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.


Judy Williams said...

This may be your best commentary EVER. As I listen to Nat King Cole sing "The Very Thought of You" on Pandora, your perspective couldn't be more clear or right on.

When you look at things on a basic level, then all of the bullshit and rhetoric goes away and we are left with those things that are the building blocks. Can we breathe? Can we walk? Can we smell an early spring bloom and hear a bumble bee's wings' feathery sound? Can we hold a smooth pebble in our hand and feel it's round curves? Step back and realize that like you said, things are quite lovely if we just can cut through everything we are being told and SEE with not only our eyes but our heart.

WOW - thanks for opening my eyes today. Life IS Beautiful. :~)

Yakpate said...

A beautiful post... written by a woman who has never, in her entire, colorful life, let others tell her what to think!

Am I right, Dixie Jane?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

"We can't see the big green block of forest for all those pesky trees". Hmm, I made a recent comment to that effect and it put me in the dog house.

My first thought wasn't line color or form but butterscotch. Lovely post. Now I'm going to go back and look at that Ellsworth Kelly.

dbdubya said...

And my first thought, PA, was an ice cream cone. A huge scoop of butterscotch ice cream melting in the sun atop a pyramidal shaped sugar cone.

Beautiful comments, Laurie - a nice boost for the start of the day. We need to remind ourselves, and the people around us, that we have far more control over our own morale and attitude perspective, than we often realize. It is our choice to see a rainy day as depressing and gloomy, or as replenishing the the water table, washing the streets, and clearing the air. The end of a relationship - a failure, or a new beginning. Or a strange fountain - What were they thinking?, or an opportunity use your imagination to visualize what the artist what thinking. You're right, Laurie, it's all about perspective.

Margaret said...

It's always so easy to lose perspective, thanks for bringing it back into focus.

altadenahiker said...

Maybe that's what I've been trying to say. thank you.

Mister Earl said...

Great commentary, Laurie. In part I think what you're getting at is that we need to be grateful for our lives and what we do have. No matter how bad off we may think we are, we are very fortunate here in the USA, California, South Pasadena, playing on computers. I often think about how lucky I am to live where I am, and the comforts we have here, and the technology that could not even be imagined when I was in high school.

Yet, in spite of all this, we are so stressed out about what we think we have to do. People drive fast and are rude because they think they need to get somewhere. But where are they really going? I often wonder where all the stress is coming from. Have we confused the trivial details of our lives with the big picture? Do we confuse getting a good parking spot with life and death? I often wonder about these things.

Stress, worry, anger, feeling deprived or stomped on, at least here in American suburbia, are for the most part states of mind, not realities.

As DB says, we have a choice, but not many of us know how to exercise it. I'm still learning every day how to keep things in perspective and what's really important.

Mister Earl said...

Yak - Your comment about Laurie not letting people tell her what to think reminds me of a quote that creativity is the unwillingness to follow other peoples' rules.

San Diego Farmgirl said...

Mister Earl - cool creativity quote! Love it!

We went out to eat Saturday night and had to go to three restaurants before we found one with a short enough line. Recession, what?

Yakpate said...

Mister Earl... love the quote. I think creativity is innate, like being tall or good at math. It helps to have the strength to ignore the rules... as Katherine Hepburn notably said, "If you obey all the rules you'll miss all the fun."

Shanna said...

Laurie, that was so beautifully conceived, pictured, and written.

Yesterday, a man held the door open in an elevator for me. I thanked him and he said "No charge." I replied in flippy Los Angeles jargon, "Good Karma." Not that I really do or don't believe what I said. He replied with a big smile, "Cancer survivor. I'm glad to be here. I'm glad for this day and for every day." I paused and said, "Polio survivor. age six." He said "Things are what we make of them." We both nodded as we walked out of the elevator and out into a stunningly beautiful day.

Mister Earl said...

Shanna: Wow!

SD Farmgirl: McDonalds can be like that! ;-)

Laurie said...

Hi everyone,

Thanks for letting me ramble on a bit today.

Judy, I love what you added.

Yak, would you be the pot or the kettle? :-)

Pasadena Adjacent, I must have missed your dog house comment -- you're welcome in my doghouse! (Actually, my next post is a dog house of sorts...)

Dbdubya, I remember reading a passage in college from a book about the various philosophical meanings of the Viking runes. It said something to the effect of "the events around you may be out of your control but how you respond is completely up to you." That has always stuck with me.

Margaret, thank you. Your writing often brings me back into focus, so it's lovely to finally return the favor.

Altadenahiker, your recent posts gave me a lot to think about. So thank YOU!

Mister E, it's weird how we all get caught up in minutia to the point of forgetting how amazing things actually are. I found myself getting really uptight about someone honking at me today. It just doesn't happen in the San Gabriel Valley with the same frequency as the West Side, so I was particularly taken aback. I started to get all insulted and angry and then I realized that I was mad because someone made a NOISE at me and I was going to let it ruin my nice day. It struck me as absurd and funny, especially when you think about the places in the world where people are fighting or dying of cholera.

By the way, Mister E, I like that creativity quote, too.

Farmgirl, interesting observation!

Yak, Kate's quote reminds me of Ruth Gordon's great line in Harold and Maude, "Give me an L, give me an I, give me a V, give me an E, L I V E live! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room..."

Shanna, you made me tear up. What a lovely story.

And thank you to all of you lovely people for all of your stories. You brighten every day. Until tomorrow...

Laurie said...

Just read this posted by GOSP reader Oleg over at his blog. Check it out -- and follow the links. This is the kind of real world refuse-to-be-brainwashed-by-doom-and-gloom story I love.

Shanna said...

Laurie, your post made ME tear up.

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Anonymous said...

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