“Fear of repeating oneself, of repeating oneself may be the greatest bugaboo of late capitalist society. The fear has been marketed so effectively that a will to sustain attention on any one thing can be cancelled out easily in favour of the latest distraction.”
–Jan Peacock –
As a child, I first encountered the work of Edgar Degas in an art book we kept on the coffee table in the living room. This book was, in the eyes of an eight-year-old, enormous; filled with glorious color reprints of a hundred or so masterpieces by celebrated artists of the ages – Rembrandt, Monet, Degas, Da Vinci, Copley to name the few that I remember as mesmerizing.
At eight years-old, I was infatuated with ballet. Although I did not take lessons (I tried once but the dance teacher, although a caring person, had no training in ballet – the Can-Can, yes. Ballet? No.) I spent all my time buried in books with photos or stories of the ballet, ballerinas, and the beautiful shoes and costumes the ballerinas wore. I do not know if I would have been any good at executing the art had I been able to pursue it, but I do know that at that time in my life, I was not ready for the discipline and patience necessary to persist in my pursuit of mastering the art form.
While looking for the quote to accompany this post, I encountered innumerable quotes about how life is not worth living in the face of repetition; that there is something inherently wrong with repeating a task, a statement, theme; that repetition in art is a sign of stagnation and a lack of talent.
I beg to differ.
Life is full of repetition that is useful and necessary for our physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth. Without repeating the fundamental movements involved in any art form, the beginner will remain just that, a beginner. No one would ever be able to become adept at any task if he or she only attempted the task once. Would you want a surgeon operating on you who had never performed the heart valve replacement you needed? Would Michelangelo be the artist and sculptor he was if he didn’t repeatedly try to master the techniques? Likewise for Mikhail Baryshnikov or Margot Fonteyn or any Olympic athlete.
In this day and age, we are told constantly to get on with our lives, to move forward. We live in a fast food, disposable world that is getting more impatient with every passing minute. This constant state of motion makes it difficult to be patient and to persist in learning to master something through repetition. It makes it difficult to see that in the repetition there is forward motion and growth. This week, I pledge to embrace repetition and the mastery of one job, task, or skill. I pledge to be persistent in my quest for growth in my chosen job, task, or skill. I pledge to repeat this persistence each week in order to get on with moving forward in my life – effectively; productively.
Your referral is the highest compliment. Thank you for sharing.
“The home should be the treasure chest of living.”
– Le Corbusier –
I once had a friend who moved to another part of the country when she married. As her husband was in the military, therefore away from home for long stretches, she had frequent visits from family and friends wanting to help ease the loneliness and solitude. During my visit to her new home, we spent several days seeing the sights and helping her settle in. One day, on a carriage tour of the city, she said, “You know, Cathleen, I know more about this city, have seen more, done more here than I ever did in my own hometown. If it weren’t for all the visitors, I probably wouldn’t have seen this one either.”
This statement popped into my head the other day when I came across a copy of The Boston Painters 1900-1930 by R. H. Ives Gammell while helping at a local library. Flipping through the pages, I realized that I never knew my hometown was so full of renowned, influential artists – certainly not to this extent.
Ever since my first visit to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum as a child, I have loved spending long hours at museums. Although my visits through the years have been infrequent for various reasons, I always get a sense of coming home each time I walk through the doors of a museum. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that one’s treasures are safe, well cared for, and easily accessible; that they are there for you to discover and rediscover whenever you are ready.
Through this long forgotten volume, upon which I stumbled, my own corner of the world has been expanded and enriched because I now have a host of new eyes through which to view my hometown, gaining new perspective through the wisdom and insight of those who lived here before me. By understanding the lives and worlds of my artistic forbears, I gain insight into the things that influenced their vision of their world as well as why they had such an influence in the world around them.
Learning how others view their worlds, of which I became a part decades or centuries later, opens my eyes, mind, and heart to new ways in which to view my own. This enriched vision only enriches any of my creative endeavors which enriches the life of anyone who encounters my art.
This volume has inspired me not to wait for a time when I am showing visitors around my city in order to get to know her and benefit from her treasures. Today, I take it upon myself to discover my local treasures by seeking out local artists of all sorts – architects, musicians, painters, sculptors, textile creators, et al – past and present, to see my world through their eyes.
Four Lessons I Learned from Antonio Vivaldi: Spring’s Third Lesson
By Cathleen Elise Rossiter
(As this is part of a series and it may be helpful to see where it all began, here are the links (+ this) to catch up on my endeavor to learn something new from repeated exposure to a single work of art).
“Nature always wears the color of the spirit.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson –
After a week of rain and general dreariness, with the promise of more to come tomorrow and the following days, this solitary day of sunshine, with a cleansing breeze to dry things out, is a tiny piece of Heaven complete with singing birds, treetops chattering amongst themselves, and the fragrance of new life bourn upon the wind. This solitary day of sunshine and happiness brings with it a sense of hope, even in the face of further impending doom.
Antonio Vivaldi, through his expression of it in his Four Seasons compositions, clearly understood that life is a series of patterns and rhythms. Be it the patterns of the natural world in its daily, seasonal, or annual cycles or the patterns of the internal worlds of every human being as evidenced in our cycles of joy and grief in their varying forms, these cycles give us a built-in sense of hope, even in the face of further impending doom – if we choose to accept the hope we are offered.
Looking at the sonnets that accompany Signor Vivaldi’s seasons, Spring shows us that although the storms of our lives may feel as though they will never end or come into our live far too frequently, we actually have far more about which to rejoice than over which to sorrow. Storms have their time and place, yet their time is finite. With this in mind, we are able to ride out the storm – sometimes under the safety of cover, sometime getting soaking wet – and come through the darkness rejoicing in the light, a better person for our struggles.
Spring – Concerto in E Major
“Giunt’ è la Primavera e festosetti
La Salutan gl’ Augei con lieto canto,
E i fonti allo Spirar de’ Zeffiretti
Con dolce mormorio Scorrono intanto:
Vengon’ coprendo l’ aer di nero amanto
E Lampi, e tuoni ad annuntiarla eletti
Indi tacendo questi, gl’ Augelletti;
Tornan’ di nuovo al lor canoro incanto:”
“E quindi sul fiorito ameno prato
Al caro mormorio di fronde e piante
Dorme ‘l Caprar col fido can’ à lato.”
“Di pastoral Zampogna al suon festante
Danzan Ninfe e Pastor nel tetto amato
Di primavera all’ apparir brillante.”
Spring – Concerto in E Major
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.
There is a second part of the joy/sorrow cycle, however, that we too often miss. In this modern world that spins at an alarming rate, rushing from here to there and back again making a dozen stops along the way, far too many of us are conditioned to feel guilty or as an unproductive failure if we take time to rest and regroup – particularly after a major loss. Yet, as Signor Vivaldi shows us, after the storm has passed and we have rejoiced, it is necessary for us to rest before taking the next steps in our newly changed lives.
Many years ago I met a woman whose husband (her best friend) had died two years prior to our meeting. She was in such a state of quiet distress at the fact that she “couldn’t move on with her life” as everyone kept telling her she must. After explaining to me that she had spent the last two years helping everyone else grieve the loss of her husband, she began to see that she, herself, had not been allowed to grieve. Now that everyone else was in the rejoicing-after-the-storm stage, they expected, nay, demanded that she be in the same place as they. “Mom, it’s been two years now. You have to move on!” her only child remonstrated endlessly. Finally, in the face of further protests from family and friends alike (those who didn’t want to actually deal with the messiness of helping someone else grieve), this woman rented a solitary beach house for the summer to give herself the time and space to face the storm, rejoice in its passing, and take the rest and recuperation time she needed in order to take the next steps in her newly changed life.
Grief comes in many disguises. A simple change in our lives can trigger a sense of loss and death hidden beneath an unrelated incident. For example, while in the middle of your routine housecleaning chores, you may find yourself in tears or an agitated state because you knocked over and broke a dish. It was an accident. You didn’t mean to break it. It isn’t until you look at why you are behaving in such a way over a simple mistake that you connect the fact that the dish was a gift from your sister during a time when you were the best of friends. Your relationship has suffered over the years and the broken dish brings back to memory that something you did was the cause of the brokenness in your relationship.
The situation may seem dark and painful, especially in the light of this new revelation that requires you to make the first steps in order to heal the relationship. Yet, if we remember Signor Vivaldi’s example, we will know that the storm is necessary for new growth and that it will not last. The important thing is that we face the storm, rejoice in its passing, and take the time to rest and recover to ensure that the healing is permanent.
Four Lessons I Learned from Antonio Vivaldi: Spring’s Second Lesson
By Cathleen Elise Rossiter
(As this is part of a series and it may be helpful to see where it all began, here is thelink to catch up on the reason for and start of my endeavor to learn something new from repeated exposure to a single work of art).
“What seems mundane and trivial is the very stuff that discovery is made of. The only difference is our perspective, our readiness to put the pieces together in an entirely different way and to see patterns where only shadows appeared just a moment before.”
– Edward B. Lindaman –
In my adventures with Signore Vivaldi this week, I have come to appreciate the power of pattern. Vivaldi composed the Four Seasons around a pattern of fast-slow-fast or, in musical terms, allegro-largo-allegro, tweaking the pace to match the season in question.
Belonging to the Baroque era in music, which focused on bringing the communicative powers of music to the forefront, Vivaldi saw the untold potential to paint masterpieces of sound that evoked a feeling and expression in the hearer allowing the hearer to become part of the scene himself. Hence, his experimentation with the Program Music form – finding the right combinations of rigid and supple, fast and slow, high and low, loud and soft – allowed him to develop not only the benchmark of the form of music, but to develop into the benchmark for how to execute the form. Through the development of the pattern of program music, Signor Vivaldi gave every musician henceforward the tools needed to be able to speak through music.
Patterns fill our lives. Sometimes these patterns are beneficial – think of the calendar with its daily and seasonal repetition, or of the tidal patterns. Other times our patterns are detrimental, particularly when it comes to the patterns we fall into of filling our days with too many things to accomplish, giving no regard for our physical and emotional capacity; or of repeatedly pursuing a course of action that fails us every time. In fact, every fiber of our lives exists in a pattern (D.N.A.), functions according to a pattern (our intellect, nervous system, digestive system, sleep patterns), and is part of a larger pattern of patterns (the body as a whole which functions within an ever-widening community of other bodies).
As it happens, and as many of you who expected this posting last week know, my pattern of posting Art Life Connection every Thursday was interrupted. This particular interruption was due to illness. Other interruptions have been self-imposed for sundry reasons. Still others were beyond my control. The fact remains that in spite of our efforts to break patterns (a good thing if breaking a harmful pattern) and escape the routine, patterns are here to stay. For good or for bad, we cannot live without patterns. Thankfully, Signor Vivaldi has shown us how to create beautiful music with the patterns of our lives.
Victor Ray: Then you really can’t make an informed judgment, can you, Rodolfo?
– The Freshman, TriStar Pictures 1990, written by Andrew Bergman –
A not-so-long time ago, in a land quite near, my brother went off to college – a young freshman heading to a tiny island off the coast of New York City. Coincidently, that same year, Matthew Broderick did the same thing – on the big screen at least. Shortly before my brother headed south for his orientation, we jokingly purchased the movie The Freshman, starring the aforementioned Mr. Broderick, and watched it as a family to show my mother that she had nothing to worry about (insert filial giggles, nudges, and winks here).
One of my favorite scenes from the movie is the scene when Cousin Vic surreptitiously hands Clark Kellogg a fake Italian passport – a Plan B in the event that the evening’s escapades go awry. I come back to this scene often, particularly when I feel myself becoming closed-minded in the safety of my cocoon-of-the-moment.
In the realm of the creative endeavors of others, our cocoons-of-the-moment wrap themselves around us readily, and often, without notice. We become so caught up in our interior universes, which we rule with the withering authority and dry wit of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, seeing all from the lofty heights upon which Superiority perches. We echo the sentiments of Clark Kellogg when faced with art that challenges us, our way of thinking, our superiority, our surety in life-as-we-know-it, “I don’t want to go to Palermo Sicily!” Like Mr. Kellogg, we have never been to the place to which this confrontational work of art begs us to go. Yet, we think, if we admit that this new world may be worth a visit, may have something positive to offer, we jeopardize the very foundation upon we have established our claim, thereby ceding our rule and authority, our superiority.
Vulnerability is never an easy territory to occupy, yet those who do so reveal their true strength and greatness. Opening ourselves to the possibilities and wonders of new worlds reveals just how confident we are in our abilities to hold onto our homeland by expanding its borders. Opening ourselves up to new ways of seeing familiar things allows us to take in the wider view, the fuller picture to be certain that we are proceeding in the best manner possible for the situation, to be certain that we are making informed judgments.
Even if that judgment is the determination that we honestly do not like the artistic version of Palermo Sicily presented to us, we may move forward, confident in our decision. Remembering that with every artistic encounter we have, we are seeing it anew; that we are the freshman on campus, not the graduating senior, helps to keep our perspective and our minds open to the message we need to hear at that moment. The same artistic work seen at another moment will have another message to give us. As long as we venture forth into the land of vulnerability with a mind open to listening, we will hear the message every time, expanding and enriching our universes along the way.