July 2017 S M T W T F S « Jan 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
- The Sound of Peace January 1, 2017
- OH CANADA … forgive me June 30, 2015
- The Kingston Juried Art Salon 2015 May 31, 2015
- Old Dreams March 31, 2015
- Señor H.D … a love story, a tale of a muse March 20, 2015
- THE BURNING OF BRAZIL March 15, 2015
- The Poetry Game March 12, 2015
- RUMINATIONS OF THE HEART — on Valentine’s Day February 14, 2015
- Art and Controversy – notes on a love affair and taking a moment … January 31, 2015
- HAPPY NEW YEAR! December 31, 2014
- 365 October 31, 2014
- Writings on the Wall – capturing a moment, leaving a mark September 30, 2014
- Canadian Anti Spam Law – myths and realities July 31, 2014
- O CANADA! July 1, 2014
- How Did You Get Here Anyway? – exploring life’s paths June 30, 2014
- From Vermeer to Balthus – exploring the work of others May 31, 2014
- The Judgment: are you good or bad? April 30, 2014
- A Final Word on Weather – the misery index March 17, 2014
- Snow Cakes, hygge and other weather ponderings February 28, 2014
- She Set a Cake Upon Her Head … February 14, 2014
- AULD LANG SYNE – a toast to Anne January 31, 2014
The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart. – Thomas Sowell
Match the words to the Faces:
scornful warm aggressive COMFORTABLE irritable engaged trusting FRUSTRATED angry optimistic suspicious thoughtful RISKY kind superficial arrogant open confrontational sympathetic humble IMPUDENT FORGIVING cocky STRESSED empathetic contemptuous DIGNIFIED unhappy sad GIVING happy dissatisfied CONSCIENTIOUS EASY closed sociable demanding PEACEFUL argumentative loving anxious
The two above need no introduction – the guy on the left having been recently ordained as “the most talked about person of 2013” while the fellow on the right does his best to catch up. Whereas the old chap in white can seemingly do no wrong, the big bloke with the frown is doing all the wrong he can. One is adored, his every nod seeding inspiration while the other, if not at times loathed, is at best, a source of sad entertainment, his every bungle lampooned. The internet creates the famous and the infamous – as news and word of mouth always have – and where reputation precedes us, judgments are made: culturally, socially, personally … and efficiently. Character is defined often by actions, deeds or misdeeds, with all that is spoken, with words gifted or spewed. … But do faces, two-dimensional and static, tell us anything at all?
Years ago, while a student, I was a docent at a museum, leading kids through an exhibition of portraits circa 1800s. Ornately and heavily framed, faces, young and old, gazed out from the past, clothed in their finery of high collared ruffles, lace and jewels. These were formal portraits, their subjects mostly rigidly serious, without an obvious range of personal expression – no gleaming white smiles or contortions of anger — and, yet, children honed in on their nuances.
Which of these people would you choose as your uncle or aunt? I’d ask.
Who might you like as a sister, brother, friend?
Who would you like to spend an afternoon with?
Who would you not want to meet?
Invariably, in choosing an uncle or aunt, the kids gathered around the large portrait of an old crag of a man, bushy-browed and at first sight, severe, until one noticed the almost imperceptible sparkle in his eye, his gnarled hands draped serenely on his knee, his shoulders slouched in relaxation. Children have an ability, it seems, for penetrating beyond the pose, for discerning a smile within a face of sadness, for sensing the gentle beneath the mask of decorum. Be it the twist of an eyebrow or the subtle turn of a mouth, the lines which hold an eye or those that furrow a brow, the positioning of an arm or the angle of a head – all these little things speak of a subject as open or closed, thoughtful, angry, kind, mean, warm or disagreeable and, in the end, inviting or not. And thus, the children chose each their own ‘person,’ someone who intrigued them with the slightest of welcomes, sparking their imaginations to spend a little more time – and they each knew, as well, very clearly, with whom they did not want to spend any time at all. Can you tell me why? I’d ask. And in the telling of why, there came always a story.
This is what I love about faces, the stories they hold. A facial expression is both a fleeting moment trapped and a tale of all the past that face has lived. Faces enthrall me and often, in meeting new people, their appearance takes precedence over the words they speak, thus, I rarely remember what was said nor even their names, for I was looking in their eyes, at their brows, at their lips, at the gesture of a hand as it rose to their hair.
A good friend, Pieter, with whom I’ve travelled extensively over the years, is also afflicted with this condition of face-mesmerization. On our journeys we’d find ourselves in some new city or town, standing on a corner, a crinkled, coffee-stained map unfolded, wondering where we were, pondering which street – cluttered with the unfamiliar – might lead to the plaza, the cathedral, the restaurant, the museum, the park or the beach. Often, a stranger would come to our aid, gesticulating directions, pointing here and there, and at the end of it, I’d ask Pieter… So, what did that man say?
His eyes popping, Pieter shrugged. What? he said. What? How should I know? You know I don’t listen to what people are saying! I’m too busy counting the freckles on their nose!
Generally, we got to where we were going but it was often a circuitous route.
In Cadiz we wandered in circles our first day, down one street then another, searching for addresses that didn’t exist, seeking a place to settle that winter. With only the most general of maps and a sheet of newspaper apartment ads, numerous faces directed us – a finely dressed elderly man with a red onion nose, a middle-aged woman with a voice of dried leaves, a girl with eyebrows that spread widely like wings and, among others, a portly fellow who had no time to spare, his impatience flashing behind thick bottle glasses … And so we trudged over the cobblestones of narrow, twisted alleys, up steps and down, through private crumbling courtyards crowded with broken flower pots, and stepped out again, back into the street or plaza where we’d begun. Déjà vu — it’s a lovely and weird experience, but tiring. Then, finding a bench and a coffee or water we shook our heads and wondered at the faces we’d seen.
Pieter: Did you see that woman’s eyes?
Me: Hmmm … A lot of pain there. And that voice. …What about that big mad man with the glasses?
Pieter: Well, he just pointed anywhere, just to get rid of us! I didn’t trust him. Those crazy eyes. He was having a bad life.
Me: That young woman with the eyebrows was hypnotizing.
Pieter: Yes, she was. She was kind. But she didn’t know the streets any better than us. She just wanted to please, so she pointed us down that creepy street.
Ah well, perhaps had we been listening to their directions rather than looking at their faces, we may have found where we were going much sooner than we did. And, yet, I imagine myself in some convoluted dream wherein the streets twist and wind like the lines of a face, and I see two people nearby of whom I might ask directions: an old fellow in white with a friendly suggestion of a smile and a guy, big or small, with a frown as deep as a cave. Who would I ask? Whom would I trust? Well … the guy with the frown may know the ins and outs of the dark alleys better than most, and although I don’t want to be pointed toward the clouds, upward and beyond – heaven being a journey I’m not prepared for – I guess it would come down to: who would I want to be with for a moment or more? Whose face would I rather see unfold? And given a choice of only these two, whose story would I rather hear? … Basically, who would I rather walk the streets with for a moment, be it five minutes or an hour, be it an hour or a day?
I know which face I’d choose, as I’m sure you do, too – for whatever our reasons. Deciding on one or the other is rarely a case of black and white. Within each and every one of us, there are, if we look, various shades between the two. Of course, we all feel more comfortable with one thing or another, with one person versus another … such is the way we choose our friends. And so, like the kids in the museum, with so little to go on but the nuances with which we connect, we each favour and align with what fits us best. So, ok, for myself, I’d opt for the smile over the frown – it’s easier, you see, to walk calmly through the unknown that life presents us than to battle our way – often alone – through a boulevard of broken dreams.
Green Day: BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS – dedicated to Rob Ford and all those others who have forgotten, or who perhaps have never known, the grace of a smile: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-jFWOhQ61w SMILE: A POWERFUL TOOL: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201207/smile-powerful-tool Proven: Pope Francis has conquered the Internet: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20755286,00.html BBC – Reading Faces: Face Value: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/articles/emotions/faceperception1.shtml Harvard Business Review – Anthony K. Jjan: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/06/becoming-a-better-judge-of-peo/
“Chet Baker sang with an innocent sweetness that made girls fall right out of their saddle oxfords.”
– Rex Reed
It’s to Baker’s credit that he’s the most widely debated vocalist since Al Jolson: to some…there are incredibly deep emotions stirring or about to be stirred when he sings, while to others, there’s a whole lot of nothing going on, and to still others, that in itself is attractive – as Jim Hoberman says, it’s like “being sweet-talked by the void.” –Will Friedwald
Being “sweet-talked by the void” may have been how many of the women involved with Chet Baker would have described their attraction to him. An American trumpet player and singer most popular during the 50’s jazz era that included associations with Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan, Baker, a James Dean look-alike, was known equally for his charisma as for his infidelity. During the seventies and eighties, despite a life seriously hampered by drug abuse, his career enjoyed a comeback. At this point, ravaged by his addictions and prematurely aged, he was not a pretty picture, yet, women were still drawn to him like moths to a flame. In general, it is said that, as an egoist, he shamelessly used and abused others and the women in his life, in particular, suffered his deceit. Drawn to him like magnets, they were easy targets and Baker was a willing (if not grateful) recipient of their offerings, be it love or shelter, money or drugs, or whatever else was needed to fill the moment that was his life. That moment ended in 1988, shortly following a concert in Hanover, Germany, when he fell from a second story window in Amsterdam to his death.
In the winter of 2000 I visited the Prins Hendrik Hotel in Amsterdam where a monument – a bronze relief – had been installed on the exterior wall to commemorate Baker’s place of departure. Inside, I was led up to the room where Baker had spent his last evening. “Chet Baker Room” the sign on the door read, and then, the number 210. I entered. It was an unremarkable but functional room, neither seedy (as I’d expected it to be) nor in any way luxurious, yet, I walked away haunted by the strangeness of it – strange because it wasn’t strange at all.
Had the door to room 210 never been opened I might have followed my imagination into its dark recesses to construct a room that would befit a jazz legend who was also a junkie, someone living so close to the edge that one night, inexplicably, he falls, jumps or is pushed from a second story window to his death. There is something very intriguing about a closed door or a door partially opened, inviting yet concealing all that is behind. In pondering this image, I realized then, where Baker’s power lay and, thus, in which direction the Chet Baker Series might evolve.
Originally, I’d envisioned the Chet Baker Series as incorporating Baker’s physical image from infatuating youth to captivating decay. I’d wanted to capture something of this person who was a complex integration of extraordinary musical talent and destructive susceptibility to addiction, the latter which may have governed a great part of his life – his role as father to his three children, his relationships with friends and colleagues and, ultimately, his intimate affairs with women. As I walked from Room 210 of the Prins Hendrik Hotel, however, and out into the cool air of a freshly rained upon street, my sense was that I had just experienced the intrigue of what Chet Baker might have represented as “a man to a woman.”
The Door – Chet Baker Series Listening – Chet Baker Series
Thus began a series of paintings in which Chet Baker’s physical image did not appear in any way at all. Rather, the image of a closed door or partially opened door, represented the man and Chet Baker became, simply, a metaphor for mystery.
The Chet Baker Series evolved around the images of doors and the women in these paintings are either going in or coming out or in a state of wondering if they should enter. In one painting entitled, Listening (above right) the female figure leans with her back against a stairwell, her head tilted, her eyes closed, while in the hallway a partially open door discreetly beckons. One can only imagine what the woman in this painting listens to… what sounds emanate from behind that door? What music has transported her into an apparent state of ecstacy? What promise does that music hold?
This series was, of course, less about Chet Baker than it was about temptation, seduction and fascination. What lures us toward a “new door” – be that door representative of another human being, a new path in life, an unknown place (geographically or psychologically) – is the promise of what lies ahead. Generally, what lies ahead is the “x” in the equation; it is the unknown, the mystery which human nature craves to satisfy. In the case of Chet Baker, a man whose fascination transcended his music, the stories of women as simplified in the sparse compositions of this series, describe the seductive powers of the man.
That mystery entices … well, that’s a no-brainer. Human nature, it seems, dictates that we are more captivated by the question than satisfied by the answer. For every unknown, after all, there exists a multitude of potentials, whereas an answer, plain and simple, confines one by its assertion. The magic of mystery tweaks our imagination, while answers – black and white and all too clear – often disappoint. Is it not mystery that once inspired explorations of distant lands and inspires, still, not only all areas of science but also the arts? Is seeking not more exciting than finding? Hmmm… more on this topic another time.
How did it get so late so soon? – Dr. Seuss
Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. – Coco Chanel
Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do. – Jena Paul Sartre
“En in den beginne was er … tijd” — Translation: “In the beginning there was … time.” – JTW Sketchbook, 02/01/03
Time – it is the one thing that’s always there … in the beginning. But where it goes, thereafter, is anyone’s guess. You breathe it in, breathe it out, and then it’s gone, or so it seems. And, thus, in the test tube labeled “October,” this month evaporated like water. HOW? Perhaps the Bunsen burner was set too high … or perhaps there wasn’t enough water to begin with. Meanwhile, the great clock ticked, counting the minutes from three o’clock to four, while beating on walls, seeking a door.
As always, a mission begins with a plan. To Do Lists are diligently and optimistically scribed with all the visual beauty of the Magna Carta – written on paper, with just the right pen – and with the speedy blur of a lipstick kiss (for good luck), it’s a contract signed and sealed, and it all seems so simple: just connect the dots, 1, 2, 3 … these are the steps to get from here to there, the point being to gain control, to harness the energy of all those little ideas bungling around up there. You want to take them – these tiny sparks of inspiration – and weave them together like a string of pearls, each complete and perfect, each a success – something accomplished and checked off the list. And most often, this method, with a liberal touch of tenacity, works quite well.
But, in our excitement, we run hither and thither sniffing our way, down this path then that, without any landmarks to guide our route. Our peripheral vision recalls doors passed, as we sped too quickly in the wrong direction; yet, the maze method is undersold, I think, for although it induces panic it also stimulates and with senses peaked in our race to get there, we may miss the obvious but discover the new. We know there are answers, it’s just a matter of finding them. Our inherent treadmill snags our race-pace … so we nosedive and tumble, now and then, but without too much damage, just a bruise or two, we hop back on again for the ride, for the adventure, for the need to examine, for the need to explore. We know there are answers, it’s just a matter of seeing them. And we know there’s an end, for time defines endings like nothing else.
And then, after all that stumbling and fumbling and banging our pink noses against closed walls, if the maze method fails to turn up answers, we’ve, at least, a lot of data under our belts. Experience is never wasted, you see, but accumulates, like a bag of gold, to be used or saved as we need it. And so, when the grand clock beckons our gaze and we see clearly that the seconds are ticking, we’ve these wonderful nuggets all shining and pretty, all full with potential if only we knew which to choose or in which order they are meant to exist. … And this is the moment to shift perspectives. I may don, at this point, my explorer’s boots and climb a mountain for a vaster view. Or, through a microscope observe the mystery of all life’s wonders. The microscopic and macroscopic share patterns, it seems, and sometimes that’s all it takes – a new view from wherever – to find the smooth arrangement of things, to weave one’s ideas coherently into something that makes beautiful sense, and to fasten this glittering thing around one’s neck – this string of jewels – to like and to own it, and to smile then, for a job well done.
Years ago, at a street market, a friend and I discovered a gargantuan old bottle, round as a pig and as tall as my knee — it was beautiful, transparent and faintly tinted green. We labeled this vessel our “Jar of Accomplishments.” Optimistic though we were, we’d also a pragmatic streak, and rather than filling it with peas (our first thought), we filled it instead with the biggest giant lima beans to be found … And after 7 years they barely covered the bottom with 772 accomplishments. Excluding laundry and sweeping (accomplishments undersold) we’ve all each our own idea of what an accomplishment is… for with the word, accomplishment, comes a weight of variables, the greatest of which is time.
And although much was accomplished this month, with To Do Lists diligently checked, this Blog was sadly neglected. Well … no, that’s not true. Not true, at all. In fact I spent a great deal of time with it, really, but in obsessing on a subject I was not ready to explore, time tied me into a knot with that theme. Speeding down labyrinthine paths like a lab rat, my nose sorely bruised, I sought the solution for that idea for a while. Ideas, visceral as they be, hook one into a scarf of crazy patterns and although it is a wonderful journey jumping from one thread to the next, frankly, one must know when to set it aside, for now. … Because time spent beating walls looking for a door makes no sense at all. And, after all, time well spent is not just about putting another bean in the jar. It’s about putting the right bean in the jar, while enjoying the moment, a moment born from the past and the present and all the fond light that the future casts.
Spanish Humpty Dumpty
You’re sitting there with your muse and your muse is telling you something and you’re following it, and you end up the next day looking at it and thinking, ‘What the hell was the muse saying to me?’ – Nathan Oliveira (Artist)
“The real comic muse is the one under whose laughing mask tears roll down.”
– Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs, (Author)
Not always, but often, my muse arises from the inside-out, and from this place inside – wherever it is rooted, be it the head or the heart – from time to time, the whimsical, the weird and the humorous ascend unbidden from their crawlspace. Conversely, when working from the outside-in, we are inspired by the tangible; be it a luscious dish of fruit, the face of a stranger, a landscape or even a concept, the muse exists as a thing already, complete in its form, with its raison d’être … And wherever or however the muse originates, we take its hand and run with it. And so, it was with Señor H.D.
We met on a narrow side-street in Nerja, Spain, beneath a bright and burning sun, off the beaten path of restaurants and tourists. Clothes hung quietly from balconies to dry, the air hummed softly with the gossip of neighbours; it was just a normal residential day, with children dressed in their Sunday best and a red ball bouncing over the cobblestones. So, who knew passion tapped its foot, waiting, as sometimes passion does?
But that’s life, isn’t it? It’s all about the crossing of paths.
Meandering along as a group of friends, we turned a corner and there he was – the love of my moment! He was standing on a table – an appropriate place for his kind, and he was among good company: a gang of Pez Heads gleaming in their suits of reds, blues and yellows, bobble heads of only the highest class, a few respectable dinosaurs, action figures bulging with promise, and, of course, the omnipresent teddy bears, a bit worn for wear with a life’s job well done … the crème de la crème. Here stood an array of a little boy’s collection baking in the sunlight, a tale of love discarded, of toys outgrown. Yet, among a crowd of even that caliber, Señor H.D., shone like an angel – with his fancy costume, that sexy hat, those crazy legs, and that smile (boding of an adventurous future) – well, the long and short of it was: I had to have him. And for a euro handed to a little hand, H. D. was mine. … As we sauntered away, it was Marion who noticed the peculiar compartmental crease in his face: That’s got to be there for a reason, no? Indeed, facial creases are never for nothing, thus, back we tracked to the table where the little boy explained, “Well, you see, if you scrunch his legs up into his chest, he opens his mouth.” He tried with all his might to demonstrate, and then, giving up, he sighed, “…But he doesn’t work so well anymore.” Indeed, scrunching one’s legs into one’s chest would open anyone’s mouth, but H. D. had retired from this monkey trick; his face had grown stiff with time. His raison d’être – designed to entertain the innocently masochistic minds of children with his expressions of pain – had finally shifted. Slipping him gently into my purse, I promised him a new life. … One day.
Sometimes muses sit around for a while, even years, doing nothing, but in this case, although a quiet fellow, he begged attention. On returning him “home” to my goat shed studio in the mountain village of Competa, I set him safely upon a rough wooden shelf next to my laptop, and every morning, rain or shine, he greeted me with his renegade smile, as though bursting with the excitement of a new life and all the trouble it could throw his way. This was not a fellow who would fall from a wall, spilling his yolk among shattered shell. After years in hiding, it was his time to shine and suicidal thoughts were the furthest from his mind. As a woman, I must say that nothing inspires like a confident man with a joie de vivre … thus, one day, in the warm light of a day near done, with a palette of love, I painted him.
… H.D. liked his portrait, I think, although he may have preferred, as do we all, that I’d blurred his creases or rendered him thinner – but, he is an egg, after all, not a string bean, and a good egg he is. Now, many months later, he sits on a shelf in my kitchen and from his place above my stove, he watches me cook. No doubt, omelettes are a source of some discomfort, but, for the most part, although he’s no longer the apple of my eye (again, he’s an egg) he seems content to be what he is, The Man of the House, habitually reading the morning news, and watching sitcoms at night. … But that’s the nature of passion, isn’t it? Being unsustainable it must evolve, eventually, into something else: something quieter, something softer, something that smiles rather than roars. That’s not to say he no longer inspires me. One day, yet, he may climb the sixteen steps to my studio and posing himself on the windowsill, where the sunlight casts him in the most flattering way, he’ll tip his hat, wink, blink or blow me a kiss … and then, we will begin all over again.
… Such is the power of the muse.
Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company. – Lord Byron
Or don’t you like to write letters. I do because it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you’ve done something. – Ernest Hemingway
Long, long ago, before cyberspace hummed incessantly with its lightening whizz of emails, images and chats, there was the humble letter, traversing – through clouds, over mountains, across seas – from one hand to another. Pen was put to paper, an envelope sealed, and off it flew like a wonky paper plane launched from a window, subject to all the hazards and delays of real time. Between Europe and Canada, it would reach its destination within eight to ten days, if it was lucky with connections, with the wind at its back. It has been years since I’ve written or received an old-fashioned letter and given the speed, facility and options of current communications, one wonders at the longing for so-called ‘snail mail’ – what did it give us that email, texting or instant messaging cannot?
ANSWER: Individuality, intimacy, the beauty of language … and the luxuriance of time, ever so savoured when shared with another. Simply put – sent or received, a letter was a gift.
In the old days, I’d light a candle or two, and on a table round or square, lay out several blank pages and a fine felt pen. To start, the act of writing meant matching pen to paper, often yellow newsprint, with its snag of surface and penchant for absorption. Wide margins to the left allowed afterthoughts or drawings and in green ink or black, words were scribbled, scratched and annotated and in the end, this messy but tangible gift replicated thoughts, abstractions, amusements and memories, as though a table were shared with laughter ‘til tears. Be they parent, sibling, friend, or lover, the recipient informed both the humour and gist, for sharing one-on-one is never generic but a fine tuning of things … a string of chords, a song for one.
Needless to say, things have changed. Current modes of exchange are instantaneous and there is great value in this, simplifying business negotiations, banking, purchases, sales, and especially, from an artist’s perspective, the sending of images – thank the cyberspace gods and the digital age for having put an end to the tedious preparation of slides!
… Yet, all this said, has personal communication become less personal as a result? Within our labyrinthine networks of friends we’ve never met – which, albeit, function beautifully to grapevine exhortations, opinions, and information – have we lost in this process, the concept of the recipient?
Those first years in Spain (before internet cafes) in finding a letter under the door, I’d make a cup of coffee, climb the stairs to my sun-filled studio and to the voices of children playing in the Plazoletta below my balcony, I’d taste the words of those dear, as though it were a meal, taking time to digest the humour, the thoughts, the imagery and the moments there described. Mar’s letters might take two or three sittings for they were like chapters of a book and were sometimes relished while soaking in a bath, Robert’s thoughtful meanderings arrived often in richly enigmatic handmade envelopes boding of mystery and the depth of his ongoing analysis of life and its experiences, Patrick’s wit and facility with putting things succinctly always brought a smile, BPZ’s warped perspective on little things – be they the Santoids of Xmas or the ironing of shirts – never failed to bring laughter, and Jim’s richly descriptive tales of countryside walks and art-making always left me inspired. And beyond what was written there was the writing itself, small or voluminous – my father’s hand shaken with age, and my mother’s flowing script – the way ink rolled across a page echoed the cadence of their voices and the paper they had touched brought me closer to their moments. Such pieces might be framed, like works of art, combining concepts, texture, colour, line and composition. As a recipient, such communications were the ultimate in correspondence – so why have we (and I, especially) abandoned the snail mail mode?
It takes time to live in the moment, to scribble words to just one when we are inundated with emails, queries, requests, and the now accepted instant responses that life demands. It takes time to write and it takes time to receive. Although I still write real letters – very occasionally – to a handful of friends, these missives are not as real as they once were. The thoughts may be the same but computers discard the mess in the margins, the scratched out words, the drawings and the scribbles, the speech bubbles and the cramped notes which twist around the lower corner of a page. That said, writing this has inspired me to take one day or one week each year, to scribble a letter to a friend or friends, on real paper with real ink, for old time’s sake and for the sake of the personal in communication, lest it be lost.
The Costume Party © JT Winik, 1998
“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” – Desmond Tutu
“Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something” ~ Plato
Walk down the street, randomly choose a few people and sit a dozen of anyone down at a dinner table. Conversations arise, peppered only lightly with humble opinions, swallowed with a liberal dressing of good will and humour. That’s how strangers embark together … with a measure of reticence.
Interactions most often begin (if you’re Canadian) with the weather – not a terribly fruitful subject, but if you’re not living in a hurricane zone, it’s a comfortable place to start. Then, with dinner served, words dribble from our tongues and with the primal oohs and ahhs of a well savoured meal, conversation shifts toward cooking, perhaps, or restaurants – we recall a cozy nook somewhere in France or Italy, maybe, just a simple hole in the wall, where we relished the most exquisite this or that we’ve ever tasted. Tales of travels unwind, and the “best and the worst” of adventures spark laughter as we compare other cultures with our own, and then, what began as a conversation on food has morphed into a debate on genetic modification, corporate irresponsibility, and the blind eye of governments. This is the way conversation works, weaving and winding into an intricate pattern of shared perspectives and knowledge. At this point, voices may rise a little – because we’re passionate in our beliefs, and we each know a thing or two. I love this about dinner table conversations with like-minded friends – at the end of the evening we feel both verified and expanded, having both shared and learned. … Table talk with complete strangers, however, is a different sort of feast. At worst, you may gnaw at bones of contention until your teeth fall out – but at best, strangers, stirring the unfamiliar and introducing new flavours, may rouse ideas not formerly considered.
This brings me to the virtual dinner table of online discussions.
Recently, I’ve become involved with a few artists’ sites, online venues within which artists connect, exchanging ideas, information and opinions. To start with, there’s no need to talk about the weather and certainly no need for humility. You can jump right in and speak however you wish, about whatever you wish. This is not a bad thing, overall – however, as a Canadian, I do miss the protocol (:)) – and much as I hate to admit it, perhaps LOLs and emoticons do serve a purpose in online/email exchanges, if just to set the tone of all that we are blind to when faced with only the written word.
The thing is, face to face, with real people at a real table (be they friends or strangers), beyond the words shared, we’ve numerous and diverse cues to inform us of another’s perspective; gestures and body posture, eye contact, facial expression, voice quality (including volume, pitch, intonation, etc.) all build a picture of that person seated next to us and intuitively we surmise whether we feel a connection to that person or not. For instance, one might say something quite over-the-top and drastic but, with a self-deprecating smile or gesture, render it a joke.
Each of us, (whether our encounters be virtual or real) is a bundle of opinions and, often, a contradictory bundle at that. We all have our perspectives on food, art, architecture, music, film, literature, science, religion, sex, history, politics and everything else. Regardless of where we’ve been, what we’ve seen, what we’ve read or what we do, these topics are so historically and emotionally intertwined that when words spill in one area, they spread like an upturned glass over the tablecloth, potentially permeating the whole. Whatever the beverage, be it just the seemingly innocuous faint stain of virtual water, when we speak of art, for instance, we’ve seeped into the more volatile topics of politics, sex and religion. In the real world, by the time we raise glasses to the first toast in thanking our host for a beautiful meal, we know, by then, with whom we feel affinities (those who share our palate – and palette) and those we’d rather keep at arm’s length – because, although, sometimes compelled to tangle with another, one must also weigh the prospect of getting into a knot not worth undoing.
That said, on my first visits to these artists’ sites, I was surprised, astonished, really, at how visceral was the experience – how, without the myriad cues of communication afforded in real life contact, we surmise rather quickly with whom we’re dealing with. The credibility of our conjectures, naturally, is always in question as we’ve, in fact, but a partial picture – only words – on which to base our views. Yet, it seems a primal condition to humans, as with all animals, to determine with zip-zap speed, one’s “friends and enemies.” The terms friends and enemies is used figuratively, of course, but for the sake of illustration, we might think of it as line which defines “our side” versus “that side.”
Unlike face to face interactions, however, online exchanges permit us time to sit back and wonder: What is that person really saying? Is it worth responding to? Personally, vehement, blind splatters of words strike me as arm’s length. There may be something of value at the core of such expulsions but I’ve little inclination to wade through the mud. The glass spills on the virtual table, permeating all areas and, as one traces a line around the perimeters of that stain, if it’s shape replicates another Rorschach-like disgorgement, then, to my mind, it is best left as is.
So, inherently, human nature dictates that we define others on either side of a line – “our side meaning seamless acceptance and “that side” equating with disagreement. This is the way much of the world operates, after all. We see this simplistic rule of thumb employed on grand scales – in politics, in religious feuds, in the disparity between the haves and the have nots. Yet, we all know it’s all more complex than that. Different opinions when articulated and structured to enlighten, rather than to blind, can be of enormous value. A good adversary can do more than a good friend in enriching us with a new perspective. Yet, that rarely happens. Like kids in a sandbox, we seem most often to be knocking each other over the head with our plastic shovels. No big deal on an Artists’ site, maybe, but terrifying, given the state of the world.
All this said, visits into these online exchanges between artists have been, at the very least, an education. As with any group, it is a microcosm, reflecting the ways of the world in general, complete with its fragilities, and its strengths. At its best, though, it provides a venue in which many, if not most, are there to expand, share, and think together. Exciting things happen when barriers relax – and the doors to communication open to understanding, expansion and growth.