Good Art

The late and beloved art historian, Mary Holmes, defined art as “anything you make.” Then we are left with the question (and debate) what is good art? Skipping right over that issue, I saw some good art last night.

Brenda Wong Aoki and her husband Mark Izu, who perform stories and music of people living between worlds, gave a fine performance at Santa Cruz’s marvelous Kuumbwa jazz center. (http://www.kuumbwajazz.org) The avant-garde jazz was performed by consummate musicians and was transporting, smart, and moving music. When the first piece got-going with drums and bass in a grab-you-up-beat I was immediately tapping and moving along, but then the koto began its jazz riff and I was stunned. I only know koto as played in classical Japanese music. This was a use of the instrument in contemporary and brave ways, and it worked. Other pieces linked taiko drumming with saxaphone, bass, snare drums, flute . . .  — whew, what a treat. And Brenda Aoki’s storytelling was captivating. Her timing and use of gesture, motion, costume, humor and horror were stunning. I am a new fan and will be following their work. If you are interested: http://www.aokizu.com/first-voice. Good art, fine artistry.

On Inspiration #2

Whew! Memory flash back: My favorite radio show––Breakfast in Bed, KZSC 88.1, http://kzsc.org, “Music by women for everyone,” is playing an oldie (and even if you thought you could never stand listening to it again because it was so over-played) but goodie––Cris Williamson singing, “Dream Child,” from the then album, now CD, The Changer and the Changed. Classic “women’s music” from the 70’s. Remember that? the music? The feeling of changing the world? So many of us came out then, and it was good, very very good. I haven’t heard this song for over fifteen years; my reaction is a huge flooding of nostalgia and more –– my, my, it’s still a good song, seriously romantic, and what a voice, what a gift she gave us way back then.

But I set out to write about inspiration this morning and have wandered off just a bit, so let me wander back: I met Cris Wlliamson when she was first recording, The Changer and the Changed. I remember she told me that she watched lots of television, good and bad but mostly bad television, as her source of inspiration. Somehow the banality of the shows was a kind of white noise that allowed her creative mind to rest and gather. I thought it was odd at the time, not being much of a t.v. person myself, but now I realize, we are not in charge of what inspires us. We can pay attention, listen, be available, come to know. But we can’t decide ahead of time. It is something we learn about ourselves. Some of us go to the ocean, or the desert, the forest. Some wander around in the city. Some read the work of others before they write, or thumb through a favorite art book before they paint. Other’s insist on not looking at the work of others before they create. No matter. It only matters that we are receptive to that which moves us.

If I am stuck creatively, I take long baths, long hot baths. Works every time. The relaxation and the hot water just opens up my creative brain and it starts talking to me. But in general, it is music that opens the doors. All kinds of music––country-western, classical, contemporary, americana, jazz, gospel, blues . . . depends on my mood and on the creative project. I recently read an interview with the author, Annie Proulx, in the book, Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay, by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry, and Diana Ossana. She related that she had been stuck on one hard-to-write part of the story and to help her find what she was looking for, she played the song, “Spiritual,” by Pat Metheny and Charlie Hayden from their CD, Missouri Sky, over and over again, until the music unfolded in her and she found the words she needed. Sweet sweet inspiration.

Ah, and now Breakfast in Bed is playing some feel-good, shake it up News Orleans music with Lil Queenie and the Percolators. It’s a good day and time to move on.

Thank you independent radio. Thanks KZSC, and especially, Breakfast in Bed, for all the years of inspiration. Delicious.

On Inspiration

And where do you find inspiration? What fuels your creative needs?

One of the things I learned about being an artist many years ago, was that an artist pays attention to everything. Sources for inspiration abound –– it may be my cat crunching on her food as I write this, or the 50’s tune the DJ is playing on the radio, or perhaps a stray thought wanders in offering food, or a memory surfaces and surprises me with something I haven’t thought about in years, or I overhear a bit of conversation that moves me or makes me laugh, or the colour blue in a dark night sky stops me in my tracks, or a bit of graffiti upends me, or a stunning poem grabs me with its simplicity, or the gorgeousness of the white/yellow torn-edged tulips that greet me when I arrive home for lunch, make my hunger for food irrelevant, or maybe something I read while waiting for the doctor invokes curiosity to know more . . .   It’s all stuff for inspiration.

Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry. (Muriel Ruckeyser)

What comes next: well then I gather up whatever I am thinking/feeling/breathing in and I write, or create images, or fool around with stuff until something is made and I step back and realize what I am feeling about some part of the world, some part of living in this often confusing, difficult, challenging, goofy old world of ours.

A few things that inspire my work:

the power of gesture      a line of meaning(s)         the spaces in-between

the ocean              the desert                         a landscape of         vast

space

the places where something has happened          or not

and always

sweet, dopey, funny life (Anne Lamott)

And what inspires you? What do you breathe in?