Anne Sophie Mutter and her Opposite

There’s an episode of Seinfeld called “The Understudy” where one of Jerry’s many girl friends gets her big break in a Broadway musical only to flub her opening number.  The very whiny girl friend turns to the audience and pleads with them to let her start over.  Violinist Anne Sophie Mutter would be the opposite of that.  I had a chance to watch Mutter perform once at the Kennedy Center in Washington thanks to the generosity of a friend (artists are way too poor to afford tickets to Mutter’s recitals).  Anne Sophie Mutter’s performance was so perfect, it’s hard to believe she’s human.  She is angelic or something. Oddly enough, she gets a certain amount of flak for her virtuosity.  Her performance is so perfect that people imagine her music lacks emotion.  The music is full of emotion!  It’s just that we’ve almost come to equate emotion with imperfection!

I have a violin and started “fiddling around” with it some years ago, and when I’m very well warmed up I can play some jazz by ear that’s not too shabby.  (It helps if all the planets are perfectly aligned.)  I doubt I could ever have been a performer even if, like Mutter, I had begun at age four.  In that area of life where I have the most freedom and fluency, I make mistakes all the time.  Big ones!

Maybe artists are just clumsy people.  One artist here at wordpress has the picture of a Julian easel toppling over in a stream as a kind of logo.  And I’ll bet that WR Jones has some stories he could tell you.  I have painted things en plein air, thought my picture magnificient, stood back for the better view, and watched the whole thing go SMACK face down in the dirt by an ill-timed gust of wind.  I cannot count the unfortunate bugs I’ve picked out of other en plein air productions.  And I’m always dropping stuff, brushes and whatnot.  Or losing things (the precise photo, drawing, whatever, that I need for the project at hand).

What I absolutely love about painting, the reason why I know it was meant for me, is that painting is a performance that takes place in utter secrecy and the only notes that count are the ones visible on the top layer.  You can make a tangled mess of the bottom, you can change your mind a thousand times, you can miss your cue, falter on the first note, sing out of key, forget the words — as long as you recover in that thin top layer — you win!

[Top of the post:  First layers (learning the riff) of the latest project, by Aletha Kuschan, oil on canvas]

Good news, Kitsune

I solved the riddle! (Whew.)  The solution occurred while I was drinking coffee this morning at a McDonald’s restaurant after having fiddled with numerous trials and erroneous attempts.  I guess insight played a role in my solving it since I had “found” the solution without realizing it the night before and had rejected it — by which I mean that I had discovered the correct shape (thinking of this as a drawing exercise) but had the scale wrong (a common problem in drawing)  Thus a slight attitude adjustment was needed to capture the solution, requiring several hours of sleep as well as relaxing distractions plus a fresh morning perspective.  (No doubt the coffee was helpful, too.)

The work of solving the riddle presented many intriguing corollary questions.  While solving it feels nifty, I wonder who created the puzzle and what questions lead someone to an invention like this.  Discovering a puzzle requires a higher and brighter curiosity, I think, than solving a puzzle that is already well received.  While artists complain of the difficulties they face in the market place, imagine the plight of a riddle inventor!  Certainly one must have very pure motives to spend one’s days in devising riddles and puzzles knowing that one’s reception is so marginal.

Other ideas passed through my mind as I toiled away at the puzzle.  I was aware of having seen its solution once, but recollection did not come very handily to my aid.  Even knowing that the lines had to meet somewhere outside the figure did not help much psychologically.  I still felt compelled to try various ways of connecting the edges of the box.  Finally, I realized that an element of trust was required.  Could Kitsune have tricked me?  Was there a solution?  And another kind of trust was needed, too.  I have counseled various persons about confidence in regard to their drawing.  Drawing in art, making “mistakes,” can be discouraging and I have told people many times that you must go through the problem and not give up on it.  It is the passage through self-criticizing thoughts that leads ultimately to the promised land of art.  Here I was with a knotty problem — a drawing problem, I decided to think of it in those terms — and I could have given up, but I decided to follow my own advice and press on.

I am still not convinced that it is not more math than art, though I chose to use art as much as I could to solve it.  But unlike most the art I do, I did not know what the thing I was drawing looked like.  The reasoning here was exactly opposite what I typically do.  Usually I look at something and from a massive wall of perceptions, I am choosing certain ones and ignoring the rest.  Here I had very limited means, four lines, and with them I had to discover something I could not see, trying to bring it into visibility by following a set of instructions.

As I was leaving McDonald’s backing my car out of a parking space, perhaps it was then I had what felt like a real “insight” moment.  As often happens in art, drawing something or looking at other artists’ drawings will change the way we view the world.  It struck me as more than a little ironic the number of arrows that seemed to be everywhere around me after I had found the figure that solves the riddle.  A big arrow painted on the asphalt pointed the direction out of the parking lot and as soon as I noticed that big arrow, why it seemed that the world was littered with arrows!  They might have been like hints (unless of course there’s more than one solution!).

[Top of the post:  photograph of a McDonald’s restaurant napkin upon which I solved a riddle posed by a reader, Kitsune, on the post Alice Drew a Maze, photo by Aletha Kuschan]