Your Troubles – Responsibility #1


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Who is to Blame?

Was it traffic that made you late?  Did your friend make you eat that piece of cake?  Was the boss to blame for you not completing your task because she talked your ear off?  The answers always lead in one direction or another. They point somewhere.  Will they always point to you? Of course not. But check how often they point to you. If never? You are living a delusional lie about your part.  If always? You are living a delusional lie about your part.


The truth is, we will always have someone else to blame if we want to. And sometimes that will be right.  But often what seems right at the surface, isn’t.  For example.  Your boss talks your ear off and so you missed getting a report in on time. Her fault, right? No, not her fault. Your fault. Why your fault? Because you didn’t find a way out of the conversation (or monologue) and get back to work.


“BUT, she’s my boss. I can’t just tell her to shut up.” No, you can’t.  But you can ask her if you can talk to her later about this because you are on a deadline, right?  You can take into account she comes by your desk every work day at 4pm and talks so you had better make sure you have the report done, or close to done, by that time, right? You can do preliminary work on the report knowing there will likely be delays later in the day, right?  You can do something in most cases. It’s just a matter of whether you have thought of it and if so, are willing to do it.

Other’s Fault, Your Responsibility

You see my point? Even if it is her fault for being such a talker, it’s still your responsibility to get that report done. It’s up to you to figure out how to do it and make that happen. It’s not up to her to not talk so much, it’s up to you to figure out how to deal with it and still be successful in your job.

Drawing and commentary © 2016 Marty Coleman |

Quote by Theodore Roosevelt, 1858 – 1919, 26th US President (1901-1909)



The Engine of Education – Curiosity #2


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Home Schooling

When our daughter’s were young we home schooled them for 3 years.  For the youngest, Chelsea, it was Kindergarten through 2nd grade, Connie it was 1st – 3rd, and Rebekah it was 3rd – 5th.  We didn’t do it for religious reasons, even though we were within a church that had a lot of home schooling families.  We did it primarily because we could.  My wife at the time, Kathy, was a teacher and, after seeing so many others in the church do it, decided she could do it too. This took a lot for her since she was up until then not a very confident person.  But she believed it and we did it. It was a great time for our family and our kids. It was wonderful in many ways but the way that was most important in my children’s life was this:  There was no idea of school is where you get educated and home is not.  On the contrary, everywhere is where you got educated. Home, street, groups, books, church, museums, nature, grandparents, etc. It didn’t matter where you were, you were learning.


And that all-inclusive idea of education was driven by curiosity.  If you are learning about science in your back yard while checking out bugs, then it’s very likely you will always be curious about the bugs in your backyard.  If you are learning about the history from your Grandfather who fought in WWII then very likely  you will always be curious about the lives older people have lived.  If you are learning about art from your dad, seeing him working in his studio every day, then you are likely to be curious about creativity in others for the rest of your life.  Curiosity is the engine.

Around The Bend

So, does that mean you or your kids have to have been home schooled to be life-long learners? Of course not. Home schooling was just a part of my daughter’s upbringing that contributed.  Just as important was the example their mother and I set by being curious and willing to explore well after our formal education was over.  And all that really was was an enthusiastic curiosity about what was around the bend.  Instead of fear of the unknown I tried to instill in them a curiosity of it.

Not Reckless

Of course, that isn’t the same as being reckless or stupid.  One needs critical thinking skills, good judgment and wisdom, but those things don’t preclude being curious about life. They just allow your curiosity to proceed with a modicum of safety is all.

I encourage you to embrace your curiosity about life, don’t be afraid of it.  It is much better to fear a life not lived then one that has been lived to the max, right?

Drawing and commentary © 2016 Marty Coleman |

Quote is anonymous with many variations from multiple sources

“Curiosity is the engine driving a good education”

Intentions are Nothing – Decision Making #6


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The Road to Hell

You’ve heard the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, right?  What does it mean?  Since nobody wants to go to hell, it obviously means good intentions are misleading.  You think you are paving the way to heaven, or accomplishment, success, fame, wealth, happiness, security, love, etc. but instead you end up in hell? How can that be?

It’s not because good intentions are evil, it’s because good intentions are nothing.  They are ephemeral ghosts that flit about and then disappear. They can’t be built on and they can’t be walked on.  What they can do is fool people.  They tell people they are actually doing something when they aren’t.  They tell people they are making progress in life, when they aren’t.  They tell people they are becoming better people, when they aren’t.

Good intentions are nothing, and doing nothing in life is the fastest way to be in hell now and find hell in the future.

The Road to Elsewhere

So, if good intentions are nothing, what is something?  Action is something. Hard work is something. Practicing what you preach is something.

Making an idea into a reality isn’t good intentions, it’s good action. It might start with an idea and a determination to make that idea real, and that is good. People need vision and ideals. But they are the ink on the paper in the recipe book. They are nothing without the ingredients being put together to actually make the recipe into food.



Drawing and commentary © 2016 Marty Coleman |

Quote by Peter Drucker, 1909-2005, Austrian-born American Management consultant and author


Artists I Love – Neil Jenney

Neil Jenney

From 1982-1994 I worked on getting my Master of Fine Art degree from San Jose State University in California.  I took a number of high level art theory and criticism seminars where studied intensely studied the recently past and current styles in the art world.  Foremost among those at the time was Neo-Expressionism.  There were many compelling artists working in this style that I liked, including David Salle, Robert Longo, and Eric Fischl.  In addition we studied other strains, including the Pattern and Decoration movement, which I liked quite a bit.

One artist I discovered at the time stood out to me.  He stood out because he was was not part of these or other contemporary movements. He was completely unique; sophisticated, astute in his subtle social and political messaging and unabashedly contrarian in his relationship with current art. His name is Neil Jenney and he is the next artist in my ‘Artists I Love’ series.  Links to the other artists in the series can be found in the menu above and in a list at the end of this post.


Window #6, oil on panel with painted wood frame, 1971-1976

What you see here is one of the signature paintings of his career.  It’s a detailed oil painting of a landscape, but not one where you can see much. It’s as much about what you can’t see as what you can.  It’s seems to be a window high up in a room, you are looking out, but what really is out there? You can’t see much, just the tree and the sky. But you can also see something that doesn’t seem to fit. A cloud that almost looks like a marshmallow. It’s way too perfectly formed to be a real cloud so what is it?  Good question.  Too bad you can’t see more, right?  Or wait, maybe not seeing more is what makes you think more intensely about what isn’t there. Maybe your imagination is engaged.  Maybe it’s great art because of that.  I think it is.

But let’s go back a bit to get a little better glimpse of the ideas behind his work.


What you see below is a bad painting.  It’s bad on purpose to make a statement. Back in the late 60s a new genre came into being called ‘Photorealism’.  Artists took a photograph of a scene and painted it to an extreme level of accuracy. They actually enhanced the scene often to be even MORE realistic than the photo.  Neil Jenney hated this trend. He understood the technique took some skill but for what purpose?  To just recreate a photograph? He saw it as soulless and trite. He said to a friend that instead of having a bad idea and doing it well, “it would be better to have a good idea and do it terrible!”  Which is exactly what he did.  He called it good drawing, bad painting.


Saw and Sawed, acrylic on canvas with painted wood frame, 1969

Here is an example of the art Jenney was seeing when he decided to go in the opposite direction.


Robert Bechtle, Alameda Gran Torino, 1974, oil on canvas

He continued in this vein for a few years and was rewarded with his work being designated as ‘bad painting’, not as a derogatory critique, but as a positive statement about a new sort of realism.


Birds and Jets, Acrylic on canvas with painted wood frame, 1969


Threat and Sanctuary, acrylic on canvas with painted wood frame, 1969


Girl and Doll, Man and Mirage

What do all these have in common besides the ‘bad painting’ technique?  They are all about a relationship between two things.  The purposeful lack of details in both the paintings and the titles were Jenney’s ingenious way of being a social and political artist without being pedantic or propogandistic. His message is a starting point of an idea, a hint towards a concept that the viewers have to figure out for themselves.  It’s one of my favorite attributes of great art and he does it immaculately in these paintings.


The good paintings were a result of two things. One, the limits of doing ‘good drawing, bad painting’, and two, the plethora of artists who had started to do similar work.  Jenney is a contrarian and really dislikes doing what the crowd does.  The combination of those two things caused him to decided to do ‘good drawing, good painting’.  He started doing very detailed and highly accurate realistic paintings.  But, as in the bad paintings, he does not spell things out. He just gives clues.  The good paintings are as much about what is not seen beyond the frame as it is what is in the frame.

It also is about the relationship between words and images, as are the ‘bad paintings’.  It’s another element that resonated with me, as you can tell by how prevalent words are in much of my work.


Meltdown Morning, 1975, oil on board with painted wood frame

It’s not the best reproduction but in the distance on the right you can see the hint of yellow. That could be a sunrise but it could be a nuclear accident.   There is power in the ambiguity and simplicity, as well as in the contrast between nature and man.


North America Acidified, oil on panel with painted wood frame, 2013

A beautiful scene of nature, but the ominous title says something else might be going on.


Atmospheric Formation – Rabbits, oil on panel with painted wood frame, 2005

Sometimes it’s just light hearted play Jenney indulges in.


Morning, Evening, oil on panel with painted wood frame, 2012

I love these images because they just say so much about perception and how minimal it can be and one can still know exactly where you are and what time of day it is.


Ozarkia,  oil on panel with painted wood frame, 2012


North American Aquatica, Oil on Panel with painted wood frame, 2006-07


Modern Era, Oil on panel with painted wood frame, 2006

I think this is a very sophisticated critique of modern art. Not pedantic or overly weighed down with opinion, but in it’s simplicity one can see the disdain.

Improved Picassos

Here’s an idea for a sure fire way to be criticized: Decide you can improve upon the paintings of the perhaps the greatest artist of the 20th century.  Jenney decided to do just that.  He happened to see someone in the Port Authority terminal in NYC selling painted reproductions of Picasso paintings. He bought one from him and decided to improve it, fixing what he saw as incomplete or bad passages in the art.  Then he framed them how he would like to see them, instead of the way he saw them framed in the famous museums of the world.

It’s a cheeky and pretentious effort to do something like this, but Jenney didn’t care about what others would think. He wanted to ‘fix’ them so he did. Other people didn’t like it? Too bad for them.  I have to admit I really love that ‘in your face’ attitude he has. It’s liberating for artists to see this and realize decisions about our creativity are ours to make, not someone else’s.

He eventually commissioned the artist who did the original copies, Ki-Young Sung, to paint specific Picasso pieces he had always wanted to rework.


Improved Picasso – Boy and Horse, original on left


Improved Picasso – Marie Therese Leaning, original on right


Improved Picasso – Igor Stravinsky


Improved Picasso – Bathers


Improved Picasso – Woman



Neil Jenney is my favorite type of artist, maybe because I feel a kinship with his outsider status. Outsider doesn’t mean uneducated, unsophisticated, or untalented. It simply means the artist does not fit in, either on purpose or by virtue of place, time and style, with the prevailing trends of art at the time.  He or she can still be quite popular among collectors and other art people, but it’s a popularity based more on genuine admiration for the work than on any commercial or social advantage one might get by having a piece by the artist.



Photo courtesy of artist

Links and Resources

Improved Picassos – The Creators Project, 2016

An Artist Reluctant to Sell Himself – NY Times, 2013

The Painting of the Future –

West Broadway Gallery and Jenney Archives

Lofty Ambitions – Neil Jenney Frames Himself –

You can see and read the entire ‘Artists I love’ series here or by going through the list below.

Fall/Winter 2016

Winter/Spring 2015

Summer 2014

Winter 2012/2013

Winter 2011/2012

Article © 2016 Marty Coleman |

Avoiding Pain, Discomfort and Death – Decision Making #5


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Not Judging

We had a discussion on Periscope the other day about decision making. It was about this idea and the idea in the blog post before this one, about not judging life events as good or bad, just experience them with minimal judgment. It would lead to less stress and anxiety and more happiness and peace.

People of Faith

Not easy to do of course, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  But how?  Many people would say by having faith. But I have been in the Christian church now going on 40 years and I have seen very few people who don’t fret just as much about the future as those who don’t attend church and say they don’t believe in God, afterlife, etc.  That doesn’t mean people of faith don’t talk a good game, they do. The script is all there in the bible that you just don’t have to worry. Paul says it again and again in his letters. Peter says it, Jesus says it.  It’s a big part of Christianity.  But barely anyone (that I know at least) actually lives it out in day to day practice.

The Avoidance List

Why is that?  What is it about the unknown future that we really fear?  Death? Pain? Discomfort? Does fearing those things help us avoid them? Well, we know we can’t avoid death so that obviously is a problem. But we can avoid it for a while, right?

Here is a list to help you avoid death:

  • Eat well
  • Exercise well
  • Have really good genetics
  • Don’t step on a land mine

Same goes for pain. Here is a list to avoid pain:

  • Do nothing aggressively physical
  • Don’t get in any relationships
  • Don’t have kids
  • Don’t get blown up on a boat (I didn’t avoid that)

And if you want to avoid discomfort? Here is what you should do.

  • Never meet people, cultures or ideas you don’t understand or like.
  • Never get a brazilian wax job
  • Never eat hot chili peppers
  • Never wear tight pants, tight bras or tight hats.

All those ways can be summed up in one rule. Don’t do anything.  That will help you avoid all those terrible things in life.

Ok, I Lied

The truth is a life of couch sitting, of never thinking or experiencing anything new is living death. Seeing all the fun, vitality and love others are experiencing in life is a greater pain emotionally and physically than going out and experiencing the world and the risks in it.  And by far the deepest discomfort in life is realizing you are afraid of everything.

So, get out there, open that gate, swim that ocean, climb that hill.  You will experience discomfort, pain and yes, even death eventually.  But the alternative? You are already dead.

Drawing and commentary © 2016 Marty Coleman |

Quote by Edwin Markham, 1852-1940, American Poet


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