Sunday, July 20, 2014

Not Zen 119: Art of the Moment

"It's time, ladies. Rise and gather your mats." The instructor marched through the exit less than a minute later, as she'd warned she would. She had another meditation class to teach.

Her students gathered their belongings in silence. As they departed, one of them propped open the outside door so the moist summer air mixed with the cool but stale atmosphere of the room. In the center of the mediation studio, two women continued the conversation they'd started before class.

"My first clue," said the shorter, auburn-haired woman, "Came when I threw a surprise party for my best friend. We were in high school. I was a working artist already, with a local gallery show at the mall, and the party proved to me that events are an art form."

"I don't see how events are related to the rest of your craft."

"Do you practice any arts? Painting, maybe?"

"I'm a homemaker nowadays." The older, taller woman shook her head. "I make a few scrapbooks. That's about it."

"You've seen how people react to what you make. It's exactly like that. The party showed me what art is. My high school teachers hadn't talked much about it. Good thing, too."

"Wouldn't a teacher have been a help?"

"No. On my own, I was able to see how planning a party, putting everyone in their hiding places, just so, putting others in motion, leading my friend on a trip, talking to her to prepare her mind for the surprise ... well, it was exactly the kind of thing that I try to do to create an explosion of emotions in someone's head. It's like my paintings and sculptures. But better."

"It's seems more mundane, like things I do, not better."

"It's the act of creating a moment. And it was better for me than painting. I could see the blossoming of emotions in my best friend's face, understand her confusion, witness her laughter and then her tears of joy. It rewarded me in a way that other forms of art didn't."

"Ah, because your paintings are hanging in a distant city somewhere. You don't get to witness the reaction."

"That's part of it."

"So that's the art of the moment."

"A little, yes. But then I went off to college. That was good for me in some ways but it was a mistake as far as thinking about creativity. The professors had their own narrow ideas about art. They told me what to believe and I did. I forgot the facts. I forgot what I'd been creating."


"Not completely, no." Her hair had been pulled back in a knot for the meditation session. She loosened it. "How can I put this? I sorted the idea into a subset of performance art. That way, it had it's own category, nice and neat. But that was shit. It was a stupid idea to make real art, the best art, seem small. It wasn't until a few years after I left school that I started straightening out my perceptions. So now I see art as a very big, very useful concept, much bigger than what they teach in school. All types of human creation fit into it."

In a few years, the homemaker's children entered school. She trained herself as a yoga instructor. Her artist friend took her classes. They continued their discussions as they prepared the yoga studio for each class.

"A long time ago, when we talked about art of the moment, I didn't agree," said the instructor. She laid down stretch bands beside each mat. Her friend set down towels with them.  "But I've changed my mind. I think deliberately created moments are basically art."

"Everyone creates art," her friend replied. "I can see that you do it in these classes. You craft your interactions with your students."

"But most people aren't thinking this way.” She hesitated as she placed the last band. “So they make crap art. Or hurtful interactions."

"I'm not sure. I think about this a lot.” Together, they walked back to the shelf of supplies. “Everyone creates things all the time, whether they're doodles in meetings, baked goods with their kids, evening events out with friends, or whatever. They don't think of what they do as art. But I notice that a lot of people pay attention to the affects their actions."

"Teaching someone about their body, I think that's an art." She turned back to survey her studio. Everything was laid out perfectly.

"Yes, and I'm glad it's working out for you. But I notice lots of folks are creating things, making nice moments for others. And people make joint creations, too. I don't think they're aware that they're making something together. I see their work, their actions, join to form something completely new. It's interesting."

In time, the artist stopped studying yoga with her friend. She let her auburn hair streak with gray. Her friend stopped teaching yoga. They gained weight and, years later, they enlisted in martial arts together to improve themselves.

They practiced one-step forms, a kind of ritualized fight. Both of them came to think of one-steps as a sort of dance where the moves were known in advance.

"Yes, I think this is art,” said the painter. “But the last time we were talking about this, I was coming around to the idea of cooperative art. Events flow together naturally. I realized that I didn't need to do anything to disturb natural art."

"You can't do nothing, though. That's impossible.” The taller woman blocked the ritual strike. She swiveled to touch her friend's leg with the counter-strike.  “Even standing there after the end of this, you're breathing and you're beating your heart."

"You know what I mean.” She straightened. She tugged her uniform back into place. “I don't have to move a mountain to create a moment that's a molehill. In fact, all of the moments are mountains. They're connected. They flow together, a mountain range of moments."

The older woman put her hand on the other's shoulder. "That doesn't sound creative."

"Maybe not. I'm changing the way that I paint, too. My style has become simple.” Her arms dropped to her sides. Across from her, her partner adopted a similar position. “I'm learning to letting moments create themselves. Oh, sometimes I'll give them a little nudge. I think, sometimes, that I could do the best art by taking no action at all. I would stay where I am and let everything flow, just observe the art that's being created."

"You would have to observe art unfolding all of the time, then."

"That's about right.” She took a deep breath. Her gaze drifted over the other martial arts students standing in two rows, each paired, each stepping through the forms. “Sometimes I recognize the moment in advance. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I see the art of the moment as it passes into another piece. Sometimes the sense of events passing disappears. It becomes one big piece of art to me, all events happening together, not separate at all."

Behind her, their instructor had approached to see why two of her students had paused in the one-step practice. She had listened to their conversation for a while. She cleared her throat. They noticed her, turned, and bowed.

"So. You call this 'the art of the moment?'" she asked.

They replied that they did.

"I almost feel that I've studied something similar,” the woman said. “Your words are a bit different. You, painter, do you feel that you understand each moment?”

"Oh, not at all,” she sighed. “They're beyond my understanding. That's what's so beautiful about it. The art of the moment is so small and so big. The best I can do is enjoy the part that I experience."

"You don't even guide it? You let the art happen?" Their martial arts instructor gave them a wide grin.

"I'm sorry, master,” said the taller one, cautiously, “but why does it seem funny?"

"It's delightful.” Their instructor closed her eyes a moment. She sighed in satisfaction. “It did not occur to me, ever, that someone could take this path to such understanding."

1 comment:

  1. The art that I create where the process is everything, is the most profound to me. It is like the art creates itself and I am just a channel as it flows through me. But not all art is like that. Sometimes the creations are forced to become and other times they just are.