Never Play to the Gallery

Today, I just lost a hero. Music, the world, has just lost a hero. A true artist in every sense of the word, David Bowie has been an inspiration and will continue to be for centuries to come.

I’ve been in love with him for nearly thirty years now.   I love his mind, his art, his music, his philosophy, his articulation. He was always one to express his art for art’s sake inasmuch as he could. Yes, he made mistakes. Yes, he picked himself back up again. He followed his inspiration, treading deeper water, finding those edges and always peering out beyond them, sometimes leaping over them into the great unknown.

My sadness is mixed with my joy that I was able to follow his work in this shared lifetime, right here, right now. My condolences to his friends and family, my heart reaches out to fans all over the world rocked by the news of his death.

May we all continue to question everything, to express our inspiration in thought-provoking ways. May we follow our hearts, think with our heads, and allow the love of this life to take us on amazing journeys. And may we never play to the gallery.

Art of Death Row

My “day job” is working for one of the world’s leading artistic centres and concert halls – I work in the marketing and PR department. I’ve been working there since 2008, and have seen experienced a lot of art in various media. This year as part of the visual arts exhibit that complements the music festival that is currently underway, we have some paintings that I walk past every day. These paintings make me uncomfortable.

The subject of these works is the last meal of various prisoners on death row before their execution in the USA. It is an extremely intimate glimpse into the person behind the prisoner. It shows their humanity, their desires, their need for nourishment and what makes them happy in that context. The fact that it is on public display, however, and for sale, makes me uncomfortable. Why?

On the one hand, if it wasn’t on public display I would never have seen them. On the other hand, I didn’t need to see them in order to have compassion for these human beings. I am completely against capital punishment. The fact that it might make people think about what is happening in so-called First World countries regarding life and death is probably a good thing. And I realise that artists need to eat to, hence the fact that they are for sale. But for every person that doesn’t “get it”, that laughs at the absurd combinations these people have chosen without knowing why: does this trivialise, as well as capitalise the suffering and deaths of human beings? Does it de-sensitise us even further? Or does it raise an awareness of the de-sensitisation that we are experiencing in modern society?

I don’t have any answers. All I know is that every time I walk past them, I feel an ache in my heart and an unease, as well as a wellspring of compassion for all humanity who are in this together.

Silence, the Author and Freedom

This long bank holiday weekend just gone has been spent mostly listening. I’ve stopped talking, for the most part; I’ve stopped the mental chatter to gain clarity. My aid in this exercise was drawing, working with coloured pencils where the only thing that mattered was the lines, the colours, the paper. My self had fallen away, and I was better able to see clearly. Art is liberation. Art is freedom.

As a writer, sometimes it’s hard to just stop. I’m usually always writing, at least in my head. Like a musician who writes their own music, who is always composing, I am always putting into words what is influencing me, what the muses whisper. It’s hard to turn that off sometimes. Through meditation I am able for thirty minutes to an hour to switch it off. Days of mindfulness. Through trancing I am able to leave it behind. Dancing also does it – especially dancing with my professional dance troupe, where when we are improvising we have to listen so hard to each other’s bodies that our own selves don’t get in the way. But this weekend the awen came through drawing and colouring.

When we’re quiet, when we’re still, we’re able to hear the world around us. When we stop that mental chatter, when we stop telling and retelling ourselves the story of our selves then we can hear the stories of others. We can be influenced and learn from the stories of others. We learn that we are not always right. We learn that we are not always wrong. We learn that we are never the same person every morning that we wake up. We change, we grow, we recede, we die and do it all over again the next day. In this exercise we learn that it is okay to differ from the person you were yesterday, that your opinions and thoughts will change over time, else they become dogma.

But essentially we have to learn to switch off first, before we can get to that head space. We need to find the silence, the void, the empty cauldron. Only when we are empty can we be filled. Only when we’ve poured out all the contents can we refill it with what nourishes us. We can’t subsist on the same old same old each and every day. We have to let things go, we have to have new ideas, new inspiration. Living in the present moment is what this is all about. Stuck in the past, we are not open to new ideas. Lost in the future, those ideas will never come. Here and now. Perfect freedom.

Tomorrow I will be a different person. Today I am different from yesterday. I question who this person really is, and then I let the question go. It doesn’t really matter. What really matters is freedom.

Art as meditation

When I really want to be in the moment, when I really desire to let that sense of self slip away and enter into the present, in perfect freedom – I draw.  It’s a wonderful, meditative, creative process.  You stop thinking about the past. You stop thinking about the future. All that matters, for those precious hours, are the lines, the colours the shapes and the shading.  I am no longer there – I am in the drawing. I am in the sun and the wood of the pencils, I am in the rain and cloud of the paper.  There is a real connection, where the thinking self falls away and there is time to just “be”.  Mostly I use sitting meditation for this, but when I really need to go deeper, I draw. Yet, who is this person drawing, colouring?

No idea.

It just is. 🙂

"Avalon in Spring" © Joanna van der Hoeven 2015

“Avalon in Spring” © Joanna van der Hoeven 2015