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Blending Is Art

In Life in Society, Music on August 5, 2014 at 11:02 pm
Photo by Laurel Greszler

Photo by Laurel Greszler

By Heila Rogers

The documentary 20 Feet From Stardom is about backup singers. Even that term, “back-up singers” can imply, “second-rate” in our minds.

Because people are supposed to be the one and only STAR, right? That’s what success means? For instance, if you’re 4th place in the Olympics, no one knows your name. Having your name known is what matters. “Second-place is the first-place Loser,” as the saying goes.

But the art, the creation of something, can get lost in that way of thinking.

What about the music itself, and all the parts?

All voices, parts and instruments melding together ~ to create a unified and transcendent piece of music – how to quantify that? How to determine its value?

Stardom isn’t bad though. Or is it?

Self-promotion is necessary, there’s a business side to things.

Promoters have a place.

“We can’t let the people decide, we have to tell them what they like, and what to buy.”

What the people often like and decide to buy on their own (is it the advertising or is it market-driven?) isn’t the most uplifting though.

But then again, it often is just that. People often see, buy and like what is uplifting — but it’s sometimes harder to find.

In the 20 Feet From Stardom movie, Sting says about these women:

“There’s a spiritual component to what they do, an inner journey, and any other success is cream on the cake.”

Photo by Heila Rogers

“Don’t Coppy M*” | Photo by Heila Rogers

Maybe we have to be ready to be the star, too. How to do that with grace and integrity, realizing we’re part of a whole — we’re a part along with others, we’re a piece of the bigger world. Not to mention eternity.

In many ways, this story of back-up singers is the story of women. Of being in the background, but maybe not by choice. Sometimes though, being in the background is a choice, both for men and women. There is an evolving awareness of the contributions and value of all voices, including those quieter ones, or those in the background.

When every one can share their unique piece with others as a part of the whole, then we’ll have the best, the most beautiful, music.

Also in the movie:

“It’s up to you to perfect that gift that you’ve been given.” — Stevie Wonder

Photo by Laurel Greszler

Photo by Laurel Greszler

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Love Is Creative

In Art, Creative Living, Music on February 15, 2014 at 6:48 pm

In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”

― Rumi

long wingsBy Heila Rogers

Everyone Wants to Create (Something)

I’ve been to the Fair and people make all sorts of things … pies, cakes, canned goods, quilts, woodwork, monster trucks. Wait. Monster trucks? Yes, someone creates a machine that can do above and beyond the ordinary, and they create a moment when they race.

Once completed, why does beauty thrill us or make us tear up? Why do we get goosebumps when we hear certain music, for example? In the same way, why are we moved to tears sometimes when we witness someone helping in an altruistic, sacrificial way?

I think that what we are witnessing and experiencing are pieces of the same thing.

Acts of love are also different kinds of artistry.

soar

There is also this:

Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul. – Alice Walker

This sounds so good, right? And there’s truth to it. However, we can even manage to mess this up. This, “creating beauty” thing. For example, we can get addicted to what we see as helping people. We can go back and back again and again for the “high,” so to speak. For the experience of the positive feeling that comes with giving. We can make rules about it. We can judge others for not doing it, or for doing it worse than us in our opinion. We can formulate it to mean only this and not that. We can resist receiving, and be always the one that is giving. As usual with humans, we can take things too far. We actually get kind of creative about that: taking things too far.

Defining creativity is important. If it means stretching out to include others, but disparaging your close-by neighbors, teachers, or co-workers, then it’s not creative.

To state the obvious, destruction of any kind is not creation.

Unless perhaps it’s this:

Transform criticism into creativity.  – Scottie Hayes

Destroying destruction can be a creative act. I saw the above quote on Pinterest, along with the following comment: “HOW?” How do we transform criticism into creativity? What a good question. It sounds good, but what does it mean? Here’s one way how. Look around you at what is in your immediate life. What is there for you to do? What excites you? Make something. Make anything. Draw a picture. Sing a song. Smile at someone. Do this instead of tearing someone down. Do this instead of railing about the mistakes of others, or citing a list of what they do wrong.

“Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.”  Romans 12:9

“Only God is truly good.”  Luke 18:19b

“We love because God first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Receive love and give it away.

As it flows into you, then let it flow out.

When we feel love, and know we are loved, that’s a creative, building thing.

When we receive love, and when we give someone good, when we listen and are listened to, when we have fun, those are creative, building things also.

In the words of the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, even though she very much enjoyed and appreciated beautiful clothes,

“I mean, a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s the life you’re living, in the dress.”

In an essay, C.S. Lewis quotes Goethe who says interestingly, that all his previous “love” affairs were, “for my own ennoblement.” Lewis makes the case that those therefore might not have been “love” affairs. Can they have been, if they were for the so-called lover’s own benefit? Without it really being in sight, the benefit of the other person?

dive eagle

This is why when we see before us sudden, unexpected, great or seemingly-small acts of helping, giving or kindness … we are moved to tears. Because the giver has no apparent regard for herself.

I think this is creativity. A Love. An Art. And I think it’s related to the way we can be moved to tears by a beautiful piece of music. I would suggest that they are a part and parcel of the same, beautiful, perfect … loving.

Check out this creative video and music clip, featuring Hilary Hahn playing “Bounce Bounce” on the violin, playing with Hauschka, another musician.

Then, check out this video clip below of Olympian Derek Redmond after injury, continuing on to the finish line with his father’s arm around him.

Beautiful, both of them, no?

With friends you grow wings. – Rumi

feathers

Feeling the Music

In Music, Poetry on September 19, 2013 at 1:01 am
frosty alaska

Photo by Jill Molloy
Alaska
2012

First Movement

Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D
began with a flourish up and down my spine,
fifteen years old and never held before
by bright strings spilling over my father’s head,

pipe in hand, eyes smoky black, jowled
appreciator of the things of man, ex-commie
turned cabby turned lawyer at the end,
how could he sit so still with that tug in

the air, I fell to the green rug with my fist
against my chest, I couldn’t help grinning
around the hurt, a funny kind of halo spun
my head, I still had to live in Maryland but

outside that room all Saturday morning shivered,
a great gold crystal just about to burst.

By Mark Smith-Soto

bubble

Photo by Roger Brown
Colorado

Used with permission (c) 2003, University of Florida Press, Our Lives Are Rivers

The Art of Communication

In Creative Living, Music, Poetry on September 19, 2013 at 1:00 am

Photo by Doug Stutler
Lily Lake – Lily Mountain
Estes Park, Colorado

“They can be a great help — words. They can become the spirit’s hands and lift and caress you.”

— Meister Eckhart

By Amy Wilson Feltz

Words have the means within them to create and destroy worlds. We know this about our own conversations, even if we don’t want to admit it. Think about the wounds that you have received from sharp words. Think about the wounds you’ve inflicted. Think about words that have brought a smile to your face. Think about words you’ve shared that made others smile.

Poetry gives those words a rhythm, a heartbeat, and draws us into the Life Source.

There’s only so much talking we can do about poetry. To experience it, we need to read some.

We Shake with Joy

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

Housed as they are in the same body.

— Mary Oliver

There is power in words to heal and transform.

I waited patiently for the LORD;

he turned to me and heart my cry.

He lifted me up out of the pit of uproar,

out of the miry clay,

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a song of praise to our God;

Many will see and fear the LORD

and put their trust in him.

— Psalm Forty, verses 2 and 3

yellowstone

Photo by Tami Bok
Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming

Poetry is also a great vehicle to explore matters of faith.

From Spring, by Wendell Berry:

He goes in spring

through the evening street

to buy bread,

green trees leaning

over the sidewalk,

forsythia yellow

beneath the windows,

birds singing

as birds sing

only in spring,

and he sings, his footsteps

beating the measure of his song.

His footsteps carry him past the window,

deeper into his song.

To his death? Yes.

He walks and sings to his death.

Not much of a surprise to people of faith because most of the Old Testament was written as poetry in the Hebrew Language, and in that original language we find rhythm and rhyme and plays on words that we miss in the English.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

— Psalm Twenty-Three, verse 4

Gingko grove at the arboretum in VA - Susan Speer

Photo by Susan Speer
Gingko Grove
Virginia

What a lovely reminder that it isn’t just the content but the form of the words that can inform and shape us.

The Psalms in the Old Testament give us a way to connect with something universal about what it means to be human, to love and to fear, to grieve and to rejoice.

Poetry in general does this, too.

I Want to Write Something So Simply

I want to write something


so simply


about love


or about pain


that even


as you are reading


you feel it


and as you read


you keep feeling it


and though it be my story


it will be common,


though it be singular


it will be known to you


so that by the end


you will think—


no, you will realize—


that it was all the while


yourself arranging the words,           


that it was all the time


words that you yourself,


out of your heart


had been saying.

— Mary Oliver

Poetry doesn’t just happen. It grows out of awareness. Out of experience with humanity and the divine. Out of an expression of beauty or sorrow that resonates with what it means to be a human being. It is the work of God in us, printing itself in black and white for the world to see.

In poetry, we remember that God is in all things.

Yellowstone Lily pads

Photo by Tami Bok
Dragonflies
Yellowstone, WY

In All Things

It was easy to love God in all that

was beautiful.

 

The lessons of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me

to embrace God in all

things.

— Saint Francis of Assisi

That God lives in us.

The beautiful thing about relationships is that, when they are valued and nurtured at least, they can provide the context and the safe place needed to clarify comments and actions that could be misunderstood.

In a correspondence between two poets* Peter O’Leary remarks that when he thinks about redefining God, he actually means that he’s been set free from making declarative statements about God by the invitation to, “Be still and know that God is God… Not to define God so much as to identify aspects of the radiating diadem of God’s afterimage.”

I think what he means by this is that if we are aware enough to know that God is with us, we’re going to be moved to describe our experience of God or our need of God.

Alicia O’Striker seems to agree, as she says, “My writing is a spiritual practice. My writing is my prayer. I imagine this is true for many poets.”

So, in the sense that poets are human and experience life as human beings do, their expression of their experiences become the expression of humanity. It’s not so much that they speak for us but that they give us the words for which we are searching to describe what we see and touch and taste and hear and feel.

In this way, poetry is very much a communal act.

Sometimes the Psalms and poetry in general can lose meaning when they become too familiar, when we just run our eyes over the words without registering their meaning. Or sometimes our minds are too full of other voices to makes sense of the words and we miss their meaning in the first place. Sometimes we write the Psalms and poetry in general off as being irrelevant, archaic even.

But the stuff of life is in there. Silence can help us find it.

Photo by Roger Brown Costa Rica

Photo by Roger Brown
Flower at Cafe Milagro
Costa Rica

Being still is not the same as freezing. To be still is to wait patiently until it is time to act again, with God’s prompting. Being still and trusting in God affords us the opportunity to take inventory of the many ways God is at work . . . and to be thankful. The spiritual disciplines of being still and then acting upon God’s prompting can be followed by deep and meaningful growth. Thanks be to God!

Alicia Ostriker said, “I believe that God is pregnant with his exiled, mute, amnesiac, repressed feminine side. Pregnant and in labor. Pregnant and in pain, for I believe our human pain is God’s labor pain, and that we can all collectively be midwives bringing the goddess back into consciousness.”

This is the work of poetry and the work of the Psalms, to invite us to see God, whole unbroken, so that we, too, may live in the divine image, whole and unbroken.

Ostriker’s words compare to Romans 8:22-23: For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they but ourselves, also, the first fruits of the Spirit, even groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, for the redemption of our body.

Feeling that God is hiding from us is cause for groaning, to be sure, but our inner silence and our inner voice and the voices of our community remind us: Absence from God is an illusion.

All we need do is Be Still. And Know that God is God.

Photo by Roger Brown

Photo by Roger Brown
Singing Sands
Dunhuang, China

*http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/182864

Sources:

Meister Eckhart, The Spirit’s Hands, “Love Poems from God” © 2002 Daniel Ladinsky/Penguin Group

We Shake with Joy & I Want to Write Something So Simply “Evidence,” Poems by Mary Oliver © 2009 by Mary Oliver/Beacon Press

Psalm 40:2,3 New American Standard Bible/New International Version/original Hebrew

Psalm 23:4 NASB

Spring Excerpt, “Wendell Berry: New Collected Poems” © 2012 Wendell Berry/Counterpoint Press

Suppressing Art

In Art, Life in Society, Music, Poetry on October 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm
Snow Geese NM:NWR

Photo by Roger Brown
Snow Geese
New Mexico

By Heila Rogers

Why did poets, musicians and dancers of the Stalin-era Soviet Union continue to create? Why not just stop, when they saw their loved ones and other artists being killed, or sent to the Gulag or jail?

What compelled them?

Why is art often suspect?

And… what is art actually … for?

Regimes like the Soviet Union, or Hitler’s Nazism,  – all have controlled, suppressed and hated art and artists.

This suppressive way of thinking is alive and well in every country.

Yet Adolf Hitler painted paintings. Propaganda was used in the above systems. As is sometimes the case in advertising, images were made especially to sway or manipulate.

If that’s not what art is for … then what is in fact its purpose?

Artists have been referred to as “parasites upon society.” There is a perception of making art as being a waste of time.

Glimpses of a world without art can be seen when looking at the functional-only blocks of apartment buildings in former “Soviet Republic” countries.

[Mongolia]

Much of nature consistently inspires people. Looking around us, at gloriously different varieties of creatures and plants; or unique, everyday sky and cloud patterns, we feel hopeful … and often moved to create.

Petra-RB

Photo by Roger Brown
Sandstone Formations
Petra, Jordan

When we feel, think and conclude – from an artistic place within us – we make things.

doorway

Photo by Roger Brown
Petra Cave Entrance
Jordan

Why is this threatening? What causes such a strong reaction against art and artists?

Human beings want to control other human beings. Perceived control makes us feel safe. When we tell others what to do, we have an illusion of safety. Really, we all think we know best, and how the world should be run. Therefore we’re ready to organize everyone and everything accordingly. So when someone (or something) challenges that, it must be suppressed. Or else we won’t win or succeed. We think.

This is the fatal flaw of totalitarianism. All forms of it eventually fail, because they don’t take into account (or understand) long-term reality. There is a force in the world and in human beings which will resist inappropriate control.

Whereas within art, although there are certainly elements of control and discipline, it’s viscerally about freedom. About exploring, questioning … and listening.

Real art loves, expresses truth, explores truth, attempts to honestly communicate what is true.

That doesn’t mean everything created is good or used for good.

It also doesn’t mean that everyone fights or resists wrong control. In the short-term, or without a certain perspective, it feels better to control others or to submit to (undue) influence.

Very obviously: humans can warp or misuse … well, pretty much anything and everything. But, the grace to create is there. It’s there for everyone. This might be a strange thing to say, but what if Hitler were not suppressed himself as an artist? His father forbid him go to art school. Might history have been different if he himself were not abused and wrongly controlled?

Take for example the swastika – the flag of the Third Reich, created by Hitler.

The arrangement of colors and the symbol together are visually attractive. The bent cross symbol is actually an ancient one – the root Sanskrit word “svastika” means  “to be good/lucky.” Many cultures use variations on the form:

[symbol, origin]

The Nazi swastika is self-described as being, “the symbol of the creating, acting life.” Wow. Wishful thinking on Hitler’s part? The four-arm crooked form was already being widely used in a folk-national movement, among others, when Hitler adapted it for his now infamous emblem. It is still used widely in Indian religions. [Wikipedia]

Hitler wrote (in Mein Kampf) what he wanted the symbol to mean: “As National Socialists, we see our program in our flag. In red, we see the social idea of the movement; in white, the nationalistic idea; in the swastika, the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work.” [63]

He robbed from widespread, already popular images to make, in an evil-genius way, a powerful (albeit warped) standard. He wanted so much to be an artist. Instead of representing what he stated above, the Nazi flag now represents horror, evil and … suppression.

Divergent or analytical thinking – a part of art – is discouraged and punished. As well are disagreements with policies. This intolerance for disagreement instead of being a strength, in fact indicates weakness. If someone called Stalin “a murderer and peasant slayer” (O. Mandelstam below) and the words were not true, what power would they have? But then, because propagandists have experienced success using words cleverly to manipulate people into believing certain ways, they suspect others of doing the same.

Regardless, during times of persecution and distress, the following artists were a part of creating – which sometimes did mean protest and disagreement with governmental policies or actions:

(Data, except as cited, from the book, “The Soviet Image: A Hundred Years of Photographs from Inside the TASS Archives,” by Peter Radetsky © 2007)

Anna Akhmatova:

A preeminent Russian writer of the twentieth century and a renowned poet, “In the presence of [her] I looked at the world as if I were on a new planet,” said writer Lydia Chukovskaya. Her husband was executed for alleged antigovernment activities, her son was exiled to Siberia, many of the people closest to her would be imprisoned or killed, she suffered a ban on her poetry that lasted, on and off, for three decades. She never left her home country and wrote the following in her poem “Requiem”: “No foreign sky protected me, / no stranger’s wing shielded my face. / I stand as witness to the common lot / survivor of that time, that place.”

Photo by Roger BrownPetra, Jordan

Photo by Roger Brown
Al Khazneh Ruin
Petra, Jordan

Osip Mandelstam:

Was arrested and died in the Gulag in 1938. “Poetry is respected only in this country,” he said. “There’s no place where more people are killed for it.” Circa 1925.

‘This is what I most want’

This is what I most want

un-pursued, alone

to reach beyond the light

that I am furthest from.

And for you to shine there-

no other happiness-

and learn, from starlight,

what its fire might suggest.

A star burns as a star,

light becomes light,

because our murmuring

strengthens us, and warms the night.

And I want to say to you

my little one, whispering,

I can only lift you towards the light

by means of this babbling.

Note: Written for his wife, Nadezhda.

[http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Russian/Mandelstam.htm#_Toc485874609]

The treasury, Petra, Jordan

Photo by Roger Brown
The Siq (The Shaft)
Petra, Jordan

Lydia Ruslanova:

Folk singer who toured the front constantly during the war and performed for the troops. A beloved entertainer, she performed on the steps of the Reichstag in Berlin while parts of it still smoldered. Because of her popularity and friendship with Marshal Zhukov, Stalin began to regard her as a potential threat. She and her husband were sent to the Gulag in 1948. Upon Stalin’s death, she was released and resumed performing until her death, in 1973.

Dmitri Shostakovitch:

In August 1942, during the darkest days of the siege, his Seventh Symphony was performed in Leningrad’s Philharmonic Hall. Loudspeakers broadcast the concert throughout Leningrad and, as another act of defiance, to the German troops stationed outside the city.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtjAmaG7jjA

“Regardless of when Shostakovich initially conceived the symphony, the Nazi attack and consequent relaxing of Soviet censorship gave Shostakovich the hope of writing the work for a mass audience instead of a primarily esoteric one. To do so, he had to express his hidden feelings in a way to make them accessible to the audience, allowing it to experience catharsis. A model on how to do this was Igor Stravinsky‘s Symphony of Psalms. Stravinsky’s compositions held considerable influence over Shostakovich.[13] and he had been deeply impressed with this particular work.[14]

Shostakovich’s plan was for a single-movement symphony, including a chorus and a requiem-like passage for a vocal soloist, with a text taken from the Psalms of David. With the help of his best friend, critic Ivan Sollertinsky, who was knowledgeable about the Bible, he selected excerpts from the Ninth Psalm. The idea of individual suffering became interwoven in Shostakovich’s mind with the Lord God’s vengeance for the taking of innocent blood (Verse 12, New King James Version).[14] The theme not only conveyed his outrage over Stalin’s oppression,[16] but also may have inspired him to write the Seventh Symphony in the first place.[17] “I began writing it having been deeply moved by the Psalms of David; the symphony deals with more than that, but the Psalms were the impetus,” the composer said. “David has some marvelous words on blood, that God takes revenge for blood, He doesn’t forget the cries of victims, and so on. When I think of the Psalms, I become agitated.”[17]

A public performance of a work with such a text would have been impossible before the German invasion. Now it was feasible, at least in theory, with the reference to “blood” applied at least officially to Hitler. With Stalin appealing to the Soviets’ patriotic and religious sentiments, the authorities were no longer suppressing Orthodox themes or images.[18] Yet for all the importance he placed on them, Shostakovich may have been right in writing the symphony without a text, in view of the censorship that would eventually be reimposed.[14]” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._7_(Shostakovich)

The treasury

Photo by Roger Brown
Narrow gorge, East entrance
Petra, Jordan

Artists who are trying to express and share light and beauty as real and existing; along with describing the human condition, and grief, and the wrongs they see — speak in important ways for all of us.

Art lifts us, and somehow helps us to be free.

Performance Art & Flash Mobs

In Art, Life in Society, Music on December 1, 2011 at 12:38 pm

The Hallelujah Chorus in the Food Court one.  The “Doe, a Deer” one, dancing in the train station.  What is it about these flash mobs that moves us?

I think part of it is a breaking through of the disconnect that we experience in large public spaces, or maybe in life.

Also, it’s a gift.  From the participants to the watchers.  A raw, pure form of art in that way.  Free, meant to give pleasure.  The participants (artists) practice and refine their creation.

The other thing that I can figure out , is that it invites involvement.  Formal boundaries between “artist” and “audience” are blurred if not obliterated.  There’s an implicit invitation to participate.

The watchers are a part of it.

People are free to smile, videotape, cover their mouths in shock, or dance.

Some people run away, too, I think.  Or are confused and leave.

What do you think?

What about the sneaky, surprise element?

The second one of these was a kind of publicity stunt.

Food Court Hallelujah Chorus

Train Station Do Re Mi

Plus there’s the element of the unexpected — both location and activity.

Or are these “smart mobs?”  Which are “mobs” and which are performance art?

What about the disruption of business or normal public activity?

Evidently Germany has outlawed them.

~ HR

By Spike Dolomite

Jazz & The Art of Medicine

In Life in Society, Music, Nature on November 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Check out this excellent article in The Annals of Family Medicine, written by a doctor about how the symbiosis of the doctor-patient relationship can mirror the way jazz musicians create by listening to each other and then improvising.

~ HR

Photo by Doug Stutler

La Marseillaise, French National Anthem

In Art, Music on October 30, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Clip from the Edith Piaf film biography La Vie en Rose.  Sung by Cassandre Berger (lip-synched by Pauline Burlet, who plays the young Édith in the film).

What is it about patriotic music that stirs the soul?  Is it the “collective memory” of oppression – and the relative costs of triumph in battle?  Is it something specific about the music?  Or both?