Friday, June 18, 2010

Grasping The Essential

On June 12, 2010, The International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, CT, began its eighteen-day long series of events. One of the first was a lecture by Jock Reynolds, the Director of the Yale University Art Gallery, on the work of Sol Lewitt, specifically focusing on the 25 year retrospective of Lewitt's Wall Drawings at MASSMoCA in North Adams, MA.

Aside from urging members of the audience to go to MASSMoCA to experience the three-floor installation of one hundred and five drawings spanning Lewitt's art-making life within 1969-2007, the year he died, Reynolds focused on the installation process. The process for every wall drawing is extremely basic, simple and systematized though arduous and detailed-oriented. For
each drawing, there are few elements. How these elements are combined creates a finite number of possibilities. Sometimes the drawings have plans instead of instructions. The placement of every drawing is determined by the drawings in close proximity and always in relation to the architecture.

One example that Reynolds concentrated on to illuminate the idea of Lewitt's own act of conceiving was Wall Drawing #260. This drawing is done with oil crayon on a painted wall; primary blue happened to be chosen for this installation. There are twenty different components, made up of straight lines, broken lines, arcs, not-
straight lines. One hundred sixty combinations of those components create the wall drawing. The components vary according to their position within a square, e.g. a straight ruled line is positioned horizontally on center, vertically on center, or diagonally from each corner, left to right, right to left.

This drawing is as basic as the Periodic Table of Elements. It is quintessential. It addresses the elemental in creation. That it is so pure allows seeing it in imaginative ways. As Reynolds talked about this drawing, he described it as "lines dancing across the wall surface." And they are. The square by square layout of the combinations disappear and the eye can travel up and down, back and forth, across and around without constriction. The eye engages in an improvisational viewing process. Strange, unpredictable arrangements of the wall surface are demarcated by the placement of the lines.

But more significantly, the drawing uses repetition as a means to express that everything really is different in time-space even though it may look the same; the drawing shows change within specific parameters. One cannot appreciate it unless all preconceived notions of the structure of art are put aside. Then, realizing that the best art houses very simple statements that release the mind from complexity takes a step in the direction of totally surrendering to its impact. The act of looking becomes a process of absorbing and becoming mesmerized. Entranced. One with the art.

Later on that evening, a production of Lucinda Childs' "Dance" took place at the Shubert Theater. It is a collaboration among Childs, Lewitt and Philip Glass that originally was created in 1979. The piece spans sixty minutes; three parts each last twenty. Reynolds' words about Wall Drawing #260 revivified the "Dance" performance extensively by connecting the act of drawing with the act of the dance as accompanied by the music. Three separate art forms merged, evoking a spirituality that transcended tangible dimensions.

Seeing this work now, forty years later not only reinforces its sheer elegance, but also presents a picture of the texture of this type of art at its peak, when it was not yet beginning to lose its freshness in relation to its invention. The concept of maximizing slight moderation had evolved out of minimalism in response to Abstract Expressionism and all the gunk associated with painting with the exception of Jackson Pollock, who threw the act of improvisational painting into the public eye. Pollock was more of a conceptual artist than people realize. Rothko, similarly so, but at the opposite imagery pole. Ironically what followed Conceptual Art was an equally gunky era in the 1980s which aspired to self-involvement, self-importance, the bigness of big, the most sensational of sensational, money and the marketplace. Only a few artists represented the latter. But their activity gave permission to anyone to do art and call whatever they did art and this was not based on Duchamp's contributions to art's evolution. It was about the glut of artists who were coming on the scene and making a living off bunches of eclectic, derivative emptiness. The soul of art evaporated.

There is more soul in the spareness of the work of Lewitt, Childs and Glass at this point in time than one would expect. That soul was shared by many artists who came after 1979. But somehow, I missed them. I was trained in the era of purity of expression. My soul is deep, my compassion endless. My art is infinite.


Copyright 2008-10 Lyn Horton

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Is the Picture Big Enough?

Life poses many choices. I gotta pick something every now and again. Hopefully, the choice I make is the best one for the moment.

But, how am I ever to know? I cannot live in parallel universes or at least I do not think I can. Is multi-tasking a form of operating in parallel universes? Now, I am listening to music, writing this blog entry, drinking water, eating tamari-roasted almonds and trying to take care of my aching back.

A friend once impressed upon me that since I was alone and the world lay before me, I should take advantage of every second of every day. I don't know exactly how he saw me doing that. But he drinks a helluva lot of coffee and I don't, so maybe his perceptions are generally speedy.

Since the time my friend freely gave me that advice, my emotional, spiritual and expressive lives, which are integrated more closely now than ever before, have guided me through my choices. The sky may be the limit, but choosing within that limit is the challenge. Imagining the limit is the challenge. Adapting to readily identifiable givens seems to be the first step to establishing "the limit."

By "limit," I mean answering the question who am I? within my art. How clearly can I describe what I have chosen to describe. At some junctures, my writing and my art have been so baroque that determining what is going on has been extraordinarily difficult. The endless verbosity has flowed like a river; if spoken, the words translated as meaningless stream of consciousness. Oddly enough, in the art of creative writing, that is called "generative prose." Buried within that generative prose was the writer's voice. It is still taking shape. In the art, I started out over thirty years ago with a vision that is pure, but in order to secure that vision, the work had to become so impetuous and impulsive that it was a relief to find some inkling of the source for the purity. Buried within the mess of marks and uncharacteristic imagery was a clear, unadulterated visual statement. It took forever to re-establish it.

The art and the writing have strangely developed a voice that was always there. I just had to shape it, hone it, and keep manifesting the principles I always believed in. Aye, those principles were the crux. Sustaining them meant that I was building the skeleton. I simply had to make it stronger and the bones constituting it had to be as dense as possible.

Improvised music sometimes may sound like no musician knows where he or she is going. William Parker once said, and certainly his statement is shared by all improvisers, that an improviser has to have chops. Just like the athlete has to have muscles. It is only then that the musician can succeed in going where he knows he must go. Chops allow freedom. Expressiveness becomes a matter of course, something you can do and do well. Responsiveness to oneself or to someone else is automatic. No labor involved.

Art and writing can be as temporal as music given intentions of the artist. But the refinement and the editing, respectively, can take more time...before the picture is framed or the writing is copyrighted, published or simply finished as an example of one of those satisfying creative efforts.

So as the motion from one creative act to another may involve more than one state of consciousness to reach a destination, I am still traveling towards the original celestial limit. My mind is like a chemical multi-directional conveyor belt. The limit will never be reached, because I have no idea where it is. All I can do is relish the trip and not postpone the joy. Wherever that is, however that can be achieved. And joy is the impetus behind the choices. I have to remember to enrich the major choices with the details that can accompany them. I can wear a white shirt, a black jacket and jeans, but what do I wear underneath? Lace or cotton underwear? And how about jewelry? And mascara and lipstick? I mean how far do I go to accessorize? Will I still be recognized?

copyright 2010 Lyn Horton
photo: partial view of "Still Life with Curves" #13, copyright 1974-2010 Lyn Horton



Sunday, June 6, 2010

More than A Moment


Reading about music, in general, gives me the opportunity to soak in information, opinion, ideas about culture and develop a repository from which I can draw for my own writing. This is not unusual, I am sure, for many writers. If I stay within the well of a human history of time, it is without doubt that some shred of what is important to me will remain in my brain for use later on.

When I first started seriously reading about "jazz" and improvised music about ten years ago, some books I would slide through merely picking up the gist of the content. Which was ok, because even though I did not know the implications of what I was reading, I still knew where the information was located if I needed it for reference.

The dancer, Twyla Tharp, in her 2003 book, The Creative Habit, adamantly advocates for passionate involvement when reading. She claims that if a book has no markings in it, the reader has passively traveled through the book. Marking up a book means that the reader has noted revelations that are meaningful and has learned from the text. Tharp gave me permission to mark up books. Using dull pencils, I underline, write comments in the margins, draw stars beside important passages; I turn page corners to identify important passages that I have marked or fold an entire chapter's worth of pages in half to prompt me to read the chapter again.

After I finish a book, I put it on my bookshelves in the music section, which, needless to say, has grown since I dedicated a part of my life to the music about which I write. Interestingly enough, I have returned to few books to research information. But one of those books is As Serious As Your Life by Valerie Wilmer, which, I believe is the most important book on the beginnings of the recognition of improvised music that there is. I have returned to others but have found remarkably that I absorbed more than I thought and, when I write, whatever I absorbed just rolls onto the page when necessary.

At first, I had no context in which to place myself when reading or a basis for developing a viewpoint. Lo, these many years later, the niche for writing that I wandered around to find I have established for myself: creative improvised music. Although I can listen to traditional and mainstream jazz, I hear it for what it is and what it might mean. The filters that my mind applies in listening, do the job of allowing me to recognize immediately when music has some guts to it or something to understand and think about.

At the present time, I am reading The Blue Moment by Richard Williams. Although I am only partially through it, I can say that his approach to Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue," is absolutely extraordinary and blows all previous attempts to assess the significance of this record out of the water. Williams casts a nod to Eric Nisenson and Ashley Kahn for their books presenting information about this landmark recording. But what these books did not do is surround their central theme with the shape of the world coming into the time of the recording in a way that is so sensitive to culture and the consistency of culture that reading the book is satisfying and I feel as though I am visiting a museum, rather than a newspaper stand. With all due respect, the intentions of Nisenson and Kahn may have not been to surround their subject in the same fashion as Williams does.

My reading experiences of histories and biographies are memorable when the authors give me the richness of a whole world. Quentin Bell's biography of his aunt, Virginia Woolf, has done that. Diedre Beir's biography of Samuel Beckett has done that. Robin D.G. Kelley's biography of Thelonious Monk has done that and so has George Lewis' history of the AACM, Roxanna Robinson's biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, James Mellow's Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company, editor S.P. Rosenbaum's The Bloomsbury Group, Jeremy Bernstein's biography of Einstein and the history of earlier 20th century physics.

These books, among many others, paint pictures of eras and invite me into the interpreted experiences of the creators of art, literature, theories, music. As someone who creates, I understand the words I read, not completely because I am not in the time period nor am I the person being written about. But I am in the books. I am part of the creative energy.


copyright 2010 Lyn Horton
Photo: Lyn Horton, "Bicameral Lines," 2009 copyright 2009-10 Lyn Horton

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What A Blog Can Do

Blogs function like mirrors, the personal kind that are hidden neatly in a purse or a back pocket. A long time ago, I wrote a blog on MySpace. For some odd reason, a few thousand people read that blog. The specific subjects varied along with the days on which I wrote them. Those blogs were about healing from years of loss of those persons I loved. And they were also a means to practice writing and get my chops, as it were. Develop my writing muscles. The stronger those muscles are, the easier it is to write concisely, sparing readers of the fat that so often covers over the real time spontaneous honesty.

As my life became more busy with my work, I stopped writing the MySpace blog. I printed out all the texts and deleted them. Now every entry is a link to articles I have written for Jazztimes.com or AllAboutJazz.com. I also have a Facebook page, a Facebook fan page, and a website.

This blog, I have yet to find a shape for...In other words, it will shape itself. Every day I post will be another day. Every posting will reflect what the mirror can reflect.

I am a minimalist. I appreciate decoration, only if it is attached to a clean skeleton.

copyright 2010 Lyn Horton
Photo: Studio Shot, 2009 copyright 2009-10 Lyn Horton