Seeing the dance

Maybe my religion is beauty. If I define religion as the beliefs and views we accept on faith, that may or may not be true for others but is true for us. For me, for you, for others – whatever is true for them. 

Some artists reveal beauty through everything and everyone. Every moment of grace. An invitation into seeing the beauty of a flock of birds gathering in flight, soaring across the park. I didn’t see it until an artist painted all the shapes and ways that a bird could be seen in flight – and from that point forward, it marked my ordinary mundane moments, of walking through Belmore park and seeing the huge flock of pigeons with the occasional scattering of ibis’ and seagulls, take flight, no doubt, something or someone had intrigued them on the other side of the park – food, undoubtedly involved.

Most of the time art doesn’t land with me that way. There is always going to be art that resonates with you and art that doesn’t. The artist’s job, isn’t necessarily to reveal what is beautiful. If they draw forth an emotional response from me, or an intellectual one, I would say they succeeded. Though… it takes two, to see and be seen and I am not always going to be every artists ideal audience. There are emotional responses I enjoy having evoked… and emotional response I’d be happy to not seek out… and sometimes, responses that require maturity… where the art, not only didn’t land, but drew forth an immature reaction. But here’s where it gets interesting, several years later, present time, I am remembering that piece and my reaction… and I’ve realised, I missed the point, entirely. The purpose of that piece was an invitation to question the nature and the purpose of art itself, and the impulses that draw us into the context of galleries. 

Context… being the operative word here. That particular piece of art, a rusted something leaning against a wall, was post-modernistic. For me that evokes, “That’s a chair, but is it really a chair?” and If a tree fell in a forest and no one heard it, did the tree still fall? 

Those aren’t really questions expecting answers, and whoever that artist was/is, I am humbled and they have my deepest respect. 

Now I see, the nature of that piece of post-modernistic art, was to question. Often, uncomfortably. Because what is up for review, is the previously held belief about something. In this case, the previously held belief I had, about art. But it doesn’t make it smaller… the only reason I would fight to keep that old belief about art, is because it threatens the status quo, it threatens what art means to me by asking me to question it… how I relate to art… and what I measure art as, by, with. For instance – talent, skill, finesse, detail, abstraction, process, communication. And not necessarily, all in the same piece/work. But if those measurements are no longer operative… how do I know who I am in terms of my understanding and approach to seeing art? Suddenly, I no longer know, what art is, only that the very medium, has been used, to question itself.

That’s a very… uncomfortable thing… to do. To witness an artist and their art, invite you to do. There is an impulse to guard against the chaos that I sense, will ensue. And that’s exactly what I did, insisted it wasn’t art, and went on my merry way.

But now I also have to question… what is that insistence keeping apart, at a distance? And what does it really serve? I confess, art is my subject here because I don’t have my hands in the clay – in the mediums that are art. There is an objectivity that feels safe to me… and a subjectivity that isn’t intimately tied into my sense of identity. If it were, these questions would be much more difficult.

Letting go of a previous belief… is like that. Letting go of my previous belief about art… didn’t make my understanding of art shrink. Letting go of a previous belief… doesn’t make the subject of that belief… smaller. It makes it wider. It makes more room. It makes more space. It invites, more acceptance. 

No one ever passes from the beginning to the ending… by skipping the middle… the process… for me that included anger, justification, riling for, riling against. I can take that to mean that something is shifting, there is a desire for that shift, and there exists an equally powerful impulse… for it not to shift. 

And… seeing that dance, is presently… the beauty of it. 

Sand

What do you love about life?

It’s how everything is one long chain of this moment, stretching and stretching and stretching. If you keep retreating after you fail at something… soon you’ll discover that you can only pull this moment so thin, like an elastic band pulled tight. You are taut and tense and uncomfortable with all the ideas bouncing around in your head that you don’t like. That clash with your view of the world. At the same time, you don’t want to put them out of your head, you don’t want to narrow the walls of your perspective, at the same time, you struggle to stay present and relaxed and loose and open. 

Life’s filled with paradigm shifts. If it’s making you uncomfortable… and you still feel like this idea has merit… then you either retreat, to protect your fragile sense of identity… or you collapse the old structures. Again. 

I keep wondering… when you’re going to figure it out, I keep wondering… when you’re going to decide enough is enough and stick to it with the heart, soul and passion of someone coming alive. Because, yes, I think you’re right, someone who is alive has no time to think about what other people think of them or their work. 

I also found this quote, today, tucked away amidst some of my writing,

“Everyone who works with love and with intelligence finds in the very sincerity of his love for nature and art a kind of armour against the opinions of other people.”

– attributed to Vincent Van Gogh

My friend wanted to know where I’d see myself in 10 years. I remember when I used to love asking this question. We had dinner together to celebrate his 26th. I sat next to the most gorgeous woman I’ve met in a while and she was absolutely delightful at conversation. I felt the joy of banter. Sheer innocence and fun. 

The truth is that I don’t think my younger self imagined my present self to be here, but I don’t think she had given it much thought. At 25, I have. But I told him, to ask me in 10 years and I’d tell him what goals my 25 year old self had. Mostly, I didn’t want to commit to verbalising them because things can change and I admit I waffle often at life. 

And as I came home, I wondered again, what were my goals? To build better daily habits? To make music… but to make art, not entertainment. I feel silly and sad for wanting this. I love being entertained… but I am not an entertainer. To being a better teacher? To commit more wholly and fully to the craft of music? To writing? To… being a better person? All of these things excite me. Along with a few others that are not career related in the slightest. 

To reading more life-changing books. To learning some martial arts – kung fu to be precise. To learning to read in Chinese, to learning Spanish. To learning another instrument. To keep dancing, solo and with others, to keep feeling into the flow of life. To keep meditating, doing yoga every morning… grounding into the present moment. To learn how to skydive solo. To go scuba-diving. To fall in love with a different world. To trek a desert. To hike those gorgeous mountains in China. That’s what I want. To get more tattoos. To slip away for months on end, every now and then. And there’s more, that only my heart would confess.

It was good, that he asked that 10 year question… because naturally, the following question would be… and what are you doing to manifest these? Because as he told me his dream, I knew that he needed to be another person, to manifest it… and… I know, I’d also have to be a different person to manifest mine. I wondered… how to reply to him… I hope… No… I’m sure you’ll get there. A sheepish smile passed over his face for a moment and he said thanks. 

Maybe I should’ve said, in 10 years I’d be trekking a desert… or climbing Huangshan Mountain. That makes me laugh. Maybe I’d be skydiving solo… or doing something else a little bit crazy.

Sand

Thoughts on how to make… find… create… meaning out of life and our relationship to art

I love moments of exhilaration. At how fast the driver goes around the bend… at the crazy swerving… at the fact that I’m in the front seat and I don’t actually have a seatbelt on and nobody is going to give a damn about it. Realising, coming close to a brush with death, that I could die but I was alive… made me laugh. I’m often… entirely way too serious. 

I chose to be here… experiencing all the messiness of life. To love the forces of nature… beauty in all its forms… beauty for the sake of beauty, beauty in the uncommon… in the passage of time… in the taboo, in patience and persistence… in simplicity and in complexity… in Pachamama’s fierce creations… and in her fragile ones, in the unfurling of the larger picture… in the themes of our lives… and in the minutia of my day… I’ve learned, this is where life mostly is. And still, how I feel about something, now and today… can change over the course of a lifetime. That something I believed and expressed a few years ago… may no longer stand today. That how you show up every day is how you live your life. When you need to change it up, shake things out, let the old things die, trust that rebirth is always on the other side. 

Maybe, when we engage with art (loosely defined as any creative practice but I will lean on the traditional definition here) we do so because it offers us mediums that take us to the heart of the matter. And it will be subjective. Everyone’s experience of life and each other… is subjective. So when we say… art offers us a glimmer, a reflection of life… are we really just asking… what’s here? Perhaps sometimes we are also asking… where am I going… what will I discover? Or perhaps these are simply variations of… what’s here. 

Maybe I’m simply thinking that I love it when art shows me or invites me to experience something new or raw… not necessarily original… but a perspective and a feeling that opens my eyes and my mind… a perspective that causes me to see the beauty of the ordinary, mundane world, yet thereafter has completely altered my everyday experience in some way that I will be able find beauty in this world by choosing to see it… or a perspective that causes me to recoil in disgust… is that good art? Yes. Even if I have subjectively made an opinion of the art… based on my reaction… the artist has fulfilled the purpose of their work. 

To wonder at the beauty of someone’s mind… to see beauty through their eyes, without the need to alter my life in any way… is art I want to see. To question what I take for granted and my paradigms… however uncomfortable I feel… is still art I want to see. To be able to shift my experience of seeing the ordinary… is art I want to see.

In that sense… what alters me… may not alter you. What is great for me… may not seem great to you. What was great to me at 20, may not seem great to me at 30, vice versa and so on. I deeply appreciate this truth about art. It’s shamelessly subjective and it knows. We know. Every time we experience art we don’t know what our reaction or our response will be. We don’t know the answer… and there is no right answer. I only know what I want to experience… yet really I cannot say, at all, what that will look like. Given that I cannot know if I will want to experience the same things in decade… art has no anchoring in the objective for me. What is popular/acceptable is this: enough people in agreement… on the work itself and on the parameters that judge the work. Popularity has immense commercial usefulness but it does not automatically give the subject of popular agreement, a correlational identity with truth. What matters… can take a while to find… discover or realise. (Aside: In a culture that idolises youth, if we were to question the values that created the commercial industry of that culture to begin with, what would we discover?) 

What was mundane and ordinary… can become extraordinary given the passage of time and the thresholds we cross in life. Truth can still be relative. I’m certain… not because the art or the scene has changed… but because we’ve bloomed with understanding. Because life inevitably expands our perspective. 

Whether art is subversive, reactionary, off the wall or in service to commerce or a purpose like advertising, it remains, a reflection of the artist’s relationship with their world, what they see and what percolates within them. Art is the medium that reveals life through a multitude of lenses and life is reflected in the meaning we make out of it. 

Sand