This summer I lived a dream that wasn’t even my own dream; it was better than anything I could have imagined. I was invited by Miha Pogacnik to the Art & Business Conference (IDRIART) at the Castle Borl in Slovenia to paint music as it was being performed live by a symphony orchestra.
A concert violinist and Cultural Ambassador of Slovenia, Miha’s gift is to teach us to listen to a violin concerto so that we can experience all of its mythological and spiritual implications. The purpose of Miha’s work and the IDRIART festivals is to teach us to listen not just with our ears, but with all our senses. He says:
“Business people must become
Miha led us on a journey of Resounding Landscapes, from the Alps of Slovenia to the Italian border. We listened to musical performances, recitals and poetry readings in churches and castles across the country.
Slovenia is exceptionally beautiful with landscapes that remind me of fairy tales. Wide valleys, farms and vineyards, with tiny villages surrounding churches or castles on hilltops. No tourists or trash culture to speak of either. I kept thinking —this is not Disneyland… and nobody seemed to have any concerns about American globalization. The Slovenians themselves are wonderful— warm, friendly, gracious and open-hearted.
Haloze wine region
The adventure really began when I and three other artists — Richard DeMarco from Scotland, Doris Harpers Grazioli from Italy and Davor Lucianovic from Croatia — were to paint Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major as it was being performed by Miha with the symphony orchestra. Three of us had never painted publicly before, and we were all both nervous and excited.
Painting a live symphony performance at the Castle Borl
Imagine being inside a 15th century Baroque church in Stanjel, (a medieval hamlet near the Mediterranean coast) with your easel set up on the marble steps leading to the alter of the Virgin Mary. Before you, in the nave, the audience is seated within the orchestra. There must be close to 200 people all-together, and somewhere Slovenian national television is taping the event. We artists stand at the four corners of the nave, paper and paint ready; brushes in position. The energy of expectation is mounting. You feel an almost monumental sense of occasion, but you don’t let it overwhelm you.
The Minister of Culture, (and a poet) gives an inspired opening address, then Miha begins by leading us through Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, phrase by phrase. Explaining the progression using themes from Parcival and the Grail, we are asked to consider the Question, the Mystery— and through the music, experience the abyss, death and renewal.
At the first sound of the violin, you hear the Question and feel the intensity of its passion and pain as that note runs all the way down your spine. Riveted, you listen, and in your mind’s eye, you search for the colours and shapes that correspond to the music. With the instructional phase complete, it’s now time for the symphony to be played all the way through. Miha plays that violin like an impassioned 19th century Romantic, and one meter away from you, sit members of the orchestra and audience. They glance at you to see what you are doing. Nothing so far. You are surrounded by sound, and you feel the music in such a visceral way, you are aware of it in your blood and your bones.
Now you must lift your brush to that large white piece of paper everyone can see, including that camera, and make your mark. You draw upon the forces within to counteract the feeling of dancing naked in front of an audience, and you begin to give visual expression to each sound as it presents itself. No, you are not painting the orchestra, you are painting your interpretation of the music. At first, your marks are tentative, then as you become absorbed by the experience you are able to let the process flow without thinking and you paint effortlessly with an energy that defies any residue of jet lag. You let the colours and shapes unfold, and the act of painting becomes an exquisite dance with audience and musicians participating too. For brief moments that transcend time and space, the observer and observed are one — we ARE a symphonic experience.
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major painted by Linda Naiman
The experience of painting music in this setting was awe-inspiring. Some of the musicians told me they too experienced the music in a richer way by seeing us paint the process.
Brahms’ Violin Concerto painted by Linda Naiman
Incidentally, it was Wassily Kandinsky who (I believe) was the first to paint music and wrote about it in his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art.
Miha has taught me to experience music more richly and multi-dimensionally. By deepening my listening, I heighten my perceptions and open up to new levels of awareness about the world around me. This is tremendously useful to my creative work, especially when it comes to accessing information emerging below the radar screen.
The IDRIART conference took place at the castle Borl, the ancestral home of Parcifal; business people, artists, students, consultants and politicians came together for discussions, workshops, keynotes and of course to listen to Miha’s symphonic magic. We explored art as a metaphor for transformation in business and government. We came together to find ways to bring meaning and fulfilment to the workplace and to create a more sustainable world. What questions do we need to ask? The story of Parcifal underscored our quest.
As Miha Pogacnik explains, “In this timeless, archetypal story we hear how Parsifal early in his life found the Grail Castle for the first time; better: the CASTLE found HIM, and because he didn’t ask the question he was thrown out. Years of search, struggle and inner growth followed, and then he found the castle again and became the King of Grail.- So it is with our relationship to the principles of Creative Arts. In ‘indigenous’ cultures there was no word for Art…because of her total presence in the wholeness of the societal organism. ‘Progress’ of the modern world has gradually marginalized Arts to entertainment. Now we have “working” life and “leisure” life, but, a crisis of meaning is mounting, we are learning to formulate questions about the true interdisciplinary, ‘integrational’ role of Art.”
The ideas of Joseph Beuys were also very much present in our group. “Show your wounds!” was one of his oft-repeated messages. He believed the role of art is to effect social change. He influenced a whole generation of artists in Europe and his work was instrumental in the rebuilding of Germany. In fact, the Green Party in Germany was born in his classroom. (For this he was fired.)
Beuys said, “Art that can not shape society and therefore also can not penetrate the heart questions of society, [and] in the end influence the question of capital, is no art.”
The Walker Art Center has an excellent online exhibit of Joseph Beuys work and ideas.
Remarks and questions from some of the ‘tribe.’
Rigmor Henrik Robert:
A Jungian analyst and physician, Rigmor pointed out that when she sees patients, she starts the conversations by asking these questions — what is wrong, and how are you feeling? [Simple yet profound questions to ask in the workplace. Many of us have no idea what we are feeling.]
We are reacting to a world that has ignored beauty, art and sustainability. All the tools that have helped make me successful have created a world I don’t even like.
Where are we? [Our] new culture fails us for not responding to what we have inside. Art creates a richer interior life so we can have a richer
exterior life…The 20th century is full of failed imposed solutions relative to ideals. Mussolini also talked about community and wholeness.
…This is not a unique time in history. We are not at the pinnacle, we are between here and there. What is the emerging story?
Lietaer was responsible for the design and implementation of the Euro. Now he is creating Terra, a new currency system better suited to building community and sustainability. His question to us — (in a world of polarities: elite vs populist, money vs art) how can we create a world that is artistic and democratic at the same time?
It was a thrill to be part of a group of so many talented and inspiring people. I believe the next step in the evolution of society is to integrate the worlds of art, business and government. The conference was really a crucible for incubating new knowledge and insights. I’m glad to have found kindred spirits who not only share my beliefs but who are also architects of the new Europe and beyond.