Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"My Name is Asher Lev" - book review

This book was recommended from a few places so I finally got around to diving in.  Chaim Potok is a wonderful storyteller - I previously read "The Chosen" (see review here).  This story is of an art prodigy growing up with an irresistible urge to create within an Orthodox Jewish household.  I'm amazed at how much I was hooked into a story with basically no action.  No car chases.  No ninjas attacking dragons.  None.  If I recall correctly, knife is used to sharpen an artist pencil.

The father tries but just cannot understand art and his son wanting to create art - "this is something I cannot reconcile."  The son, Asher, wants to respect his father but cannot resist drawing.  The mother is torn, as any mother would be, by loving her husband and loving her son and seeking to keep them both.  Toss in a Rebbe, the religious leader, who directs the father to continue vital and risky work in Europe  following the death of Stalin.  The Rebbe also directs Asher to study art and keep doing it.

That's the premise and basically the whole story.  Potok lets you look into lives of characters and once again I found them not only believable, but compelling.  You care and understand for each of the main players.

The book starts with Asher at a young age and I chuckled frequently at how well Potok captured the mind and restlessness of that age.  It progresses through the years and you get to see Asher mature.  I was pulling for Asher.

Asher's mom makes goes through a mourning period following family tragedy.  I wanted her to get better.  She does.  She makes tough choices and sacrifices for her family.  I couldn't help but care about her and see her as honorable.

Asher's father is devoted to the the faith and doing work for the Rebbe.  He works very hard in his duties for the Rebbe and has put himself at huge risk at times.  He struggles to understand his son, he tries but it isn't easy.

Asher himself is torn by this irrepressible gift and serving his faith and honoring his father. 

All of the characters popped out of the book to give you a sense that they are real.

My $0.02 on the conclusion.  I'll try to convey my thoughts without giving away too much.

I was disappointed with the ending.  Not that it was poorly written, or fell out of the story.  I was just pulling for Asher to make some different choices.  Did he really have to paint that and let it be displayed?  Is it required that all art causes some level of strife?  Is it wrong for a great artist to make great pretty art?  I don't that is necessarily being a "whore" as Jacob Kahn, the mentoring artist, had warned.

I enjoy and believe the call to be artists.  Art = created beauty.  I see that artistic spirit flowing through beautiful blueprints, well setup spreadsheets, furniture, good meals, music, stories, etc..  I don't think the artistic call would make a chef sneak meat into a vegetarian's meal.  There are lines that do not need to be crossed for the sake of the "art". 

Do all artists sacrifice for the sake of the art?  Is it really a choice between offending your audience (or a crucial part) and selling yourself? 

There is a deep underlying reality that "My Name is Asher Lev" told that I never considered before.   The artist pours his view and spirit into a work, and then sells it.  An artist sells something with huge personal meaning which ends up being a simple conversation piece completely removed of the story behind the vision behind the art.

There is a mattress store in town that is covered with art from the owner.  He readily talks about his art, and art in general.  He said doesn't sell them.  I wondered why not but now I have a glimmer of understanding.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Progressive Revolution

"NOW here comes in the whole collapse and huge blunder of our age. We have mixed up two different things, two opposite things. Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision. It should mean that we are slow but sure in bringing justice and mercy among men: it does mean that we are very swift in doubting the desirability of justice and mercy: a wild page from any Prussian sophist makes men doubt it. Progress should mean that we are always walking towards the New Jerusalem. It does mean that the New Jerusalem is always walking away from us. We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier." ~GKC: 'Orthodoxy,' VII, The Eternal Revolution.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

This blog will just dragon, and on..

Did you ever think that dragons might not be dead?  They're just sleeping or waiting.

Their lay with a charring snore waiting for their revenge on St. George for killing their kin.  Or any saint, but none are to be found.  There is no traceable family.  That stalwart lineage isn't around.  The dragon lays sleeping, long enough for a mountain to drift ontop of it slower than a glacier.

St. George, a decorated soldier, was arrested and offered to be set free with huge rewards if he would give a sacrifice, a small tithe, to the Roman gods.  He held the faith and died for it.  They resuscitated him three times during a tortuous death.

The dragon need not awaken.  We're terrified to talk to our neighbor about our faith - "it's a personal choice"; "I don't want to offend anyone" and "to each his own".

We won't charge in to fight the beast.  We've become lazy in facing hard issues.  It's easier to have a soft head than a strong back.

We don't need to hear terrible scales rattling in the dark; we're terrified to let the Bible confront our comfort.  It's easier to leave it sitting on the shelf.  Reading it is uncomfortable.  Not that we don't understand it, we just don't want to have to.

We won't remember all the brave ones; the communion of saints.  We've yielded the adoption certificate into God's family.  We'd rather wear labels of jock, nerd, bookworm, runner, conservative, liberal, republican, or democrat.  Then I don't have to admit any common grace, or any common-ness at all when we disagree.  It's easier to fight one of "them" than one of our brothers or sisters.

The dragon doesn't need to rear its head to snarl and burp flames at us.  We can burn each other well enough.

Dragons may be real, and I think they'd be beaten, in time.  It's more shameful that our faith wouldn't even wake them up, let alone defeat them.

"Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." -GKC Tremendous Trifles
St. George and the Dragon - By Justin Gerard
check out more of his art here

Friday, December 2, 2011

Andrew Osenga - out of this world

wow a double post day

Leonard the Lonely Astronaut

Sometime back Becky & I supported a Kickstarter project for Andy Osenga's - Leonard the Lonely Astronaut.

While that is a true statement I should explain a few things.  I am rabid about some of the music I like, specifically Andrew Peterson.  I mentioned at the dinner table that I liked a song that was on the kitchen radio and my 7 y/o asked me if it was Andrew Peterson.  I didn't realize I was that obvious.

Well, Andrew Osenga is another Square Peg guy and Rabbitroom artist who was developing an album and had a Kickstarter campaign.  The concept (from Kickstarter):
My next solo record is going to tell the story of a man named Leonard Belle. He lives 300 years from now and loses his wife in a sudden accident while their divorce is being finalized. In his rage and grief he takes a gig driving a long-distance space freighter for a year. (Due to relativity, by the time he returns to Earth everyone he knows will be old or dead.) He decides to bring along some antique instruments and recording equipment (just like the stuff I have!) and will make a record.
Now THAT is an ambitious concept.  Plus he built a spaceship in his garage to set the mood and played in a spacesuit to get into character (artists - go fig).

So we supported (more true to say Becky supported my supporting) via Kickstarter.  I was skeptical if this would work, but we joined in.  Two days ago he pre-released three acoustic tracks.  I am amazed and glad we supported the project.

Unlike anything I've heard in quite some time, it captures emotion.  I think some of my favorite songs are my favorite because they excel at conveying emotion.  They transmit the heart feelings by telling a story in 3-4 minutes.  Whether it's joy, anger, loneliness, fear or comfort.

These 3 songs remind me very much of listening to Pink Floyd concept albums, The Wall or even The Final Cut.  The beauty of a concept album is that the song can be part of the grand story instead of trying to stand alone. 

The Leonard concept is out there and risky in if it is too remote to connect to the listener.  It didn't take long listening to hear how Leonard is at the very ends emotionally.  His feeling of impending loneliness got trumped by actually being alone.  So he goes a step further and sits in a cave and seals the door.  I haven't heard the whole album, but I'm guessing it isn't all about seeing rainbows and chirping birds

My hope is that in the production/engineering the emotional vocal strain isn't lost.  I think I'm hooked because they express the heartache so well.  I'd like to hear the rest of the album in a similar stripped down acoustic format.  But if the production goes further in telling the story, I'll be having this on repeat for a long time.

If you are interested, if you pre-order the album you can download the 3 tracks.

[Editor's note: one of the songs can be heard at the Rabbitroom -dan]

..the drift from the hearth and the family.

“THE old order has been reversed. The people, instead of surveying the world from their doorsteps, survey their mortgaged doorsteps through a vague and hazy mental screen compounded by international misunderstanding and national mistrust…. The disintegration of rational society started in the drift from the hearth and the family; the solution must be a drift back.” ~GKC: ‘G.K.’s Weekly,’ 30 March 1933.

From the GK Chesterton page on Facebook today.  It struck me as this also came up in the morning devotional with Becky.  Fight for the family.  Viva la resistance.

It is overwhelming to see the "state of the world".  You feel powerless to change any of it.  Although I'm pretty sure every age has said - "kids these days", "in my day we .............., not like today".  And (as my wife pointed out) every generation has its issues.

"Nostalgia ain't what it used to be"

I think the key thing is the "drift back" to the hearth and the family.  Be the force moving back.  Not just standing where you are but steadily moving back to where we should be.  Don't worry about fighting every battle, certainly support your friends and those who are fighting their battles, and also focus on your own.  Working through the PC-USA issues is a current battlefront for me and our church.  I appreciate friend's support, but I do not expect them to become members of our church if they aren't already.  They have their own battles also.  Support them so that they do not fall without being absent to your own home (there's my struggle).

Not immediately obvious, this trend away from family and hearth is also making us more isolated.  That we can do all things within our own house is a lie.  We have an exchange of date night & babysitting with some friends.  I like that.  I enjoy the date night, I enjoy being able to let them get a night away and keep the strength in their marriage.