Central Park: Home of the Artist
Today I escaped the city for a few hours to read a book and enjoy the natives of the city's largest park.
Light filters through the trees, dotting sleepy faces as they read.
Oak from the seasoned bench below and baguettes from the stand to the right blend; old and new smells combined with the leather of a saxophone case that sits at a performer’s feet. The breeze tosses the crumpled bills that lie inside.
Skateboards roar, bicycles jingle, and sandals slap the asphalt that bends around rosey sycamores and ancient white slabs of stone.
It seems that my eyes are spending more time off the page than on, so I set my book down beside me to get a better look at the scene.
A table across from me is stacked with 14 inches of canvases, each one signed and rough with original brush strokes. A mixed media cow with sheet-music ears and smooth, baby blue nose smiles across the street to me, and I can almost hear the rain hitting the yellow taxicabs in a painting to her left.
Feet stop in their converse, their stilettos, and their combat boots to watch as the old man with the saxophone folds into himself, being drawn deeper and deeper into his song.
On the other side of the baker’s stand, a humble wooden stool supports a small man with a wool cap, positioned in front of an easel with a charcoal slate in hand. In mere seconds, a face blossoms on the paper. In minutes the very soul of the woman on a bench before the artist can be seen through the harsh black lines that have been blended into eyes.
Turning my head back to the vibrant table of paintings across from me, my ears pick up a faint voice over the jazz spilling from the performer’s sax, from his heart. I was reluctant to leave the comfort of the wooden bench and the spell that that the saxophone has placed over the spot, but my curiosity leads me down the brick path toward the sycamores; the faint voice growing ever stronger.
I follow the path past a round stone theater with intricate carvings and I picture women in maroon ballgowns and men in chainmail clattering about reciting shakespeare with the evening sun for a spotlight.
The music grows stronger, revealing that it is not just one voice, but several. I come to a wide staircase. It sinks into a columned walkway with high ceilings and sleek walls clad in mosaic tiles in proud shades of peacock and umber.
Once I reach the bottom of the stairs, the acoustics of the tiled cavern send chills down my spine. Two men and two women of African American heritage are singing an acapella cover of Tori Kelly’s “Hollow."
The four figures are silhouetted against the arched opening to the cavern, revealing a saturated halo of leaves and water crystals falling from an angel fountain outside.
“So hold me // Wrap me in love // Fill up my cup.”
The tall man on the end is dancing. Every step and clap perfectly fits into the beat of the music, and the woman next to him plucks at a guitar. The boy on the end makes swishing noises into his hand, laying down a foundation beat that pulls the song together.
The words fall from their lips in perfect harmony, effortlessly, as they sway and dance, and clap.
I stand with my back against a cool column, clapping like a child at the end of each song, and staring in awe every moment in between.
A thin woman with flowers in her hair and a pink leotard sits against the wall behind me, lacing worn satin ribbons of her flat-toed slippers around her ankles before fluttering from the scene.
Once more I peel myself from the magic in front of me, following the graceful dancer. By the time I find her outside, her own music is swirling around the fountain, and her leg is twisted behind her long neck as she spins.
Her motions are fluid, and every muscle in her legs and back expand and contract in perfect familiarity.
Little girls flock to her in admiration. I watch their wide eyes that reveal the contents of their thoughts. I see each one of them in flowing skirts akin to the dancer’s, and with the subtle movements of their arms and feet, they can’t help but mimic her movements in their minds.
Almost on cue, I can hear yet another performer. By now I have no hesitation in leaving. I spend the rest of the evening jumping from scene to scene, taking in all different forms of music and entertainment.
Two young men in fashionable clothes and hair that flopped as they beat their guitars, and a man of Asian heritage sitting on a crate with a violin bow, playing something that looked like a wooden ladle.
Each artist had the same look as they preformed. They sang, skated, and strummed, and they drew, drummed, and danced, living for what they created, but with a sterness that seemed to say “come on, try harder.” It was a look of liberation, but not necessarily of freedom. I could see that the relationship they had with their media was more closely that of slave and master, but a master that they had fallen deeply in love with.
I thought about the little girls’ thoughts, watching the ballerina, burning with the longing to be “like her.”
The five year old saw a beautiful dancer with a crown of roses and a beautiful pink dress. What they didn’t see were the the scars on her distorted knees or the vertebrates jutting from her malnourished spine.
The trance cast from the music distracts from bloodied fingers, the straining muscles in the arched backs folded over instruments. In the moment, so many things —the hours of frustration in blending the perfect chords, the years of practicing a flicked wrist to impersonate eyelashes on paper, and the question of whether or not the crumpled bills at their feet will be enough to ensure a place to lay their heads at night — are overlooked, even by the artist.
None of those things matter to them when they feel the need to create, the desire to dance.
They touch lives with the art they create, but more or less that’s not the point. It takes courage for them to expose their art to the world, but often courage is not the point either. It’s the disciplined shredding of mind and body, the feather-light motions, and the baring of naked souls that makes them feel alive.