Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Being Other Than Ourselves

This painting is unusual for a Degas.  It does have some of his earmarks, when you study it closely, but I wouldn’t have guessed he was the artist.

Isn’t it fun sometimes to go against the grain, to try out a new persona, wear different clothes, try foods you don’t usually eat, picture yourself in someone else’s skin? 

I suppose that’s what Halloween costumes are all about—something I’ve never got into.  And acting, which  I wasn’t ever any good at.  And writing, living the characters you invent—though I might argue that most of mine are recognizable as figments of my imagination; related to me by some quirk or gesture or familiar turn of phrase.

Today, to be different, what would I be, and do?  A weaver of earth-tone Navajo blankets in Chimayo, New Mexico; a bird seller in Paris; a maker of hot pastrami sandwiches on dark rye bread in Manhattan; an ambassador in Malta?  Someone walking the length of the way of Santiago de Compostela, for penance, or casting a knotted fishing net on the big island of Hawai’i?  Or maybe tracking distant galaxies through a high-powered telescope in some chill lab somewhere?  There are so many people I am not; so much that is Other.  Outside, but inside too.  Not ours, not us, and yet somehow of us. 

I’ve always loved this quote of John Dewey’s, in Art as Experience:

The epidermis is only in the most superficial way an indication of where an organism ends and its environment begins.  There are things inside the body that are foreign to it, and there are things outside of it that belong to it de jure, if not de facto; that must, that is, be taken possession of if life is to continue.

image:  Edgar Degas (French, Post-Impressionism, 1834–1917): At the Café des Ambassadeurs, 1885. Pastel. Private Collection, I Require Art

No comments:

Post a Comment