Saturday, October 22, 2011

"On Art and Science:" An Email I Sent Tonight

I sent the following email to my favorite scientist tonight.

See attached.

Never discount your capabilities as an artistic person, even though you don't view yourself as one. For you, I liken the "instruments" you use (or play) surgically as your manifestation, your artistic expression of the ability to diagnose and heal a human body. It's something to be proud of, a rare gift. Your art lies in taking things that are damaged, malformed, non-functional and intervening to work properly. You implanting a stent is no different than me figuring out a drum fill. They're just different kinds of art, all gifts from the Lord. And you can write! You write eloquently and honestly. And I've heard you sneak in some singing in the car....there's nothing wrong with your voice, either. My point being, we're all artists. A lot of what we're unable to communicate through conversation, we're able to express through the written word, or through music, or other arts. Your art lies in healing and comforting, listening and compassionately communicating. Adjusting a Coumadin dose is art of a scientific nature. Look at Da Vinci's anatomical drawings. A perfect combination of science and art.

When John Lennon met Yoko Ono, it was happenstance at an art gallery in London. He's been invited to a pre-opening of one of Ono's exhibits, which were all minimalist installation pieces, part of the famous Fluxus movement in art back in the 60's. She had an interactive piece that involved climbing up a ladder and using a magnifying glass to read a tiny word printed on the ceiling. Lennon climbed the ladder and saw that the word was simply "YES." He regaled later that it was the first exhibit that said something warm to him, so he decided to see the rest of her work. He said, "Had it said something like 'rip-off' or whatever," he would've walked out of the gallery. They would correspond via letters and postcards for the next 18 months before meeting again in person, and fell in love with her mind and her art, though they were each married with children. Once they met in person, that was it. Their first date was her coming over to his house ( don't know where Cynthia and Julian were at the time) and spending the night recording what would become the album "Two Virgins." It's offbeat and complicated as a chunk of music, but intriguing and intensely collaborative. Once they married, they concentrated their art and music into collaborative efforts that emphasized their individual strengths, which wasn't to the taste of the general population, to the fans of the mop-top Beatle fans, and decided to use their celebrity to tout the peace movement to mixed reviews. John did a series of erotic lithographs of Yoko that were seized by the London police as public pornographic displays, which seems so lame in this day and age. But all it was, in honesty, was a public display of what he visualized as the beauty of his wife. Fuck it if the police thought it was inappropriate. Michaelangelo's David is ok, but erotic illustrations of a woman are pornography? Idiotic. But I digress.

"Good artists copy. Great artists steal," or so I heard somewhere. When I took studio art in college, I realized I wasn't gifted as a painter or a sculptor (I got a D in ceramics). Frantic to come up with a piece for an assignment, I borrowed an idea of Ono's where she sat on a stage and had members of the audience cut strips of her clothing off until she was left nude and exposed to the world. Grasping for an interactive piece, I came up with the idea of sitting topless on the floor of the art studio, with my front covered up, and had the other students all come up to me and paint a word of their choosing on my back. I wasn't self-conscious or embarrassed at all about my body, though I was chunkier than I am now, certainly. And there was a certain vibe of safety in the class since Craig was in it with me. I have pictures of it buried somewhere, but out of ideas, I just let myself be the canvas and let the other artists in class come up with the hard stuff. Maybe a cop out, but if I remember correctly, I got a good grade on that piece.

My final for the class was a painting. I wanted to paint an abstract of the skyline of Chicago. Once again thinking out of the box, I painted the FLOOR OF THE ART STUDIO white in a giant square with a black border and created a canvas in the studio. I couldn't paint for shit, so my attempt at buildings were horrific. Once again, relying on the other artists in class, Craig included, I had my classmates interact and paint the rest for me, as they saw Chicago. I got into a hell of a lot of trouble with my professor for that project and was going to fail unless I repainted the floor back to it's original army green color, which I did. Some art works. Other art is a disaster. But I tried.

My friend Kate (the one in New York) has taught me so much about art and philosophy. She was highly impressed that you'd been to Georgia O'Keeffe's ranch, was likewise, as I was, grossed out that you tried wild boar, but valued your interest in O'Keeffe's work. Some of her work, to me, is obvious and straightforward "pretty stuff." Other works of hers are laden with difficult to decipher innuendo. Most fascinating was her relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Kate's fascinating to talk to about art because she has an encyclopedic knowledge of artists and their works. She's a painter and illustrator who graduated from the famous Rhode Island School of Design (a famous alum is David Byrne from Talking Heads). She's also studied at Brown and Harvard. Walking around the Art Institute of Chicago with she and her husband was a crash course in art that I appreciate to this day, though it had to be almost 20 years ago by now. Her support and encouragement has been crucial to my continuing to write my blog, as disjointed as it is sometimes. My pieces aren't all epics, but they're important to me and my continued recovery, and as I've said n the past, they're not an exercise in self-absorption but rather a chance for those who love me to love me more richly.

Who are some of your other favorite artists? I'm curious. You already know I dig Picasso, but I'm also a big fan of modern artists like Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, just to name a couple.

I thought about the attached Vonnegut quote as I sang tonight. I found myself apologizing to my bandmates about my lack of vocal talent, embarrassed at how easily I get out of breath, how my alto croak can't hit the high notes, how my natural singing voice is adequate and on-key while my attempt at soprano sounds like a strained whisper in the microphone. They all reassured me that my voice is just fine comparatively, though it'll be much easier when our soprano returns tomorrow for the service (she wasn't at practice tonight). We spent an inordinate amount of time on "Godspell's" "Day by Day," a song you may be familiar with. I had to teach the girls the timing of the vocals, the echo parts, and the tambourine rhythm that one of the vocalists has to maintain while I play the drums. THAT alone took me 20 minutes. Things like that, that come naturally and easily to me, are difficult for other people to pick up. Then I had to make up a conga rhythm for one of the songs that I used to play the full kit on, though with brushes, that didn't translate well on the awkward electronic kit. I just made it up as I went along and everyone was pleased. It was easy for me.

I was trying to invent some complicated new fills that are during Bob's guitar solos on "We Want to See Jesus Lifted High" to augment those sections of the song. One worked out, one didn't. Now I just have to remember what I did tomorrow. That's the bitch about playing by ear and not by sheet music. The other musicians can look at a piece of paper that has their whole parts mapped out for them. Mine? I have to create and then remember and recreate. To say that's challenging is an understatement, but it keeps the neurons firing, for sure.

I'm by no means anything like Steven. He does things at home like rent a cello for 2 weeks to figure out how to play it and after a few days of tinkering, boom, he can play the cello. Or the accordion. Or the sitar. Literally, any instrument he picks up he can figure out how to play. That kind of genius is rare and amazing, and I always tout him as a multi-instrumentalist, but you at one time labeled me a multi-instrumentalist and to a lesser degree, I suppose that's true. Steven has said that he dreams beautiful melodies, but he'll be damned if he can remember them when he wakes up. How beautiful and simultaneously frustrating that must be.

Music and writing have brought me boundless joy in my life. My art doesn't save others' lives like yours does, but it's saved mine on more than one occasion. They are what I consider my healthiest coping mechanisms. I sensed tonight at practice that my bassist, Jake, shared that joy, even given the devastation he's gone through as of late. He was focused, upbeat and played very well. A true inspiration not only in artistic expression but also in his faith in the power of the Lord.

I was a substitute teacher and creative writing instructor/tutor/ESL teacher at Maine South from 1999-2003. I doubt you remember that from my resume at work. I'm all about encouraging writing pursuits in young people (and middle aged scientists).

I completed Luke's Walrus Code deciphering project in exchange for him completing a writing assignment I gave him weeks ago that he has yet on which to embark. I emailed him the following, and I expect an answer, just as I expect an answer to the email query I sent you about our friendship, though he's approaching it under strict conditions against me (read: he expects me to pay him, smart aleck): (Caution: abrupt font change!)

I have a writing project that I'd like for you to complete for me. I'm deathly curious and want to foster in you the love and creativity of writing that both your dad and I have.

Type out the answer you have for the following prompts:

What he remembers (use baby photos, artifacts, your own stories to get him going)

What he observes (everything around him, something he noticed on his way to school or on a class trip)

What he wonders about (this is a fun one; find out what your child is thinking by asking about his wonderings. These will change on a daily basis!)

What he imagines (about the future, by creating a pretend universe, by inventing a news story)

I'll give you two weeks to complete it. It's for me and a blog i'm developing. I'm very interested in your answers. I'm trying to foster in you and help develop your writing skills.

Thanks! Mom

On that note, I'll close and encourage you once again to consider the project I offered you. Maybe this email has taught you a little bit more about yourself and how others see you, and how you see me. There's value in that.

To Art!!!


No comments: