And the purpose of art is…?

Jim Carmody, Muse end close up

‘Wherever The Muse Doth Lead’
Photo credit – Jim Carmody

“Sometimes, without darkness, riches will never be revealed. We need patience and faith to wait for things to unfold out of that deep valley between the two worlds…” Melanie Doherty, Bookish Nature

What is art? What is dance? What is their purpose…? I remember having heated discussions in years long gone, debating what art is, attempting to define its parameters, establish what makes ‘good’ art. I took it seriously at the time.

Jim Carmody, Muse scientist duet

‘Wherever The Muse Doth Lead’
Photo credit – Jim Carmody

These days such discussions are not as interesting to me. What interests me is my personal relationship with art, and my personal philosophy on what art can be. I appreciate it can be many things, and I value and respect all of those myriad of things. But for me personally, I see art as being of greatest value when it sits in the centre of everyday life, adding nourishment, meaning and enrichment to all aspects of living.

Art began as something raw and fundamental, something intrinsic to everyday life and everyday people, it was immediate, basic, vital. It emerged spontaneously, it carried life force, it expressed something that had a need to be expressed, it simply ‘was’.

Manuel Rotenberg, Muse opening corner group

‘Wherever The Muse Doth Lead’
Photo credit – Manuel Rotenberg

Where is art today? Does it sit at the centre of life, embedded in each of us, with its value so obvious that we do not need to question its existence? Or does it sit in its own domain, in a realm that only ‘artists’ dwell in, cut off and out of reach from the rest of us mere mortals? What does that do to us? Where does that leave us and our view of ourselves as human beings?

Jim Carmody, Muse opening

‘Wherever The Muse Doth Lead’
Photo credit – Jim Carmody

I believe that we do ourselves a disservice when we either sideline art or put it on a pedestal. Both of those acts make a statement. They say “creativity is not the domain of all humankind”. I believe this is deeply disempowering. Life itself is a creative act, being alive is a creative miracle, and we are all responsible for creating our lives as we think, feel and act our way through every day.

Manuel Rotenberg, Muse madness pedestals

‘Wherever The Muse Doth Lead’
Photo credit – Manuel Rotenberg

When we separate art from ourselves, I believe that on some level we create a wide chasm inside us. We cut off and ostracise a part of us that is inherently creative, spontaneous, life-enhancing and spiritual. We throw it away from ourselves, cast it adrift on some barren outcrop of rock and place an uncrossable gulf between it and us.

Manuel Rotenberg, Muse sky duet

‘Wherever The Muse Doth Lead’
Photo credit – Manuel Rotenberg

So, to come full circle, for me personally, art is a bridge. Art is a bridge that can lead us back across the gulf to that soft, vital, creative, connected, energised place inside ourselves. For me, any art that can bridge the gulf has value; no matter what label of genre or aesthetic might be applied to it. Because for me, crossing the bridge and reconnecting with the part of ourselves that has not forgotten its capacity for flight is a vital part of living…

“The tug to follow brings glimpses of doubts and peril, but to not follow leaves you closer to the falling-edge behind. Only by answering the forward tug, can you get to the edge where you can fly. Sometimes you have to drag yourself there, crawling inch by inch. Sometimes, you can fling open a door, and a following wind lifts you through, opening the wide sea ahead of you. Sometimes it seems very far away indeed, glimpsed through a keyhole.” Melanie Doherty, Bookish Nature

Jim Carmody, Muse wash line trio

‘Wherever The Muse Doth Lead’
Photo credit – Jim Carmody

I was recently fortunate enough to be involved in an artistic project as guest choreographer for UCSD’s winterWORKS 2013 performances.  My contribution to the performance was a piece entitled ‘Wherever the Muse Doth Lead’. As I reflect on that work, the two aspects of it which stand out to me are the dancers and the connection I formed with two writers.

Jim Carmody, Muse picture frame

‘Wherever The Muse Doth Lead’
Photo credit – Jim Carmody

The dancers are all undergraduates at UCSD; some of them major in dance, but most are majoring in other subjects such as law and medicine. To work so closely with such inspiring young adults, who may not see themselves as aspiring ‘artists’ but whose love, passion and commitment to dancing and immersing themselves in the world of the muse that we created together, was an amazingly life-affirming experience.

The writers, Melanie Doherty and Louise Hastings, are gifted at writing words that create the most exquisite bridges between the mundane parts of ourselves and the ‘poetic and extraordinary’ ones. I was humbled, happy, thankful and excited to have their permission to record segments of their words, spoken by the dancers, and woven into our soundscore. Such is the grace of art, that it can connect people who have never met, connect diverse genres, and connect a person with the spark inside themselves.

Manuel Rotenberg, Muse opening corner group and painting

‘Wherever The Muse Doth Lead’
Photo credit – Manuel Rotenberg

“There is something in her that intrigues me, something I don’t yet understand. How she gives of herself so freely, yet expects nothing in return; how she holds onto joy during moments in time when the spark seems like it is dying; carrying me along on the cloud burst, away from the grey and mechanic, into the poetic and extraordinary. A place where the ice is melting, where the fire has raged through the forests, where the rivers flow on like electricity. My spirit is gradually unfolding into being…” Louise Hastings, Wings Over Waters

Manuel Rotenberg, Muse giving globe

‘Wherever The Muse Doth Lead’
Photo credit – Manuel Rotenberg

Art, in all its forms, has the capacity to remind us what it is to ‘be’ rather than to ‘do’… What greater service or purpose could it offer?

Please visit Bookish Nature by Melanie Doherty and Wings Over Waters by Louise Hastings to read more of their beautifully crafted words.

All photos are with kind permission from Manuel Rotenberg and Jim Carmody. Please visit their websites for more captivating images.


8 thoughts on “And the purpose of art is…?

  1. Lovely post, Amanda, and I am proud and humbled that you used my words for your production. I would love to have seen it. I believe art is life affirming, a necessary connection to our souls. Thank you for this post xo

  2. Louise, thank you so much… Like many people I judge myself to be not a ‘true artist’… Not one whose words flow as effortlessly as yours or whose dance making would win awards! But I think I sit in a place where it is not so much about that… I enjoy writing and dancing to connect, explore and deepen… It is a need, an urge… I am drawn back to them both because I feel how healthy it is to be immersed in the realm of creative endeavour… A connection to ours souls like you say… If we could all let go of self-judgment more often, I am sure we could all connect in to that place more often…

  3. Hi Amanda
    Lovely post! And it looked like a really great show!
    I have agree, sometimes the creative process is as important as the finished product, and while there are those who talents sit at the zenith of their field (and I’m a big fan of Louise’s as well), it shouldn’t stop any of us from trying to capture that inner muse.
    If we are lucky enough to share our work with others then so much the better.

  4. Amanda – this is such a beautiful post… Thank you for these words – and for the very special gift that was the opportunity to feel a part of such a wonderfully expressive piece of art. Like Louise, I feel so proud, humbled and honoured that you chose my words to add to the creative mix. It’s magical – and very, very special – that so many minds were focused and brought together in creating something so heartfelt and meaningful to each of us. For me, it became that very special thing that art can create – something shared, alive, renewed and constantly renewing. At the time of the performance, I couldn’t quite get my head around (and still can’t!) that, in a far away part of this planet, my words were being heard in such a magical context – and in such wonderful company! That sense of connection was so important to me too.

    The photos are beautiful! So lovely to see them. And, again, many thanks too for the chance to see the rehearsal on video. I was so struck by how the crafting of the dance piece – by you, the students, the backstage team (all such talented people!) – created such a seamless blend of beautiful interpretation, movement, emotion, music, words, choreography, lighting and staging. So much grace, subtlety and truth! The spirit of what art is all about was definitely alive and breathing through the whole production.

    Your insightful words about art here resonate so strongly with me, Amanda. Like you, as I have got older, I’ve become more impatient with the traps we tend to set for ourselves in our definitions and boundaries. I agree – that wide chasm between ourselves and our creative spark becomes a serious stifling of something absolutely vital to our own human ‘being-ness’. We allow ourselves to distrust the authenticity of our own creativity. Art is so fundamental, all-encompassing and huge in its scope, there is room for all of us to find the joy and fulfilment in stepping out across that bridge…

    Thank you again for this wonderful learning journey with the Muse… (sorry for the long ramble!)

    Melanie x

  5. Reblogged this on Bookish Nature and commented:
    When I followed the Muse to begin writing ‘Bookish Nature,’ I never could have foreseen that one day my words would be woven into a beautiful dance piece, choreographed and performed so far away on a distant shore…
    It is such an honour and a privilege to feel a part of this magical expression of the spirit of art; a piece which, in itself, was formed out of art’s powerful ability to connect, transform and constantly renew…
    It is amazing where the Muse might lead…
    Please visit Amanda Banks’s beautiful post to read the thoughts and aims behind the dance’s choreography, inspiration and creation…

  6. Melanie!

    Thank you for such a wonderful comment and for reblogging on Bookish Nature. Yes, connections are so deeply important; they are part of what we are all made of somehow. They can be trivialised and reduced to ‘networking’ in its most superficial form, where the aim is purely a self-oriented and self-promoting one, which I have experienced at times in my new home and in this online community. But when they are created with a purer intent they are a lifeblood, a realisation of what we all fundamentally need and what we can all give to one another.

    I never expected you and Louise to be so generous and happy about me borrowing your words… I was mostly anxious that you might not want to give permission or be unhappy with the result. It has been a surprising joy to me to realise that I have given something to you both, that has put a smile on your faces and a moment of feeling good. I never anticipated that! And I have to say, I feel so very good about it. So thank you too, for sharing what this little meeting of words, movement, music and all, has meant to you. It has impacted me greatly.

    Amanda x

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