Thursday, July 27, 2017
When I heard that Roger Federer liked modern art, I was immediately curious about what, and though I never found that out, the search itself was interesting. Most of the listings you get if you put his name together with art are paintings of him and articles about his playing as art. The best is the 2006 David Foster Wallace piece in the New York Times describing him.
Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.
The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.(1)
A decade later he is still winning grand slams. Mihaly Czentmihali wrote that the creation of one’s own self can be as exciting as writing a symphony. What moves me about Roger Federer and Serena Williams is that they have done just that, created a work of art that sculpts both body, skill and character out of the whole of themselves. Roger and Serena are examples of embodied art in the realm of immediate intelligence.
When someone is centered and expressive of the core of their being, that’s art. It takes skill to reach a relationship with a mode of expression that enables it to be a natural extension of the body, responses finely tuned to go where intuition leads. The body/mind knows what it knows and can act before thought. This metaknowledge is part of the initial feeling. Not just comprised of emotion, our feelings are as complex as we are, responses from the whole picture of our background in combination with our current state. Because Roger Federer has developed so many ways to hit a tennis ball together with all he’s seen about how the opponents play he’s developed a body/mind response that’s highly sophisticated yet unencumbered by analysis. Like any artist he extends the range of what tennis can be.
In a short piece in Art News, Andrew Russeth quoted a Sports Illustrated interview with Roger Federer saying he liked modern art because it helped him keep an open mind, that as he gets older it gives him inspiration. Watching tennis at its best inspires me to stretch my own capabilities. Excellence is always inspiring.
Modern art opens the mind by pushing the edges of perception. This enlarges the scope of choices. Looking at art increases sensitivity to intuitive response and awareness of how we’re led by underlying overall adjustments, the inclinations that move us before we’ve figured them out. Art attunes our feelings to meaningful form and so builds the scope of understanding. The brain is structured to mirror the spatial world and understand the meaning of things by how everything looks within it. The more in harmony we are with ourselves and what’s happening around us the better we can flow with it. Focused attention comes after immediate attention reacts.
Tennis is a demanding and artful sport. Players styles are unique and bigger doesn’t mean better. Women’s tennis is treated with the same respect as men’s and provides just as many opportunities to be amazed. The players we like best are as personal as the art we like, each with an individual style of meeting the challenges posed by another. This year’s US Open will include record setting players, still at the top of their form. It’s an opportunity to be both impressed and inspired.
Friday, June 30, 2017
Perception is continuous, the mediator of our relationship to the world and in that role, the place where meaning starts. Our sense of where we are is built from the ongoing dance of body in environment that leaves impressions we crudely label as “uneasy” or “tense” or “calm” or “uplifting. These automatic adjustments are shared by all beings that move around in the world and though as humans we may have gained some power to articulate them, each of us knows how specific and perhaps never to be seen again the fleeting qualities in any given moment. Yet in the moment the meaning is clear to us. Deep perception is where the rich inner life takes place, the anguish of a secret tragedy hidden behind the smiling selfie, confusion and uncertainty under the surface while projecting mastery to those around you. The contradictions of being human are the stuff of drama, literature and art. It’s an area that goes ignored by the compartmentalized demands of life until art comes to resuscitate it. The play or music unlocks the feelings that come from that level of knowing. But visual art has several advantages. First it is not time based. Revelation can be immediate, an insight born of the change in perception created by the image.
Because vision is always directing attention behind the scenes it can lead our thoughts forward. What we see initiates associated images triggering thoughts and ideas that underscore what the image means to us. It helps us see the personal pattern that led us to a particular painting. The stronger the feeling we have about what we see, the deeper the connection to individual emotional themes revealed by the artist’s expression of this sense of life. By boiling down essential patterns art offers the structure by which many analogous ideas can be constructed. Put an elementary school child in front of a painting and ask them what they think is going on and you’ll see this generative imagination work. That’s why talking about art has been shown to be so effective in building a child’s intelligence concretely demonstrated in higher test scores. (http://www.vtshome.org/) Since there are no wrong answers there is free use of language and expression.
Perception is so important to our navigation of being, developing our sensitivity to deep level patterns can only be a benefit to human intelligence.
Though meditation is best for training attention in the present moment, looking at a painting can provide a personally chosen enrichment to reflection, to add a level to the meditation that gives room for associations to flow and change. Whether you choose from visionary art that transcends the purely human or a modern portrait that resonates with existential confusion, the choice is led by deep perception of your current state and clarifies what you need to see.
We navigate the world guided by perception in the moment and haven’t had to give the visual level much thought because it does its job so well without conscious attention. But the world has become too complicated for linear processes to handle. We need the speed and overview of perception to see the patterns in the whole that guide attention to what is out-of-balance. Developing the range and sensitivity of immediate reactions to the overview means becoming more attuned to visual structure. Allowing room for deep perception gives us time to pause and reflect on the meaning of what caught attention and allow space for a more thoughtful response.
First posted in July 2015
Thursday, May 25, 2017
When I heard about a recent Ted talk that got “thunderous applause” and a standing ovation what made it especially thrilling was that the talk was about the fact that we could give a guaranteed income to all the poor of this country for a quarter of the defense budget.
This reminded me of a quote from a previous president, General Dwight D. Eisenhauer.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It’s spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
The current president’s proposed budget takes from the people who need it most to give to those who have plenty already, a blatant dismissal of the actual needs of the country’s population in favor of already bloated defense spending. This wastes the potential of so many who won’t be properly nourished and educated and thus never have an opportunity to offer contributions based on their own capabilities.
We find out who we are by finding out what we can do, what we’re capable of, what we love most, which open up abilities we didn’t know were there. To eliminate fear of poverty or being in a position where humiliation is part of the price of a paycheck, people’s own inclinations could begin to assert their presence. The idle TV and facebook time is because people are so tired. Their happiness and well-being are not built into the equation of modern success. Even if they achieve the advertised result of wealth and status, it’s no safeguard from sadness and disappointment.
The limited goals and avenues presented as the road forward often lead away from the untapped resources that all humans have within themselves. Instead of mimicking the indulgent rich, discovering a world of what they like to do develops an original person with a unique contribution. Pursuing many interests builds a brain of many circuits filled with skills and observed patterns for future analogy. The nuclear accumbens, often called the pleasure center because of its role increasing dopamine, has many inputs from the prefrontal cortex, location of our most evolved capacities, areas of imagination and problem solving, analysis and planning, putting words on the undescribable. Taking interest in something and action in relation to it stimulates more dopamine, giving greater focus and concentration. It’s a system that rewards personal development.
Who knows what problems could be solved, innovations discovered and culture advanced if we treated human beings as our greatest resource. The work of Martha Nussbaum argues that quality of life in a country is not shown by GDP but by opportunity to find “what each person can do and be” In her book “Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach” she presents an evolved model that focuses on respect for everyone’s ability to define themselves through their own capacities. She writes ,“The Stoics taught that every single human being, just by being human, has dignity and is worthy of reverence”.
Verbal fluency has dominated history and created a mindset that separated out things from the whole and pinned them down with labels. Visual intelligence embeds everything in context. Everyone has a perspective to offer on a big picture built from their accumulated visual experience. This is a unique set of understandings at the base of a unique visual mind that each has to offer. Economic growth without human development does not tap the potential of the majority and is an enormous waste of the resources of a country.