Secular VIP of the Week: Jeff Johnson, Cartoonist

Dec 25, 2013

We are thrilled to have Jeff Johnson join the Richard Dawkins content team. He's an actual cartoonist from "The Simpsons", the longest running primetime cartoon TV show. He agreed to be interviewed and is our Secular VIP of the Week.

 


RDF: Were you always an atheist? How did you come to that?

Jeff Johnson: I consider myself agnostic with both feet dipping in the water of atheism.

RDF:  So what kind of atheist are you? How did you commit to that? Were you raised in a religion?

Jeff Johnson: I was raised with religion, my parents were both Catholic – they weren't devout Catholic, but I suppose they just followed protocol and raised us the way they were raised… There was a lot of joking going on around the house which probably contributed to the fact that I become a cartoonist and an animator, but as far as the religion goes in the household, there was no strange religion, it's just  being exposed to catechism and the Catholic Church at such an early age, during your formative years, you take that stuff on pretty heavy and it's been a long process of trying to figure things out, to strip that baggage away.

RDF:  As a child, what did you think of the Church?

Jeff Johnson: When I was ten I was in the confessional again and it went like this:

Jeff Johnson: "Excuse me father for I have sinned. I called my little brother a shitface and refused to go visit some distant cousins."

Jeff Johnson: He said, "Do ten Hail Marys, an Act Of Contrition, and one Our Father".

Jeff Johnson:  I then asked if I was supposed to believe Jesus walked on water for real and did Moses really part the Red Sea.

Jeff Johnson: He said, "Do you know what a metaphor is? You should remember there is no science without God!"

Jeff Johnson: After looking up the word 'metaphor', two weeks later I asked him what miracles are metaphors and which are real.

Jeff Johnson: "Do ten Hail Mary's my son", he said.  

RDF: You met Christopher Hitchens once and he was a great inspiration to you.

Jeff Johnson: What was so inspirational to me about Christopher was watching him at work. He had a lot of adversaries in the audience, coming to attack him… He managed to keep the room laughing the whole way through… it was like watching a cat playing with the mouse before devouring it. 

Jeff Johnson: Later on I had a chance to meet him when I was working on Industrial Light and Magic, on Star Wars, after going to art school… I met him in a little book store.

Jeff Johnson: I was still hanging on to religious baggage, and I wanted to ask his studies in Devon, when he went to boarding school, and… what his experience was in relation to mine. The Catholic school gave me through the teachings of Jesus, so we had common fabric there, and I wanted to see if that was invaluable to him. He immediately dismissed it, because he was the great debater that he was, and simply said: "We all have to grow up at some point. We don't need the Church to tell us right from wrong."

Jeff Johnson: He said we had a right to know for ourselves. The Church is telling us we can't be moral without Big Brother, and continued with some of the things he'd said during his great lecture. He thought religion was the main cause for evil in the world. He was pretty clear and I was impressed with how direct he was, how clear-minded he was about things. 

RDF: How did you end up animating for "The Simpsons"? 

Jeff Johnson: I studied Fine Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design and I fell in love with animation.

Jeff Johnson: I knew I had to go West and at some point I packed everything up and I came out here to work into animation and I came out to Hollywood…. I worked my way up through commercials, getting featured work at Warner Brothers and eventually Disney, I worked at Dreamworks, all the major studios… but what really appeals to me is single panel cartoons in which you can say a lot in a very instant, direct way. And the same thing applies for painting. 

Jeff Johnson: In animation we have hundreds of people working on these projects, but there's nothing like having your personal fingerprints all over that individual work and that's what I'm working towards now. I'm really taking off on my own. 

Jeff Johnson: I ended up on The Simpsons' movie and it was such a great group of people, it was a perfect fit for me. I'd always loved The Simpsons because it's so well acted and obviously so well written, the voice talents are stellar, and everything's top notch about the show, but in terms of animation style they worked in a very different way than I'd been used to… that's probably why I didn't knock on their door earlier. When I was asked to come on over and check things out to possibly be on the feature, they were going to step the animation up a little bit in terms of its complexity but in reality we still kept it balanced between limited and full animation going on there to maintain the humor. "Embrace the stiffness" was one of the slogans we used. 

Jeff Johnson: The group was so great that I ended up staying in for the TV show and I've been there since 2007. It's a great place to be.

RDF: Is there anything that you want to specially draw to?

Jeff Johnson: If you join me on Twitter I try to post a cartoon a day. I'm working towards publishing a book, and I'm seriously working on "Fortune Cookie" cartoons… So, hey, that's entertainment for free. Come on board.

Jeff Johnson: On my Tumbler they'll be able to find more, some of the fine art, some paintings. There'll be a variety there, with a different set of disciplines. And there will also be animation coming: I've created a site called http://spanimationfilms.com – it's short for the terms short attention span animation. I'm trying to wiggle it down to the stuff that I started with, cartoons that are just black and white; single panel cartoons coming to life.


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30 comments on “Secular VIP of the Week: Jeff Johnson, Cartoonist

  • 1
    Light Wave says:

    Animation and especially satirical cartoons are a great way to convey a message….I especially like banksy’s stuff….it’s ironic and not always funny but he’s an activist on many fronts…. the simple image is less offensive than raising the issue in words….and let’s you get away with more than words could….



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  • 2
    Free Speech says:

    OK, how about Mohammed running with the camels or maybe riding his winged horse to “Ghost Riders in the Sky” while wearing an extreme drag queen cowboy outfit?



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  • 3
    Light Wave says:

    In reply to #2 by Free Speech:

    OK, how about Mohammed running with the camels or maybe riding his winged horse to “Ghost Riders in the Sky” while wearing an extreme drag queen cowboy outfit?

    Would you be brave enough to do that….Unless anonymous like Banksy….personally I wouldn’t find that funny….its just sounds like its trying to be extremely rude so as to offend…Its better to really have a point of focus that is clear…..and be clever about it….witty …..not just rude with no message ? I find the hidden message of some political cartoons quite clever not so much the humorous image….



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  • 4
    aquilacane says:

    In reply to #1 by Light Wave:

    Animation and especially satirical cartoons are a great way to convey a message….I especially like banksy’s stuff….it’s ironic and not always funny but he’s an activist on many fronts…. the simple image is less offensive than raising the issue in words….and let’s you get away with more than…

    Banksy is a criminal with no personal talent other than stealing other people’s images to vandalize other people’s property with. When Nike used some of his images they endorsed vandalism, I just wish more of Nike’s property had been vandalized to teach them how stupid they were. Anyone with respect for law has none for Banksy. Banksy doesn’t use words because they are too difficult for him to understand.



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  • 5
    phil rimmer says:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    Banksy is a criminal with no personal talent other than stealing other people’s images to vandalize other people’s property with.

    Bristol City Council owner of many of the buildings have a more nuanced view. They have profited greatly from him and he has huge local support. He chooses unloved places and mostly enhances them. (I’ve seen some for myself and think they greatly humanise the unlovely parts of the city.) The site owners often elect to keep the pieces.

    The first Banksy exhibition in Bristol 2009 was heaving and though I’ve attended quite a few personal exhibitions none elicited quite such a viewer response, laughing, excited, thoughtful. Mixing challenging ideas amongst laugh out loud sight gags was immensely effective.

    Banksy is truly multimedia. (His oil paintings aren’t half bad and his sculptural pieces are huge fun.) His movie Exit through the Gift Shop deservedly got 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.



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  • 6
    Light Wave says:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    In reply to #1 by Light Wave:

    Animation and especially satirical cartoons are a great way to convey a message….I especially like banksy’s stuff….it’s ironic and not always funny but he’s an activist on many fronts…. the simple image is less offensive than raising the issue in words….and let…

    For a social activist and criminal as you say He’s A millionaire Class Act and His original art is very sharp…as I said its not always about the Art itself…but the message it portrays is more important…and Banksy’s art reaches more people than some art galleries do…He’s a hero in UK….we appreciate social justice being publicised…. its slightly subversive…



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  • 9
    Katy Cordeth says:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    …Anyone with respect for law has none for Banksy.

    Art should transcend the law. Its job is to show the world as it is. Not to capitulate to authority.

    Why do you think the first thing dictators do when they seize power is toss all the poets and freethinkers into gaol?

    I’m guessing you’re not a fan of Ai Weiwei.

    Always standing up to Chinese authority and disrespecting their laws.



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  • In reply to #9 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    …Anyone with respect for law has none for Banksy.

    Art should transcend the law. Its job is to show the world as it is. Not to capitulate to authority.

    Why do you think the first thing dictators do when they seize power is toss all the poets and freethinkers into ga…

    Very well said!

    Maybe AQ is young and as yet unaware of many shades of tyranny? I recall being naively trusting in authority, took me a lifetime to grow up… still working at it.



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  • In reply to #3 by Light Wave:

    In reply to #2 by Free Speech:

    OK, how about Mohammed running with the camels or maybe riding his winged horse to “Ghost Riders in the Sky” while wearing an extreme drag queen cowboy outfit?

    Would you be brave enough to do that….Unless anonymous like Banksy….personally I wouldn’t find that fun…

    You’re saying that being rude to the memory of (possibly) the most evil man in all human history offends you???



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  • 12
    aquilacane says:

    In reply to #6 by Light Wave:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    In reply to #1 by Light Wave:

    Animation and especially satirical cartoons are a great way to convey a message….I especially like banksy’s stuff….it’s ironic and not always funny but he’s an activist on many fronts…. the simple image is less offensive than raisin…

    The message here is that other people’s property doesn’t matter, do what you want, fuck em all. Shit message in my opinion.



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  • 13
    aquilacane says:

    In reply to #9 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    …Anyone with respect for law has none for Banksy.

    Art should transcend the law. Its job is to show the world as it is. Not to capitulate to authority.

    Why do you think the first thing dictators do when they seize power is toss all the poets and freethinkers into ga…

    Art has no job and though it may violate some laws (freedom of speech) that doesn’t mean it should violate any law it wishes. I will never agree that the opinion of someone else takes priority over my personal property. If any Banksy shit ended up on my wall it would be promptly sprayed over with prison bars. He is fighting the wrong law with his criminal activity. All of his work should be removed as an insult to law. He does mindless stunt work tailored to the blink generation.



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  • 14
    aquilacane says:

    In reply to #10 by Fritz:

    In reply to #9 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    …Anyone with respect for law has none for Banksy.

    Art should transcend the law. Its job is to show the world as it is. Not to capitulate to authority.

    Why do you think the first thing dictators do when they seize power is toss all t…

    I’m 42 and Bansky isn’t standing up to shit. He is a visual tweeter at best, pretty much saying nothing, just looking cool. He should be in advertising, probably was. Ai Weiwei doesn’t go around ripping off other people and trashing private property to get his message across.



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  • 15
    QuestioningKat says:

    Art has no job

    Agree. I wish people would stop saying what purpose art should fulfill. It’s really subjective.

    I did like “Exit through the gift shop” and found it fascinating that people spent so much money on the hack only to have the value of his work instantly deflate when all was exposed. So much of art today is more about a “hook” and ideas rather than skill. It revealed so much about human nature and the games we play. I recommended the movie to several of my artist friends. It’s worth viewing.



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  • 16
    Light Wave says:

    In reply to #11 by Fritz:

    In reply to #3 by Light Wave:

    In reply to #2 by Free Speech:

    OK, how about Mohammed running with the camels or maybe riding his winged horse to “Ghost Riders in the Sky” while wearing an extreme drag queen cowboy outfit?

    You are putting words in my mouth…..I saaaaiiiiid…… I wouldn’t find that description of a cartoon funny….
    to try and make a person look ‘gay’ to insult them…. is not funny ……Its quite a childish attempt to be rude and offensive but its definitely not funny to me…..
    If the cartoon about someone was more ‘ironically true’ in its message…. I may laugh at that…



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  • 17
    Light Wave says:

    In reply to #12 by aquilacane:

    In reply to #6 by Light Wave:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    In reply to #1 by Light Wave:

    I’d love a Banksy on my property – but not any old graffiti crap ….I like my street art to be quality….



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  • 18
    Katy Cordeth says:

    In reply to #13 by aquilacane:

    In reply to #9 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    …Anyone with respect for law has none for Banksy.

    Art should transcend the law. Its job is to show the world as it is. Not to capitulate to authority.

    Why do you think the first thing dictators do when they seize power is toss all the poets and freethinkers into ga…

    Art has no job and though it may violate some laws (freedom of speech) that doesn’t mean it should violate any law it wishes. I will never agree that the opinion of someone else takes priority over my personal property…

    You’ll have to forgive me, but who are you to decide which laws art has to abide by and which it gets to ignore? You say that personal property is inviolate. Well, for a good deal of our species history, other people have been considered personal property. If you were to look up a few speeches given by American Civil War-era pro slavery types, you would see a popular argument employed against abolitionists stated that the right to one’s own property is absolute.

    Perhaps our own descendants will shudder to think that their forebears back in the 21st Century were happy to own property which was made in sweat shops by those who were little more than slaves, and be disgusted that we didn’t rise up en masse and demand that the children and adults who made our clothes and smart phones be released from bondage.

    This is what I meant when I said art should transcend the law: we can’t trust ourselves to know what’s right. 18th Century slave owners didn’t think what they were doing was wrong; they didn’t consider themselves evil. Nor did loyal members of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany who happily turned in their Jewish neighbors to the Gestapo. Blithely using the law of the day, whatever it happens to be, as a benchmark with which to judge what is morally acceptable just won’t do, because these are our laws, put into place by us for our benefit.

    Hence the need for another group, the artists. Beethoven was so incensed when his hero Napoleon, to whom he’d dedicated his new work the Eroica, made himself emperor, the composer scratched out the inscription he’d written with such ferocity that he tore the paper to shreds. The Marquis de Sade was imprisoned for much of his life for blasphemy against the Catholic Church.

    Society needs people like this. It needs the Sex Pistols and the Robert Mapplethorpes and the Ai Weiweis. What it doesn’t need is petty, small-minded types who wouldn’t know a piece of art if it bit them on the rear end and who complain that art is unacceptable unless it’s found in its proper place, a gallery or a glossy coffee-table book; somewhere it can be ignored by parties of bored schoolchildren or discussed in a too-loud voice by pretentious, black-clad, soul-patched wankers.

    If any Banksy shit ended up on my wall it would be promptly sprayed over with prison bars. He is fighting the wrong law with his criminal activity. All of his work should be removed as an insult to law. He does mindless stunt work tailored to the blink generation.

    Yikes. You would destroy art because it contravenes the law? I say it again: yikes. What about a work which had genuine artistic merit: would it be okay to destroy that if it appeared somewhere it had no business being; is the only criterion required for you to merrily deface it its illegality?

    You’re a genuine spiritual descendant, aquilacane, of these good, law-abiding people. Thanks for keeping the flame lit.



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  • 19
    Light Wave says:

    In reply to #13 by aquilacane:

    In reply to #9 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    …Anyone with respect for law has none for Banksy.

    Philistine…..

    Art should transcend the law. Its job is to show the world as it is. Not to capitulate to authority.

    Why do you think the first thing dictators do when they seize power is toss all t…



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  • 20
    Light Wave says:

    In reply to #11 by Fritz:

    In reply to #3 by Light Wave:

    In reply to #2 by Free Speech:

    OK, how about Mohammed running with the camels or maybe riding his winged horse to “Ghost Riders in the Sky” while wearing an extreme drag queen cowboy outfit?

    I don’t get offended on behalf of religion…..I’m atheist….I do get offended when people use art as a reason to get offended its pretty pathetic…..I’m an artist……



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  • 21
    QuestioningKat says:

    You’ll have to forgive me, but who are you to decide which laws art has to abide by and which it gets to ignore?…Yikes. You would destroy art because it contravenes the law? I say it again: yikes. What about a work which had genuine artistic merit: would it be okay to destroy that if it appeared somewhere it had no business being; is the only criterion required for you to merrily deface it its illegality?

    Hey everybody, spray painting party at one of Katy’s houses!



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  • 22
    Katy Cordeth says:

    In reply to #21 by QuestioningKat:

    You’ll have to forgive me, but who are you to decide which laws art has to abide by and which it gets to ignore?…Yikes. You would destroy art because it contravenes the law? I say it again: yikes. What about a work which had genuine artistic merit: would it be okay to destroy that if it appeared s…

    …Hey everybody, spray painting party at one of Katy’s houses!

    By strict invitation only, I’m afraid. Exceptions may be considered for those with genuine artistic talent.

    Security will be on hand to keep out any Palestinians who try to gatecrash.



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  • 23
    QuestioningKat says:

    In reply to #22 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #21 by QuestioningKat:

    By strict invitation only, I’m afraid. Exceptions may be considered for those with genuine artistic talent.
    Security will be on hand to keep out any Palestinians who try to gatecrash.

    That’s not how it works. You do not get a choice regarding the date, time, location, subject matter or anything else. Your views regarding artistic merit are irrelevant. You decide to either keep it or pay whatever it costs to remove it.



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  • 24
    Katy Cordeth says:

    In reply to #23 by QuestioningKat:

    In reply to #22 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #21 by QuestioningKat:

    By strict invitation only, I’m afraid. Exceptions may be considered for those with genuine artistic talent. Security will be on hand to keep out any Palestinians who try to gatecrash.

    That’s not how it works. You do not get a choice regarding the date, time, location, subject matter or anything else. Your views regarding artistic merit are irrelevant. You decide to either keep it or pay whatever it costs to remove it.

    Fair enough. I choose to keep it, then. It will have become a piece of art in its own right, irrespective of the talent level of those contributing.

    Hopefully someone like Charles Saatchi will buy it. If not, I’ll just have to learn to appreciate it for its own worth.

    Would I consider having it removed? Probably. Pragmatism would end up overriding idealism eventually.

    I’d definitely be a sellout though.

    Thinks…

    Thanks for obscuring my view of the stars and reminding me that, like Oscar and everyone else, my real place as a human is in the gutter, face downwards.



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  • 25
    LaurieB says:

    So, hey there Katy, Kat and Light Wave ~waves~

    🙂

    I just happened to be in the neighborhood, with my crate of acrylics and brushes no less! That can’t be a coincidence. No way! So I thought I’d swing by, you know, if there’s an invite coming my way.

    Any possibility that Banksy will put in an appearance?

    Did I mention that I have a couple cases of petite quiches and other assorted appetizers?

    He’s going to show up, isn’t he?…

    o_O



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  • 26
    aquilacane says:

    In reply to #18 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #13 by aquilacane:

    In reply to #9 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #4 by aquilacane:

    …Anyone with respect for law has none for Banksy.

    Art should transcend the law. Its job is to show the world as it is. Not to capitulate to authority.

    Why do you think the first thing dictators do whe…

    do I have to reply to this? Troll action for sure



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  • 27
    LaurieB says:

    In reply to #26 by aquilacane:

    do I have to reply to this? Troll action for sure

    There’s no troll action here. A few of us disagree with your perspective, that’s all. We’ve been through worse scrapes around here before.



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  • 28
    QuestioningKat says:

    Hopefully someone like Charles Saatchi will buy it. If not, I’ll just have to learn to appreciate it for its own worth.

    It will likely be on an area of your home that cannot be removed for sale.

    I understand your views and AC’s. It’s not really a matter whether it is art or not, (I consider it art. Whether it is good or not is subjective.) but imagine if you were a sole businesswoman and paid out your nose to have a billboard to generate business and someone defaced it – completely obscuring your name and contact information. Yes, at times it might draw attention to the establishment, but it is not guaranteed and could potentially have an opposite effect. What if your random painting on your home obscured all your windows and neighbors started complaining and throwing stuff at your home? (Would their protests of thrown items then be seen as a work of art?) I’ve seen several street art works in London and Paris and overall – appreciated it because they were tastefully done, but there is a fine line between random art being elevating or destructive, the property owner doesn’t get a choice and has to deal with the consequences. If they like it – great! If they don’t- oops there goes hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars sandblasting or repainting the place.) I’ve also seen graffiti art that originally was quite good and innovative, but encouraged youth with spray cans to add in their gang symbols and profanities to the point that the original work was obscured and made into a total mess. It’s a form of expression – perhaps viewed as ugly… Art on canvases really are similar, since good and bad art exists simultaneously and we cannot stop wannabe hobbyists from junking up the scene. If a superior artist nabbed a bad painting and improved upon it, would it then be art or vandalism? If someone defaced a John Singer Sargent putting fashionable varying moustaches on many of his portraits, it might be considered art, but is it an acceptable act? There will always be people who have differing opinions depending upon their aesthetic standards. Legalities come into play, frequently conflating the issues of whether it is art or not, good or not?

    In Southern Ohio there is a cave that has been in existence since the glaciers retreated – perhaps millions of years. I walked into it and inhaled thinking “wow!” only to have a sudden drop to disappointment and then anger that the entire cave was filled with layers of people – hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who carved their initials and names into the striated rock. It was a horrible feeling trying to imagine this majestic cave in its purest form. Who were these individuals that decided that they could have immortality piggybacking on a wondrous work of nature? As far as I am concerned, they were all thieves who stole a sacred moment from me since I was unable to experience this sight in its true, pure form. I search the cave and found the earliest name going back to about the 1890s. The majority of names since the 1960s. I have seen many petroglyphs throughout the West and never felt such disappointment. Perhaps it was because the images told me about the people as a group; nevertheless, petroglyphs are ancient graffiti.

    I assume Charles Saatchi also owns the Saatchi Gallery in London. It was a bit pretentious, but one of my favorite art places in London during my visit. I especially like to occasionally drop in online.

    Thanks for obscuring my view of the stars and reminding me that, like Oscar and everyone else, my real place as a human is in the gutter, face downwards.

    Yep, that’s life. When you think your right, a curve ball comes in and slams you down. Art is one of those areas that are rightfully filled with many shades of gray. It’s a good thing, as long as you don’t use that mindset to talk about science and the existence of God——right? 😉



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  • 29
    QuestioningKat says:

    In reply to #25 by LaurieB:

    So, hey there Katy, Kat and Light Wave ~waves~

    🙂

    Did I mention that I have a couple cases of petite quiches and other assorted appetizers?

    Get her addresses and bring good chocolate and your in!!



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