Existential Anxiety, Marcel Marceau, Anne Frank by Diana Rivera

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.” – Anne Frank

“In silence and movement you can show the reflection of people.” – Marcel Marceau

In what ways does art provide meaning to existence? How does it enhance the meaningless with which we grapple? I have been immersed in the work of existentialist thought (Yalom and May, to name a few) and have become intimate with the question: What does it mean to be human when living at the edge of existence? I dare say all of us are at the edge of that existence at any given moment even when the conditions may appear disguised by success, comforts, vanity, and exhausted by anxiety.

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Artists are at the edge of existence and constantly grapple with the fine line between meaning and meaningless, having and releasing, letting go and letting be. Artists experience rates of anxiety that appear higher than others because they explore such emotions in their work. Artists may face the depths of the unknown in ways that are acceptable because only in art making can such experiences find voice, and express harmony or dissonance.

One antidote for anxiety could be curiosity in the face of conflict and the unknown. Recently, I have been developing some new curriculum regarding personal transformation during WW II  through the arts and it focuses on the work of mime-artist, Marcel Marceau and Anne Frank. I have been struck by both their stories. 

Marcel Marceau, formerly known as Marcel Mangel, created fake identity cards in order to avoid the German enforced labor draft. He ended up joining a ring for smuggling Jewish children out of France and into Switzerland. “I went disguised as a Boy Scout leader and took 24 Jewish kids, also in scout uniforms, through the forests to the border, where someone else would take them into Switzerland.” He did this journey three times and saved more than 70 children. His work in mime was an exploration of identity loss, the unacknowledged voice, the drama of silence, and the ways the physical form can create stories that touch the heart and incite the mind.

Anne Frank…What can I share of this young woman’s life that you may not already know?  Would her full biography convince you of her talent? Anne Frank’s life serves as a symbol of bravery, writing in close quarters with her family who lived underground in Amsterdam during WWII. Without interaction from the outside world for two years, she went deep inside herself to find worlds of thoughts and emotions and she journaled about them. She left her and her future audience to question how we can live more deeply by being grateful and in touch with the beauty every moment could offer.

At the edge of existence, wherein the unknown is localized, there is great potential for risk and transformation. Like Marceau and Frank, once the individual accepts certain realities of existence (loneliness, misery, death) and decides to fall into the challenges of existence, then something else takes over. The intensity of potential, inner wisdom and the unknown, mixed with the spirit of the here-and-now, could be the alchemy which makes life worthy of living, even if that moment is fleeting. 

I say this with compassion as many are held back from involving oneself in the challenges of life with a sense of curiosity, desire for risk, and openness for transformation. And, why? How come so many talented artists, for example, can’t write themselves into the narrative of their life?Although not an answer to the entirety of the topic, but a response to the question at best, is that anxiety is a restricted hand that grips into the central nervous system of pain. It tightens its hold, whispering requests of refrain, fear, and other worries that demoralize the human spirit. It can shed one of any hope or desire to soar well-beyond human belief. 

Marceau and Frank are reminders of what it means to be human beyond imagination and should counter the ways anxiety constrict the soul.  If not them, then who? Who in your life – artist or not – replaces the nagging finger tips, the sweaty palm, the passive fist?

Published in: on October 13, 2014 at 8:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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Aesthete-Spy and Diana Vreeland by Diana Rivera

As an ongoing practice in creativity, I investigate the world with magnified eyes. I have been using my iPhone as a lens to capture the rare moments where something strikes me as evidence of creativity, that is, symbols of the imagination unfettered by logic, stamped in the visual landscape. I click on that moment as I attempt to seize that picture. I then allow these photos to guide me to the heart of the matter, linking me to the multi-sensory world around us. In the end, it’s about linking me to you and us to us–all beings and senses combined–and its especially the case when I transform into an aesthete-spy. An aesthete-spy observes you. We connect without you knowing. Or, do you?

aes·thete or es·thete (n):

1. One who cultivates an unusually high sensitivity to beauty, as in art or nature.

2. One whose pursuit and admiration of beauty is regarded as excessive or affected.

The heart of the matter is what we hunt for, long for, allure to. Often times it is without logical reason. The matter may be the frame of the portrait, the color schema, the patterns, angles and/or textures of what you see, hear, smell or feel. It’s what may be missing, yet to be unfolded or has always been right in front of you. This is why we rely on artists and aesthete-spies to magnify, follow and document the trends sunk deep into the matter. In a way, we are like Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt. Clues are our prey.

I recently saw the documentary on another aesthetic huntress, Diana Vreeland. The film is called “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” and it is worth a watch. She was a noted columnist and editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue magazine. The film presents an important depiction of this iconic woman. She was a wife, a mother, a socialite, a creative professional and an aesthete-spy. She was attuned to the physique and mystique congruent with being a femme of her epoch. It seems that the basis of her success was providing a visual landscape that transcended the matter of magazine and transported women to faraway lands. Check out her editorial here.

Diana Vreeland explained, “I think part of my success as an editor came from never worrying about a fact, a cause, an atmosphere. It was me—projecting to the public. That was my job. I think I always had a perfectly clear view of what was possible for the public. Give ‘em what they never knew they wanted.”

For the professional aesthete-spy (and those in the making), Vreeland provides us a critical clue: How do we attune to the world around us in order to find those clues? How do those clues give us insight that will connect us to our audience and give them “what they never knew they wanted”?

I am learning this lesson myself. The title of the film (“Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel”) gives me, another aesthete-spy named Diana, a sense of what a clue may be. Let your eyes travel because they must. When they do, follow and document, relentlessly.

The 2012 of Creativity: Parisian Back Streets to the Imagination and Yann Tiersen by Diana Rivera

I have never met anyone with a developed sensitivity for films that abhorred the film Amelie. Sure there are people with gripes, but down right hate. No way. You’d have to be somehow cold-blooded, or at least luke warm, to not appreciate the capricious main character played by Audrey Tautou, the luminous Parisian cafes, and the mystical synchronicities in which I long 2012 to be etched. The realist may challenge idealism, stripping the essence out of belief as it slowly slips out of one’s powerful grip.

The Parisian streets of Amelie’s creative world are powerful routes into the cognitive road maps of the imagination. If they were, they would be composed by Yann Tiersen, the music composer to Amelie. I have personally fallen in and out of love, composed artistic and academic projects, serenaded by this soundtrack. I don’t think I stand alone in my interest–it’s a spectacular album.

Lately, I have been driving on a Yann Tiersen loop station to no clear end in sight. His other album, Dust Lane, has taken me momentarily out of Amelie’s Paris into other back lanes of the imagination: the desolate desert roads to let go to what you cling, and bizarre bridge crossings where longing and the ferocity of the future crash into subtle waves in the river. He makes it okay to ask: “what the hell am I doing with my life?”

I finally parked in a sonic dome with Yann Tiersen’s album, L’Absente. The album catapults the romance of courage back into the driver’s seat of the heart. For me, the song “Les Jour Tristes” is an ode to the creative artist who longs for the synchronicities and mysteries of life and art, yet balances the practicalities of the every day like bringing home the bacon, being courageous in the face of other people’s expectations or judgements, etc.

Here are the lyrics and the song:

It’s hard, hard not to sit on your hands
And bury your head in the sand
Hard not to make other plans
And claim that you’ve done all you can, all along
And life must go on
It’s hard, hard to stand up for what’s right
And bring home the bacon each night
Hard not to break down and cry
When every idea that you’ve tried has been wrong
But you must carry on

It’s hard but you know it’s worth the fight
‘Cause you know you’ve got the truth on your side
When the accusations fly, hold tight
Don’t be afraid of what they’ll say
Who cares what cowards think, anyway
They will understand one day, one day

It’s hard, hard when you’re here all alone
And everyone else has gone home
Harder to know right from wrong
When all objectivities gone
And its gone
But you still carry on
‘Cause you, you are the only one left
And you’ve got to clean up the mess
You know you’ll end like the rest
Bitter and twisted, unless
You stay strong and you carry on

It’s hard but you know it’s worth the fight
‘Cause you know you’ve got the truth on your side
When the accusations fly, hold tight
Don’t be afraid of what they’ll say
Who cares what cowards think, anyway
They will understand one day, one day

Yann Tiersen has led me through an emotional journey through music this season, and has taught me something fundamental to my resolution behind 2012. It is hard to believe in your artistry when there are accusations that hold you back. But, don’t be afraid of carrying on. Your art builds the streets, alleys, roads, bridges and freeways that drive others to feel, think and be. It is worth the battle, and there will be a major pay-off: sharing. Contributing. Offering your greatest passion to a world that could be otherwise stripped of beauty or meaning without you. It won’t be in the fantastical ways of Amelie. It will be in your signature form, led by the pulse of the Parisian streets, the dust lanes of resolution, the fortifying gates of courage.

Pina Bausch and Leonardo da Vinci at the Goodwill by Diana Rivera

Since I was in middle school, I have had a very synergistic relationship with vintage shops, garage sales and sidewalk peddler products. Not sure how it could be that one day I’d be imagining some ambiguous silk chinese cocktail dress, and then I’d get an instinct to go to the Goodwill (a salvation army style thrift shop), and all of a sudden, it would be there. The one I had imagined. Besides no one, I am the only person that has such a rare existence with a thrift shop. It’s clearly a conversation with destiny: goodwill represents a space where my imagination materializes.

I go there to find things to repair, rip up and recreate. I go there to salvage treasures. I also call in creators from the past. I know this one seems like a stretch, but I have some evidence.

A year or so ago, I wrote a piece on Pina Bausch (read it here) whose work has stunned me, haunted me, left a trace embedded forever in my imagination. Recently I realized that Wim Wenders had produced a film in honor of her.

The day I saw this trailer, I had been thinking of Pina, and as I was driving by the Goodwill, I knew I had to stop in. Like a whisper-of-an-instinct of where to go, I quickly walked to the poster section and there it was. An original framed poster of the women of the Wuppertal Theatre, Pina Bausch’s theatre company. Here is a picture:

To me, it’s highly unlikely that a poster like this is circulating regularly around Goodwill, untouched and only $20. In fact, I am so positive about it, I felt that feeling that I had been gifted with a present from the creator herself. Perhaps it was a recognition of the work? Or perhaps she knew she was on my mind?

The next evidence of said relationship is with Leonardo da Vinci. I had been reading of his contributions as a scientist of the arts and an artist of the sciences in Leonard Shlain’s book, Art and Physics. I was driving by the Goodwill and I had that same little voice go off. It was clear: go to the magazine section. I went and guess what I found:

How is that I have been called by instinct to the Goodwill to find these little treasures? The beauty is that they could be meaningless garbage to everybody else, but for me there is clearly a greater message: Pina and Leonardo had their eyes on me too.

It made me think: what if there were creators from the past who you follow that also follow you? The one I refer to is a more transpersonal approach to following, something that twitter could never compare to.

Point to ponder:

What if it took a little faith in believing that you are taken care of by the creative entities you most admire? How would things be different for you right now?