The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon
Musings on Being and Becoming Human
There are as many truths as there are people to see life and experience from different angles. What I have just said, of course, reflects truth from the angle of the individual human being. To say it, one has to take a step back from family, community, nation and world to become mindful of what it means to be human. We cannot escape the recognition that humans belong to groups. We are a species, a group of creatures shaped in certain very specific ways, with large brains, walking upright, using hands and opposable thumbs, creating art and books, museums and libraries, storing information outside our brains in ways that allow us to create cultures and pass our cultural values down from one generation to another. We have developed technologies for travel and trade and exchange, for doing battle with our enemies, for exploring outer space. In the past century we have added complex systems belonging to computer technology where we can store and have access to more and more information. One lifetime is hardly enough to fathom the potentials.
Humans are born into the process of becoming, and much of what we become is given to us through the cultures we have created. We call that "received knowledge." It comes to us from nationalistic politics, from organized religion, from social mores, often framed in the oppositional language of "thou shalt not." Beyond received knowledge, challenging the idea that life can be all contained by rules and expectations, we have the potential for uniqueness, for individuality.
In the Western world, the Greeks long ago began to ask questions designed to cultivate a strong and stable system of government in which individuality was highly prized. But questions like, "Who am I?" and "How shall I live?" have to be asked anew with each generation to refresh our minds and hearts, to wash away what is musty and stale, to relax what is too rigid, to loosen what is too tight for the individual to thrive in this world, in this lifetime.
Central to the work of psychologist Carl Jung is the cultivation of individuality through a psychological process he calls individuation, simply defined as unfolding and expressing one's life potentials through conscious awareness and action, and the survival of the individual (and with individuality, of cultures) through one's ability to hold a creative tension between oppositions. By "creative" tension I mean one that is not a stalemate, one that can move, can transcend the tendency to get locked into one view or another.
That view is imaged in art in William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, in which the lamb and the tiger carry the oppositional values, and in Gaston Bachelard's statement that the lamb and the tiger are one and the same being. Of course, they are not, not in the literal world. But we humans have assigned to them different value systems related to ourselves in which the lamb takes on the values of softness, non-violence, of one who is tender, meek, and mild, and the tiger"burning, fearful, dreadful"represents hardness and the fierce taking of what it wants and needs. As humans, we can't get caught in one or the other of these oppositions, for at times we need to be soft, welcoming, tender, and at other times we need hardness, fierceness, and the courage to live by our passions, to take what we want and pay the price for it.
Art often helps us more than philosophy to understand the possibilities of life. In one of Bill Moyers' tapes of a poetry festival in his television series Language and Life, I heard poet Robert Haas say that all interesting works of art come close to saying the opposite of what they say. And this quotation is from Muriel Rukeyser's The Life of Poetry: "The full-valued human being is capable of the total imaginative response. There is no threat to the Self. The truth of the poem is taken." She can talk about the truth of the poem without getting caught in that unfortunate trap of referring to any individual truth as THE TRUTH. My favorite comment on truth that I've found so far are these lines:
"There is no such thing as the truth,"
That the grapes seemed fatter,
The fox ran out of his hole.
Wallace Stevens, "On the Road Home"
Plumping of grapes and flushing of fox are energies we want to cultivate and conserve at the expense, if necessary, of stale ideas, stale language, and stalemated arguments.
In this issue of The Grapevine, we explore truthtelling from many angles. We have in the Presentations chamber of our salon an interview with Atlanta actor Brenda Bynum in which she muses on many things, including why art matters and why theater in particular matters. Bill Kennedy profiles photographer Ted Mikalsen who explored, among other things, the art of photographing graffiti. On the subject of photographic art, we also have an introduction and a link to a short film on 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge at a sensational moment in his career. The film was made in New York in the 1980s, with a music score by Philip Glass, and starred our own Charles Knott as Muybridge. The film ran for several weeks at the Museum of Modern Art. In the room for Views and Reviews, we have Anne Lovett's introduction to Susan Harvey's memoir about women in her family who broke conventions in order to live more fully. There you will also find Charles Knott's description of an extraordinary concert given by Jackie Evancho and my review of a flamenco theater piece in which the Calo Gitano Dance Company enacts the history of the gypsies and their influence on flamenco. Our room for Reflections offers Nancy Law's two poetic pieces on looking for love, and an update on our medical student/flamenco dancer friend Kwajo Abeyie, also known as El Moro. In our Museum room dedicated to Ivan Lester, we have included his 1989 poem on turtles. I have created a special memorial room for Lorrie Hallman's tribute to our friend and loved one Ann McKain a year after Ann's death. The Tracking History room presents Jonathan Knott's comments on the Civil War exhibit at the Atlanta History Museum and in our World Voices room, Ravi Kumar has placed a memoir about his ancestors and the passing along of their values to subsequent generations.
Fat grapes, we hope, for your delectation.
AT HOME here are writers speaking in a style more conversational than studied for an audience who might be seated on a front porch at night watching fireflies create random small rays to light up the listening, or in the dining room of an ancient inn with lamps and perhaps a hearth fire to kindle community.
It takes only one or two steps of the imagination to move through the dusk to the dining room at the inn or the porch of a house or, by daylight, to a backyard garden for picking grapes and for gossiping, a verbal mode associated with the term grapevine. We say I heard it on the grapevine, referring to rumor, advance news of interest to the community, sometimes scandal, always a dramatic story or piece of a story, circulating, making the rounds, lingering on the surface even when it suggests hidden things.
The SALON presents a variety of storytellers and image makers and thinkers, from promising beginners to seasoned artists of mature and full-bodied talents.
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Associate Editor: Jonathan Knott
Image Design: Bill Kennedy
Contributing Writers: Ravi Kumar, Bill Kennedy, Nancy Law, Anne Lovett, Charles Knott, Anne Webster, David Price
Copyright 2011, Barbara Knott. All rights reserved.