Courier-Leader & Flashes

Life as Performance Art

Longtime friends shared with Pat and me in a Christ-mas letter they had returned to Orchestra Hall for the first performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchetra in nearly two years.
At the end CSO director Ri-cardo Muti spoke briefly with the audience about how the word “culture” is often misused today.
I believe he was right. If I walked through town, stopped random people and asked them what comes to mind when I say “culture” many would answer “wars,” as in culture wars. The word “war” leads to images of one side defeating and triumph-ing over the other.
We have seen that happen many times in the past. Some 65 years ago the era of the Big Bands was coming to an end. Glenn Miller had died in 1944, other bands were still in existence, but playing in smaller venues and eventually some of them folded.
In its place came the new popular rock and roll music and styles of dancing. There was a clash, sometimes based on pure bigotry, when people objected to what they called “race” music.
A few years later, when our family watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, my father was not impressed. The next afternoon he marched me over to Slim’s barbershop and told Slim I needed a haircut: “A short haircut. No son of mine is going to look like one of those long-haired hippie freaks.”
We have these skirmishes over literature, art and more recently over what history should be taught in schools and what excluded. We have had battles over books in public schools and libraries.
A few years ago Harry Pot-ter author J.K. Rowling was attacked by those opposed to positive mention of witch-es and magic. Now she is under siege because some people think she is does not sufficiently support transgender rights and uses the wrong words and phrases when she speaks.
Culture wars is a misnomer. It isn’t a war; it’s a differ-ence of opinions.
If you enjoy Western Swing or heavy metal, that’s your business. Go for it. Fill your boots. And I trust you will be happy I am enjoying Paul Whiteman, and let’s both agree we’re not going to sit on my Jimmy Shand al-bums.
If you like abstract modern art or desconstructionist works by Miro, you might have to explain it to me, and I’ll return the favor telling you about the Canadian Impressionists known as the Group of Seven.
Culture, Maestro Muti ex-plained — especially the performing and visual arts — is meant to bring us together. He concluded by explaining, “When we gather to cele-brate the most beautiful of what humans are capable of, we ignite joy and steel our need to stay strong, to honor achievement, to ‘come back’ to all we know we can be …”
We need each other. Early in his career the painter Pi-casso met almost every day with Apollinaire the poet. They sat at a small table near the door of the Deux Magot in Paris to talk, de-bate, discuss and sometimes argue. They understood painters needed poets to give voice to the canvas, and poets needed painters to translate their ideas into paintings.
In our own ways we are all artists. Our life is the blank sheet of paper on which we write our stories; the blank canvas on which we interpret our lives in color, shape and space. In the end, Gertrude Stein was right when she said it is the author’s duty to leave the reader with a sense of hope.
The heading for this col-umn has always been “Life as Performance Art.” My wife, Pat, came up with it and I borrowed it.
She is right: all of what we think, say and do is perfor-mance art. That art comes from all within our minds, bodies, souls and spirits.
Instead of seeking new bat-tles in these ceaseless culture wars, let’s do what Maestro Muti urged the audience that night, to “celebrate the most beautiful of what humans are capable of.”
As another performer, writ-er, radio host and musician Garrison Keillor signs off his letters, “Be well, do good work and stay in touch.”
Different genres, different styles, different performanc-es but a common theme.

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