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When Cultures Kaleid

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Dear Internet, it has been a while.

Nevertheless, this night is apparently The Night; the one that gives me pause as to why I have not returned to this embarrassingly simple process of type, edit, post. The Night of: no reallyget on up and do it. Writing, like musicmaking, like artmaking, like theatermaking, like any action requiring risk (i.e. anything worth doing) does not wait for the ideal circumstance. It does not wait for the money to come in, it does not wait for the perfect space to be available, it does not wait for the free time you always say you will have next weekend. It waits for you to do it. So I will do it.

Briefly, the Passover question. Why this night? Tonight, I had a much-needed night of spending time with a good friend, and we journeyed to a gallery’s “Two Dollar Tuesday”, in which each artist has small, sometimes tiny pieces of art available for $2 (Affordable art? Amazing!).

Kaleid Gallery is the first and thus far only gallery I have visited in San Jose in particular, and probably the main site of  my gallery-going experience in general. I am ashamed to say this, because of the position I hope to hold one day, because of the way in which I perceive myself (i.e. as very serious), and because of the many things I enjoy which are “high brow”/highfalutin/sillily pretentious, but: I have never learned to look at art. Friends and colleagues well-versed in visual art (bless them) will say, “‘Learn’? What is there to ‘learn’? You like it, or you don’t. Easy!” But somehow for me it is not that simple. I did not grow up going to art museums, or taking drawing classes, or even thinking about visual things much. I avowed early on that I “did not care about my appearance” in the conventional sense (which, of course, only meant I cared about it in a less conventional one), and so I disavowed, I think, looking at things entirely. Can you imagine that for a moment? I thought I could literally block out my visual sense of the world; that I could figuratively blind myself–while still, crucially, maintaining the ability to read. For this was my caveat: with reading, I didn’t need to see. The words on the page described it for me. You should be able to guess by now that I loved, love, and probably will forever love reading. It was my first love, and perhaps it will be my last. But the problem with this, is that I began to think that there was nothing unreadable; that is to say, nothing existed that was unwritable. No part of human experience was beyond language. And, in a way, this is true: without the form of human language, our thoughts are undifferentiated and therefore meaningless (according to my friend/connoissuer of all things linguistical  Ferdinand De Saussure). But this is not to say, then, that one can supplant experience with writing about experience and have the same, well, experience. And the more I came to realize that things like theater are much more than the scripts of plays, and that a study of performance could never be fully couched in the documentations of past events alone, the more I realized that my way of not seeing was, in short, a problem.

But to that I will return in a moment. I had been to Kaleid only once before (pronounced like “collide”, as in “kaleidoscope”) for a live music performance by the band Dream House, also the band of the aforementioned dear friend. And similar to the last time I visited, I was so struck by the diversity and beauty of art I saw, by the sometime real-live artist of the works standing right in front of me, some of which drawing or painting in that moment. And I find this phenomenon so magical, because the processes of drawing and painting is so impenetrable to me. The juxtaposition of the artist’s physical presence with the obfuscated trajectory of Idea in her brain to Painting on the canvas (or what-have-you) is simply awe-inspiring to me. This is similar to how I feel seeing Dream House perform: though I do know a bit more about music than painting, I still cannot fathom that this familiar person, this friend that I know and have a familiarity with, makes something so complex and beautiful–I almost cannot believe it. My friend and I discussed the term “spirituality” during the evening, and I think this feeling is one of the closest approximations to feeling “spiritual” that I have.

And as my friend and I strolled through the gallery and geeked out over what we liked, pausing to either lean in for a closer look or rear back and squeal in delighted shock, I thought about visual art compared to the theater. And not in the sense of the false dichotomy placed between them (though that is another issue), but in the sense of how each of them are taught. Both this friend and I studied theater in college, and we reflected how no matter how “progressive” or “liberal artsy” our schools were (or weren’t), “theater classes” still mostly meant “acting”, and “acting” still mostly meant “Americanized Stanislavsky”. Only in graduate school, or at institutions with developed graduate programs, does one see (it seems to me) undergraduates asked to think about theater outside the Western canon, outside the straightforward adaptation of script to stage, outside a narrow and individualized paradigm of “objective, obstacle, tactic”. And while I witness myself exaggerate this point for the sake of emphasis, I know also there is a systematic difference between the way painting students are asked to consider their “art”, and the way theater students are asked to consider their “craft”. Are the latter asked to consider themselves as artists? Are they asked to think of projects to “create” instead of plays to “do”? I am not suggesting the answer to these questions are resounding “No!”s, but I am pointing to something that concerns me. The broader fields of theater and performance studies have certainly moved beyond such questions of “Is teaching ‘Method’ acting the ‘right’ way to go?” and “Should we do Our Town or Streetcar next fall?” But it seems to me many exclusively undergrad theater departments have not, necessarily. Is this a reflection of what those students want? Should efforts be made to take another tack? I think so, but I am just one opinion, and I am not sure.

Perhaps this relates: as our evening together came to a close, I was reminded how suggestible I am–how much my (dare I say “one’s”?) environment determines my behavior. During the week these days, I spend time with my cohort of graduate students, and all I want is to understand Lacan as well as Jessi, Schechner as well as Vivek, postcolonial theory as well as Gigi, Foucault as well as… okay, to just understand Foucault at all. Tonight, I am around my friend Molly, and I exclusively desire to play music, record songs, learn more chords so I can improve at putting them to words and with a melody (she is in the midst of making a lot of solo music right now, in addition to projects with her band). And indeed, I thank Athena and the Muses I had that one quirky grad student do a devised, non-psychological-realism, movement-oriented piece at my college, otherwise I might still be auditioning for roles I don’t quite fit, rehearsing monologues that never seem to do anything but stay within the imposed time limit, and wondering if my headshot is really “me, on a good day”, or if I should spend another $500 on some new ones. Not to say that there is anything wrong with wanting a career in straightforward acting, but it has become so clear that that life is not for me.

I think tonight was a very positive collision of the visual art culture in San Jose–with which I would like to gain further acquaintance–and my own feelings of “lacking culture” when it comes to things like going to galleries, viewing visual art, and in general feeling more comfortable with my own, familiar interests. And the more I behold objects of beauty (as the etymology of “kaleidoscope” points to), the easier it becomes to distinguish what I like, and what I don’t.

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