Sunday, November 16, 2014

Benched Week 64: up close and personal

It’s a strange experience meeting for the first time someone I’ve known for years.   It’s a kind of incarnation – a person previously shaped entirely by words changing into a real, flesh-and-blood human.   As if a shadow shifted to become the form that cast it.

I’ve known Carol from our days on another blogging site through to present day Facebook.  And here she was, standing in front of me with a warming smile on a blustery sidewalk of Chicago.  She had volunteered to take a long train ride in to Chicago to sit on a bench with me and I had suggested that we find that bench inside the Art Institute.  She was thrilled to visit the museum for the first time.  I was happy to have a fresh set of eyes on my third walk through.

What struck me this time wasn’t the grandeur of famous works of art – I was leaving that to Carol, who whispered an astonished “Wow!” in nearly every room.  This time, the smallest of things caught my eye.  Leaning in as close as guards permitted, I marveled at the simplicity of brushstrokes.  How could one know, working close to a canvas, that these little dabs of pigment would deftly describe a shape when seen from across a room? 

That these little flicks of white would clearly define the edges of glasses?

Or that these swipes of color would delineate the most famous ear in the history of art?

Did these painters regularly walk away to see the whole more clearly?

As we sat on our bench in one of the galleries, Carol and I picked up this thought and carried it further, asking: what are the things in our life we need to step back from to see more clearly?

It’s a thought-provoking question.  For Carol, a new calling awaits, but the path to it is daunting.  She needs to step back a bit to gain clarity.

For me, it’s just the opposite.  The experiences in the last two weeks have brought a surprisingly simple insight into the nature of what drives me: co-creating art with audiences.



The trick is to flesh out that concept, to give it a solid shape.  And as we parted, with the museum glowing in the frigid night behind us, I realized that the key challenge for me is not the expression of the art, but the finding of the people.  Delightful friends like Carol.  Audiences like you who read this blog.  Strangers I may meet on future benches.  And beyond.

It’s hard to make anything personal until one gets up close.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Benched Week 63: stepping up

The concept came to me as I half-dozed on the plane to Chicago this morning.  I had taken an early flight to give myself time to sit on a bench by Cloud Gate, the famous silver “bean.”  But the radical idea that slipped into my awakening mind (a fertile time for ideas!) was this: draw something and involve strangers.

Last week, I wrote about how I wanted to find ways to improvise art, playing off the ideas of others.  This might be a way to do that.

Crazy.  Crazy enough to work, that is.

I’d need a sheet of foam core to go with my markers.  As chance would have it, there was a Dick Blick store right around the corner from my hotel.  So, trying not to get blown away, I tucked the board under my arm and walked the windy streets toward the park.

I knew I had to draw something to get people to come over.  So I started on a rendering of the sculpture.  And I had a title: Reflections.  I also had a question to pose to those who engaged me: What are you more preoccupied with – something that recently happened or something that’s about to happen?  That would decide which side of the drawing I’d put them.  And it’d give them something to think about while I sketched them.

Then I’d get them to put their thought onto the drawing in their own handwriting.

It worked wonderfully.  For a couple of hours, I had a nice stream of people pose for me.  Along the way I met:

-    a middle-aged man from India, looking forward to enjoying his reunion with his son

-    a young woman from Australia regretting how long it took her to pry herself loose from her dull job and do something big

-    another young woman, this time from Central America, who spoke no English but wrote her thoughts in Spanish

-    a man in his twenties who is struggling to find work and wrote about anticipating good things to come

-    a Hispanic teenager who remarked that I had made her look beautiful.  I told her that was because she was beautiful.  She laughed, surprised and, I think, pleased.

 As I wrapped up the drawing, a quiet college student sidled up to the table.  Nicole introduced herself as a student at a nearby art school.  When I asked, she showed me her sketchbook and we talked about engaging people with art – something she says she does often.  We chatted easily, finding a connection in our mutual love for creating.

Would I do it again?  Probably.  Or maybe it’ll be some other exploration of that line between artist and audience.  I’m just happy that for at least this Benched outing, I wasn’t just caught up in reflection.

It was the right time to step up to a challenge.