By Roxanne Cullen
I have been rambling on about defining Artworks and all we do and in those musings have focused exclusively on how much Artworks means to me. So, in contrast to all the wonderful experiences I have had since joining the board, I thought I would begin by thinking about my worst experience at Artworks.
I had a bad experience one night at an evening class and I will say right up front that it had nothing to do with the class itself. Just before the event began I took a work-related phone call. I was chairing a search committee and a candidate that we had worked really, really hard to recruit, who earlier in the day had accepted the position, called to change her mind and turn us down. I was disappointed, angry, exhausted and in no mood for a class. As the class continued I could not focus. My work life kept intruding on my evening. The others in the class began to annoy me, for no particular reason. I finally hastened my departure and left.
My dissatisfaction with the event was all about me. I was unable to focus because my mind was elsewhere. I was consumed by what we call in Tai Chi, Tiger Mind, those events of the day that intrude on our present focus, the argument, the to-do list, the lost candidate, that multi-tasking that psychologists tell us that our brains really can’t do. Psychologist Michael Formica writes in regard to mindfulness that humans have “extraordinary potential, both as physical beings having spiritual experiences, but more, as spiritual beings having physical experiences.” In other words, when we attend to the moment at hand with total focus, with mindfulness, the physical experience can become spiritual. When we truly pay attention we are totally mindful of what we are doing and attending to one thing at a time.
I think this may be what we keep trying to describe when we talk about experiencing Artworks because if we are focusing on art in the galleries or learning to create art in a class or attending a theatrical or musical event like Intimate Theater or Evening of Harmony, we can leave the rest of our life behind for that period of time. We are focused. My weaver friends often comment that they are surprised how incredibly tired they are at the end of a workshop with Jeanette and Nancy. It isn’t that basket weaving is physically challenging, for the most part, but believe it or not, there is an incredible amount of concentration involved with over, under, over, under. The intense focus can create a spiritual experience out of the physical one.
Brene Brown writes that “practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.” She goes on to say that spirituality involves recognizing a power greater than ourselves and for some that power is God, for others it may be fishing. For others it may be art. In an earlier column I quoted the poet Robert Bly on listening to Mozart saying “there is something in this music that is not defined by father, son, or holy ghost” commenting that there is something in the Artworks experience that is not captured by gallery, gift shop, classes and programs. And now here I am again, trying to capture that spirit in words. Perhaps Artworks is a kind of dojo, dojo in the broader sense of a space for immersive learning. We experience art through appreciation as well as participation and at its best we learn and are transformed. Our physical experience of Artworks has the potential of being a spiritual experience when we are mindful.