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.
“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.
“Spatial Concept,” by 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.
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?
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?