Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Business of Art and The Art of Business And....

Andre: What does it do to us, Wally, living in an environment where something as massive as the seasons or winter or cold, don’t in any way affect us? I mean, were animals after all. I mean… what does that mean? I think that means that instead of living under the sun and the moon and the sky and the stars, we’re living in a fantasy world of our own making.
Wally: Yeah, but I mean, I would never give up my electric blanket, Andre. I mean, because New York is cold in the winter. I mean, our apartment is cold! It’s a difficult environment. I mean, our life is tough enough as it is. I’m not looking for ways to get rid of a few things that provide relief and comfort. I mean, on the contrary, I’m looking for more comfort because the world is very abrasive. I mean, I’m trying to protect myself because, really, there’s these abrasive beatings to be avoided everywhere you look!
Andre: But, Wally, don’t you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you like to be comfortable and I like to be comfortable too, but comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility.

Excerpt from “My Dinner With Andre” (1981)

Its 5 PM we start our quest this evening, the long drive from South Bay to Berkley, for a dinner with Antero Alli to discuss a movie project and pick his brain on what has worked for him in his projects. We have worked with Antero on 2 Paratheatre labs, participated in his AngelTech course, recorded a series of talks/podcasts with him. As always Sergey and I are discussing various things and laughing. Our latest fascination is a book called The Moon Of Hao Binh by William Pensinger. When I tell him “dude, I need a dictionary to read his book. And I need dictionaries in English, Japanese and German.” Sergey asks me why three languages, to which I say “he has written the book using these three languages, with doses of Vietnamese.” Sergey laughs and mockingly says “Who the hell writes one book using three different languages?” I respond “Pensinger does, he is apparently doing his thing his way. I don’t think he care whether the world reads his work or not”

We arrive at Himalaya, a Nepalese restaurant in Berkley at about 7 PM and are seated by the hostess after a warm Namaste. The menu is rich, and we order chicken tikka, ghosh haiyali (lamb), bhindi tarkari (okra) and of course Naan with Mango chutney on the side. Antero is seated in front of me and Sergey to my right. As we settle into our seats and the conversation is to begin I think to myself “This will surely be an interesting evening, and discussion will range from Paratheatre, to movies, to the business of movie making and who knows what else.”

I cant help but think to myself that this scene, this location and perhaps even the range of topics seems eerily similar to the movie “My Dinner With Andre (1980).” For those of you who have not seen the movie, we highly recommend this movie of two friends talking over dinner in a New York restaurant. The movie for those who have not seen it revolves around two key themes from the path breaking work of Jerzy Grotowski . The two themes are

1. Living spontaneously by following one’s impulses and

2. What is the purpose and nature of theater

The restaurant is half packed with guests all around, and quickly our focus begins to crystallize around our table and discussion to unfold. Two Paratheatre labs (watch for 3 podcasts on this topic coming soon, titled “Beware Archetypes Crossing”) each lasting between 8 – 10 weeks, meeting twice a week for 3 hours, it’s time to get some feedback and pointers to further development in this medium as we prepare for our third lab with him. Antero tells me to give myself more time in no-form. My mind quickly races and remembers trying to articulate what No Form is to a friend, before guiding him to Antero’s own description on his website. In Antero’s own words “The purpose of no-form is two-fold: 1) to deepen receptivity to energy sources innate to the physical and energetic bodies towards their engagement and expression and 2) to discharge and disperse identification with these forces after each engagement. Like an empty container, no-form allows us to become full with the energies engaged and then to empty, again. No-form is not something that can be taught but only developed and deepened; we either already have some existing relationship or intimacy with Void or, we do not. The experience is essentially personal to each individual but also, impersonal. Astrophysics suggests there is no such thing as ‘empty space’ anywhere in nature, that space is not empty but teeming with dynamic potential energy. They could have been describing no-form.

We moved on to discuss how Sergey works with his voice. Sergey has been working on unfolding his voice and discovering what else he can do. The discussion moved to how the quality of the voice changes based on which cavity we explore voice from. The quality of the voice changes so much based on wheatear it comes from the nose, the throat, the chest or the diaphragm. Antero concluded this part saying “explore your voice coming and going deep into different cavities and see what emerges” and the ever esoteric and yet so much in the body  “move the voice through the body, through the muscles. Voice is energy, its vibration, it has an effect. Explore it.” There is the same theme again “dont go meta, go meso. Truth is here in the body, in the world, not out there outside the body, world”

The food arrived, the aroma of the food filled the room and we started to dig into the delicacies that lay before us. The paintings of various gods, the large wall painted with Mt. Meru and the sweet smells of various spices was a feast for our consciousness. The imagery of Mt. Meru bought the conversation now to the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky and his movie “The Holy Mountain.” The conversation was now quickly moving towards our work – the work of creating a movie/documentary with Bucky’s principles.  Bucky or Buckminister Fuller’s ideas and generalized principles have had a huge impact on us, and we are looking at ways of exploring them in a  new format.

Our discussion went all over with Antero sharing his directorial experiences and how to make movies. The themes revolved around picking the main theme, scouting the locations, nesting stories v/s one story etc. This has given us a lot of food for thought. As the main course comes to an end, and many of the tables that were once filled are now emptying and our ideas/thoughts racing at 100 miles an hour I ask “how do we draw a balance between what we want to say and what the audience will understand? Do we make the movie such that the largest possible audience gets the ideas, such that these seeds are planted into their consciousness?”

The hostess now approaches us, and brings us the check. I looked at her, and thinking to myself “we are not done,” and could we please get some chai for all of us. A good Indian subcontinent meal is never complete without chai. Indian chai when made right has just this right blend of sweetness and spiciness, coming from a mixture of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon among other spices. The whole approach of the hostess again brought to mind “My dinner with Andre” and the occasional intrusion of the waiter during the dinner, and more importantly a rich conversation. The chai arrived, and the aroma filled my consciousness while the warmth of  the chai soothed the throat.

“ There are some that consider the audience and tailor the movie towards them” continued Antero as we sipped our delicious chai “but if that formula works, then there would be so many more hits and blockbusters.” We just rolled in laughter at the obviousness and irony of the statement. He summed his take on this with “stay true to your vision, plan hard on what you want to do, and be prepared for improvisations to happen, to emerge.” Our discussion went on for a while longer on various topic of making movies, and staying true to one’s vision and letting improvisations emerge. The hostess arrived once again with the check, and after paying for it, we started our walk back towards Antero’s home. Its about 10 PM now I think, most business around Shattuck Avenue have shut down for the night.

Its past 10 15 pm or so, and it will be atleast an hour’s drive home, we say our good bye’s for now “see you at the lab in March.” We get into Sergey’s car, our very faithful companion on many a trips of exploration, and start our drive back to the south bay. The hour is filled with lively discussion of things we learned, and the path that lay before us. Sergey stated “you know the thing that stood out for me is we need to focus on the imperfections of the characters, these screw ups in their lives will actually add to the richness of the story. If you notice the development and growth of RCG, we have been opening up to our faults more and more, being more vulnerable to who we are, and how we may be screwed up.” I nodded and said “yes, I agree, our path from our faults and short comings towards some sense of normalcy and contribution is the true hero’s journey. As Antero had said earlier “don’t build super heroes”– look in the ordinary and find the extraordinary.

A little past 11 when I got home and the same thought keeps running through me “stay true to your art, your vision.” It’s a cold night, I pull my comforter on me and think of yes its important to stay true to our art, our vision. Afterall that’s what we are doing with RCG, we have not advertised, we have not commercialized, we have done it as an expression, as an offering, it was for the sake of following our vision, our art, not for commercial value. And yet it seems to have touched listeners around the planet, and yet it has bought many wonderful people into our lives. Yes staying true to one’s vision, one’s art, one’s impulses even if you are on the Fringe, even if it makes you a deviant is critical. The question here truly is make sure you are a positive deviant.

All ideas’ follow the same path, they start with the artist/idealist on the fringe, then move into the cutting edge when a few others have seen and communicate the same vision. From here if it catches the eye of the hipsters it enters the realm of the cool in the hip circles until a “tipping point” arrives, taking towards the next big thing and it ends up becoming a social convention. The art and artist stays pure to his vision, and is found in the fringe and cutting edge, as more enter it the devox “voice of the deviant” starts to be lost, the business of art starts to fade, and the art of business kicks in.

The Art of Business is taking the ideas from the cutting edge and realm of the cool, and moving it into “the next big thing” and hope that this expression becomes a social convention. In making it a social convention huge fortunes are made usually for the venture capitalist and acute entrepreneur, they have usually moved away if not far away from the devox – the true voice of the original deviant, who perhaps sits and see’s his art is now perhaps a shadow of the original. It hits me as I roll in bed that perhaps this is what James Joyce was alluding to in his “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” where he speaks of the function of art. Joyce states that “true art is beautiful and/or sublime. It stops you dead in your tracks, leaves you speechless.” He further states what art is not “Improper art moves you to do something. It either aims to teach or move you to do something that you would not normally do.” It hits me that is the aim of advertising, the critical tool to move an idea/vision from the cutting edge to the next big thing. It aims at making you do something you would not normally do or want.

The Business of Art is following one’s impulses to find beauty and the sublime in it, and to be arrested in its awe. The Art of Business is “moving others to do something they may not normally do.” There has to be a third way… there must be a third way but for now I need to sleep, have a long day ahead and to be at work at 6 am and for now I tell myself “stay true to your art, your vision” and cuddle into the warmth of my comforter.

The next day, after a long day at work, between partnership meetings and meetings, I return home. My mind is still reeling from the conversations the night before and the business of art. Bucky and the movie to get the ideas out have somehow taken the back seat. I continue reading the Moon of Hao Bihn until its time to head to the dojo. The evening is cold, and it sure gets dark early in winters. The dojo, or where the way is practiced is a corner in the park. The class is small, 4 regular students and me, and this evening there are only two shows, and it hits me that even though there are just two students and me, we are here when its wet and cold, practicing our art – following our impulses to learn  the martial art, that has been passed down generation to generation for perhaps hundreds of years, and in the process discover ourselves.

This evening in the dojo with two students reminds me of my days with my sensei, and the small one room dojo. Sensei had converted the small living room into our dojo, the room measured approximately 15 feet wide and about 25 feet in length, and was matted. Sensei had given up a lot, including promotions on his job and perhaps a lot more in order to be true to his art, to his form of expression of his spirit. Like clockwork he would be there every evening teaching the next generation of practioneers the art, the spirit and the way of the warrior. Sastri sensei left his family behind, left his country, his home, in order to follow his impulse, to introduce the art which he had dedicated many many years to another generation, in another part of the world. A group of us, would practice with him every opportunity we got for hours to an end. I remember clearly him one night telling us “you are young, and you can be a 100 other places on this Friday night, and yet here you giving and receiving pain. This will be rewarded, in ways you cannot conceive yet. You know you are like the young piano player, who is practicing and practicing while his friends play, a day will soon come, when the young maestro will play, and his friends will pay to watch. Stick with it, stick with the practice and dedication to the art, it will reward you in ways you don’t know yet.”

So here I am, sitting and that feeling of calm comes back, and I know that for me its “continue to being true to the art and expression” of my spirit, of my own way. The movie, the podcasts, the dojo all serve the same need, they are devices for reaching into the further reaches of my own inner space. Time to head to bed, this time more relaxed and telling myself the third way is “Art is the way” its not about the business of art or art of business, but Art is the way. And the way of art is “following those impulses from deep within” and then continuing to work on the art while others play, and when it is your turn to play they will pay to be there.  Time to sleep, and tomorrow it will be time again to work on the art, while others perhaps are playing.



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