Today, waiting to hook up with some friends, I'm sitting near some guys having an engaged and lively conversation. Mostly the conversation isn't much interesting; it drifts in and out of my consciousness as I abandon passages from my book to watch for my friends. I catch a bit about Microsoft's monopoly (which, they were all agreeing, is as it should be); the virtue of the electronic tablet/phone, and how to use LinkedIn to rise up in the IT world.
Then I catch something about the shaping of western society that seeks to trap us like a mice in a maze, caught in the web of commerce via mortgage, cars and children. When we get all those things – the house, the children, the cars, we're falling in line with the plan. The guy leading that bit says, with pride, he has no house, no car and no kids, therefore he is free, unlike most of us suckers. "Hooray for you" I think as I see my friends walk into the coffee shop.
Then I'm hearing him say that art was supported by the leaders of captialism as an opiate, to cause us all to follow willingly into that trap. "It was all part of the plan," he says. "Art keeps us complacent and stops us from thinking for ourselves."
I'm perplexed, wondering if he's saying working in an office at a computer is a more honourable calling than making art. More siginificantly, could one really believe that art makes us not think? That goes against every grain of my understanding.
But then as I greet my friends, I hear the words "opera" and "pop stars" and "sports heros" in the sentence supporting the art=opiate assertion, and then I understand: that guy's experience with "art" is nothing like mine.
Later as I'm walking home I'm thinking it's really sad, how it must be to not know art as something that makes you look beyond the standard, something that challenges your thinking, that causes you to look below the surface at the many layers of things (including yourself).
And I'm feeling lucky that art is all of that for me. So lucky that I'll call it beautiful thing number 88.
My good friend Jamie has jumped into the 365 project fray with her wonderful art. It was Jamie who got me exploring aspects of art and creativity I'd abandoned for decades. It was Jamie who introduced the idea of expressive or therapeutic art to me, and it was because of Jamie that I ultimately wanted to share all this through teaching story writing classes. Check her out at the link below, you'll love her work and her ideas.
"I don't want to analyze myself or anything, but I think, in fact I know this to be true, that I enter the world through what I write. I grew up believing, and continue to believe, that I am a screw-up, that growing up with my family and friends, I had nothing to offer in any conversation. But when I started writing, suddenly there was something that I brought to the party that was at a high-enough level." —Aaron Sorkin
This morning I’m watching a young guy sketch people on the subway. I’m an observer of an observer. I’m captivated by his surreptitious search for detail and the subsequent concentration in getting what he sees onto the page of his sketchbook.
I get to imagining what the young man’s eyes are seeing in the short amount of time he has to create the images. Line? Space? Plane? Perspective? Or is he, like I so often am, imagining what lies beneath the surface – what is it about that changing furrow in a brow, that curl of a lip, what thoughts are washing over that face looking at itself in a window’s reflection?
The artist is young enough that I can guess he is still at the point of the former, working to strengthen his skill before attempting to convey the layers of his subjects’ humanity into his drawings. But then I also expect that the more an artist becomes accustomed to seeing, the more evident those layers become. So what is going on under those lines and planes must be evident at some level of his consciousness.
As I watch him, aspects of tunnel walls and station platforms move in shifting formations in the window behind him, and people move in and out of his space with that air of muted resignation that morning commuters always have. What I see is a young man in a bubble; a bubble in the middle of a busy transit system, in the middle of rush hour, in the middle of a big city, amongst thousands of people, most of whom are working very hard with various means to ignore and avoid the unpleasantness of experiencing each other. And I feel grateful to have encountered this one person who is striving to do the opposite – to see them.
And for that, the young man seeing is beautiful thing number 27 of 101.
I have always loved the way autumn leaves leave their ghostly impressions on the sidewalk after a rain.
Today I was thinking those ghost leaves remind me of us. We put ourselves out there, hoping to leave an impression on our corners of the world. Isn't it wonderful when we find out we do?
Think of the ghost leaves as a reminder.
I can find beauty in the seediest parts of any city. Beauty is easy to find if, if you believe as I do that it has many more layers than that which sits on the surface of a thing or a person.
But then there is the kind of beauty that transforms you, the kind the Romantics explored. I’ve experienced this kind of transformative beauty a number of times in my life, and it’s always the product of me encountering some work of art or some aspect of the natural world. I valued beauty even as a kid, and that’s probably why I found such power in studying Romantic literature in university. When I found these poets writing of sublime experiences in encountering beauty, I got it, because I’d been there.
I was about sixteen when I sat in an art history lesson and saw slides of Michelangelo’s Pieta. It was the first seed of an idea that I’m now certain of: that great artists channel a source that moves beyond the confines of human understanding. I experienced a similar conviction about witnessing the transcendent when I studied John Keats and his achievements during his short stay on this planet.
Encountering divine splashes in nature has had even more startling impact on my sensibilities. A northern Ontario forest floor carpeted with trillium; the ancient rocks on the shore of the Manitoulin Island; great masses of bluebells covering the rolling, lusty landscape of mid-Wales; farm fields of yellow mustard radiating a colour you wouldn’t believe existed if you didn’t see it with your own eyes.
The most arresting encounter with the sublime in nature was in a forest next to a monastery and retreat I visited in Finland over the Orthodox Easter weekend some years ago. Saturday church services ran all night, and most of the visitors to the retreat had attended. I awoke with the sun, feeling some regret that I didn’t attend any of the services, feeling shy and out of place in my Presbyterian upbringing and largely secular sensibility. When I walked outside Sunday morning I felt very alone – everything on the compound was closed up tight; everyone was asleep but me. So I went for a walk.
I headed into the woods adjacent to the monastery grounds. Not far in, I was stopped short by the sight ahead of me. The sun was spilling its pale, shimmering ribbons through the dark contrast of the trees, landing in golds and pinks on the snowy forest floor. The picture was so stunningly beautiful I cried, knowing for certain I was being presented with a divine gift. I wondered for a moment if I’d stumbled onto heaven.
Perhaps some would say it’s simply a way of feeling, of exploring sensibility and one’s ability to pay attention to the experience of encountering magnificence. I am not a religious person, though I have experienced transformative moments of beauty in churches. I suppose I find more certainty in the tangible, finding the divine in great artistic accomplishments and the spontaneous magic in nature rather than through any strictures of organized worship or scientific rationalizations.
For me, these spontaneous experiences and the subsequent emotion and inspiration that result are the most convincing evidence that we are living in a magical world. Really, you couldn’t convince me otherwise.
And he, with many feelings, many thoughts,
Made up a meditative joy, and found
Religious meaning in the forms of Nature!
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Fears in Solitude
Story Copyright © Jennifer Morrison 2010
My bloggy pal Selma wrote a story about an artist and a poet called Donald yesterday. If you've read me for any length of time, you'd know that it's my kind of story.
It's a story about beauty, about discovering how to see it and being thankful for the gifts we are given - those kinds of gifts that form who one becomes over the course of a personal evolution.
Go read Selma's story here. It's called Artist in the Park. And it's the twenty-sixth beautiful thing in my thirty days of finding them.
I was born into a line of creative people. It’s a family that values and shares and supports creativity and there are many of us, spanning generations, exploring all kinds of arts related pursuits in many forms.
My father has expressed his artistic self with visual arts and music all his life, and one of the things I love most about him is what one might call “creative industriousness.” He likes to find creative solutions to little problems and tasks using available implements and recycled materials. Whenever he would visit us at our old house in Windsor he would go around and fix and patch up and repair, and after he left there was always a warm pleasure and satisfaction in at least one small thing looking or functioning better.
My dad’s workshops are stocked with implements and tools collected over a lifetime, and in other peoples’ lifetimes. When he inherited the shed and workshop that went with the cottage he bought on the island, he got with it a world of items and mementos and tools collected by the previous owner Kathleen. For anyone with the mildest interest in history (and love of workshops and studios like me), that workshop is a treasure. Dad spends parts of every day out there in spring and summer, listening to CBC Radio One and working on any number of creative projects.
Like his model ships – an ongoing endeavour. The project began with a detailed prefab model given to him to assemble by a friend some years ago, and now he plans them and handcrafts them from his own design and materials, based on pictures and archival data he digs up. It’s a patient, detailed process, taking a season or a year to complete one ship. Many of the tiny details on his ships are crafted from items we overlook and pitch out in the daily scheme of things.
And then there are the birdhouses, my stepmother Julie’s project with her pal Jan: “Bent Nail Productions.” Dad builds the structures, again recycling materials at hand, and Julie and Jan embellish and sell them.
My dad gets industriously creative in the old cottage gardens, where he plants marigolds and splits perennials and restarts old geraniums from year to year and grows snap peas just for the pleasure of eating them raw.
Dad gives little kids drawing tips and lessons on creating perspective on a page. For me he’s tackled fixing almost anything, even plumbing, which he does not enjoy but he does it because he can. Dad gets great satisfaction from creating things with his hands, finishing them with uncompromised care and meticulousness the rest of us can barely comprehend. And he puts his own creative stamp on every iced cake served at family events.
My father appreciates individuality and old things and beauty, and all my life he’s been my creative inspiration. Of my favourite places to be in the world are with him in his creative spaces. I feel lucky that I’ve inherited his artistic perspective, and for many reasons more than that, I’m glad I get to be his daughter.