Posts Tagged ‘Art’

There’s a powerful piece on the Bahá’í Teachings website this month by the novelist, Sidney Morrison. Advocating, as it eloquently does, the power of art – and literature in particular – to connect us, it shed light into one of the places I most love to examine. It includes a moving story, not quoted below, of how Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina helped a prisoner find some hope and understanding in his darkness. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

As a recently published novelist, I wondered before publication if a photograph of my black face should be reproduced on the book’s inside cover.

Why? Well, I wrote a historical novel called City of Desire about a young white woman who, because of the severely limited options before her, chose to become a prostitute in 1830’s New York. Based on a true story, her rise and fall fascinated me, and I wanted to understand her character, her choices, and the culture that molded her. As a man, too, I wanted to understand the struggle of women to be free.

But I feared a possible challenge coming from self-appointed members of the identity police, the people who think they have the right to determine group membership and excoriate those who dare to penetrate barriers imposed for outsiders, “those people” who don’t belong, “the other” who can’t possibly understand what it is to be black, white, female, male, Muslim, or Christian, or any other difference. Take your pick; the list is endless.

I heard those “identity police” voices in my head: “How dare you? Who do think you are? How can you possibly know what it is to be a white woman? Stay in your place. Write about what you know, and only what you know. If you do otherwise, you are appropriating our space and taking from us what is legitimately and exclusively ours.”

Writers are usually told one tired nostrum in classes and workshops: Write about What You Know. The familiar makes your work easier and more authentic, advisors and teachers say. If you write what you know, you’re less open to criticism. After all, this is your experience.

But think about it. If all writers followed this admonition, then we would write only memoirs or autobiographies. Painters would paint only self-portraits. Actors would only play themselves. Instead, artists do much more, and have done so since the beginning of storytelling and artistry itself. Artists extend themselves into uncharted territory so they can imagine and empathize with others—so they can make a human connection unmitigated by the artificial barriers we erect to keep us apart.

Ultimately, I decided against removing my photograph. I refused to capitulate to a rising culture of tribalism, where people live in their own bubbles, hearing only what comforts them, reaffirming their assumptions and prejudices, reinforcing the righteousness of their cause and the status of their group.

These separatist impulses have exponentially intensified as we all have become more aware of a diverse and complex world. The world is uniting, as Baha’u’llah promised it would in the middle of the 19th century:

The purging of such deeply-rooted and overwhelming corruptions cannot be effected unless the peoples of the world unite in pursuit of one common aim and embrace one universal faith. – Baha’u’llahTablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 68.

Some people fear this fact of increasing unity, globalization and human connection, hating those who are different from themselves and trying to wall themselves off from others.

But literature, since the beginning of art itself, has demonstrated the exact opposite, focusing on our common humanity despite our differences. Literature tears down walls, and shows us we are all human and all one. We all feel love, anger, resentment, and hope; we all strive; we all want connection:

… the true worth of artists and craftsmen should be appreciated, for they advance the affairs of mankind …. True learning is that which is conducive to the well-being of the world, not to pride and self-conceit, or to tyranny, violence and pillage. – Baha’u’llah, from a tablet to an individual Baha’i.


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A Sceptic’s Walkabout

After Monday’s post about the latest Death Cafe meeting this seemed another good poem to follow up with. 

A Sceptic's Walkabout

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The full importance of bees for this this blog will become apparent towards the end of the current sequence of posts..

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Penned at Home

After so many rather sad poems of death, it seems appropriate to republish a few poems offering more hope. This is the fourth.

Penned at Home v3

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After recently posting Unfinished Business in response to Sue Vincent’s book addiction post, and finally managing to finish Reading in the Park after only five decades, it struck me that it might be useful to post the family related poems, not in chronological order of composition, which is how they have appeared so far, but in a sequence that better reflects their chronological sequence in autobiographical time. I started on Monday with the first one after Unfinished Business, as that was posted so recently. The rest are following at the rate of a poem a day. It is worth noting that Dying Matters Awareness Week runs from 9-14  May this year and this sequence of poems will appropriately overlap.

The Maiden Aunt

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Water Calligraphy

Writing with Water in Shanghai

Given my preoccupation with art and the subliminal, there appeared an intriguing piece on exactly that topic on the Bahá’í Teachings website this week. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

For material civilization is like unto a beautiful body, and spiritual civilization is like unto the spirit of life. If that wondrous spirit of life enters this beautiful body, the body will become a channel for the distribution and development of the perfections of humanity. – Abdu’l-BahaThe Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 11.

While preparing the current issue of the new Baha’i arts journal e*lix*ir  (www.elixir-journal.org) for publication, I found myself reflecting on a talk given by Abdu’l-Baha on 14 April 1912 at the Church of the Ascension in Greenwich Village, New York. In the talk, he describes material civilization as a “beautiful body” waiting to be infused with “the spirit of life.”

As I pondered the metaphor, it struck me that art is born at this very point of intersection between the material and spiritual worlds. Artistic expression takes a wide variety of physical forms, but it is always the inner world of imagination, the world of the spirit, that infuses these forms with life.

In another of his talks, Abdu’l-Baha speaks of “outer sight” and “inner vision.” In creating work that embodies both beauty and truth, we, as artists, must employ not only our physical sight but other, more intuitive means of perception.

Through the experience of creating art, the artist becomes acquainted with that invisible plane of existence that is just as real and necessary to our survival as the earth on which we plant our feet. At times of great happiness, art offers us a cup into which we can pour our joy; and in times of sorrow, it offers us a lamp to light our way through the darkness. I am not talking here about salvation, redemption, or good versus evil. We do not inhabit a moral universe when we create art, but rather a spiritual realm that, like a mirror, reflects who we are, what we have become. We perfect our art by perfecting ourselves.

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Nighthawks by Edward Hopper: ‘No one is talking. No one is looking at anyone else. Is the diner a refuge for the isolated, a place of succour, or does it serve to illustrate the disconnection that proliferates in cities?’ Photograph: Corbis

There was an intriguing piece in the Guardian towards the end of last month by . Given my interest in the effect of art upon the viewer, it’s not surprising it caught my interest. Also the painting that heads up the article is one that has teased my imagination since the first time I saw it. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City explores the connection between isolation and creativity. In this extract she examines its role in the work of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol and others, and suggests we should all be a little less frightened of being alone…

Imagine standing by a window at night, on the sixth or 17th or 43rd floor of a building. The city reveals itself as a set of cells, a hundred thousand windows, some darkened and some flooded with green or white or golden light. Inside, strangers swim to and fro, attending to the business of their private hours. You can see them, but you can’t reach them, and so this commonplace urban phenomenon, available in any city of the world on any night, conveys to even the most social a tremor of loneliness, its uneasy combination of separation and exposure.

You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people. One might think this state was antithetical to urban living, to the massed presence of other human beings, and yet mere physical proximity is not enough to dispel a sense of internal isolation. It’s possible – easy, even – to feel desolate and unfrequented in oneself while living cheek by jowl with others.

Cities can be lonely places, and in admitting this we see that loneliness doesn’t necessarily require physical solitude, but rather an absence or paucity of connection, closeness, kinship: an inability to find as much intimacy as is desired.

I know what that feels like. I’ve been a citizen of loneliness. I’ve done my time in empty rooms. A few years back I moved to New York, drifting through a succession of sublet apartments. A new relationship had abruptly turned to dust and though I had friends in the city I was paralysed by loneliness. The feelings I had were so raw and overwhelming I often wished I could find a way of losing myself altogether until the intensity diminished. . . . .

There were things that burned away at me, not only as a private individual, but also as a citizen of our century, our pixellated age. What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we’re not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people? Is sex a cure for loneliness, and if it is, what happens if our body or sexuality is considered deviant or damaged, if we are ill or unblessed with beauty?

I was by no means the only person who’d puzzled over these questions. All kinds of writers, artists, film-makers and songwriters have explored the subject of loneliness, attempting to gain purchase on it, to tackle the issues that it provokes. But I was at the time beginning to fall in love with images, to find a solace in them I didn’t find elsewhere, and so I conducted the majority of my investigations within the visual realm. I sought out artists who seemed to articulate or be troubled by loneliness, particularly as it manifests in cities.

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