Saturday, May 28, 2011

Feeding the soul

I, Ceredwyn, have spent a considerable amount of time and money this spring working on our flower garden.  I have doubled the size of our rock garden, planted a bunch of flowering plants and herbs.

I haven't done flower gardening in a major way before.  It's always seemed impractical and I am nothing if not practical.

One big practical reason for cultivating flowers is to give our friends the bees a hand and to attract other pollinators (I've seen a few hummingbirds).  Bees are dying and no one is entirely sure why, so they need all the help they can get.

More than that though, I am coming around to the notion that art, be it stories, drawings, music or flower gardens, becomes more important in austere times rather than less.

I had the opportunity, a few weeks ago, to go to a show where two gentlemen were doing an act straight out of the 1900's.  Their instruments were banjo, harmonica, jaw harp and their own hands and feet.  As well as being fine musicians they were historians and reenactors, giving us a wonderful lesson in musical history.  I learned how the banjo originated in West Africa and it was once made of cat gut and gourd.  They showed us a musical form they called "hambone" that uses nothing but the rhythms one can produce with slapping hands and stamping feet to accompany the sound of singing voices.

The songs they sang were traditional and their act vaudvillian, but you could see that they were performing the direct artistic ancestor of punk, rap, and hip hop.  Not the polished stuff the corporations keep trying to sell us, but the stuff that catches on in spite of the bosses and the banksters, the robber barons and the overseers.  The "What the hell is that noise?" songs that get the church lady's knickers in a twist.  The songs that slaves sang to remind themselves they were still human.  The songs that the strikers sang on the picket line, 'cause it was cold as hell and singing might possibly keep you warm.  The songs protesters sing because it gives them the courage to march into lines of riot police.

Song and dance require no equipment.  Instruments are nice, but can be improvised.  The visual arts are a bit more difficult, but people manage.  In any urban landscape, one can find graffiti artists.  Their chosen medium walls and cheap paints or inks.  Even a bit of charcoal on a concrete floor is can be lovely.

In some of the most distressed parts of the world, women still adorn themselves in fashionable clothes, even if it's under a chador or niqab.  Astonishingly, in Haiti, one category of business that still thrives is the hair stylist.  The people are very meticulous about their clothing and presentation.  A trip to the clinic requires that one be dressed as well as one can afford.  It is a mark of respect, both to the doctor, but also to oneself, using the art of fashion to raise oneself up.

As a teenager in the eighties, I was part of punk culture.  We shopped at Value Village cause we were broke and our ripped jeans were mostly natural.  I was never extreme, but I knew people that were.  The kids who wrote for six hours a day and published little 'zines, or painted, or played some instrument instead of doing something "constructive".  We never went out to events that cost money, because we never had it, so sometimes we went to listen to unknown bands play.  Some were good, some weren't.

I have noticed for a long time, that the more one spends, the less one creates.  When you can buy cool and pretty art that's a million times better than what you can produce yourself, why bother?  Art becomes a thing "talented" people produce.  It becomes something that only an "artist" can create

But always when the money's tight and people are living on the edges, art appears.  Angry art, desperate art, sad art, peaceful art, even joyful art; anything but polished "high" art.

So maybe I'm flower gardening for the Revolution or against the Man.  Anyway, it's nice to look out of my window and see the flowers bloom.

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