Art in Nature: EEB 401

A functional ecology class coupled with my microbiology class has opened my eyes to see nature as an art form. Through detailed instruction, I’ve grown to appreciate the beauty of nature, paying close attention to the remarkable order and efficiency of an ecosystem. In the upper level ecology course, we analyze how features of different organisms maximize the species fitness. In the microbiology class, we analyze how microbes enhance or inhibit them from doing so. Organisms operate with impressive strategy. Virtually every component of an organism has an critical purpose to enhance its survival of the whole.

When one organism is removed from its habitat, its effect ripples through the entire community. For example, in 1995, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. Since their arrival, the ecology of the park changed immensely. Deer populations began to occupy only in selected areas of the park. Because there were fewer deer in some areas, there was less herbivory, permitting growth of plant life. With blooming plant life, different species of birds arose in the areas as they feed on these new plant species. Various carnivores and scavengers increased in numbers as wolves left the carcasses of prey on which these creatures could feed. In conclusion, the effect of one animal is incredible. Together, all organisms have a critical role in order to create a seamlessly functioning ecosystem.

The featured photo was extracted from one of my lecture slides. It looks like an art palette!

3 Possible Sources of the Meaning of Life – Proust (Part 3)

To understand something is the human obsession. We can understand the value of money; we literally print the value on the face of the currency. We can understand the value of love; we articulate it through words, quality time, gifts, other love languages. However, we cannot understand the value of art. Think about your most recent encounter with a work of art, like that orange structure on State Street between the UMMA and Angell Hall. Some people analyze it in efforts to find meaning in the artist’s choices. Others stare blankly at the piece wondering what the heck is this garbage or I don’t get it.

Everyone processes art differently, creating an infinitely dimensional character. This is precisely the point of my series of 3 Possible Sources of the Meaning of Life. We attempt to outline the nature of human beings through personality tests or zodiac signs, confining a person to a boxed off “type.” While these conceptions are valuable prompts for self reflection, I do not believe that they are completely valid, yet we accept them in order to satisfy our obsession. Each stimulant in the world around us registers differently and our reaction cannot necessarily be calculated. It may be predicted by trends in our personality, I suppose, but personalities can evolve. We cannot understand the value of art because everyone values are differently. You can never fully conclude someone’s motives behind a piece, but you can appreciate the artwork in your own way. Furthermore, you can be the artist, accepting that not everyone will “get you” but you produce your own meaning.

3 Possible Sources of the Meaning of Life – Proust (Part 2)

In continuation of last week’s post:

…In his novel “In Search of Lost Time,” Marcel Proust searches for the sources of true happiness. He explores wealth and love, but those pleasures fade. Finally, he discovers art and its capacity to restore life to new glory, taking pleasure in simple things. Using the lens of art, he finds appreciation in existence…

Let’s take a closer look at why money and love are not fulfilling sources of one’s happiness. I will use the terms happiness and fulfillment synonymously in this article.

Money has instrumental value, meaning that its worth is based on its usefulness. Money in itself does not bring us fulfillment. It is only the vessel to “happiness.” We can use money to buy luxuries like a convertible mustang or experiences like tickets to Outside Lands. And though we may be convinced the results of money bridges us to things that will make us happy, what would be without such a bridge? If the money bridge burns, are we forever separated from happiness? No.

Love has subjective value, meaning its worth is based on someone’s desire for it (e.g. watching the Michigan game, alcohol, or relationships). I grappled with this one for a while. What about romantic love with a soulmate? What about unconditional love between a mother and a child? Neither of these are the source of fulfillment? For this entry, I will focus on romantic relationships as they tend to evoke intense emotions thus more confusion in their fate on the road to fulfillment.

Love shared with another person is one of the most mysteriously incredible experiences we can have in a lifetime. Sometimes love works out. Sometimes love doesn’t. What if you realize that you and your partner have grown in different directions at different rates? Or that you two were only meant to be in each other’s lives for an isolated passing of time? What if you recognize the relationship is not healthy? You are presented with a choice: to stay in the relationship or to end it.

If you stay, nothing will change. Fine, stay in your comfort zone. Is this fair to you or your partner? To be stalling each other’s fulfillment and perpetually faking contentment? By the way, your comfort zone isn’t necessarily a safe place.

If you end it, life will change. Brace yourself. You are beginning a journey of self exploration, a journey to fulfillment by taking this first step of courage. Trust that you have the capacity to make decisions that are good for you. Does breaking up with someone mean that you are breaking up with your happiness? No, but you may feel sadness for some time after. Hey, welcome to territory outside of your comfort zone. 

For anyone who is doubting their relationship, I beg of you to evaluate your happiness and whether or not it is being compromised. You owe it to yourself to be treated with respect. Since mustering the courage to begin my own journey, I have felt an overwhelming feeling of fullness…Why? 

Courage and creativity have a complementary relationship with each other. Here is where art fulfills its role.

Art has intrinsic value, meaning that its worth is based on its inherently virtuous properties. Seeing intrinsic value in the everyday allows for a new perspective through the lens of childlike eyes. This inspires an undertone of excitement as you rediscover the everyday as a child does. Though painful it is to watch your money wasted or to tell someone you love that you need to separate for each other’s soundness, you control your perspective on this pain. Is this the end of the world or a catalyst for profound personal growth? Cry about it, welcome the feeling of pain as it scrapes the walls of your heart with blades of a knife. If you don’t welcome it, well, it’s coming anyway. Then take a moment to realize, you’d never thought about the inside walls of your heart until such pain had you? Look closely at those walls! Hang up some photos of all the people who have been here, maybe string some lights. Use a creative lens to see how beautiful it is. This is art allowing you to see the depth of emotion as a discovery within yourself. Money and love are great, but substantial meaning of either can only be found through art.

In conclusion, we return to Proust’s conception of happiness. While you are no longer driving that convertible mustang or no longer in love with that person, you saw those as road signs on your way to happiness. You will find fulfillment in recognizing your own strength and creativity, surely leaning into family/friends along the way – seeing how important that they are to you (thank you to Tiana, Lily, and Mom, my soundboards for this post and to Casey for introducing me to Proust). Ultimately, you will find fulfillment in altering your perspective on existence as an entity comprised of challenges. Once you are courageous AND creative enough to face them, life becomes astounding.

3 Possible Sources of the Meaning of Life – Proust (Part 1)

I skimmed through the Zingerman’s newsletter until I came across an article bolded “art is the way you think.” This section reminded me of a conversation with Casey about finding fulfillment as stated by Marcel Proust in his novel “In Search of Lost Time.” In summary, Proust narrates the story of a man in search of the meaning of life. First, he thinks fortune will give him sentiment. He lives lavishly amongst the rich only to find that this was not fulfilling. Next, he thinks love will give meaning to his life, becoming enamored with a desirable woman until the value of that too fades. Finally, he discovers art and its capacity to restore life to new glory, taking pleasure in simple things. Using the lens of art, he finds true happiness.

Throughout my years in college, I have relished in feeling “rich” after a paycheck, and I’ve fallen in love in different ways, but alas, those sensations fade. Art, however, has been a resilient source of my happiness. Money and love can only be satisfied externally. When these sources are depleted, what begets happiness? Contrarily, art is sourced from within. It’s not necessarily painting on canvas or being an artist, but rather seeing the world as an artist does, appreciating the simplest of life’s components and assigning beauty to it as I do every week with the Arts at Michigan platform. Your choices and your perspective give you the power to produce your own happiness.

Anaphora about Joe R.

Meet Joe.

Joe is a tall, lanky dude.

Joe wears graphic T-shirts with depictions that don’t make sense.

Joe’s pin-straight blonde sweeps just over his eyeballs.

Joe’s sharp facial features are softened by clear round spectacles that aren’t worn to be in style.

Joe wears them because he likes them.

Joe sings in the shower with a door closed haphazardly.

Joe maintains old-school idioms like yelling jinx when you say a word at the same time.

Though, Joe never yells.

Joe is calm and cool.

Joe asks a colleague to randomly pierce his ear using a lighter and a safety pin in the middle of the woods because Joe feels like it.

Joe’s humor could break the ice in the Arctic Circle.

Joe is a subtly brilliant English major at U of M.

Joe quits his job as a busboy an hour before his shift to “exercise his free will.”

Joe and my friendship begins with shared music…or was it Calvin and Hobbes?

Over time, I got to know Joe.

Joe brightens my day every time I see Joe.

I once learned in a creative writing class (ENGLISH 223 with Lillian Li) that we can best describe someone we know in the second degree, meaning someone who you see regularly without a profound emotional relationship attached to them.

First degree: YOUR sibling, significant other, parent, best friend.

Second degree: the sibling, significant other, parent, best friend OF YOUR sibling, significant other, parent, best friend.

I know Joe to the second degree. I am inspired by Joe and how he is unapologetically himself. This entry expresses the character of Joe, using a tone that is honest and carefree just like Joe himself. I am grateful to know Joe and to have Joe as my friend. Whether you’re a freshman or a graduate student, keep your heart open to making new friends. Ann Arbor is filled with remarkable people.

“Praying to a God” by Mr. Probz (LUKE remix)

I tuned in to my weekly discover on Spotify, absentmindedly listening to songs while I weeded through tangled thoughts. Midway through folding my laundry, the words from my stereo harnessed my focus into one single line of thought. I ran to my phone to check the name of the song “Praying to a God” by Mr. Probz (LUKE remix). I listened closely.

She’s praying to a god who won’t talk back
Her faith is dying to tears aside, she’s going off track
She’s praying to a god who won’t talk back, won’t talk back
Down on her knees said praying to a god who won’t talk back
Her momma believed that the devil had her dress on
So she’s out on the town tonight, she got her best on
Her daddy believed that the needle was a highway
So she powders her nose, she’s just looking for direction
It gets hard to feel the friction underwater
As she’s breaking down, she’s tearing out the borders
And too deep to save herself, she takes a pill that seems to help
Close her eyes, forget she standing at the alter

There was a story. The song writer uses euphemisms to gently describe a callous life, softened descriptions an intensely painful lifestyle surrounding drugs and hopelessness.

She’s praying to a god who won’t talk back
Her faith is dying to tears aside, she’s going off track
She’s praying to a god who won’t talk back, won’t talk back
Down on her knees said praying to a god who won’t talk back
– does she ever give up hope?
Her momma believed that the devil had her dress on
– Evil can come in disguise. Referring to a home wrecker?
So she’s out on the town tonight, she got her best on
Vengeance, put on her own dress…
Her daddy believed that the needle was a highway
– Her father is a heroin addict, so she looks for guidance from her heavenly Father, but He does not seem to guide her either…
So she powders her nose, she’s just looking for direction
– Powdering your nose sounds like a pampering gesture to get her back on her feet, like say cleaning up in preparation for a job interview. However, the reality of this story is the dangerous resort to cocaine as a means of feeling of elevation.
It gets hard to feel the friction underwater
 her coping strategy works for a moment, though she knows she’s drowning
As she’s breaking down, she’s tearing out the borders
– alas, the temporary high only leaves her feeling further submerged in her despair.
And too deep to save herself, she takes a pill that seems to help
– deeper in despair, she must find a stronger means of elevating herself, since she has more vertical distance to cover you could say
Close her eyes, forget she standing at the alter
– and life, through what could be the happiest moments, goes by in an apathetic blur

Then, I began pondering the meaning of the title. How curious it is that people have faith…and keep faith even when their god doesn’t respond to them or decide to let go. I dug up the novel song published in 2015 originally by the Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz. I’d heard of these guys! They did the radio hit “Am I Wrong?” that anyone with remote exposure to contemporary R&B music would know, but how come more people don’t hear this one? I always wonder what merits a radio hit. Praying to a God includes expressive language about the absence of peace and order, like what one would see without the presence of, for many people, God. Statistics show an obvious decline of organized religion. Why this is the first time in history that “no religion” dominates the results of surveys of Americans’ religious identity?

Throughout college, I’ve spoken with people who live with an absence of religion or are deeply grounded in one.