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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The Poor, Poor Rich

I have started to notice something while reading public discussions, Facebook comments, and other expressed sentiments, and that is that normal people tend to have a great deal of disdain for rich people. This is probably obvious to most. It’s common to hear people talk about ‘the rich stealing from the poor’, ‘exploitation’, and of course the catch-all Wall Street.

Business, perhaps surprisingly, is often times very fair. Every participant in a business relationship is accepting of their role. Unfairness does make its appearances, but very often it is the case that people take mutually beneficial actions. Profits are to be maximized, and so under that operating premise, labor, for example, tends to get displaced overseas where it is cheaper. Many say that these workers who make very little each day are being exploited, and yet they don’t know much about the conditions these workers live in and what they would otherwise be doing with their time. It is often the case that this new labor is a big step up for them, and the addition of jobs en masse provides a significant boost to their local economies.

Overseas workers are jumping at the opportunity to work for U.S. companies. Perhaps you should ask them whether they feel exploited. Personally, if I had the option of working as a farmer and working at a call center or factory for a U.S. company for relatively more money, it would be very obvious to me what the better option would be, and I would think it rather strange for you to call me exploited because of it.

What is it with this idea that the middle class has about the upper class, that they are mostly over-privileged, greedy, an unworthy of compassion if they are to ever suffer? This attitude speaks little of them and volumes to the person who is clearly resentful.

When Humans of New York posted a series on attendees of the Met Galla, there were popular “woe is me” comments disparaging the personal experiences of the rich, as if they have it made so well that they are unworthy of any further attention. Of course there was a backlash, “it’s Humans of New York, not Poor Humans of New York,” but none the less, the fact that this conversation arose at all was telling.

I always try to keep a distance from the conversations to understand the different perspectives, because I find it interesting that these perspectives exist at all, and I’m curious why they do.

The way that I see it is it’s ridiculous to consider rich people as being all of one type, sharing any qualities at all, other than happening to have much more money than they need to live on alone. They got this money for all different reasons. Some inherited it (within this camp there are plenty of assholes). Many earned it through deliberate and sustained hard work. Some choose to live simple lives despite their wealth, and some loose their minds and buy as much as they possibly can. They are all individuals, and everyone is different; everyone has a different story and a different character.

Somehow, when wealth is achieved, there is a piece of humanity that is lost in the wealthy individual through the eyes of the public. This lost piece of humanity seems to have been driven out of perspectives via nothing other than envy. It’s really rather sad.

Of course there is reason to resent those that flaunt their money and cry over losing a $60k diamond earring while wading in the water on the shore of a south Pacific island (of course I’m talking about Kim Kardashian). That is indeed absurd. But everyone suffers. Humanity isn’t lost to the wealthy internally, and humans are highly adaptable. Problems are always relative to ones own experiences.

Allowing oneself to respect the grievances and complaints of the wealthy, barring ridiculous reality TV fiascos, perhaps requires that one come to terms with the fact that you don’t have as much money as they do.

The thing is, the way to get rich if you aren’t already in this world, if we are to do so in a self-made and dignified manner (i.e. not marrying someone for their wealth or inheriting wealth), is to create value. If you aren’t making as much as your boss, it’s because your work isn’t as valuable to the company as his. Another way to think about it is successful entrepreneurs who turn billionaires tend to solve major problems, with solutions that are so big they continuously effect the lives of millions for generations. Steve Jobs solved the problem of the absence of personal-sized, straightforward to use computers, and because of that he changed the way we interact with the world. His solution was so fundamental that it led him to achieve a net worth of 19 billion.

Famous actors have one of the highest paid jobs in the country. They create a lot of value–people eat up everything they create, say, and endorse. They are famous for a reason. We make them famous, because we watch them, read about them, and talk about them. They affect our thoughts and our lives, and they are duly compensated. They also tend to work 15 hour days shooting films, flying all over the country doing interviews, and whatever else, barely any time at all for a social life. They live large but they pay the price, and part of that price is losing their anonymity, the sincerity of the people they attract, and the compassion of the many that envy their success.

Instead of complaining about the dastardly rich exploiting the poor, maybe look inside yourself, and see that you are free to create your own success, to create value, to solve problems, all the while retaining your right to the entirety of the human experience.

 

 

 

Is Human Behavior Unchangeably Hardwired?

Instincts are so powerful that we lose ourselves in them–they compel us, control us, and drive our desires without the requirement for any modicum of conscious awareness. They make us feel most alive, most “right”; in many ways, they make up the foundations upon which our identities are built, the center to which our personalities are relative.

Instincts are coded in our genes; they originate from past behaviors that guaranteed the preservation of those genes by driving us to survive and procreate.

Behavior in practice has changed over time, insofar as genes have continued to evolve due to sexual selective pressures as well as the effects of changes in our cultures. Cultural evolution is very similar to genetic evolution, with its analogous ‘meme’ behavior, a term coined by Richard Dawkins, representing cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

Research in the fields of genetics, neuropsychology, and paleobiology yields evidence that, despite drastic changes in our environments, cultures, technology, knowledge, and general realities, our deepest, instinctual genes have remained largely unchanged from the emergence of homo sapiens 200,000 years ago. People today still behave in ways that aided our survival during the Stone Age.

You can take the person out of the Stone Age, evolutionary psychologists contend, but you can’t take the Stone Age out of the person.[1]

Sexual selection is the only genetic selection left in the modern world, as selective pressures for survival are no longer relevant in our society. Intelligence, physical attractiveness, and economic advantage still effect our sexual choices, although in the first world it is a growing trend that the more educated people are having fewer children and the least educated are having more, but that is beside the point.

What culture and social conditioning tend to do is not change instincts and emotions, but redirect, suppress, channel, and otherwise control the expression of them.

A good example of this is found in human sexuality. Sex is one of the most deeply ingrained instincts we have, short of our basic instinct to stay alive. But the impact that culture and individual psychology have on sexuality is quite extensive. I am not speaking of sexual orientation, but the ways in which sexuality gets channeled, directed, and expressed.

One theory for sexual ‘deviancy’, or abnormal sexual preferences and fantasies is that instincts, as strong and powerful as they are, must be channeled and compartmentalized to preserve the integrity of one’s social conditioning as well as one’s own ego and personal identity. A team of researchers in Canada recently found that, interestingly, nearly half of people surveyed were found to have at least one type of sexual perversion. [2] Perversion may just be a way instincts get channeled and expressed in a way that can be compartmentalized as a ‘game’, where behavior is reserved for certain roles that are kept at a distance from the participants’ primary identities.

In short, it seems instincts, at the core, are impossible to change.

To continue on the example of sexuality, in the Victorian era, there was widespread sexual repression, which is what likely caused the boom in the “hysteria” diagnosis, which doctors treated with handjobs, leading them to invent the first vibrators to save their hands from fatigue. [3] 

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[Cadence Theatre Company]

 

Japan is seeing an unprecedented decline in sexual activity, coined the “celibacy syndrome”. [4] It is an open question whether sexuality is getting channeled and expressed in other ways, in a Freudian sense within Japanese careers or online in Japan’s ever-growing online and virtual reality communities. And if it is not found elsewhere, it could manifest in the negative sense: as loneliness, despair, and feelings of alienation. However, if that is not the case, it is also possible that, after Japan’s economic and natural disaster history and its increasing urban development and cultural futurism, Japanese people could be seeing a decline in the sexual instinct itself.

Japanese people could be seeing a decline in the sexual instinct itself.

 

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Tokyo

 

What is interesting to note is that we have already seen a drastic change in human behavior. It happened during the development of the first cities. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans engaged in incessant tribal warfare until the development of the first cities, which was necessary for the development of civilizations. Cities allowed for more specialized activities to develop, but they required strangers to get along. People had to learn to extend courtesy and empathy to people that weren’t a part of their inner circle; they had to project their group mentality onto a much larger circle, which required humans to suppress their hostile natures.

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Artist’s impression of two tribes at war

 

It seems that humans can change their instincts. It takes a very, very long time, and it requires significant social and circumstantial pressures–significant enough to override the very behaviors that allowed us to stay alive until this point.

This is good news, because human nature is horrible in many ways. We still exhibit tribal mentalities to the extent that war and racism are still very much alive. It is the hope of many of us that future generations will live in a world one day without destructive hatred, inspired by instincts no longer appropriate to the world we live in.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://hbr.org/1998/07/how-hardwired-is-human-behavior

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3484266/Are-pervert-Study-suggests-half-deviant-sexual-acts.html

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-sex/201303/hysteria-and-the-strange-history-vibrators

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/20/young-people-japan-stopped-having-sex

The Evolution of Fame

Fame is a rapidly evolving phenomena in society. The form it has taken and means it has been carried have changed drastically over the centuries, albeit slowly. However, in the last century, since the invention of the radio and television and now the internet, fame is evolving at an overwhelming pace.

In ancient times, few people were capable of writing histories, as literacy was not widespread. In many early societies such as Egypt and China, all that exists of history is a list of kings.

The first recorded “individual” in history is considered to be Akhenaten, a pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, who ruled from 1351/3 BC until 1334/6 BC. He attempted to shift the predominant religion at the time from polytheistic to monotheist–namely the solar deity, Aten. This was a major proposed shift, and he would go so far as to place a ban on images other than Aten and erase inscriptions of other gods and pluralities around the kingdom.[1] Akhenaten was the first person that you get a sense of. Not just a name and list of what they did, laws decreed, etc., but a sense of their minds and ideas and character as a person.

Individuality, its expression, and its preservation in recorded history has since proliferated.

The desire for recognition and universal praise is natural to humans and we have been seeking it out probably ever since humans developed the ability to give praise. In ancient times, however, fame was often reserved for royalty, leaders, and military heroes.

Fame is generally carried through the times in proportion to how much the individual changed and influenced society and its members. The most famous person who ever lived by far was Jesus, and he achieved this by influencing the majority of people’s belief systems, the way they view the world, and to this day he influences the behavior and thoughts of billions.

How we conceptualize present day fame is drastically different. Fame is now often earned from people’s ability to entertain us, and entertainment is just about the most fleeting type of experience there is. Sometimes entertainers cause movements, which are founded on deeper ideas rooted in individuality, freedom, creativity, and the normalization of previously underrepresented and oppressed groups within popular culture, such as what Ellen Degeneres did for the LGBT community and Kim Kardashian did for body positivity.

Another article written on this subject notes how differently actors used to be regarded:

Actors were once considered the lowest of the low in many parts of the world. While the ancient Greeks tended to hold some actors in fairly high esteem, the Romans were not overly fond of them. Many were slaves, or considered to be people without any morals, capable of performing any lewd act on stage if asked to do so. Actors were definitely not favorites with the philosopher, and Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate.

In Britain, a general anti-theatrical feeling pervaded the upper echelons of society for a very long time. The Tudors were particularly suspicious of actors, believing most to be up to no good. Acting was viewed as a “profession” of beggars and drifters. People who gave nothing back to society. The entertainment and happiness of the humble masses mustn’t have rated too high on the list of priorities for the Tudor Government. [2]

History used to be written and culture molded by the most educated, intelligent, and talented people alive. This has been turned upside down by globalization and the popularization of the internet. Now culture is being molded by the average: if people want a voice in the larger community, they must tailor their content to align with those of average intelligence [3].

In addition to this, the sheer number of influential voices is growing exponentially. People are fighting tooth and nail to gain recognition and prominence, and the younger generation is opting for more superficial means of acquiring this: via social media, Vine and other basic entertainment, and You Tube channels.

This social change is occurring in parallel with increasing levels of individualism:

P. M. Greenfield’s (2009) theory of social change and human development predicts that, as learning environments move toward more complex technology, as living environments become increasingly urbanized, as education levels increase, as commerce develops, and as people become wealthier, psychological development should move in the direction of increasing individualism. As a value system, individualism prioritizes the independent action of the individual as well as the development and expression of individual character and personality (Individualism, n.d.; Stein & Urdang, 1966). [4]

Studies show [5] that there is evidence for this: the use of individualistic words and phrases have steadily increased in music and literature since the 60’s. Individualistic words and phrases include but are not limited to “unique,” “personalize,” “self,” “all about me,” “I am special,” and “I’m the best”.

In a sense, the increasingly substance-less content output fixes itself in the long term: it’s influential only in the very short term. A vine that gets 10 million views because it made 1 million people laugh for a minute will fade into oblivion rather quickly. Even Kim Kardashian, one of the most famous people alive today, will be completely forgotten in a couple generations’ time, because what she doesn’t offer is substantial influence. Gossip, entertainment, and fashion/beauty obsessions are not enough to keep affecting people for centuries. Luckily, what effects people in the very long term will always be what is deeply important to the human condition: world views, values, belief systems, philosophies, and real knowledge.

Millennials should be striving for lasting fame, and since lasting fame is hard to come by, short term fame might just be a fad destined to fade away once the majority of people realize how unfulfilling the superficial rat race is.

What is interesting to note is that society is trending toward a limit of information processing, not that of the internet and technological data processing (as far as we know, that’s boundless), but of human information processing. We simply can’t direct our attention to everything at once, and this inevitably puts a limit on how many people are able to be known by us.

Before this limit is reached, it seems the sheer amount of people we know of continues to grow while the depth of our knowledge of them decreases. It’s the difference between deeply knowing the intricacies of Aristotle’s philosophy and historical context versus knowing nothing but the name, image, and genre of contribution of a particular celebrity.

There is now a lot of energy invested and money being made off of one of the newest and fasted growing categories of research: SEO and social media optimization and Youtube, blog, and general website promotion.

Many people are beginning to wake up to the dynamic and interactive, rather than static and limitedly informative Internet. A our lives become increasingly intertwined with information networks, our feeling of “presence” becomes increasingly dependent on our presence within the online world.

I could write everything there is to know about me–every memory, every thought, and every secret, and I could post it all onto the internet, to last there for all of eternity. But 500 years from now, who will search that information, how much will that information influence anything in the future? This is the general question of fame in this dawning age, and the answer for all of us, however well-known, is yet to be evident.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhenaten#First_.E2.80.9Cindividual.E2.80.9D

[2] http://weeklygravy.com/lifestyle/the-evolution-of-fame/

[3] https://pjmedia.com/drhelen/2016/03/06/the-curse-of-the-high-iq/2/

[4] http://greenfieldlab.psych.ucla.edu/Media_studies_files/The%20value%20of%20fame-1(1).pdf

[5] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0040181