Saturday, November 10, 2012

Doorways to Compassion

Neil Ellis Orts, Cassandra Shaffer-Permenter, and Donna Meadows in rehearsal for Jill Alexander Essbaum's Necropolis, part of the HopeWerks Residency showing, Questions and Declarations.

We're less than a week away from showing the work I've been making with my half of a HopeWerks Residency (which I'm sharing with Donna Meadows). In an earlier post, I spoke about what was behind my choosing to adapt some poetry from Jill Alexander Essbaum, that I wanted to show something about death and grief, to ask an audience to look at something we, as a culture, tend to look away from---and do so with an eye towards entertaining moments that take the edge off, but nonetheless  keeps our gaze on the this thing we don't like to look at.

This week, I was thinking about what participation in the arts is about (spinning out of a Facebook post, which isn't pertinent here). I boiled it down to a single phrase that I posted to the Breath & Bone Facebook wall: "participation in the arts is a doorway to compassion."

Being who I am, I immediately started arguing with my own proposition. Even as I was typing it, I edited it. I don't recall what I typed first, but I edited it to "is a doorway," recognizing that participation in the arts is far from the only means to compassion. 

And also recognizing that participation in the arts might have doorways that do not lead to compassion. 

I think these doorways, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder---whether the beholder realizes it or not. 

Because we cannot ignore the horrors of Nazism, which had a clear idea of what the arts were and how participation in them could reinforce a national identity, which is to say, nationalism. Collection paintings, seeing operas and ballets, listening to the great symphonies didn't lead to compassion but instead led to a deadly, delusional pride. 

There is danger in art-making, I think. Interpretation is something very much out of the hands of the artist. The intention of the artist only gets you so far. Some people do not look at art with the hope of learning about other people, their lives, their loves, struggles, and triumphs. Some people look at art for reinforcement of their own prejudices. 

What a work of art does depends so very much upon what the viewer is looking for. 

But here I'll say some more about what I hope to show with this work I've been making and will present next weekend. 

I want to show you something about death and grief, yes, but also something about it's healing. The photo above comes from a section of the performance that actually has no words from Jill, but is silently performed as a transition into hope. 

I want to show that the anger and despair of grief is natural and I hope the audience---of whatever religious persuasion or of no persuasion---that questioning God, however defined, is not as dangerous as we're sometimes led to believe, that's it's okay to ask, "Exactly how has your will been done?" and not be satisfied with the silence that meets us. 

I want to show that compassion is a part of the healing, and that we---all of us, for an artist who doesn't speak to him/herself is leaving out a very important piece of the audience---can decide to practice compassion that will lead us to some kind of peace, however tentative. 

That's what's on my mind---how I hope to be a servant to the showing---this week. 

I really hope you'll join us. Next weekend at Hope Stone Studio, November 16-18, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 6:00pm. 

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