What is Art?

We went to see Yayoi Kusama’s infinity room exhibit in NYC. Our photos resurfaced recently after a *phone vortex moment* and the conversation turned to Art at large. Bruno hit me with: “What is art to you? How do you make art?”

At my blank look, he offered: “For me, I think art is, more than anything, when your heart skips a beat and starts beating a little faster because of the adrenaline you’re experiencing right before you make art.”

I loved his answer, and wanted take it as my own, but it wasn’t my answer. It makes sense coming from a drummer.  He is the adrenaline and the heartbeat of a show.

His question left my mind trailing on those happy moments when an idea strikes and lyrics flow.

“Art is the captured feelings and thoughts as perceived through your unique lenses which are colored by your experiences.”

But Art isn’t just the exciting bits. For me, Art is the captured feelings and thoughts as perceived through your unique lenses which are colored by your experiences. Art is following your curiosity. Art is everything you do. You are art. You were created by others, and you create yourself. Owning that is overwhelming and liberating.

But what about when inspiration doesn’t strike? Making Art is more about getting into a state where I’m focused and not critical. I use many techniques to create, most of which I’ve copied from people much smarter than I am. Here are a few:

Meditation & Visualization:

I meditate daily for 20 minutes. My music reflects this practice. A lot of the real scenic visuals come to me during meditation. The first time I meditated I had this lovely visualization where I dropped down into the pit of my stomach, and as I sank deeper, I became aware that I was sinking into the ocean. I saw a few gorgeous fish and then complete darkness. It was so realistic that it was at first alarming, and then filled me with a deep calm. This scene returns to me even now, six years later.

The audiobook of David Lynch’s “Catching The Big Fish”, read by Lynch himself, is brilliant and links meditation to art.

With my new single “Paths,” while I played my piano, I kept picturing a girl floating in an ocean within a big map. Not a cartoony map, but a very detailed map with beautiful jungles and cliffs. I could zoom in and out of any portion like Google Maps. As the floating girl closed her eyes, all the geography changed rapidly around her, but she remained calm and stayed floating. I think my visualization came from the sadness and love I felt for my good friend who had just lost a long time partner to suicide and drug abuse. This visualization inspired the lyric, “Just when I thought I knew your maps, you went and turned your oceans into mountains while I, was just trying to keep drifting.”

Techniques:

I love the book, “Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art” by Stephen Nachmanovitch. It provides practical art techniques to help break down your mind. For example, draw one type of mark over and over to fill the page then paint over it with different colors to add texture or new color. I see a direct parallel to producing and songwriting; a rhythmic beat layered by harmony collides with a textural sound. I love this concept. The book is filled with mind-freeing tools to break down structures.

“To increase your success rate, you must double your rate of failure.”

Thomas J. Watson

I have a little card taped up in my studio that reads: “To increase your success rate, you must double your rate of failure.” I believe this quote is attributed to Thomas J. Watson (President of IBM in the 1940’s), but I heard it from author Tim Ferriss circa 2009. I love it because the quote not only gives you permission to fail, but instruction to fail.

Collaborations:

Over wine with my friend Winnie, I shared a few roadblocks I had hit with this big interactive installation I was working on. She suggested I scale down and focus just on the face. That night, I made a little origami cube out of printer paper and stuck my finger into it like a finger puppet. With some evolution, “the cube” emerged, and became a focal point for the “Paths” music video. Working with director Rachel Kessler, we started shooting me in the cube, which was so constricting. Choreographer Elena Vazintaris helped us develop those themes, shooting broader movements at the beach. The cube became the element that you try to escape from, but must accept and learn to live with. Working with wardrobe designers has also been so much fun and a great tool to facilitate letting go of our ego, and becoming something different.

Steeped in the World:

We go to Brazil at least once a year. Being in Rio is an alternate reality. It’s a city within a jungle full of beautiful people, sounds and new foods (Count fruit, anybody?) Spending time in Berlin this fall, I worked with wonderful photographers and saw a city that is in some ways so similar to New York, but full of dark history that they do not hide from. And then there’s Mexico City, which has become an annual must-visit. The people are beacons of light. Their food, music, warmth and art is unmatched. I can’t wait to perform in all of these cities. I think travel is one of life’s greatest joys and privileges. It’s an opportunity to add new colors to your lenses.

My hope for my music is to embrace introspection while coming back to a rhythm that keeps you dancing, and reminds you that there is always hope and growth. Evolution is a slow process. Like nature, it should be. You can’t light something on fire repeatedly and expect it to blossom. Breathe. Smile. Love. Repeat.

Jenna Kyle

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