Autumn 2010
The Phenomenon of the Rainbow
Betsy and I have had a wonderful Summer on the island.  Many people I’ve talked to say that it is the best Summer anyone can remember in Maine; day after day of gorgeous sunny weather. I’m writing this on our deck overlooking Matinicus Harbour. It’s the first full day of Autumn. The sky is high and  deep blue.  The water in the harbour still swelling up and down from the passing of  Hurricane Igor.

The other evening after a rare afternoon storm had passed, I was out on the deck when I heard a young voice over on Matinicus call out,  “Hey Look, there’s a rainbow over Wheaton.” And I called Betsy from her studio and we went behind the house, on a higher rock on the island  and witnessed a full rainbow stretching from Isle Au Haut , over Wooden Ball Island to the outer reaches of Ragged Island. 
Our calls of wonder were tempered by our laughing shrills of “Oh My God” and silly cries of “It’s a doublerainbow!”
Surely we have all seen this.  What was it that got Yosemite Bear so excited while experiencing a rainbow? Why has his YouTube video gotten over 15 million hits.  We’ve all seen videos of people showing home movies of splendorous natural vistas. We’ve all seen rainbows. So why did we all pour over this video and pass it along to our friends and family. There was something in Yosemite Bear's voice.  It was his utter amazement, his sense of awe at seeing the beauty of the rainbow.  We could laugh at him for his verbal gushing and simultaneously appreciate his earnestness and sincere amazement of the wonder before him. Through tears of joy his first question is, ”What does this mean?”  Isn’t it fascinating that when face to face with overwhelming beauty, in an attempt to comprehend it, to codify it, make sense out of it, we resort to asking about meaning.  Our brains want to have an answer, in order to comprehend the beauty, in the natural world, we assume that there is  ‘Meaning’ . 
Alan Watts in his famous 1966 book entitled, ‘The Book’ subtitled ‘On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are’, discusses the phenomenon of the rainbow.  He writes, it takes three things to make the phenomenon that we call, ‘Rainbow’, the light, the humidity, and an eye to witness it.  Without these three things, in the perfect angular relationship, there is no ‘rainbow’. So a passing storm on a late Summer afternoon, brings rain through West to East. The Sun shines again from beneath the passing clouds and illuminates the rain showers still falling in the East.  Watts suggests that without us there to view it, there is ‘No rainbow’.  There might be something else, some other, very difficult to imagine much less describe phenomenon, but the arched rainbow that we see and where we see it is only there because we are there.  We complete it. Without us, it is not.  Ok, birds might see it, or deer, but you get my drift.  It is a visual parallel to the theoretical conundrum, if a tree falls in the forest, well accept according to Watts, there is an solid answer; No us = no rainbow.  
Rainbows are often not located where we might think that they are.  They often look huge spreading across a vast horizon, when in effect they are rather close to us, or should I say they are also rather close to us, to our field of vision.  I recall once, driving in a heavy afternoon thunderstorm from Washington DC to Philadelphia on I-95, as the sun came back out I was watching a full rainbow out in the field to my right. Then, a tractor-trailer truck passed in front of the view, I expected the rainbow to disappear behind the truck, instead, it was the same-sized rainbow, but just five feet out the window, between my vehicle and the truck.  What I’d thought was huge and distant in the field, was suddenly within arms reach. 
As a representational painter, I am reminded what Andrew Wyeth said to me once,  “If you sit somewhere long enough, the Life will appear.”  As artists we know that the observer affects the observed. That we affect what is. Not in an ego way, but that ‘what is’, isn’t fully ‘what it is’, unless it is observed. As a painter, I am constantly confronted by the dilemma of color. There is Light and there is Matter. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet, separated band rays of color affect everything the visual artist attempts to paint. When I was in my twenties, I studied for two years with portrait painter Nelson Shanks, he taught us, when looking for the ‘color’ of an object, say for example, skin of clothing,  “Nothing has ‘local color’, everything is to be thought of as ‘affected color’”.  So, if the light is cool, coming through the studio window, we don’t look for and paint the color of the object, but the color of the light ‘on’ the object.  If we are outdoors and the light is warm, again, we don’t think in terms of local color, but in terms of, how warm is that light, and how does it ‘effect’ the object it is striking.  And we mix out colors accordingly. There is no system, it is always a hit or miss, hunt and peck situation, because every situation is different with different conditions of light, atmosphere, reflected lights etc. 
As a child, in Georgia, my first memories of rainbows are Biblically based. I remember being read the story of Noah’s Arc and the rainbow of hope and God’s promise, before I ever remember seeing an actually rainbow.  The rainbow has been a sign of ‘hope’ and ‘promise’ traditionally in many cultures. There are very few successful Rainbows as subject matter in art.  Metaphorically, Everett Millais’ “Blind Girl”, uses the rainbow as a symbol for the beauty that is unseen around us.  But, my favorite rainbow painting is the Fredric Church in the DeYoung Museum.

As a young man in Philadelphia I recall seeing the ‘Rainbow’ flag as it began to appear out of townhouse windows in Center City as a sign of Pride.

In the 80’s, when Man, my middle son, was going to New York City for auditions for television and film, he landed his first role in a small children’s film; I recall the director saying that they had not intentionally “cast ‘rainbow’”.  It had just coincidentally turned out that way.  At the time, I’d never heard the phrase and it took a few minutes to understand what ‘rainbow’ meant. “I just chose the best actors”, the director said. Asian, Black, White, etc. 
We are a melting pot.  America is and always has been a melting pot. Currently there is a tempest in our little teapot brought on by the clash of cultures as we move from modern to post-post modern, while we still have older less modern cultures with the same technological advances as the newer cultures.  Fundamentalists have the advantage (at the expense of all) of technology, which was developed by cultures that are much more advanced psychologically.  This allows, dare I say, ‘less evolved’, or older ideas, to be on equal footing with ‘more evolved’, or newer ideas.  I mean, let’s all face it, blowing up people because they don’t agree with you is a pretty old, and bad idea. Some ideas ‘Are’ better than other ideas.  That said. We must embrace the idea of Freedom with all of our being.  As Religion and Reason, wisdom and knowledge fight it out in the “Information Age”, we must, (because there is no other foreseeable path) hold true to the tenets in our living document, the Constitution.  Freedom of worship and freedom of speech are necessary for an enlightened, advance culture to thrive and continue to evolve.  Mosques, and churches, and synagogues should be built wherever people in those communities want to build them.  People should be able to write and say and do and draw anything they want without fear of their lives.  
I’ll end with a recent comment I submitted on Ed Winkleman’s blog in response to his post about Seattle based cartoonist Molly Norris ‘ call for “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day”. 
Edward, thanks for the opportunity to discuss this issue. As artists we are called on to respond to issues and events in a creative and productive manner. We are not statesmen. Artists are by nature provocateurs. Molly is not a politician, a statesman, or a religious leader. She responded in a way common to activists and many artists today; she called us to come together in a ludicrous action to, expose what she felt was the ludicrous nature of a policy.  Art is meant to wake us up. Her call was a wake up call. Obviously,  we are currently in the middle of a major clash of cultures. We can hold the conflict between respecting someone's beliefs and having freedom of expression. It is giving in to fundamentalist thinking to propose that one should give up one freedom that is (excuse me) more evolved, for a dogma that is (excuse me) anachronistic. It is the willingness to accept the consequences of the conflict, which allows the continued growth and development of the species. Not many artists are willing to make what they call on the news "the ultimate sacrifice", but Molly was. One may have chosen to participate in "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day", because they felt that it was a creative solution to a complicated struggle within the cultural clash. Many of the depictions that day were, if you remember, intentionally derogatory and insensitive. But some were insightful and serious.  One may have chosen to represent Mohammed in a manner similar to that which one would choose to paint any historic, religious, spiritual, or mythological figure. With respect and an intense searching into the deeper ramifications as to why this figure holds so much power for us (or for a specific group). Thusly, one may have found it to be a rewarding experience. If one is not familiar with Islamic culture, it would be an opportunity to study the subject, and this study certainly would bring with it a certain level of empathy.  Empathy with ones subject brings a modicum of understanding. 
Being raised in a fundamentalist culture, Southern Baptist, I understand, an inherent reverence for (the power of) depicting a holy figure. The sanctuary space in many Southern Baptist churches are  devoid of imagery. Many denominations express a respect for the divine by limiting imagery in the sanctuary; images of Jesus being reserved only for sunday school classes. Sacred imagery is also traditionally limited in Jewish culture as well, think of Chaim Potok's remembrances of his childhood struggles in 'My Name Is Asher Lev".   All religions have their laws, rules and sacred imagery. But artists have from the beginning of time been intimately involved in creating, defining, and redefining these images. Artists are as responsible for the perpetuation of deity's as organized religion itself. Think of Michaelangelo's depictions and how they influenced western culture. Art and religion are intimately intwined.  
If ART itself, is a religion, as some suggest, then it would be acting outside the laws of that religion to ask an artist to do anything other than what they feel called, provoked or compelled to do. Excuse the expression, but God bless Molly,  for asking us to have the courage to stand up for what 'we' believe. We live in a multi-cultural, post-modern, whole-systems world. We can understand the importance of science, myth, religion, the economy, politics, history, our own psychology, our personal emotional and biological histories, all simultaneously, without issuing fatwas or death sentences on anyone or any group who believes or thinks differently than we do.   May we all grow in empathy toward one another and understanding for one another. Thanks for this forum. Peace.
I did not send along a copy of my portrait of Mohammed. 
Life is fantastic and mysterious and beautiful. All the religion I need, can be found in the natural world. I want to live fully. I want to make beautiful things and leave the world a better place than I found it. We should build on what’s already here.  We should build things, not destroy them- not books, not buildings. None of us should live in fear.  We are the rainbow; God’s palette.  As Artists, we should make, whatever we want. Our calling is to play our part in the Great Awakening.