Okay, hold onto your hats! I'm going to start off by throwing some really impressive brainy stuff at you. But fear not, it won't last long. And if you are already brainy, this won't phase you in the least. It's not actually that brainy.
(Deep breath) Here goes. Last night as I was channel hopping (now that I have eliminated my cable service, there is not much to hop through - mostly just a surprisingly large number of manifestations of WGBH), I came across the Charlie Rose show, already in progress. Now, sometimes I like the Charlie Rose Show, if he has a guest that I am interested in. And other times I just keep on hopping right by Channel 2.
Charlie's guest last night was Eric Kandel and he and Charlie were discussing Kandel's book, The Age of Insight. Perhaps it was the tantalizingly brief glimpse of the cover of Kandel's book which Charlie was waving around, with a painting by Gustav Klimt that encouraged me to pause and listen for a few moments to the interview. A few moments was all it took - I was hooked.
Two things became clear to me almost immediately : one, Kandel was an old man who was impressively articulate and was making his points with an energy and clarity that I have not encountered very often - even from much younger persons. The stereotype of old people is that they are kind of "foggy", tired, just oozing through their golden years waiting for the denouement of life. But Kandel was making some very interesting points, and I was quickly drawn into the interview. No foggy old man here. Kandel is 82 years old and is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Two, in his comments Kandel referred to the fact that a painting requires an artist to bring all of his previous life experience to the act of creating the painting; and the viewer stands before the painting, equiped with all his/her life experience and what this means is that what any viewer "gets" out of looking at any painting is unique, and not exactly the same as what any other person will derive from it. Art is a conversation between the artist and each viewer. If the viewer does not bring his whole self to the act of viewing, say, if he is relying on critics to tell him what he is seeing and what it all means, then there is no valid conversation.
That got me to thinking. It isn't only in the art arena that there is no conversation these days. It's everywhere. Either people have surrendered to the opinions of critics and talking heads, thereby simply repeating what they have heard or read; or they fear putting themselves out there and experiencing things for themselves because they might be "wrong" in their own interpretation and so they hold back.
Either way there is no conversation. So, I think we all need to start looking at things for ourselves, and have our own honest reactions. That is where the dialog starts, that is where the road to understanding, learning and evolution of thought begins. It's okay to disagree. It's okay to not like something. It is okay to passionately like something. We don't all need to agree all the time. We can all survive and respect other interpretations of paintings, experiences, events, all facets of life's journey. Of course, there are occasionally times when we do need to reach concensus on issues, but considering the huge number of actions we take in life, those occasions are relatively infrequent.
So, show up for the conversation. Bring your whole self to the experience. Think.
And remember, that old geezer next to you on the bus might just be the guy who won a Noble Prize a few years ago, and is sharper now than you were at 32.