Tag Archives: art

The People Could Fly

IMG_8324On a recent visit to the public library, The People Could Fly jumped off the shelf and into my hands. I knew the author, Virginia Hamilton, and the title was familiar, but one I’d not yet read.

It demanded to come home with me.

It did.

Today I cracked it open and was struck. The pictures and storytelling moved me. So much so I could see it – as dance. I could see the brilliant bodies of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater making these pictures. And flying.

Revelations is my favorite thing. This would give it a run for the money.

I’m currently adapting a children’s book into a play. But if I were born with different talents, I would adapt this for dance. If you have this talent, I invite you to interpret this piece for the world. It’s Black people dancing pain. Then dancing magic, freedom. Flying away.

IMG_8325This work moves me because I’m interested in helping adults tap into their imagination. I believe many problems in society are due to lack of imagination. Too many don’t believe in the possibilities of change. They think the way things are is the way they’ve always been, and subsequently, have to be.

But if you are imaginative, you know better.

We need more art in the world that forces people to reckon with possibility.

Did you create art today?

Artists for Peace

I think a lot about art for peace and scholarship for peace, and what it might mean to design a sustainable future. Lately it’s been a mostly private investigation, but I may explore these ideas more publicly in the coming weeks.

hancock-shorterToday I want to share a quote from an open letter by world renown artists, fellow Buddhists, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. The letter is meant to inspire and provoke artists, but the encouragement is food for thought for us all. They share 10 points, ending with the hope that we live in a state of constant wonder. They begin with this:

FIRST, AWAKEN TO YOUR HUMANITY

We are not alone. We do not exist alone and we cannot create alone. What this world needs is a humanistic awakening of the desire to raise one’s life condition to a place where our actions are rooted in altruism and compassion. You cannot hide behind a profession or instrument; you have to be human. Focus your energy on becoming the best human you can be. Focus on developing empathy and compassion. Through the process you’ll tap into a wealth of inspiration rooted in the complexity and curiosity of what it means to simply exist on this planet. Music is but a drop in the ocean of life.

Read the letter in full here.

The Ethics of Jazz

When I talk about leading through art, one exemplar comes immediately to mind: Herbie Hancock. Many of a certain age are at least familiar with the jazz great, but may not realize the complex ways in which he weaves faith, daily life and art. To that end, I’d like to share the first in a set of his Norton lectures.

Harvard University declares an annual Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry. Poetry, in this case, is broadly imagined, and professors represent various of the fine arts. In 2014, Herbie Hancock became the first Black American to receive the honor, and he titled his lecture series the Ethics of Jazz. (It’s worth noting here, Toni Morrison is the 2016 Norton Professor and her lecture series opens March 2, 2016.)

Hancock’s opening lecture is titled the Wisdom of Miles Davis. He begins by introducing himself, first by familiar labels – musician, spouse, teacher and friend. But then he posits a question:

What is the single factor that connects all those aspects of me? It’s the fact that I’m a human being.

He goes on to explain that this, being human, is not a trivial matter. He encourages us to make the most of that human experience, and purposely seek a life of expansion rather than stagnation:

Most people define themselves by the one or possibly two things they excel at and are recognized for – perhaps a job or a hobby. There’s a tendency to live inside these self-made walls and not be open to the myriad opportunities that on the other side of the fortress…

To develop wisdom that will foster creativity in every aspect of life, it’s essential to entertain the idea of being open to possibilities. Second, explore how you perceive yourself, and recognize and investigate opportunities that lie outside of your comfort zone.

He continues, moving now to explain his choice of ethics as the foundation of the series. Ethics, he confirms,  is a system of morals:

The study of right and wrong. Good and bad. The wise and empathetic. How we use our power to protect the rights and self respect of all people. It’s how we behave in the world among society – our brothers and sisters. And the values we hold dear and enable us to collaborate and interact with curiosity, compassion and righteousness. Without a moral code, the world would be overflowing with selfishness, apathy, greed, cruelty, environmental problems, violence…

He slows down here to note the irony, and goes on to proclaim our planet is on a slippery slope. Despite this, most people, regardless of race, religion or creed, “want to create ethical societies.”

Over the course of his life, Hancock has connected the values inherent in jazz with his Buddhist faith. He promises to share the lessons he’s learned in this multi-decades long project through autobiographical accounts.

A couple of things to listen out for as you watch this first one:

  • Don’t play the butter notes.
  • Listen to what you can leave out.

What other lessons does he share? What will you apply in your daily life?

Lead Through Art

Before my blogging break, I had the wondrous opportunity to attend the Aspen Institute’s Seminar on Leadership, Values and the Good Society. I found the experience a rewarding, albeit challenging one. It stretched me well beyond my introverted comfort zone. (Read my series about it here).

The seminar was geared toward leaders, and I found myself uneasy that I was not a leader in the traditional sense. There was one professional artist – a novelist – in attendance, and she admitted she felt the same. It was something I pondered throughout the experience.

I tend to take labels, categories and rules quite literally. And although I sometimes bend or break or mold things to suit me, other times I allow myself to feel confined and constrained. Quite often, the more constrained I feel, the more likely it is I’ve built the prison myself. In other words, I’m free to be or express myself, but I impose the limitations. It’s a lifelong struggle. In some moments I am able to break through, but others find me longing for true freedom.

I’m working on it.

CCI10142015In that setting, I gave up a lot of my freedom and power to external circumstances. I had a sense this gathering was important, that I was somehow lucky to be there and although smart enough to understand the content, not really “qualified” in the technical sense. Classic impostor syndrome: What if they find out I don’t belong?

I know and understand many models of leadership, especially those on an intimate scale. Leadership in a classroom. In a family. In a situation. Still, in this group, I felt as if that wasn’t enough. That maybe, I wasn’t enough.

These were my internal demons. Lies. And yet there I was, chipping away at the lies each moment of the Seminar. Each session found me reframing my internal dialogue, encouraging myself to participate. Reminding myself I belonged. I was leading myself to Truth.

In the closing session on March 8, 2015, we were to handwrite a letter to ourselves, responding to the following questions:

  1. What take-aways do you want to remember?
  2. What commitments will you make to yourself?
  3. What personal goals/changes do you want to make?

The seminar organizers promised to mail those letters six months later, and I received mine right around Labor Day this year. I won’t share all the details, but I will share my closing determination:

Lead through art!

Looking back on the experience, I feel more confident of my ability to contribute in the future. To be myself. To realize that in a room of leaders with highly regarded and diverse experiences, I belong.