I like to listen to music when I am painting. Lately, I have been enjoying listening to the best of the Beatles after they were done being the Beatles. I have compiled the four "Best of..." cd's of John, Paul, George and Ringo. These four musicians really are amazing. Amazing as individuals, but what strikes me is the consistency of message from the years of being the Beatles. There is the usual stereotyping that John has the heavy political message, Paul sings about love, George is spiritual and Ringo is, well,... just Ringo. But that is not the case when you listen to their music. Even after breaking up, the four of them continued singing about love, community, togetherness, forgiveness, and the positive possibility of what could be.
Yes, I am aging. I am in my fifties and am a Beatles fan. I am of my era, and I am at a stage in life where I am questioning my experience so far. There is much talk about the Woodstock generation (a little older than me) and a general sense that they "sold out" - gave up on their idealism as they aged. Some say they did even more, that they undermined their own revolution.
I'm not sure my generation had ideals. We came of age in the disco/cocaine sniffing/clubbing days of the late seventies and early eighties - not that I or most people in the country had that experience. That apparently was what was happening in all the cultural hotspots on the coasts. Not a world full of ideals - hedonism was the theme of the day. At the time, I was too shy and fearful of life to notice what it all really meant. But I do know that our culture has not had spokespeople like the Beatles since their loss. When I hear current cultural stars talking with a communal perspective it seems canned, groomed to be acceptable instead of being an antithesis to the larger culture (I will acknowledge Ani DeFranco here as being way cool). They are not in-your-face with their entire being. The Beatles started as nice boys wearing suits and singing about love. Eventually, they became these guys who grew their hair long, wore outrageous clothing, talked tongue in cheek about their fame, sang about a backward social order and insisted on having their experience on their own terms. To see them, you could tell they were an antithesis to the larger culture. But this was the pre-glam era, it was a little easier to be noticed for wearing outrageous clothing.
I think about meaning, as an artist. Am I simply making paintings for an audience or am I painting in a manner that reflects and encourages our society? I was given advice many years ago by a painting instructor: landscapes sell. Of course, I refused to paint landscapes. Instead I painted about mass-murderers, riots and missing body parts - in the guise of landscapes. Nothing sold. Hmm.
Then I painted about oppression and the holiness of life. Nothing sold.
Then I talked about "The Land" by making artwork with objects from nature. Nothing sold.
Then I started painting botanicals. I sold a handful and then nothing.
Then I started painting about food. Nothing sold.
Recently, I've been painting landscapes. They've been selling. Who knew?
I do not worry if I am "selling out" for making landscapes. I am painting about the experience I have in nature, in particular in Northern Minnesota. To me, it is related to love. It is something that touches my soul, like a waking dream - Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé. More than anywhere else, the North is where I have sat back and thought there is no where else in the world I would rather be. There is no time, days are meaningless. Anger is futile - it solves nothing! Love is all around. Not romantic love, although sometimes that is there, but love of all that is. Perhaps it is more aptly described as oneness. There is no contention, no division, no competition. Problems simply become annoyances, annoyances become a puzzle to solve or a fleeting moment to be ignored. Healing outweighs hurt. A broken heart gets to beat uninterrupted. The past is not released, but becomes the foundation on which all the good of the day grows. Breathing, itself, becomes a meditation.
My quest is to hold this perspective in my mind when I am in the City, when I am in the midst of my daily life. My vehicle is my art and the contemplation associated with this task. The Beatles help me hold this perspective with their music and with who they were. The following are excerpts from some of their songs I find particularly helpful. A year long meditation could be done on the first line of John's lyrics below. How would it change your life to come to truly know that "love is the answer and you know that for sure?"
John Lennon - Mind Games
"Love is the answer and you know that for sure.
Yes, is the answer, and you know that for sure.
Yes, is surrender, you gotta let it go."
Ringo Starr - Fading In and Fading Out
"Tell me, why we're here?
All we really need is love
And when I disappear
I pray that I have left enough
Fading in, fading out, isn't that what life's about?
First you're here, then you're gone
Still the world goes on and on."
George Harrison - Isn't It a Pity
Isn't it a pity
Now, isn't it a shame
How we break each other's hearts
And cause each other pain
How we take each other's love
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back
Isn't it a pity
Some things take so long
But how do I explain
When not too many people
Can see we're all the same
And because of all their tears
Their eyes can't hope to see
The beauty that surrounds them
Isn't it a pity
Paul McCartney - Let 'Em In
"Someone's knockin' at the door
Somebody's ringin' the bell
Do me a favor
Open the door and let 'em in."