The Joy of Every Art Form

The following describes my own personal experience and opinions and I do not mean to make general statements claiming to be objectively accurate.

 

 

I LOVE art, art of most every form. I love making art–music, drawing, painting, writing and dancing. In the past I have learned to play the guitar, drums, piano, and I even took cello lessons for a while. I am currently actively pursuing painting and ballet. With painting, I am experimenting with acrylic, watercolor, and oil. With dancing, I am trained primarily in ballet, but also considerably in jazz, contemporary, modern, and hip hop. I took 2 years of tap and a few sporadic years of ballroom, including salsa, samba, and even of bit of waltz, swing, and tango. I also love writing and literature. I have a minor in creative writing and I love a good book. I am a huge fan of Russian literature, the dark existential stuff.

I’m also a huge fan of classical music concerts, opera, and theater. I love Bach, Chopin, Strauss, and Tchaikovsky. Thais is currently my favorite opera. I took an intensive Shakespeare class in college and spent a week in Ashland, Oregon at the annual regional Shakespeare festival. I even helped write and act in a short play. I loved it. I loved acting. I was the lead role in a play in middle school and I remember really enjoying that. Someday even if it’s just for increasing my confidence I’d love to take acting lessons.

Art speaks to me in a very deep sense.

After reading this, you are probably thinking, my god, this girl is spreading herself way too thin. It’s absurd. And yes, to an extent it is a bit absurd. But art isn’t a career for me with clear goals. It’s a lifestyle; an emotional outlet; a realm of various possible experiments and experiential journeys.

I’ve gone “all in” for every art form I’ve tried, and each offers a unique corresponding beauty.

It’s like different types of music that you connect with emotionally–there is a uniquely pleasurable experience associated with the different types. There are differently sublime experiences.

When I was very serious about the piano, and I was good enough to play intermediate pieces by Chopin and Tchaikovsky, I lost myself and I was swept away by something deeply resonating and immediate. Perhaps my appreciation of classical music stems from my 12+ years experience of ballet. Not every piece speaks to me but it’s always very obvious when it does. I never wonder what I feel about a piece of music. When I play the piano and when I passively listen to it, these are very different experiences and pleasurable in different ways. Each way of experiencing art offers a different way of losing yourself and connecting deeply.

When I paint, it’s silent. There is an entirely different sense at work reaching for something aesthetically pleasing. There is a similar critical voice inside of me loathing failures to harmonize and a similar satisfaction in finally creating something harmonious. The piano is immediate and powerful, like a gust of wind that carries me away. Painting, however, is slow and not so obvious. It’s isn’t as logical as music in the sense that there are chords and harmonics that I could describe mathematically, as if the aesthetics are somehow objectively discoverable. Painting is more deeply subjective and intuitive. I can say that I connect to this and no one could dispute this. If someone just randomly banged their hand on a keyboard, sure, someone could call it post-post-modernist avant garde, but they would most likely be a narcissistic, tone-deaf fool. I also lose myself when I paint, but I’m abstractly connecting to concepts and visual imagery. When I am really in the zone and flowing, I am experiencing a certain kind of sublime.

Dancing always was, is, and always will be my favorite art form to execute. It combines three senses: vision, sound, and touch. By touch, I mean raw ‘physical’ sense, the sense of physicality. This includes the sense of ones physical presence and movement. Because the instrument is ones body, and I must be able to achieve exact visual elements, an incredible amount of strength, flexibility, and technical control is required. Most other art forms utilize only a couple of these characteristics. For example, painting combines visual aesthetics with technical control. Different types of dancing offer different emotional experiences.

 

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When you look at me, maybe you wouldn’t expect that I would be into hip hop dancing, but I have been known to start dance offs at clubs :). I grew up in pretty ghetto areas, so this is a part of my identity that will forever linger. Hip hop is predominantly about empowerment. The feeling I get when I appreciate hip hop music and dancing is a combination of empowerment, strength, and the showcasing of one’s social ‘smoothness’ or coolness, which is very prideful. It’s the most fun type of dance to perform with groups of people and it connects you directly with them between your mutual egos. You’re psychologically more present while you’re dancing–like here I am, I’m dancing, watch this. Ballet is quite the opposite. It’s more dignified, disciplined, traditional, and regimented. It has a very different history and the music it’s paired with is obviously quite different from hip hop. Dancing ballet is much more of an internal struggle and it’s classicality is less ego driven and directed more toward something beyond oneself.

One of my favorite types of music and dance go together and meet at the intersection of classical and modern. It’s the combination hip hop and classical music. When they meet, something truly extraordinary happens. The best of both worlds joins and givens birth to something that is in my opinion greater than the sum of its parts. The movie Save the Last Dance comes to mind. Search on YouTube Hip Hop Violin. The hip hop provides energy and a vivacity that is otherwise lacking in classical music. The classical music provides structure, sophisticated sounds, and sublime elevation otherwise lacking in hip hop. When both are combined in dance, a kind of complex personality forms. The language is more robust; the range of what the dancer is able to express greatly widens. The experience of it is therefore similarly more robust.

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Obviously everyone is unique and appreciates different music to different extents. Someone could listen to one particular song and experience the sublime while for me it could just sound like a collection of sounds completely devoid of emotion.

But every type of art offers a unique possible sublime experience. This is why I have involved myself in so many different kinds of art. They all make me feel things that the others can’t. There is a type of joy that each art form and type is responsible for, and I love to discover and experience as many types as I can.

Many people think you have to be good at art to do it, and to a certain extent I think the pleasure I am speaking about it only attainable with a certain amount of skill. But art is subjective and it is personal, and there are no standards that you must measure yourself against if you are wanting to connect emotionally and create and experience something beautiful. If you haven’t discovered a joy in art I encourage you to explore and discover something inside yourself that only art can draw out of you. The ability to connect and draw pleasure from something that feels beyond oneself is unique to the human condition and it balances the ugly, the mundane, and the painful. This is what it means to be human–to find love and joy that make life meaningful and the suffering we experience worth it.

 

 

 

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When refined judgment becomes pretentious

 

 

If you haven’t watched the film Sideways yet, go watch it! My favorite scene is this one, where Miles, who embodies everything that is wine snobbery, does his hilarious tasting of this wine:

Miles: “Let me show you how this is done. First thing, hold the glass up and examine the wine against the light. You’re looking for color and clarity. Just, get a sense of it. OK? Uhh, thick? Thin? Watery? Syrupy? OK? Alright. Now, tip it. What you’re doing here is checking for color density as it thins out towards the rim. Uhh, that’s gonna tell you how old it is, among other things. It’s usually more important with reds. OK? Now, stick your nose in it. Don’t be shy, really get your nose in there. Mmm . . . a little citrus . . . maybe some strawberry . . . passion fruit . . . and, oh, there’s just like the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese . . .”
Jack: “Wow. Strawberries, yeah! Strawberries. Not the cheese . . .”

While I am a wine lover and I appreciate a good wine tasting, this hilariously satirical scene illustrates that there is a line that you can cross, when judgment becomes less rooted in reality and more exaggerated to show off one’s heightened ability to detect subtlety, i.e. pretension.

Judgment in general is always subjective. Art is a good example. Apart from the artist’s intentionality, there is no objective truth in art to assess. People experience art, and they do so differently because people are different.

“We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.” -Anaïs Nin

Art, wine, music, and even people often leave similar impressions on people when their personalities are bold. In Sideways, though Jack is the pathetically inexperienced, gum-chewing wingman, he recognizes the taste of strawberries. Risking a hasty generalization from such a small sample size of two people, one could say that the taste of strawberries is a little more objective, in the sense that it more directly and clearly describes the wine.

Crossing the line and entering the realm of pretension means that the object of judgment is doing less of the work. The pretentious individual is compensating for what they feel is something that is empty and needs filling–perhaps it’s their ego.

The question is where exactly is that line?

I think there’s an easy answer. If it’s possible to show another person what is causing you to perceive such things in the object, then narcissism takes a rest for the day. In other words, you have to ask if the description is illuminating or additive.

Case in point: the genius of van Gogh.

Take a look at this exquisite masterpiece. This is probably my favorite self-portait of his. Van Gogh was the father of expressionism. He didn’t attempt to capture the world as it was, but as he experienced it. I am not an art historian; I am still in the process of discovering art. But what I can say is how I experience his art. The amount of emotion that comes out of his work is like nothing I have otherwise seen. Look at the expression on his face… the weariness, as if he just came out of a disturbed mania. The lighting is perfect too. When I look at this I don’t just look at a 2d image. It has a way of popping out of the page and coming alive, through the emotions and its conceptualization. This description I am making (I hope) is not pretentious sounding. The difference is sincerity and my ability to expose the object of my judgment as the acting agent.

The very spirit of van Gogh’s work–expressionism–is tantamount to this idea that art and wine and whatever else should be the things doing the work. That, in short, is how you avoid crossing that perilous line of pretentious narcissism.