Is There a Receiver Downfield?


I have not mentioned the fact that the volunteer coordinator of the hospice I have completed training for can now find no facilities (nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, etc) that have pianos—not even out-of-tune uprights. “We have an organ,” one said. “Can’t she bring a keyboard?” asked another.

I hate to be a stickler, but the organ is a very different instrument from the piano; so is the keyboard. Also I was not told that most of my gigs would be in Ozaukee County, and travel expenses would not be compensated.

So I am still waiting to hear of facilities near enough for winter driving conditions and which have a piano.

I’m wondering why pianos are no longer considered standard issue for facilities dealing with the old and the sick.  Is it that they bother people seeking rest, open-season as they usually are for anyone who wants to sit down and try their hand? That itself is an issue that sets pianists apart from many other instrumentalists—our piano is not portable, and every piano is different.

I also indicated in my last post that my motive for volunteer work was perhaps less than altruistic: i.e. needing my work to be “useful” in some conventional way. 

I do believe it true that art needs to be received. It is not enough merely to be created and then shoved away in a drawer or expressed in solitude. There are many exceptions, I’m sure, including Emily Dickinson, a poet I deeply admire. There are those who are reclusive my nature or by circumstance. I see myself as an introvert (and recommend the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by  Susan Cain). I often prefer my own company simply because of the effort it takes for me to enter a world which, yes, is always talking.  And yet I talk a lot too. I have kept an on-and-off journal since I was 16, and this blog provides me the opportunity to link my ideas and experiences with those around me (far and near).

I have found feedback to be essential in the development of whatever talent I have. I mean “feedback,”not only in the sense of teachers and corrections (there is SUCH a difference between playing “just for myself” and under an experienced teacher’s guidance), but also in the sense of support and encouragement, especially if one tends to occasionally lack in self-confidence (and who doesn’t? Having my poetry group back and re-united last week gave me a tremendous boost).

But aside from even that, there is, I believe, a sense of a work’s “wanting” to be received, heard, seen, by someone other than its author, composer, etc.  Not to get too post-structural here, but it is one of the most exciting scientific discoveries of my lifetime that quantum particles only “tend” to exist. Unless someone is “paying” attention, objects have only a “tendency” to exist. Now I am no physicist, and I am not the first to see a connection between the artistic impulse and physics, particularly poetry. And even if untrue on the macro level, it is a “felt truth” for many artists. The work WANTS to EXPAND: to be experienced by new eyes and ears, in new contexts.

As Baubo, one of my alter-egos, says in the poem “Baubo Considers Questions of Quantum Physics” (from my chapbook Avatars of Baubo, available on this website),

Stay with the hard questions,

I say severely to my

self in the mirror.


Like Schroedinger’s cat

you have only a tendency

to exist. All depends


on what you’re looking

for, what you believe



As Libby Larsen, whose “Mephisto Rag” I performed a few years ago in recital, said,I wanted to write something that carries in the air. [. . .]A piece cannot live until an audience lives with it.”

And yet it seems so easy to confuse that need with the ego’s need for self-justification and (in some cases) self-aggrandizement, especially when “worth” is so often determined by competition and the economy one lives in.

For a typical discussion of different approaches to the question of whether or not art needs an audience (in this case photography), check out Darwin Wiggett’s blog. This posting ends with a lovely piece of performance art by Marina Abramovi. You can access this here.

All said, it seems to me that, yes, art can indeed be created in isolation. However, it becomes something new, something more, when shared with an attentive audience, which becomes co-creator of the event.  A recital, a poetry reading, can become a potlatch of gifts.Watercolor by James G. Swan depicting the Klallam people of chief Chetzemoka at Port Townsend, with one of Chetzemoka’s wives distributing potlatch

A mother may give birth to her child by herself, cut the cord, and nurse it, but the child has a hard time discovering who s/he is until s/he leaves home.

Perhaps it takes a village to raise a work of art.

(Motherpeace Tarot, Vicki Noble)

2 thoughts on “Is There a Receiver Downfield?

  1. valuable perspectives, as usual, Kathleen–seems to me, in brief, that 'art' is, essentially, communication…the poem in a notebook, the photo on a memory card,the guitar in its case, etc, etc–don't they yearn(allright, metaphorically), to come alive, with appreciation?these musings take me to Marge Piercy's profound words,in 'To Be Of Use':"…Greek amphoras for wine or oil,Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museumsbut you know they were made to be used.The pitcher cries for water to carryand a person for work that is real."


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