This summer has been busy.
Probably sounds lame coming from a person who is "off" for summer break. Especially if you're one of the people who has seen pics from our summer adventures on Instagram. It looks like the McAbees are always having fun and always going somewhere.
The truth of it is that we are always having fun. Just not always going somewhere. We are just mastering the fine art of having fun no matter what we are doing.
Fun is important. It's always been important to me. That also may sound lame. You're thinking that fun is important to everyone. But that's not the truth. The truth is, while everyone may enjoy some fun from time to time, not everyone makes it an important priority in their lives.
You see, fun is not a cat. Fun is a dog.
Cats act spontaneously and seemingly without reason. They jump up and run into the next room for no apparent reason. They visit you, purr, rub against your calf and then slash you with a claw. You call them, they ignore you. You put out food and they go live with the neighbors for 6 months. Fun doesn't live like this.
Fun is a dog. It eagerly walks up to you with a sniff to see if it's welcome. If you pet it, scratch it's ears, you have a friend for life. Give it a crumb of bread and it will never forget where you live. It will walk with you any distance, it will come when you call and when you sleep, it will lie at your feet to guard you from harm.
People who understand this truth make room in their lives for fun. They welcome it, plan for it and expect it each day. These people walk with a smile in their soul and they brighten the days of those they encounter.
This idea of fun has been important to me for many years. Back in grad school I tried to write an artist statement that described the role of fun in my work. My mentor was having none of it as the idea of having to read a thesis on the topic of "fun" must have seemed dreadful to him. I get that. And he was right, I was not ready to address it then. I did not have the proper experience in life to bring it to paper. Maybe I'm getting close now.
I was reminded of this last night. We took Blue and Violet to the opening night of the Broadway version of "Finding Neverland" at the Peace Center. It was their first time either of them had been to a "real" theater or a "real" play. As soon as the curtain went up Violet was on the edge of her seat, in a literal manner, thrilled beyond words. Blue loved it too, despite the fact that he and I were both surprised to realize it was a musical filled with 20 something songs. (I was picturing the movie, which is one of my all time favorites and the word "broadway" didn't really register with me...I'm an idiot sometimes.) Anyway, after 3 hours in a seat, well after the time they're usually in their PJs, they were both stoked about the play. At final curtain we walked out with hundreds of other people, mostly adults and while the kids were both excitedly talking about all the cool stuff they just saw, I noticed the adults were all smiling as they exited the building. Strangers made eye contact, smiled and some even said how great they thought it was. Such a change from how they entered the building earlier. I know because I was watching them. I don't get out much in the summer, so I observe when I can.
Of course, this should have been the most obvious observation after seeing a play that dealt directly with the issue of fun and play. The story follows J.M. Barrie and how he came to create the story for Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up and never forgets how to play. So maybe I'm just slow on the uptake but as one white haired old man smiled at me I said to myself, "This is what art should do for people."
I've said for many years now that my first goal with my artwork is to make people smile. I do realize how elementary this will sound to an art critic or even a gallery owner. They, of course, have other things to consider and I get that. I see artists of many different backgrounds and skill levels get publicity, grants and fellowships because the make work that deals with current social issues. I'll admit it's tempting to make a drawing or sculpture based on racism in the New South, inequality in healthcare or the distribution of wealth in America. I may not know when I'm paying to see a musical, but at least I'm smart enough to know not to try to make art that doesn't come from an honest place.
I will argue that fun is just as important of a topic as any of those. Maybe it doesn't have the shock value of other concepts. Maybe it's harder to get an entertainment reporter to come do a story on it. But watch the faces of the viewers when they leave the reception. Are they smiling? Are they laughing? Are families holding hands and talking about how they interpret what they saw? Because that's what I'm aiming for. Not that I have a choice really. If it's what I believe in, it's what I have to do. I suppose there are worse calls.
I know people who have that demon cat. They are proud of their "eccentric" cat. He'll scratch them and put dead birds on their pillow and live his entire life in a higher caste than his owners. Those people are successful and elegantly cool and they say they love that cat.
I'll just be over here with my three dogs, all of us smiling. We'll put on our "good Vans" to go to the play and hit the snack section of a QT gas station on the way home, laughing about the window falling off the set and the real dog sniffing the butt of the fake dog on stage.
Smiling is good.