Posts Tagged ‘learning’

photograph by Alec Casto

Learning from the Artists about People and Place

by W. David O. Taylor  9.10.12
Christianity Today

I am told that novelists approach their work from different starting points.  Some begin with a theme, like the fear of the unknown, as is often the case with science fiction writers. Others begin with families, as is nearly always the case with Pulitzer Prize–winning novelists. Some begin with a character or a historical time period, such as ancient Rome. Still others begin with a place: Casablanca; Port Royal, Kentucky; the Shire. I sometimes wonder if human beings behave like novelists, as it were, especially in their decision to move from one place to another. Some move to be nearer to family. Some move for a job. Some move for the excitement of a city’s culture. My friend Melody willingly left a community of dear friends in Austin in order to relocate herself to Seattle. She said she “fit better” there. The Northwest was her kind of place: cloudy, cool, mossy, saturated with grey and black wardrobes. I couldn’t understand her decision at first. Why leave all these people that know you and love you to move to a place where she would be an instant stranger?

Sometimes you leave your hometown in order to find your place elsewhere. Sometimes you leave your place of birth only to return years later and find that you belong there after all. Or more grandly, as Kathleen Norris puts it, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” Here is where you belong. Here is where you will stay put. It is your place and it is our place together. Norris has her place: the Dakotas. Eugene Peterson has his too: Lakeside, Montana. It’s where his people come from, it’s where he intends to remain till he dies. Melody now has her place. Wendell Berry has his place, and Bilbo Baggins has his own too.

My uncle just yesterday sold the house that his parents bought in 1947. It’s been Uncle John’s place for 65 years. The house is perched a handful of yards west of Southern Methodist University’s campus in Dallas, Texas, 3028 McFarlin Road to be exact. It is the place my sisters and I have loved above all places in America. As children, after driving five days in our yellow Suburban through the pockmarked highways of Mexico, northward on our way from Guatemala, where my parents served as missionaries, to the redbrick front porch of my grandparents, we couldn’t wait to rummage through the cereal box cabinet and the Dallas Morning News TV guide so we could find when the cartoons came on. My grandparents’ home was our one stable place during our years as missionary kids.

photograph by Alec Casto

My confession? I feel misplaced in my current city.  While I know plenty of people who thoroughly love Durham, North Carolina, I fluctuate between total ambivalence and intense aversion to the city. It is a city that irritates me almost daily. After living here for three years, I have made my peace with the fact that Durham will be the first city in my life that I will be happy to leave.  Despite the fact that it hosts the annual American Dance Festival, that Burt’s Bees has set up its headquarters here, that Branford Marsalis chooses to call it home, and that Richard Florida placed it at the top of his list of creative class metros, I feel no love for Durham.

I genuinely wish it were otherwise. My wife and I struggle with mixed feelings. Are we being selfish? Are we not trying hard enough? Are we hopelessly, blindly infatuated with Texas, our home state? We do keep trying to connect with the city. It is the “City of Medicine” and the “Cameron Crazies,” after all! But we still sense that at some level we are misplaced here.

I know we are not alone in feeling misplaced. Joseph son of Jacob lived nearly his entire life misplaced from his father’s house. The prophet Daniel, like the people of Israel and all refugees ever since, was forcibly misplaced from his homeland. Migrant workers make a habit of living misplaced, though rarely to their liking. A divorced couple willingly flees to opposite coasts in order to escape the pain of hurtful relations. Some of us live in towns that feel strange to us, and it’s an easy temptation to resent this place where we do not belong. It’s easy to resent God for putting us here.

photograph by Alec Casto

But artists come along and perform an invaluable service. For those of us who feel a tenuous or adverse relationship to our places of residence, artists help us to see that, in fact, God is happily at work here, quietly making grace happen in unexpected ways, gently rebuking our stubborn refusal to see that salvation and sanctification are occurring in this place—this street, this humidity, this church, this grocery store, these people. As Peterson remarks in his book Subversive Spirituality, describing the effect of novelists on his work as a pastor:  Every time . . . a street is walked, noticing the details, observing the texture and color, insisting on the immediate particularity, the gospel is served, for space is cleared and location provided for yet another spin-off of the Incarnation, most of which came to its definitive form in small towns and on country roads.

This is what the installation artist Craig Goodworth, recently featured in the This Is Our City film “You Are Where You Live,” does in a warehouse in the city of Phoenix, Arizona. He takes misplaced things and places them in a sphere of meaning: Arizona corn grain from Casa Grande; leached water from the warehouse itself; Desert Durum wheat grains and the cornmeal from Arizona Grain; a donkey from Maricopa County; asphalt from nearby; steel rails from 20 yards outside the building. Put together, the materials tell a story about Phoenix.  It’s a place-based installation, Goodworth says, and it’s a way of telling Phoenicians: “Here is the stuff of your place, and it’s good stuff.” Inviting his audience to touch the materials, to be near them, to smell them and know them, is a way to help them love their city. It’s also a way, as Peterson reminds us, to protect us from gospel-killers—”grand abstractions and standoffish condescensions” that keep us in a negative stance towards our given place.

photograph by Alec Casto

 

In watching this short film, I find my discontented heart softened by lyrical images of blues and yellows and of people moving in and out of the lovely stuff that makes up a place as particular and as broken as my own. Artists like Goodworth offer us a great gift. Their gift is to help us see our place of residence as lovingly as God does. At the very least, the City team’s film stirs in me a renewed desire to not give up on Durham, North Carolina.

W. David O. Taylor, former arts pastor of Hope Church in Austin, Texas, is pursuing doctoral studies in theology and the arts at Duke Divinity School. The editor of For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker), he and his wife. Phaedra, currently live in Durham.

 

photograph by Alec Casto

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Life Lessons for Everyone in the Arts

Posted by Stephanie Riven On December – 21 – 2011
Stephanie Riven

Perhaps you have been following David Brooks’ series of op-eds in The New York Times. He asked people over 70 to send him “Life Reports” — essays about their own lives and what they’d done poorly and well.  No need to wait until we turn 70 to reflect on these “life lessons” and devise our own, especially as we approach the time for New Year’s resolutions.

Formulating lessons are important for all of us who work in the arts, whether as a performer, an administrator, an advocate, or an educator. These lessons are especially important because of the nature of our field — low wages, long hours, competition for jobs, among other obvious challenges.

What can we learn from Brooks and those who submitted “Life Reports?”

Divide your life into chapters: Brooks talks about “the happiest of his correspondents being those that divided time into (somewhat artificial) phases.” He describes these people as those who could see time as “something divisible into chunks” and they could more easily stop and self-appraise. This approach, he says, “gave them more control over their lives.”

How often have we talked to students/teachers/artists who struggle with indecision about their next steps as if it is their final step? If we could only help them to see that through experimenting with one role or another they will build their skills and realize their vision. Chapters, yes. End points, no.

Beware rumination:The most impressive people were strategic self-deceivers. When something bad was done to them, they forgot it, forgave it, or were grateful for it.”

Can we as artists, arts educators, and administrators become “strategic self-deceivers?” Can we forgive ourselves when the performance, the class, or the board meeting doesn’t go so well? Can we go around the barriers to achieve our ambitious goals?

Lean toward risk: “Many seniors”, Brooks reports, “regret the risks that they didn’t take.”

And how relevant that is to so many organizations, boards, administrators, and artists who don’t understand that to grow we must take on the unknown. How many organizations won’t hire that next person who they know will make all the difference, take on a more ambitious script, or commit to innovation because they are risk averse?

Can we learn from these seniors before we turn 70?

In 2012, let’s pledge to reflect actively on where we are and how we will proceed, forgiving ourselves, moving ahead, and writing new chapters.

http://blog.artsusa.org/2011/12/21/life-lessons-for-everyone-in-the-arts/#more-12752

 

New York Times
Op-Ed Columnist

The Life Report

By
Published: October 27, 2011

If you are over 70, I’d like to ask for a gift. I’d like you to write a brief report on your life so far, an evaluation of what you did well, of what you did not so well and what you learned along the way. You can write this as a brief essay or divide your life into categories — career, family, faith, community, and self-knowledge — and give yourself a grade in each area.

Josh Haner/The New York Times

David Brooks

If you send these life reports to me at dabrooks@nytimes.com, I’ll write a few columns about them around Thanksgiving and post as many essays as possible online.

I ask for this gift for two reasons.

First, we have few formal moments of self-appraisal in our culture. Occasionally, on a big birthday people will take a step back and try to form a complete picture of their lives, but we have no regular rite of passage prompting them to do so.

More important, these essays will be useful to the young. Young people are educated in many ways, but they are given relatively little help in understanding how a life develops, how careers and families evolve, what are the common mistakes and the common blessings of modern adulthood. These essays will help them benefit from your experience.

The closest things I’ve been able to find to Life Reports of this sort are the essays some colleges ask their alumni to write for their 25th and 50th reunions. For example, I just stumbled across a collection of short autobiographies that the Yale class of 1942 wrote for their 50th reunion. Some of the lives are inspiring, and some are ones you’d want to avoid.

The most common lament in this collection is from people who worked at the same company all their lives and now realize how boring they must seem. These people passively let their lives happen to them. One man described his long, uneventful career at an insurance company and concluded, “Wish my self-profile was more exciting, but it’s a little late now.”

Others regret the risk not taken. One rancher wrote, “The pastoral country and its people of New South Wales and Tasmania are similar to Arizona of fifty years ago, that I recall so fondly. I deeply regret not moving to Australia when I was married there 25 years ago.”

Others wish they had had more intellectual curiosity, or that they weren’t so lazy, or that they had not gotten married so young. Some are strangely passive even in the case of their own character flaws. One chemistry professor wrote, “I am stubborn, cold, selfish, and resentful of being corrected or opposed. I also wish that a course in parenting had been required of all of us at Yale.”

Looking back, many were amazed by the role that chance played in their lives. Others point to the pivotal moment that changed their lives. One man was nationally humiliated when he lost to Charles Van Doren in a television quiz show (Van Doren was cheating). Another had a daughter who developed schizophrenia at 16. Another made his fortune in a moment, inventing a mechanical birdcall. “The way it is shaping up now it will be The Audubon Birdcall that is my legacy, and not much else,” he wrote.

The most exciting essays were written by the energetic, restless people, who took their lives off in new directions midcourse. One man, who was white, trained an all-black unit during World War II, was a director of the pharmaceutical company that developed The Pill, and then served as a judge at an international court at The Hague. “Career-wise, it was a rocky road,” another wrote, “but if diversity is the spice of life, then mine resembled hot Indian curry.” Nobody regretted the life changes they made, even when they failed.

Some felt summoned to do one thing. Their essays ring with passion and conviction. “I have been put on earth to be a painter,” one artist wrote. A scientist writes, “I can think of no career more rewarding and no pursuit more noble.”

After an unexciting business career, one man found total fulfillment teaching others how to build custom fishing rods. Another found it volunteering for the International Crane Foundation, preserving bird habitats.

The men all mention serving in the war, but none go into detail about their war experiences. Many were struck by tragedy: blindness, the suicide of a child, a profound professional catastrophe.

They strike me as less intellectually adventurous than the Yale students of today. They were alarmed by the shift in values they had witnessed during their lifetime. But most were immensely grateful to live in the era that they did. An amazing number cherished their marriages of 43 years or more. And, for almost all, family and friends mattered most.

And they left these essays, offering lessons for the rest of us. I’m hoping you’ll do that, too.