State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Full moons and winter nights

The full moon over the holidays in my part of the world was remarkable. Several nights in a row we were treated to the entire night being lit up with an astonishing blue light maximized by the snow we finally received just before Christmas. Night and day blended into each other with vivid prisms of colour, moving from orange globe in a blue sky to white globe in an indigo sky. It was by far one of the more beautiful Christmases we’ve had here in the woods in recent memory.

Like the sunset over the Ganges, or the mist that hangs around Machu Picchu, a rural Ontario full moon with snow is a wonder. Other places with the same climate, those along the same latitude for instance probably have similar lunar phenomena like Germany or Scandinavia. This might be why I am drawn to those country’s histories and mythologies. I often believe myself to be in a Grimm fairy tale on those nights; in the good bits not the outrageous violent parts. My home suddenly seems like a place where magic happens. In fact, having sat through a Harry Potter sequel over the holidays (not sure which, they all seem to have the same overly complicated plot involving glum teenagers sitting around a damp tent), I was struck how the art direction mirrored the world outside my window.

Ukranian Pioneer No. 1 by William Kurelek. One of the few fantastic depictions of a full moon in the winter.
Ukranian Pioneer No. 1 by William Kurelek. One of the few fantastic depictions of a full moon in the winter.

What I realized after a much needed stay-cation was that I have not only designed my life around being a professional artist but stage designed it too. Once examined, my work, my house, my environment and lifestyle are a continuum with very little dissonance. It isn’t that I hadn’t noticed this before or that it was an accident but that being able to spend some real contemplative time allowed for a deepening of this idea.

When I look about however I see that what I am doing is completely out of pace with much of the world. I think you are supposed to live in a kind of suspended chaos today without any dimension of the spirit, and you are supposed to flit about from place to place with only a cursory understanding of where you’ve been. There is no reason or validation anymore to dig into a corner of world and proclaim it your own.

Perhaps it is because so many people live in diasporas and feel that they are people scattered around the globe because of political, financial and now environmental reasons. Perhaps it is the continual transformation that happens in urban areas. Having been an urban creature who rode a wave of parties, work, openings, closings, shops, cafes, restaurants, busy parks, traffic, meeting and losing people all the time, I fully understand the consuming aspects of city life.

An article in the Toronto Star published over the holidays reminded people of the international Group of Seven exhibition at the McMichael, which closed on Sunday. In it the writer begrudgingly laments our lack of interest in the natural world, having all become super urbanized. It may be, he suggested our urban malaise that keeps us from appreciating art work which depicts the natural, rugged and wild world the Group painted.

I have suggested here many times that in fact our loss of interest in landscape based art work is in direct relation to our government’s determination to degrade all that is wild and untouched in this country. I have also spoken at length about the idea that in fact there is no separation from human development and the Earth’s development. We are as much a product of its twists and turns as we are its dominating species that chokes its air, pollutes its water and helps warm its climate. Believing this dualism, we are this and nature is that, is dangerous.

I posted the Toronto Star article on various social media sites with a caveat that I agreed with the writer but felt he hadn’t gone far enough in his assessment of why the art world ignores nature. I was challenged by a few artists and patted on the back by others but for the most part the writer is partially right, we have become a distracted species but I would also add at our peril. Without a passionate relationship with the landscape we lose its significance in our life and art is the only short cut to this passion.

The scene outside my kitchen window.
The scene outside my kitchen window.

But I am encouraged. The Idle No More movement is shedding light on the environment along with aboriginal rights. A recent blog by international art blogger Jonathan Jones reflecting on his father’s death and his love of the caves near their family’s home makes me think that perhaps there is an new awakening to the Earth’s wonders and mysteries.

Mostly I feel sad for people who can’t see the sublime beauty of a full moon on the snow turning what feels like the whole world into diamonds. I mourn for those who can’t listen to a tree on a frigid night make sounds like a an ancient gong as it cracks from the cold. Atavistic and sacred, these are the things that make me feel part of something far greater than just the sum of my own life; in turn it makes me hopeful, positive and fills me with joy.

Photo of Kurelek from the National Gallery of Canada website

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