A Shark in the Mind of One Contemplating Wilderness
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Timelessness lives on in one’s memory; timelessness lives on in the universe. Through art and wilderness, and connections between humans and the natural world, one can further understand the concept of existence and beauty that is to be wondered at and noticed, yet not searched for and manipulating.
The hardest struggle I had in this deepening essay was finding direction and put simply—not floating up into the clouds about topics that are seemingly out of reach for people. It was difficult to describe something that just, is… In a way that is neither oversimplified nor overdone—neither understood or for a lack of a better analogy, stripped of any grounding—confused. That just is, and does not need understanding but rather, keen attention to detail and to one’s own brevity. A Shark in the Mind of One Contemplating Wilderness It is strange to be anything at all in a world of creatures who are “anything at all.” Our eyes are able to see, concepts that we understand or never are able to understand… They have the power to change our emotions and make us cry and laugh.
In a moment’s confusion, the instant is captured and remembered in one’s mind. These lurking emotions disappear only to resurface, barely disturbing time and space at all. Three paintings hung on the empty white walls of the Museum of Modern Art. They were equally spaced away from each other, but within them and between them, I see fluidity. The unclear lines, use of sharply blended colors, and disoriented dimensions propelled an uncomfortable feeling inside me. I could not look away.
I turned to read the sign that correlated to these artworks— Umberto Boccioni’s States of Mind I-III 1991 again, “Set in a train station, this series of three paintings explores the psychological dimension of modern life’s transitory nature.” In the painting furthest one to the left, The Farewells, he invokes a sense of motion in the image of a train station by making smoke to be the majority of the artwork, burying the train so that only hints of the train are visible. There are shaded cylinder and triangular shapes desperately attempting to penetrate the smog, however, only to be blended back in with the colors. The agitation in his first work is so transparent, that I and a group of people alike gathered in front of it, immediately confronted by the work of art. Their attentions were directed at the guide who explained each component of the painting, its background, its artist. Her words were well-rehearsed; exact, never faltering.
Only one woman standing in the front and center of the group asked her questions, and only then, the guide would stumble and pause to reconsider. I stood there among the dispersed group for a few moments to be polite. Uninterested in listening to her make her interpretations, I strategically maneuvered myself through the crowd, apologizing for every inconvenience, as I made my way to the The Farewells. The distance I created between the guide and me was enough to drown out her voice with my own interpretations. At the time, I did not understand the harsh use of dark strokes the artist chose for the painting.
As I made my way to the last painting, I could see how each frame transformed into playful and colorful rhythms. The artist’s ambiguity in meaning paralleled its undistinguishable patterns in the first painting. Unlike the progression towards a sense of clearness and liveliness that made its way through the next two paintings, the feeling inside my stomach was unsatisfied. I could have listened to the guide explain the widely known interpretation, but I was uninterested. She had as much passion for these paintings as she had any effect on the paintings. I had just as much effect on these paintings, however, I searched for the reasons behind each of Boccioni’s brush strokes.
I knew that in this man’s craftsmanship—of a man-made structure—of man’s emotions, every piece had its own purpose and function in the whole. I wondered why this instant agitated feeling had stirred inside me because nowhere in the painting revealed a man. Man in its physical form was disregarded because Baccioni showed no interest in capturing a distinctive face to live on in the painting’s timelessness. Our world is always changing, and while art is seen as capturing a motion picture in a “freeze,” many artists take up the challenge of creating something that will be adaptable to changing times. In Terry Tempest Williams’ essay A Shark in the Mind of One Contemplating Wilderness, she writes that “there is nothing precious or nostalgic about [the fact that we are animals, in search of a home, in relationship to Other, an expanding community with a mosaic of habitats, domestic and wild]” (3) when looking at Damien Hirst’s suspended, preserved-in-formaldehyde shark.
She takes particular interest in this shark because though it is a piece of artwork, she is captivated by its uniqueness compared to the live shark at the Monterey Sea Aquarium and the taxidermy shark at the American Museum of Natural History. Just as she is immediately drawn in to this shark, she encourages others to approach new things the way she did with this shark; with curiosity rather than dismissiveness of detail and beauty. She reveals that man-made artwork is often looked at as a reflection of our beings because it captures a concrete instant in time and allows for “individual interpretation, full of controversy and conversation” (3). Individual interpretation means placing oneself at the center of the artwork in order to connect with it because it is different for everyone based on one’s past, present, and what is in store for the future. In this way, art is timeless because it molds into a certain kind of form for one person, but can create controversy in conversation with another about the same design.
The beauty that lies in each artwork is found and interpreted by each person, thus adapting to fit. Once adapted, this beauty or sensation becomes timeless for one, even while reshaping to keep fitting as time progresses. In wilderness, one does not have to search for beauty for it to be timeless. As Williams has already mentioned, “There is nothing precious or nostalgic about [it]” and directs the readers to “imagine a world of spots,” she tells them they are the “colored dots in the wilderness” and that “they’re all connected” (3). She says here that all creatures are inevitably and purposefully connected by the creation of the universe.
It has nothing to do with each one of us as individuals because we and all living organisms in the wilderness exist in the timelessness of the universe. This mere existence is of no coincidence, it is all purposeful in connecting with the natural world, which makes it beautiful. This sense of “searching” for beauty that one does when confronted by an artwork is overdone and excessive, yet the art itself is oversimplified because in comparison, manmade creation is so incredibly small to the destiny of the universe when humans recreate their discoveries and label them works of art. Williams was so enthralled by Hirst’s shark because it preserves. It preserves its history, but is appreciated in the present and will be wondered at in the future because it will be immediately noticed due to its uniqueness.
In George Steiner’s No Passion Spent, he uses Chardin’s Le Philophe lisant as a piece of art meant to be dissected. He emphasizes the importance of adding to one’s memory box through vigilant observation, for one’s own benefits of understanding connections between text or art and the world (4). Its translation of meaning stays timeless because it is captured and contrasts with Williams’ idea that wilderness’ fluidity of nature allows for timelessness. It complicates with Williams’ idea of disconnecting oneself from nature in order to discover beauty that is wilderness itself. Her essay beings concretely; she separates herself from the shark and simply serves as the keep observer; creating a passageway that can, but does not limit for a connection between this specific, pickled-in-formaldehyde shark and the reader to exist. Art is wilderness captured and recreated in frames and stillness and progression of humans towards understanding and reflecting on the past, while sensation and connection is everywhere.
Steinberg emphasizes that sensation and connection to others and the natural world through text and art is found in between and around the corners of all forms of life, it is found through awareness if one simply pays attention to detail, its existence and beauty not requiring one to search for. Thus, wilderness is not something that exists outside of its observer; the universe is not a far off place remote from man. These things are all encompassing, not needing of romanticizing but rather, an aggressive kind of awareness that is separate from the self to propel discovery.