January 24, 2006

Using Your Cell to Express Yourself

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 9:49 pm

I am not a cell phone person. I was given my first cell phone as a teenager to be used for emergencies and I still carry my phone for emergencies only. Sometimes the emergency is needing to call my husband to tell him the cutest piece of furniture at the thrift store needs a good home. But other than that, I don’t use it to make calls and no one calls me on it because they know I probably won’t answer.

Cell phones have gotten pretty artsy in recent years, and I’m not talking about the whimsically colored and patterned phone your teenager is carrying. The variety of phone rings in the world is astounding. Peripherally, I hear the individualized rings polluting the sound space around me. I never considered them more than a nuisance or outright irritating, depending on the place the phone was ringing. I growl when someone tells an “amusing” story about how he was at the movies and at the emotional peak of the film, his cell phone suddenly rings “Beat It.” I’m all for individual expression, but not every time is the right time to stand out.

For the last few months I’ve been borrowing another person’s cell phone. Since I am not a cell phone person, I did not bother to change the ring when I got it. I never heard it ring before receiving it, and for the first two months it sat silently in my purse. Then one day I was driving by myself when samba music started to play. I couldn’t help myself as I started car dancing while trying to mental locate where the music was coming from. By the time I realized it was my phone, it stopped samba-ing. It was a lilting few moments, and then life moved on.

Several weeks later, my husband and I were cleaning up the kitchen when the samba started again. It still took me a second to remember what it was. My completely befuddled husband exclaimed, “What is that?!” While his eyes scanned the room for the responsible technology, I noticed he couldn’t stop his arms and legs from samba-ing. I said it was my phone and he laughed. It was not a ring he associated with me and he wasn’t surprised to learn I hadn’t chosen it. Still, the ring transformed an uninteresting chore into an impromptu samba session for a minute or two.

I have to admit, I’m hearing more rings in line at the supermarket or when standing at the pump at the gas station that make me smile. There are some good rings out there. My husband, who is the polar opposite of me when it comes to the cell phone realm, told me a story that indicates these rings are prompting discussions about whether a person’s audible identity as reflected by his cell ring matches his public image. Matt was testing a new service provider by carrying his sister’s cell for a few days. It rang “Mozart” at work and his coworkers commented on the mismatch. My husband made the fascinating observation that he didn’t really like the Mozart because he wanted a “phone to sound like a phone.” My husband’s regular cell rings two rings, one identifying someone calling from work and another for the rest of the world. To my ears, both these rings are musical and don’t sound in the least like a phone “should.” Even the definition of a phone ring is expanding while it becomes more individualized.

It seems that if an iPod helps you express who you are to yourself inside your headphones, cell phone rings have become a sound identity outside your mind, almost an accessory item like jewelry. We’re all characters in “Peter and the Wolf” with a personal melody to accompany our journey through life’s daily adventures. Bubbly extroverts choose ear-catching jazzy numbers. Someone with a more subtle approach to life chooses more mellow tones. A teenager doesn’t have to have the same ring as her stodgy parents. A cell phone can even express our effervescent inside selves in a “safe” way when our reserved outside demeanor gives away few clues.

Obviously, I am beginning to appreciate cell phones as communication devices beyond the power to transmit your voice from here to there. You still better only call me if you are on fire, though.

January 9, 2006

Finding Art in the Most Unexpected Places

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 9:41 pm

One of life’s simple pleasures for me is when art and/or creative expression pop up at unexpected times and in unexpected places. I’ve been collecting some of the best examples in my life over the last few years, and people have sent me stories about run-ins with art that they experienced. These anecdotes go to show that that at any given moment, the arts can enhance our lives.

For instance, in San Diego, there is a Labor and Delivery nurse who plays “Happy Birthday” on her violin for all babies born during her shift. She doesn’t play the violin very well, but what a special way to greet an infant with welcoming music. Any of us who deliver a baby or find ourselves in the delivery room at that big moment could easily sing “Happy Birthday” to the newborns in our lives. It’s so simple, it’s a wonder it’s not already a long-held tradition in our culture. Maybe we could make it one.

Three days before Christmas, I was in line at the post office at lunchtime with my two-year old daughter. There was the expected and requisite line. My daughter was well-behaved and we were making steady progress toward the front when the man in front of us commented on the wait. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out a red balloon and proceeded to sculpt a mouse for my daughter. Watching my daughter’s face go from surprise to delight no doubt mirrored my own reaction. A few minutes later, the stranger performed the same merrymaking trick for the next child to join the line. It was a happy holiday indeed!

In the category of “Why didn’t I think of that?” artist Susan List told me about a gig where she was hired to paint at a couple’s wedding reception. Susan does plein air painting, meaning she has the skills to compose and complete a painting on site, which she did during the course of the event. She said her painting process entertained guests and the newlyweds got a unique record of their wedding day. Hiring an artist to paint during the wedding day was the couple’s idea and what a brilliant idea it was! Every couple wants their wedding to be unique and individualized. What better way than to commission an original piece of artwork created amidst the emotion and energy of that special day? It’s almost enough to make me want to do my wedding over again.

Sometimes we find art in places where it shouldn’t be all that unexpected but alas, it is. Mel Ahlborn, President of the Episcopal Church & Visual Arts, sent me a link to an article in the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It discusses churches which are exhibiting sacred and non-religious art to “highlight the spirit of creativity, rather than focus only on what is expressly sacred or artists who are specifically Christians.” The article cites Christians in the Visual Arts, a non-profit organization that works to inspire and encourage artists to engage the secular culture with art that speaks to the transcendent without being overly religious. CIVA also strives to honor art, whether made by Christians or not, that depicts the world and life with veracity and beauty. As one CIVA board member states, “The church needs both kinds of art and should encourage Christian artists who make each.” I think this should be a no-brainer for any religious or spiritual group, but a story like this wouldn’t be in a newspaper if it was common.

I’m not supposed to be writing about this last one, but I can’t help myself. I’ll be appropriately vague to protect the identity of the person whom I am describing because I promised this person that I would not write a column about what he or she did. However, at a holiday event, this person presented me and several others with hand-crafted holiday decorations that this person made. This person adamantly denied any prior inclination toward being artsy and craftsy, but this person had decided to try some creative expression this holiday season. This person “blamed” my column for making her do this. All of this was reported with a big smile. Obviously, the experience was not too painful. There was nothing more special under my tree on Christmas morning than the multi-symbolic gift this person gave me.

The moral of these stories? There is no better time and place for the arts in our lives than this time and place.