For the last few months, I have been trying to lose weight. It has been working. I’ve lost about 25 pounds. Not surprisingly, the most effective weight loss method is to eat less and exercise more. What I eat is also important. If my vegetables are fresh and green, I feel better than if my vegetables come out of a potato chip bag or french fries container. I lose more weight when my afternoon snack is a handful of nuts, instead of a bag of M&M’s. None of this is shocking information.
The recent attention to my physical nourishment has me thinking of my artistic nourishment as well. A healthy diet of food contains all types of food. Proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables are all present in healthy proportions when we feed our bodies properly. What do we need to feed our artistic selves a balanced diet?
Balanced artistic intake is important both as a creator and a patron of art. The Oxford American Dictionaries define art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” To appreciate art and receive nourishment from it, one must actively participate in the experience. You can’t just see the painting or sculpture; you must look at it. It is not enough to hear the music; you must listen. Simply reading the words does not reveal the poetry; you must be open to the message. These are not skills that come naturally to many modern Americans, nor people of other cultures I would imagine. We must practice these skills and develop them. It is not enough to eat right; we must exercise as well.
My primary artistic outlet is music, but I have found that involvement in other art forms only enhances my musical expression. To that end, and in the general interest of my artistic health, I have come up with this art diet to help me balance my artistic consumption.
-Read literature every day. Most of us read quite a bit daily. (You are reading this now.) While I find Boing Boing, DownBeat, and my local newspaper interesting and informative, they aren’t necessarily artistically nourishing. Read a poem. Read a novel. Re-read that classic piece of literature that you were forced to read in school. They are classics for a reason. Try something new. Buy a book by a living author you have never read.
-Listen to music everyday. We all hear music everyday, in our cars, or at the grocery store, or on the kitchen radio while we cook dinner. How much time do we spend with music as the sole focus of our attention? Sit down and listen to an entire symphony. Don’t read the liner notes, don’t look at the cover, don’t just put it on while you clean the house. Really listen. Let the music be the active focus of your attention. When was the last time you really listened to Kind of Blue? It’s a classic for a reason.
-Hear live music as often as possible. Nothing feels like the vibrations created by a 70-piece orchestra in a great hall. Seeing the musical communication of great improvisers casts the music in a new light. Seeing, feeling and smelling the performance only enhances the hearing of it.
-Go to museums. Looking at art online and in books is cool, but standing in front of the 14 foot tall Dali painting “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” at the Dali Museum (in St. Petersburg, FL.) is a totally different experience. Take the time to check out every museum in your town, and look for museums when you travel.
-Make your own art. Write a poem, draw a picture, sing a song. Express and apply your creative skill and imagination.
Having a balanced art diet, coupled with healthy artistic exercise will make us better musicians, artists, writers, scientists, engineers, teachers, bus drivers, accountants, or whatever else we might be. And it will make us better people.