Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Humility seems to be a theme today. It was a recent Mike of Earthsea word. Additionally, Ariel is asking people to write about it.

I am not sure that I can answer Ariels' question-- about how I would apply humility to my life, but I saw a wonderful example of humility today.

I attended an MFA grad review today in San Hoe. The student under review, Gaku Watanabe, whose pieces consisted of videos of drunken japanese men in public places juxtaposed with grainy black and white images of mexican wrestlers. His engrish wasn't so great, so he didn't talk much. The first thing he admitted was that he, "knew nothing... I have no idea what I am doing." The faculty peppered him with questions, mostly expressing the novelty of a japanese person who is intrigued by mexican culture (some of them quite inane-- "do you think the fact that you are japanese is important to your work?"). His artwork was extraordinary. He captured amazing moments of quiet in the midst of a circus atmosphere... the body language of the participants was so eloquent. The drunken men video was slowed down, so every gesture of the two men was like a dance as they lurched in tandem down the subway platform.

One of the interrogators was especially abusive (he was asian, but I don't think that is important here). Asking questions like, "are you macho?" (answer, after a long pause, "yes"). "Being an artist isn't very macho." "People in the south think artists are gay, what are you saying about manly pursuits by being an artist?" "Why aren't you a wrestler, isn't that more macho?"

Gaku just stood there, without appearing to be upset. He freely admitted to not understanding the questions. He didn't appear uncomfortable. He didn't seem to need to defend his manhood, or comment on his sexuality. The interrogator just went on tossing more and more leading and inappropriate questions until it was obvious to everyone in the room that he was a moron.

As I watched him calmly take the onslaught, I thought, what a cool guy. Here he is, in the hot seat, standing next to his brilliant work, without arrogance, without attitude, without pride. I loved him for it.

Watching his example inspires me to produce entirely kick-ass artwork and then be completely laissez-faire about defending it. Excellence is the punch that makes humility powerful. If one is self-deprecating and a loser at the same time, then of what beauty is that humility? It just becomes an element of self-hatred. Conversely, if humility is an aspect of God, then it has nothing to do with poor self-esteem and everything to do with servanthood, love and honesty.

Humility has a sense of "I have an honest understanding of my bad-assness... so much so, that I can let you discover it on your own. Instead of rubbing your face in it, or being obnoxious by announcing it." And discovery, isn' t that what we are about, as educators and artists?

Humility gives freedom and dignity to the other person. I approached Gaku's work as a viewer. By simply hanging the photographs on the wall, he gave me the freedom to see them, to make my own judgements, to engage with him in that wonderful exchange between artist and viewer. And then listening to him answer questions he had the bravery let the silences stand instead of killing them with defensiveness. Humility is more than just a stance; its a dynamic, a letting go, a party.



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