Involved in a tabletop game the other night, I had a chance to hold forth—probably too enthusiastically and vociferously—on John Cage’s iconoclastic piece, “4′ 33″.” There’s plenty of analysis on the work, but what struck me at the time was the following: Claude Debussy is supposed to have said (among other similar composers/musicians), “music is the space between the notes.” Cage simply expanded the space until that’s all there was, metaphorically making a silent composition music, not the lack of music.
It’s a beautiful look at some rarely discussed but essential members of the fine art world, people who solve the problems and put together ideas for artists who mostly hand over their concepts to produce in physical form.
Broken record time: when I feel like I’m not getting enough done, I sometimes slow down even further. I break ideas into smaller chunks to deal with. This is a way of doing something daily but still contributing to a big project.
One ant can’t haul much or dig a deep tunnel alone. Ten thousand ants can do huge jobs in hours. Ten thousand marks or paint strokes is an entire piece. It looks the same when it’s finished.
The image is fuzzy, but it shows a phenomenon strange to someone who grew up in the American Southwest. It’s summer, officially, and at 10pm, around when this picture was snapped, as the flood of Timbers fans streamed out of the Stadium on Morrison St, it’s still a bit light out.
The deep blue of the evening sky still hasn’t turned to indigo. Twilight seems to last forever these days. It’s unsettling and not just a little magical to me. For most of my life, 10:00pm is always solidly night. Yet, here, the shreds of day cling to the horizon, encouraging us to stay awake, keep working, keep moving.
The long nights of winter are a much lyricized tradition. We should remember their counterpart, the equally persistent light and promise of summer days.
The idea that we have to overcome our fears and amxieties isn’t new, but the reality that simply living in the 21st Century generates some level of it is—by definition, even—very new.
Humanity moves from threat to threat, along its geologically short timeline. The big things we’ve done are still a scratch on the full line of eons. There isn’t just monkey mind to deal with, there’s lizard- and insect-level leftovers in there somewhere. It’s easy to dredge up trepidation and feel like we should just hide.
So along with that ongoing series of anxieties, I try to think about opposing feelings, and when I’ve felt them. We almost always have both in our lives. Some moments when we felt larger than life, loved, connected, part of a thing greater than our individual selves. It makes it easier to notice the small, ongoing fears and know they, too, shall pass, if we let them.
Aging comes with a few characteristic abilities, many of which seem to be complaining—about the weather, what hurts on your body, these kids today (DISCLAIMER: I’m firmly in the the-kids-are-alright camp and expect to continue to remain).
And the cost isn’t cheap. Bodies break down and get slower. It’s nothing unusual, it happens to everyone who keeps living. It’s ordinary stuff.
But there are definite benefits to getting older, and the biggest one is simple, accumulated experience. True, wisdom isn’t inevitable, but it’s a lot easier to harness. Appreciation for beauty and recognition of darkness is easier, too. There’s a wealth of years that lets us understand the world better and how it all fits together.
If you’re an artist getting older, this is your advantage. “Write what you know” becomes a massive toolbox, which for a young person would tend to be a small, spare tray. You can use this in your work: put everything you are into it, because the ocean of accumulated life inside you is very big, indeed.
This one, which is going to feature the work of newly-graduated MFA students, is something I’d like to see. But then, in the details, are things like the prestige of venue, and the million dollar cost.
I’m not sure it’s the direction I want to see. The art world is already so focused on sales, and this is more of the same system that pushes artists to structure work to market preferences.
I get the opportunity to the students, and congratulations to them for getting in on this. But I’d like to see a bigger push to strive for meaning and broad openness in both art and its exhibitions.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.