Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why it matters

"Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for plays, paintings, pageants, and scholarly journals, regardless of the works’ attraction or merit. In the words of Citizens Against Government Waste, “actors, artists, and academics are no more deserving of subsidies than their counterparts in other fields; the federal government should refrain from funding all of them."—Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2017, Heritage Foundation 

Rule of thumb: for every great photo you will take one hundred and miss a dozen more. 

Things lost to the lens during our twelve hour excursion into Nine Mile Canyon:

A volery of tiny bluebirds, each one small enough to nestle in the palm, backs, wings, and tailfeathers a startling flash of cerulean in flight. Oceans of white-tailed deer, winter coats still thick and downy. Nerve-wracked jackrabbits skittering this and that way in the roadside pitch. And the sunlight, taking us by surprise on its journey, dripping gold glaze down canyon walls in bold edging, a different gilded pattern each time our eyes returned to the west.

Someday, when my son and I lay in the earth, these things won't even remain in memory.

But the photographs of the petroglyphs we captured, we pondered. What might they mean? These people, Native Americans dubbed "Fremont," gone a thousand years from the game-rich basin floor—what could these painstakingly etched panels reveal about the craftsmen who could no longer speak for themselves? 

When you are an artist who's raised artists, the source of expression seems organic. The purpose, however, my oldest son and I determined, is the human inclination to document hardship, celebrate abundance, give image to our fears so that we are better equipped to recognize and face them, and to illustrate our sense of splendor and awe at the divine and serendipitous. That's why artwork varies in presentation and effect. It leaps from us in song, is crafted in story and poem. We dance our living through the day to rhythms that remind of the heart's pulse and the joy it is to breathe. Art's brushstrokes already lay beneath the skin. It pours forth in paint and pen. We capture it in photographs the way we catch butterflies for their beauty, or breath as if denying the next exhalation might mean our end. It moves through us and back out into the world. That is why we called it expression; the authentic return from a life fully lived. And full lives are rife with both wonder and sorrow. We create so as to share our human experience with others, to grasp hands, to be understood, to not to be forgotten. And for most ancient cultures it is because of their art that they are with us still—indelibly.

The meaning? There in lies aesthetics. Each of us gets to define that. And the definition is the art within the soul. It is the connective tissue of the species. Stripped of support to create great art, our bones clatter, and the movement forward becomes rigid. We lose vision. We fail to recognize ourselves in the lives of other human beings before us. The softness of our people is overtaken by the cold and mechanical.

Without the arts, perhaps it is better that our nation should not be remembered. Disappeared and forgotten. If this be how little value our existence in this blink of time matters, to our individual selves, to our collective people, then I agree. We certainly shouldn't force those sorts of memories on future generations.

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