I like words and phrases generally, but sometimes I’ll like a particular word or phrase so much that I use it over and over again, sprinkling it into conversation even in places it might not fit quite right.
Sometimes these words or phrases are preexisting, but other times I sort of cobble¹ them together, you know, extemporaneously.² Either way, they enter the Beitelmaniacal lexicon. (Ooh: Beitelmaniacal! Beitelmaniacal lexicon!)
NOTE(S): A PRETENTIOUS/WHIMSICAL INTERLUDE
¹ ‘Cobble’ is a preexisting word I like. FYI/FWIW. I also like the preexisting verb phrase ‘to cobble together.’ Also, yes, of course: I like cobbler. All kinds.
² I like ‘extemporaneous(ly)’ too.
So one of the latter — a Beitelmaniacal coinage — has thusly elevated itself into my own personal Glossary of Terms.
The term in question?
‘The MoMA Moment’
The Pithy Epigraph:
“I don’t use the accident because I deny the accident.”
– Jackson Pollock
The Long-winded Definition:
A (so-called) ‘MoMA Moment’ [noun] is any serendipitous real-world occurrence that brashly defies workaday logic and expectations, suspending the rules of the ordinary and instead hewing closely — if also fleetingly — to the more gestural and numinous reality of dreams. As such, there is usually very little “real-world” evidence to prove the MoMA Moment actually occurred, save for the subtly (or not so subtly) changed life you live in the Moment’s aftermath; often, attempts to recount the experience to friends and family are immediately met with emphatic incredulity (i.e., “Bullshit, dude! That shit did not happen. You’re totally making this shit up…”) and/or an unmistakable facial expression conveying mild-to-moderate concern for what appears to be your slipping grasp on reality.
But the MoMA Moment is real. As is, perhaps, the slipping grasp.
In fact, that paradox is its defining feature: the MoMA Moment is at once wild, random, unexpected, illogical, dream-like, and yet — like the most affecting dreams — it also makes perfect sense. So much sense, you should’ve been expecting it to happen all along. So much sense, it almost hurts. In that respect, it’s not random at all. It’s the opposite of random. The MoMA Moment is when reality abstracts and unhinges itself for you and, in so doing, brings you face-to-face with a deeper, more important truth than any you’ve ever been — or will ever be — able to articulate in/on your own terms. You are never “ready” for the MoMA Moment. You are never “prepared.” These are, in fact, the counterintuitive prerequisites. You’re only ready when you’re not ready.
An important note: the Moment really is a moment. We couldn’t live for any length of time in the MoMA Moment (any more than we could live, say, in that Jackson Pollock painting up there, or even in the hallowed 4th-floor MoMA gallery that houses it). The MoMA Moment is a gesture, a star sign, a clue (penned, no less, in disappearing ink) for the haphazard treasure hunt of your life. It’s there and then it’s gone.
Also: There’s what it seems to mean and what it really means. There’s what it means now and what it will mean over time. Sometimes those things match up in complementary ways. Often they don’t.
Lastly this: In the end, what you do with all that mystery and mind-boggle is up to you. You can call it an accident, crumple it up and throw it away. Or. You can deny the accident and make good use of what is not an accident about it. Again: it’s up to you.
The Long-winded Backstory:
Not too long ago, I went to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York for the very first time. I have an elliptical-orbit type relationship with visual art. My dad was an inveterate doodler who had natural talent (more, it always seemed, than me) and a one-of-these-days attitude toward developing it more seriously. ["If I had a dime for every time, / I heard my old man say 'One of these days...', / I wouldn't be like my old man today." -- M. Cooley]
That day never came.
As for me, my favorite classes in high school were my art classes, but I was always one of the lesser talents in the room, especially as I proceeded into the upper level courses. For a long time after high school, I dropped it. Then I started writing. Now I teach (writing) at an arts school, and I find myself quoting my high school art teacher, Larry Hammonds, almost as much as (or more than) I do my many writing teachers, especially when I’m trying to articulate a set of pithy, “universal” principles that can sustain a creative life.
Anyway, so lately I’ve been drawn to, well, drawing. Also mixed media collage. (Looking at other people’s drawings and collages but also making my own [not worrying so much about whether or not they're "good," which is really the best part].) Also I’ve been drawn to interdisciplinary talents like John Berger, Miranda July, Mike Mills (no, not that Mike Mills, though he’s cool too), Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen, though he’s cool too). Among, well, others.
Along these lines, I’ve also been (re)drawn to the Abstract Expressionist movement, for probably a lot of reasons: its distinctly American flavor and foundation; its distinctly American epicenter: AKA NYC; the drama(s) of the personas involved; the connection of the artists in question with/to poets, the interdisciplinary vibe of that particular community; and maybe, not least, because it isn’t representational and I’m not very good (AKA: confident, “skilled”) at doing representational art.
So that’s why Abstract Expressionism is accessible to me, in a way that, say, those hyper-realistic Norwegian (?)³ painters aren’t.
NOTE: A(NOTHER) PRETENTIOUS/WHIMSICAL INTERLUDE
³ Dutch! Dutch ≈ Norwegian, right? Anyway. I love Van Gogh and he’s Dutch. But he’s not hyper-realistic. Hmm. Anyway…
And that’s why MoMA has, in recent years, become something of a Mecca for me. A numinous place that beckons a certain kind of (misfit) pilgrim.
So I answered the call. And something happened there. I don’t think I’ll say what it was [please see above re: "Bullshit, dude!" etc.]. Not now (maybe someday).
Really, I strongly suspect the particulars aren’t so important. But, yes, it was something I didn’t expect, something I definitely wasn’t (and, so, maybe sort of was) ready for. Something very fleeting and random and totally illogical — something that had nothing and everything to do with Art — and I immediately found myself in an altered state because of it. In one sense, confused. (Did that really just happen? Why did that just happen?!) In another sense, more open, more comfortable with infinite, unsolvable mysteries. More sure that infinite, unsolvable mysteries aren’t supposed to be solved in the first place — as the aforementioned John Berger says: you’re supposed to carry them with you. Into the next gallery. Out into the loud, hot American city that smells of lilies and street-cart falafel, of shit and piss and bus fumes. Where the small birds chase the big birds. Where everyone else knows everything and you know absolutely nothing and mostly (but not completely) that’s just fine with you. Out to a place you’re leaving soon, a place you will return to, a place that now feels slightly more accessible than it ever has before, even though you’re not sure why.
Yes that’s hyperbole. Probably, too, too lyrical for its own good.
But I’m not sure where (or who, or why…) I’d be without hyperbole and lyricism.
And anyway. It happened and it was real, and I deny the accident.