No Respect for Gravity

Creative people are driven by curiosity.  The need to find out the inner workings of the moving parts of a mechanical or living thing and their effects on the world around them is integral to the artistic mind.  A mind that seeks to understand is one that can be nurtured to build.  Of course, the work of an artist is fraught with failure.  One of the greatest failures from the most misunderstood budding artists in history is found in the myth of the flight of Icarus.

Icarus and his father Daedalus were imprisoned by King Minos in the highest tower in Crete, above the labyrinth Daedalus had designed to trap the Minotaur, a beast born of a bull and a woman.  (Daedalus helped the young hero Theseus kill the Minotaur and free Crete from the Minotaur for good, and Minos was not happy).

Daedalus knew he could not escape by earth or sea, since Minos’ troops watched both the land and water around Crete.  His only option was to escape through the air.  An inventor by trade, he devised a plan to help him escape his prison along with his son.  He caught the birds that landed on top of the tower and plucked their feathers.  Using wax he melted from candles, he bonded the feathers together to create two pairs of wings, each held together by twine.  He fitted one to his son Icarus, and the other to himself.  They fit.

Daedalus tested the wings and they worked.  The two looked off the edge of the tower.  Below them, the labyrinth Daedalus designed to imprison the Minotaur.  Behind them, the brown lands of Crete patched with tufts of green, and before them the deep dark blue of the Aegean Sea, it’s surface flickering like falling mica under the brightest light, and stretching to the end of the Earth, peaceful in its shifting stillness and alive.

“If you fly too close to the water,” Daedalus said, “your wings dampen and grow heavy.  Fly too close to the sun, the heat of the sun will melt the wax and your wings will come apart.  Either way, your end is the same.  So follow me.”

The boy nodded.  The man looked out towards the sea.  He breathed in deep, out slow, and dove. 

The boy followed. 

They glided between the water and the sun.  The boy felt the cool wind kiss his cheek and he remembered he was alive.  The tower he sat on all those lonely days and quiet nights, where he spoke to birds of his old life as the son of an artisan, the greatest inventor in Greece, and sang songs that reminded him of better days as the birds chirped along and he watched the world move around him, slowly slowly pass him by. 

But today, looking back every now and again, the boy saw the tower get smaller and smaller with distance.  The boy’s heart full and awake, he could not bear the burden of a straight flight when the world around him called him to life.  He overtook his father.

“Son!” the man yelled.

Above him, a wide glowing sun, no boundaries to its form, floated above him, seducing him with its light and heat and the mystery of its existence.  Only the gods ever passed the boundary between earth and heaven. 

Too drunk on light to remember his father’s words, the boy flew higher to the sun, logic and reason and a sterile sense of safety behind him.  There were things that man could see but never arrive too close to touch that the boy felt would change with him.  He flew higher and higher still, the heat of the sun hugging the boy’s skin in the face of a cool wind, until the first feather dropped.

“Boy!” his father called. 

Icarus felt the hot wax sting his skin as it slipped through his palms.  Another feather fell, and another after another until the boy could no longer climb heaven.  Patches of wax and feather shifted and slid between their structure until his wings came undone.  Icarus fell through the air.

“Father!  Father!” he cried as he fell, gaining speed with his distance.  He hit the cold blue surface that swallowed his person with a splash and a gulp.  His feathers floated to the surface and split between the water of the Aegean. 

The ancient Greeks used this myth as a warning to the proud.  Think like a god, work for glory, and your hubris will cause your destruction.  But there’s another side to the story many never see.

Maybe it wasn’t pride.  Maybe the thing that killed the boy was his insatiable desire to live and explore and see the world as so few had ever seen it.  He didn’t just want to see, he wanted to touch the source of heat and light.  He wanted to visit the place where sight began, maybe to understand its mechanics, like a true inventor.  Like his father.

This thirst for knowledge, for truth beyond its image, for growth and novelty and the creation of a concept beyond its second dimension, is imperative for the artist.  Interestingly, this demotes many actors and musicians and writers and painters who do what they do solely for recognition, their work a solid clone of corporate art, to merely workers in their profession.  They are corporate America. 

At the same time, this promotes the mother looking to explore new recipes in the kitchen for her kids and the teacher striving to find a way to make math fun for her students and the architects and engineers that design condos and homes with a sense of beauty that transcends the practical metal and wood protocol that curse Toronto’s drab steel skyline to artists.  They create to make better.  They create to grow.  To give beauty to something that can easily be made plain, practical and safe.

It’s this safety that’s the enemy.  The idea that one needs to follow the rules of gravity.  Though scientifically true (I’m not ignorant), the idea of gravity, of having a force that keeps my feet on the ground no matter how much I want to transcend above the mediocrity of everyday experience, to explore, to learn and discover, I reject that concept.

The artist lives as if gravity were no more than a theory, unbound by laws and logic.  Though failure is likely, the result of an enduring unbridled mind in the face of logical opposition has led to the creation of the lightbulb, horseless moving carts, the flight of man within a large steel bird, and so much more that came and will come.  Imagine the state of our society if Thomas Edison or Henry Ford or the Wright brothers bended to logic after their hundredth failure.  More importantly, imagine where we’d be if all those who tried and failed didn’t give up on an idea that hadn’t worked so many times in the past.

I choose to unbind myself from this mental gravity.