Wednesday Afternoon at the Movies
May 2011

by Jerry Walden

      In a recent exchange of e-mails with an old friend, he presented me with a challenge.  He said there was a very famous French painter who, when going blind, refused to stop painting.  Instead he had a canvas tacked to the ceiling and he continued to paint, lying on his back and using brushes on long sticks.
            This immediately evoked a strange image in my mind; blind painters, lying on there backs, painting the ceiling with bushes on long sticks; it sounds like one way to describe the U.S. congress in session.  And, thinking of our congress and this style of painting reminded me of the contentious relationship between Michelangelo and the Pope Julius II, as Mike was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; while lying on his back.
            Hmm; I couldn’t think of a blind French painter who ever did that, so I decided not to answer my friends e-mail.  However, I couldn’t stop thinking about his question; it was evolving from one question to a conundrum.  For instance, did he mean a painter born in France, or a painter born elsewhere who became famous after they moved to France.  In the 19th and 20th century a lot of painters migrated to Paris, which was the artistic capital of Europe; Van Gogh and Picasso come to mind.
            Maybe where they were born had nothing to do with it; maybe they were famous in Paris but were born and lived elsewhere, like Salvador Dali.
            Maybe it has nothing to do with blind painters or France.  Why would my friend give me such a question but refuse to give me the answer?  Is it possible that he just wants to see how I will respond to this type of question?  Maybe, but he is 3000 miles away, he won’t see anything, or hear anything; I believe he will notice my lack of response.  He will, he will notice because he is an old friend and knows me well.  He can visualize me hunched over keyboard, glancing up at my display screen, puzzling over the unanswerable question.
            I went on the net and searched ‘blind French artists.’  What I received was a conflagration of the conundrum into 4 million suggestions.  My search engine said, ‘No hits perhaps you meant… … … …’  There were suggestions for each of the three words and every conceivable combination of each word with one or more other words.  The string of numbers at the bottom of the page went to 15 and then said ‘Next page.’  I punched ‘Next page’ and watched the page numbers advance, on and on.  At page two hundred and something, I randomly clicked what was there, and found myself at the home page of the Wall Finishers and Painters Union of Lancashire U.K.  There wasn’t anything about brushes on long sticks, but there was an article on the proper use of spackle before painting walls and ceilings.  I deleted and back up to my original search, and noticed the ‘Suggested Links.’
            I scrolled down this list until I reached ‘More links.’  For a time I enjoyed playing with ‘More links,’ but eventually decided that this was one of those never ending lists.  So, I deleted back to search engine home page to do something else; either you know who the blind painter was, or you don’t.  If you don’t know you’re never going to find out.
            Which makes me wonder why my mind works like this?  As a working hypothesis, I’ll assume I will never discover the answer to this question either.
            For those of you who have not yet giving up reading this, those of you hoping for some semblance of a cogent and thoughtful comment on something of substance; thank you.  However, after reading synopsis and critiques of the new movies released during the month of May, I decided to let my mind go on vacation, also.  I have noticed signs of mental fatigue, repetitious thinking, a certain fuzziness of intellectual constructs, and dullness of emotional responses to stimuli.  So, I turned the damned TV off!  I went back to working on my novel, actually my third novel.  I have been writing a science fiction trilogy, and there is more reality in any one chapter of my fiction, than there is a whole damned season of reality TV.
            Writing a work of fiction has proven to be a challenge for me. But I find the rewards are worth the energy and time involved.  It began as a technical exercise just to see if I could create a story, organize that story into a written form, and make it entertaining.  It has driven me dictionaries (in several languages), Roget’s Thesaurus, newspaper research, Wikipedia, research on the net, Hammond Atlas, a syntax text, old books in my bookshelves, and contacting old friends for advice.
            But, wow, it has been a great ride!  And, guess what; so far, my old friends seem to think my work is pretty good, or at least not an embarrassment.  Now, that leaves me with an after glow of considerable endurance.  It also keeps me strongly motivated.
            One of my old friends, the one who presented me with the unanswerable question above, said in the same e-mail, that he fears that we are seeing the end of written literature.  He didn’t elaborate, but I can understand his concern.  Reading requires a commitment of time, and the acceptance, by the reader, of becoming part of what is written; of becoming involved.  The audiences of stage dramas, comedies and musicals require the same commitment and acceptance; so does motion picture productions.  The latter requires less of a time commitment but somewhat more of an emotional involvement.
            The young population of the developed world seems to be in a growing spiral of impatience.  They have neither time nor emotion available for the written word.  Live productions are for the ‘old folks’ unless it is a rock concert where they can hold up there glowing cell phones, and/or text their friends, those who are at the concert and those who are not.
            In the near future, I expect the movies to divide into genres for two mutually incompatible audiences: those who came to experience the movie, and those who came to text others while at the movie. It is already apparent that the two can never share the same theater.
            And, then there is television. I’m not even going to bother commenting on reality shows, talent shows, interview shows featuring celebrities or politicians, talking heads reading edited and modified news headlines, or self appointed analysts of anything and everything.  I watch a fair amount of sports, primarily NCAA football, and a bit or all the others.  I like it best when the sound is turned way, waaaay, down.  I enjoy some of the hour long action series for the first season, and adult sitcoms where the characters have at least normal intelligence and the scenes include subjects other than sex, eating and screaming.
            Reading a ‘book,’ a bound paper volume will be replaced by portable electronic devices, the size of a book, which contains large menus of available fiction and non-fiction.  This is progress and not the death of reading.  You can have a gazillion apps on a cell phone but the size of the screen is not convenient for extensive reading.  I expect that in the near future, like, next year; a device with a folding screen and a folding keyboard will be available, perhaps as attachments to a cell phone.  I also believe that the teen age toy that also can be used as a communication device will not eliminate the electronic reading pad, the ‘book’ or the hard keyboard; they all have utility and a strong set of supporters.
            I’m to wonder if there ever was a blind French painter who painted with brushes on long poles while lying on his back; unless he had a French speaking seeing eye dog who understood, color, form and light.



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