Thursday, March 12, 2009
The Gist of Things
Perspective is everything ... both in art, and in life. I was thinking a lot about perspective when I took this photo. My subject? A contemporary fountain in a neatly trimmed yard in the Monterey Hills section of South Pasadena ... the kind of fountain interior designers always install during hip shows on Home and Garden Television. It's a nice fountain. But up close, the fountain becomes something else. It's not even a fountain anymore. It's a circle on top of an inverted triangle. The water makes it look like wet plaster or unbaked clay. Without an explanation, we might not even know exactly what it is, but we'd be able to make out those shapes. And those shapes are pretty. And familiar. And comforting.
When minimalist artist Ellsworth Kelly presents a subject, he deconstructs it down to its most basic geometric shapes. His vibrant segments of color represent the structure of something. The gist. I think we could all take a lesson from Kelly and his abstract contemporaries. We've grown so used to viewing the high definition picture of the world we forget about the simple foundation. We can't see the big green block of forest for all those pesky trees.
Think about it: in our lives today, we're inundated with depressing details. We're told that we must judge our happiness by the numbers in our 401K or the equity (or lack of it) in our homes or the relative security of our jobs. We're told that even if we feel good, or happy, our blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride, homocysteine and bathroom scale numbers insist otherwise. We're told that things have never been more dire, even though we live in a time where we can fly from Los Angeles to New York in about 6 hours; when infections that not so distantly decimated entire populations can now be wiped out with a little Cipro; when the great libraries and museums of the world are as close as Google and the Eiffel Tower has a webcam; when we can buy a tasty bottle of wine for under $10 and put what we don't drink in a refrigerator where it will keep until we feel like drinking the rest of it.
Without being told how bad things are, we might just think things were pretty good. That's not to say we should ignore warnings or turn a blind eye to danger. But I do think we'd do well to get right down to the gist of things more often. Take a look at the foundation -- the pretty shapes and textures, the reality beneath the scary veil and spin -- and we might realize the bigger picture, the basic truth, is not so bad. Actually, it's quite beautiful.