Monday, October 25, 2010

Aesthetic Gestalt: Greater than the sum of its arts

Lauren Frazier, the little esqueleta at Celebraciones de la Gente.

  After deciding to attend more cultural activities at the beginning of this school year, I helped form a wonderful group we call The Culture Club.  Three of my best friends and I get together to go to different cultural events around town.  Usually one of us (or a few of us) are responsible, in some way, for organizing the events.

  Why is it so great to attend art events with close friends?   Because having close friends and experiencing art and beauty are two things that make us happier people.  The gestalt of our group takes it from our individual experiences and ideas and creates a picture that is larger than the sum of our parts in it.  Before we know it, we've collaborated to share our knowledge and what we see to enhance everyone else's comprehension.  Having a cultural club combines two things, art and community, and creates something with fabulous growth potential.

 On Sunday, we were invited by card-carrying Culture Club member, Anne Doyle, to the Celebraciones de la Gente at the Museum of Northern Arizona.  Anne is responsible for all of the museum Heritage Programs, and promotes art and community in a big way in our town.

  At the Celebraciones, we got to see ofrendas, or altars made by local Flagstaff families in honor of Dia de los Muertos.  The holiday is a day of celebration with friends and families to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died.  It was an honor to participate in the celebration with people who freely shared their stories and their traditions with us.  It was also a time for us to talk about people who we have lost in the recent or distant past.

  One thing that is distinctive about Dia de los Muertos is that it's a celebration of the dead.  As it's believed that the dead visit their loved ones during this time of year, it's not a holiday for crying or sadness, as "the way of the dead is made slippery with tears." 

  I think I've watched this video by Sir Ken Robinson three times in the last 2 days.  In it, Robinson says that "An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you're present in the current moment, when you're resonating with excitement at this thing that you're experiencing, when you are fully alive.  An anesthetic is when you shut your senses off and deaden yourself to what is happening."

  With the arrangement of flowers, pictures, sugar skulls and charming esqueletos on the altar, the families at the museum this weekend acknowledged their feelings towards death and transformed these feelings into beauty.  They didn't disregard death.  Instead, they kept their loved ones alive by telling us stories about them, and creating visual representations of them.  With their altars and with their tales, death is transformed into an aesthetic experience, something, by contrast, that awakens us to our living state, something that we all share in our human experience.

They didn't anesthetize death.  They aestheticized it.

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