* 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
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Writers, like all artists, are concerned to represent reality, to create a more absolute and complete reality than reality itself. They must, if they are to accomplish this, assume a moral position, a clearly conceived political, social, and philosophical attitude; in consequence, their beliefs are, of course, going to find their way into their work. What artists believe, however, is of secondary importance, ancillary to the work itself. A writer survives in spite of his beliefs. Lawrence will be read whatever one thinks of his notions on sex. Dante is read in the Soviet Union.
A work of art, on the other hand, has a representative and expressive function. In this representation the author’s ideas, his judgments, the author himself, are engaged with reality.
Alberto Moravia in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited and with an introduction by Malcolm Cowley
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Frankly, I think you’re better off doing something on the assumption that you will not be rewarded for it, that it will not receive the recognition it deserves, that it will not be worth the time and effort invested in it.
The obvious advantage to this angle is, of course, if anything good comes of it, then it’s an added bonus.
The second, more subtle and profound advantage is that by scuppering all hope of worldly and social betterment from one creative act, you are finally left with only one question to answer:
Do you make this damn thing exist or not?
And once you can answer that truthfully for yourself, the rest is easy.
Hugh MacLeod in Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity
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Q: What’s the point of all of this? Shouldn’t we be discussing how to end poverty or promote world peace? What can art do?
A: I happen to recently have read an inspiring book by Anne Bogart, the theater director. It’s called, “and then you act: making art in an unpredictable world” and she talks about such issues. I’ll quote her wise words below:
“Rather than the experience of life as a shard, art can unite and connect the strands of the universe. When you are in touch with art, borders vanish and the world opens up. Art can expand the definition of what it means to be human. So if we agree to hold ourselves to higher standards and make more rigorous demands on ourselves, then we can say in our work, ‘We have asked ourselves these questions and we are trying to answer them, and that effort earns us the right to ask you, the audience, to face these issues, too.’ Art demands action from the midst of the living and makes a space where growth can happen.
One day, particularly discouraged about the global environment, I asked my friend the playwright Charles L. Mee, Jr., ‘How are we supposed to function in these difficult times? How can we contribute anything useful in this climate?’ ‘Well,’ he answered, ‘You have a choice of two possible directions. Either you convince yourself that these are terrible times and things will never get better and so you decide to give up, or, you choose to believe that there will be a better time in the future. If that is the case, your job in these dark political and social times is to gather together everything you value and become a transport bridge. Pack up what you cherish and carry it on your back to the future.'”
“… In the United States, we are the targets of mass distraction. We are the objects of constant flattery and manufactured desire. I believe that the only possible resistance to a culture of banality is quality. To me, the world often feels unjust, vicious, and even unbearable. And yet, I know that my development as a person is directly proportional to my capacity for discomfort. I see pain, destructive behavior and blindness of the political sphere. I watch wars declared, social injustices that inhabit the streets of my hometown, and a planet in danger of pollution and genocide. I have to do something. My chosen field of action is the theater.”
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I remember as a teenager having a group of friends at school and another group whom I spent the weekends with. I functioned fine until on occasions when I was with friends from both groups at the same time. Then it became really difficult, because I was used to acting very differently with the two groups. With one I was the leader, very vocal and outspoken about my opinions. With the other group I wanted desperately to belong and so I adapted to fit in, which meant not really being myself.
The lack of authenticity is painful. It applies to all levels of life. If our voice as a painter is inauthentic, we’re in trouble. In the end there is nothing so compelling as to be yourself. This is why being an artist can be so exhilarating. If you want to uncover your truth, you have a daily technique to come to terms with your limitations and to overcome them. You have an opportunity to look at the limiting stories you have written in your head and heart and rewrite them with boldness and vision. The quality of your attention influences how you see things.
What you put your attention on grows stronger in your life. Life, if you look around you, whether inside or in nature, is one bubbling mass of creativity. Recognize we have no shortage of it. If you focus your attention on what you now decide is fundamental , that quality will grow in your life. Not what our parents or teachers or friends or media or anybody says or said. What we now put our attention on will grow in our life. If you want to paint and put your focus there you will unleash a torrent of energy and enthusiasm.
Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision
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