Each month I write a free-ranging missive with my thoughts on art and life for the month's Crit Lab.
On art, life, and the death of a loved one.....
October was a busy and difficult month. Upon arriving home from London, a decades-long dear friend became very ill after a 2-year struggle with leukemia. After nearly a month in the ICU, sadly he passed away November 1. As his health proxy, I was dealing with doctors and decisions and many hours at the hospital wishing for the best outcomes. Now I continue as his executor, to manage his affairs and try my best to honor his wishes.
I relate this personal story not for condolences. (thank you) We have all been through these experiences, or will, and will continue to, until it is our turn. These experiences make the world suddenly very small, focused only on the most immediate and important details at hand, on our loved one, on our grief. Simultaneously, these moments open the world up - to the vastness of the universe and our small place in it, to the mystery of life and consciousness, and to meditations on our purpose (and to systems of health care, the amazing work of nurses and doctors…but that’s for another note). And, in this context, to art, and to our lives as artists as a purpose, as a deep expression of our short time on earth as a unique human. We make our mark, because it matters that we do. To care for those we love, and hopefully leave a positive impact on our little plot of life through relationships and through our artwork, are fundamental acts of humanity.
There are two ways to live. You can live as if nothing is a miracle. You can live as if everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein
On a lighter note- I watched a lot of Queer Eye during this time. Five fabulous flamboyant queer dudes descend on a nominated person and "remake" their life- their hair, their clothes, their home. Can a life be remade in a 5-day makeover? Probably not. But I began to ponder what it was that I loved about this show - beyond the reality TV manufactured scenes, the makeover, and of course, the five, who truly are fabulous, and hard not to love. They come to someone who was lonely, or felt alone, unnoticed, even with families who love them, and had perhaps neglected nurturing themselves. They then pay them such close and complete attention, shower them and them alone with a focused loving light on a physical and emotional level. They spend the 5 days actually seeing this person. Under this warm empathetic light, the recipients bloom like flowers. I thought about what it means to be seen, to be known, for who you are, who you might imagine you could be. To be seen as a unique beautiful individual. And what it means to not feel seen….. The effect is remarkable.
Art is not a person, so this is not a direct comparison, but allow me to stretch the metaphor. When you bring your work to the Crit Lab and place it on the wall to be seen by the community, the work is showered with loving attention -attention that is not condescending or full of false praise. Attention that honors the work as a unique form and being. We see the work, just as it is in that moment, a unique being in the world. Under this attention, the work literally blossoms…..
So in my roundabout and, perhaps ridiculous, comparison, I think of how we come to the Crit Lab and see the work of others, and allow our work to be seen (and if art is a verb, as you know I believe it to be, I can feel seen). This is an act of love towards the work, and towards ourselves as artists.
We speak in the Crit Lab of the space of empathy that opens up in front of a work, the space where meaning is created. I would extend that to hanging the work in front of the group, and the discussions that unfold before it, as an act of empathy towards the work, and towards yourself.
Am I stretching too far? Perhaps. That's ok. I am thinking a lot about empathy and its role in the work and in our lives. Lennon Flowers, co-founder of The People’s Supper and The Dinner Party, says “we have mistaken empathy as walking in someone else’s shoes. Let us be clear, you can’t. But what we can do is witness, and accompany.”
At Crit Lab, we witness and accompany. The Crit is an act of empathy towards your work and towards yourself, and towards the work of others in the Lab. This empathetic critical attention can make our work ever more seen, and help grow it into its best self.
Art is alive, and it feeds us.