Summer is a time for everyman pleasures. Outdoor enjoyments, lawn chair festivals, movies unfettered by context and subtitles, drinking beer in the afternoon and letting a flicker of water from the sprinkler splash up your legs; the organization of time is a little more hazy, life is a little looser, less hectic, more fun.
There is sometimes a perceived clash between “fine” art and this “everyman” conceit. For all the highfalutin’ snobbishness inherent to the stereotype of a classical music and dance critic, I keep my expectations for self-assigned experiences relatively simple: is it interesting?
Over the past weeks I’ve had my expectations met or exceeded a number of times.
Jerry Saltz lecture at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art:
I signed us up to attend this lecture months ago and was amazed to see that the day in the calendar didn’t eventually get overshadowed by other priorities. So we went and made a date out of it. Saltz, who writes art criticism for New York magazine, couldn’t be a better advocate for art as an everyman pleasure. He writes for a general audience publication. His lecture was hilarious, as though he was holding ground at a party in his own back yard, pacing and gesticulating and using funny voices. He took the forbidding density out the subject of art, though that’s not to say he doesn’t take what he does seriously.
He spoke candidly about his experience as a judge in the TV program “Work of Art,” and the experimental nature of it: “Could art criticism be made comprehensible through the popular form?” He talked about a life in art, the bizarreness of it, living to create something that will be loved by strangers for the rest of history.
Here are some snippets on art and criticism:
“All art is a criticism of all other art.” – 85% of what you see is bad art, but everyone sees a different 85% – “Take responsibility for your work.” “Fail flamboyantly.” “Never lose your credibility.” “Pleasure is a form of knowledge.” “You gotta show up.” “You will never have enough love.”
And the claim that no critic can “ruin” anyone’s career, since a “career in art” is self-granted and self-determined: “There is a grain of truth in every piece of criticism. Something you did allowed the person to say what they did…You have to imbed thought in material. You don’t control the meaning of your work.”
This is the relationship of viewer/critic and artist: “I will drink all your blood and in return I will give you all the blood I’ve ever drunk.”
“The people who do all the work all the time eventually catch onto things.” –John Cage
“We are making it out of ourselves.” – Barnett Newman
Star Trek: Into Darkness:
I’m not a movie critic: when it comes to movies I like what I like and I don’t think about it too much. I also don’t see many movies, so it was a rare delight that my husband and I both wanted to see the latest installment of Star Trek and both had time to see it. In fact, we made it part of our extended date with the Saltz lecture first and dinner of Wendy’s around our kitchen island after. Everyman pleasures, my man.
But this movie, let’s see. Beautifully shot. Not too violent. Engaging acting. Funny. I’d see it again.
Roger Wilder at the RecordBar:
And I had an astounding moment. There was a super moon that night. Roger Wilder’s Quartet (his quintet minus Dave Chael) played at the RecordBar, with a bunch of tunes off his debut (and long awaited) album, Stretch. The library employees in the audience got a shout out. And while the pieces off his album are superb, it was his cover of Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches” with Matt Otto, and touches of Satie, that had me and the rest of the bar silent and wistful. So quiet and respectful I could hear the crunch of pizza crust in my dear husband’s teeth, and he dutifully moved away to the end of the bar until the song finished.
I also love this album because of the Jim Flora-esque cover. Already it seems like a classic and collector’s item.
Brittany Slaughter’s “A Thirty Minute Musical,” a segment on her senior composition recital:
To be fair, as a production (and a debut, one-time only event) I was impressed; as a performance I cannot attest. Since this was my son’s babysitter, he was invited to the recital, too. Our patience lasted as long as the popcorn did. We were the ones with the crinkly bag throughout the first number and the ones squirming throughout the second one. We didn’t make it a third, though the audience (of friends, family, and supporters) did chuckle, relieved or indulgent whichever it may be, when we exited with a cheery and resonant “BI-BI!”
Which brings me to my next point of order: Attending Events with a Toddler or Why Toddlers Do Not Attend Performances
Toddlers do not attend performances because there is no point in simply attending. They have yet to feel as though they are incapable and they have no empathy. If there are drums on stage, there is no foreseeable reason why they shouldn’t climb on stage and grab a drum stick and bang away. There is no distinguishing that drum set from the drum set at home.
If you do not let them play the drum set, they will make this injustice known from here to the Moon.
There is no point in being involved with something when you can’t be involved with it. Sitting and listening are not toddler-level involvement.
Yet it is this very trait that makes experiencing performances with toddlers meet the basic requirements: Toddlers Make Things Interesting (in unintended ways)
My toddler son and I attended the 22nd annual Greek Play by Gorilla Theatre Productions – this year Aristophanes’ “The Knights” – on the South steps of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. We attended last year, with some success.
This year he’s mobile.
We sat well away from the rest of the crowd and lasted a solid twenty minutes of sitting-down time while we ate our picnic breakfast. Twenty minutes is approximately the time it takes a toddler to peel and eat two clementines. Greek plays typically last two hours. You do the math.
These are my questions for the play: What is the Greek that translated into “blah, blah, blah?” Why was that sausage vender beating the general with links of brats? and What exactly is so funny and derogatory about the price of anchovies?
We left early, once the toddler of whom I write had determined that if I wouldn’t let him run up the steps then he’d just run away entirely, and headed over to Immanuel Lutheran, where Marimba Sol de Chiapas (including husband) was performing that morning.
I attended the choir rehearsal, learning pieces from the Lutheran liturgy in Spanish and then attended the service in which Sol played along with all the hymns, service pieces, and complete versions of “La Llorona” and “Las Chiapanecas” (the “Mexican Hand Clap” song). That may seem an odd choice to the typical Midwesterner, but as leader John Currey pointed out during the rehearsal/discussion, the song is part of the Chiapan culture, written in association with the Saint Sebastian festival.
He made the point that in the culture their music stems from – Chiapan marimba played by eight hands – the aspects of religion, culture, art, and daily life are not separate components as they are in our lives. Speaking for myself, I know that these components are linked, like Lego blocks maybe, slotted together in different ways on different days, but not inseparable. Maybe letting a toddler lead me up on stage could change all that….
Even though I left the kid in the nursery for the entire time (come one, there were never-before-played-with-toys … I’m no meanie), I was pleased to see signs plastered all over the place asserting that children are a gift from God and were welcome in service.
An organization that welcomes the chaos of children into their ceremony? Tell me more.
Because children and their chaos are something that exists and cannot be tamed. Won’t be tamed. They are, as with Greek generals it seems, like raging hurricanes. Just as hurricanes don’t distinguish between this building or that building, toddlers see no point in distinguishing this activity from that activity. And if we don’t allow space for this intense chaos in our work and lives, than they won’t allow space for us in their work and lives.
We did decide to skip attending the biannual Kinnor Orchestra concert, as much as I would have loved to attend. It was during naps. Nap time is sacred, more sacred than religion and art together. Because nap time means sanity and sanity has nothing whatsoever to do with religion and art.
However, we had committed to having dinner at the Majestic Steakhouse that evening, where Sam plays the Sunday jam with Mark Lowrey. Once again, the best laid plans … this toddler noticed Dada playing drums and, as previously stated, determined that meant he should be the one playing drums. He did sit relatively quietly and attentively for their rendition of Merritt’s “Book of Love,” which I appreciated, but once we ran out of crab cake we could no longer be distracted and required a hasty escape.
But then I look at my experiences with and without the toddler. And personally, I’ll take with. Life with a toddler is engaged. He doesn’t know performance etiquette and he doesn’t care. He sure as all get out isn’t going to conform to outside expectations. He just wants to be in it, doing it, and that, I think, is what a life in art is all about. It’s not easy, but it sure is interesting.