It’s a bit strange living in a city that preserves a good bit of its past. I’m not used to it. But a cool feature of the Pacific Northwest is the abundance of trees. So you get the new with the old, the living and the (constructed) dead side-by-side.
This is our ongoing inspiration and source for art. Everything that was made with everything that grows and changes is the source. The mix of both is what we make new things out of.
I wasn’t particularly a fan of the Moody Blues, but I did always love specific songs. Question, of course, being a favorite. Lyrics are special to me, and good ones—that is to say resonant ones, personally relevant ones—stick in my head forever, coming up when circumstances echo what meant so much to me the first few times I really understood what was being sung.
And questioning is mightily valuable. It’s a companion to wonder. Kids are excellent at it, if sometimes a little meta. Sometimes the game is just to see how far you can drill down with more questions. But it starts with a desire to find out about a bit of the universe.
And, whether we stand frustrated with the baffling problems of suffering and cruelty or amazed at how deeply we can love things, art begins with them, and often doesn’t try to answer.
It’s really tempting to think we can get all the inspiration we need from books and internet. But just walking around outside provides a living window to the world impossible to experience any other way. So much more that’s unexpected is out there.
It’s partly why the experience of cinema is more than just a big screen. It’s some other place, and you don’t quite know what’s going to be around you. It’s also the difference between seeing images of sculpture or paintings and being in front of the real thing (say, Anselm Kiefer or Robert Motherwell or Louise Bourgeois). Those things fill our view. Even more so the world itself, just looking at changes on your block—or better, an entirely new block—jams a million impressions into your senses. It’s invaluable to artists.
The photo above is typical of German artist Konrads’ site-specific installations. They’re often transformations of space and concept, with everyday objects either flying apart in pieces or forming a new doorway into their surroundings. She remakes the environment around her pieces by alternately sinking objects into it and pulling them out of it.
It’s really amazing work that takes the most mundane materials and creates magical planes dividing reality. h/t #womensArt (@womensart1 on Twitter)
I moved to Portland without a car. One of the things I wanted to do in this new place was to try to reassess my consumption and use of resources. Giving up driving—at least for a while—seemed like a good means to that end.
And it’s mostly been eye-opening. Not only have I been able to get around on public transit, I’ve been able to spend some time just looking around me as I move.
I’ve been lamenting the weather here. It’s warm and sunny, and has been mostly so for the past couple of months. One of the reasons I wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest was weather, change of season, a break from constant hot and sunny. Wishing for change won’t make it so.
So it was that, after the third person chided me for being anxious to get into the rainy cold season, I sat for a minute and thought about what I was doing. I was rushing the moment, trying to affect transformation of reality instead of accepting and living in the moment. I know that must sound terribly mushy-headed or what used to be called airy-fairy, vague hand-waving near-mysticism. But there’s a usable, practical, real component to a lot of New Age type ideas: being present helps us live our lives more fully.
I noticed good things about having sunshine on these fall days above the 45th parallel. I can seen the colors of leaves turning gold, orange, and red more clearly. I can look up at the wonderful heights of the city around me without a face full of water to squint through. It’s easy to get around. Leaves are delightfully crunchy as I kick through them on my way to work. I accept what is, just as I’ll accept how the constant rain to come is renewing all this life around me.
And art? Art is the same. I have to be good at accepting how it is in the moment, and try not to spend too much energy and time wishing it were better. Everything in time.
More on the Yoda metaphor front: reality isn’t always what it seems. We see mostly the surface of everything, membranes of stuff our senses feed on. So it follows that we shouldn’t make too many assumptions about what’s beneath.
The opposite is true of our creative work. We make everything from the inside out, that is, starting with the idea and moving outward until the surface is whole and complete.
So, on the one hand, you need the structure of a piece to be solid, strong, interlocking, hidden. On the other, the skin is where life is most present: moving, shifting, full of color and texture.
You need balance, as in most of existence. Can’t focus only on one side of reality.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.