Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Art of Silence

As you may have noticed if you read the blog regularly, I like the Grammys. I like to be up on what pop culture is doing. I think it's important as a pastor and I just generally like to know what's going on in the world. Plus, the Grammys is usually a great show (this year being a huge exception; if that were the Hunger Games, the producer's head would have been publicly displayed on a pike the next morning).

Daft Punk stole the show, by the way. They won almost every relevant category - and rightly so. If you're unaware, Daft Punk is a French electronica duo who, in those rare instances they appear or perform in public, wear elaborate robot masks that make them look like a Storm Trooper's cool older brother.

Since they're essentially producers, most of their album was collaboration with other artists. They didn't win any award just the two of them. As I was suffering through a second acceptance speech made impromptu on their behalf by the colossally awkward Pharrell, I began to wonder why they remained so silent.

It's not as though their faces are a mystery. They give interviews. They even did a photo spread for GQ, partly without the masks. They're not mystery men. It's a public image thing. While I wouldn't have expected them to perform without the helmets, I was surprised to see them wearing them the rest of the show (maybe it's just easier to recognize them that way?).

When they won Best Album, the Grammys' biggest award, Paul Williams took to the mic. Paul Williams has an interesting back story. He's no stranger to the Grammy stage, winning numerous times in the 1970's. He wrote Rainbow Connection. He was on Johnny Carson. He was a big deal. Then he disappeared until a year or two ago when a filmmaker did a documentary about just where he went. It's a story of addiction, loss, devastation, and redemption. If he'd only known, the film might have ended Sunday night.

It was touching that Williams got to speak on the Grammy stage one more time. That moment alone was worth the atrocious production they put together and I (willingly, I guess) sat through for four hours. It was a profoundly beautiful moment.

It wouldn't have been possible if Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter hadn't decided to remain silent.

In a way it is the ultimate artistic expression. When people make public art, it ceases to belong entirely to the artist. People begin to interpret and take some measure of ownership. When you enter a partnership, if it is a true partnership, you give up your rights to power and control - some part of your life is now no longer entirely within your grasp.

Daft Punk had to stand there while Pharrell riffed and stumbled over two odd acceptance speeches. They seemed to do so happily, I suspect, because they were grateful for his collaboration. His part in the music made possible something they could not have done on their own.

Their silence also led to profound beauty.

I thought a little about God and creation. I am coming more and more to believe God created this world in partnership with creation. Not that God had to do things this way, but the overflow of God's love allowed us - and allows us - to participate in our ongoing creation.

For good or for ill.

There may be times of embarrassment or awkward moments, times when that decision for partnership looks like a poor one. There are also moments of pure beauty. In the end, though, neither moment is a bad moment. Neither moment is a mistake. Both are indicative of true creative partnership. They are the embodiment of public art.

What is the world other than a work of art? What are our lives other than a public statement of some core belief resonating out from inside us?

I need this lesson, perhaps more than most. I hate to give up control of anything. I'm that guy who always has to correct some factual error in an otherwise unrelated story. I pass it off sometimes as a mild neurodevelopmental disorder, and I'm only half kidding (I certainly have lots of Asperger symptoms). I have this ingrained compulsion to "make things right," a difficulty discerning the difference between fact and opinion.

It gets me into trouble.

So I am glad for these moments. These expressions of silence that allow for collaboration. So many artists and musicians hold tightly to their work and struggle for it to be seen the ways in which they intended. Daft Punk made their art and released it to the wild.

Perhaps creative partnership is the key. Perhaps becoming accustomed to outside influence births the capacity for letting go. Or perhaps they're just super-evolved, futuristic, French robots who have a lot of complex things figured out.

Either way, there's something to be said about the openness in which we live life and the ways we allow the genuine contributions of others to impact who we are.

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