Sunday, May 8, 2011

Life as Art and Art in Life

This weekend I took a couple of friends from Manila to stay with me in my house at the foothills of Mount Fuji. Weather-wise it was a rather crazy weekend. Friday night it was cold enough to actually get some of the winter clothes out, and all-day yesterday I had the infrared heating on as it was raining and the temperature hovered around 7 degrees. And today, it was a very warm 26 degrees as I drove out of the Fuji lake area back towards Tokyo, in preparation for my return back to Manila. Talk about extreme weather in a matter of hours -- but then, again, nothing too extraordinary for my eventful life so far this year, whether it's the weather or other things.


A visit to my house in Mount Fuji -- a house I see too little of amidst my never-ending Travelife; I've been here at most once or twice a year in the past few years -- always gets me thinking about art. Maybe this is because my main library is here, and it's filled with years of collecting art books as well as 20 years of Architectural Digest back issues. My two vices when shopping abroad are bringing back rare coffeetable books and interesting foodstuffs -- and most of my coffeetable books are in my Mount Fuji home.

The surroundings are pretty picture-perfect too, in terms of nature. Nothing fancy, mind you. But then, you don't really need fancy where nature is concerned. Manila friends who've been here liken it to some beautiful forest areas outside San Francisco where some Filipinos have second homes.


Anyway, yesterday it was pretty rainy so we stayed in for most of the morning and then I made a pretty nice paella and assorted tapas for lunch. We all woke up early for some reason and looked through my DVD library for something to watch together before breakfast. I have a really eclectic selection of DVDs here to satisfy practically anyone's tastes and the shortlist that came up after everyone had had a look included:

1) All About My Mother, a Spanish movie directed by the legendary Pedro Almodovar

2) The Shooting Party, a period film from the UK about the life of the aristocracy in England just before the First World War

3) The latest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm by Larry David

4) Gosford Park, an excellent American film about a murder during a house party at a grand house in the UK in the 1930s (my personal favorite)

5) Both seasons of the BBC sitcom Extras (my second choice)

6) The Diary of Bridget Jones

I'm sure you will agree that these alone represent a very eclectic selection from my DVD library, although there's a lot of UK stuff because I tend to buy most of my DVDs when I'm in London, since there's such a good selection there. Anyway, we took a vote as to what we should watch -- I would have chosen Gosford Park or Extras -- and Bridget Jones won. It was actually a very good choice for a laugh on a rainy Saturday morning in Mount Fuji.


After breakfast, the rains cleared a bit and some people took a walk outside towards the lake or the golf course. Meanwhile, as I hadn't been up to my Fuji house for a while, I decided I just wanted to relax inside. I took a bunch of old issues of Architectural Digest and curled up in my living room, enjoying the visual treat of looking at beautiful houses that were also beautifully photographed. I've been thinking of doing some minor renovations on my Manila home for a couple of weeks now, and looking through Architectural Digest back issues just gave me lots of inspiration.

One of the most enjoyable articles was a series of interviews with the famous international art collector and dealer Eugene Thaw, who is based in New York and who made a very significant donation to The Morgan Library & Museum. I'd loved reading his feisty Q&A interviews when they first came out in Architectural Digest -- he certainly minced no words and names, and he had very strong opinions about art, artists and art collectors -- and I had the opportunity to read and enjoy this series of interviews again yesterday. He's very much against fashionable trends in art and people following the herd, and also against people who create art that can't co-exist harmoniously with life. He speaks out very courageously against some very popular international artists who create shocking installations that make many people uncomfortable and then sell these for a fortune.

Anyway, this made me feel like visiting a couple of galleries in Manila this week, and looking at some beautiful paintings.


This also made me think about a lot of things only indirectly related to art. For one thing, it reinforced my desire to live with art -- to surround myself with what is aesthetically pleasing -- and to live life as art. What exactly does it mean to live life as an art? The brilliant but tragically maligned author and poet Oscar Wilde once said that life is your art; you set yourself to music and your days are your sonnets. I guess he meant that you create the life you want to live, and that inevitably becomes reality. Your life begins as a blank canvas or composition sheet and you are your own artist.

I strongly believe this as well, but I'm still really thinking comprehensively about what life and living mean for me, going forward. I know it will have something to do with living your life the best way you know -- and the best way is different for everyone, of course -- and never failing to appreciate all the details in an effort to get the Big Picture right. We all want a great life, but oftentimes it's really just under our noses and we just haven't noticed it.


I also want to make sure I don't miss out on chances for happiness, big or small. Life is too short for wasted opportunities and, as much as possible, I want to make sure it doesn't go too fast and that I get to savor every moment of it. With this in mind, I closed my magazines and put them away for this visit and looked out my window, where I saw my cherry trees still in bloom. The sakura season in Japan that most tourists know of is in late March to early April; but here in the hinterlands where temperatures are a good deal colder, the mountain sakura are still blooming beautifully. They're also a deeper pink than the famous white sakura of early April. The picturesque scene of my own cherry trees in full bloom really made me happy.

And then it was time to cook paella for lunch.


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