Wishing Well

“Mimi, what do you wish for the most?”

I couldn’t speak. The question distilled my deepest desires down to sudden tears that stung.
Only later did I realize the knee-jerk response hadn’t been to play with The Royal Philharmonic.

I swallowed the truth that would sadden my niece. To deflect her attention, I whispered,
“What do you wish for, Golden Girl?”

She didn’t hesitate.
“For there to be only goodness and kindness in the world.”

What do you wish for the most?

The Art of Blogging

We have some great blogs that teach us about SEO, tags, back-links, Google encryption. I will never outgrow them because I believe in the science of all things. You have to learn, at least be introduced to, the Rules. Know the proper form of a Lindy or a lay-up. Unlock the mechanics, drill, know what it means to be accurate in your field. The thing is, machines are built for precision. In fact, we can program synthesizers to play on their own.

But art is more than accuracy.

When my son and I run our eyes over the drum solo for the week, it reads a little like a foreign language. It is hard at first because each one he masters earns him pieces that are incrementally more challenging. My goal isn’t for him just to play the notes right for his instructor in seven days. Once he’s figured them out, I want him to get the piece under his skin, hear and then answer what the composer is asking of him. Translate it as he (not his classmates, mom, or dad) can, and sing it with his hands. His whole body moves differently when he gets there. If he were graduated to the next solo just for having learned to mimic the notes, he wouldn’t be participating in the art. And that is the point of the music. We don’t watch Josh Groban for his technique. He’s got that. We want to hear what he does with it. We want to be touched by beauty. It is not for the intelligence of the chords that we close our eyes to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with reverence. It is for the pathos and longing they resound.

So is art something you can learn? How about the art of blogging?

In his book Fresh Off the Boat, Eddie Huang remembers 7th grade football when he was a social runt desperate to fit in. Listen to what he says about the kid he was pitted against:

For the next three weeks, literally every day, Coach Rock named me player of the practice. I was an animal. Other people couldn’t compete. They were playing a game but I treated it like life and death. The zenith was about six weeks into the season. We always played simulated games on Wednesdays, Offense vs. Defense, and that day I was lined up against this new kid, Jason…He was at least five inches taller than me, with long arms, but he didn’t know how to use them.

Know what you’ve got and know how to use it.

What does this mean for me as a blogger?

Waitress: So what can I get for you today?
Yours Truly: I’ll take Combo Number 6. But hold the sugar and MSG. Very easy on the sauce, please. Can I have some more greens? No, not broccoli. Not bell pepper. More collard, if you have. And no ice in the water. Is your water filtered? Never mind, then.

Yes! You thought you liked me. Duped you. Just be glad you don’t own the shops I frequent. Or homeschool in my house. But wait. You read this blog. You (actually…and really?) want to hang out with me. See, the flip side of my particular palate is the particular palate I blog with. This – my superhero ability to be a pain in the rear – is what I use in my favor as a blogger. I don’t want cafeteria food and I figure that though you may be easy enough, you wouldn’t mind something better either. I order it for you just so before you sit down with me. It’s my exacting nature behind the topics and every word I choose, and the goals I set, that have built this blog. Some of you have a profound gift of encouragement that shines brilliantly in the comments. Now that will get you far in the blogging. Are you a social butterfly? Or is it your insight, storytelling, wit, sarcasm, passion, empathy, knowledge, creativity, or personality that you have going for you? Whatever it is, you make me so happy when you finish your plate.

Ruthless Blogger

Mr: So if I start blogging would you proof my posts and promote my site?

Mrs: *Disbelief* You gotta build your own readership.

Mr: Hey, being married to the Holistic Wayfarer must come with benefits. I provide the house you live in.

Mrs: I gave you Tennyson. *Wild card never fails*

Mr: I contributed half. *Shoot*

Mrs: I slaved to build my blog. You think you can just ride on my coattail? I never mentioned A Holistic Journey in my vows.

Mr: *Ten minutes later* I want a cut of the blog royalty later. I’ve given you post ideas.

Mrs: Man does have a point.

Calling All Artists, Thinkers, Writers

After going through my posts on the writing process, Kevin commented that I seem to “write with intent rather than for ‘mere’ expression.” A lot of his poetry arose from the fun of it and the wish to express himself in a particular way. He also asked if I always analyze what I read, if I ever read just for the pleasure of it.

Which leads me to ask you: what is art?

First, Kevin’s question on reading. I don’t pick apart to death everything I read – in part for the small matter of time. As for intent, let’s visit some accomplished artists. I would almost kill to be able to ask Michelangelo, “Can art be a whim? An accident?” Did he ever “merely” express? Can art be spontaneous? My right-brain readers are nodding away. Can art be discovery? The Sam Francis exhibit that once ran at the Pasadena Museum of California Art showcases some extraordinary work by a most interesting painter. “Paintings are my thinking,” Francis said. “Not about anything…They perform the unique mathematics of my imagination.” Is there then such a thing as chance in the art of mathematics?

Could we consult the Ancients in their wisdom? To this end, I veer off a bit to share some relevant thoughts on my blogging and the homeschooling that converged two years ago. A few months into the blogging, I came to see that what I’d been drawn to exploring on this blog were truth and beauty. Not long later in a seminar on Classical homeschooling, the speaker elaborated on the model I had chosen for our family; it was in essence about truth, beauty, and goodness. I was floored. We went on to hear a podcast featuring Andrew Kearn of the CiRCE Institute on the goal of education, which brought to light the meaning of the liberal arts. I’ve scaled it down to highlight some parts that bear on this post. Which of these insights resonate with your work?

geo-roundel-flower-13Liberal spawns from the Latin liber [free]. Without these arts, we cannot know the fullest extent of human freedom. The Hebrews and a good many of the Greeks were the only ones in the ancient world who believed truth is knowable. Freedom is intimately related to perception of the truth. Education is learning to see deeply into the truth or essence of whatever is before you – be it spouse or garden. To see beyond the “accident of it,” the things that come and go. The lost tools of truth-seeking are the liberal arts: the art of grammar, dialectic, rhetoric (which make up the Trivium of communication); and arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy (the Quadrivium of calculation).

Harmony

The Greeks looked at how people communicate. What leads the community to truth, to harmony? If a good man or woman speaks effectively, that is the glory of rhetoric. The mind wants harmony. Math is the ability to find this in the universe. If I tell you 2 + 7 = 5, you feel the disturbance in your mind. Astronomy is the study of shapes moving. Planet literally means wanderer. The Greeks discovered that when you examine the movement of the stars, you see patterns. Your mind can be disciplined and ordered to see things you cannot see any other way. Same thing for reading or learning another language. If you can’t do either, there is no way someone can get you there virtually. The way you know a scientific theory is by its beautiful harmony.

This approach to learning took my breath away. And it happened to dovetail this post I had been mulling over two months. What is art? To what extent is achieving harmony or articulating the essence of something the goal in your dance, your sport, your music? What is it about your painting that begs visual utterance? Do you find you’ve been in pursuit of ancient and timeless virtues? Beauty is not necessarily happiness or cheerfulness. There can be great beauty in brokenness and sometimes, it is only among the ruins you find treasure. Years ago I looked regretfully upon some morose paintings by a gifted artist who had grown up in a nudist colony and believed she had a bipolar disorder. Her works were rich and told of a dark psyche. I felt they would reach her promise if her painful confusion were redeemed. I’ve said in The Writing Process, Part 1: Color that the darkness is an easy way in through the door of inspiration. But I now feel great art is more than bleeding all over the page.

Art is a process and need not be a solution or product. But does a story not have a point? A reader quoted for me from My Life and My Life in the Nineties by Lyn Hejinian, “the anticipation of the pleasure of making sense.” In my writing, this expectancy is the wee hours of dark that prelude the stream of dawn, the knowing stillness almost as thrilling as the satisfaction of breaking light on the landscape of my intention. The objective, to get across exactly what I’m seeing. Though a poem sings in metaphor, does it (should it not) sustain a coherence that draws assent from the reader? Is art random? Take the greatest masterpiece we can name, the human body. Illness is simply disharmony. As for the life in the womb, there is articulation. The little body forges ahead in full purpose. Though to elaborate would be another post entirely – indeed I find order, truth, beauty, goodness in our wondrous frame.

I’m thinking aloud for the answers, surveying the fields of virtuosity. Instinct whispers that there is a difference between war and the art of war. There’s straightforward violence. Or the boxer who flails struggling at the level of technique, trying to get the moves just right. But observe the fighter who executes with fluidity the right tactic among all the possibilities in that moment, and be enthralled by elegance. Through my brief time in mixed martial arts, I came to see the brilliance in the problem-solving we call fighting. I now understand the sense and logic of the art. It is geometry – angles, lines, space in motion. Just shift and turn to create the space your opponent wants to deny you and you can make your way out. Fighting is chess. I love the Greek appreciation of AgatasGuitardisciplining and enlarging your mind to possibilities. The thousand drills you hammer into muscle memory are the tools to conceive your art. The unspeakable beauty of ballet is borne of training and toil, from endless run-throughs that demand reflex and mastery. I agree with Miles Davis that more than the sight-reader, the musician is the one who can improvise. But you need to know the grammar of the music to be able to create at levels above, though some who have gone without the training know it by instinct. What I’m getting at is that art comes by merit. The endowment suggests a certain caliber of performance, of craftsmanship.

Which then incites the question whether something can be art at either the elementary or exploratory stage. How about your kids’ fun on construction paper? We don’t hold up the canvas of children’s imagination against the expression of Monet’s, but isn’t there, shouldn’t there be a standard of measure within a given range of age or capability? Here I circle back to my beloved. Standard.

As I set out in my writing and my son’s learning two years ago (as it turned out, upon the same road), I accepted the guidance of the virtues named in the Classical world. As marvelous our fascination with the Minotaur, so we cheer Theseus on and breathe again when he rids Crete of the senseless terror. The living nightmare makes for a great tale but we don’t really want to live in fear and endless night. We hunger for the true, beautiful, and good because for these we were made.

Photo credits in order of appearance
wildersoul.wordpress.com
agatasartcorner.com

The Evolution of Beauty

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Here’s a neat one-minute run through 100 years of beauty in Korea, an interesting history slide. Another Youtube mentions how the shifting political and economic climate shaped the country’s ideals of beauty. From 1910 through the 40s under Japanese colonialism, Koreans felt their overlords looked more attractive and sought to emulate their style. When the North and South split, the Communist ideology of industry and egalitarianism encouraged the picture of the happy, vibrant laborer while Capitalism imported Western glamor trends into a country that I would add was hungry for development and voice. Do you see your American or European wife, mother, grandmother in the video? I caught an NPR clip last month that noted how both frivolous and serious the world of fashion is. I’m seeing it isn’t just at the personal and cultural levels we make a statement by our appearance. Fashion is also a politico-economic expression of a country.

Once you tap in, the sidebar offers a look at 100 years of beauty in many other countries: