We humans usually bring our shiny new lists into a shiny new year, hoping for the best, but, very often, not expecting much. After all, the first day of the new year is just a flip of a page on a calendar, and it is also the next day in a long line of days in which our habits have accumulated and settled in with us. Still, it is a treat to hit that mental “reset” button. In order to truly reset, we have to do some different things and not just vow to “do things differently.”
I am a firm believer in MLK Jr.’s “inescapable network of mutuality” and “single garment of destiny,” and not just for human beings who share the same time period, but for us and those living before and after us. In fact, this web of mutuality binds us to all of creation. In this same way, all of art is bound together in the way it speaks to us, teaches us, comforts us, challenges us, sees us. And, like us, art is bound to everything else and everything else to it.
So, with that in mind, I am vowing to crawl further out on the web this year … and I am dragging my mother with me. She and I have agreed to meet every Tuesday at the same time in order to briefly explore some endeavor that either we have left dormant for too long or have never experienced before. At any rate, the very intentionality of the encounter will automatically change the experience. It is to be a process of both learning and doing. Field trips will be required.
January’s Tuesdays will be devoted to the visual arts. Yesterday, for the first time in a very long time, my mother and I visited a museum together; we went to The Mint Museum. It was a good start to the month. I was inspired especially by the Lois M. Jones “A Life in Vibrant Color” exhibit.
One particular “aha” moment connected me back to poetry.
I often ponder why more people don’t read or enjoy poetry. There are those people to whom poetry will never speak (like the man who sat next to me on my recent flight to New York). Then there are the unchurched: those people who think poetry belongs to someone else. So, back to our “web.” Here I am walking through “A Life in Vibrant Color,” considering the various styles and media that Jones employed in her work, and just enjoying the sheer beauty of all of it. I stood before one of her paintings of a French landscape for a bit, pondering how different it was in style from the French landscape hanging nearby, and I smiled as I thought about how she let what she was seeing determine how she would render it, much like how a poet learns to let the poem be the thing it wants to be. It was then that I caught myself thinking, “But what do I know? I’m no art critic.” Then, lo and behold, just a few paintings away, I encountered an accompanying informational plaque that, in so many words, reflected this same idea about the artist’s work.
Turns out, I did know something. My response to the work was validated by the plaque on the wall. But so what? In that moment when I asked myself, “What do I know,” I pulled myself away from the experience and stopped allowing the piece itself to speak. And what if I had been “wrong” about what I thought the piece was showing me? Would it have lessened the beauty of the art or my enjoyment of it? What if I really don’t understand it? Big “aha” – I couldn’t care less. I like taking a walk through other people’s imaginations, whether I am grasping their very hands or lagging a few steps behind. If this observation appears to be written by a rube, that is because it is written by a rube … a rube who also writes and reads and loves poetry … and loves dance and art and “snobbishly” believes all of art belongs to me as rube more than it belongs to any other class of human being. Let the deconstruction begin.
Next Tuesday, my mother and I will meet and paint. Yes, she does a little. No, I don’t at all. And, again, who cares? The end product is not the point of this encounter. I can’t wait.
I wish everyone could embark on The Tuesday Project. In February, we are going to learn about knitting and knit; in March our subject may be cooking (negotiations are still ongoing!); April will be devoted to gardening; in May, my mother wants to crew. I was hoping to avoid any activities that might require a note from my doctor. For, perhaps, obvious reasons, we have not picked our subjects beyond May. Wish us luck. And Happy New Year.