Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lights in the floor



Last night I dreamed I was learning how to make stained glass. I would render all my mandalas in glass, then embed them in the floor with lights underneath them. In fact I was making stained-glass light-boxes, for installing everywhere. I woke up with "We Two" by the Little River Band, circa 1983, running through my head.

Embedding stained-glass light boxes in a floor would be a difficult task, but not impossible.

This weekend, Danny told me very seriously that 'if you make art the center of your life, doors will open.' I took mild umbrage at this, since theoretically art HAS been the center of my life for the last eighteen years or so--and doors, such as they are, remain largely closed.

But upon taking a trip out to Red Hook to watch the boats, and thinking about it, I realized that committing to art, for me, has largely been about committing to the struggle of being an artist. I pick the hard tasks; I pick three impossibly hard tasks before breakfast. I pick impossible men. I pick impossible financial situations, albatross friendships, quixotic enterprises. I have not yet committed so deeply to the joy of making art.

Upon thinking farther, I realized that, wise as Danny is, he has it backwards. I cannot make art the center of my life; art as an end in itself is too flimsy, too temporal, too potentially trivial and ego-ridden. My center of narrative gravity must be spirituality. The art flows from that, not the other way around.

Do you remember that song, "We Two?" Sappy, sappy. The chorus:
Carousels and wishing wells were the things we loved
To fly away in a big balloon was what she talked of
Whoa...
Upon waking I wondered, 'why is that running through my head?' The stained glass idea is neat, a real gift, but "We Two?" Where did that come from? Actually I'm not missing my lost love; the persistent memories of all the times my ex-boyfriend screamed at me for bagging the groceries wrong, criticized everything about me, tried to manipulate, control and force me into a dysfunctional, stunted little box, have completely overridden the happy memories of 'wandering the streets' holding hands. There is no "We Two" in my head, anymore. It's just me.

More than that, "We Two" propounds a ridiculously childish notion of romance. Love is not about "carousels and wishing wells and big balloons," or unicorns and fields of daisies, either. It's about a force that motivates you to work through the hard stuff; it is the will toward growth and change.

All at once it came to me. If spirituality is not a person's center of narrative gravity, growing up is too terrifying to contemplate. Assuming personal responsibility in a world that you can't control is impossible, when you're not relying on anything besides yourself. Attaining maturity takes faith. This is why I stop working and become cranky, moody, and despairing when I stop meditating for a few days--I've stepped out of the flow. I'm disconnecting from the force that guides me, and connects me to the whole.

That's why my atheistic ex-boyfriend, and the emotionally damaged womanizer before that, and the assorted oddballs, perverts and narcissists before that, were all so controlling, compartmentalizing, and commitment-phobic. They were desperately trying to 'preserve the romance' by remaining children. They didn't want to risk tainting the wishing wells with a dose of sordid reality, so they shoved me in the happy-happy cupboard and commenced screwing around outside of it. They regarded any attempt of mine to integrate, to mature in the light of truth and intimacy, as a personal attack. We were operating from different paradigms of happiness.

Notice, here, that I'm not equating 'spirituality' with religion. That's the whip-hand that all the aggressive atheists and what-not hold over your head--that 'religion' equals rigidity, superstition, bigotry, and evangelism. Evangelism is particularly annoying because it's the equivalent of attempted thought control; the evangelist, with the most altruistic of motives, thinks he has a perfect right to get into your head and dictate what you think. A lot of my exes regarded my spiritual practice as though I were in a cult, no matter how much I quietly went about it without involving them; they seemed to think that I would spring out at them one day, pound them unconscious with an Old Testament and drag them off to Utah.

The irony of it is that true mystical spirituality is about coming to see that things are perfect, exactly as they are; it's about not trying to change or control anyone. Control is not a loving action; it's 'I love you BUT.' I love you BUT was what I heard from all those atheists, come to think.

This spiritual center of gravity hasn't made things any easier for me in the 'art world,' which is, in large part, ego-driven. At best, the notion of 'spirituality' is seen either as a Ghetto of Kitsch, or as a quirky, historical-context flavor-of-the-month, as in 'Serena's work references Buddhist mandala-making, within a contemporary, urban context.' Blah.

I think, though, that nearly all great artists are mystics in some sense of the word, even if only intuitively so. The sheer transformative energy of a great work of art cannot come about from mere ego motivation; it has to have the influence of the universe to bear upon it. It harnesses the force which moves mountains.

So anyway, 'lights in the floor' is a good metaphor for how I'm moving to structure my life, now. The light has to underlie and support every action I take, instead of being merely something high up on the wall that I'm looking at. I'm not sure I'll ever marshall the necessary resources to install a lighted glass floor in, say, the Whitney, but it's something to meditate on.

16 comments:

painterdog said...

Screamed at you for bagging the groceries wrong? Sorry to hear that would be a sign to me to get thee hence. I know we all have our moments but bagging groceries is not something that would be high on my list of rights and wrongs.
That guy sound like he was a complete control freak with fascistic tendencies.
Your better off without people like that in your life.

As far as Danny's comments on making art the center of ones life and doors will open, sorry Danny but that's a little niave and sounds like a hallmark greeting card.

Doors will not open, life is hard and making it in the art world has a lot to do with luck.

I have been doing this for coming on 20 years and I am fucked. OK I don't have a full time job, I can't do anything else and the teaching thing
makes me no sense as there is no money in it.

If you want my advice, stop beating yourself up Serena and look to do something else, your 10 years younger than me and for what its worth nows the time to just let it go and move on.

Does this mean you stop making art?
No. It means you resolve to not care about this as a profession and you do it because you have to and want to.

If you get shows and sell a few fine. If not, that's ok too.

I know I'm projecting my experience on yours but you have seen my work, I can't get into galleries, I an not making any money from the work. I am now trying to figure out how to make a living that does not involve living at the poverty level.

I just wish I did this 10 years ago.
I'm getting older and its getting harder.

I'm not complaining just sharing my thoughts on the subject.

serena said...

Actually, painterdog, I think Danny is right, to a certain degree. You can't ever make a decision wherein you can control the outcome. You can avoid making exceptionally unrealistic decisions, like banking on the MacArthur Foundation or the lottery to provide your retirement income, but you can't be assured of financial security in any profession. Witness all those drones at Enron who thought they'd retire wealthy.

I do have another profession, in fact; I'm a damn good bodyworker, and when I have the clientele I make a lot more per hour than either a professor or an office drone, plus I have control over my time. This won't work permanently, of course, but it's a decent decision for now.

In fact, painterdog, I think you've missed the whole point of my post. I'm taken care of by God. I know this. When I let myself be guided by Him, I'm safe.

jackadandy said...

When I'm working on my "art career" rather than my art, I promptly begin to develop the icky feeling that I ultimately recognize as drive coming from my ego. Bleh. I have to say, it ain't NOTHIN' like working on my art. It makes me feel small, tight, and trapped in time.

I respect the role of the ego and our need to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves and find a place in human society (sometimes known as "art career"). But to confuse that need with the imperative to make art threatens to diminish both pursuits.

Love the idea of the lights in the floor. Very different take on stained glass.

serena said...

Oh, and painterdog? The thing you call 'luck,' I think of as 'guidance.' I don't believe there are too many accidents in life.

Thanks, JD! The more I think about the stained glass on the floor, the more I like it. I could essentially make a whole floor panel, with a little step up, for installing in places with concrete slabs for floors, like most galleries.

Anonymous said...

Totally off the topic, but your mandalas would make awesome tattoos.

danonymous said...

Tough post, it could really spiral into a dozen conversations...which I feel so strongly as I want to answer in ten different ways all at once and in multiple tongues , no less.

Serena, whether you can actualize it or not, the idea of using the mandalas for below-lighted floor installations that people can walk on is great. There are (were) a lot of places in Soho and Tribeca where they have translucent glass diskx imbedded in the outdoor cement sidewalks and lit from below. The Mandalas would be incredible.

Mr. Dandy, I wholehearted-agree (for now). I have to separate making art from pushing my art commercially or else I am sunk.

PAinterdog....you are right, I am naive...but for the most part, what I do takes my breath away enough times to make it worthwhile. Even if what I do stinks in the eyes of the world, I get enough out of it to sustain me. I think I can understand the drive of those who search "to be one with god" because when yopu can taste it once, well, you just have to go for a second and a third bite.
And as for the naivete, perhaps a blessing in disguise? But all answers will be very clear to after I am dead.
which ties into a comment that Serena made and which I love and for me is the most valuable hidden secret of this post.
"to see that things are perfect, exactly as they are".

danonymous said...

By the way, I think anonymous has a good point. In a city like New York, how many of the tens of thousands of new age people who get tattoos would love a personal mandala-spirit tattoo? I think a few.

serena said...

I was just noticing some of those below-lit glass sidewalks the other day. The more I think about it, the more possible it seems--individual units which could be shuffled around and installed anywhere.

This isn't the first time someone has mentioned tattoos, either. Hmmmm...


'Things are perfect, exactly as they are' IS the point. When someone tries to 'fix a problem,' they're already off-base.

painterdog said...

I wasn't talking about controling the outcome so much as I meant that luck or God if you want to call it that, play into it. I was also refering to what I precieved as frustration with the art world, I think that is a seperate issue to doing art, as others have mentioned.
I have a lot negitive issues with the art world and I have become somewhat removed from it because i get to frustrated. I just don't care anymore about it. It feels better not to want it anymore. If I feel like painting or drawing than I do it, if I don't that's OK.

I know a few people who are in their 40's who are so despeate to "make it" its sad. I don't want to be like them. You can call it devine interevention, God, or luck.

I don't beleve in God, I beleve in a spiritual omnipresence in some way but God, no.

danonymous your not naive, your doing what I am saying. Your making art and you don't care what people think because it makes you feel good.

That's as good a reason as any in my book.

Serena I agree with the thing about stained glass or designed floor panels.

Well I got the God part, I don't like talking to people about that, as I don't beleve in it.

If a belief system helps you through the day that's great.

Well sometimes things do need fixing.

People do fucked up things, they take drugs and drink to much.

I need a fulltime job, if I keep things as they are I'm in big doodoo.

Well, have you ever seen the movie the pianist, the scene where he is confronted by the nazi officer, he can kill him but he doesn't, he is movedd by this the pianist's playing ; is that guidence? or luck or circumstance?
He happens to be in a place with some old piano and he has the energy to play, and the nazi just happenes to be so sick of killing that he looks the other way.

Maybe it was God or guidence, or maybe it was just a series of coincidences that saved his life.

In fact that whole movie was about coincidences, and amazing luck.

serena said...

he can kill him but he doesn't, he is movedd by this the pianist's playing

I call that a spontaneous perception of unity.

People do fucked up things, they take drugs and drink to much.

Perhaps they have something to learn from that, which they can't learn any other way.


I empathize with your frustration with the 'art world,' as you know, and I have removed myself from it for extended periods of time. But now I'm wondering if that itself isn't a block for me, now. There are some people in the art world with taste and depth and perception, and I'm finding a few of them.

I've been trying to solve my financial problems either by refusing to reference the art world at all, or by trying to change the art world. Now I'm letting go of everything and seeing what happens.

I really don't see any reason why my work shouldn't start selling, someday. After all, it is gorgeous.

painterdog said...

well the film was made by Polanski who does not believe in God. I think he was showing the power of art for a moment, in a world of hatered and chaos.

I also think he was just dealing with the randomness of it all. This happened throughout the film and just strikes me as he(Polanski) was trying show this, how luck and just a random act can mean life or death.

He was child of the war after all.
I see your point that somehow these 2 people the one with power and the one with nothing can somehow meet, survive an extreme situation through as you say a spontaneous perception of unity.

danonymous said...

Funny , how when one is looking, the right things appear.
I ran across this line today, after reading the comments here. I was going to respond and realized that anythin I had to say would particvulary add to the conversation or move it forward , but then I picked up Mary Shelley's Frankenstein...and on the second page came this..."nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose."

painterdog said...

amen to that.
Thank you Mary Shelley.
I read that years ago, its a great story.

Some Polanski films everyone should see sometime:

Chinatown (1974)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Repulsion (1965)This film was one of Catherine Deneuve's first films.
Knife in the Water (1962)

painterdog said...

I have good friend whos uncle lives in Maine and they have this funky ol cabin by a very nice lake. Been there its very basic. Out house, water pump.

If interested let me know I can inquire about rental it would be cheap.

serena said...

If interested let me know I can inquire about rental it would be cheap.

Thanks, but I already have a FREE place to stay in Maine, with the added benefit that it contains two of my favorite people in the world. Can't wait.

(Of course, I will be buying many groceries and cooking them for the household, and cleaning, etc. I'm not a freeloader.)

painterdog said...

Where in Maine?
Its green fly season bring your bug juice.