L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Until Autumn

Bless the trees that lag behind and keep their color
Bless the stubborn leaves that refuse to let go
They're not ready yet,
And neither am I

Bless the souls of fern,
implanting themselves in the newly-wet, blossoming moss,
Curling out fresh, vivid tendrils,
This isn't the end of anything; look at what I've done,
All the fading is a lie

Bless the twigs and chaff
And fallen leaves, anyway,
That hide the mud on the path
Bless the birds that sing and sing
With no tomorrow

Bless the blue sky, bright as any Summer
Bless the fingerprints of windowpanes,
Slanting hard on the wood floor
Bless the sun warm on the bed
Bless the chin-high covers
Bless the waking brightness,
And eyes wet with sun

Bless the brain soft from sleep
Bless the body hot from exertion
Bless the heart in its gauzy hopefulness
In all their landscapes of confused believing

For the moments of delusion that the changing could wait this time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Things are going pretty damned well for me right now in the art department, this career thing I've got going. I've got a new gallery - a really good one - in Seattle, and I've been asked to talk about my work at a symposium at the Tacoma Art Museum in April. Both of these things just dropped into my lap, and I couldn't be more flattered and grateful. For a while now, I've been working at my craft, doing good work but not really focused on anything else. Not thinking beyond the work to career. Treading water, really. But now, I feel like a door has been flung open and - to completely frappé my metaphors - I'm being asked to step up.

Step up.

The gallery in Seattle, Winston Wächter, has asked for new work for a show in January. One of the two I'm preparing is 36x24. Not really large by "industry standards", but larger than anything I've yet done as a professional artist. So large, that the little table-top easel I've always used just isn't able to accommodate it. I've had to acquire a real-deal floor-model easel. Large. With clamps and knobs and casters. Something that tilts and swings and gets locked into place. Solid wood and damned sturdy. In my whole life - from a small child - of making art, somehow I've never had a real, serious easel.

When I told Gigi that I was going to have to get one - in bed, getting ready to go to sleep - she quietly asked if I would let her buy it for me. Very touched, but knowing that it could cost several hundred dollars, I asked if maybe it would OK if she paid part of it. Contributed. But she said, just as quietly that, no, she wanted to buy it for me.

And just a few days later, she did. After we stuffed the huge box in the car - G actually had to assume the shape of a "G" in her half-folded-down seat to make it fit - after heaving it upstairs, and after yet another shuffling of the contents of the room we call the "studio", everything actually seems to fit. And I've started my big painting.

While not wanting to get too much into "our business", let me still say that G and I think and talk a lot about how we can support each other. As two very different people, with different expectations and needs - who love each other - we're always looking for ways to do that better. Just as people trying to grow and be more of who we want to be, are meant to be. And in all our many artistic endeavors. People need support in different ways. They need it delivered in different styles, even. For myself, I need a good share of "tough love". And when it comes to making art, I'm so easily distracted, so emotionally fluctuating - so squirrelly - that I often need a "stop, go sit down and get to work." And then, of course, I might argue the point. Because I'm rather a spoiled brat. (In case you didn't know that about me....) But, even if I do, I need it anyway. I need the support of someone telling me, "I don't care about your excuses, the art you want to make - need to make - is bigger than all that. Go get to work." I need some stern, to-the-point truth-telling.

So, this easel that Gigi bought me? This necessary gift? Could any metaphor for her support be clearer?! Solid, sturdy, serious. Large. Taller than I am and with a great capacity for expansion. To me it clearly symbolizes her belief in my talent and my goals, and her devotion to my dreaming and to my success. The way she supports me.

Et parce que ce soutien, je dis merci à toi, ma femme. Je t'adore.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

No leading 2

Knowing our limitations, being comfortable with them, also leaves us more room to admire and appreciate those people who have the qualities we don't.

A few weeks ago, on a Friday evening and the following Sunday afternoon, Gigi and I performed minor roles in a production of Ordo Virtutum, the allegorical morality play, written in the twelfth century by Hildegard of Bingen. (Read Gigi's posts on Ordo here and here.) We were part of the chorus referred to as - with perhaps more than a little hyperbole - the "Mega-Chorus" and we sang in sections near the beginning of the production and at the very end. And there were five places in between where, as a group, we declaimed Latin text; we were the voice of the devil.

Musical direction was by Ben Landsverk, stage direction by Stephen Marc Beaudoin, and movement/dance by Kaj-anne Pepper. A holy trinity, certainly. Ben Landsverk is - I'll say it again - a genius. Geniuses, like saints, don't get the credit they deserve; they make it look too easy. But I marvel at the cosmos of music and just plain - sound - that he must carry about in his amazing brain. Kaj-anne combines a beautiful playfulness with an absolute belief in what he is doing, what he is giving. And he always seems tuned in to some frequency the rest of us are missing. A celestial channel. One of my favorite parts of the production was experiencing Kaj, portraying the soul, bounding along the top rails of the pews, the whole length of the nave, turning back and glowering, like a winking demon.

The other highest points, for me: Gigi Urban, high above everyone, singing at the very top of her range, as the music crashed in around her - like lightning, like a sharp cloud-break. [she said it was really too high for her but, God, it so worked!]; Andy McQuery singing a solo, rocking in a rocking-chair, in the shadows, nearly unseen, his gorgeous, deep voice resonating - enveloping - the acoustical quality such that it was almost impossible to tell where this amazing sound was coming from; the Mega-Chorus rising mob-like out of a lull, randomly shouting "Euge! Euge!" (bravo) with shocking and unexpected bitterness; Stephen Marc Beaudoin's solo, embodying Mercy, twining around one of the pillars of the baldacchino, his aspect brimming with compassion, his beautiful voice - an amazing voice, so particular - circling and spiraling upward, almost bird-like.

Stephen is really the primary focus of this post. I don't actually know him at all that well - though he's always been charming and so sweet to G and I - but I have tremendous admiration for him and what he is able to accomplish. In all his many projects. It brings me back to what I was saying about being able to recognize those qualities we do not possess - and never will - and yet having such admiration for those who do. SMB is a fantastic leader. Which is very much a quality I would so love to have.

Almost any time I have tried to be a "leader of men" I have sadly failed. I never have the right words, I don't know how to encourage, I don't know how to get a group to "sign on" to the task that has been set. I begin to speak of the grand endeavor in which I ask them to participate, and all the happy faces begin to fold in on themselves; the atmosphere curdles. I am now grateful - most grateful - to be able to accept that leadership is not one of my talents.

As the stage director of Ordo, Stephen had just the right touch. The principals had a fair bit of rehearsal, I believe. But the chorus had only a few scant hours. And we were asked to do things that should have had more rehearsal. So we had to trust that we would be able to pull it off, and Stephen - by his charm, energy, and good-will - instilled that trust. And, maybe more importantly, he made us feel trusted. Trusted that we could hit our cues, follow direction, be a team; to do what needed to be done. He found exactly the right balance of humor and focus, working with us. And I felt, as I watched him do this, that he was constantly making adjustments in his thinking and communication, finding the right tone to take, deciding what issues he needed to push and what - to keep our enthusiasm, to nurture our self-confidence - could be let go. Always striving to balance artistic coherence and integrity and the well-being of the players; he wanted the performances to be spectacular, but he also wanted everyone to really have a great time.

Ben and Kaj-anne seemed to be working with us in completely the same way. All three of them subtly adjusting their expectations, letting go of what wasn't as important, encouragingly stressing the parts we really needed to get right. It was fascinating to watch. And all the more so for me, because I know that this kind of sensitivity and quick-witted wisdom was not a talent I was dealt. Bravo!

No leading 1

I do quite a few things rather well. To be honest...yes, I do. Some through natural ability, some through years and years of practice. Mostly, a combination of the two. And I'm not afraid, which is a huge part of any creative endeavor, putting inspiration into action or form. "I can do that - sure, why not!" But perhaps most importantly, I know my limitations. The older I get, the more I understand this, the more crucial I believe it to be.

We all have talents and skills of one sort or another, developed to a lesser or greater degree. And we all have dreams or ambitions or goals that involve those talents and skills. To me, the difference between success and abject mortification and disaster - out in the world or just subjectively personal - is to find the balance between those two things. To be able to assess what we can and can't do. To dream about the creation of something and waiting, if necessary, until the moment when we've developed our skills, our selves, enough to pull it off. I look at older paintings or performance and sometimes think, "Oh, I see what you were going for - bravo! - but you didn't quite get there, did you...?"

To be creatively ambitious is important for any artist, making any sort of art. To challenge ourselves, to grow. But I feel recognizing our limitations - somehow - and working with/working within those limitations is at least as important. Earlier this year I finished a painting that I began almost a decade ago. I'm currently working on another I started at about the same time. I don't know why I put them aside - not something that I do, once a thing has been fully begun - but I feel something in me said, wait. And my understanding of these two paintings and their very long blooming - one finished and publicly successful (see an explanation of this painting here.), one happily progressing - is, "I just wasn't ready until now." I somehow intuited that I wasn't yet capable of doing what I wanted to do.

And I think it's also very important to know what we'll probably never be good at. No matter how we want it, no matter how we struggle to master that quality or technique, I believe there are just some things we're not designed to do or be. I'd love to be a painter who is known for his beautiful brushwork - to be able to describe something accurately and meaningfully with just a flick or a drag or a blob - but my brain doesn't work that way. I'd love to be a tenor - or, better yet, a soprano! - but I have a low voice. There are so many areas of life - not just related to creativity, and much more subtle and logical than those two examples - where, if we could only allow ourselves to let go of our striving after the wrong, unnatural goals, we would have so much more energy to do the things we are meant to do, are uniquely designed to do.

To know what we can and can't do, to know what we are ready for and what we are not yet ready for, and to know what we really have no actual aptitude for, is very freeing.