I went to hear the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony last night. Beethoven’s “Pastorale,” “Violin Concerto in D Minor,” and Missy Mazzoli’s “Violent, Violent Sea” were on tap. Before going in I had opportunity to pop in to the adjacent KW Art Gallery, which had among other things, a display involving the art of Soheila Esfahani and Brendan Tang. This was altogether fascinating. I first saw a lovely group of images (ink jet printings) that were all in blue: inviting depictions of children and parents swimming in warm blue water: a cerulean circle framed by soft white. As I turned the corner, there was a stack of wooden pallets. As I got closer, I could see they were decorated with gorgeous burned wood etching in a Middle Eastern style. Stacked together, and viewed from afar, they looked like an epic stele. When I went around to the back of the stack come stele, each pallet had an email address stenciled on it! A stellar stele.
Coming around the next corner, I saw something rather hard to describe; perhaps I could liken it to the conjugal results of Chinese vases meeting Toy Story characters. Perplexed, I paused, and then moved on to another group of paintings from the first series, and suddenly it struck me: the swimming pictures were actually paintings of fine blue china, in which the careful rimmed designs on plate’s edge slowly become water, and then ripples, and then waves, and finally swimmers. Brendan Tang worked a marvel with this image. He reminded me of something I too often forget: art is a mystery.
Art inscribes life with surprise: it changes the way we look at things. Seeing the china vases enabled me to see the china plates come swimming pools, and seeing the china plates made new enables me to see the world new, in a different fashion; to hear new, with different accents and new possibilities. I suspect I heard the “Pastorale,” and I most certainly heard Mazzoli’s gorgeous “Violent, Violent Sea” differently because of Tang.
Whatever your art, know that it matters: poets parse possibilities we otherwise do not know; novelists give us novel ways to wind our way through the world; singers stretch our sense of sound’s beauty; architects arrange new ways to live together; sculptors describe and query our relationship to solidity and certainty, inviting us to imagine new futures. Our art matters no matter what sort it is. It expresses our path of self-discovery, and enables and enobles our self-emergence – even if we don’t share it with others. Art matters because our art expresses the mystery we are, and so honors the Source of mystery, imagination, and adventure.