~ Expression of Beauty in What is Decaying ~
#7: Poetry by JR Rhine
Here is a poem that looks at the theme of finding beauty in what is decaying from a completely different angle. JR Rhine is an exciting writer and my collaborator in another project “A Soft and Forgiving Color,” a prerecorded program for a short story and piano, which I will premiere in 2022. He has recently published children’s book Jimmy Loves His Long Hair. You can listen to him reading the book here: https://youtu.be/cS6P8CMGZkI. To learn more about JR, please visit his website: https://jrrhinepoetry.bigcartel.com.
#6: Photography by Deborah Lawrence
Tracing the “lifecycle” thread led me to this image, shared by Deborah Lawrence, Associate Professor of Music at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. The following notes that came along with this deer skull reminded me of the luxury I experienced in her Literature and Opera class: discussing the “gaze” as we read Oscar Wilde’s Salomé…
“Several years ago, some animal deposited this deer skull in our backyard. At the time, the stark white of the bone sitting in the vibrant green grass made for a beautiful, if unsettling, contrast. As time has gone by the skull has decayed some, leaving a recognizable but more abstract form. It resides in the front yard now, nestled sometimes in succulents, other times in ferns and flowers. Disintegrating, changing oh-so-slowly, it is always both a striking object and a topic for thought. I have come to look forward to seeing it daily, a strange resident at our home.”
5: Photography by Christine Bergmark
Enjoy the image of these surreal mushrooms, captured in the Olympic National Park in Washington State, by Christine Bergmark, Lead Organizer and Director of TEDxGreatMills. It reminded me of Christine’s experience: seeing a common theme emerging from TEDx speakers whenever she is preparing for a TEDx event. Although Christine and Karen from the previous post do not know each other and are geographically apart, the prompt of finding beauty in what is decaying directed them to the same idea and image. To learn more about TEDxGreatMills, please visit https://tedxgreatmills.com/.
#4: Photography by Karen Ogden
Here is beauty in what is decaying, captured by Karen Ogden from Pennsylvania in her own backyard. I learned so much about nature from her when she was living in Maryland. These images were accompanied by the following message:
“I love those fungi and lichens, workhorses of nature, alongside the beetles and microorganisms, of course. The crop of mushrooms heralds a decaying root, a remnant of a large, once living tree. As one cluster fades, another emerges.”
#3: Poetry by Michael S. Glaser
Savor these poems, written and shared by Michael S. Glaser. The two poems gently invite us to think about the lifecycle we find in nature and in ourselves. Michael S. Glaser is a Professor Emeritus at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 2004-2009. The recipient of the Homer Dodge Endowed Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Columbia Merit Award for service to poetry, he served as a Maryland State Arts Council poet-in-the-schools for over 25 years and has been widely sought as a speaker and workshop leader. To learn more about Michael S. Glaser, please visit https://michaelsglaser.com/.
The woods in which I live
fill me with wonder,
how patiently each tree embraces
the slow unfolding of the seasons,
how unfailingly each seems to know
when to send forth its buds
and when to let go.
I envy their certainty,
their trust in the resurrection of Spring.
— Michael S. Glaser
Old age has invited me
to embrace uncertainty
look in the mirror
and find there, at last,
my heart’s true song
smiling and simply
humming to itself.
— Michael S. Glaser
#2: Photography by Nick Hughes
Enjoy the decaying scenery and light captured by Nick Hughes along with his writing. Nick Hughes is a filmmaker based in Baltimore and my collaborator who filmed my previous project Beyond Darkness and will also film Decaying. I deeply trust his aesthetics. To learn more about Nick, please visit http://www.enhues.com/.
I took this picture from the passenger seat of a car driving out of Flagstaff, AZ. It was a small forest fire and apparently fairly common in the area. I was struck by the way the smoke billowed out, obscuring all but the front row of trees and how branches had burned away at the bottoms of the trees but not the tops. We didn’t stop the car, so the photo has a small amount of motion blur that gives it a dreamlike quality, reminiscent of the way this fleeting moment has stuck in my memory for years.
I’m fascinated by the way you can trace the light in this image as it falls off and decays. The source is just out of frame, above and to the left, creating a broad wash of light inside. As it travels through the window, it illuminates sections of the brick outside and casts a reflection back onto the window, superimposing the brick pattern onto the larger indoor tiles. It’s a simple scene, but the longer I stare at it, the more I appreciate the subtle interplay of light and shadow.
#1: Poetry by Raisa Lees
The first artwork from the community I would like to share is this arresting poem written by Raisa Lees, a high school senior from Maryland.
I dare you to pick apart this dark life,
like gears in a broken clock you have no intention of fixing.
what terribly curious children we were,
almost innocent in our wickedness,
almost, but god knows we will never make it to his eternal heaven.
I hope you go, to some place better,
but the rain water has sunk too deep into my bones.
some people are made out of the finest leather and gold,
civil people who will fit right into his version of paradise.
but some of us will never let go of the ropes we cling to,
limp rotting fruit was never meant to last forever.
I hope our souls are organic,
ripening in our youth like a freshly picked peach.
enjoy these beautifully fragile things! enjoy!
for in May, we will sink into the river with its muddy bottom,
and decay with the grace of the mighty trees.
When they throw away my body into the forest,
an empty corpse for the fungus to breed,
perhaps my bones will become a cryptid or a legend,
silently rotting away, to become one with all things.
— Raisa Lees
When I was putting my ideas together for a program on the theme of finding beauty in what is decaying, this tulip happened to be in my house. The synchronicity convinced me that this program was the one I should pursue. The process eventually led to creating “Decaying,” a prerecorded program for piano and violin, which I will premiere in January 2022. In this program, listeners will be invited to experience the theme of finding beauty in what is decaying from three different angles: scenery, thoughts, and physical existence. Prior to sharing this prerecorded program, I wanted to create a space to think about this theme without seeking any particular answers or conclusions.
At a glance, this tulip made me think of the mask of Yase Onna (emaciated woman) used in Japanese Noh theater. This mask represents the spirit of a woman unable to rest in peace because of her strong attachment to love, lust, and desire. It is interesting and almost ironic that such a mask had to exist in the society where intense personal feelings were never to be shared publicly. Or it may be more accurate to say such a mask had to exist so that hidden intense feelings had a place to go in order to be digested and purified.
As I gazed at the tulip, I began to realize this dying flower and the mask were actually at the opposite ends of the spectrum. While Yase Onna (emaciated woman) communicates her intensity and inability to accept her own fate and let go of the attachment, the flower seemed totally at peace with her own state. Strangely I see beauty in both ends of the spectrum, and I find this complexity fascinating. What I sensed from the dying flower was contrasting qualities: determination and vulnerability. Or shall I describe it as “quiet determination to be vulnerable”? It is somewhat unsettling because those words do not mix well together, but I also find this complexity fascinating.
Is it too much mulling over nothing? Perhaps. But knowing that I have such a space to let my thoughts float keeps me grounded.
Have you ever found beauty in what is decaying? What does “beauty in what is decaying” mean to you? Please share your artwork (poetry, photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, musical composition, pottery, flower arrangement, etc.) and above all, your thoughts. What happens when you allow your thoughts to float? I am looking forward to hearing from you.
“All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”Marcel Duchamp, artist
Prior to the premiere of my prerecorded program for piano and violin Decaying in January 2022, I am launching an initiative to create a space for contemplation of the theme of the program: finding beauty in what is decaying.
Please consider sharing your artwork that expresses beauty in what is decaying. Any art forms are welcome. When you are ready, send your artwork to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will share select artworks for the community to appreciate on this website, Facebook and Instagram.
~ Prerecorded Program for Piano and Violin ~
Coming in January 2022
This project is supported in part by the Maryland State Arts Council.
~ Prerecorded Program for Solo Piano ~