Monday, August 11, 2014

Art and the rational mind

You may not know this about me, but my husband and I lived in Hawaii for a few years. We lived on the island of Maui. It was an incredible experience. We loved being near the ocean, where we could snorkel, surf and swim, but I also enjoyed having a chance to learn more about Hawaiian culture. I took a beginning hula class and really loved it. We miss it, but life had other plans for us, and now we are in the desert. Lately, I have been pining for Hawaii, for some of the things there that touched me so deeply. Since the hula was such a big part of living in Hawaii for me, I have been watching videos of hula to reminisce.

Some of you may be more familiar with Tahitian hula, rather than Hawaiian hula. Tahitian hula is much faster than Hawaiian hula. The dancers tend to wear elaborate headdresses, and the movement is focused more on the hips and less on the hands. There are two different kinds of Hawaiian Hula. One is the Auana hula. This is the Modern hula - the one with guitars, ukulele, dresses, flower leis - the one most of us are familiar with. My favorite kind of Hawaiian hula, however, is the ancient hula, called Kahiko. There is a lot of chanting, the dancers are usually adorned with greenery rather than flowers, and the instruments used are mostly the rhythm instruments like the Ipu (which is a drum made from a hollowed out gourd.) I have attached a video of women (wahine) performing kahiko hula, so if you haven't ever seen it before you can experience it for yourself.



It's often interesting for me to think about why I love the Hawaiian hula and chants so much. I don't speak Hawaiian, so I don't know what they are chanting most of the time. Yet it touches me deeply, and sometimes when I watch a hula performance, I am moved to tears. Have you ever loved music that is sung in a language you don't understand? What I have decided is that when we hear or see something that really touches us, it doesn't necessarily touch us intellectually. It touches our hearts. It touches our souls. Visual art can be like that too. There is always this initial desire for people to "understand" art. We think maybe if we understand it intellectually, then we will really be able to enjoy it. I don't think that's true. I think if it's something that touches us, it can touch us without our rational minds. It goes beyond that - it goes deeper.

Maybe the rational mind is a barrier between us and an ability to be touched by art. (Music, dance, painting, sculpture - I am putting all art into this word right now.)

I am curious to know what you think about this. Do you think you have to understand the words of a song to enjoy it? Do you think you really have to know what a painter is thinking in order to be touched by their painting?

"Untitled - arrangement on blue." Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 inches

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Degas "Art is not what you [the artist] see, but what you make others see".

I don't think I need to understand the artist - would spend my life trying I think ... but to see something deep or thrilling or challenging or alive or ? in the art is WONDERFUL.

Paula

Roberta said...

I have a friend who has lived on Maui for over 30 years. She loves it there and never wants to move. Even though it is so expensive.

I kind of like it when I don't understand words. For example, seeing the works of Anselm Kiefer recently, I was mesmerized by the words on his paintings in German even though I had no idea what they meant.

cg/Reno said...

Thank you for this beautiful amazing share....dance and art!
Loved both.

niya said...

I love this post. I've often wondered if what we don't understand brings up a survival instinct - but art is so innocent. I guess that leaves me not understanding the part of the human condition - given that I'm more comfy in the mystery. Thank you for this article.
Niya.