Recognize The Art [on Flawed Wednesday]

The snow was too dry. My snowman fell apart when I put the head on. “It doesn’t have to look like a snowman to be a snowman,” Kerri said to cheer me up.

“Maybe it’s modern art!” I quipped, using my if-it’s-a-mess-call-it-art default statement. As I walked down the trail, away from my unsuccessful snowman, I wondered when incoherence had become included in my definition of art.

I am and have been these many months doing some soul searching and life review. Walking down our snowy trail I remembered working with a dying theatre company. The first step in restoring their health and vitality was to help them face a simple truth: that they made the “art” did not necessarily make the “art” good. In fact, the “art” could not be good until their criteria for “good” wasn’t about them.

The challenge with “art” in the modern era is that it is nearly impossible to define. For purely masochistic reasons I looked up the word ‘art’ in the dictionary and nearly fell asleep before I finished reading the definition. “A diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory, or performing artifacts…” Artifacts? The last lap of the definition reads, “…intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Beauty. Emotional power.

Of course, the contemporary world is awash in conceptual art and I read in my dictionary that this form of art, dating back to Duchamp in 1917, “…abandoned beauty, rarity and skill as measures.” Bananas taped to the wall. Statements.

Beauty abandoned. No emotional power necessary. But still “art.”

Art is, I’m told by historians and other scholars, a mirror of society. It is reflective of the era in which the artist lived. What a society values is made apparent in their art. It’s true.

Art, I believe, has a power and purpose far beyond mere appreciation. It is more than a mirror. It generates identity. It pulls disparate individuals to a common center. It affirms connectivity. It awakens us – and provides access to – that which is greater than any single individual. It bonds. It affirms. It transforms.

I wonder if our art, often so unrecognizable, sometimes incomprehensible, dependent upon curatorial interpretation, not concerned with beauty or rarity or skill or any other discernible measure, is not the perfect reflection of us. Narcissistic. Statements. Each day I am, like you, met by a tsunami of stories in the daily news revealing our collective confusion, our collapse of values, a commons at war with itself fueled by leaders stoking division for personal gain. Bananas taped to the wall. It is – we are – in our daily tales – so conceptual – so void of beauty or rarity or recognizable skill or measure – that it requires an anchor/curator to tell us why it – or we – might have meaning.

And then, just when I wonder if we are hopelessly lost, Amanda Gorman stepped up to the mic. The one true test of artistry is that we know it when we see it. No curator necessary. We are, we were, for a moment, bonded together in a way that no politician, no historian, no concept will ever understand or achieve.

I see it alive in Mike, and David, and Mark, and Chris. It glistens every time Kerri sits at the piano or composes a poem. It is not a mess though sometimes skill meets a happy-accident and, like penicillin, something healing emerges.

When we are washed away into the annals of time, what will be our art-love-letter to the future? What legacy – and art is a legacy – will we leave behind? What will I leave behind?

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWMAN

for kicks, Kerri made a Snowman mug. Go here to get it

Choose To See [on Flawed Wednesday]

If there are angels, they speak to me through books. Today’s post is a perfect example. We often choose our melange quotes and images a week ahead of time. The point is to NOT know what to write about until we sit down to write. That is the game we play. See what pops up. This morning, I opened Anam Cara, my current slow-read-book, and John O’Donohue’s thought-string could not be a more perfect angel.

“The human eye is always selecting what it wants to see and also evading what it does not want to see. The crucial question then is, What criteria do we use to decide what we like to see and to avoid seeing what we do not want to see?”

I’m hard pressed to find a more appropriate quote for our times. People deciding what they like to see and evading what they do not want to see. In gentler times – in healthier times – people are more willing and capable of challenging their criteria for seeing. Learning, in this sense, is nothing more or less than seeing what was previously unseen. Expanding the criteria.

“Many limited and negative lives issue directly from this narrowness of vision.”

Sadly, we do not live in healthy times. Isn’t it true that our national divide is predicated on NOT seeing? Contraction of thought, reduction of thinking, shrinkage of seeing is the rule of the day. Dedicated narrowness of vision is a necessary prerequisite for clusters of red hats to gather unmasked during a pandemic and cheer for a grifter. Conspiracy theories like Q are only possible when NOT seeing is more vital than seeing. Fox news depends upon viewers dedicated to narrow vision.

“To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed…It is sad that a greedy person can never enjoy what they have because they are always haunted by what they do not possess.”

Leona Helmsley and the current occupant of the White House are doppelgangers. Motivated by “naked greed.” I once directed a version of The Taming of the Shrew that dove headlong into the question of what happens when people try to fill their spiritual void with possessions. The short answer is that they twist and become grotesque. They bloat and become blind. You’ll never find a better image for the “greedy eye” or the current potus than Paul Cadmus painting of Gluttony & Greed.

“This greed is now poisoning the earth and impoverishing its people. Having has become the sinister enemy of being.”

Expanded seeing is the gift given to those who orient on this earth according to what they bring. Narrowness of vision is the result of those who orient on this earth according to what they get. It’s no longer a mystery why we are so divided. It’s now our choice to either see or to evade what is right in front of our eyes.

Read Kerri’s blog post about THE LITTLE PEOPLE