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composition matters

March 25, 2010

Ever since I started reading Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big Life back in January, I’ve had her thoughts on “well-composed homes” in the back of my mind. Because I knew my life was anything but well-composed. I just wasn’t sure what was detritus that needed clearing out, and what should stay. And how to rework all of it so it looked like it belonged together, it wasn’t just an assorted jumble of parts.

Well, I’m still working on that, obviously.

A lot of stuff that needed to go away has indeed started moving out or fading away. I was wondering if I had all the pieces I would want to move forward with refashioning; I felt like something(s) was/were still missing, but I wasn’t sure what it/they could be.

Spouse talked about my photography on an evening walk after our last visit to Alexandria. Thinking about his comments later, while writing the day’s morning pages, I happened upon an intriguing line of thought about most of the art I’ve ever created, and I’ve been exploring it and thinking through ramifications ever since.

I’m not sure I’ve ever created a work that depicted an entire scene (think: mural covering a wall). Most things I do, formal or informal, are vignettes or “corners” of a scene. Pieces of a puzzle, but not the entire puzzle.

For a few days, I felt like this was a deficiency in my vision, or a sign I’m not imaginative enough. But on a solitary walk, I realized it was something else altogether. Well, a bunch of somethings.

  1. I’m an introvert, so I like small, intimate gatherings or settings. A large scene’s intricacies can feel grandiose and impersonal, and be hard for me to relate to. So I may admire a spectacular vista, but when I take a photo, it’ll likely be a clump of slime molds, or a fungi city, or birds in a tree. Something small, friendly, and with a neighborly sort of feel.
  2. I’m utterly fascinated by neighbors and communities, both human, non-human, and mixed. I have more than one kind of paper art predicated on “nearest neighbors” in various permutations. I’m constantly seeking my idea(l)s of interpersonal (and intrapersonal!) harmony, hence my tagline at the top of the page.
  3. A large scene, captured in, say, a mural, is static. But if you only see one corner, your imagination can add to the cast of characters, or the story being told, or what could be important about what you see. It’s open-ended and encourages collaboration with your audience. Probably my favorite art installation at the IMA was something similarly open-ended: a series of bottles about half full of pink liquid, and hung in a sine-wave arrangement from the ceiling, near the front doors. The first time I saw it, I told Spouse the bottles looked to me like alien ships, and the aliens were water-dwellers, so their ships were filled with liquid. And if I stole a quick glance out of the corner of my eye, I could almost see a flash of a fin or tentacle, winking out of sight in an alternate dimension. Every time we went visited, I felt like I was visiting old friends. I can only hope that some art piece of mine could inspire someone to create a story about it that makes them feel known and welcomed, like that installation made me feel.
  4. Biology was the first science I knew anything about, and I’ve been an ecologist/naturalist at heart since I was a small child. I get complexity. But I also think like a geographer, so I consider things from various scales/levels, including meta levels. That helps me deal with complexity without getting bogged down into too many details all at once. Sometimes I’m looking at the micro scale (bugs on a tree), sometimes the macro (the whole world), sometimes anywhere in between (my own life, my art, my career struggles, my friends’ lives, etc.).

In the supermarket yesterday, I picked up a copy of The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club, and I’ve already read the whole thing, including all of her short stories and articles in the second half. I love her books, and her worldview. And I think I’ve found another piece of my own puzzle, although it’s been staring me in the face for months: writing. I need to do more of it, in more contexts than just this blog, or occasional emails. (To his credit, Spouse had mentioned writing for a local newspaper some months ago. That didn’t seem quite right, and still doesn’t, but I guess I’ve not yet run across what does seem right. Also, I’m still working on the optimal combination of how to sit at the computer to write without over-stressing any body parts.)

I’m just glad that my dreams about introjections that are diminishing in importance have stopped having them die; I was upset both when they died, and I died, both of which happened recent nights. But last night, that part of me just flounced off in a huff, which is fine. I hope it’s happier in some other environment, maybe catching up with old friends in the Collective Unconscious. 🙂

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