Ritual As Art

This morning, the day after Halloween, I was sitting and staring at a gorgeous plate of chorizo and pork tacos at my favorite Mexican restaurant near my home.  The owner of the restaurant recently started this bi-monthly Sunday brunch buffet which I’ve been desperately trying to go to since the first one.  However, due to the holiday the night before, the owner could not prepare the normal buffet meals and could not do the brunch.  Instead, he gave us the buffet deal anyway and said we could just keep ordering food as an all-you-can eat festival.   I love this place.

Originally, I wanted to go in to the restaurant to make some sketches of folks at the buffet.  These days in our world of pre-packaged, mass-produced meals, it is a rare treat to have an open bar of food, especially Mexican food cooked fresh and from scratch.  The whole local community showed up at the first buffet thrown and it was pretty amazing.  Lot’s of people, live music, great food, and a wait-staff and owner who come around and chat with everyone as if this were all extended family.

I’d like to paint this.  Why? Because here is a series of complex emotions and epiphanies which cannot be communicated to others in any other way.  But then, even the painting falls short.  What we have here is participation in a ritual.  Ritual itself is a form of fine art, refined over thousands of years to be a collective and festive event which helps us as humans to achieve a greater understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.  It already is a painting, just a painting which you may only experience by being part of it and it lasts for maybe two hours every other Sunday at this restaurant.

As a painter, I realize this cannot and should not be painted as it is akin to plagiarism – I would be just copying someone else’s work, afterall.  No, instead what the painter does, it tries to pull from the millions of life experiences he or she has had and select a series of symbolic references which help to construct a similar series of feelings to a more diverse audience.  I sit, I think, I try to break down the feelings of that restaurant into it’s smaller parts and develop a concept of how the ritual functions and works for all involved.  Then I can transpose it to another medium.  If I painted the scene at the restaurant, it would appear as maybe Renoir’s party at the frog pond, and that’s not exactly what I am looking for.  I also cannot simply slap down random paint blobs and “express” what I feel about the brunch, no one would care (see: all postmodern contemporary and student painters for examples of the latter).  The importance here though is the thinking and realizing that the scene I enjoyed and want to re-create cannot generally be recreated exactly or I end up communicating something else – either a narrative, an illustration, or poop on canvas.   I want to make the viewer a participant in an event of cultural exchange, public celebration, exploration, unexpected but delightful shock, and ridiculously awesome food, music, and dance (or maybe consummation?).  But this is too much for a painting – which is why ritual is a completely different form of art.  It is not easily painted, drawn, or written about, certainly not danced, sung, or played about, but can be re-enacted out.

I can’t wait for next Sunday.

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