Art, Interpretation and Humanity’s Evolution

by Belinda Munoz on June 21, 2010

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We are surrounded by many things that are subject to interpretation.

Take art for example.  I once saw foot-high piles of old newspapers bundled together and shoved against the walls of a room in a museum.  It was part of an installation that may have been a statement about the controlled state of the media.  Or perhaps it was a statement about the pieces of information carefully chosen for public consumption.  It could have been an assertion of how the proverbial truth often hits a wall.  I really can’t remember.  Is it art?  Some may say yes.  Others may say no.  Does it belong in a museum?  Clearly this question didn’t matter much as it was displayed in a museum.

In the same vein, we often spin real-life events with our own subjective interpretation.  So and so should never have been commissioned to do such and such.  I can’t believe they picked so and so over me. And yet, what’s done is indeed done.  Still, it can be very hard for us to accept the facts.

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And then there are myths that we believe.

We all have faults and weaknesses.  Some appear to be real.  Others are imagined.  Who’s to say if something is a fault or a weakness?  Us and others.  Yes, we’re experts at making judgments about these things.  Us in that we react to a seemingly real or imagined fault or weakness if it blocks our path or frustrates/challenges us in some way.  Others in that the moment they recognize these traits to be less than an advantage, these traits are judged and called faults or weaknesses.  But these so-called faults and weaknesses, are they subjective (like art, perhaps)?  Consider folks like Muggsy Bogues.  Clearly, some perceived shortcomings (pun intended, Muggsy is 5′ 3″ but his height did not keep him from joining the NBA) do not get in the way of their greatness.

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Speaking of greatness, what about humanity’s evolution?

We have this well-practiced habit of lamenting our condition (read: bitch and moan about ourselves and each other).  But I keep coming back to the fact that we all have seemingly less than flattering facets within each of us.  You.   Me.  And everyone we do and don’t know.  Does it do us any good to demonize our imperfections? They’re part of us and have been since the beginning.  And all signs point to us not evolving into perfection anytime soon.  So, why not celebrate what’s good about us? At least a few times a day.  Yes.  I know it’s tempting to critique the faults because many are glaring and constant.  And how about the bonus of feeling like we’re oh so knowledgeable when we can pick out exactly what’s wrong, huh?  But I must say, I for one could use the uplift.  Couldn’t you?

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  1. Is how we interpret events in our lives a form of art?
  2. How do you remind yourself of what’s good about us?
  3. What do you think about how humanity evolves and our tendency to demonize our imperfections?  Do we celebrate our strengths enough?  Do we have to do both in order to evolve?
  4. How do you deal with humanity’s flaws?

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Image by Marjan Krebelj

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June 21, 2010 at 11:16 am

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kate June 21, 2010 at 5:58 am

I often go to the Tate Modern Gallery and that always raises a few debates about what is art.
People often dwell on the negatives, I think encouraged by media, who would have us believe the world is full of murdering, lying, cheating thugs. When really everyone has goodness in them, unfortunately the fact that Mrs Jones helped a neighbour or Mr Smith faced his fears and gave up drugs are not newsworthy.
I always try to look for good in everything – sometimes that is more challenging than others – but there is always some there.
Best wishes,
Kate

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2 Jenny June 21, 2010 at 6:23 am

I have been through many difficult times in my life, and at my worst I haven’t always been proud of myself. However, at those times, I was truly doing the best I knew how to at the time.
I try to remind myself of this when I find myself judging someone else’s actions or behavior. It is difficult, but I realize now that as I grow in compassion towards myself I grow in compassion towards others.

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3 Aging Mommy June 21, 2010 at 11:21 am

Great post – thank you for a very timely reminder of how fruitless and destructive it is to focus on the negatives in ourselves and in others. It is very difficult to do yet it requires so much less energy and is so much more rewarding to focus on the positives in ourselves and everyone around us.

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4 Aileen June 21, 2010 at 11:26 am

“Is how we interpret events in our lives a form of art?”
You ask some great questions! I do believe that how we interpret events in our lives is a form of art. We can be wildly creative with them for our good or for our own detriment. What’s fascinating in when we change our view of the life event and how that can change our life perception.

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5 Kristen @ Motherese June 21, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Thought-provoking post, Belinda! Thank you.

I find that I am most negative about others when I am feeling negative about myself. I then fall into the ugly cycle of trying to make myself feel better by comparing myself to someone or tearing them down in my head in order to make myself feel better. Ugh. When I make time to take care of myself physically and emotionally (eating well, getting enough sleep, spending time with the people and activities I love), I find that I am more charitable and more full of appreciation for others. I guess it’s true: charity begins at home!

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6 rob white June 21, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Hi Belinda, you pose some very interesting questions here. I think we need to deal with humanities flaws with compassion. When we realize that everybody is doing the best that they can with the limited resources they have it opens up space for understanding. Underneath all this show of personality and cruelty is one vast sea of compassion. It is impossible to condemn someone when we truly get he or she is us, after all

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7 Stacia June 21, 2010 at 12:51 pm

The most moving “artwork” I have ever seen was the pile of dusty, worn shoes at the Holocaust Museum in DC. Was it art? I don’t know. Did it move me? In so many ways. I think the shoes are a reflection of what you’re talking about here: They bring to the forefront some of our most demonic flaws, while highlighting some of our finest qualities, like collaborating to overcome great odds and having the courage to remember hardship and tragedy.

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8 TheKitchenWitch June 21, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Gack! I’m always beating myself up about stuff I’ve done or imperfections that I have. It pisses me off; I’m so generous with my friends regarding their foibles, but I’m ruthless with myself.

The most beautiful piece of art I’ve ever seen: Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss. I could have stood and looked at it all day.

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9 Rudri June 21, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Belinda, great questions. I don’t know why as a society we insist on focusing on flaws and are unconcerned about what we are doing right. It’s a global dysfunction I think, and I don’t have any brilliant answers as to how to cure it. There is a fine line between being honest with yourself and others and being overly critical about things that don’t really matter. Ultimately, like everything else, it is a balance. As you say, the uplift is necessary, it propels us to continue in our lives despite the negativity that plagues us.

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10 Colleen June 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Hi Belinda,
you raise some very interesting points in this post. It really has me thinking. Perception is certainly a very multi faceted thing. I prefer to be the cup half full kind of person and when I struggle with one of my “weaknesses” I prefer to think of it as a learning experience. If you try to ignore these feelings of inadequacy you will not grow. I firmly believe that we a set on this earth with a blue print and we will find ourselves in situations where we can learn the lessons we need to learn and we shouldn’t feel quilty for being the person we were created to be.

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11 Tony Single June 21, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Belinda, life IS a work of art. There is art in a person’s smile, art in the antics of a cat, art in the way a stone makes ripples in the water’s surface. Art is everywhere. It feels to me like an act of creation that the conditions are just so that we can even be here, clinging to a planet as it hurtles around the sun.

I think there is good and bad within us, but I agree that what does it help to always focus on the negatives? My personal flaws and weaknesses do not give me relief or reward whenever I obsess over them. It’s only when I let others see the good stuff in me, and maybe even see it for myself, that I get that much needed relief. Perhaps not even focusing on oneself for a time can be a form of relief too.

As a species, I guess it’s hard not to demonise our imperfections. After all, it could be argued that we in some ways have been the most wasteful, selfish and destructive animals on the planet. Our shared history would seem to bare that out. If we evolve into something better, it can only be through individuals… and enough individuals so that the numbers eventually stack up on one another to make an actual difference.

So, yeah, I agree. Enough with the demonising. That never helped anyone. But we also have a great responsibility to be transparent about our failings so that we’re not kidding ourselves about what we are. We ARE flawed, we CAN do better, but we need to do better by not pointing fingers at one another and ourselves… and stop judging for a change. I find a big hug works wonders whereas a clenched fist never will. 🙂

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12 Patty - Why Not Start Now? June 21, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Hi Belinda – This is such a fascinating way to pose the question of strengths vs. imperfections, within the framework of art. Because the art world is so much about critique and examination. In fact, I once read that creatives are problem finders (as opposed to problem solvers), basically looking for what’s wrong almost all the time, finding the flaws in what is apparently flawless, without even knowing it. So I do wonder, is part of it just our nature, and perhaps some of us aren’t as good at strength finding? I don’t know, I go back and forth on this all the time. One thing I do know, though: I’m much better at supporting other people’s strengths than I am my own. And sometimes I just want to say, “OK, that’s me.”

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13 Michele Mas Martin June 21, 2010 at 6:00 pm

As usual, your writing inspires me to think about “how i think” (and therefore how I act and react). It was so nice to meet you at PC’s gig on Saturday.
Michele

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14 Katie June 22, 2010 at 4:43 am

I don’t think we celebrate our strengths enough. We do during the Olympics. We do seem to celebrate through sport, remembering-type holidays, but in general, we don’t. We like bad news, we like to read about people messing up, and somehow when we are criticized we hold onto that more tightly than a million compliments. We’re a strange and fascinating bunch us humans. We like to be right, to see others do badly, but we also can admit when we’re wrong and celebrate each other. I like the idea of just for now, having a little lift and celebrating what I do well, art or not. Thanks Belinda. Thoughtful words as always.

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15 Tess The Bold Life June 22, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Belinda,
I only have inner peace when I leave judgement behind. I think we need to accept and celebrate our flaws. We don’t owe anybody perfection. Not even our children. If everyone focused on pointing out the good and wonderful the imperfections would lose their power. Great post.

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16 Amber June 22, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Belinda, this is what I feel constantly. I know I do my fair share of complaining about other people, but I try to limit it to inside my head–and even then I try and cut it off before too long. I recognize that I am far, far from perfect so I do not expect perfection from other people. What I do expect is respect, something I would gladly reciprocate.

Wonderfully expressed and a great community building post.

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17 Christine LaRocque June 23, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I agree with Kristen that these types of questions tend to go in cycles. Positivity breeds positivity and negativity, negativity. I would agree with you that sometimes it’s simply about the choice, but I don’t think that’s always the case. Life experience, those we choose to let influence us and our emotional state of being can sometimes create factors beyond our control that profoundly affect our perspective of life. And perspective is art, it’s a wondrous thing and highly individual. I’m not sure that everyone gets that. In fact, I know we don’t. It’s an interesting reflection on society, one that would be more rich if we could all recognize our individual realities.

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18 Mark June 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I remind myself daily of what is good about us, which by the way is pretty much everything. Once we take the labels of good and bad off of things we begin to understand the true beauty of what we call imperfection.
It is interesting how we demonize our selves. It is no surprise as many religions of the world claim that we are born of or with sin upon us and thus marking us as evil from the get go when in reality we are of source which is pure love. We are born of pure love.
Great post.

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19 Meg June 27, 2010 at 6:57 am

Some say that the ability to ask these questions about yourself and the world around you is where art begins. It’s a level of consciousness. Children who are good at art are often the ones who feel most alienated from their peers, forced to be aware of physical or social inadequacies in that time and place in their lives. The feelings often persist when the times and places have changed, thus turning into a self-perpetuating alienation–but on the bright side, more art. Now, the form that art takes may or may not be appealing, or worthy of a museum installation, but that is a separate issue. Other factors come into play–understanding how the art market works, how a particular museum receives work for review, etc. The self-deprecating artist would have to raise his/her consciousness sufficiently to learn these factors and give them a go.

That is where society’s self-demonization plays more of a role–in a culture where rigid notions of beauty, art, and achievement are held, it is difficult to feel up to snuff. Nearly everyone feels inadequate on some level and at the same time keeps everyone else down there with him, whether an artist, an athlete, or a stockbroker. Culturally, though, I think we are evolving. When you look back on cultural & social history, there is much more freedom of expression now–and acceptance of that expression–in nearly whatever form it takes.

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