This week I enjoyed an experience that was new to me. I went to an art lecture. There is an art center right here on the island which is handy. And I have been in that building exactly one time, before this week. I knew that they had events there, I even read about the lectures and exhibits before. Just somehow, I never got myself in the door except the one time, shortly after we moved here. And that one time, I never got any further than the first room which had an exhibit of jewelry which I enjoyed perusing and then, inexplicably, I looked no further, left and didn't return. Until this week.
We have a new neighbor just down the street. She invited me to attend the lecture with her. How very kind! And so we went. As we paid our entrance fee, we learned that the scheduled speaker had to cancel due to a family emergency and they had cobbled together a last minute fill in and hoped we enjoyed ourselves. The lecture itself was held in the gallery, folding chairs set up in the middle, but the surrounding walls chock-a-block with lovely works, all done by local artists, to entertain us as we waited for it to begin.
The gentleman who so kindly stepped in, decided to demonstrate as opposed to lecture. He started with a blank piece of paper and a charcoal pencil. Before him was a table covered with an artfully draped bit of cloth and an assemblage of items. A Still Life work. Not precisely the photo I've posted above, but near enough.
We watched as he blocked the work first with his pencil, that is, he made little marks on the paper indicating where certain things ended and other things began. He was settling in his perspective. There is a lot of math involved. Then with various sizes and shapes of ovals and circles began roughing in the objects. Next he used a series of pastels, moving from dark to light to bring these items to life.
It was amazing to watch the transformation. I was entranced. Rarely do I sit that still for that long. I had a perfect view, just over his right shoulder. I watched as he made an initial motion in the air before committing the pastel to the paper every single time. Each elegant stroke added subtle shadow and then colour and then light.
He didn't speak a lot. Mostly he worked and occasionally he would break to explain briefly what he was doing and why. Or he might identify the specific sort of charcoal or pastel or paper he was using and why. When asked, he gave his artistic credentials, primarily as a book cover artist and now a teacher.
Through him, I got to experience some of what it is like to create a piece of art. I cannot do it myself of course, I can only appreciate the results of what other people do. But it was that hour of my stillness that was a real gift that I received. I am rarely still. And if I do take a moment to really stop and see something it's usually brief. I have other things I need to do. We all do, right? Who has the time to really experience something fully anymore.
Which made me think of the first time I heard that expression, "Experiencing' something. It was my first year of college. A writing class. My professor was an interesting woman, very well read, preternaturally calm, absolutely unflabbable regardless of what moronic thing a student said or did. One of our very first assignments was to "Experience an Orange". "What's that, now?" was probably our collective response.
She smiled and explained. She wanted us to go home, get an orange, experience it fully and then write about it. Hmmmmmmm. As instructed I bought an orange, went home, put it on the counter and stared at it. It stared back.
As the orange had nothing to say, it was left to me to figure this out. I started out with a clinical description. It felt, at first, like a hopeless assignment. What am I supposed to say about this thing? And orange is an orange is an orange! But I found as time went on, I found more things to write about this bit of citrus. The sound of it, the smell, the feel, the taste. Each step of peeling, sectioning and eating this fruit led to another sensation and another until I realized that I had written pages about this orange. Who'd a thought? By being totally focused on this one thing, I truly experienced it.
Which leads me to an article I read last night. (Isn't it funny how all these things link together?) The article was, "What you're missing when you're not listening'. And it talks about how we, as humans, are so assaulted by sound every moment of every day that we tend to block sounds out to protect ourselves. Which means we are missing lovely quiet subtle things that would have enhanced an otherwise ordinary experience and how important it is to get back to that to remember how to not just hear but to listen to what we are hearing.
The writer spoke of learning out to determine the value of a coin with eyes closed, just by listening to the sound it makes dropped onto the kitchen counter; how a spouse recognizes the footsteps of their significant others steps separate from anyone else in the family as they move through the house; how a mother can pick out the sound of their own child's voice in a crowd. He told a story about a blind man named, Justice Fielding, who, by just uttering a few words in a room he had never been in before, knew the exact measurements of the room. Wow!
I suspect that if, occasionally, we take the time to sit in a quiet place and just relax, we will see, hear, feel, smell things we generally do not notice and that yes, it will enhance the moment, That goes double for me too. I need to slow down a bit. I need to take the time, now and again, to experience the orange.
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.