The Joy of Art – a Worship Service for Four Voices
CAST OF CHARCTERS Mike Mallory - MIKE, an artist. Barbara - TIMEKEEPER, the incarnation of time. Scott - LIBRARIAN, the sum total of human knowledge. Donna - MUSE, the gift of inspiration. Marilyn - WORSHIP ASSOCIATE GATHERING MUSIC: (Begin at 10:20 a.m. with Mike and Organ. Drum joins in at 10:25)
Hare Ram Ram Ram, Sita Ram Ram Ram Hare Ram Ram Ram, Sita Ram Ram Ram I have found a way to live in the presence of the lord I have found a way to live in the presence of the lord Hare Ram Ram Ram, Sita Ram Ram Ram Hare Ram Ram Ram, Sita Ram Ram Ram I have found a way to live in the presence of the lord I have found a way to live in the presence of the lord Hare Ram Ram Ram, in the presence of the lord Hare Ram Ram Ram, in the presence of the lord I have found a way to live Sita Ram Ram Ram I have found a way to live Sita Ram Ram Ram (Repeat until interrupted by the Timekeeper) (10:30 drum and organ fade. Lights Rise. TIMEKEEPER, MUSE AND LIBRARIAN take places at their respective microphones. MIKE is still chanting but without the microphone.) WORSHIP ASSOCIATE (Over the chanting.) Provide customary welcome and appropriate announcements. 1
TIMEKEEPER (To Mike) We are already three (ad lib a more appropriate number if applicable) minutes into the service. We’ve done all the gathering we are going to do. If we don’t get started, we are going to finish late. LIBRARIAN (Mike fades out of chant and moves to position among readers.) “It gets late early out there.” – Yogi Berra. MIKE Thank you timekeeper, although this service could be taken as no more than an epilogue to the devotional chanting of Bhakti Yoga. MUSE Let’s not start on a worry note. We are all here. Let’s invest what time we have into creating something important. MIKE (To Congregation) My name is Mike and this morning we are going to try to provide an answer to a hypothetical person who stops to look at a painting and wonders what she is supposed to be doing. On the way to our response, we are going to look at the nature of “Art” as a component of human experience. (Slide show of selected paintings begins on the up-stage wall.) I will have some help from the Timekeeper, Muse and Librarian. MUSE If you have already worked out the answer, why wait an hour before telling us? Give us the answer now and we can spend the rest of the time singing and dancing. TIMEKEEPER You talk of “time” as though it were a paycheck: something to spend, save or invest. MIKE I could give you my answer now, but the ideas would be unearned. The answer would not satisfy you. TIMEKEEPER, MUSE and LIBRARIAN (Together) Try us!
Very well. “Art” is a cultural conversation about the worth of certain experiences, which invites us into an attitude of reflection and reception to new meanings. One of the goals of art is the representation of “Beauty”, a class of experiences leading us into wholeness. TIMEKEEPER (A little pause and an inquisitive look) That sounds like something you pulled out of your (slight pause) hat. MUSE There is transformative energy of the magician in art. LIBRARIAN (Helpfully) “I see painting as an evocative magic, and there must always be a random factor in magic, one which must be constantly changed and renewed.” William S. Burroughs. MIKE I’m not trying to rely on a slight-of-hand. I will simply be laying out my personal perspective about art. TIMEKEEPER Where are you going to begin? And, by the way, do I start the clock again once we get to the beginning? MIKE That’s a problem. The Seventh Principle applies. Not only is the natural world an interdependent web, but so is the world of ideas. Ideas exist in a tangled mass of related dependencies. All beginnings are arbitrary. Of course, so are endings. There is a prequel and a sequel to every story. MUSE (a touch exasperated) Just begin! MIKE Let me start with psychological preparation. Librarian, would you please give us something on aesthetic attitude.
“Aesthetic attitude” says Immanuel Kant is a special attitude with which to approach art, nature, and other objects. It differs from a practical attitude and has no concern with practical utility. An aesthetic attitude takes nature or a work of art “for its own sake.” Jerome Stolnitz defines “aesthetic attitude” as a "disinterested and sympathetic attention to and contemplation of any object of awareness whatever, for its own sake alone And, that brings me to John Dewey. Of course it was Melvil not John Dewey who invent ted the Dewey Decimal system, which keeps my collection organ……. TIMEKEEPER Let’s get back to the subject: aesthetic attitude, please! Your digression has cost us another 30 seconds. LIBRARIAN Right! John Dewey says that we naturally experience life, but when we come to art, we pause to have an experience. MIKE I will now light the chalice. MUSE (to audience) I invite you to treat this as an aesthetic experience. Fight the urge to see this moment as just another step in the progression of events. Slip, rather, into the nowness of what is happening and treat this event as an end-in-itself. You might start with the senses. Notice the copper colored pyramidal base as it emerges from the ground, converging at a single point. Ask yourself in the omni-dimensional ambiguity of the sculptural form, “What is the point of our convergence?” As your eyes follow the form upward the single point flares outward almost horizontal in the most expansive reach imaginable. “Who is embraced?” The sculpture presents a contrast between convergence and expansion. As you notice the upper most element, the earlier tension resolves into the solid machined cylinder. The acolyte poised with a candle calls us into a moment of expectancy. (Mike lights chalice) As the chalice is lit and the flame erupts, expectancy is met with the surprising satisfaction of fulfillment and a new tension emerges. The enduring structure of the angle cut cylinder holds the freely flickering flame. Freedom held in structure, becomes the sculptural image of our free faith supported by the strength of our religious tradition.
Artwork is customarily isolated from other kinds of objects by way of an apparent or implied border. Paintings are often contained within frames. Plays begin with a curtain rise and end with a curtain fall. Songs on a CD are separated by a short but important period of silence. LIBRARIAN Professor Ronald Moore of the University of Washington reminds us that a frame traditionally contributes to our aesthetic experience by setting limits to our perceptual attention and focusing that attention on the contents of an aesthetic object as intelligibly organized. TIMEKEEPER Let us assume we have identified a work of art and approach it with a proper aesthetic attitude. Where is all this taking us? MIKE Librarian, can you please tell us about Thomas Nagel. LIBRARIAN Thomas Nagel is the author of “What is it like to be a bat?” He points out that if we want to understand the consciousness of an organism, we cannot simply dissect the brain. It is necessary that we experience, or at least imagine the experience of what it is like to be that organism. MUSE Are we headed into animal art: elephant paintings and that sort of thing? MIKE We are sticking with humanity. But, in the same way that understanding the consciousness of a bat requires that we experience what it is like to be a bat, before we can understand our own interior life, we must answer the question, “What is it like to be a human being?” And this, as it turns out, is just the question asked by art. Art offers us an experience and then asks us to assume a reflective attitude toward that experience contemplating, “What is it like to have this experience?” Engagement with art gives shape to our own humanity. LIBRARIAN "Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life." Henry Miller TIMEKEEPER We are already ten minutes into this service and we have barely arrived at a place where we are self-consciously looking at a framed work of art. Are we ever going to talk about content? MIKE 5
The content of art raises questions about what an artist offers and what the viewer receives through art. But before we discuss art’s reception let us first receive the offering. WORSHIP ASSOCIATE (Find a microphone) We will now take an offering. Please join me in reading the unison response in your order of service: This is a Fellowship of ourselves, Its energy and resources are our energy and resources, Its wealth is what we share, When we contribute to the life of this community We affirm our lives within it. Will the greeters please come forward to receive the offering? (Pianist plays Musical Interlude) MUSE Art is an attempt to represent or call up worthy experiences. A traditional standard of an experience’s value is beauty. The greater the beauty, the greater the value or worth of the experience. LIBRARIAN Beauty is a member of the Platonic Triad: Truth, Beauty and Goodness. “Truth, and goodness, and beauty are but different faces of the same all.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. TIMEKEEPER I thought we were here to talk about art. Now you have brought in “Truth” and “Goodness”. We can’t keep adding topics. There won’t be enough time! MUSE Truth, Beauty and Goodness all call to us from the same direction. MIKE They are related concepts and there is time to mention them in passing. Librarian, can you please paraphrase a pragmatic construction of “Truth” and “Goodness”? LIBRARIAN “Truth” refers to the reliability of a statement. “Goodness” refers to human actions consistent with peaceful coexistence. MIKE Truth holds the promise of a more perfect description of the world. Goodness holds the promise of a more perfect community. Both look toward the future. 6
TIMEKEEPER (To congregation) Please join me in reading from the Book of John, on Truth, No. 690 in your Hymnal. Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. LIBRARIAN (To congregation) Please join me in reading a Khasi Unitarian Prayer, on Goodness, No. 516 in your Hymnal. Oh, God, root and source of body and soul, we ask for boldness in confronting evil. When you are within us, we have the power to counter all that is untrue. O Father and Mother of all humankind, may we redeem our failings by the good work that we do. In the name of the one, the only God. TIMEKEEPER I hold the future. Truth and Goodness look to me for fulfillment. Does beauty look to me as well? MUSE (To congregation) Please join me in reading from the Navajo People on Beauty, No. 682 in your Hymnal. Beauty is before me, and Beauty is behind me, Above me and below me Hovers the beautiful. I am surrounded by it, I am immersed in it. In my youth, I am aware of it, And in old age, I shall walk quietly the beautiful trail. In beauty it is begun. In beauty it is ended.
MIKE Beauty is a forward-looking promise, but is rooted in the emptiness and longing at hand. The power of beauty arises in the vision of a transformed present. MUSE I am the vision of transformation: the heart of creativity.
TIMEKEEPER I don’t feel rooted in anything. We are just leap-frogging from one idea to the next. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. MIKE Rather than examine “Beauty” by listing its properties, an historically unproductive analysis, I am taking a dynamic approach and looking at “Beauty’s” relationship with her neighboring concepts. I am claiming that Beauty should be treated as kind of movement rather than a vehicle. And, Beauty’s direction is toward joy. TIMEKEEPER Let us pause for a celebration of joys and a sharing of sorrows. WORSHIP ASSOCIATE Those wishing to share joys or sorrows should cue up on either side of the sanctuary. As you alternate at the microphone, I will light a candle on your behalf. (When the cue is exhausted) I light one candle for the remaining joys and sorrows now with us. MIKE Let us hold each other in a time of silent contemplation. TIMEKEEPER One…Two……..Three………………..Four…………………………………………….Five (After a pause a gong sounds) (rushed) Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten. LIBRARIAN Stendhal made a claim that beauty was the promise of happiness. This claim was supported by Alexander Nehamas in his book “Only a Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art.” MUSE Beauty remains a promise, moving toward, but never fully arriving. MIKE Librarian, please elaborate.
LIBRARIAN Nehamas says, “Beautiful things require attention and, if only for a limited time, an attachment both deep and intense; to abandon them, like being abandoned by them, is always a source of pain.” And, “A beautiful thing stands out against its background and its beauty, which distinguishes it from everything else, promises a happiness impossible 8
to find anywhere else.” - “When I say…that I find..beauty [in a painting] .. I am not reporting how the painting makes me feel when I am looking at it. I am saying that I literally want to devote part of my life to it – not just to look at it … but also to come to know it better, to understand it and see what it accomplishes.” MIKE The word “happiness” can refer to states that are significant and profound or to states that are superficial and insignificant. If we look to Spinoza rather than Nehamas we are in a better position to isolate those experiences which justify the attention given to art. LIBRARIAN Spinoza tells us that joy is the promise of perfection. MUSE Truth, beauty and goodness all evoke joy as we turn toward perfection. TIMEKEEPER If art is asking us to understand perfection, then it is eternally inaccessible. MIKE Not to know, just to move toward. MUSE Beauty is the movement toward the perfection of the imagination. MIKE While perfection may refer to the ideal, “perfection” in Spinoza’s sense should be understood as completion or wholeness. LIBRARIAN C. J. Jung claims that the psyche perpetually longs for wholeness. MUSE Beauty brings us the vision of becoming whole. MIKE The appeal of beauty implies that that we are not whole, but reside in a state of partiality. MUSE “Personality” is a name we give to our wounds. It is in the nature of being human that our interior life is fragmented, torn and scattered. Art, through the creation of beauty, represents experiences that fill in the missing pieces. MIKE 9
Of course not all of our “missing pieces” are located in attractive places. MUSE We often reject “missing pieces”, turning away from art. It takes courage to look into our emptiness. LIBRARIAN Genuinely good art is demanding and even arrogant. Like an auger it can dig into one's psyche and spill the spirit as though it were guts and blood. It can be confusing and paradoxical, seeming to soothe and offer a hand in respect when in fact it aims to frighten and dares one to stand and confront the challenge. When you encounter a good work of art you are being asked if you are equal to it. ~Chicago artist William Conger MIKE About three weeks ago I was walking through the Museum of Modern Art in New York. We didn’t have a lot of time, but I am a Mark Rothko fan and I took the time to sit and engage one of his paintings entitled “No. 16.” Rothko spent much of his career attempting to directly represent our deepest emotions, both positive and negative. Sitting in front of No. 16, which consists of red, brown and black shapes, the colored fields began to shimmer and come alive. I felt a powerful, but undirected sense of resentment with overtones of anger arise in me. This is not a pleasant emotional state. Nonetheless, as I sat with Rothko I was struck by an awareness, “Ahh, this is what resentment with anger looks like. It is red, brown and black.” I took a step closer to the source of my own resentments and anger. My emotions seemed a bit more accessible, a bit more organized. My internal movement left me feeling more unified, more whole. Grateful for Rothko’s emotional reverse engineering, I was joyful. LIBRARIAN This from John O’Donohue’s Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. “In our everyday experience the quality of presence is generally limited and broken. …. Music can transform this fragmentation, for when you enter into a piece of music your feeling deepens and your presence clarifies. It brings you back to the mystery of who you are and it surprises you by inadvertently resonating with depths inside your heart that you had forgotten or neglected.”
MUSE Please join us in signing Hymn number 21, For the Beauty of the Earth. (Congregation Sings) TIMEKEEPER This is an unusual schedule for a Sunday service. If that was the final hymn, is this the end? 10
MIKE We could stop here, but we won’t. This is an endless conversation and we are going to take it a bit further. TIMEKEEPER Give us the answer again. MIKE “Art” is a cultural conversation about the worth of certain experiences, which invites us into an attitude of reflection and reception to new meanings. One of the goals of art is the representation of “Beauty”, a class of experiences leading us into wholeness. MUSE The more often you look for beauty in the world, the more often you will find it. Not just in art, but in nature, each other and even ourselves. WORSHIP ASSOCIATE Now is the time for “Connecting in Fellowship”. During this break you are invited to greet those around you, especially those who are not well known to you. Please return your attention to the chancel at the sound of the Gong. (Connecting in Fellowship) TIMEKEEPER I understand why the Muse and the Librarian are here, but why bring me into this? Am I here just to keep you on task? MIKE Time is usually viewed as a kind of durational dimension: a timeline, like a monorail stretched out toward eternity passing through all of the stations of our life. But, it makes more sense to think of time as the currency of change. It is one of the ways humans compare the change in one thing with the change of another. TIMEKEEPER Everything changes. LIBRARIAN “You cannot step into the same river twice.” ~ Heraclitus. TIMEKEEPER But, things take time to change. MIKE 11
When you compare the change in one thing with the change on a clock there is a relationship. The change on the face of a clock appears ordered, consistent and predictable, but it is just an object in a state of change. The changing seasons, decaying fruit or the march of an ant across the patio are as fundamental and true as the rotation of the minute or hour hand. Time is simply change. MUSE Art represents the varied flow of human experience and invites us into an intimacy with our own subjectivity. MIKE The changes encouraged by art are neither objective, nor measureable. Beauty looks forward, brightening the moment with the promise of greater depth and meaning. LIBRARIAN “The most important artists of our time are visionary in that they continue to challenge us to see our world differently. They represent our culture in enlightened and, at times, beautiful ways. Artists prepare the mind and the spirit for new ideas – new ways of seeing.” ~ Mary Anne Staniszewski MIKE Time presents a calculated account of change, but the unfolding of our experience is as chaotic as it is structured. The changes resulting from an aesthetic encounter with art can be subtle or sudden. Art can open you up or shut you in. MUSE Before you can let the magic of art cast its spell, you must relinquish your own personal sense of time or pending changes in your life, and give yourself over to the temporal state of the painting, dance or song. The experience of time like all experience is a proper subject for artistic expression. MIKE There is an aspect of alignment when a person engages a work of art. TIMEKEEPER “Relinquishment” is going to require trust. MIKE True enough. And this is a problem for art that sets out to shock or art that comes in an unfamiliar format. Our wariness inhibits a full engagement. TIMEKEEPER If there is trust and a willingness to engage in a work of art how long does it take for a painting to become transformative, or “magical”. MIKE 12
Sometimes it’s just paint on canvass. Sometimes we are not ready to hear what the painting has to say. Other times the painting may just not say anything significant. MUSE A work of art can whisper spells into the eddies of consciousness capable of halting time. LIBRARIAN We are made immortal by this kiss, the contemplation of beauty. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson MIKE Time as change, or perhaps the capacity for change, relates back to our chalice flame. The ability to transform the present implies the freedom to choose beauty. LIBRARIAN Freedom is not simply the absence of necessity; it is the poise of the soul at one with a life, which honors and engages in its creative possibility. ~ John O’Donohue TIMEKEEPER Are you saying that, time as change is essential for both beauty and freedom? MIKE In this sense, time is central to the whole idea of creativity. TIMEKEEPER Are you saying that, on the surface I am ordered and linear, but underneath I am fluid, unpredictable and full of surprise? MIKE Yes. MUSE Have we decided what a hypothetical person who stops to look at a painting and wonders what she is supposed to be doing, is supposed to do? MIKE In order to engage the artwork, she might try approaching the painting, poem, musical or dance in reflective contemplation asking herself, “What am I experiencing?” To make the most of the experience, she needs to open herself up to the voice of the artwork and to be willing to follow what it has to say into her depths. LIBRARIAN The experience of beauty illuminates everything around it. It awakens deeper dimensions in the seeing of the heart and the mind. ~ John O’Donohue 13
MUSE Open yourself to the possibilities of beauty. TIMEKEEPER Open your heart to creative change that leads you into joy. ALL Open yourself to the movement toward wholeness. MIKE The way of beauty, no less than the way of truth and goodness, is a lifelong pursuit. And, we wish all of you successful encounters with the art in your lives as well as the courage and compassion to remain open to beauty in the world. Please join hands and form a circle as we sing the closing song. (Twice through) Carry the flame of peace and love, Carry the flame of peace and love, Carry the flame of peace and love, Until we meet again. LIBRARIAN As a benediction, I offer words from Rumi, “Let the beauty we love, be what we do.” (Lights, Curtain and Coffee)
© 2009, Mike Mallory