Calling All Artists, Thinkers, Writers

After going through my posts on the writing process, blogger 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, the 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 does not necessarily express 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 rich work was a window into 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.

Often honored as a process, art need not be defined by its 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 may sing in metaphor, 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. And the life in the womb: there is articulation, a little body forging 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 the 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 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 for conceiving 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 find 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 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

Once Upon a Ballroom

Once upon a ballroom
they noticed one another
in furtive glance of boy and girl

“May I have this dance?” he asked
permission to step into her
space and take her hand

She followed him out
circled her hips
swiveled and he smiled.

1-2-3-and-4, 5-6-7-and-8
He knew there’d be more ands
to the eight count and the turns

East had met West, Mars wooed Venus
but she was a cautious goddess
He eased into rhythm while
she tried to study her feet

They triple-stepped to Bobby Darin’s
Sunday in New York where she was from

Who knew eight months would bring
them back to that room in tux and satin ivory
to laugh and Sugar Push and spin?
For better or for worse.

Though she never did get the Shag and Balboa
now he, he says she made him ambitious

Over the years He learned
to stand tall, say No
She’s come around, to say Yes

And still he does not ask for much.
If he listens he’ll make out her
Thank You in the prosaic
music of the day-to-day

They’ve tripped,
loved     off  key
shouted for a different song

They’ve forgotten steps but the moment
she asks he will jump
to dance again.


Dance and Marriage: Metaphors

Dance. Marriage. They serve each other as metaphors.

The Story in the Dance
Part of the charm swing dancing held for me in my early California days was its expression of manhood and womanhood. I noticed right away that it anchored men in their responsibility
1) to initiate the relationship (from the sweet, genteel May I have this dance? still extant in ballrooms) 2) to lead his partner gently through to the end.

I could slide out to the floor knowing virtually nothing of the steps the song calls for, but ended up looking like a queen when I allowed myself to lean into the cues of my skillful partner. When I relaxed under his control, the dance turned out smooth, fun, elegant. He turned my wrist, knowing where he wanted to take me in the next part of the song, and my feet somehow followed. In strong, watchful arms, I even did aerials. I flew. When he was insensitive, busy enjoying himself; or plain clumsy, I got injured. On my part, I could usually attempt only moves my partner knew. No matter that I had just learned some cool steps in a class if he didn’t allow me to showcase them. The night I met my husband, he made room in the dance for me to spin and sashay hips in a way not usually done in Swing, blending my elaboration into his choreography. The times I tensed with other men, especially in the exasperated judgment that they didn’t know what they were doing, we went out of sync and lost cadence and harmony. Which meant that oddly, yes, when I swallowed the impatience and went along with the artless motions of a dud of a dancer, we actually ended up looking pretty okay as a couple. He could take lessons, and come back new and improved. But as long as he was a botch-up all I could do to salvage us in that dance was to go along.

The Story in the Marriage
The longer you stay married, the more you experience the ways you can keep in step with one another and enjoy the music or slip into a dysfunctional waltz where you keep tripping your partner: pull or push too hard, lead without seeing the other, or refuse to follow in trust. It really is a holistic journey, so simple we miss it. All a dance is, is a pattern. The Lindy, 123 and 4, 567 and 8. Repeat. It is math in music. A healthy relationship builds on a pattern of ingenuous courtesy. You keep in tune to each other’s wishes.

The video was taken at our wedding reception which we held at the ballroom where we had met. We couldn’t run for you the original music from the reception for copyright issues, nor could we shorten it readily so if you don’t have two minutes, please don’t bother seeing it through.

I’m clearly no dancer. Peter is a different story. It was his impromptu idea at the wedding celebration that we enact how he’d approached me that fateful night we danced as strangers. So I stood again on the very spot where he’d first asked me

to dance.

Postscript
I just realized it was today in May, nine years ago, that we met.  Happy Anniversary, Honey. Sorry I kept talking about dancing with other guys.

Dancing With the Stars – in Riverside, CA

My husband, Pedro in the BraziliIMG_2167an world of music, teaches Samba drumming to a group of Samba dancers. A month ago, his class from Julie Simon’s World to Dance studio participated for the second time in The Inland Empire Dancing with the Stars competition, an annual fundraiser for the Janet Goeske Foundation. Every year five couples are chosen and paired up with choreographers or studio owners in Riverside. So Julie taught and trained an elderly couple how to dance. The MVPs of the city comprise the panel of judges and include the Mayor and city council members. Because Pedro started teaching at World to Dance last winter, this was the first time drumming played a part in the local Dancing with the Stars.

Pedro helped touch off the extravaganza with a grand surprise. His students interrupted the welcome announcements with their boom boom parade into the room. (You have to know: Samba drums are LoUD.) I got an email of this photo just before their opening number. My fun-loving husband wanted to show me how he’d decked himself out for the night. Back at home he told me he had always felt self-conscious performing Samba without a costume. “Uhhh…you felt self-conscious WITHOUT a costume??” Couldn’t wrap my brain around that one. He explained that he felt naked next to all the dancers in glitzy, colorful array. So he seized the occasion to don the disco wig he for some inexplicable reason had on hand. No one cared that Pedro was mixing music genres. His outfit, like the percussion and dance pizzazz of his group, was a smash hit. And yes, for those echoing the question I’ve gotten before: he is full-blooded Korean.

Julie came in first place again this year.

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