Whether you’re new to this blog or a loyal follower from the 1bed1bath6bikes days (a true endurance reader!), you’ve probably concluded a few things about me: I like to swim/bike/run, travel, eat, and make things (including faces for the camera). I do not like to stay up late or go to loud places. Basically, I have been a senior citizen since before I was a senior in high school.
But sometimes, we all need to mix things up a bit. So last Saturday night, Elliott and I snuck into a sold-out concert. Ok, fine. It was a classical music concert by the National Symphony Orchestra. And it was over by 9:30 (still, past bedtime!). And it was “sold-out” because it was free and all the hipsters were becoming a fire hazard. And by “snuck in” I mean that a LUNA Chix teammate who works for NSO was able to escort us past the
bouncers fire marshals. But still. Very wild.
And this was not your typical classical music concert. As part of its annual “NSO in Your Neighborhood” showcase, the orchestra was playing in the atrium of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Not only was the space beautiful, each song was paired with some art from the museum. Clever, right?
Quoting performance artist Laurie Anderson (and a paper I wrote for music class in college, such a rebel) “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” So I won’t say much more about the music, other than it was great. I also reveled in the opportunity to sit close to the orchestra and watch the conductor’s face, which was just as expressive as his baton.
However, let’s talk about the art! I have a special affinity for this museum because I used to live a few blocks away and frequently cut through its hallways to appreciate its
heater air-conditioner sophisticated cultural offerings. Last year, I also took a fantastic class that used the museum for several exercises. The purpose of the class was to use art to hone our observation and creativity skills.
Let’s start with observation. What do you see here? Spend at least two minutes describing what you see, and only what you see. Do not make assumptions. Do not draw conclusions.
If you said, “she’s looking anxiously out the window” or “she’s wondering where her husband is,” you lose. Remember, no conclusions. Just observations. A white woman, approximately in her 40s, is looking out the window toward the sun. She is gripping a table tightly, since the muscles in her arms are visible. If something doesn’t make sense, say so. The grass outside is brown but the trees are still green–even the trunks. Why practice this skill? Noticing details, explaining how you process information, and articulating things that are puzzling are all invaluable skills if your job involves drawing conclusions and communicating with others. Think about it–do you want your doctor to glance at you and offer a diagnosis, or first observe and explain what data she is using–thus giving you the opportunity to fill in details, or clarify anything that doesn’t make sense?
Museum exercise #2 involves applying your new observation skills to creative problem solving. First, think of a difficult problem you’re trying to solve. Not “what color socks should I buy?” (though I feel your pain), but rather something more open-ended. “Should I quit my job and join the circus?” for example. Then find a piece of art that appeals to you. Don’t think too much about your choice. Just walk around the museum and you’ll know when to stop. Then start talking. It will feel like total BS at first. But after a few minutes, you’ll come up with some great insights. Let’s try. First, think of a question. And…go!
What do you see? Looking back at my gypsy question, I’d say that while this painting is obviously of high-rise buildings (it’s also called Manhattan–spoiler!), it’s a mixture of static looking buildings in the background and more jagged and abstract objects in the foreground. There are also three flowers of various sizes and colors (red, pink, and blue) scattered across the canvas. What does this tell me about joining a gypsy circus? Well, that even though a scene might look solid from far away, it’s actually kind of a mess up close. The wide variety of bold colors–reminiscent of a gypsy caravan, perhaps?–makes me feel ill at ease. In fact, the only anchors of stability on the canvas are the flowers–which need time and deep roots to bloom. In other words, as alluring as the nomadic life may look from afar, it’s probably not the right decision for me.
What do you think? Have you tried these techniques before? Any grand insights?