Over the holidays I went with my friend Jacqueline to see the Guggenheim exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where I fell in love with a yellow cow.

It was painted in 1911 by German expressionist Franz Marc and some say it was meant to express the happiness of his newly wed state.  The mountains in the background represent the intellectual,masculine element; the lovely fertile cow in the foreground represents the sensual feminine.

Marc was part of a naturalist movement, whose members believed that a return to nature could save them from the twin blights of secularism and materialism that they saw corrupting life in Europe at the turn of the century.

I have a thing for cows.  Several stand out in my memory.  Like the udder up cow that forms the Udderbelly Theatre I visited at the Edinburgh Fringe one year. (I bought pairs of purple udder pants as souvenirs for my friends.) Seth Godin did very well with his book The Purple Cow.  My friend, Marilyn Gear Pilling, published a wonderful collection of poems called The Life of the Four Stomachs, in which she is wistful for the emptiness of the cud chewing mind.

Last week I was brushing up on my Greek and Roman mythology for a show I’m writing about the capriciousness of the gods, and I was reminded that Hera, queen of the gods, was called the cow eyed.  I’m pretty sure it was meant as a compliment. Which shows you just how contextual language really is.

By 1914 Europe had erupted into war, and most of the rural collectives and art colonies disbanded.  Marc, ever the idealist, hoped that the war might provide a necessary cleansing of the society and make way for a brighter future.  He joined up right away and died in combat in 1916.

Four morals in this story,

1. The early 20th century, like the early 21st century, was a time of great upheaval.

2. People were seeking a way through the chaos toward a brighter future.

3. Neither the retreat into nature nor the advance into war led them to the promised land.

4. But the ridiculous yellow cow offers a good deal of comfort in the here and now.

Yours with creativity and imagination,


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