Monday, July 20, 2009

The Power of Anonymous Art & Nature

One of the qualities of nature that is never mentioned in attempts to dwell in harmony with the earth is that nature creates anonymously. We may call a mountain "Everest" or a lake "Tahoe" but the mountain and the lake never claim those titles. They are too busy with other work to worry if they are the tallest and the most beautiful.

This thought was sparked the other day when I heard about an art exhibit where the doors opened before the staff had a chance to put the names of the artists and the titles next to each painting. The people attending the exhibit we confused; they didn't know how to evaluate the work and whether the person who created it was worthy of respect or not. Some were angry; not having the names posted was so unprofessional. Few, if any, looked at the art and opened to a direct encounter with it. Without the conceptual framework of name, style, price, and all the other things that they believed made something worth their attention, the art lovers were lost. Many artists whose work would be shown in such an exhibit would have been outraged; how will I get paid? How will people know I created this great work.

What if nature took a similar approach. What if bees only buzzed around flowers labeled with the maker's name? What if water only flowed along approved waterways? What if an apple tree only produced fruit with a copyright and the assurance that its would get a percentage of each use of its apples? Nature, in it's anonymous flow, doesn't worry about the concerns of naming, categorizing, and controlling that drive so much of our activity.

The problem isn't that we want to draw attention to ourselves or receive benefit for our creations. It's that labeling and listing what we see limits our experience of life. The moment we jam a tree into the box and divide it up into "tree", "oak", "quercus", useful, beautiful, cost to maintain, historic or not, etc, we jam ourselves into a mode of perceived that looks at the past and future. We miss what's happening at the moment of encounter. We miss the encounter and interact with our ideas about the tree and not the tree.

On the other hand, our minds are made to label. Its helpful to remember that walking through poison oak, then taking a hot bath, will put you into a world of hurt. The problem is not the narrative, it's believing that the constant talk of the mind is the reality of the oak tree and the poison oak. Seeing through the narrative and opening our perception to what is actually before us is the way great artists make breakthrough art. Maybe its the way we can dwell in actual harmony with the earth.

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