I’ve been thinking a lot about embodiment. About how dipping deeper into your inspirations and instincts can be the antidote to artistic paralysis and confusion. This past month, I had the opportunity to see a few live performances that pushed me to further meditate on how full immersion strengthens your art.
One of the performances I took in was a tribute to Yusef Lateef. After three tribute performances of Dr. Lateef’s compositions, Dr. Lateef performed with a percussionist. Here’s a write-up of his performance: http://www.artsjournal.com/jazzbeyondjazz/2013/04/yusef-lateef-the-autophysiopsychics-valedictory.html
As an elder musician—he’s over 90 years old and has been making music for more than six decades—he used various wind instruments and his voice to “say” only what was necessary. There weren’t any extra flourishes or unessential sounds. Both Dr. Lateef’s performance and the tribute performances contributed perfectly to my meditation on embodiment. The sound I heard that evening was accessed by the performers going deep into the intention of the pieces. The musicians guided their music making with spirit and sense, rather than logic and some projected goal.
I’ve written before about the goal of the artist is to reach a space of ease. A space where you are moving without the friction or drag of your preconceived notions about what you are here to create. The evening was a validation of my commitment to show up and focus only on the goal at hand—the editing of the story in my hands, the second draft of the novel. It’s about surrender. Submitting yourself to the service of a mood, tone, sensation of your work is an amazing entry point into the creative process.
A few weeks later, I went to see singer Alice Smith. Her performance was—as I say in my write up of the concert—like a freight train. The thing that really stuck me is how much she has grown, which for me is an expansion accessed by a deepening. It was almost as if she had sunken deeper into her skin and that pushed her forward.
I think of embodiment as “feeling it in the body,” as in feeling the tone and mode of what’s being conveyed in the body and writing from feeling rather than thinking. The act of turning off the conscious mind is not easy, but in doing so, you can fully communicate with the work itself and access those instinctive, nonrational cues and leaps that send you sliding through the contours of your creation. It’s a fun place to be.
Also, I love that I am receiving messages and cues about my work by listening to music and engaging with another art form. It is our right and privilege as artists to make bold leaps and conclusions from a range of experiences. Here singer Vinia Mojica talks about what she learned as a singer from Bach.
“I also adore classical music, Bach specifically. Believe it or not though there are rarely vocal representations of Bach music but it’s the most beautiful melodies, you can jump all over it. I studied Bach when I was in high school. I used to sing and perform Bach pieces as part of an elective class and it really influenced me about timing, chords, and harmonies. It’s a major way in which I approach music. Whenever I can choose where I want to be it’s never on the one, that’s the best way I can describe it.”
Artistry truly is a playground. Our job is to chuck any perspective or habit that blocks up the fun. No obstacles! Or rather, seeing the obstacles and having the tools to navigate them with ease.
Be well. Be love[d].
Kiini Ibura Salaam