The beginning. Looking for the beginning? I get born in Louisiana. But art's a good start. A great start. Art and depravity are products of technology. Art is an expression of the unnameable. Artists are the real human nobility. I am not an artist.
Art and entertainment. Any kind of art can be reduced to entertainment. Very little of entertainment is art but there is an important overlap. Entertainment is stultifying; art is elevating. The difference: how does it affect me? Entertainment dulls me down, it makes me stupider. I use it to kill time. Art elevates me, it ennobles me, it forces me to make progress with love. There are two levels of ennoblement: the artist and the consumer. Art has the power to ennoble the artist, but not all arts convey this. Art that's performed in the public eye is far too subject to social pressure to be ennobling. Social pressure is demeaning and stultifying. It forces artists to meet public expectations. The public expects sensational crap. Performing artists have to meet those expectations or perish. The money dries up. Acting is particularly nasty because a successful actress can't be herself. She has to be someone else. That's spiritual poison. Borges' famous story about Shakespeare, Everything and Nothing, tells it well. Watch a celebrated performance, like Robert Downey Jr.'s in Chaplin. Even his daughter Geraldine was creeped out by how well Downey became that hollow husk of a man he was impersonating.
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 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. I'd stopped over in London to get better acquainted with the city. I stumbled on the casting of Rodin's Burghers of Calais in Victoria Tower Gardens.
This time I was able to 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 to my study of calligraphy at Naropa.
Art and meaning. Art can't give my life meaning. But creating art as part of my spiritual quest is fantastically enriching. Serving as the artist's assistant in creating this novel is profoundly meaningful. It gives my life a depth and grounding I previously only found in body oriented meditations like walking and dancing. In those I tried to let go of conscious effort and surrender to my wisdom. In this work my wisdom demands I use my conscious gifts as fully as I possibly can to do the work. My inherent conflict with conscious work makes this kind of work stressful. The stress became overwhelming and my wisdom reintroduced herself to me as my love Leela. Leela demands I take this work playfully. To the degree I succeed the psychological stress disappears.
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.