Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Christianity Today kindly, happily, and quite providentially to my Reformed-ish mind decided to run an edited version of a post I wrote for my church here in Durham, NC, "Artists in the Nursery." While the CT piece is explicitly intended to run in one direction, by encouraging artists to consider the possibility that service in a church nursery or any other "ordinary" ministry of the church might be good to both their humanity and their artistry, I just as easily could have written the piece in the ostensibly opposite direction, by encouraging the church to consider the ways in which artists, by what they do best, can effectively serve the worship and mission of the body of Christ.
But I didn't.
Instead I could hope that it might be obvious to anyone who knows me or this blog that I 100,000% believe the latter is just as true as the former. I edited a little book to attempt to prove the point. I write about it constantly on this blog. I speak about it here and there. I run an annual retreat to bring arts people and church people together, which, if you've never had a chance to attend, I heartily recommend you come to our next one. It's a blast. I serve as a board member of Christians In the Visual Arts. And I'm married to a wonderful artist, the lovely Phaedra Jean, who will ensure that I never, never, ever forget how hard and how wonderful it is to be an artist, especially one who wishes to remain faithful both to Christ's church and to her specific vocation in the public square.
(By the way, if you're looking for affordable, beautiful, carefully crafted, whimsical or devotional or "fine" artworks for Christmas, check out her online shops: here, here and here.)
The point is, though, that the former (i.e. the "family chore" ministries of the church) gets too easily forgotten, particularly by the fiery, loner, "exceptionally-special" artist type, so I felt that it needed a little cheer amidst the rank of artists. I also felt that nursery workers and by proxy other ministries of the church needed a little cheer too, especially at a time of the year when things feel so overwhelming. As I mentioned to my older sister in a recent email exchange about the piece:
"My aim, for what it's worth, isn't so much to "make a case" for nursery service nor to admonish artists outright, but to nudge artists, and by extension other folks in the church, to consider something they may not have considered before and perhaps even feel encouraged to give it a try."
I'll be happy if I've been able to accomplish 10% of this goal.
And now to bring my percentage comments to a conclusion, I am 100% in favor of the church and I am 100% in favor of artists, for all the ways in which each, in their own distinct ways, under the common call of Christ to love one another sacrificially, is able to serve the other, and we together are able to serve the good purposes of Father in the world, precisely because the Holy Spirit enables us to love in ways that seem impossible, undesirable or just plain difficult, for the glory of God and the winsome witness of the church in the world.
There. I ended with a little trinitarian prayer. Not bad. Oh, and here is what the "bearded arts guy" looks like, if you're stopping by for the first time.
A happy first week of Advent to you all.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
My good wife (Phaedra Jean) is participating in a really fun event this weekend. It's called The Rock & Shop Market, and if you're within driving distance of Durham, do check it out. What's the Rock & Shop? The short version is that it's "a hip shopping event that features over 75 juried emerging artisans and makers from the Southeast and beyond. These artisans sell their wares alongside bands, djs and food trucks." The middle version is this:
"The Rock & Shop Market is a one-of-a-kind shopping experience; an indoor fashion, art & music flea market featuring emerging, independent local and national designers selling their wares plus live music by local performers. Started in 2004 by Michelle Smith, a local designer and online boutique owner, Michelle wanted to create a local market that would help support and celebrate the burgeoning indie arts scene of professional designers, artists and musicians in the Triangle and beyond. Inspiration for the Rock & Shop Market comes from similar fairs around the country including The Renegade Craft Fair, Bizaar Bazaar, Portland Oregon’s weekly markets and Feria Urbana."
Here is the long version. Here are directions to the place.
And here are some of the things that Phaedra will be selling:
1. Hand-embroidered Christmas ornaments
2. Modern quilted table runners
3. Christmas pom-pom garland
4. Tolkien quote tea towels
5. Tolkien and CS Lewis quote prints
6. Modern motivational prints
7. Giclee prints of paintings in three sizes
8. Hand-pulled linocut block prints
9. Small encaustic paintings
10. Vintage reproduction Christmas cards
11. Blank cards of my own design
12. And, yes, more.
Come on by, y'all.
Friday, November 15, 2013
This is part 2 of an extended series of pedagogical reflections, which, as you have probably already guessed, follows upon on part 1.
2. The lack of a common vocabulary with respect to art, theology and worship.
A lack of common vocabulary makes it difficult to engage a fruitful discussion in this field, especially when teachers and students use terms at cross-purposes. This is compounded by the fact that students will come un-equally prepared to discuss the arts, whether as a general category or with respect to any given media. As with any other discipline, the arts involve a high degree of specialized terminology, which few of us, unfortunately, have been trained to use intelligently. One common point of confusion is the term itself, art. Considering the multiplicity of contexts in which it is employed, from religion to commerce, from MFA departments to NFL Highlight Videos, the term can refer to a wide semantic range. What it means to classical Greek philosophical contexts will vary significantly from Medieval, Modern or contemporary contexts. At a popular level, for instance, the term is often, and regrettably, used synonymously with visual art. (Why this is so continues to befuddle me. It also leads to curious but persistent and not terribly helpful pairings such as “art and literature” or “art and music,” as if the latter did not also belong to the genus of art.)
A second arena of vocabulary will involve Christian theology. Here we have not only a linguistic problem, we also have a problem of general ignorance regarding the doctrines and practices of Christian faith as they have developed throughout history. While the lay Christian will have heard the term Trinity, for example, they may not fully understand what it means or why it matters. Liturgical historian Lester Ruth, to use a practical example, begins his worship courses by posing to his students the question, “If God is Triune, what does that mean for Christian worship?” If a student lacks sufficient grasp of this key doctrine, our ability to make fruitful connections between art, worship and theology will be significantly limited. This is compounded, in turn, by the polysemic function of the term “worship” in Holy Scripture.
What is the effect of this lack of common vocabulary? In the context of a classroom there will be the potential for repeated miscommunication.
How might I respond to this challenge? I could begin with an exercise that invites the students to participate together in a concentrated task. We could take one aspect of corporate worship, say the visual and architectural arrangement of space, and explore how this space reveals or distorts a christological understanding of the church. I could take the students through a series of questions:
· What do you see? What do you not see?
· How does this space frame the worshiper’s experience?
· What loves are being advanced by this space?
· What beliefs inhere in this space?
· To what ends does this space point the worshiper?
· How might the space need to change or be used differently in order to counter negative or deficient christological understandings and to form the people of God in a fuller experience of Christ, whom the Scriptures present to us as fully divine, fully human?
With this line of questioning, we might discover the ways in which art-related data (for example, ideas about physicality, the senses, the emotions, the imagination or beauty) might open up or close down certain christological realities (for example, ideas about God’s strangeness and familiarity, about covenant and table, about what it means to be “together,” about our en-earthed and contextual place in the world, and so on).
What would be the hoped-for outcome? A relatively efficient access to basic vocabulary related to theology, art and worship that might then generate a common vocabulary, a common space, and a more fruitful common task.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
I'm thrilled to announce that tap dancer Andrew Nemr, a guest at the recent IAM conference, will be joining us for our 2014 Laity Lodge retreat for ministers and leaders of artists. Here are two videos of his work along with an extended bio. We'd love for you to join us if you're able.
Mentored by Gregory Hines, Andrew is considered one of the most hardworking and diverse tap dance artists today. Whether playing with Nat Adderley Jr., directing CPD PLUS, or co-founding the Tap Legacy™ Foundation, Inc., Andrew has garnered a reputation for impeccable musicianship and sensitivity, and respect for the craft that he loves. A 2012 TED Global Fellow and the artist in residence for the Quarterly Arts Soiree (QAS) at Webster Hall, Andrew received an NEA Masterpieces: Dance Initiative Grant to reconstruct the works of classic tap dance soloists, garnering critical and popular acclaim upon their presentation in Echoes In Time. Collectively, Andrew’s choreography and solo work has been described as “a welcome return to the elegance of simplicity and the tap dancer as maker of aural magic” (exploredance.com) and “deeply touching” (Daily Gazette).
An experienced soloist, Andrew has performed in various venues nationally and internationally including the PNC Bank arts Center, NJ, La MaMa, Etc., NY, the Blue Note Jazz Club, NY, Town Hall Theatre, NY, The Duke Theatre, NY, and the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, England. Andrew was featured alongside Jazz greats Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Hank Jones, James Carter, and John Faddis in A Great Night in Harlem at the Apollo Theatre, NY, in support of the Jazz Foundation of America and, additionally on Harry Connick Jr.’s Only You Tour at Proctors Theatre, Schenectedy, NY. He has also been the featured tap dancer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra presenting Duke Ellington: The Sacred Concerts, and with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. Andrew performed regularly with the legendary Les Paul at the Iridium Jazz Club, NYC, and was a featured guest at his 93rd Birthday Show at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee, WI.
Nemr continues musical associations as a featured guest with the Nat Adderley Jr. Trio, Max ZT and House of Waters, the Jake Sanders Band, and with electronic musician Sean Hagerty. The 1to1 Project, an electronic/acoustic concept developed by Andrew and Sean Hagerty was selected as the closing act for the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival.
As a founding member and dance captain of Savion Glover’s TiDii, Andrew was featured in the critically acclaimed Improvography at The Joyce Theatre, NY, the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival 2001, the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, the 2002 Winter Olympics Arts Festival, and the 2002 Nijinsky Awards in Monaco. Andrew was also the only tap dancer to be featured in La Nuit Du Hip Hop (A Night of Hip Hop) in Grenoble, France, as part of the dance collective World Soul with Brian Green.
Under Nemr’s direction his tap dance company CPD PLUS (Cats Paying Dues) has been presenting critically and popularly acclaimed work since it’s debut in All For Love (2005, Mainstage Theatre at Playwrights Horizons). More recent seasons include Where the Music Lives (2008, Julia Miles Theatre, NY) and Echoes In Time (2009, LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, NY; The Egg, NY; Landmark on Mainstreet, NY). Other appearances include The QAS at Webster Hall (NYC), Jamaica Performing Arts Center (NY), The Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (NYC), the Wesleyan University Center for the Arts (CT), Williams College (MA), and Celebrate Brooklyn (NYC). Return performances include Norte Maar’s Fete De Danse (NY) the Tap Extravaganza (NY), DUMBO Dance Festival (NYC), and the Jerry Lewis Telethon (National Broadcast). The company has also been in residence at BRIClab (NYC) and the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center (NYC).
As a host Andrew’s sense of humor and giving nature have made his appearances more than enjoyable. He has been the host for Walking in Time at the Historic State Theatre, Ithaca, NY, in addition to a number of appearances as the host of the legendary Buster Brown Tap Jam at Swing 46, NYC. Andrew also co-hosted his own ongoing session Dance Attacks, with Hayes Greenfield, at Teddy’s in Williamsburg, NY.
In his efforts to continue to champion the art form of tap dance, Andrew co-founded the Tap Legacy™ Foundation, Inc., along with Gregory Hines, chartered to build a cultural center in New York City dedicated to tap dance. Tap Legacy™ produces programming aimed at re-igniting the oral history through which tap dance has been passed down over the years, while championing and promoting the craft’s history. As an extension of this mission Andrew directed the 2011 Tap Extravaganza – New York City’s Celebration of National Tap Dance Day and narrated DanceTime Publications first tap dance DVD, Tap Dance History: From Vaudeville to Film.
Andrew has been blessed to receive the guidance of many of the great tap dancers including Eddie Brown, Harold Cromer, Dr. Bunny Briggs, Dr. Jimmy Slyde, Dr. James “Buster” Brown, LeRoy Myers, Ernest “Brownie” Brown, Henry “Phace” Roberts, Dr. Henry LeTang, Mable Lee, Tina Pratt, Dianne Walker, Savion Glover, Ted Levy, and Gregory Hines.
Andrew holds a BFA in Computer Art from the School of Visuals Arts and is certified in the Active-Isolated Flexibility System by the Wharton Performance Group. Andrew is on the faculty of Steps on Broadway, NYC, and a guest faculty member of Broadway Dance Center, NYC. Andrew is a card-carrying honorary member of the Original Copasetics, Inc.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
|Artwork inspired by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi and named after his 1972 silkscreen, "Lots of Pictures, Lots of Fun."|
As I imagine myself teaching in the years to come, it is important to anticipate the sorts of pedagogical challenges I may encounter in a classroom setting. I have identified six challenges, and with each I describe a negative effect that may result, a possible response on my part, and a hoped-for outcome. I can't imagine that these challenges are wholly unique to my discipline (worship, theology, the arts), but I do think that they are worth stating out loud in the interest of a communal discernment process, which might in turn benefit the tribe of teachers who have chosen these fields (Christianity and the arts broadly conceived) as a primary or secondary vocation. I'll post each challenge in turn. I'll also say that these are thoughts-in-progress.
1. The hidden but potent assumptions that students bring to a discussion of worship, theology, the arts, and the church.
There are at least four kinds of assumptions which a student may bring to this complex discussion. Far from being neutral, these assumptions generate certain prejudices that open up certain learning possibilities and close down other learning possibilities. Put alternatively, a student's assumptions create a set of inertias for the teacher, where some of those inertias support the pedagogical aims of the teacher and other inertias resist those pedagogical aims. It is the difference, if you will, between a maximally fruitful learning experience and a minimally fruitful one. The first set of assumptions relate to the Scriptures. Students will likely have pre-conceived notions, for example, about what the imago connotes in Genesis 1:26-27, the implications of the Second Commandment (Deut. 5:8-9) for the visual practices of Christians, Jesus’ statement in John 4:23-24 that the Father seeks those who will worship him in “spirit and truth,” the phrase in the book of Hebrews regarding the era of “figures and shadows,” and the colloquial rendering of Second Corinthians 10:5, as “a vain imagination.”
Theologically, students will come with ideas about God’s so-called transcendence and immanence, the Spirit’s ostensibly “spiritual” activity, the relative importance of our bodies with respect to our souls, the relationship of "earth" over against "heaven" as well as of the visible and invisible viz the natural and supernatural, the relative theological "weight" of Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension for the public witness of the church, and the different social locations in which students work these ideas out.
Another set of assumptions will involve the cultural context of the students. If I teach the material in an American setting, students will carry with them, wittingly or not, deeply inbred notions about authority, history, liberty, happiness, progress and pragmatism. They will also carry with them certain dispositions generated by their respective media technology practices. If I teach the material in an west African setting, alternatively, students may come with strong feelings about the "spirit" world, the role of ancestors, the powers of evil, the web of relations within a tribe, a hierarchy of being, and the impossibility of living in the world without moving one's body.
Lastly, students will bring assumptions from their personal experiences. They may have had positive or negative experiences with any given art form. They may find themselves drawn toward or away from a style of art based on their personalities. They may have grown up in a church that appreciated certain art media but ignored or rejected other media. Significant authority figures in their life may have dismissed the whole affair with the arts or relegated them to a matter of indifference or a silly indulgence. And the church experiences that students will have accumulated thus far will, at some level, influence what they believe possible as well as desirable with art in relation to the church, on the one hand, and to the marketplace or world-at-large, on the other.
What is one negative effect that could result from such deeply held assumptions and, equally much, the conflicting assumptions amongst students themselves? The classroom dynamic may start off as a charged atmosphere and the student may feel a degree of wariness towards the teacher and fellow students.
How could I respond to diffuse this (possibly negatively) charged atmosphere? I could do several things. I could start off the class by sharing a personal story that discloses the tangled process by which I arrived at my current views on the arts. I could get the class to do a fun exercise. For instance, if I wanted students to understand the importance of words and punctuation for the poetry that we employ in corporate worship, I could read an excerpt from Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, and then show a slide of the common way in which Horatio Spafford’s hymn, “It is Well With My Soul,” is punctuated in the third verse and how that not only leads to bad poetry but also perpetuates bad theology. I could share instances in which I messed up royally during my years as a pastor. I could also begin with a “bottom shelf” exercise (as common as possible to this particular group of students) that eases students into the material and allows them to discover the ideas in a trustworthy learning space.
What would be my hoped-for outcome? Open minds and open hearts, willing to give new ideas an honest consideration.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
My first introduction to Neil Gaiman came in the form of a quirky animated movie, Coraline.
I was so taken by the storyworld that the screenwriter, Henry Selick, had created that I looked him up. There I saw that he had based his screenplay on Gaiman's 2002 novella by the same name. Curious to see what else he'd written, I checked out of the library Gaiman's Newbery Medal-winning novel, The Graveyard Book, in which he wonder-fully re-imagined Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, but in this case he places the child in a graveyard rather than in a jungle. From there, after a quick dip into his faerie story Stardust, I moved on to American Gods. This was not, I quickly discovered, a novel for the light of spirit. If the ancient Greek poet Homer had lived in the late twentieth-century and had written stories based on the gods, heroes and mythological creatures that occupied the American soil, then this is the novel he might have written. Gaiman's story is as disquieting and prescient, though not quite as masterful, as the Iliad or the Odyssey.
In any case, as an avid of reader of science fiction these days, I always look forward to see what Gaiman is up to, whether in print or for the silver screen or in the service of a graphic novel, as the case may be. Last week the English-born (but now Wisconsin-resident) writer gave a lecture at the Barbican Centre in London on behalf of The Reading Agency. It's quite good, even if a bit rambly.
You can find the whole talk here. Excerpts that particularly caught my attention have been included below. His ideas about reading make me think of Alan Jacobs' The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction and the title that John Wilson, over at Books & Culture, gave to the seminar he once lead at a conference I planned a few years back:
“The Contemporary Culture of Books, Literature and Ideas: Or What the Heck People are Writing About These Days and How All These Ideas Are Shaping the Imagination of Christians, Consciously or Unconsciously, Immediately or Eventually ... and Why This Matters to Churches.”
A more perfect title could not be concocted. But without further ado, here is Gaiman's lecture in bits and pieces.
"READING AND OBLIGATION" a lecture Neil Gaiman for The Reading Agency
I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons - a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth - how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based about asking what percentage of ten and eleven year olds couldn't read. And certainly couldn't read for pleasure.
It's not one to one: you can't say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.
And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.
Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it's hard, because someone's in trouble and you have to know how it's all going to end...
...that's a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you're on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a postliterate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading.
People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.
The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy giving them access to those books and letting them read them.
I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children....
And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You're being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you're going to be slightly changed.
Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.
You're also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it's this:
THE WORLD DOESN'T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS. THINGS CAN BE DIFFERENT.
I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved of Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him, Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
It's simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls....
According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. That's about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need....
Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.
I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us - as readers, as writers, as citizens: we have obligations. I thought I'd try and spell out some of these obligations here.
I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing....We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside....
We all - adults and children, writers and readers - have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different....
We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Don't leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world we've shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.
Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. "If you want your children to be intelligent," he said, "read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."
Friday, October 18, 2013
If as an artist you have ever been asked the question, "What does your art mean?", my guess is that your response was one of two sorts. You were irritated and disheartened by the question. Or you did your level best, after counting silently to ten, to provide a "grammar" by which your artwork might be more deeply appreciated.
The functional problem with this question is that the term "mean" carries a double sense. The more common sense in which it is used, in these circumstances, is to request an explication or dictionary-like definition. Works of art, of course, cannot be translated wholesale from one language (that of the artistic medium itself) to another language (that of Merriam-Webster's) without a loss of power (without a loss, that is, of an inherent "good" with its own inertia in the world), and so our best bet is to nudge our questioner towards a better question:
How does the work of art mean?
And with this sort of question, we come to George Macdonald who, in 1893, offered a fine, albeit brief, essay on the way in which a fairy tale "means." His point ably serves the rest of us artists, too, so I'm copying an excerpt of it here. Consider this your go-to response when next you are asked to answer the meaning of your artwork. You can go here to read the whole essay or you could get yourself a copy of George MacDonald: The Complete Fairy Tales too; and I warmly recommend a recent publication on GMD by my good friend, Gisela Kreglinger, Storied Revelations: Parables, Imagination, and George MacDonalds Christian Fiction. I'm guessing that the sheer beauty of his beard had something to do with his genius, but that's only a guess. What I can be sure of is the clarity of thought, which makes MacDonald's writing both compelling and accessible to a broad audience.
"The Fantastic Imagination"
"You write as if a fairytale were a thing of importance: must it have a meaning?"
It cannot help having some meaning; if it have proportion and harmony it has vitality, and vitality is truth. The beauty may be plainer in it than the truth, but without the truth the beauty could not be, and the fairytale would give no delight. Everyone, however, who feels the story, will read its meaning after his own nature and development: one man will read one meaning in it, another will read another.
"If so, how am I to assure myself that I am not reading my own meaning into it, but yours out of it?"
Why should you be so assured? It may be better that you should read your meaning into it. That may be a higher operation of your intellect than the mere reading of mine out of it: your meaning may be superior to mine.
"Suppose my child ask me what the fairytale means, what am I to say?"
If you do not know what it means, what is easier than to say so? If you do see a meaning in it, there it is for you to give him. A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it do not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.
But indeed your children are not likely to trouble you about the meaning. They find what they are capable of finding, and more would be too much. For my part, I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five....
"But words are not music; words at least are meant and fitted to carry a precise meaning!"
A fairytale, a sonata, a gathering storm, a limitless night, seizes you and sweeps you away: do you begin at once to wrestle with it and ask whence its power over you, whither it is carrying you? The law of each is in the mind of its composer; that law makes one man feel this way, another man feel that way. To one the sonata is a world of odour and beauty, to another of soothing only and sweetness. To one, the cloudy rendezvous is a wild dance, with a terror at its heart; to another, a majestic march of heavenly hosts, with Truth in their centre pointing their course, but as yet restraining her voice. The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended.
I will go farther. The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself....
Not what he pleases, but what he can. If he be not a true man, he will draw evil out of the best; we need not mind how he treats any work of art! If he be a true man, he will imagine true things: what matter whether I meant them or not?...
I say again, if I cannot draw a horse, I will not write THIS IS A HORSE under what I foolishly meant for one. Any key to a work of imagination would be nearly, if not quite, as absurd. The tale is there, not to hide, but to show: if it show nothing at your window, do not open your door to it; leave it out in the cold.
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
|Pablo Picasso as Popeye Retronaut|
While I find Picasso's choice of words infelicitous, the basic idea is clear enough when he writes, “We all know that Art is not truth," he says. "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” I actually think the Spanish-language version of this statement is much better: "El arte es una mentira que nos acerca a la verdad." Art is a lie that draws us closer to the truth.
One way, among many, in which it can be said that art is a lie is the way in which it edits life. Artists take the raw data of life and re-arrange it. The manner in which artists re-arrange things and the ends to which these re-arrangements are made are as nearly infinite as the interests and capacities of human beings. If filmmakers were to chime in at this point, they might say, "Editing is everything." And while every constituent role in the production of a film, from writer to casting director to makeup artist, is involved in interpretive-editorial work, there are people's whose specific business it is to edit the whole picture, and I have nothing but immense respect for their work which, when done well, remains largely invisible to the viewer.
If you've been around sports and "college dudes" websites, you've probably run across Devin Graham's work. If you haven't, it can perhaps be explained as videography that combines extreme "hobbies," ridiculously cool-looking people, killer photography, exotic locations and musical selections that will get you jacked up. I usually feel an immediate need to abandon my day job and join a high-end, North Face wilderness club, whenever I watch these things.
But the deceptive thing about Graham's work is how breezy it all looks. How much of a brain do you really need to film your friends doing crazy stuff in gorgeous places? Not much, right? Track it to your favorite tunes and you've got yourself an easy YouTube winner. Let me show you a few "Devin Super Tramp" videos and then qualify my question with a final video. You'll likely need to bear with a few advertisements, but an artist has to make his money somehow. (Getting hired by Ford automobile company helps, but it's more rare than not.)
Alright. If you're not feeling drunk by now on super-coolness, then you've probably been watching these videos with the sound turned off. I mean, c'mon: bronzed bodies, irresistible smiles, perfectly timed high-fives, hot gear, athletic prowess, slo-mo awesomeness? It's c-o-o-l.
If you're feeling visually overwhelmed, then, well, you're probably over 40 years old; alternatively, you're feeling normal.
If you're feeling a little insecure, wondering whether you need to get an upgrade on your friends or whether you should take a real vacation in God's country--earth, land or sea, as the case may be--then you've properly been sucked into the artificial world of art.
If it seems impossible to you how 3 minutes and 47 seconds of seamless TOTAL HAPPINESS can feel either like the most desirable or the most depressing thing in the world, then you may have forgotten Picasso's words.
If you think what Graham does is totally easy or totally fake, then you might benefit from watching this last video. It's a journal of sorts where Graham talks about his process. Even if you think his artistic ambitions are bogus, he deserves respect for the apparently unpretentious way he's gone about his work for years. Only now is he reaping the fruit of many, many hours of honing his craft in the solitary space of his high school bedroom (see here and here for two interviews, from WIRED and Deseret News respectively). And since he went to BYU, I'm guessing he's got pretty decent parents. But that would be speculating and I'd rather you notice the distance from process to final product that we hear about in the video below.