Friday, June 23, 2006

Value of Repetition

Art Powerlines' recent post about repetition got my mind stirring... the effects and value of repetition have been in my thoughts a lot lately. Repetition has many possible qualities... but there are a few that are specifically of interest to me:

Repetition as commitment
Repetition as time
Repetition as constancy
Repetition as nature

Repetition as commitment.
When an artist or a yogi does something time and time and time again... that act of repetition implies to the world that such a thing has value. Such an act of repetition implies to the world that the act has meaning, and purpose, and is worthy of repeated examination. What I like most of all about Opalka's number paintings is that the mere fact that he has done them with such care and precision, and over so many days/months/years - nearly forces me to stop and consider them. How could I dismiss any human effort on such a scale? Even if I don't quite know what to do with his paintings, somehow, the sheer commitment of them commands respect. And the commitment reminds me of human commitments - families, partners, goals... Commitments we make to ourselves and others. Repetition of commitment is Faith. Re-affirming, re-committing. Weren't there ever times when Opalka got bored and kept going? Repetition gains power as it grows, like a rolling snowball gathering mass, because we know that it takes faith.

My yoga practice is often unappealing - on a weekend morning, when the body is injured or tired, when we have guest, when there is entertainment beckoning me... - but most days I find the faith to do it any way. And most days it rewards me by reminding me quickly why I am committed to yoga in the first place. But there are certainly days when I simply do it because I have faith in the practice. I'm willing to stick through the difficult/painful/boring/crummy parts because I know they are a necessary balance to the glorious/momentous/illuminating parts. And it's that faith that I see in repetition...

Repetition as time.
Repetition inherently implies time... specifically, the passage of time. Imagine a comic book page, with 20 frames... each frame with an identical drawing of a person sitting at a table. We couldn't "read" that page without (1) implying a passage of time, and (2) actual passage of time. Opalka's numbers are particularly interesting because of how many years he has done them... Argueably, they get more interesting with each year that he continues. It wouldn't have been nearly as interesting if he had only done it for a week, or even a year.

Repetition as constancy.
Like the painted numbers, like the daily yoga practice... repetition provides a sense of constancy. In yoga practice, I often think of my breath serving as the cord that strings together a strand of beads. Without a strong cord, all I've got is a big mess of beads. But when my breath is strong and steady and constant, the postures are strung together with meaning and with continuity.

In art work, when a theme or subject or style or mark is repeated over and over, there is a sense of constancy... a tie that binds. Disparate elements can be brought together into a common vision. As artists, I guess one worthwhile goal is to find our "breath" - that element of our work that can bind together anything we take on and give it a sense of meaning and continuity.

Repetition as nature.
On a related note though... sometimes that string of continuity is easier to see after-the-fact than before, or during.

At the County Fair, one of my favorite annual exhibits is the "Collections" exhibit. In this exhibit, county residents can display their collections in glass cabinets... along with a brief statement about the nature of their inspiration, and any particularly special pieces. There are always a few too many "Beanie Baby" collections - where all that's required is a bit of cash and an active ebay account... but there are also many surprising collections. Collections that have quirky & unexpected themes, and that have clearly been built over many years and even by many hands. These collections, variations on a theme... have a very human quality to them. There is a Human-ness about seeing so many similar things, each with their own unique twist. Like people, like rocks in a river bed, like roses on a rose bush... so similar, so unique. This aspect of repetition is the hardest for me to articulate. It is a softness that grows in strength with each addition, with each new variation. We end up looking for the similarities, rather than the differences. This is the heart of yoga... to see ourselves in others, to see commonality and connection rather than division, to take joy in individuals without losing awareness of oneness.


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