Art adds to the rich tapestry of our lives and is as important as schools and hospitals and roads. Art is the infrastructure for extraordinary moments in ordinary lives.
I am fascinated by that point in time where art and the everyday meet. The intersection between art and ordinary. I’m ordinary. I’m a 40s something woman who likes books and words and people. I like art in the general sense of the word and I didn’t study fine arts at university. My major was commerce. See, I’m ordinary.
I love beauty and try to keep up with exhibitions at our State Art Gallery. I like trees, music, theatre, botanical gardens and dance. Watching the tennis is also fun and I will purposely detour past Bunnings on a Saturday morning to buy a hotdog at a sausage sizzle. It’s fun to hunt down street art and I will stand in raptures in front of a public art installation. In my home city we have a gigantic sculpture outside the GPO which we call The Cactus. The sculpture supposedly represents a living organism and is officially called Grow Your Own. Personally, I love its vibrant greenness and its pointy fingers which seem to say a lot more than people bargained for. I’m also a sucker for Downton Abbey and YA books by John Green. So you see I’m ordinary.
Luckily, being ordinary doesn’t exclude you from experiencing the extraordinary. Last weekend I was fortunate enough to see the WA Ballet at the Quarry. The Quarry performances for the season are always casual. You get to take a picnic, sip chilled wine and eat cheese while dancers delight you with their agility and talent. To be honest, I was rather ho hum about going. I’d had a busy week. I was tired. I’m more of a traditionalist with ballet and The Quarry performances have a modern edge. So I was unprepared then for what happened. When I became part of art transcending the ordinary.
Matt Lehmann and Sandy Delasalle danced. I’m not even sure what the piece was called, but it was a pas de deux where a boy and a girl dance together. The music playing was a strings piece with a cello weeping and the hairs on the back of my neck began to rise. Everything disappeared around me. The Quarry and the sparkling city beyond. Scores of people with their hampers and their glasses of wine. Even the chair beneath me seemed to float away as I joined with the dancers. I was openly weeping, and gasping and clutching my hands to my breast. I was overcome. When the performance ended I clapped, wolf whistled, and kept exclaiming to myself. It was one of those extraordinary moments in an ordinary life. I have been around long enough to know those moments sneak up on you and they don’t happen often. They are precious. They are the moments to keep you warm in your old age when you have time to sift through your memories.
Art can bypass language and engage your senses. Music composed hundreds of years ago can move you. Music can elevate you and yet pull you down to the lowest levels of sadness. A photograph, a painting or a sculpture can also communicate with you on a different plane to language. They can show you another world and another way of being. I have heard instances of stroke victims being unable to speak yet able to sing in a choir. Harpists play in palliative care wards of hospitals to engender a sense of peace for patients in their last moments. Music can help you overcome pain, and is played in neonatal units, in gyms across the world and at sporting events. Art therapy can benefit your emotional, physical and mental wellbeing. Art then is good for us.
Last year I became a Haruki Murakami freak to put it mildly. To put this in context his novels had been chasing me for years but I resisted for quite some time and then finally I read Norwegian Wood. After finishing, I had to not read for a few weeks. Now I’m a serious bookworm so not reading for a few weeks is torture but I couldn’t pick up another book. I had bonded with the book in such a way I knew I would never be the same. I can’t express this any other way than to use the words of a good friend who lives in Puerto Rico. Sarah said it was as if Murakami had gotten inside her head and changed her on a cellular level and that’s exactly how I felt.
This may not be as strange a thing to say as you think. I am an adult learner of the piano. I have no musical talent but a strong desire to master this instrument and make music. My teacher talks a lot about cellular memory and it seems my fingers know scales and chords but I can’t verbalise them for you. She will ask me to play a scale and I close my eyes. My brain will be no help, here it is all up to my fingers and invariably they will perform without me. It is cellular memory. It is the same with tennis. Again I learnt to play as an adult and I had to train my body to hold the racquet just so. To finish a forehand shot with my racquet hand caught in my left. Much of my playing is down to cellular memory.
So I think I can safely say there is more going on with art than us standing in contemplative silence at a gallery. Art moves us on a cellular level. Art touches our souls. Art provides dare I say a religious experience. It adds to the rich tapestry of our lives and is as important as schools and hospitals, and roads. Art is the infrastructure for extraordinary moments in ordinary lives.
Late last year I was in Melbourne at the Victorian State Library. I stood outside the La Trobe Reading Room in tears. My family had gone in before me but I had taken a moment to savour everything the library means to me as a writer. I stood there feeling a bit foolish when a young man, an Asian tourist looked at me and grinned. He gestured with his professional looking camera and nodded at me. It seems we shared a love of the place. We shared a moment in time of appreciation for art. For what better art can there be but a library?