The oppressive early June heat bore down so heavily on the asphalt parking lot, you could almost hear the quiet desperation as young men walked past the old Milk Row cemetery on their way to the market. Beyond the gravestones on the second floor of a nearby building people gathered to make something as a means of combating this ennui inspired existential despair.
Some gathered around a traditional printing press printing posters for a new book, Don't Make Art, Just Make Something by Miranda Aisling. In another corner, various musicians gathered around a keyboard with guitars, drums and a saxophone to make some music. In the center of the room, various guests make a 'something' village out of recycled materials, and the author flitted around the room, welcoming guests and signing copies of her new book.
Many of the guests knew each other from the local universities, museums, coffee shops and farm markets. It would be tempting to call them something like the secular millennial transcendentalists; steeped in an interesting mix nineteenth century transcendentalism, with the growing secularism of our age, and the digital technologies of the twenty-first century.
The Judeo-Christian tradition holds that we are created in the image of a creator. So, what does that make us, if not creators? Yet our schooling and work leads us further are further from being creators, leaving the creativity to the realm of specialized professionals called 'artists'.
Yet we don't have to buy into this division of labor that divides us from a core part of our being, this alienation from creativity which leads to the quiet desperation that Thoreau wrote about years ago, and can still be seen in the sweltering parking lots of Boston. Instead, we can just make something, anything, to keep that spark of creativity alive, to fight off the ennui inspired existential despair, and reunite us with the creative core of our being.
Don't Make Art, Just Make Something. If enough people do this, it could be a movement, a new awakening, and with the political, economic and environmental realities of today, it is something we desperately need.
I sit here again to confront my old nemesis, the blank screen, as I have so many mornings before. It has been an ongoing battle of many years, especially during that time when I was putting up at least one blog post a day, every day, for years in a row. It is a common problem many of us face, how do we get started? It is more of a problem when what we are doing is very public, like a blog post. What will my readers think? Will this be a profound statement? Will this be art? Will this be just something that fills the page?
I've often ended up writing blog posts that lack profundity, that I'm sure various people reading it will wonder why I even bothered spending the time writing it. My daughter's master's thesis and upcoming book, Don't' Make Art, Just Make Something, captures an idea, actually, many ideas, about getting started.
Yet I'd like to suggest that many of us have already started. How many of you have doodled on the sides of various pieces of paper? I doodled a lot more when I was younger. How many of you arrange your room or prepare a meal as a creative outlet? For me, one of my creative outlets is paper clip art.
I've always fidgeted. I've often take paper clips and bent them into new creative shapes. Yesterday, at work, I took a few paper clips to make a miniature abstract paperclip sculpture. I then arranged it in front of a BuddhaBoard my daughter had gotten me for Christmas, which I drew a question mark on. I placed a penny in front of the whole layout and cleared the area of my desk around it.
Perhaps it isn't art, maybe it is, but at least it is something, something that conquers the nemesis of the blank page.
Don't make art, just make something.
The big white dog wanders contentedly outside in the early morning rain falling gently on the trees. It seems like overnight, the trees have come into full foliage. Perhaps it is because the past few nights have blended together into one giant blur. There is so much to be done.
Yesterday at work, we said good bye to a work study student heading off on his next great adventure. A week before, we said good bye to another co-worker who had also left in search of her path. Inevitably stories of my trips hitchhiking around the States and Europe and living on a sailboat afterwards came up.
On Thursday evening, I drove up to hear one of my daughters present her Masters Thesis, Don't Make Art, Just Make Something.
It provides an interesting contrast to all those commencement speeches so many of us will be hearing over the coming month; "but then the next day comes". There have been over twelve thousand next days since I left college, and what have I made?
After work, I went to a baby naming ceremony followed by a gathering of friends. I've made friends, I've helped make a family. I've made my careers. I've made many blog posts. But is it enough? Perhaps its not art, but it's something.
As a proud father, I thought Miranda's thesis presentation was the best, but there were many great presentations. They all focused on various aspects of creativity and education. What role does, or should art play in the schools? How do the arts relate to leadership? Where does creativity fit into daily life.
I've been thinking about various aspects of this for the Connecticut Health Foundations, Health Leaders Fellowship. Next month there will be a discussion at the foundation about leadership and social media. What is your digital footprint? Leaders need to think about how they are publicly visible around the issues they lead on.
I remember reading one paper about the difficulties that teens face today. The teenage years are about creating an identity, and now, teenagers now need to create not only the identity as seen in school and at parties, but also a digital identity. It isn't just teenagers that need to create this. We are all, either consciously, or unconsciously, creating digital identities. What's yours?
Writers and actors may have some experience in creating characters, but what about everyone else? And how does the fact that we are creating ourselves, and not something fictitious complicate the process?
Later today, I will head up to Middletown to participate in the Middletown Remix project.
It encourages people to 'hear more, see more'. How much do we really see or hear? How much passes unnoticed in the blur of daily life, like the sudden appearance of a full canopy of leaves? How does this relate to the creative process, to our creative process, as we create our lives?
Keep making something, every day. It is the start to making art, the art of our lives.
We live in a polarized society where just about everything is right or wrong, black or white, either/or, and rarely both/and. Perhaps this is some of the starting point of the discussion about the Amity High School Theatre Department's production of Sweeney Todd. It is violence ladened entertainment, or it is art. Even when talking about art, we find this dichotomy, art for art sake versus art as a means of societal change.
Last night, at the Amity Board of Education, I suggested a middle ground. Can we look at Sweeney Todd as both art for art sake, and art capable of bringing about positive societal change? Can art contain distasteful violence and be redeeming at the same time? If we are willing to step outside of our preconceived assumptions, it just might be possible.
For me, this relates back the whole idea of indirect lessons. Kids learn football for football's sake, yet at the same time, they are learning about teamwork. There's a lot of teamwork you learn when you are in a musical. Yet there's even more. There is a certain amount of emotional intelligence and empathy that can be indirectly learned by the cast and the audience a like. There can be catharsis and redemption even in a play about revenge.
Amity has a great tradition of theatre, yet one thing that I've not been able to find around that has been groups gathering to share with one another what they have experienced and learned from attending the productions.
The dust up around the production of Sweeney Todd appears to be offering an opportunity to fill this need. Over in a discussion on the Orange Patch, The Rev. Ann Ritonia wrote,
"a community discussion on violence is a wonderful idea. All are invited to attend a continuation of a community dialogue on April 23rd at St. Barbara's Greek Orthodox Church sponsored by the Orange Interfaith Clergy Fellowship. Prevention of Violence in our Culture: The Next Steps will begin at 7 pm and childcare will be provided. The public is welcome and Middle and High School Students are most welcome to participate in the discussion."
I hope people will attend Sweeney Todd. I hope they will then join the discussion at St. Barbara's Church. Let's celebrate and share art for art's sake that brings about positive social change.
This evening, I attended the Amity Board of Education meeting, where the public comment ended up being about the theatre department's upcoming production of "Sweeney Todd". I decided to go after I saw an announcement in the Patch, Violence Continues at Amity High School.
It was an unfortunate headline for an unfortunate announcement. The violence continuing at the high school is in the form of the musical, "Sweeney Todd". One high school student commented that the only violence at the school is freshmen during the first part of the school year, and that most of the time, Amity High School is a pretty mellow place.
The announcement resulted in an article in the Patch, "Parents Plannning [sic] to Protest at Amity BOE Meeting". It appeared in both the Bethwood Patch and the Orange Patch. Between the two articles and the announcement, there have been around 40 comments on the topic. It was also picked up in the New York Times.
Many of the comments talked about those opposing the production as "small-minded protesters [who] should be ashamed of themselves" and who "should get a grip on reality". Yet I think this misrepresents what is going on.
The first person to speak talked about an inter-faith coalition that was concerned about violence in society, and particularly as it exists in the media. She raised concerns about the violence in the musical and if it was teaching the sort of lessons we want to teach our youth. Others spoke about the musical in terms of art.
I spoke about how, perhaps if we think seriously, the two positions aren't as far apart as people would like to imagine. Art is a powerful way for people to deal with trauma, with the evil that is in the world. It provides an opportunity for people to discuss violence and the sort of society that we want to be part of.
I encouraged everyone to attend the musical, and then to gather with friends to discuss it and broader topics of violence in society. Afterwards, I encouraged the husband of the first speaker to attend, and to distribute leaflets inviting other theatre goers to an open discussion on a later date about violence in society and how art, and the musical addresses this problem. We shall see if anyone takes me up on this.
After I spoke, Howard Sherman echoed some of the same themes, reflecting on Sondheim's words, "Art isn't easy". Art isn't easy. Confronting evil and violence in our world isn't easy. Teaching our children isn't easy. But all of it can come together to help make the world a better place.
So, please come see Sweeney Todd, and then engage in discussions about the music with your friends and neighbors. Join in a broader discussion about how we can make our community a better place.
(This blog post has also been submitted to The Patch)