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Pearls from artists* # 529

Barbara’s Studio

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

All sorts of novelists, composers, choreographers, poets, and painters find themselves engaged in the challenges of authority and freedom that are the lifeblood of the arts. Art is a way of life – and not only or even essentially for geniuses. An artistic community – to whatever degree it may be joined by social, economic, or other concerns – is fundamentally united by the imperatives of a vocation as they are shaped in a particular time. Genius doesn’t emerge ex nihilo. And it doesn’t have a unique relationship with authority and freedom. Whatever truth there is to Walter Benjamin’s comment, apropos of Proust’s novel, that certain masterpieces begin or end a genre, it’s usually true that every masterpiece reaffirms the fundamental character of a form. For every epochal achievement that we may see as an assertion of unexpected degrees of freedom (Beethoven’s final quartets or Shakespeare’s last plays), there are others that reaffirm the pressure of tradition (an example is Raphael’s neoclassical designs for tapestries representing scenes from the lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul). For every creative spirit, the great as well as the merely good, there is a sense in which the wager is the same.

Jed Perl in Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 384

Overlooking Copacabana, Bolivia and Lake Titicaca

Overlooking Copacabana, Bolivia and Lake Titicaca

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Carnival in Oruro [Bolivia] is a glorious spectacle.  It’s flash, pomp and brilliance can be enjoyed without understanding its long history and intricate mythologies.  Still, the onlooker is left with a thousand questions that are not so easily answered.  Behind the glitter of Carnival lie the history, the timeless myths and the distinct traditions of this mining community.

According to the Spanish writer Jean Laude, “The function of the mask is to reaffirm, at regular intervals, the truth and presence of myths in everyday life.”  This suggests that masks should be studied in context, noting their association with the individual dancer and the history, myths and traditions of the community that produces them.  The mask has to be animated within its ritual, comic or social role.

A first step in appreciating the masks is to understand something of the land and people that crafted them.  Oruro is a mining city on the open Altiplano at 3,700 meters (12,144 ft.) above sea level.  The sky appears a rarified blue, it is intensely cold and a constant wind lifts dust to the eyes.  During the year no more than 125,000 people live in the city.  Suddenly in the weeks of Carnival, the population doubles or triples.

Three languages, Quechua, Aymara, and Spanish are spoken in Oruro.  Their use reflects an ancient pattern of conquest in the history of this land.  It is said that the Urus, whose language is now almost lost, were the first inhabitants.  In time they were dominated by the Aymara tribes.  Later, Quechua was introduced as the Inca advanced their empire from Cuzco.  Ultimately the Spanish arrived and founded the present city in 1601 to exploit rich mineral deposits found in the seven hills.

Today, descendants of the Urus live near Oruro around the shore of Lake Poopo.  Elements of their distinctive culture remain but they have no wealth in comparison with the more dominant Aymara and Quechua who surround them.  A further change came in the recent past because Oruro has acted as a magnet, attracting many people from the countryside to work in the mines.

On one side were the Urus, ancient owners of all the land which now only carries their name (Uro Uro = Oruro).  On the other side were the miners, many of whom were Quechua and Aymara migrants.  In the middle is “Carnival.”

El Carnaval de Oruro by Manuel Vargas in Mascaras de los Andes Bolivianos, Editorial Quipus and Banco Mercantil

Comments are welcome!

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