Paint in your toes: We translate our MCA experience using the Ikea the rings in our basement

The electricity was still running through me when I returned to my real life after a day alone at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) last spring. (See here for more on the art and my reaction to it.)

After taking in the “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void 1949-1962” exhibit, I knew I had to bring a little Gutai home.

The postwar Gutai movement was a collective of about 59 Japanese artists who created avant-garde art from 1959 to 1972. The movement was about pushing the boundaries of creative freedom through painting, performance, interactive art and experimentalism. A few weeks after my solo visit, I took Brian and the boys with me to view the exhibit. Predictably, they loved it.

Brian, whose father fought in WWII, including the D-Day invasion, was moved by the global artistic response to the events that so influenced his father and, thereby, his own upbringing. The boys were entranced with the seemingly reckless destruction of the things which, in their own lives, they’re not allowed to even touch. (I can hear myself saying, “We don’t touch art, boys,” over and over again.) But blowtorches? Shooting guns at balloons filled with paint so that the paint drips down the canvas like blood? Knives slashing at a canvas? Guys swinging from ropes as they paint with their feet? In little boy world, this is as awesome as art gets.

In one of the galleries, the MCA displayed a film of some of these Japanese Gutai artists at work. One glimpse of an artist painting with his feet, and I knew what I had to do.

This:

We created our own experimental art. First step: taping down the butcher paper.

We had to get all experimental on our own turf. First step to low-brow avant-garde at home: taping butcher paper to our basement floor.

Next step was to drizzle the paint color of the boys' choice on the paper and brace for some slip-sliding.

Next step was to drizzle the paint color of the boys’ choice on the paper and brace for some slip-sliding.

None of us could wait to start in on this mess.

None of us could wait to start in on this mess.

Next step, squish and slide.

Keeping control of his feet on the slippery tempera paint was a welcome challenge for Charlie.

Keeping control of his feet on the slippery tempera paint was a welcome challenge for Charlie.

The lunge method proved to be one of Charlie's favorites. That and spinning around. Note the accidental background shot of me in a pose I usually reserve for the hoods of sports cars.

The lunge method proved to be one of Charlie’s favorites. That and spinning around. Note the accidental background shot of me in a pose I usually reserve for the hoods of sports cars.

The only rule in the Quinn family experimental art collective: Anything goes. You want to swing on a ladder with your paint-covered toes, then swing on, artiste.

The only rule in the Quinn family experimental art collective: Anything goes. You want to swing on a ladder with your paint-covered toes, then swing on, artiste.

Even Brian got in on the Gutai. (so did I, but no one takes pictures of Mommy unless she makes a specific request. Which can get a little weird, if we're being honest.)

Even Brian got in on the Gutai. (Aside: I painted, too, and it was massively satisfying. I just don’t have any pics of it because, well, no one takes pictures of Mommy unless she makes a specific request. Which can get a little weird, if we’re being honest.)

My man's avant-garde footwork makes a nice little painting.

Brian’s avant-garde footwork makes a nice little painting.

Our finished art dries in the dining room. Next steps: Let the boys rip them to their liking? Dare we

Our finished art dries in the dining room. Next steps: Let the boys rip them to their liking? Create our own “run-through” sign? Dare we “destroy the picture?” Stay tuned!

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Enoughness Project Series #11: One art exhibit shifts my worldview: perfection rejection

This post is part of a series about my experiences in uncovering my own innate enough-ness. For three months, I am abstaining from frivolous material purchases, accepting all blessings that come my way and focusing on gratitude for all that I have. The idea came to me in a meditation-induced haze and it has nothing to do with politics or morality. I’m just a girl who’s hoping to: separate the association between looking good and being good; get comfy with receiving; become a glowingly grateful human being; get acquainted with my own motives for material consumption; grow my understanding of when/why I buy things; and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values. We’ll see how this goes…

I love art. I have no fancy credentials to prove how much I love it—all I have is a cool garage door and a messy house. I don’t spend every weekend at ballets and shows, go out of my way to catch exhibits and I’m not tight with any important gallery owners or artists (unless you count my sister-in-law, who’s working on an incredible project on the Hudson River right now). Nonetheless, art is the thing that sparks me more reliably than almost anything.

Last spring, I had 36 hours alone in my city. It was the most indulgent of luxuries. I strolled Michigan Ave.; emerged with what is now my favorite pair of jeans; sipped champagne with some dashing Viennese businessmen; declined their generous invitation to dinner in favor of room service, a bath and an uninterrupted night of sleep; and, the next morning, walked straight to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) for some time alone with art I’d never met.

I walked through a torn paper archway reminiscent of a Texas high school football run-through sign, which is, in effect, what it was, but constructed of heavy golden paper ripped in artful swaths by Saburo Murakami, one of the leaders of the Japanese Gutai art movement following World War II. My inner zing was going off.

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“Entrance,” by Saburo Murakami

The exhibit was called “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962” and I felt the swell of liberation immediately on walking through Murakami’s Entrance. The swell turned rogue wave when I saw the calculated slashes and stabs with which Lucio Fontana gutted his paintings. And when I saw the film of Gutai artists blaspheming Japanese culture by painting with their bare feet, I was profoundly engaged.

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“Spatial Concept,” by Lucio Fontana

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Lucio Fontana

As I saw it, many of these artists either created their work in a fashion that was not at all acceptable in the art world at the time, or they first created a perfectly good painting on a regular canvas and then proceeded to beat the hell out of it.

One of the artists wrote that he sat back and watched the painting until the energy rose inside of him and he flung his body at the canvas. The result was total physical destruction of his canvas.

As I sat contemplating the work and listening to a music student figure out Chopin’s Nocturne in something or other, I realized what it was about the exhibit that struck such a chord:  a.) It reminded me of what meditation does to a person, of how it torches old sides of yourself you no longer need and slices through what seems to be just fine, making it something more authentic, something that may be dissonant with others’ expectations, and yet more unique and more powerful than before. Also, b.) I want the courage to approach my life like these artists so boldly approached their canvases.

Who’s with me?

They were deemed madmen at the time, taking the sanctity of a proper painting and precisely burning, splashing, shooting and gashing it. And, yet, the work didn’t feel violent and angry to me; it felt liberating, even playful. Staring at this art, I recognized within me the desire to transform the canvas of my life, to take a traditional form and turn it into something totally my own, something that may make me look like a heretic, but who the fuck cares? It’s the real me, and I’m enough, and it feels freaking unreal and, by the way, you should try it because, trust me, you want to feel as free and electric as this…

Granted, the art in this exhibit was in response to the horrors of WWII, so it’s misguided to compare my charmed American Gen-X/Y life to that of these artists in 1940s and 1950s Europe and Japan, but just as these artists were reacting against the ways of the world that spawned a global war at the time, perhaps my desire to de- and re-construct my life canvas is in response to the perfectionism that’s expected of all of us in this Facebook-i-cized American culture right now. Look perfect, shop perfect, cook perfect, parent perfect, decorate perfect, be married perfect, clean perfect, work perfect, impress perfect, be perfect. It’s not piles of burning books in Nazi Germany, or worse, but this beckoning to live perfectly, and publicly so, can be decidedly oppressive.

Have you checked Pinterest lately, or scoured Facebook till you uncovered enough images to confirm your own lacking? Or made haste to upload a pic of yourself looking fab and doing something awesome to show everyone–including yourself–that you’re really totally supercool and your life is amazing? Oppressive.

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I’m shamefully guilty of feeding the perfection machine. I was all, “I kinda like this pic of myself flanked by two super handsome, well-dressed friends, so I’m totally posting this.” And, yes, I did post this pic to FB a few weeks ago. My caption: “Pretty delighted to have gotten to hang out with these cats last night.” All nonchalant, like, this is what I do all the time. This is how I always dress. And I attend fabulous events every Saturday night. You don’t? Aw, sorry to hear that.

By all appearances, I have created a lovely canvas—a beautiful family, a warm home, wild little boys, a vibrant spiritual life, part-time work that nourishes me, relationships that enrich me, and this blog—and, yes, I’m very grateful for that. Yet I reject the compulsion to make the world think that it’s all easy and precious and perfect. I feel this desire to go beyond what appears to be a perfectly good creation. I want to resist the pull to seem perfect, to “destroy” (my synonyms: transform, personalize, authenticate) the picture and to make it breathtaking from the inside—rather than curating an outwardly appealing portrait. What if my picture could be bombastically evocative of the reality of and the stunning beauty of imperfection?

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In reality, this is what most of my Saturday nights look like: Striving for some semblance of a grown-up night out with my husband, so we hit up a neighborhood dive restaurant, where we try with all our might to make the three-year-old sit quietly in his chair like a gentleman while my five-year-old seizes the window of my distraction to grab my olive wand and create tidal waves of ice in my martini, all while I stifle a grimace. Real life takes place at unflattering angles. And, know what? I didn’t post this to FB, but there’s undeniable beauty in these angles, too.

What if everyone destroyed their picture and made it what they wanted it to be rather than what society expected it to be? What if we were all honest about who we are and what we’re feeling?

Instead of using media like blowtorches, bullets and razor blades, as the artists in the MCA exhibit, I could use my budding indifference to society’s expectations, a bright inner knowing and unfailing trust in God’s way of providing for me as my tools. What would be your tools, or your artistic media?

Will you join me in destroying your picture? Because I could use a community in this adventure. Will you join me in approaching your life with the same fearlessness, expressiveness and willingness to test your own boundaries that these artists explored with their work?

The final product won’t end up in a museum touted as important art—or even on Pinterest—but living with abandon will darn well enrich my life and, because I will be more my authentic, empowered, liberated self, my loved ones will benefit as well.

I’m in. You?