“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.
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’.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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
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?