Friday, February 25, 2011

An offering on the Ganges

My second morning in Varanasi I went on the river in a small boat. It was a foggy morning, as they all seem to be, and my boatman went along the coast. I saw the various ghats, the people bathing in the waters, the laundry being done along the shores. The water buffalo that roam freely.

Then I saw a man, half naked, riding in another small row boat. The man sat motionless, eyes on the horizon. It was as if he was in a trance, but then I understood that he was praying.

After a while the rower stopped and the man stood up. He held this offering in his hands, facing the sun. He made a blessing, bowed, then placed the offering into the Ganges. I was told that he was honoring a departing soul. I took this picture when it floated by my boat.

Later that day I watched a young boy of perhaps only ten, his head shaved in mourning, dressed only in loin cloth, light his father's pyre.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"The only thing standing in your way...

is yourself."

This is a line from BLACK SWAN which I recently saw and which blew me away. It's kind of like THE SHINING for dance. A wonderful, brilliant, disturbing film. But it got me thinking about the burden of perfection. Something that I think all creative people struggle with. I know I have.

We want approval. We want everything to be just right. Alice Miller writes about this in "The Drama of the Gifted Child." We give up when we think we can't. Instead of just loving the thing for itself, we love it because of how others see us. And in the end, as every Buddhist knows, this can only lead to suffering and misery. One of the things I loved about BLACK SWAN was how Nina's counterpoint just loved to dance for the sake of it. Not caring if she was a solo artist or in the choir. She did it for th sheer pleasure of doing it.

And then there's perfection's other side. Doubt. I think doubt is good for the artist. As are flaws. Auden once asked what was the point of a perfect poem. There'd be no reason to write any more. Everything must be flawed. That's the whole point. You must give yourself over to your art - even if it's not perfect.

The other day I was standing in front of an amazing Jackson Pollock at MOMA. I read that after he finished this painting, he asked Lee Krasner, his wife, "Is this art?" He was the most famous painter in America at that time and he was plagued with self-doubt.

My childhood friend, David Lauderstein, just wrote to me and shared this anecdote. He's a musician and was working on a composition, but he was filled with doubts about where to begin. So his teacher said, "Include your doubts."

As I've mentioned before in this blog, the Tahitians have no word for art. The closest they come is something that translates to "I'm doing the best I can." Isn't that all we can do or be expected of us? It is only then that we feel free to make mistakes and go out of our comfort zone.

This photo is a blury picture of a tiger that I took while sitting on a moving elephant's back. It's not a good picture, obviously, but I rather liked its abstract quality. It's kind of dreamy. And, under the circumstances, it was the best that I could do.

As the artistic director of the ballet in BLACK SWAN says, "Perfection is not just about control. It's also about letting go."

But perhaps no one has ever expressed this sentiment better than Henry James when he wrote in The Middle Years (1893): We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.