Thursday, February 08, 2007

Postcard from the Mountains

Vignette framing a sparkling golden sunrise coming up over the grassy meadow.

Snowy mountain peaks are the background, dividing a clear blue sky scattered with white fluffy clouds. Across the picture a brooding dark row of conifers blocks the light from the sky. Luminous early morning mists tremble and waft ghostlike down the course of the streamlet, where icy clear water chuckles through the rocks. Nearby, the tall grass is covered with frost and rime ice that refracts the fiery gleam of sunrise into a hundred million jeweled rainbows that waver gently in the soft breeze. Silent and shapeless, a family of elk shuffles down the stream bank through the cloudy mists, breath steaming and ice crystals glinting on their backs.

Slowly Fading Away

Caring dies the slowest death,
drudging along the dreary road
to personal extinction.

Thoughts take ever longer
to flower and blossom --
longer and longer,
the barren pauses intervene.

Blood stirs seldom into heat,
The heart grudgingly murmurs
its constant monotonous complaint,
but passions never kindle,
all joy ceases.

The man who wished to be,
loses his vain grasp
on one ambition after another.
And incrementally surrenders
to the endless array
of interminable

Slowly fading away
like the mucous streak
left by a passing snail --
an insignificant trace of slime
sliding silently
across the bleak dirty window
of life.

emptiness prevails,
the soul withers,
deflated and flat,
despair and despondency
are the only feelings
left filling the void.

Art Appreciation


It seems to me that a very large slice of our motivation for artistic endeavors is subjective. What is aesthetically pleasing to one is not necessarily appreciated by all. Even more, the impressions we experience are individualistic and subjective. Thus we may not see or hear the same things as other partakers of the same artistic offering. When we attempt to create a work of art, we endow our creation with something personal. But others are quite likely to perceive something entirely different, relative to their own frame of reference.

Sometimes this leads to confusion. Because our society is so strongly directed toward the authoritative, we often tend to sell out our own creative birthright to so-called experts -- critics and the critically acclaimed, people with "high" academic qualifications, those who have successfully marketed their work, the wealthy and powerful. But, at least from the most important individual perspective, the personal experience of such people is no more or less valid than our own. In fact, in the subjective sense, no other perspective supercedes our own.

It is ironic, too, that our experience of the arts can be so colored by input coming from outside the specific channel or medium of the work of art. A negative word from the critics can cast a pall on our enjoyment of the film. Good reviews motivate us more strongly to go see it for ourselves.

Perhaps we should strive more to insulate ourselves from input that tends to inform preconceived notions about the quality of a work of art.

What would you think, if you saw the "Mona Lisa" for the first time, but had never heard anything about it? Would you judge it to be a masterpiece?

Not so subjective...

On the other side of the page, it is obvious that there are elements of artistic endeavor that are decidedly less subjective.

Aspiring artists have experimented for thousands of years with all forms of expression, a myriad of media, a sea of genres. For reasons not so plain, some art forms have more universal appeal, and some are perhaps only attractive -- or even comprehensible -- to the artist who created the work.

In this regard, the experienced artist has a decided edge. Not even native talent or natural genius seem more important in rendering a successful artistic creation that evokes a significant response in a significant number of people.

Although in some instances that academic training can be somewhat helpful in this regard, it appears to me that the best art is generally produced by someone who has tried and practiced and worked long and hard to create evocative and aesthetically stimulating products. Training with a "master" or "mentor" ostensibly helps the artist to learn specific technical skills.

Coloring inside the lines...

While it seems trendy to assert our individuality, in art there seems to be a lot of value in learning discipline. This is particularly important within a specific genre or medium, where technical proficiency precedes effective expression.

The discipline within a specific form of art helps to ensure that other people will be able to understand and share the expression the artist is attempting. Without establishing a common frame of experience, the artist cannot rightly expect his work to be appreciated.

Thus we have rules for paintings, poetry, stories, sculptures. Sometimes departing from the rules has a point. But usually, coloring inside the lines helps us create something others can relate to.

Setting Sun

There it is, the setting sun, laying a blazing trail of gold along my path!

How many days, how many miles I toiled and trod unaware, ere I chanced to notice the treasure, a ransom of kings, so casually strewn beneath the feet of careless passerby.

Caught by the fleeting moment of surpassing beauty, breathless with wonder, and taken aback to recall, with what haste I sped through so many days, seeking that which does not abide, while unheeded visions of inspiring splendor were spinning out before; that shining, glorious path.

So many evenings, unseeing eyes partook not the drama of the spreading aura in the sky. Ever hurrying, searching for momentary rewards, then these ephemeral pursuits suddenly halted by the sober realization: Staggered by the missed opportunities to be entrained in true lasting joy, worthy of highest admiration yet wasted on the unappreciative unseeing eye.

I might have turned away from the wealth, in a blind rush to finish the day’s journey, turning away and bypassing that most memorable road of light, there where it shimmers, the setting sun!

Death in the Desert

Gasping his last agonizing desperate breath,
He faltered and fell headlong in the burning sand,
Powerless arms outstretched
to reach the impossible goal.
Defeat his dying thought, as the last echo of life
faded from his mind.

A bright new awareness gradually flooded in,
Filling his whole being with pure white light.
Stumbling to his feet, finding himself encircled
By those he strove ceaselessly to serve in mortality,
Now joined forever by unbreakable bonds
Of eternal love and joy.
I'm never absolutely sure I can tell the difference between imaginative impressions and real people.

I spent some time during March and April wandering around the hot sands of the San Rafael desert in central Utah. Probably hallucinating some of the time. One of my recurring visions there was of a ghostly train of pioneers coming upon the San Rafael River after crossing 200 miles of waterless, trackless wasteland from Grand Junction. They came to the edge of the river canyon and gazed forlornly down at the sparkling blue trace of water meandering at the bottom, a thousand feet down sheer sandstone, with no safe way to descend. No water for the faltering stock, or for the crying children. Nothing to wet your mouth after enduring days of aching thirst.

Collapse and death in the burning sand must have been a very real threat.

The Window

The window was as tall as a door, and he had imagined many times that it would open into some other place and let him walk through and be there...

The window apparently wanted only to take his thoughts back. Which was fine with him, for he had seen the metal face of the age and had had been so stunned by it that when he thought into the future, all he could vision was a world from which everything he counted important had been banished or had willingly fled. (Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier)
The window beckons seductively, "Come away from this careful weary world, I have a beautiful view of the past. There are easier paths." But the vision of the window was false.

Pleasant memories cannot sustain our present. Wishful thinking cannot determine our future. We must face the reality of tomorrow regardless of injury or dismay.

How often we excuse ourselves because of sickness or discomfort. Yet we are not distinguished in suffering. Even the simplest beasts experience pain.

Rather, we become exalted through progress and learning, line upon line, extending our reach incrementally. Our approach to perfection is through trial and error, continuing always to strive to surmount the highest peaks...

Until we can climb no more.