The art of living. One way to see making progress with love is as an art, the art of living well. Living well is my art. As an artist of life I work to transform my messy disorganized contradictory life into a beautiful, meaningful work of art: a life full of love and creativity where I realize my human potential. A life free of self destructive habits and self-imposed limitations. I sculpt my life into the life I want by cutting out the harmful parts and refining the good parts to make them even better. I made no progress with the art of living well until I surrendered to Leela, aka my own internal authority. I do whatever is best for my deep health and wellbeing whether my thinking self wants to or not. The art of living well incorporates two other arts I love dearly: dancing and writing these pages.
Art vs. entertainment. Popular culture produces vast quantities of video and musical entertainment that gets called art, and its producers artists. To me a great deal of it is junk food for the soul, worthless and often mendacious dreck that keeps me stultified, happily snoozing my life away as a smug consumer. Art makes me work. I've devoted tens of thousands of hours to developing my two arts, dancing and writing. Years of hard work. I get far more value out of creating art than I do out of being entertained by it: watching, reading or otherwise consuming works by other artists. But consuming others' work has a place. Art has been part of my life ever since my dad got me started listening to classical music in the mid-1950s. Steeping myself in the work of great artists has been an important part of my spiritual quest all along. What I have to ask myself is, am I consuming this art as part of my spiritual quest, or am I just killing time? Artist or consumer, art has the power to elevate me, to ennoble me, to help me make progress with love. It also has the power to distract me, stealing the time I need to do the hard work of making progress.
Stopover. In the mid-1970s I signed up for an art appreciation class at FSU. I had first encountered painting and sculpture in the 1960s when I was living in Kenya. It woke something up in me, something I had no words for. I wanted to dig into those arts and get a better grounding in them. When I traveled to and from Kenya in the 60s, all the flights were routed through Europe. There were no direct flights from the US to Nairobi. Each trip offered a stopover somewhere in Europe: London, Paris, Rome, Athens.
Athens. In Athens I had an experience that had nothing to do with art, everything to do with addiction. I was hiking with my parents up Lycabettus and I'd forged on ahead. It was a Grecian day right out of a tourist brochure: sunny and hot but with a good breeze. I had walked too fast and I was losing steam. I saw a man with a pushcart selling drinks. I headed over to get something cold. I was disappointed to find he only had one drink, which looked like water. But I figured water was better than nothing and I could see it was cold so I ordered one. He gave me a funny smile and poured me a little glass of cold clear liquid. I started to take a big gulp, but I got a whiff of something in time to ratchet that back to a sip. I still almost dropped my dainty glass. I had unexpectedly scored some booze, and to a kid with an addictive mindset, any booze was good news. I sipped away, finishing what I now realized was a large serving before my parents caught up. I don't remember anything else about the day except I got a headache in the bright sun. I didn't learn what ouzo was till years later.
Rome. It was in Rome that art first reached out and grabbed me. Mom and I were on our way to a new life in Kenya. It was my first time in Rome, first time in Europe. We flew to Rome to meet my dad. He'd flown up from Nairobi to meet us. We had three days in Rome so we took in the sights. I saw Michelangelo's Moses in Saint Peter in Chains.
I didn't know any of that. I didn't know anything. I was just some kid. I was able to get up close to it, almost reach out and touch close. That sculpture shook me. It woke something up in me I had no words for. I just knew I wanted more. I remembered seeing replicas of his statues spread out on the sidewalk for the tourists. I got excited; I could buy a small version and take this feeling home with me. I rushed up to the first vendor I saw and picked one up. It was a spontaneous meditation, a moment of bewilderment and deflation. There was nothing there, nothing at all. Just a stupid piece of plastic, an oversized version of one of my green army men.
London. A few years later I had another memorable encounter with sculpture, this time in London. On one of my rambles I stumbled on the casting of Rodin's Burghers of Calais in Victoria Tower Gardens. This time I really could reach out and touch. I remember holding on to Jean de Fiennes's right index finger, so much bigger than my own. Rodin's sculpture moved me a different way. These men weren't bible heroes, they were just men. They looked defeated but still strong. I could relate to them more directly; they lived in a world that was a lot more like my world than Michelangelo's bible times. Again, I had no words for all this.
The class covered painting, sculpture, and architecture, once over lightly. It was a revelation to me; I didn't study art at all in school. Painting got the lion's share of class time, but I came away with new insights about all three of those fine arts, and a different grounding deep inside me about art in general. Later on this led me to study calligraphy at Naropa.
Art and meaning. Art can't give my life meaning. I have to create meaning. I have to give my life meaning by surrendering to my own inner authority, aka Leela, and dedicating myself to my own spiritual quest. But working with art is a crucial part of that quest. Assisting Leela in writing the story of my life is a voyage of discovery into the hidden meaning in my past. I find meaning in the things I did and the things that happened to me, meaning I couldn't grasp at the time. Writing these stories lets me mine my past for a depth and grounding I never had before. I sometimes approached that depth in body meditations like walking and dancing, times when I let go of conscious effort and surrendered to Leela. In this work Leela demands I use my conscious gifts as fully as I possibly can to do the work and still surrender to her.
Music. I have a deep connection with music, thanks to early exposure via my dad. Visual arts and music are different thanks to advances in technology: I can experience the glory and depth of classical music at home. My boyhood dream of taking art home with me has come true. For music, the reproduction can outshine the live experience. Technology also brings images of painting, sculpture and architecture to my desktop. There is still a difference. I've studied works of art on the Internet and in real life. There's no comparison. Being in the room with one of Rembrandt's self portraits is a world-stopper. Looking at images of it online is not even close. When I watch a performance by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, I have the best seat in the house. Far better than any real seat. hr-Sinfonieorchester are an example of top notch audio coupled with spot-on camerawork, masterminded by video editing that knows the music inside out. I'll end this with a state of the art example. Here's Beethoven's 12th string quartet, one of the great masterpieces of chamber music, performed by the Quartetto di Cremona.