Losing the New

Alex Ross, music critic for the New York Times, stated today that the orchestra of Minnesota is in trouble. Though I have never had the privilege of attending a concert  of Minneapolis’s famed orchestra, but their reputation has made it to NYC where I grew up. As a sign of the times, even Minneapolis isn’t spared the decent from creativity. Without the means to create, we will certainly lose the ability to create.

Communicating faster than creativity

I ponder in my isolation as only the digital era could provide the question of creativity in our time. We have it and use and present all over, yet I wonder whether we realize the shallowness it exudes in the newness of complexity that all these intersecting signals have created. We raced to get here as fast as we can asking not what it means but rather what it can do, or do better, or faster, or longer, or smaller. We threw our net wide and incorporated the world from streaming internationally to communicating globally. The Earth isn’t as large or mysterious as it once was, the universe too now shrinks more and more. We hunger for information, raw and unchecked, that we aggregate it all to measure its success. Yet through this conglomerate of what we can present we have lost something meaningful, something only human. In our hunger to know we’ve forgotten context and depth. What matters now is a false sense of objective knowledge crowd sourced to the masses. In that importance we deemed the editor unnecessary, the journalist a waste, and the critic ourselves. With the communication of the digital age we all became the critics and informants of our own world, assuming that because we can now get around the critical eye, the critical eye is no longer necessary. Why learn from a historian what you can google on wikipedia? Why read from a journalist what you can learn first hand from twitter? why pay to experience the new when you can create (or decide) it for yourself?

The internet and the digital age has such an ability to create depth and yet all it has been used for is breath. We are losing touch with creativity because we no longer know what it means to be creative. We trust that which we don’t understand and fear that which is unfamiliar. We are as lost as ever despite everything that is helping us get found.

In all these vague generalizations what I really mean to say is something rather simple: We have lost our desire to be challenged intellectually. The 20th century saw the childhood of this concept in art, modernism though born in the 19th century truly came into its self in the 20th. But in so doing it created a world of art that needed to be engaged, thought through, and then understood. Modernism isn’t easy art, you can’t look at it once and understand it, it takes time and thought and engagement and discussion and research and understanding, and an open mind above all. But with all the tools of communication at our fingertips we have no interest in spending time figuring something out, rather we’ll just google it. And in so doing, we fail to fully understand it.

I challenge us and myself to stop googling. I challenge us to return to our tried and true techniques of learning the hard way. Use what has come before us, trust the disciplined approach it takes to be called a historian or journalist. And if through the internet we have come to believe that these academic processes for creating measures of distinction in our society are truly damaged or corrupt then lets fix them.

-Huysmans

The Guernica of our time

I have a few albums that I have collected and organized into a playlist I just labeled thoughts. It consists of the type of music that really cannot be just in the background, but rather consumes the entirety of my being and prevents me from participating in any sense required activity other than giving it my full auditory attention. Today in shuffling my entire playlist as I furiously completed cover letters for jobs I had researched (the life of the unemployed teacher) my itunes stumbled on a track from an album I had almost forgotten was given to me near two years ago. Trinity Requiem by Robert Moran,  was commissioned by and performed in Trinity Church to honor the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. That was how this piece was introduced to me and added to my collection of thought music I listen to when contemplating what 9/11 means and how it should be remembered. As a New Yorker I have no shortage of opinions on the day and its aftermath. But one opinion has stayed with me for as long as I can remember, the idea that no artist captured that which needed to be captured from that event as Picasso had with Guernica. Guernica represented the devastation and tragedy that was to become modern warfare. I remember first seeing Guernica not too long after 9/11, in the Spring of 2002, and asking myself where is the Guernica of our time? What I didn’t realize then and now only realized too late to appreciate it live was that it didn’t come visually but rather from an auditory source.

Moran’s Requiem captures the emotion, the sadfullness hope of New Yorkers building a world after that fateful day. This piece is our Guernica and like Guernica is not to be listened to one day out of the year, but rather should be enjoyed and appreciated more regularly with the same heart that produced the hopeful sorrow it captures.

I will never forget that day, but can now listen and be inspired as to how we can positively prevent that day from ever happening again.

Happy Birthday M. Debussy

Though I am not one to follow the birthdays of the artists I admire, I am however touched by what Google did to celebrate Debussy’s. The animation uses Clair de lune or Moonlight, one of his more popular pieces today. In honor of his birthday however I’d like to draw my readers’ attention to a different one of his works, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, or Prelude to the afternoon of a faun.  This piece was met with great disdain by the public when first performed. When combined with a ballet by Nijinsky it was met with great controversy. Needless to say it was canned the following day by the critics. I only point this out to continue my theme of defending the new. We cherish and celebrate Debussy today but we forget that listening to Debussy as we do was not his intent. His music wasn’t to be preserved, he wrote it to challenge and push the limits. Were he alive today I believe and hope he’d be continuing to challenge our musical understanding, not preserving the one from 100 years ago. 

-Huysmans

What we can learn from Pixar

It is easy today to get lost in everything that is offered up to us. From social media to a high budget Hollywood films to episodic literary fiction there is so much to distract us, to placate us that I believe we have forgotten what we are capable of. I grew up with the internet, and love its potential… but I hate its reality. The internet and all its crowd sourcing power has changed the way we view the world ever so slightly, but in that slight change it has had a significant impact. We don’t trust the expert anymore. In the past news came from those who, through countless years of discipline, had earned the right to deliver it to us. Music was achieved through hard work and rigorous study…not song editing on youtube. And art… art was painful nuanced process that through careful analysis and inspired emotional revolution developed a modern sense. But it stopped there, it stopped because the world didn’t understand that modern sense and never tried to. Today we live without it, lost in a continuous recreation of the modern art world, not realizing that has already happened… multiple times.

Here is where PIxar comes into place. There is an underlying message in their films, and underlying push to challenge what is expected, what is believed to be wanted, and instead pushes for the new. Most literally this comes from Ratatouille where Anton Ego gives his review of the delicious meal he enjoyed. Additionally you could say that it came from an earlier scene where Remy confronts his dad about the ideas of change and nature. The message is clear that conformity and preservation are inadequate for a successful society. We must change and we must fight for that new change. Pixar may not have been directly attacking museums and our arts institutions with this film but I am. If we preserve art as something to be preserved we will lose it forever.

Let’s continue this. I have no link to explain where Wall-E fits except the credits. The credits tie the film to exactly what I have always seen it represent. The culmination of Disney’s dream, emotion through animation. For a large portion of the film dialog isn’t used to convey the plot, rather we visually follow the developing romance of two robots. Disney believed in the power of animation as a tool to convey emotion and he gave himself to his characters. In times past Disney has honored this tradition, the eyes in Pocahontas for example, but recently they lost sight of it. Wall-E set them back on the path by taking inorganic objects (robots) and giving them the emotion enough to convey an entire love story to us.

At the end of Pixar’s short Day and Night we find a radio broadcast defending just how beautiful the new is how scared we are of it. This example might be my favorite as the animation behind it is rather ingenious. Seemingly two dimensional characters are interacting for the first time and at first fighting but by the end are friendly. What makes it near breathtaking is the three dimensional environment that makes up their bodies, one filled by a daytime scene while the other a nighttime scene. As the two move throughout the film we see the environment their bodies are windows on change between day and night. Again Pixar uses no dialog save the radio announcement at the end of the film but is still very capable of telling a story.

Pixar is screaming at us to embrace the new, to fight for it and honor it. I imagine part of their interest is in their own image as the new, which isn’t far from the truth. They allowed for Disney’s second renaissance which is still going strong and pushed the boundaries of computer animation to such an extent that it now makes up the mainstream. But at the same time when in control of Disney’s animation studios, revived and expanded them to re-imagine the cartoon short.

Though this very well may be obvious to many I still wanted to gather my thoughts in one place and encourage further discussion on them. Pixar to me is a beacon of newness that is both pushing the boundary and making it popular at the same time. We need this level of creativity and risk to infiltrate more of the arts and move away from the idea that the arts is something to preserve. The arts is something that should challenge us and push our abilities both to create and to contemplate.

This is what I believe we can learn from Pixar.

 

-Huysmans

 

Why there is no celebration of the new.

As a society we have given up on the new. We don’t care about it anymore. I might be able to go as far as to say we don’t like it anymore. The new is weak and fragile, and to quote Anton Ego from Ratatouille, the new needs friends. But today the new has few friends and many enemies. The organizations who once upon a time cultivated the new, or stood for its cultivation, now work tirelessly to preserve not it but what it was. Where is modern art? In a museum. What is a museum? A place designed for conservation (ie preservation). 

We need to stop preserving art and start creating it again. 

Dancing Matt and a need to be inspired.

I have been wanting to post about “Where the Hell is Matt” for over a year at this point. The only real reason I haven’t is due mostly to my busy schedule as a  teacher, but with that life slipping behind me I find myself with nothing but time to catch up on the elements of life I missed out on. One in particular is responding to his most recent video from 2012 that inspired myself and my kids to find our own way to change the world. There isn’t much to his videos and there are based on something rather simple, dancing around the world. But his simple concept of visiting different cities and dancing with local populations has inspired me and continues to inspire me. The videos are cute, funny and leave an audience smiling if not laughing. But no jokes are told or script developed. For what makes us enjoy his videos is the happiness and togetherness they portray. We see the differences of our world so wonderfully displayed next to each other as to forget the pain those differences have caused. We are given a reason to smile from his video.

In my own explorations as to what is the responsibility of artists I have danced with the idea that as artists we have responsibilities to the population. As a community we always want to strive to be better and those who strive for our attention should naturally lead us down that path. I’ve gone so far as to criticize the remarkably enjoyable music of Jimmy Buffet for doing nothing more than giving us a reason to drink and screw. Yet I was mistaken then and can realize it now. The role of art is and always has been to engage us. To produce in us a reaction transient and pleasurable, his music does that.

I’m not about to suggest that Matt’s videos are as timeless and enjoyable as Jimmy Buffet but I do want to argue that there is a significance to the smile they produce in us. We are a social species by nature, it has had great influence on our evolution, being able to communicate and share and desiring to as well. We are a better, smarter species for our social desires and yet recently I feel we have lost some of that. Many smarter and more informed individuals have blasted our generation and the internet for the decrease in social experiences and though I lean towards their camp I’m not necessarily sure they are right. Have we truly replaced time together with time online? Furthermore is time online truly void of the same social celebrations produced in time together? The answers aren’t necessarily there just yet and maybe won’t be for a while. However what is there is that videos like this have a power to remind us what it means to be together. Those who participated in his videos enjoyed togetherness while those who enjoyed his videos witnessed it. But more than just witnessing it, my classroom felt it, discussed it, celebrated it, and used it to inspire ourselves.

I’ll leave it there for now but will return. I’d like to see more of us inspiring ourselves.

-Huysmans out.

Those unfamiliar with Matt’s dancing exploits can find information about him and his adventures here.