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Lessons From The Silence

Remember that scene in The Matrix, where Neo goes to see the Oracle and she tells him that, despite being gifted, he seems to be waiting for something to let him know whether or not he is “The One?” I’ve been thinking about that scene a lot lately, in terms of what it could mean from a creative perspective. In the movie, we eventually find out that what Neo was waiting for was a reason to truly believe in himself and fully own his own power. Once he is able to do that, everything changes.

It’s been almost a year since I decided to put my musical projects on hold because I felt that I had lost sight of where I was going with them – what I was trying to achieve and why. I’ve questioned that decision a number of times since then, but something inside kept telling me to wait and listen: to simply let things settle instead of giving in to the urge to rush back into busyness. I was hoping to find some kind of creative direction during this time – some kind of inkling that would push me in one direction or the other. What I found instead is something that I feel is even more valuable: the patience and willingness to endure the silence.

I think it’s natural to want to fill a void. A common axiom dictates that something is better than nothing, although this sentiment may be more a product of scarcity-based thinking than any kind of universal truth. Regardless, emptiness can feel downright uncomfortable, especially when it comes to one’s sense of purpose or direction. There’s the temptation to think that as long as you’re working on something – anything – at least you’re making progress in some regard. The problem with this, however, is that you may be moving in the opposite direction from where you’d really like to go, or you may simply be moving at random, without any real goal or destination in mind. This is exactly where I found myself creatively: I kept myself busy working on various projects, but I never stopped to ask myself where I was going, or what it was, exactly, that I wanted to create in the first place. What purpose was being creative serving for me, other than keeping me busy? Or more to the point, what void was I trying to fill with it?

Being unsure of one’s direction from time to time, whether creatively or in general, is simply a part of life. Whether it’s during a time of intentional transition, the result of an unexpected turn in the road, or anything else, sometimes it’s necessary to stop for a moment and take a good look at your surroundings so that you can effectively decide on how to move forward. Stopping can also allow you to look back on where you’ve been and ask yourself if the path you’re on is still the most appropriate for where you’re trying to go. What I found when I finally decided to get off the merry-go-round was that for me, staying busy had been serving as a means to fill a long-standing void of indecision and non-commitment that was rooted in fear. Had I not stopped, it would have probably been next to impossible for me to see this for what it was, as countless issues and tasks related to that eternal busyness would have undoubtedly been right there demanding my attention. The takeaway: emptiness and silence can be powerful tools for revealing the unnoticed, ignored, or forgotten.

Creative Passion: The Fire Within

During my freshman year in college, I found myself at a bit of a career crossroads. I originally enrolled as a music major with a minor in earth science, but quickly felt my loyalties shifting as I began to explore the potential job possibilities within both fields. My decision to switch majors at the end of the semester was based on a number of factors, but the level of enthusiasm and excitement my professor brought to his classes was absolutely key among them.

I think passion is like that: it’s infectious. If you genuinely love what you do, it tends to show through in your work, regardless of whether or not you’re even aware of it. Other people can sense it, even if they can’t specifically name what is it that makes you or your efforts so compelling. In the case of my college professor, his passion for teaching earth science infused his lectures with a certain energy and made the subject material even more interesting than it might have been otherwise. I found myself eager to learn more about the world of geology, and began looking at a career in the field as being less of an academic or practical pursuit and more of an exciting adventure.

I’m sure there are a variety of reasons that a person might have for wanting to create and to take that creation public. Maybe it’s a desire to forge a career doing something they genuinely love, or to gain the fame and praise that can accompany the production of commercially-successful works. Maybe it’s nothing more than a desire to see an idea made real – to see the intangible rendered in a tangible form. Sometimes creating can serve as a means to an end, rather than as an end unto itself. After years of creating and performing music of one type or another, it was only recently that I began to fully appreciate the difference between these approaches.

It was around this time last year that I began to seriously question why I was still doing music – what I was hoping to gain from it. The industry had changed significantly, and the ways of monetizing music that I had been familiar with were no longer as viable as they once were. I was on the verge of starting work on a new Parlormuse album and had been writing on and off for Subtle Inversion over the previous months when I suddenly found myself wondering what was really driving my desire to create. Was it just money? Was it a desire for recognition or a sense of accomplishment? I realized I honestly had no idea. I was still doing it because, well, because that’s what I did. I was a musician, and musicians made music. So I decided to stop, at least to the extent that I could (Midnight Syndicate had just started writing for Monsters of Legend), until I could answer that question.

I’ve always had what I can only describe as respectful envy for artists who are particularly focused and passionate about what they create. The ones who don’t have to ask why they’re doing it – they know that they simply can’t not do it. I’ve wondered if I would ever find myself among that elite group, but I think I’ve been coming at it a bit backwards in thinking that finding one’s passion was akin to choosing one’s lunch off a menu. It’s not a case of looking down the available selections until you find the one that calls out to you (“Yes! It’s the chicken parmesan!”). I think passion comes from inside and is based on one’s values and beliefs. It’s found where those values and beliefs intersect a perceived unmet need – a need that you feel particularly inclined to fill using your own unique background and skills.

I’m still looking for an answer to my question about why I myself am driven to create, but I feel a lot closer to finding it now than I was when I started this journey. Then again, maybe I’ve had the answer all along, but simply haven’t been able to see it for what it is.

The House on the Rock: Imagination’s Wonderland

Horse Woman

A surreal carousel figure stands to greet visitors.

Bizarre. Ostentatious. Macabre. These may be just a few of the words that come to mind while exploring the maze-like halls and rooms of Spring Green, Wisconsin’s The House on the Rock Attraction. The brainchild of designer Alex Jordan, Jr., HOTR was originally opened to the public in 1959, although it would continue to be developed and expanded for decades to come.

The House itself is very reminiscent of something that famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright might have designed, making frequent use of exposed stonework, Asian themes, low ceilings, and angular construction. Jordan and his father were rather enamored of Wright’s work, in fact, although some rumors claim that the house was built to spite Wright after he rejected the elder Jordan’s aspirations to pursue architecture.

Japanese Garden

One of the site’s lush Japanese gardens.

 

Japanese gardens and covered walkways offer periodic contrast to what is largely an indoor experience, and sweeping views of the surrounding countryside are possible at several points as well, most notably from the Infinity Room, an engineering wonder that extends high above the treetops for over 200 horizontal feet without underlying supports.

Living Area

Low ceilings and natural stonework abound throughout the main residence.

 

 

The rest of the complex centers around buildings designed to house Jordan’s extensive, eclectic collections – everything from dolls and doll houses to antique mechanical musical instruments. While many of these collections are impressive enough on their own, what makes HOTR truly unique is the way in which they are displayed or presented. Visitors won’t find sterile museum-style display cases in brightly-lit galleries; rooms are typically shadowy and lavishly decorated to accent what is being featured.

Infinity Room

A multitude of windows offer breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.

Streets of Yesterday offers a reconstruction of a fictional 19th century street, complete with storefronts (used to display various collections), street lamps, cobblestones, and more. The Heritage of the Sea features a massive multi-story model of sea creatures in battle, and The Carousel Room delights the senses with what has been billed as the world’s largest indoor carousel.

Doll Store

One of Streets of Yesterday’s many storefront. Dolls and dollhouses abound throughout the attraction.

The Organ Room is a veritable wonderland filled with strange, steampunkish machinery, mannequins, stairs that spiral upward toward dazzling umbrellas of colored lights, and winding, twisting pathways and ramps that lead to and fro. While many of the items in the House’s collections are real antiques, many others are carefully-designed replicas or recreations designed to stir the imagination and enhance the perpetually fun, whimsical atmosphere.

Heritage of the Sea Battle

This massive, multi-story model is Hertiage of the Sea’s centerpiece.

I really had no expectations regarding HOTR when I stopped there on the way back from a business trip a month or so ago. The attraction had been recommended to me by several friends, and I knew that it featured a large indoor carousel as well as a number of unusual collections. Several different self-guided tour options were offered, allowing visitors to see as much (or as little) as they would like: I opted for the “Ultimate Experience,” which included all areas open to the public.

Music Machine

One of HOTR’s mechanical musical machines.

 

The layout of the attraction allows one to be brought into Mr. Jordan’s world rather gradually; the Visitor’s Center and Alex Jordan, Jr. Center offer glimpses of what is to come, but do not plunge visitors headfirst into completely unfamiliar terrain. The main residence is a fascinating piece of architecture, but it wasn’t until I had reached the Mill House that I found myself completely captivated by the place.

The vision and originality that pervades HOTR is undeniable. Love it or hate it, Mr. Jordan clearly knew what he wanted to achieve, and was unapologetic in doing so. I think there’s a very powerful creative or artistic lesson to be learned from that. Had he simply followed tradition and presented his collections simply as collections, rather than using them to create something far grander and more imaginative, I doubt Jordan’s work would have been nearly as effective as it is. Instead, he created something very personal, and the result is even more inspiring and energizing.

I like to think of HOTR as an experience, rather than a place, because it is so much more than its component objects and buildings. It evokes a reaction, and although it may not affect each visitor in the same way, I think that was Jordan’s overall goal.

Organ Room Machinery

Whimsical machines are strewn throughout the Organ Room.

I found my mind wandering back to it during the rest of my drive home and afterward, and my only regret is that I wasn’t able to spend more time learning about its creator when I visited the Alex Jordan, Jr. Center. Perhaps next time: I think The House on the Rock Attraction has definitely earned a return trip.

The Carousel Room

The Carousel Room is a visual and audible wonderland.

Welcome to My Blog

Hello and welcome! The title of this blog may be “Art and Artistry,” but my goal is to explore those terms in a broader way that may not always fit with traditional concepts or definitions. Categorizing the creative efforts of a painter or sculptor as art may seem entirely natural to many of us, but what about less formal pursuits like preparing a meal and decorating one’s own home? Are these things inherently less artistic by nature? I would argue that they are not – it all depends on the perspective of the observer. I think that art can be found in many endeavors and areas of life, and can be both intentional and unintended. A writer who sits down to craft a novel may be intentionally striving to produce a work of art, but a musician serenading his or her friends beside a campfire one evening may yield something no less beautiful without specifically thinking of it as an artistic act.

One of the reasons I love to travel is because it puts me in touch with places, people, and things that I haven’t experienced before. Everything has its own beauty if you’re willing and able to look for it, even if it’s not immediately obvious. This blog will explore the beauty that I’ve found throughout my travels, as well as those very close to home. My hope is that you can share in these experiences and offer your own insights and thoughts as well.

“Creativity is …

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” – Steve Jobs