May I Have This Naked Dance?

“I want to dance naked in public.” ~ Jerry Saltz, NY Magazine art critic, speaking at the Rockport Opera House Sunday night, on why we create art.

Yes. It’s why I write. Why I speak. Why I live. I want to be seen and heard and feel ALIVE. And I want you to experience aliveness, to push and pulse with what calls you forth. I resonated with Jerry as he shared his perspective on creating and viewing art. “Art is about experience. It isn’t something you understand. It’s like pleasure – one of the most important forms of knowledge.”

Ah, pleasure…imagine a world in which we allowed the pleasurable to teach and lead us…what a full-of-wonder way to know we are alive.

I watched as he paced the stage, speaking of zones of safety we keep ourselves in, not daring to explore what’s just beyond the light already cast. He called out a few well-known artists, even some who were in the audience, issuing an invitation to exult, to expand, to excavate. Stop repeating what’s worked up until now. But why do we care what a former truck driver has to say?

Meaningful was when Jerry invited his wife, make-or-break you NYTimes art critic Roberta Smith, on stage. During the Q&A, she addressed this very question on why we do care about any one person’s opinion, and riffed on the crucial role culture must provide in our modern world. That without it- without discourse and education on art – we are barren and lost. I need give no examples of this; they are everywhere.

Yet, there is fertility.

As he shared his story of his entry into the art world, which didn’t begin until his forties, we saw validation of the late-bloomer, the demons of insecurity that plague all of us, and a quirky and endearing humor of a humble man who’s been nominated three times for a Pulitzer. How he first mimicked the stance and opinions of others and eventually unfolded himself, and let his voice soar. We saw an authentic presenter, not some stiff lecturer telling us Truth, but simply what he believes, what his eyes see. He urged us onward, away from declaring I Believe in Truth, I Believe in Beauty: “Don’t take refuge there. Find the blood, the sex, the self…the pleasure!”

He was real. Unpredictable. I loved him.

Be born again through art, he seemed to say.

My life changed when I finally ‘got’ all those Madonna and Childs in Italy, and stopped seeing them as authoritative, and merely reflective of that era’s cultural environment. When the work of Alexander Calder and Brancusi inspired me – literally, breathed life into my body – revealing mysteries un-ponderable in paintings, it was like learning another language. When I started scribbling on scraps of paper, then crafted them into essays for others to read, I found context for my joy…and now I’m learning to stand with an audience and speak deep truths out loud. Naked, indeed.

Creating form thrills. Hearing your connecting-of-the-dots excites. Sharing impressions draws us closer.  We are enriched through creation – as producers, as consumers, and yes, even as critics. I care about what you have to say, in the vehicle only you have the key to.

I want to witness you in your moment of creation, to see you translate what’s in your mind and heart and offer it up to us all. I want to dance naked, with you, in public, and have the whole world join us.

Ichi-go Ichi-e

Japanese Garden

I’m going to come clean with you today. Give you a peek into one of those drawers I usually keep bolted tight.

I do most things half-assed.

Yeah. That feels really good to admit.

Sure, I can rhapsodize about excellence and the well-designed life and having a Virgoan’s superior attention to detail. But I’d be kidding both of us. There’s so much more to my capabilities than I recognize and develop and a whole lot of potential that’s just growing hairy penicillin in the back of my medicine cabinet.. If I don’t reverse this, rigor mortis of my art and work may just set in.

When I was living in Roppongi, the ex-pat neighborhood of Tokyo, a few years back, I was part of the opening team of a new restaurant. I knew a lot about the business, and was expert in our company’s culture. What I didn’t realize was that the Japanese generally give a new venture ONE chance to prove itself. If we didn’t win our guests over during their first visit, they would never come again.

This brought a whole other level to our preparations, because once the novelty wore off, our best foot forward is what we’d be judged on. That’s pressure enough to change the game. In the more forgiving U.S., we’re all about innovation, tweaking, upgrading – it’s ongoing, but in Japan, more goes into the design process before the debut, to present the best possible product or service, than we probably do by the time we get down to our fifth version.

We live in a ‘good enough’ society. We settle. We get by. Sometimes that’s OK, and sometimes we suffer for it.

There’s an ancient proverb in Japan, derived from the grace and beauty of the tea ceremony:  Ichi-go Ichi-e. “One lifetime, one encounter.”  It means to bring full attention and complete sincerity to your actions, because each moment only exists once and must be fully realized and lived.

I was reminded of this last night, as I was dining with friends at Bizen in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The owner, Michael Marcus, is not just the sushi chef, but he’s also a potter who apprenticed in Bizen, Okayama Prefecture and creates all the dishware used in his restaurant. His unglazed pieces are fired for 12 days, just once a year, in a large kiln he’s built on his property nearby. Talk about getting it right the first time!

We connected over a shared love of trekking and all things Nippon. He gave us a tour through his private tatami rooms dedicated to chado (tea ceremony) and kaiseki (a seasonal, multi-course meal), and his stunning, hand-crafted collection of vases.

The care, dedication, and passion he brought to both his pottery and our dinner was without question. He won us over by giving his full attention and heart to our experience. I used to do this, too, when I was serving others. But now that I’m in the service of myself, I think it’s time my inner CEO call a board meeting.

My best work is lying fallow. There’s a reason, yes, and that I’ll explore in my next post, but for now, suffice it to say that I’m committing – with you as my witness – that Ichi-go ichi-e is my new mantra.

Because once I devote to giving it EVERYTHING ~ to being my own best critic before I step in front of the mic ~ to crafting the most exquisite container for my bouquet ~ then I will truly be alive.

Hold me to this, I ask of you. My life depends on it.

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