Chasing the Etherial

In a short story about a watchmaker who strove to make a mechanical butterfly, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes…

Alas that the artist, whether in poetry, or whatever other material, may not content himself with the inward enjoyment of the beautiful, but must chase the flitting mystery beyond the verge of his ethereal domain, and crush its frail being in seizing it with a material grasp.

By attempting to express in words, paint, dance, or music, that which makes our hearts sing, we will always fall short. Much like the impossibility of explaining a dream, we will never capture the magic in our souls…a multi-dimensional, fluid, vital, fleeting compilation…glimpses of emotion, perception, and experience.

LaoTsu says it this way…The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.

There lies the inherent struggle of the artist. Every piece we create will and must fall short and disappoint. We can only hope to hint at the whole. Some aspect may shine through. Scale, color, or form may delight and even awe, but will always only be a fragment.

But, we keep on trying, banging our brains and bodies against the impossible and by so doing learning, sharing the trial, creating something that, because the magic is the source, may still touch a chord for someone else as well.

We can only ever know a thin slice of anyone, even those we love. We can only share slivers of ourselves. It’s all that unknown that keeps things interesting.

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Finding the Story

I’ve always felt that the strongest artwork tells a story, no matter what the medium.

I’ve been reading works of writers who tell of the process of writing. One of the best is Frank McCort in his “Teacher Man“.  He makes the path to finding the story as clear as I’ve encountered.

Dance is just fancy steps without a story, music just a string of notes. Story is easier to identify in literature. I love hearing people interpret what I may have meant in a piece of art—that it stirs conversation at all. That’s a connection from my head to the others. It might help someone, might open a door or help someome see things from different angles.

I just took a creativity “personality test” by Adobe. It’s worth it to see the fun animations. Apparently I’m a dreamer. In taking the test I was stuck between my super-ego and my ego. These two have been battling inside of me all my life. Rules and shoulds vs my own (free, at least in my mind, creative, introverted, but in some ways fearless) being. I respond to the needs of others. I do what I’m told and try to do the “right” thing. I have a hard time feeling worthy. I have almost paralyzing performance anxiety. It is VERY hard for me to cut loose, to take big weightless (not effortless!) leaps. I hate to use too much material. I can’t work terribly large in my studio space. I think I know what I’m capable of, but have rarely, if ever, touched the ceiling. I also know my limits. I’m a bit lazy. I like learning, engineering, exploration, and process…don’t care all that much for any final product. Or is that just an excuse? Much of what I make feels like a steam valve, releasing pressure, but not really satisfying, stretching, making me dig or connect with anything. Little pretties that will sell. That in contrast to this…perfection and story in dance.

But, I have faith in my hands, in their knowledge from experience. I have felt the flow when hand and head take off and leave me behind…bliss! Does there have to be any more to it all than that alone?

I have often felt like a racehorse at the gate…ready to run without constraint, strong, able, eager. If I let me out, would I just run away and not want to come back? How to I open that gate and still live in the context of others?

Maybe that’s my story.