art

The ache of ephemeral experiences

by Steve Brock on May 4, 2015

Murrow Drawing

Good Friday has come and gone this year. What I take from it is a story both overly recognizable and endlessly new.

What made this story of suffering, death and greater love so powerful this year was the use of sand painting during the Good Friday service at our church. As various pastors and elders read each of the final seven sayings of Christ on the cross, an artist created images of each scene using only her hands and sand. She poured and then spread the sand around a large glass plate while the image was projected onto a larger screen for the audience to see. Her “paintings” displayed great depth, texture and nuance.

The most powerful moment, to me, came when each reader finished his or her narration. The sand artist would then take this incredible work of art and, with a wave of her hand, erase it. One moment we were looking at a rendering of Jesus and the thief, side by side on their respective crosses. The next, steaks of sand shadowing the bright background.

*******

Last week, I read about an artist, Ethan Murrow, whose drawings in graphite on paper were on display at the Winston Wachter Fine Art gallery in Seattle. My two sons and I were in the area, so we drove to the gallery to view the drawings. Phenomenal, both in technique and concept.

My favorite image of all was one called Wagon Train (shown above). I loved the subject matter but when I looked closely, I realized that Murrow hadn’t drawn this one on paper. Instead, according to our guide there, he had spent four days with a Sharpie drawing the image on one of the gallery walls. And when the show is over, they will, amazingly, just paint over this image (which, if on paper, would likely be sold in the $15,000 to $20,000 range).

One day, beautiful art. The next day, another painted wall.

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I want to hold on to things of beauty. Make them last. Enjoy them over and over. But these two experiences, like certain moments on trips, inform me that there is another way.

Sometimes our greatest experiences are ephemeral. They are momentary, one-of-a-kind wonders that do not, cannot and were never meant to last.

For example, have you ever sat in a lovely restaurant or at a sidewalk café or on a bench overlooking some landscape and you find your heart catching in your throat because the scene, the moment is so beautiful? I have literally ached with a joyful sorrow in places where I never wanted to leave even as I knew I never could stay.

These ephemeral experiences are often some of our most poignant and meaningful. I find myself desperately wanting them to last even as I know that if they did, they would cease to be as special.

And so when confronted with art that disappears in minutes or days, a meal that lasts only as long as it takes to eat, a place where I can visit but not tarry or a person I can meet but not know deeply, I can simply give thanks and appreciate what I have experienced.

We need not possess something to be changed by it.

 

 

 

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Art, music and a distant longing

by Steve Brock on January 30, 2015

Sacred Places by Christian Burchard

I’m driving home from a meeting. The radio is on. NPR. Garrison Keillor to be exact, his lounging voice reciting in its rhythmic gait the words of Anne Porter’s poem, “Music.”  You can (and should to fully appreciate the meaning of all this) pop over and read her poem now.

Work by Jason WalkerBack with me? Her poem surprised me since it ends in a far different place than where I expected at the start. But such is the nature of good writing and good trips.

Two days later, I take a short trip over to Bellevue, WA. It’s not a typical tourist destination, but it’s more than sufficient for our needs. I’m taking my wife on a date to make up for more than my share of travel lately. We have a wonderful lunch then we go to the Bellevue Art Museum.

I love their exhibit of John Economaki’s work at Bridge City Tools, of Jason Walker’s whimsical yet thought-provoking ceramics and most of all their BAM Bienniel 2014: Knock on Wood. As the name suggests, all of the works in this latter show were made in whole or in part from trees.

Have you ever been somewhere – a museum, a fair, a restaurant or even a party – where you enjoy each piece, experience, dish or person individually, but collectively they build to a cumulative sense of sheer delight? That was my feeling at the show, but even that description doesn’t capture exactly how I felt.

Perhaps it was wonder.

Or maybe something more. A reaction more akin to longing. More like this line from Anne Porter’s poem:

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

Substitute the word “art” or even “travel” and the sentiment still holds true.

Works by Morse ClaryWhy is it? She answers that question in the last stanzas of her poem.

Is what she writes the only answer for how we feel? A complete answer? Likely not. But is it satisfying? In its own way, yes. It helps explain why all of us have these moments where we encounter beauty that moves us so profoundly that we don’t know what to do with it or with ourselves.

Music, art, even travel touches us and reminds us that:

We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

So close, so far 1-3 by Brian WilsonWe retain only vestiges of memory of our lost native country and when windows – gaps or glimpses more likely – open up and open us up to that half-forgotten place, we sigh. We know it to be true. Or at least, we want it to be true and sometimes that may be enough.

Works by Helga WinterWhat this short trip did was remind me that in music, art, travel or other areas of passion, we find not what we may have been looking for, but what we need to be reminded of. We need these soul-stirring awakenings in this life to remember that there is more to (and than) this life. So much more.

And best of all, in and through all of this, we have a Guide who brings us to these moments, moments of wonder that satisfy us even as they stir in us the yearning for that something more. A Guide who, as Anne Porter notes,

also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

Therein lies the deepest wonder of all.

 

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The way of meaning

by Steve Brock on September 25, 2014

Artist Tools

A quick trip over to dictionary.com gave me two definitions of the word, “meaning:”

1)     That which is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated.

2)   The end, purpose or significance of something.

Both apply when we talk about meaningful travel. And interestingly, neither imply that for travel to be meaningful, you have to travel far.

Case in point: This last weekend, my wife and I headed up to Edmonds, WA, about 15 minutes north of Seattle. It’s far enough away not to seem overly familiar yet close enough to reach without concerns of it being a “big trip.”

Why go? Because that weekend 23 different artists’ studios were open to the public. This, we found out from one of the artists we visited, is the 9th year they’ve done the tours of the studios. I’d call them more open houses than tours, but why get picky about terms? The result was that we were able to meet dozens of artists (some studios hosted multiple artists), see their works and get to know the art scene there better.

We also had a wonderful lunch, wandered the extensive farmer’s market in downtown Edmonds, visited some favorite stores and overall had a great day on the last (and glorious) day of summer.

All well and good, you might say, but why was it meaningful?

Let’s go back to the second definition of “meaning,” “the end, purpose or significance of something.” What was the purpose of our trip? To visit artist’s studios and see art. But here’s the real question: What was the significance of it?

That’s harder to answer, yet more important. Significance is often not something that is readily explained.

Think about the people or experiences that have mattered most to you. Can you summarize quickly and succinctly why they matter? Chances are, you have to think about it, reflect on it and even then, your answers may feel either overblown or inadequate, like trying to describe the color yellow or the smell of a rose.

Often what matters most to us is what is hardest to express to others. Meaning isn’t always translatable.

Regarding our trip this weekend the short answer – at least for now – is that our time was meaningful because it reminded us of how important art is in our lives. Not just individually, but to us as a couple:

  • Our first date was to an art museum. Make that three museums. In one day.
  • I knew on our third date – in the garden of another art museum – that this was the woman I was going to marry. The fact that we were surrounded by the beauty of nature and art didn’t lead me to that realization. Or maybe it did in ways I’m only now understanding.
  • Our oldest son is a graphic design major in college. He called last night to talk about how to balance a passion for art with ministry and serving others. Our words to him? Whoever said they weren’t or couldn’t be the same thing?
  • As I passed my youngest son’s room a few minutes ago, I see that he is deeply engaged in his latest art project.

So why was our mini-trip to visit artists’ studios so meaningful? I can’t tell you more than I just did. But perhaps, as is the way of meaning, that’s enough.

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Pastpresentfuture travel

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