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Friday, February 29, 2008

"Art Stops Time"

"Art Stops Time." This is my new favorite quote. Bob Dylan said it. Bob Dylan rocks.

When I first listened to him, I mean, really sat down and listened with an open mind when I was about 26, I didn't "get" him. I thought he couldn't hold a tune much, and his songs seemed sort of rambly. But then, the more I listened, year after year, the more I appreciated what he was doing, and the poems he was writing about a time in history, when things were a changin'.
Then I read Bob Dylan's autobiography, "The Chronicles," a couple years ago, and I was even more impressed with him. He captured a few moments in time that explain things. Just things that were happening at the time he wrote some songs. He didn't think he was changing the world, he just wrote down some verses that came to him at that time. And people responded.

Then I found this quote of his, about art stopping time, and it helped me understand. So that's it. That's what it is about art that makes us pause, I thought. We all strive to figure out what it is to be human, even if we don't know it, and art labels it. Art stops life for a minute or a second, and let's us pause and look.

Next thing I knew, I was arguing with 26 year old co-workers about Bob Dylan's artistic talent, and I felt suddenly old at 42. Old but correct. Old and wise. Wise enough to stop arguing with them.

They will realize it eventually, I thought. Maybe not about Dylan, but maybe about another great artist. Once they hit about 34, or so. That's when the ego takes a beating and everything gets jumbled, and you realize maybe you won't live forever, and maybe you'll never make a mark, and maybe it really doesn't matter if you turn to dust after all.

Dust is kind of pretty when the light hits it just right, after all. Death stops time, too.

Maybe you'll have to accept that your reality is breathing in, and and breathing out every day.

And if you sing a little song, or write a little poem, or play with colors on a canvas, or draw some pictures with your pencil, you might find a place where your breath stops, just for a second. And then maybe you'll see, with open eyes, what other people have done to stop time, and it will hit you.

It's the stopping and looking that becomes important then.

I used to think I wasn't qualified to talk about art because I hadn't studied it enough to know the terms to describe it. But I knew what I liked, and I knew which things made me stop.

I have a friend who has a Leonard Baskin print in her house. Baskin has been called "the Picasso of printmaking." He died several years ago, but he is truly one of the greatest modern American sculptors and print makers. She has one of his "Man of Peace" prints, the image above. It is quite large, maybe 4 ft. tall.

The first time I saw it, hanging in her house, it stopped me. I didn't even know what it was, or who it was, or why it was important. I didn't know much about printmaking or woodcuts, or lithographs, or etching, or all those other terms about that type of fine art.

I just knew it stopped me. Stopped me cold in my tracks. My friend had a feeling it might, because she is an artist, too, and she's seen time stop. She's way older than 42 now.

She explained that Baskin was an American Jew from New York. His dad was a rabbi. This print looks very much like a memorial to the holocaust.

When you see it in real life, it makes you stop and feel like crying a little. You can't help but feel a twinge of sadness and regret that all those souls were lost behind barbed wire fences. That the man is offering the dove, maybe hoping someone will take it.

When you see that thing on the wall, you think about Baskin carving the image, for hours and hours and days and days, in reverse, into a large piece of wood, and then rolling ink on top of it, and running it through a press by hand to make an image of it, working those tiny little details until he got it just right.

What was he thinking? How did he do that? Did he know how it would turn out? Did he truly understand how it would stop us? How many years of his life did he spend with the wood and ink and carving tools until he created a few of these images that touch us so deeply?

And then, when you finally stop looking at that piece of art, and move on to the other room to have some coffee, and you start talking about your day and your life, and your job and your kids, you don't feel bad or guilty or insignificant.

You feel like you're just breathing in and breathing out.

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