In any given city square on a sunny Sunday, there are countless minor stories being acted out. San Francisco’s Union Park was no exception. It was a balmy afternoon when I found my bench and watched the personal vignettes unfold.
Two stood out.
A pretty, blonde woman in her twenties stood ramrod stiff as a cadre of young Asian men made a show of photographing her. The scene was hard to miss. She nearly glowed in the sunshine, set off by the black outfits of her companions. Plus, the one photographing – filming? – repeatedly circled her with the camera as she stood, expressionless. She seemed uncomfortable with the attention they were giving her.
In another direction were two small children. As their parents stood by, they took turns chasing pigeons – a sport of generations of kids. (If only it was a formal sport -- how fun would that be to watch?) These siblings were unaware of the adults around who smiled as they passed, remembering, perhaps, their own kids’ pigeon-hassling. For these two, there was only the joy of the chase.
The backdrop to these two scenes? An open-air art show. Which got me thinking.
My art has always had a tension between two forces. There’s the gravity of art: the weight of making something important or beautiful or invested with meaning. And in the other corner, wearing the footie pajamas, is whimsy. For me, one is awkwardly self-conscious. The other, lightweight. I want to create something with depth, but find the seeking joyless, like the gaze of the young woman. But the pursuit of significant art through whimsy has been as fruitful as trying to catch a pigeon.
For years, the mitigating factor was time. Facing me on the building across the street was this sculpture, which made me smile. How I know the weight of creating under pressure of deadlines! That pressure has been removed, for the most part, thank God.
So, where am I left? Still not sure.
At the end of my bench-sitting, I got up and wandered over to the art show. The first image I came to was this painting. I can’t say this represents the right balance for me, but there’s no denying there is a playfulness at the heart of this artist’s work.
I’ll keep exploring. You know, maybe the point, after all, is not to catch the pigeon. It’s just the delight of making one take flight.