Why Artists Matter

DSC_1284This week I played Tai Chi Sword under the super moon. The story has it that Chang Song Feng’s (the guy that created the Nei Chia Chuang or Tai Chi) favorite time to play Tai Chi sword was around midnight. Before you think this was just some romantic ideation on my part, you must understand how I was trained in the  Ancient Arts. A tradition kept alive by my Sifu John Fey. An ancient tradition holding fingers on the pulse of great thinkers and artists in the present time we are sharing now.

There are clues to the truth of experience everywhere. You can listen to music, read and old poem such as this excerpt from Walt Whitman which is happening right now in some part of the world. This could be written today.

Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,

            Straight and swift to my wounded I go,

            Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,

            Where their priceless blood reddens the grass the ground,

            Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital,

            To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,

            To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss,

            An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,

            Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d

               again.

            I onward go, I stop,

            With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,

            I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,

            One turns to me his appealing eyes- poor boy! I never knew you,

            Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that

               would save you.

The problem is confining the something “old ” to an experience of something “out there” apart from your life experience or relegating people from the past as a huge tribe of distant otherness rather than thinking of each as your Brother, Father, Mother or Sister. Each artist has a responsibility to truthfully transmit his or her experience. This experience is not, the words, the images, the thoughts. Experience is boots on the ground, wind in the face, the heart-pounding reality of falling in a cold river ( from my previous post) .the Artist gathers  all of the individual parts, that on their own are just individual parts, but that together builds a moment that fills the body/mind with a reality that transcends the original parts and reunites you with the human reality of one person speaking from the heart  about a specific, complex experience that can be recreated in another. The artist’s job is to faithfully gather up all the bits that fit  intellectually , symbolically, intent fully, and with movement so that they can transmit a roadmap to the original experience.

With something like a cold river, it is easy to have a direct experience, you to jump or fall in and feel immersed in the jarring coldness of the powerful force and flow. However, let’s say you are trying to transmit the beauty that you felt from an oncoming storm and the connection you felt to the storm also moving within you as if you and the storm were one and the same time, knowing at that instance, there is no inside, no outside, no self, no “other”. That kind of subtle nuance, the kind of earth-shaking subtlety that puts the “b” in subtle. Though it takes an effort record an experience that connects the heart and soul of one person to another even across the span of centuries it has been done by Artists that have learned the craft of communication.  An Artists job is to use every means necessary to communicate things that are easily lost in the big concepts of language. All too often, we in this modern age expect our artist to spoon feed us our experience like some pampered rich kid by a well paid uninterested nanny. We whine because she didn’t blow on the mashed peas to cool them off first or pretend they were an airplane coming in for a landing in your mouth. Some of the world’s most magical and timeless experiences have been put in languages of symbol and of movement that now lay dormant because we are too lazy and spoiled to recreate them for ourselves. It is to the detriment of all mankind.

To learn to swim upstream like a Salmon to the heart of the birth of an idea, past our cultural conveniences, past the effort required,past the physical discomfort, past the mental discomfort, and past our preconceived notions of how great we are  that we have computers and iPhones and then to find the clues to think, to engage our hearts to interpret not with the eyes of the present but with the humanity we all share. This lack of engagement, and understanding robs the world of lessons already learned by our some of our ancestors that are all to easily forgotten by small minds caught in cycles of: stupidity, cruelty, laziness, power, greed, thoughtlessness,  legislation, government, academia and craving  the childish need to be entertained rather than engage something of consequence. Activities that obscure our own power of humanity, creativity, and self-discipline.   It is endemic Everywhere, the left robs the humanity of the right, the right the humanity of the left, we rob the humanity of our past into a morass of information never transcending information to knowledge and then to wisdom. We perceive even our family and neighbors as  “the other”, we seek false connections with a computer screen, allow ourselves to be distracted by hours and hours of utter nonsense at the expense of our own connections  with our fellow humans each that have the potential to show us We are our brothers keepers and connected by a universal force of life much more the same than different.We allow others to manipulate and blind us all because we stop thinking or falling into the cultural ease of the times or the new inquisition of political correctness.

It is a profound sadness that giants of men and women in the past have recorded experiences so that a person who engaged them could recreate a pearl of understanding for all of humanity are ignored because people are too disinterested, too hand fed, too lazy to take the time required to engage.  Once you learn how to take the time, to read a poem, to play an ancient form, to talk with another, to engage ancient wisdom the world opens up, and the past is viewed as present, and humanity has a  timelessness that becomes intimately experienced. By story, by engagement, by our innate creativity to follow the trails left by those who have made the journey we have the ability to swim past all of the distractions to the home of the seed of our origins. The origins, of our connection to all that have lived, to all that have seen intrinsically that each of us is part of the other, that everything else is just a distraction.

So, steeped in that knowledge base, I stepped out into the moonlight on the rooftop of my building with my double swords. I stood there still as cement, engaging as much stillness as I could summon. This took 15- 25 minutes sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes a few minutes. This is an art in and of itself. The ability to let go, and be there in the moment, letting thoughts slowly gather around my breath and my center, my mental/physical body relaxing, and having the patience to listen to something other than my own sensations. Then expand that connection of stillness, not for power, not for romanticism, not because it looked cool, but for a pure unobscured connection between the moon and myself, between stillness and myself. Then and only then did I feel the call to move through postures slowly letting the moon be the engine that moved my arms and legs, never moving unless I felt the moon’s presence moving through me as I wandered through Tai Chi Chuan.  It is an ancient story, designed for the player, to connect to something larger than themselves leaving nothing behind but the experience within the person playing the song.

I was not important, I was the empty space this wisdom moved through. This wisdom that instantly connected me to the people who had connected to this before me and left breadcrumbs for me to follow.  Artists that had told the truth of their experience and thought because of the insights they glimpsed as it passed through them this was important to save for others, so they could glimpse the magic as it flowed through them as well. Then they were quiet, because, they knew what they saw could not be transmitted by words or ordinary thinking any more than understanding a river can be explained without being in its flow. This is the essence of all worthwhile art. Explanations are pointless and sad counterfeits of the pearls of wisdom the great artists of the past and present try and convey. It is for the viewer to explore, to swim against all of the currents to the home of the experience. To recreate themselves in each and every moment. To find the Warrior Innocent within us that strives to understand the heart of life.

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