to show him their best work but aren't afraid to fail because he would handle that with kindness and show them a new path.

If you ever wondered how much technical expertise goes into a specific dental process - in this case preparing a tooth for a gold casting - wonder no more. My head was spinning with talk of buccal and lingual and gingival walls and angles and bevels and dimples. In effect, the dentist was creating a mini-sculpture in my mouth, all the while thinking about the practicality of what shape would keep the gold in place and how my mouth would react to it. It was astonishing. 

Lots of angles and bevels
photo by Ian MacAskill

It was good for me to observe that my dentist was well-respected by his peers, and might even be a bit of a superstar. That gives me confidence. But I also observed how much he learned in the course of the day. When I left I told Dr. Allan that I wished he would come back to participate in the work that needs to be done on another tooth. It would be good to have his eyes and expertise on the problem.

When you are stuck with a rubber dam in your mouth for three hours you think about lots of things. While I was in the chair I had this weird flashback to another part of my life. The model in use yesterday, two dentists visited occasionally by a mentor, reminded me of the times when I travelled to give instruction to other dog trainers. I divided them into pairs for group work and circulated as they worked. I hope that I struck the same note that Dr. Allan did - with observations about what had gone well and suggestions for what to do next, adding hands on guidance when required. I hope that those people went forward with the same increased confidence and energy that I saw from the members of the  dental study club.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Nasty woman

This analysis seems just about right to me.

Now that the writing is on the wall, I can more comfortably enjoy the various takes by clever comedians and authors.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Peter Sagan

People who don't know me well are often surprised when they learn that I watch a lot of sports on TV.  Not baseball or football or soccer or basketball. My interests lean more to sports where the individual is the star or they are working in concert with a small tight-knit team. I watch Formula 1 car racing, professional cycling and curling. The nature of those sports, and the way they are covered on TV, lend themselves to lots of learning about coaching and the human experience.

In all the sports, certain personalities float to the top. Sometimes it is because of their competitive edge and sometimes it is because of their attitude to their sport regardless of outcome. Rarely does anyone come along to match Peter Sagan. Sagan is a professional cyclist from Slovakia. He has ridden for a number of professional teams and most recently signed with Bora-Argon 18. Check out the Wikipedia article for more info.

What sets Sagan apart is his individuality and his performance. He started as a mountain biker but converted to road cycling years ago and he has had enormous success on the road. But in this year's Olympics he chose to ride the mountain bike race. He managed to fit some training into his busy road schedule and was actually was doing very well in the race in Rio until he flatted (which may have been because of lack of experience on MTB tracks over the last few years.)

Sagan won the World Road Championships in Richmond Virginia last year with a courageous move very near the end of the race. He carried that championship into the 2016 season and surprised many by not succumbing to the curse of the world champion. He had one of his best years, posting amazing results and participating in some moves which will go down in history. After one memorable stage in the Tour de France, he answered "We are artists." when journalists asked why he rode the way he did.

It is very difficult to repeat as world champion. The organizers plan courses which favour different sorts of riders from year to year. In Richmond in 2015 there was a lot of climbing. The 2016 course in Doha was 257 km, almost completely flat and favoured the sprinters. Crosswinds broke up the peloton and only 80 riders were in the front group. Sagan was the last to hang on to that group. He spent most of the race near the back and only emerged at the front with a couple of hundred meters to go. He then outsprinted the best sprinter in the world to win his second world championship in a row. When he was asked how he prepared for the race his response was very different from many of the other cyclists. He didn't sweat it - he just showed up to race. “When I came here, for the first day, I was sleeping all day because I traveled overnight. Then one day I did three hours and already I was, ‘oh no, it’s too much.’ Then the next day I did just one hour because today was the big day."

And that's what I admire most about Sagan. He has managed to find an activity he truly enjoys, he doesn't take himself seriously and he has made art of his life. Here are some examples of why he is beloved in the cycling peloton and by admirers on the sidelines all around the world.

Sandy is played by his wife.

This wheelie was performed on one of the most difficult climbs in cycling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Garden of Cosmic Speculation

My mother read voraciously right up to a week before she died. She had a wide range of interests - everything from the latest detective stories to esoteric tomes on Victorian England and many aspects of science and technology. After her death I took home a large box of books that she had finished reading.

One of the first books I grabbed from the box was a recent novel by Louise Penny (The Long Way Home). It made reference to a location called the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. I just assumed that it was a fictional construct and read past all of the references. When my husband picked up the book he recognized that it was an actual place and asked me to Google it.

Wow wow wow. I have a history of being fascinated by large scale art projects but I had never heard of this one. There isn't a good website about it but you can learn more by reading blogs written by people who have visited. This is a good one. You can also Google images and browse through lots and lots of views of various aspects of the garden.

The garden was designed by Charles Jencks, architectural critic and historian. His website provides details on many other projects.

If you want to visit, the garden is only open for five hours, one day a year. Mark your calendar for April 30, 2017.

My husband isn't usually drawn to things like this but as a mathematician he was intrigued. He suggested that we should do something similar on our land in Berwick. I think it's a good thing that he'd rather ride his bike than work in the yard.

Monday, October 17, 2016

High points

While there have admittedly been some low points over the last year or so, there have also been moments of joy and wonder. Here's a list off the top of my head.


I am a heat-seeker and this summer was the best ever for me in Nova Scotia. We had days and days of sun and the temperatures were above normal for much of the time. The Annapolis Valley is even warmer than the Atlantic coast and we spent a lot of weekends there. Unfortunately, the sun meant no rain and many people suffered as a consequence. That's why I'd rather live in a rain forest.


I am at heart a coach and there is nothing I love more than to walk someone through an activity that they thought they couldn't do. Our new home base in the Valley lends itself to shortish bike rides (40-50 km) with a lunch break. These are perfect for introducing people to cycling on the road. The terrain is pretty flat and there isn't a lot of traffic. On several occasions this summer I got to take individuals on a loop which ended up being personal bests for each of them. Here's a photo of just one of those people - surprised by and proud of her achievement.

If you frequent the Valley check out Baked Inn Bakery and Eatery in Centreville. Good food and idiosyncratic owners which make it a fun experience all around.

Friends with dogs

Years ago I met a woman in a workshop series that I was teaching in Massachusetts. It turned out that her father's family was originally from Nova Scotia. Fast forward a lot of years and I have had a chance to visit with her regularly on her annual trips to the province. This year Tock (youngest Beardie) and I had a magical day on the beach in Harbourville with her two Golden Retrievers. It was Tock's first time on a long long rocky beach with all the smells and detritus. One of the Goldens, who has a history of difficult interactions with new dogs, was perfectly behaved. The day ended with all of the dogs sharing bones as we ate a lunch made with noodles from The Noodle Guy in Port Williams. His shop has become a regular stop on trips to and from Berwick - it is easy to make a great dinner by throwing together a sauce for his fantastic noodles.

BTW, it was on this trip that the lightning bolt hit me and I realized that we needed to live in Berwick. That evening I identified the lot which we eventually purchased.


I was appointed to the SAQA Board of Directors earlier this year. It has been a lot of work but I am really enjoying the experience. It is fun to work with a group of very talented people who are so committed to a single goal and who take their responsibilities very seriously. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Cat Came Back

In case the title alone didn't generate an ear worm, take a look at this. It is an updated version by a revered Canadian children's performer Fred Penner.

There has been a lot of galloping since the last post here on the blog. Some details may trickle out over the next few months but suffice to say that it involved deaths of family members, ailing friends, lots of time doing community activities and a new commitment to SAQA.

There have been major developments and I can draw a line between them and my un-reported activities over the last few months. My husband and I have bought a lot in Berwick, NS.

Here's the driveway entrance - it will run up between the two lines of trees to a private 1.5 acre space behind.

On the satellite view we own all of the green space on the left plus out into the tree lines at the edges. That weird line of stuff toward the left of our lot is a a group of blueberry bushes. We will be removing those this fall and giving them to those who want them. The green space across the road is a farm which will not be developed.

It is a three minute bike ride to grocery stores and a ten minute walk home from one of Nova Scotia's best live music venues. Cycling in the area (Annapolis Valley) is terrific and we spent a lot of the summer mapping some of our favourite routes.

We are building a house. It will arrive as separate units four months after we sign the contract - no agonizing over the weather or conflicts between subcontractors. Here is the first plan we gave the architect (without links between modules drawn in). Things aren't exactly to scale yet nor do they represent final dimensions. It will all be on one level, wheelchair accessible everywhere, lots of light but much of it coming from above. There will be a complete detached guest house (not shown) and a two car garage. The guest house will serve as rooms for friends now and eventually our nanny will live there when we need extra care.

I'm not sure our architect knows what to make of us. We have already asked him to change the name of the project on the theory that language matters and we thought the title he was using would limit him as he thought about the things we are requesting. All I can say is - it will be over for him, and us, in under a year.

There has been art-making and I have lots of pictures saved up to share. Here is a closeup (in progress) of my contribution to the SAQA trunk show.