Monday, October 19, 2009

Stay Human!

. . . in the immortal words of Michael Franti.

Art and wine do seem a natural pairing. Both are invitations to have some kind of genuinely human experience. Unfortunately, the experience is not always pleasant.

This past weekend, I went to yet another one of these ubiquitous art and wine festivals. Why do I do it, I don’t know, chalk it up to some kind of morbid curiosity, the kind that compels you to inhale deeply when there is some awful smell in the air.

This particular festival was awash in bronze sculptures of alien-like beings hugging, brightly-colored bits of glass, some lovely underwater photography, and these paintings—well! As I told my daughters, anyone can splash a big red heart on a canvas and scrawl “forgive” next to it, where is the mastery, where is the imagination, the creativity, in that? That’s art therapy, which definitely has its rightful place in the world. Just not there.

What else art and wine have in common, besides sharing a number of festivals, is that both may and can be and often are used as status leverage, in which the experience itself is far less important than the recounting of the experience, a recounting that preferably takes place in front of a large (captive) audience and invariably includes the slinging of a lot of nonsense jargon, and in fact, it does seem that a lot of people do not ever really have an experience with art and wine. They like to say they do, and they swirl their glasses and spout off about bouquet (often inaccurately, because “bouquet” should be reserved for wines that have attained maturity, while “aroma” is the term for bright young things), or they stand in front of a painting at a museum and get that look of profound absorption that puts one in mind of a German shepherd that’s momentarily mistaken a plastic bag fluttering down the street for a rabbit, but to these, things like art and wine are merely accessories that symbolize money or taste or social standing, which inevitably means that things like art and wine are then viewed with resentful suspicion by the other side, those who pride themselves on being down-to-earth, who like to point at works like the chocolate Jesus and rail about the emperor having no clothes, and it is no coincidence that these are the same people who will say that the only difference between a glass of two-buck chuck and a glass of P├ętrus is the price.

Why was I thinking about this. Well, I’ll tell you. I fell in love with Rollo May after reading a quote from The Courage to Create in which he talked about something along the lines of what if imagination and creativity were not viewed as simply “frosting” in the human experience, but as essential components. So then I read Love and Will and The Courage to Create, which got me to thinking about genuine experience, and about different kinds of courage May describes, the courage to look oneself in the mirror, the courage to allow life to happen in all its scary guises (because it do have a way of sneaking up on you with a loud Boo! that can be quite unnerving), the courage to have relationships and experiences, and to let oneself not only have an effect on others but be affected and transformed by others as well. I don’t think we are in the habit of looking at tiny things, such as the willingness to be open to one’s actual experience (actual experience, not the experience we think we should have) with art, with wine, with nature, with a friend, as evidence of courage. Maybe we all think that bravery means rescuing a kitten from a burning building. Even bungee jumping may seem more courageous than opening one’s heart to one’s friend.

But that is only kind of courage, physical courage. There are lots of other kinds. Intellectual courage. Moral courage (by which I certainly don’t mean holding up pro-life posters of fetuses in front of the Walgreen’s on Wigwam and Green Valley Parkway). While it don’t take much in the way of courage to enjoy a glass of 2005 Magnificat, I will argue that it does take courage to be willing to have genuine experiences, whether it be with wine or art or nature or in fellowship with other humans. Why? Maybe partly because having a genuine experience takes us into that world of emotion and our subconscious and dreams and memories. And fears.

It brings us closer to self-knowledge, and that is indeed the age-old question, according to May, the question faced by Oedipus, the question of how much self-awareness can a human bear? A genuine experience—of friendship, of love, of transcendence, of joy, of grief—breaks through whatever walls we’ve constructed to protect our little castle of the self, and who knows what might happen then. What might escape from the dungeons. What realizations we might come to. We might even have to, in the immortal words of Rilke, change our life.

1 comment:

Nancy Ewart said...

You are really raising the bar with these posts - giving us an example of really good writing and something to aspire to. My favorite quote (or one of them) from May is this: "Creativity is not merely the innocent spontaneity of our youth and childhood; it must also be married to the passion of the adult human being, which is a passion to live beyond one's death."