The Art of Losing

For Christmas 2012, I received this wonderful book:

From the silly to the philosophical, it provides a plethora of writing prompts for days when you’re just staring in front of a blank page, fighting writer’s block. Fight no more, and write about the fighting instead:

IMG_4424 IMG_4433 IMG_4428 IMG_4432I find the shortest prompts the most thought-provoking.

How can I write about this when someone else wrote about it so well already?

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

“She Left” by Leonid Afremov

Read Part 2 over here.

Beautiful things we hide

How do I love thee? Let me lock you up.

Sounds a bit harsh, but isn’t that what we do with beautiful things?

Guggenheim Museum, New York City. I actually really like this circular space, but the walls are still white and you’re still looking at works of art in a museum.

We stick masterpieces in sterile environments like museums and art galleries. On one hand, this preserves the art. On the other, it sucks the life right out of them.

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. The building’s exterior may be unique, but the galleries inside look much like any other museum.

If art is meant to imitate life, where does life happen? In schools, streets, libraries, places of worship, pubs, cafés, offices, homes, malls, parks, public spaces—the list goes on. Instead of having beautiful things all grouped together in one place, wouldn’t art integrated with life enrich our day-to-day experiences?

How much more significant would it be to encounter Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère that I wrote about here when you’re ordering your drink at a bar? You would literally become that invisible yet reflected customer in the mirror who’s supposed to feel a bit uncomfortable.

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. 1881-82. By Edouard Manet

Or how about seeing Degas’ Portraits in an Office or Edmond Duranty in your own office or workplace? The stack of papers and expression that says, “where do I begin?” looks pretty familiar.

Portraits in an Office, New Orleans. 1873. By Edgar Degas.

Edmond Duranty, 1879. By Edgar Degas.

There’s something about seeing art in the context it references that adds to the viewer’s experience. You don’t get the same effect when viewing art in a neutral space like a museum where every other painting shares the same backdrop. Let’s spread out the beauty. Many cities do have public art installations. How about indoors? Most restaurants and cafés hang art on their walls – I actually talked about this in my last post. Maybe even your workplace does. Can we extend this to other spheres we live life in too?

For example, I’m not a huge shopper and I have a strong dislike for malls, but even I would find a sterile suburban mall slightly more bearable if decorated with artwork such as these by modern Impressionist painter Leonid Afremov:

Day of Shopping. By Leonid Afremov

I’d be doing the same activity as these shoppers on canvas — there’s an affinity there between painted and real subjects. I am in their scene and they are in mine. In this way, seeing art in the context it references helps remove some of the distance between art and viewer that tends to get put up when visiting art in a museum. Even the term “visiting” has an alienating quality to it, like we are entering a world separated from ours when the two are, in fact, inseparable – nor should they be. I’m not saying every painting has to be put in the context it depicts (sometimes a piece speaks to us more if it seems out of place)  but I do think we should consider and play with the powerful space where art and life intersect.

Shopping District. By Leonid Afremov

What spaces in your life would you like to see come alive with art?

I’ll leave you with the song that inspired these thoughts.