Guest Writer/ Artist/ Musician Dennis C. Lee: What is Art?

What is Art?

Recently, I am reading Camille Paglia’s ‘Sexual Personae’ and I come across this; “Freud has no rivals among his successors because they think he wrote science, when in fact he wrote art.” It feels good seeing someone write what I’d always felt.

The distance between science and art never was a deep divide. The myth lingers that the founders of modern chemistry, the Alchemists, had a get rich quick scheme to turn lead into gold. The Christians, notorious for stifling progression with fear of change, naturally, fabricated this. What the Alchemists sought was a metaphorical gold of the spirit; their use of proto-pagan symbols verifies this.

But I don’t intend to be Christian-bashing here – whose architects have been masters of the fusion of art and spirit in the western world for the better part of two millennium. I feel with in the question ‘What Is Art’ there is a strong need to define what is real as opposed to what is imagined; therein lies the true freedom of the individual.

To define the division between science and art is to define the connection as well, for one cannot exist without the other. At the most basic, the art of language; science would be lost without it. And the science of transmission – television for example, so much art would not have been created, or perhaps simply altered to suit another medium. Is it a fine line in the mind that separates the real from the imagined, or is art the struggle to define what is real in metaphorical terms?

The thing is, we all live vicariously through the arts. When we have actual, visceral experience, part of our innate social pact is to share that experience, so that others may have our experience vicariously. Not everyone takes up the challenge, though. The few who do the art of their experience get called ‘artists’.

One of the greatest problems with religious art is that it merely repeats a vicarious experience of another, and so on. Their audience feels a need to even further detach itself from the original artist, making the work more mythological and fictitious. Which brings us to the question of how valid as experience IS the original? Since all art is metaphor, the paradox is that even so-called representational art, let’s say, an artist invites patrons into a forest and says; ‘this tree is my artwork, and I call this piece ‘Tree’. The moment it is perceived as art, it is no longer itself but is instead a representation of itself.

Is art a piffling night’s entertainment for the jaded as much as it is a salve for the helpless, the wretched and the damned? At what point does the art of yoga become the science of health?

Art has no inherent morality. Personally, I’d like to think of myself as one who seeks the type of art that would challenge, or at least test, whatever preconceptions I’ve picked up. However, all my initial reactions tend to be pedantic, as predictable as a caged animal. It often takes me years of separation from the stimuli of the original art to realize how much I’ve assumed. The mind protects itself, often using faulty logic and imagining trauma where there is none. Bad art will support, enable our assumptions, biases and paranoias. Good art will challenge us and question all potential illusions.

I'm guessing double yolk?

Update: yes.
From one egg.

Coming soon: What is Art? Revisited

I've invited artist Dennis C. Lee to write a guest post on the topic, "What is art?" I'm looking forward to seeing what he writes. In addition to being an amazing artist and songwriter, Dennis is, of course, my weird uncle.

Dennis was recently the subject of someone else's art. Brian McCall did a gigantic mural of Western Pennsylvania musicians at the Keynote Cafe in Jeanette, Pennsylvania:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is art! Well done, Brian McCall.

Uncle Dennis is on his keyboard:

Look for a guest post from Dennis C. Lee in the near future...

Abandoned Places #5: Bannerman Castle, New York

The people are gone, but the castle remains.

Small Painting-9x12 inches.
Acrylic on repurposed wood
$45. First email claims it

And now, with cats!!!

Remember this?

As promised, cats!

And where would cats be, without rats?

Make an offer at, if this tickles your fancy.

Renee Helin

Renee Helin is another local artist I admire. Her work is realistic, but still maintains a certain style. I know the people in the pictures, and they really do look like that! And the goats. They look like that, too.

Click on that one for a closer look at the face. It's really something.

"Winter Wolves" is on a piece of wood:

She has such a soft, natural style.

Sometimes, she goes down the road from me and draws Janelle's goats. This one is my favorite:

Here is Renee's Facebook page. Her work is also available at Selah Vie gallery in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.


"You don't owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don't owe it to your mother, you don't owe it to your children, you don't owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked "female".

I'm not saying that you shouldn't be pretty if you want to. (You don't owe un-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.

But what does you-don't-have-to-be-pretty mean in practical, everyday terms? It means that you don't have to apologize for wearing things that are held to be "unflattering" or "unfashionable" -- especially if, in fact, they make you happy on some level deeper than just being pretty does. So what if your favorite color isn't a "good" color on you? So what if you are "too fat" (by some arbitrary measure) for a sleeveless top? If you are clean, are covered enough to avoid a citation for public indecency, and have bandaged any open wounds, you can wear any color or style you please, if it makes you happy..."

-- Erin McKean

Floating on Ice

I may be in trouble for using Little Z's cookie roller on this one. The paint won't wash off! But the effect is exactly what I wanted. I regret nothing. 

$50 for the 24" square painting on plywood. First email gets it:

Ammutseba, Devourer of Stars

I had a request to do a series of monsters from H.P. Lovecraft stories. Lovecraft wrote about many monsters, the best known being Cthulhu. The lesser known monsters don't seem to get much attention. So, I painted an oddball monster: Ammutseba, Devourer of Stars.
This is a large acrylic and watercolor painting, 2 feet by 2 feet, on plywood. 
Little Z had to leave the room while I was painting it. "It's scary," she said. 
Make me an offer via email to buy it:
Update: Sold! (To a librarian. I was excited to sell my first picture imagined from literature to a librarian, though she confessed she finds Lovecraft difficult to read- the picture is a gift for her husband.)

I'm not sure what my gallery owner would say, considering that my current work there is cute sheep paintings and cats in clothes. 

Should it be a series? More monsters? Any Lovecraft fans in the house?


You Stupid, Stupid Man

I had a dream last night that I was walking through a mall, and a guy came up next to me and handed me his dirty bowl to wash. I handed it back to him, and then, taking him by surprise, I threw him on the ground and started beating the crap out of him. As I was kicking him in the ribs, I was screaming,

"Don't ever hand your dirty dish to a woman, you STUPID STUPID MAN!!!"

As he was laying there screaming, a woman walked by drinking an orange julius, trying not to laugh. I had to force myself to walk away before I kicked him to death.

And then I woke up.

I do most of the dishes at home. I don't really mind. But, you know, just as a precaution, you might want to stick your bowl in the dishwasher yourself, next time you come out to visit. Just as a precaution.

Book Reviews: Snow Crash, Ender's Game, & Bluebeard's Children

I've just finished three books, and all of them were great. I have been quite a bookworm lately, because I couldn't put any of them down.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

There's much ado about Ender's Game lately, because the movie just came out. I haven't seen it, though I would like to. The three best things about the book were:

1. The friendships and feelings between the characters were so real.
2. The ending just made absolute perfect sense to me, like no other book I've read. It was quite satisfying.
3. It was so exciting.

One thing that bugged me:

The children were written like adults.

The most amazing thing:

How many true things he predicted, namely the internet, which is actually called "the net". In the front of the book, the first copyright date is 1977. Everyone in the book does their homework on computer tablets.

I read this as part of my book club. Almost everyone loved it, except for one person who couldn't get over Orson Scot Card's personal views about homosexuality, which, incidentally, are not alluded to in any way in this book. I think if you disagree with his views, just don't buy the book- check it out from the library. It's completely worth reading.

Bluebeard's Children (The Eyes of the Sun Book #2)

Bluebeard's Children is the second book in the series. The first is The Eyes of the Sun. Nevertheless, Bluebeard's Children stands alone pretty well. I don't think you would necessarily have to read the first book to understand it. Just keep in mind that the vampires aren't really like vampires so much as superheroes. The bad guys are generally created through science, and the good ones are natural. The three best things about Bluebeard's Children were:

1. The main character was a kick-ass girl.
2. The emotions were really messy and real. Traumatic events were followed by serious mental trauma for the main characters.
3. It was a real page-turner (although I use the expression metaphorically- it's only available as an ebook).

One thing that bugged me:

There were too many descriptions of making and drinking coffee.

The most amazing thing:

McMullen's writing has progressed so far from the first book to the second. The first book was good, but something about it seemed to lack confidence. The second book is just a roller coaster ride, straight out of the gate, constant action and plot twists and intrigue. It's one of those thrillers where you're never quite sure if the main character, Lucy Soriano, is going to be okay, or if there's something you're overlooking. Spoiler: there's always something. Poor Lucy. Her whole life is just one damned thing after another! The second book has more depth, too: xenophobia against vampires running rampant in the government is clearly a comment on current situations in our own, real government. And certain scenes are actually comical, like when Lucy poses as a man to face the enemy undetected.

Christina McMullen is one of the twenty-odd people who have been reading this blog almost since it began, back in 2004 or so. I'm pretty excited to see her succeed as a writer. Full disclosure: she has approached me about designing her next book jacket, because apparently the plot she is working on centers around a psychopath painter who paints clues into his paintings about how people are killed. (It sounds exciting, doesn't it?) But I don't get anything for writing her a nice review. I just liked her book.

Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson

Snow Crash is a book that BAH picked up at a used book store one day, and I just happened to pick it up and start reading it. I couldn't put it down. The three best things about Snow Crash:

1. The writing style is funny. I just love Stephenson's biting sense of humor, the way he turns a phrase, and his general quirkiness. Love it.
2. The main characters, "Hiro Protagonist" and "Yours Truly" (yes, take a minute and contemplate those names), were completely unique in the world of literature. I was truly fascinated by them.
3. Although the book portrays an outlandishly lawless future where the craziest things imaginable happen, it's all connected to a past that really did happen, and connected so beautifully that, even though crazy crazy things happen in Snow Crash, he convinces the reader that, yeah, that could happen. Totally. In short: it's so crazy I just might believe it could happen.

One thing that bugged me:

The huge, long passages about mythology and religion and linguistics and ancient gods and goddesses were a bit much.

The most amazing thing:

The concept behind the plot is so amazingly complex, I just don't know how he thought it up. And then to put it all into this future that had not yet happened, well, honestly, I'm just impressed. I couldn't even begin to explain the plot to you, but it has to do with linguistics, speaking in tongues, drug addiction, capitalism gone wild, and the beginnings of Christianity. Also, it has to do with hackers and the internet, which did not really exist when he wrote the book. Stephenson's conception of the internet is not as close as Card's in Ender's Game, but it's still pretty close: the internet in Snow Crash is a vast role playing game where everyone has to have an avatar, and they walk around in a virtual city. There's a librarian avatar who is really the internet, and you can ask him any question you have, so it's sort of like googling something. The plot has to do with "hacking" religion and "hacking" language. The plot of this book is a sort of visual representation in the real world of many abstract thoughts I have had over the years, in my life as an armchair linguist, questioning religion. And Yours Truly is the most loveable teenaged skater chick ever. Hiro Protagonist is not only the best sword fighter in the world, he designed the internet- but he designed it with a friend who he wants to be his girlfriend. And, in the end, it would seem that he did it all for love. Sort of.

So, basically, Snow Crash is the best book ever if you are a language geek who loves programmers and cheeky teenagers. So, yeah, I loved it.

A Poor Day for Sailing

Oh, my. Watch out!

"A Poor Day for Sailing"
Small Painting-9x12 inches.
Acrylic on wood with clear glaze
$45. First email claims it

Victorian Skater

Inspired by this picture which I originally saw here.

Large Painting- 4 feet by 4 feet
Acrylic on Wood
$95. First email claims it

In the Wee Hours of the Morning

I was laying in bed this morning, sleeping, when Little Z barged into the bedroom. I pretended to still be asleep. She stood next to the bed and pulled my hair until she had my attention.

Me: "Is this an emergency? Go away!"

Z: "I have to ask you a question."

Me: "What?"

She held up something that looked in the dim morning light like a rotten tangerine.

Z: "Can I feed this from the refrigerator to my bunnies?"

Me: "Sure."

Z: "Okay!"

She ran out of the room. I realized belatedly that it was probably a brussel sprout, not a rotten tangerine.

A few minutes later, accordion music drifted into my dreams.


This afternoon, I asked her,

"Did you feed your bunnies brussel sprouts and then play them the accordion, early this morning?"

"Yeah... What's so funny about that?"

I couldn't explain.

Abandoned Places Series #4: Orpheum Theater, New Bedford

The theater stands vacant, its lonely stage abandoned. Its seats are empty. The angels above carry on their facade of loveliness. The curtain is drawn, forever waiting. 
Forgive me for using this page as a gallery, but if you wish to purchase this, please make a bid on it at my Facebook page before 7 PM Saturday. (If you don't do Facebook, email me at It is a small painting, multi-media, approximately 8" by 8".Here are some close-ups:
I painted three ghosts in this one. 
Can you find them?

Update: Sold! Thank you for supporting me, friends. :)

Mary Go Round

Mary Wright is a local artist here in Southern Wisconsin, who is also a friend. She invited me, initially, into the Tenderfoot Collective, which has been great fun.

Mary plays with dolls. Many of us girls who played with dolls as children were taught not to do anything permanent to them. Don't cut their hair. Don't paint them. Don't stick a lightbulb in them or take their heads off. Don't, don't don't. We were supposed to keep our dolls nice!

Mary does not keep her dolls nice. She makes them better. She tests social norms of feminine beauty, of religion, and sometimes her work is just fun. It's often silly and creepy at the same time. Something about it makes me think of fifties and sixties style fantasy images.

Here are some examples:

She has a Facebook page and an etsy shop.

Oh, and one more thing! Mary really likes Bob Ross: