Last Thursday I went on a first date. I can hear the shouts of joy and elation from my family and friends already. Sorry to disappoint you all but this was an entirely different type of date. This was an Artist Date. “What the hell is an artist date?” I hear them say. I’ll let Julia Cameron explain:
“An artist date is a block of time…especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion…that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative child.
If you think this sounds stupid or that you will never be able to afford the time, identify that reaction as resistance. You cannot afford not to find time for artist dates.” ~ The Artist’s Way
Two weeks ago I attempted to begin The Artist’s Way course for the second time. The first time, two or so years ago, I couldn’t gain any momentum with the morning pages practice and never really made it past the first chapter. This time, two weeks on, the morning pages are going strong, proving fruitful and I’m slowly but surely making my way through the first week of activities. Cameron describes the course as “a spiritual path to higher creativity” in which you dig deep within yourself to excavate your inner artist, be it musician, painter, actor, dancer, etc. through a series of exercises, meditations, affirmations and more I have yet to discover. A highly spiritual book, referring many times to God (whatever that may mean to you), the Universe, your Higher Spirit and so on, this book may not appeal to all. I think I remember once reading a review on Amazon of someone calling it ‘cult-ish’! I wouldn’t go that far although I am only on week one, I like to think I’m very open-minded and I think it’s best you are with these sorts of endeavours. For surely even the staunch atheists amongst us can’t deny that there must be some ‘other-worldly’ source involved in creative expression when we’re blessed with the ability to produce and enjoy some of the greatest works of art this world has to offer?
“When the word God is used in these pages, you may substitute the thought good orderly direction or flow. What we are talking about is a creative energy. God is useful shorthand for many of us…The point is not what you name it.” ~ The Artist’s Way
So back to my date. Like all dates I had high expectations, which I tried to kerb for I didn’t want to end up sorely disappointed if it were to not go as hoped or planned. I was excited, slightly nervous (I’m not sure why?) and glad to be proactive in this area of my life. A good start then! The dates do not have to be elaborate, expensive, out in public or anything of the sort. You can sit at home curled up with a black and white movie or with some crayons and a blank piece of paper. It’s entirely up to you, the emphasis is quality time with your “inner artist”.
So last week I chose to head over to The National Gallery for the Soundscapes exhibition. It’s been on my radar for a while, but as can be the case in life, I never quite got around to it so now I finally had a good reason to take the time out and go. The exhibition was described as an immersive experience and visitors encouraged to ‘hear’ specially commissioned paintings through the perspectives of musicians such as Jamie XX, Gabriel Yared, Chris Watson and others. I had no idea what to expect for which I’m glad as I got to experience the exhibition with a completely fresh pair of eyes.
Upon entry to the exhibition you have the option to go straight to the installations or watch a film on it first. I chose the film first and really glad I did. In each short film the composer spoke about which painting they’d chosen and how they went about composing the music. This helped me appreciate, not only the musician’s painstaking attention to detail when composing the piece, but that of the painter as well. I love how Nico Muhly inspired viewers to enjoy the painting ‘The Wilton Diptych‘ in the way he did:
“…sit with it, take something you like and spend the time to deepen your relationship with it. It should apply to this and anything.”
That sounds like the perfect philosophy for life in general and particularly so for anything you care about.
Walking to the first installation, you were automatically thrust into a dark room with no light apart from that cast by a spotlight directly on Gallen-Kallela’s ‘Lake Keitele‘. There were around 4 people already in the room, listening to the sounds of nature collected by Chris Watson to reflect the beauty of the Finnish landscape scene. I sat myself down on the bench and stared at the painting, captivated by the peace and serenity created by the image and sounds. The calls of the indigenous Sami echoed around the room so evocatively: “This melodic call is the Sami people’s way of communicating with their ancestors and the echo that is brought forth is their reply“. I have no idea how long I was sat there but was truly enraptured and felt like I was already a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of London just on the other side of the gallery’s doorstep. It felt like life with all its responsibilities melted away in that moment.
I glided over to the next room and ones after that on my cloud of calm and what struck me about this exhibition, in addition to the compositions, were the visitors. I have never experienced this in a gallery before but the people were just as beautiful as the installations. I don’t know if everyone had the same experience I did in the first room but there was such an energy of peace and presence in each room. People were quiet, contemplative and extremely in the moment. Everyone, though all seeming to have very individual experiences, were so aware and considerate of all going on around them. People were very careful not to stand in others view of the art, trod carefully as to not make too much noise and were all more than happy to take the visual and audio art in in their own personal way. Even if this meant lying on the floor, closing their eyes, getting right up close to the paintings looking at them from awkward angles, making notes or working their way around the speakers in the room. People took their time with each piece, no one was in any rush to go any where, there was no sense of urgency and that was just perfect.
This made me think, what if everyone approached everyday of their life like this? What if we all savoured life in the way we were all savouring the art, as Muhly described, by spending time to deepen our relationship with them? What if we all walked as mindfully as we did around that exhibition? Whispered as quietly so we could hear clearly instead of steamrolling over everything with the sound of our own voices? Were as considerate of each other’s presence and experience in life as we were in those rooms? What impact would this have on our quality of life? I can’t help but think humankind would live an entirely different, more enlightened, experience and existence. I, for one, have most definitely taken what I learnt in those rooms and will be making a conscious effort to live it everyday. I can only hope that other visitors will do the same.
“How we spend our days is of course, how we spend our lives.” ~ Annie Dillard
This date far exceeded my expectations. I realised that I have a very ‘monotone’ way of looking at art. Yes, I do appreciate it, but in purely a visual way. Which is weird for someone has a deep appreciation for viewing art and listening to music and also dabbled in creating some of my own in both areas. But I’ve never thought of the two together in quite this way. When Gabriel Yared spoke of his composition for “Les Grande Baigneuses” he opened my eyes (and ears)!
“What I am trying to do is make this long piece to say, these aren’t silent worlds. They’re full of sounds, so I’d encourage people to go and listen…”
Beautifully put and I will. So I’ve decided to turn this exhibition’s concept on its head as a challenge for myself (yes another one). Someone once shared the music of Benn Jordan aka ‘The Flashbulb’ with me and one piece in particular really stood out. With the aptly named track ‘Undiscovered Colours‘, I’m going to attempt to deconstruct it and paint/draw/sketch what I hear! Who knows what will happen but I know for one it will be another reminder to me of just how important it is to be in the present and give something your all, if only for a few precious moments.
And will there be a second date? Absolutely!
The Soundscapes exhibition has now closed but to get a glimpse of the composer’s works take a look here.