Menachem's Writings

On-board a Transatlantic Flight
Thoughts on different Art Forms

I'm sitting here, bored out of my mind, on an El Al 777 transatlantic crossing, flying squash class over the Swiss Alps. It's only about 1:00 p.m. down there, and we've been still got over eight hours to go before we arrive at New York City's JFK airport, smack in the middle of the afternoon rush hour.

And there's no longer any Internet at these rarefied heights -- Boeing got rid of the service because they couldn't figure out how to turn a profit with it -- so no surfing for fun or knowledge, we sit wholly detached from the world below.

And it really is difficult to write without access to and Wikipedia. How did the Bronte sisters manage? Shakespeare didn't need these services. He just coined a new word whenever he needed one -- and many of his words remain in our language today.

I ate the airline's fruit platter for brunch, accompanied by a couple of glasses of red and white wine, after which I thought I may go to sleep. But when sleep didn't really overcome me as I had expected, I reread the wearisome flight magazine -- same stories repeated in two languages -- an easy way for an editor to fill the pages.

Fellow travellers all around me are either glued to their seven inch screens, watching one or other of the movies on offer, or in varied states of slumber.

It was fun for a few minutes to watch the different screens around me, all at once, but without hearing their conversation -- or the background music, which really makes a film. Very soon I find this unsatisfying -- an amazing high speed car chase, with a beautiful, well endowed, scantily clad women three-quarters hanging out of the car's window on her back, shooting her pursuers, people exploring a cave while riding an old railway system, a guy getting more than just a bloodied nose (blood everywhere -- very violent), a kid cornered by a dinosaur about to be chewed, what next? One attractive young passenger just in front of me is tightly holding her little aeroplane pillow, the lady behind her is sitting 3 inches away from her monitor. The excitement must be gripping!

The large lady in the seat directly in front of me hasn't sat down much so far on the flight -- I'm certain the seat is too narrow for her torso . . . she seemed to let herself down very slowly preceding take-off. She is travelling with a partner, so I suppose he can't complain?or she might totally sit on him! She may be cuddly, but I'm glad I have an empty seat next to me.

I haven't written any prose for a while -- put the proverbial pen to paper (does anyone still compose that way?) -- mainly because I just haven't felt an urge to write. I have been busy with my photography. I think I am doing some interesting work and this allows me to fulfill my artistic urge.

I recently swapped the photographs on the walls of my home gallery. People come by. I receive a lot of positive feedback -- no money mind you, but very complementary comments. Lately I've found the work of photographers whose work I liked in the past, well boring, flat, unexciting. Yeah, the technique's OK, nice colour work, good focus, pretty scenery but somewhat tiresome, not track stopping. There's little I don't already know or haven't already seen. Like picture postcards.

I'm hoping the museums and galleries in New York City will give me a new vision -- or perhaps I can give them one.

Suddenly I feel the urge to write; a need for self-expression. No, I don't believe it's the result of my dumb stupor. Yesterday in Israel I was out shooting beautiful light in vineyards and tomorrow I have an agenda for Manhattan. When I can't express myself with a camera, I feel compelled to do it via my keyboard.

I am often overcome by an urge to express myself, to bring something out from deep down inside me, to share a secret vision with the world at large.

And I start thinking, miles up in the air. Is there a relationship between these two endeavours -- let's call them visual and textual arts? Are they outlets for the same feelings, the inner inexpressible somethingness?

Both of these art forms, and many others if not all, require one to tell a story. Music too serves this function, but in a more abstract sense. Can one pick a story out of a musical composition without some visual or textual cue? Take ballet and opera. Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker for instance. Take Rachmaninov's Prelude in A minor. No-one knows for sure what brought him to write this magnificent piece. Many believe he composed it to illustrate death during a Russian plague, cadavers being removed from society for mass burial. It is a very expressive piece, a very slow (lento), powerful introduction, followed by a fast, running section (vivace), climaxing in a slowing crescendo. The finale, repeats the opening theme, but this time at a deafening pitch, only to end very quietly, almost silently.

My childhood piano teacher had another explanation, and it fits nicely into the flow of the music. It is the story of a person waking up, and slowly realising that he is buried in a coffin. The pace of the music reflects the wretched man's activity, breathing and heartbeat.

Boy, how many times the can the same people shoot each other in the one ninety minute movie? And such varied locations? In a train carriage falling into a deep gully from a bridge? Is that lady really enjoying that film, or is she bored silly but that's what there is to up here?

As he awakens, the realisation his predicament slowly dawns on him. At first he feels around himself, his constricted space, his inability to sit up, to turn. As the music gradually gains volume, the realisation deepens. The loud ending to the first section illustrates full realisation. The fast section is the vain attempt to escape the confinement. He scratches, pounds, bangs at the lid of the coffin, elbows the walls to his side. His body rhythm reaches fever pitch. His shrieking becomes deafening. Faster and louder, louder and faster -- and then -- boom! The acceptance that he remains here for eternity. The pitch remains, but we return to the lento.

What an awful story! You can hear the frustration, the thoughts -- no you can feel them in your very being -- Rachmaninov lets you hear them loud and clear. And then at the very end, it goes almost quiet -- the deafening quiet of a man accepting his fate and finality of preparing to meet his Maker.

The fat lady finally slowly sits down again. That was an exercise. Perhaps she's sleeping now. She isn't bumping my tray table. Thanks for that.

But my chosen forms of expression are more tangible than music. You don't need to be given an outline in order to understand the storyline. You look, you read. You take it in.

Or are they in truth more tangible? Is cryptic literature the equivalent of musical composition? Poetry perhaps. Can these forms be interpreted without external assistance, a hint to the storyline? Can most people find the clue that unravels the true meaning, the intention of the artist? Is there one true meaning? One meaning? Really, only one?

A friend of told me they were studying Shay (Shmuel Yosef) Agnon's work in high school. They were given an assignment to explain one of his stories in their own view. During a heated argument amongst themselves, on the what Agnon meant, one of them piped up, hey let's ring Agnon. We can ask him what he meant and solve out dilemma.

Which they did. They explained to the Nobel laureate what each them thought and then asked him what he himself meant when he wrote his narrative. Agnon politely explained to them that once he published the story, he has no further interest in it -- it ceases to remain his property and everyone is free to interpret as he sees fit. In other words, they are all correct.

I have periodically found similar sentiments with my photography. People see things on my wall that I didn't (at least not conscientiously) see on the ground glass. And it is very flattering.

Three inches's movie has ended and a new one is starting. The cushion girl continues to stare at her little screen. Only I seem to be looking at multiple films. The new film has little action, at least not so far, but lots of interpersonal interaction -- must be one of those serious, philosophical stories. On an weariful airplane journey. Who picks these titles?

Another Agnon event illustrates the freedom of interpretation of art. One year, back in the sixties, Agnon came to stay with his daughter for the week of Pesach. He asked his granddaughter what homework her class had been assigned for the end of term break. They were to write a piece on, you guessed it, one of grandfather's short stories. They sat down together and completed the homework.

And granddaughter received a mark of only seven. The teacher discussed the various opinions expressed by the class. She asked the granddaughter if anyone helped her with her essay. Yes, she discussed it with Agnon himself. Teacher was very embarrassed. She had seen the story in a different light.

But she need not have been uncomfortable. Why is the author or artist's view more correct than that of the viewer? Agnon certainly agrees with this premise.

Photography too can be abstract, open to individual understanding. But in general, if a two dimensional, flat piece of paper on the wall talks to you, then it too reaches another realm, without any abstraction. Do you smell the same scent from that flower that the woman next to you senses? Does the light shining though the autumn leaves in the vineyard have the same warmth for both of you? What music do you hear coming the busker's saxophone?

Cushion lady is watching commercials: El Al, 013 cell phone provider (useful information for when she arrives in America), expensive perfume -- a few words from our sponsors. OK, here comes her new movie.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, does one view of the wall tell as much of narrative as a short story? How much of a story can one photograph tell? Or a painting for that matter? I can see far away places, and far away times. But is this what makes a picture, however produced, art? I won't read the same story more than a couple of times, but good photography and painting draw you back time after time.

Jill, separated from me by an empty seat, started watching her third blockbuster, but is now back to her paperback.

I've asked many questions on this page. I don't know the answers, but I am forming a direction. Stories are told in many formats, in many ways. Different artists use, learn, develop, varied techniques to express their storytelling, to develop their unique idea, to share it with a broad audience. And each formats appeals to a different following.

Fat lady isn't asleep at all. She is so enthralled with her movie, glued to her seat -- partner is fast asleep. I can't tell if he is snoring because I have really power earplugs installed. I can barely hear the din of the jet engines . . . which is why I can spend my time thinking.

People have studied art for a long time. It appeals. Humans are the only animal who spends sometimes valuable resources on art, on something that has no use other than its appreciation for its own sake. Other than beautifying the surroundings.

I just noticed on the overhead screen that we've passed south of Cork and Killarney -- we're finally over the Atlantic Ocean!


Please feel free to and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.


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