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I’m reading Michael Ondaatje’s collection of poems, “The Cinnamon Peeler,” and it’s been a while since I felt this affectionate toward a collection. Ondaatje does some magical stuff with words—some phrases linger in the mind, gently, like dust settling on cloth, and other phrases cling like sweat to skin.

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A bundle of thoughts on modern art:

i can’t talk about modern art as confidently as i can talk about music, but i know that it gets a bad rep sometimes because of its usual lack of traditional form and technique. i.e. those people who look at a jackson pollock painting and say, “oh i could’ve done that in my garage, or my two-year old could’ve painted that.” but i think that’s exactly the point. last semester, a student in my literature class made the comment that modern art is democratic—at least, the creative process is no longer monopolized by the elite or educated (now, when it comes to collecting and bidding for museum pieces and private collections, elitism is still an issue). but at least modern art presents the opportunity for people to open their hearts up and imagine themselves creating something!

people can be cynical, yes. but it’s much easier to be cynical than it is to be appreciative or open-minded—and i think when it comes to art, when we’re presented with something radically different or beyond our immediate visual understanding, we should consider why it’s different. why did the artist paint it this way? what was his/her artistic journey? because modern art is about the process as much as it’s about the final product. sure, there’s horrible modern art, but not all modern art is horrible. we should be genuine in the way we criticize or praise it—as in, try to delve past surface appearance and impressions, because we are capable of that.

i suppose there’s also the matter of public display—people often ask “what does it mean?” which is an interesting deviation from more traditional art, where people would ask, “what does it convey?” there is a distinction between “meaning” and “conveying”— when people ask for the meaning, they assume there is a hidden message, something that the artist is trying to tell the audience directly. when people ask for the “feeling” of the painting (Van Gogh or Monet or Caravaggio)—they already know what they are looking at. so if modern art challenges “what is art?”, then modern artists should be prepared for an actual response.

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somehow I’ve got it in my head that if I’m to do anything with my life, it has to be meaningful, because my existence alone isn’t meaningful enough. I hate thinking that, but I do. And I’m not sure if it’s my own self-scrutiny that brought me here—I look around me and see wonderful, beautiful, colorful lives, and I see this unbearable vibrancy in other people’s faces, but I can’t see it in my own.