Life in Art

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I’m not certain that I would even begin to read a piece titled, “Life in Art.” (So if you have gotten this far, I congratulate you.) I know I would be put off by the fulsomeness of the proposition that lay ahead. I would expect the writer to launch into some over-wrought paean to the redeeming qualities of art or extol the sacrifices that great artists make.

And so I would blame him, rightly, for perpetrating the myth that art is something separate from us, that it is a talent that some are given and others denied.

Our world is in danger, but not for the reasons usually cited. Our world is in danger because we allow others to make art for us. To my mind, there is far too much art in museums, too much art on stages and not enough art-making in our own lives.

Because of recording technology, we have become complacent. We can watch or listen to other people doing what we should be doing. I would be very interested to know how many people played some instrument before the advent of Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877, before we could listen to someone else playing who was not in the room with us.

Recording technology – whether audio, photograph or video – has brought us many blessings and allowed us to savor a breadth of creation we would never have been able to witness before. Artists who are far away or whose lives may have never overlapped with our own have become our intimate, albeit virtual, acquaintances.

I am glad of what recording technologies have brought us. But I mourn what we have given up. Listening to and watching art are one sort of pleasure; the making of art is a very distinct experience, one that no human being should forego. It is in our blood and our DNA to create. Yes, even “bad” art, even art that does not compare to what others can do. It’s not about the final product; it is about the experience. I fear that we cannot be fully alive without it.

These thoughts are on my mind because I spent last night with some flamenco friends. Flamenco, like tango, is not a dance or musical genre but a way of life. Flamenco people are a rambunctious crowd: the music and dancing started in the dressing room several hours before the show. A circle formed. Musicians played, singers sang and dancers danced in one long, improvised flow of beauty and emotion and laughter. Someone from the club came in and said it was time to go on stage, so the party in the dressing room just transferred itself to the stage.

Even on stage they maintained the informality and camaraderie of a family gathering. Improvisation, moments for everyone to participate and for everyone to shine. They shouted encouragement to each other. Olé! Olé! Even the way they form up is telling: the circle from the dressing room became a semi-circle on stage with the audience completing the circle. No one is left out of this ritual encounter.

There is great wisdom in flamenco. I am always moved by my brushes with this world. This time I will take home lessons, some old, some new. If we become mere spectators to art, we become spectators to our own lives. It is when we make art together that we become alive.

by Kevin Carrel Footer

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– Kevin Carrel Footer

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