The Origins of Works of Art: Rich Opportunities for the Thrifty Aesthete

Friday’s MusicIC takes place at the Englert; Saturday’s Dis/Unity is an Englert co-commission — archive photo

The upcoming week offers an unusually rich trove of aesthetic encounters for the inhabitants of Iowa City, many of which are intentionally transparent about the nature of the creative process as something nurtured by art itself. Much art — whether music, literature, painting, sculpture, or theater — springs from the artist’s attempt to communicate or convey a truth that has been revealed. This truth is rarely factual, or even propositional in nature — instead, it’s a new way of understanding the world. These revelations are always available to us, and we often encounter them happenstantially — those wordless encounters with truth, for example, that leave us speechless when we watch a particularly powerful sunset or see the striking form of a winter eagle soaring down from the skies to snare a fish from the river.

Sometimes movies hit me in this way, sometimes music will do the same. The paintings of Marc Chagall always make me want to open my mind to the universe, the way that Emily Dickinson’s poetry does. Most of these aesthetic encounters require that I translate the truth I witnessed in the art into another art form — I’m not a nineteenth-century poetess in Amherst, and I lack the fine motor skills required of a painter. I do enjoy narratives, however, and find that the ways that I echo back or reflect whatever truth I have experienced through my own way of inhabiting it results in a strikingly different product.

This emergence of art from art is common, far more common than we know (ask any artist where she finds inspiration). What is less common is having a broad canvas on which different examples are presented for your enjoyment. This week provides a range of distinct aesthetic encounters; places to explore what art can do at its most self-aware, moments where it spins gold into platinum.


multiple venues — Wednesday, June 15–Saturday, June 18

The first possibility is the MusicIC programming, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. In its first year out from the Summer of the Arts organizing umbrella, the 2016 MusicIC program offers a series of intentionally inter-aesthetic experiences that expands on its origins with Hancher and the School of Music six years ago.

John Kenyon, director of the UNESCO City of Literature, is excited at the opportunity to, he says, “explode the definition of literature” to include music — especially as musical and literary narratives have a history of interconnections. This follows the desire to further democratize literature and open up the possibilities of music to those who believe, wrongly, that such things are overly complicated.

Part of this democratizing process is making the high quality selections available for free (Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday) or for a very low fee (Friday night’s presentation is $12.50 a person). These programs are compact and designed to help introduce audiences to possibilities of beauty in places they may not have searched for them. It is possible to overlook the connections to literature and simply embrace the joy of music — but, especially on Friday night, as writers read new works inspired by Mendelssohn, Kenyon’s hope is to get audiences to rethink and expand their awareness of what literature and beauty might mean — to find “lyricism and prose in performative appropriations.”

You can see MusicIC at 7:30 on Wednesday (“An Hommage to Hayden”) and Thursday (“Beethoven’s Brilliance: The Difficult Resolution“) at Trinity Episcopal Church (320 E College St, Iowa City). Friday’s Englert performance, also at 7:30, will feature readings from Robin Hemley, Daniel Khalastchi, Amy Margolis and Sabrina Orah Mark as well as music by Mendelssohn, performed by the Solera Quartet. It is a one-of-a-kind presentation designed to let audiences leave filled with wonder.

Saturday is a morning program especially for children, “What Dvorak did on his Summer Vacation: How Iowa Inspired Dvorak’s American Quartet,” at 10:30 a.m. at the Iowa Public Library.

Dis/Unity: A Service

Space Place — Saturday, June 18 at 8 p.m.

Another excellent opportunity for Iowa City will be Saturday night’s presentation of Dis/Unity, in the Space Place (formerly BJ’s Records) above the Deadwood. Another Englert co-commission, following upon the wonderful presentation of The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore last month, Dis/Unity will allow the audience to witness how creation starts to come together. Looking to ways that art can confront the racism that weighs down our society, Dis/Unity is an interdisciplinary performance involving dance, multimedia and visual art. As with MusicIC, Dis/Unity is a free event that provides a behind-the-scenes look at how art and creativity co-ordinate and come together in meaningful and beautiful ways.

Other musical events abound: those who are headed to Codfish Hollow to watch Built to Spill on Saturday should arrive early enough to see the art gallery and the setting in which the band will perform before enjoying the music alone.

Those who complain about the sameness of mainstream cultural options — the neverending slew of sequels and prequels offered at the cinema or the way that each summer’s hit songs sounds like those of the previous year — are fortunate to live in a place that offers — for free — chances to engage speculatively with art, looking to its interconnections and how they are formed. Please consider stopping in to admire something different, something beyond the ordinary rut in which you may have unknowingly found yourself. Become exposed to a more transparent presentation of the kinds of truth that make art occur. Hopefully, becoming attuned to these events will provide you with experiences of truth that will promote your own creative works, with greater richness than another day at the Cineplex could offer.

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