Language and the Arts

Last night I attended a lecture that is part of a series called Recovered Voices. It’s an initiative aimed at highlighting composers whom were suppressed by the Nazis. This week’s lecture was particularly interesting for me, as it took on a philosophical slant. The following stood out to me: from a practical standpoint, how do we-if at all-encourage people to attend concerts that highlight these voices (this will be an interesting usage of the term, as will be evident in a minute) without it seeming to exploit music that may have originated under horrible circumstances? If music director’s opt to highlight these pieces, do they have a responsibility to highlight the circumstances and context under which the music was composed when presenting the pieces to a wider audience? This will largely depend on how we philosophically understand music, or the meaning of it (if it has meaning at all). The following is an excerpt from the supplemental reading of the lecture (which I recommend reading as it will be much more succinct with expertly observations):

“Of course the battle for and about musical meaning has been going on for centuries.  For some, music is nothing more or less than the relationship between tones in “musical space,” gloriously abstract and preferably untainted by too much contact with other aspects of reality.  Others insist on a general connection between human states of mind and behavior and musical gestures, while still others wish to forge closer connections, arguing, as did Mendelssohn, that music is actually the most precise commentary on human existence.  Finally, in Terezín artists and musicians also used music as a means for sending messages that exposed the propaganda lie of the camp.”

http://orelfoundation.org/journal/journalArticle/what_kind_of_historical_documen

I’ve often wondered how we view the meaning of art. It’s communicative but is there a meaning to these pieces? Additionally it seems like (at least from personal reflections on my own experiences, which is a weak measure) different arts will lead to different reflections (perhaps differently depending on the person).

I remember some years ago, I went to the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art (LACMA) for guided tour that coupled the paintings of an era/location with foods that may have been served during that era and location. My food motivation runs deep.

As we walked through the exhibit the guide explained the context of the paintings and what made them so remarkable (the food if you were wondering, was not remarkable. Though I met a German who was a professional sommelier of water…yes, water).

The following paintings stood out to me (keep in mind this was some years ago):

 

John Singer Sargent, "Portrait of Mrs. Edward L. Davis and Her Son, Livingston Davis," 1890

 

https://unframed.lacma.org/2016/10/31/haunted-lacma-wanderings-john-singer-sargent-portrait

http://brownboygenius.com/2015/02/black-man-sued-right-vote-1780-youve-probably-never-heard/

The portrait on the left is of Maria and Livingston Davis, a mother and son from a prominent family. Though visually it is striking, it’s significance comes from context. Looking at it from today’s perspective it may seem like any other nice depiction of a mother and son, however this type of posture and the tenderness depicted in the painting is in context extremely unusual, especially of a family of prominent class. Paintings like this were typically very postured, perhaps even rigid, to signify class. Here there is a warmth and casualness that is extremely unusual.

The other is a commissioned portrait (possibly) of Captain Paul Cuffee, a freed slave who became a prominent and wealthy business man. Though the painting is not a technically remarkable portrait, the significance of the painting comes from the ability of Paul Cuffee to commission such a portrait. It is extremely meaningful in context.

Perhaps we may say that that context doesn’t give the painting itself meaning, but only our understanding of it. Is that so? (Spoken language relies on understanding meaning from context quite a bit)

Now with this lecture that touched on the meaning of music and it’s ethical applications, especially when we consider music composed under horrible circumstances, I wonder how far we take context to understanding the meaning of music (if it has meaning at all).

Thinking about this now, I think there are two concepts to flesh out: enjoyment and meaning. It SEEMS from my own perspective (which is a horrible metric) like context is less important for the enjoyment of music than it is with artwork, which I wonder if it may get confused with meaning. For example, I truly enjoyed learning about the context of the paintings, it made it more meaningful to me. But with music I’m not sure that understanding the context affects my enjoyment of music. This may be a bit too centric to my own experience, but I think it may be a valid point with respect to the arts. Does something become more meaningful if it becomes more enjoyable? What do we mean by ‘meaningful’ when we talk about the arts?

More things for me to think about.

Time

At this very moment, I’m on a quick trip with one of my closest friends. This point in time for me consists of navigating through odd and complicated life crossroads, but I’ve never been so sure of myself. I’ve never been this happy, content, and surrounded by support.

Additionally, these are the last few hours of being 28. Time is an odd beast, and the older I get the more I realize it.

In university, I developed an interest in the nature of time. From a philosophy of language standpoint, indexicals in particular grabbed my attention. I’m really fascinated by how-probably mostly metaphysically- ‘I am here now’ is meaningful.

My very specific interest in philosophy of language found it’s home in philosophy of time, when I had one lonely but incredible course on the philosophy of space and time. It challenged some deeply engrained assumptions I had about how I understand the world around me. Is time real? What would that mean for it to be real (or not)? In what way does it exist? If it doesn’t, how do we make sense of our experience?

I also acknowledge that though it’s fun to play around with ideas, I want to understand the implications of those philosophical conclusions in various real world contexts. It seems fine fun to challenge the reality of time when we think about comfortable scenarios. But what about the uncomfortable ones? Not that those situations should mould our understand of what is, try to force something. However, I tend to think when we only consider the mundane examples, it does just that. It let’s you play with fun abstract ideas, but doesn’t help you get to what the reality is (whatever that may mean).

Currently, I’m beginning to piece together what some physicists have to say about our understanding of time. In essence, they don’t. At least not very well.

Something so seemingly absolutely fundamental to our understanding of our place in the universe-our existence- is so unknown. A mundane thought takes time to experience.

It’s bewildering and exhilarating. To the adventurer in me, it’s a unknown frontier that I want to explore.

So the older I get, the less I understand but in a strange way it’s had the effect that I value my time-whatever that may mean-more than ever, and spending it with the people whom I care for and care for me.

So-here’s to a 29! May it be filled with hygge, exploration, and a lot of love (reciprocated with the people who earn it 😉 ).

I am here now.

Modern Day Heartbreak

One of the toughest heartbreaks is when someone you respect or love or are mentored by stops believing in you.

It’s a somber experience to lose a friend. It’s a devastation to lose a mentor.

When they stop believing in you; in your ability to do the thing you love, when they were so encouraging before, is a difficult failure to move beyond.

The Beginning of 2018

A while back, I got a paddle board and for my first trip with it I went out into the ocean. When I got out, it was beautiful. Calm serenity, looking out into the horizon and floating out, just touching the unknown. When I tried to get back to shore though, it was the first time in a very long time I felt fear. I should say, a specific type of fear; emotional fear I’ve felt. This fear was a twilight of primal/survival fear. I was out in the middle of an open ocean, not in prime physical shape, never had been out in the water with my board, trying to fight currents and waves to get back in. I was realizing I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was and for the first time in a very long time, I wasn’t sure if I was capable of saving myself. I was never in true danger as there were plenty of surfers around me. Pride wouldn’t let me ask for help though, so I pushed and paddled through as though no one was around. It took me a  long time to get back on shore and I was a bit away from where my friend was waiting for me. I was completely drained and the following day my entire back was in pain from pulling all of those muscles that I had never used before.

It was exhilarating.

I was afraid, but I was pushed (in a small way of course) out of my comfort zone. We get complacent sometimes, but I think in those places of the unknown when you get to test your own boundaries you learn so much. That’s what I want from life. I want to learn, grow, bring some joy to others, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to contribute in a positive way to the world.

It’s been an odd time in my life. I have been trying to get into graduate school for two years now. During that time I have had a job that-though not ideal (which job is?)-it provided some security for me during this interim. I’ve had amazing coworkers, it provided a supportive environment for the pursuit of personal goals, and for some time I even learned a bit about business and the people within it, so I waited for things to come together; I kept staying. But life doesn’t work in the way we plan, so even though I wasn’t being used to my full capacity it was easy for me to become complacent with where I was.

But I wasn’t happy. Perhaps it’s an irrational part of me, as how often do you really get a job that’s as relaxed as mine was and has coworkers who are as smart, funny, supportive, and talented as they are? But somewhere in me I want to feel that fear; I want to be pushed ahead of my limits. I want to use and extend my potential.

And so, perhaps against good judgement, I decided to leave my good job at the end of this month. Perhaps I’ll wind up in a worse situation, but hopefully that will propel me even further. I’m not truly sure what’s in store for me; I’ve nothing waiting for me. But I’m done waiting for nothing.

And so, here I go to make some more mistakes.

Hiking Los Angeles//January 7, 2018

 

Today I went on a hike on my own, which was freeing and relaxing. Though perhaps “on my own” is a generous phrase, as it was a bit busy in some parts of the hike. Thankfully, it’s a tough hike up so by the time I reached the summit of this particular area, it wasn’t so bad. Found my favorite area to be empty so I sat there for some time, recovering and took some photos. It was so serene and quiet, with the trees swaying gently with the wind, leaves rustling quietly, and birds chirping. Such a relief to be out there after a long unfortunate break. Let my mind work through some things and then thought about “silence” as a concept, as I periodically do.  (I’m fun.)

How would you characterize silence? Dictionary definition defines silence as the absence of sound. This seems true enough, though it does not capture the full complexity, meaningfulness, and implications of what silence can be.

When you think of communication, you think of language. We use patterned sounds to get your audience to react and act; those sounds are meaningful. They form languages. Those languages are intended to be used as a common ground standard to communicate thoughts and intentions. Can the absence of sound be meaningful?

First, I think we need to understand what we mean when we use silence? Consider these examples:

On my hike today there were a few moments of what I immediately thought of as blissful silence. But that’s not quite accurate. What I meant was there was an absence of the usual I have in my day-to-day. Can’t quite describe the blissful effect that sort of silence had in my mind.

Maybe you’ve been guilted into baby sitting a child who is prone to severe separation anxiety. When their parents leave, they wail for hours. Nothing you do will stop the child from crying. Finally the parent arrives and whisks their child away, leaving you in total silence. Bliss.

Someone or something (a dog for example) in your day-to-day life has passed away. Their presence and conversation were a source of comfort from the world, but now that they’re gone the silence of your home is cold and overwhelming.

Now contrast those examples of silence with the following:

Say you and your colleague are venting frustrations about your boss. Jarringly, you see your boss appear behind your coworker and you drop silent, signaling to your conversational partner that they ought to stop venting now; a warning.

You are on a date with someone. It’s going well but then your partner signals they want to have sex with you. You say “no”. They hear you, but either because they didn’t understand what you said or understood and didn’t take it seriously, they rape you.

All of these examples collectively begin-and only just- to show the complex nature of silence. The first set were indicating an internal state of mind as a reaction to the environment. The second set were examples of linguistic silence. Silence, perhaps counterintuitively, is both complex and meaningful. The meaningfulness to silence and our reactions to it vary depending on context. In this way, I think “silence” as a concept deserves more attention for study. It’s beautifully intuitive but simultaneously surprisingly layered So though I’m not answering my own question, I’m beginning the process of understanding.

 

Here’s to many more blissful moments of silence.

 

And so, I became free

Growing up, silence was a safety mechanism. As an adult, thanks to a couple of wonderful people, I’ve used that silence in more powerful ways while concurrently developing my voice in different ways. Last few months, I began to paint. Here are the last ones of the year.

I’ve been less afraid to be both vulnerable and assertive; to have my heart open and to be a badass (badassery in my mind, not quite there yet). I’m more trusting in myself to show my weaknesses so that I can grow. Pain will come, but so will love. I’d rather experience both than nothing at all.

2017 was challenging, but thanks to a lot of love I have grown so much. Here’s to 2018, filled with Hygge and imbibing and delicious foods.

Happy New Year!

Gratitude

I’ve heard a lot about “manifestation” in the last few years. The way it’s been explained to me  is that if you think of a goal or something you want and “put it out into the universe”, those wishes will manifest. Seems to be concretely tied with mysticism. Problem with this is there’s no true answer as to why you don’t receive what you wish for if that manifestation doesn’t work.

From experience, there’s a different explanation: Or perhaps better phrased, a more subtle explanation. Understanding what you have and having goals to work towards are key in achieving goals. What do I mean?

If you have a project you’re working on and you keep thinking of all the things you don’t have to achieve them, that’s time and effort you’re putting in to a negative abstraction you can’t change. Additionally, hoping for things to happen won’t always (probably rarely, at least from my experience) make things happen. This is more tied with luck.

Looking around, seeing the tools you have at your disposal, and figuring out ways to use those tools to achieve your goals is what will push you forward. Moreover, having a goal is important in keeping you focused. Those goals can change as you progress, but having a guide post that you reinforce in your mind will help you focus your tasks and tools to help you achieve those goals. This is where “putting it out there” may help you. Forming concrete ideas as to what or where you want to be will help you use what you have to achieve those things, much like a blueprint. It would be very difficult to build a tower without a blueprint.

What I lacked early on in my life, and what was especially hindering, was my lack of gratitude for the smaller things in my life. Having gratitude for what you have, no matter how little, will help you see the full potential in everything you have. Understanding potential will help you use the things at your disposal to their full capacity, even if it’s an unintended use (As a trite example, I use my pens all the time to secure my hair up).

Manifestation in-and-of-itself isn’t an effective tool. Just wanting things won’t (probably won’t, some of us are lucky) make it happen. Again this isn’t a criticism, rather an offering of an elaboration of an idea. For if your goal (whether it be a car, or career change, or whatever the case may be) isn’t happening, understanding why that isn’t happening will help you adjust. The idea that you just aren’t putting it out there with enough intention just isn’t a satisfactory answer.

Moreover I do not intend to criticize religion or mysticism. The world does function in mysterious ways that none of us can understand right now. However because of this, we should put ourselves in the best possible position to understand the world around us so that we can maneuver through. The way I look at it is I find it exceedingly helpful to “put it out there” so that my mind knows, but also everyone around me knows what I am working towards. You’ll find even the people around you like to help.

Additionally, I like to reflect on what is going right and what is going wrong in my life; I like to take lessons from everything that I can. For example, I am not religious in any way or exceptionally anti-religion. However one of the most useful meditations I have is from Christianity, known widely as the serenity prayer. I altered it to my world-view. It goes like this:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can’t

And the wisdom to know the difference.

In saying “grant me…”, I’m not asking someone to give this to me. Rather, I see it as a useful reflective meditation. I am using the phrase to ask myself to remember to have serenity, courage, and wisdom. In doing this, I’ve used my frustrations, insecurities, and fears less in reacting to situations and using my strengths to react to difficult situations. The difference is astonishing to reflect on.

How do I go about this? When I first started out with this meditation, I thought of all the challenging things that have happened in my life. What were the things I couldn’t change about my past? What were the things I could have changed? What lessons could I have learned from those mistakes I made? This helped me accept my past for what it was, forgive the people who had harmed me, let go of toxicity that was harming both myself and the people I cared for, and begin to trust myself more. Not just with making good decisions but also trusting that I’ll recover and learn from my mistakes.

As I’ve progressed, I’ve been able to move from the grander things that have weighed on me from my past and move into my daily routine. What about my day should I have serenity about, what should I have had more courage for, what are the lessons I can learn from the day?

Finally, I don’t want to make this seem as though this is my no-fail solution to success. The reality is, life is hard. No matter hard you work, how intelligently you put everything together, or even how lucky you are-you can fail. But that’s ok. What I am trying to do for myself is to put myself in the best possible situation to succeed with my ambitions. It may not work, but I’ll always know I tried my damn best every day. I’ll have some bad days naturally, but I hope these good ones will put me to where I want to be. In doing that, I wanted to share my experience and reflection with others. In hopes that perhaps my experiences will help someone else.