Learning from Art
Photo & Text by Cat Simril Ishikawa
I emerged from the recent show Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Legs at the Vancouver Art Gallery profoundly inspired. I was reminded of a quote from Baudelaire’s essay, “The Painter of Modern Life”: beauty is a compound of the ideal and eternal with the ephemerally modern, which he called “the amusing, enticing, appetizing icing on the divine cake.” Murakami emerged from that most ephemeral art, Manga which I have long enjoyed. My favorite movie is Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, a spectacularly dense anime, beautifully cluttered with an immensity of Japanese things. Indeed, my 3 favorite films are all by Kon, the other two being Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers. Kon and Murakami were very much on the same artistic page.
Walking out of the Art Gallery, my eye was immediately drawn, as it always is, to reflections in the windows of adjacent buildings. Like Murakami, the more information I could discover in those reflections, the greater their beauty to me. That’s what art does, it inspires you to search for the beauty you found in it in the outer world.
Murakami’s ghost-like figures also reminded me of the Obake Yashiki at my daughter Monique’s kindergarten. Here she is with her cousin Mitsuyuki pretending to be frightened.
Post-kindergarten, Monique remained artistic. This was encouraged by art classes in elementary school which she attended in Japan through the 4th grade.
When we moved to Vancouver, art vanished from the curriculum. It wasn’t until the last grade of high school that she took another art class. All that pent-up creativity exploded in drawings and paintings.
Certainly, techniques can be taught and should be for anyone interested, as a child or an adult. But the desire to create beauty, which has to be self-defined, cannot be imposed. Some people see beauty in the world and seek to add to its total amount of beauty. And it isn’t just a visual sense. I regularly go to Vegas, which has lots of visual beauty but I go there for the food. To taste new beauty. Musician friends take the same delight in listening to and making music, something that appealed to me as a young person but has largely atrophied as I grew older. On the other hand, as a young person, I had no particular interest in food, never imagining it would be the source of wonder it has become for me as an old man. Just as art classes had stimulated Monique’s interest in drawing in elementary school, cooking classes in high school inspired her to be creative in the kitchen, along with her friend Kim. For a number of years, Monique would take me out to restaurants for Father’s Day. For the last Father’s Day, instead of taking me to a restaurant, she cooked a splendid meal of halibut and spaghetti squash with sun-dried tomatoes, from a recipe she found in a cookbook. She crossed over from appreciating and making things that were visually beautiful to things that tasted just as good at a young age. Beauty continually reaches out to us all. Whether we invite it inside us or ignore it is completely up to us.