Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Child's Play: Reflections on Serena Williams and Pablo Picasso

Last week two events happened for me on the same day.  I went to see the Picasso sculpture exhibit that is just opening at MOMA and I watched Serena Williams get throttled on the court.  At the Picasso I was amazed at how much inventiveness and experimentation and truthfully just plain fun Picasso must have been having as he bent sheet metal and carved wood.  I'm not saying that it's not hard work, but I was amazed that he could bend a fork and it becomes the talons of a bird or he takes a child's toy car and turns it into a baboons head.  As I stood staring at this completely ridiculous, and amazing, piece entitled "Little Owl," I thought that here is someone who has a child's imagination and sense of wonder. All of his work to me reflected his child-like nature and in that nature he is completely free.

And then I watched Serene, grunting, shouting, smashing her raqu

ette, never a smile, a look of contentment and certainly not playfulness.  She was not just miserable.  Her ranting and stumbling and failing was almost Biblical.  Of course everyone is calling it the biggest upset in tennis history, but I watched Vinci smiling, shaking her head, steady, enjoying the game.  It didn't surprise me that much in the end that Serena lost.  What surprised me was how miserable she seemed even before she was losing.  How she wasn't playing so much as pummeling.  Whatever she wanted, she wanted it too badly, and that made her lose it.

It was interesting for me to see these two events back to back.  I am reminded of one of my favorite tidbits of knowledge.  I've written about this before but I'll say it again now.  The Tahitians have no word for art in their language.  The closest they have is an expression that translates to, "I'm doing the best I can."  I love the idea of trying, doing your best, but it's not about winning or losing.  And in the end for me it is really about pleasure and pleasure is about freedom.  It's not easy to become children again.  (I think it was Matisse who said that you have to grow up to become a child again).

Sometimes I'll sit down to write or paint and I'll say to myself oh I'm not any good or I don't have any ideas or whatever we say to make ourselves feel lousy and then I'll just start to fool around - in my journal, with my watercolors, on the page.  As artists, performers, even athletes, we have to be able to play and we have to be able to enjoy the game.

I feel badly for Serena because this loss will haunt her her entire life.  But perhaps she will learn something from it.  I'm not sure if she ever really loved the game (I think what she loves is winning), but maybe she can find it in herself to enjoy it.  I remember once when I was in a very bleak place and nothing was working out and my husband told me to write stories again the way I did when I was twenty years old and did it for the love of them.

I go back to Picasso's Little Owl.  Go and take a look.  Here was a great artist.  Perhaps the greatest artist of his time and he made a little owl with screws and bolts for legs, a silly little

glorious object that I fell in love with, and I thought to myself that we all need a little owl in our lives.  If we're trying to write a little poem or win a grand slam, you need your little owl.  A part of creativity and success comes from having a good time.  

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