In Defense of Doing Stuff

I spend a fair chunk of time writing about upcoming events for Slice; the Pursuits section with its monthly listings is one of my primary areas of concentration. That does not, however, make me a social butterfly – new months keep coming down the pipe, and generally by the time an event I wrote about six weeks beforehand actually occurs, it’s in my mental rearview mirror because I’m working on a fresh set of stuff. Overall, I actually have a pretty poor track record in terms of event attendance. And in a metro as vibrantly stocked with things to see and do as ours is, that’s genuinely a habit that warrants alteration.

It’s not even a question of becoming a socialite per se. I know there are tons of galas and fetes and fundraisers all the livelong year, but they’re not what’s been on my mind lately, as a couple of recent ventures out into the world have reminded me that even if it’s available through less immediate means, there’s often no substitute for experiencing something in person.

Case in point #1: in November the OKC Philharmonic launched its Pops season in what a writer might call stellar style (you know, maybe) with a concert called “Sci-Fi Spectacular.” And I thought that okay, that sounded fun, they should get a good turnout from other peop- wait, the show is guest hosted by George Takei? Seriously? Awesome! So my wife and I got spiffed up and made our way to the Civic Center, and while I wish there had been more Takei I was probably going to have wished that even if he had spent the entire evening talking. He basically did two bits, a little speech reminiscing about the importance of diversity to Gene Roddenberry in casting “Star Trek” and what that meant both to minority actors like George Takei and to America as a whole, and a dramatic reading of the climactic speech from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” The rest of the evening, conductor Jack Everly handled the introductions and audience patter (deftly, I should point out) and the orchestra itself performed a varied slate of pieces from movie scores and TV themes.

It was a setlist with no new compositions, and a concert predicated at least in part on familiarity with the source material. And yet. When the chiming notes began the prelude to the “Star Trek” theme, I felt hairs rise on the backs of my arms. When the crowd recognized the pop that opens “Star Wars,” there was a little susurrus of pleased recognition just audible throughout the auditorium. When the trumpets surged in during the “Deep Space Nine” theme, a composition I’ve heard hundreds of times on TV, my eyes got a little moist. Hearing music (even extremely familiar music) in person, being immersed in it amid a receptive audience as opposed to hearing it from a TV set across the room while your attention might partially be elsewhere … it’s immensely powerful.

Case in point #2: I think of myself as a guy who knows a little bit about art history. Maybe only the basics, but I remember a bunch of artists’ names, can identify a fair number of famous pieces and have occasionally managed to look at a piece I don’t know and correctly identify its creator based on visual style. But the vast majority of the paintings and sculptures I’ve seen from those famous artists were pictures in books or online, and it turns out there’s a world of difference between a 4×6 matte reproduction and the impact of the full-sized original in person.

The OKC Museum of Art recently closed out its monumental exhibit “Of Heaven and Earth,” a collection of 500 years’ worth of Italian paintings – how often do you get to see an honest-to-Deus Titian? Naturally I wanted to go. And in doing press for the exhibit I had seen Francesco Guardi’s “View of San Giorgio Maggiore” several times, and recommended it for use in promotional materials several times because I liked it … but staring at the actual painting shows the extra detail invested into the face of the building in the left background, effectively pulling the viewer’s eye to it. The texture of the paint gives a little extra wispiness to the clouds and heft to the slight ripples of water, layering makes various colors pop out of the sea here and there – the whole simply feels more alive on canvas than in print.

I shouldn’t be surprised by the phenomenon: one of the most amazing art-related experiences I’ve ever had was right there in the OKCMOA. A couple of years ago they had a similarly marquee exhibit called “Turner to Cezanne,” and I have to admit up front that I had for years been down on van Gogh. I was. I had seen pictures of "Starry Night" and "Sunflowers" and self-portraits in those art history textbooks, and I thought I was being a clever lad by turning up by nose at his crooked lines and overdone swirliness. And then I walked around a corner, mused at … something, might have been a Monet, for a minute – and then turned and saw “Rain-Auvers” from across the room and nearly fell down. I was transfixed; It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in 35 years on this earth; I came back to gape at it four or five times before managing to finish looking at the rest of the exhibit; and if I showed you a .jpeg right now you’d think, as I once would have, “What’s the big deal? It looks like a streaky painting of some fields.”

None of us can experience everything in life, or even in the OKC metro. But when next I find myself thinking I’m too tired or too busy to attend something cool, I should reread this entry, and remind myself that the effort of experiencing something in person often pays colossal dividends in creating magical, long-lasting memories.

STEVE GILL is unusually tall, has a B.A. in Letters and a minor in Classics from OU, drinks a great deal of coffee and openly delights in writing, editing and catching the occasional typo for Slice – especially since his dream career (millionaire layabout in a P.G. Wodehouse novel) is notoriously difficult to break into. He's probably trying to think of a joke about pirates right now.

Categories: Bits and Pieces, Steve Gill