Look At It This Way

Look, this is long for a blog I know, and not full of cute photos or famous quotes. I want to tell you about an experience I had that changed the way I feel about art. Can we find an uncompromising way  between my need to communicate and your need not to be bored?

Maybe some of you feel queasy, as I did, about not “getting” a certain work of art – poem, painting, photography, sculpture, musical composition, etc. This is a fun thing that happened to me and it might have something to say to you too.

So … I do hope art lovers and would-be art lovers will see it through! Here goes:
—–
Do any of you remember The Gates, an outdoor exhibit of orange flags that two artists put all around Central Park in NYC a few years ago? That’s a photo of it above.

Snob that I am, I didn’t want to see it. Big deal, I thought. And I never understand abstract art. I need things spelled out! I’m the one who pokes my companion in a movie and says: “What did that mean???”

But one drizzly Tuesday when the world was at work, I wandered into Central Park, still decked out in The Flags.

As I walked around, I found myself laughing! When set off by the flags, things I’d seen hundreds of times – a little piece of stream, an old bench, a field of grass, a path … it was as if I was with a companion from out of town who was saying: “Oh look at that bridge – look at that adorable clump of bushes,” etc. And I was looking and seeing it all in a new way.

OMG, I was having fun! Clearly so had the artists! A lightbulb went off: artists are not trying to send us a message, they’re doing something for themselves!!! They’re having fun, giving themselves pleasure, doing what they love and trying to do it well.

The only message they’re trying to send is: Look at it this way! Think of it this way. Hear it this way… that’s the only thing I have to do as a viewer or a reader or a listener – be open to experiencing a chunk of life through someone else’s eyes, and decide if I like the view.

When you see a dog frolicking in the snow, do you laugh because you know what it’s thinking? No! You laugh because you’re experiencing the snow in a new way, through the pleasure the doggie is having!

I’d discovered a wonderful secret. Sometime later, I went to a sculpture exhibit and instead of saying to myself “I don’t get it,” I found myself saying: “Well this guy/gal doesn’t seem to have been having much fun when he/she did this, and I’m not having much fun looking at it.” Period!

I admit, it’s harder to do with a poem because it’s words, and we’re supposed to understand words, we want to “understand” the poem. To help with that, may I suggest reading Gertrude Stein, who used words like play dough or Leggo pieces, having fun putting them together in different ways. Is she trying to be profound? Absolutely not! But is it fun just to read her poems out loud? Oh yes, especially when you stop saying: “I don’t get it!”

So now with all that said, here’s the poem I liked from Poetry Foundation’s online site.

I do suggest reading it out loud, seeing if the sounds and the way the words are put together gives you pleasure. Don’t try to understand it. Trust me, the poet doesn’t, not really. She was just having fun.

Women in Labor
BY MARY RUEFLE

Women who lie alone at midnight
because there is no one else to lie to

Women who lie alone at midnight
at noon in the laundromat
destroying their own socks

Women who lie alone at midnight:
Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates

Women who lie alone at midnight
as the first furl of starlight
pearls the moon with nacre

Women who lie alone at midnight
sending a postcard bearing
the face of a bawling infant
who cries “I am for the new”

Women who lie alone at midnight
reciting the names of shoes

Women who lie alone at midnight
spurting unjustified tears,
the kind that run sideways
never reaching the mouth,
the kind you cannot swallow

Women who lie alone at midnight
singing breast away the burden of my tender
and afterwards burp

Women who lie alone at midnight
obeying the laws of physics
Women who let their dreams curl at the end
Women in a monastery of flamingos

Women who die alone at midnight
contributing to the end, to
lost time, to the rain and flies,
seeing the bird they saw trapped in the airport
surviving by the water fountain

What’s more, try it sometime
It works

uncompromising

 

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