Friday, May 28, 2010

"I can't quite figure out what I just saw, but I want someone to give me a Happy Meal and tell me everything's okay," my boyfriend said after the curtains fell. The performance we'd just seen, Heaven, a collaboration between choreographer Morgan Thorsen and musical group Low, was the very definition of modern dance, replete with men in white dresses walking in slow circles around the stage while women in suits made from mattress pads ran back and forth at top speed, pausing occasionally to fling themselves to the ground.

I know that Heaven affected me, that what I saw moved me consciously and unconsciously. It also aroused in me a creative crisis. Everything was engaging -the movement (incorporating familiar yoga posses executed perfectly by dancers totally at ease with their bodies), the costumes (eerily clean, crisp, and white), the lighting (strobbing, pulsing, utterly disconcerting), sounds (amplified floor fans), and music (live chanting and spirituals). But did I GET it? Did I actually understand the performance? For that matter, did I even understand art at all?

As one who considers herself an artist, this question is troubling. I've had many of those Liberal Arts courses that aspired to teach symbolism, facilitated by professors who sought to help us tease out the deeper, hidden meanings of important works. I always did well in those classes, due more to my writing skills than to any original ideas. The last time I looked at a Rothko I didn't grasp a deep universal truth, but I was inspired to repaint my kitchen.

Perhaps this is really a manifestation of my own lack of confidence as an artist - I can't possibly succeed because I don't, in fact, "get it," this huge, massive, nebulous thing called "art." I can't access that higher plain of creativity required to break through and make truly awe-inspiring, revolutionary work. There are just some people who can distill ideas, concepts, statements into works of deep symbolism and profundity. And then there's me.

Here's where I pause to say I KNOW, on some level, that this thought process is ridiculous. It basically says that if I can't paint like Van Gough, I shouldn't try. If I can't be Alexander Calder, I shouldn't make jewelry. If I don't understand all the nuances of Heaven, I'm not a real artist.

So what to do? In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron stresses the importance of simply showing up. Don't question your creative endeavors, just do them. So I'm going to try to simply be with my art, not judge, to not worry if what I'm doing is deeply symbolic or just looks pretty, to switch from, "Do I get it?" to "I'm going to do it."

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