Fire and Light: when the idea is too big

Only light – not things – strikes the retina.
                 Derek Doeffinger, “The Art of Seeing”

Sometimes an idea is just too big to handle.  I’ve been struggling for a few weeks with the last piece in “The Four Elements” – a musical exploration of earth, air, water, and fire.  The first three pieces are written and came fairly easily, two have been performed, but I struggled with the final “element” – fire.  Water, air and earth – these are the stuff of making gardens and seem like old friends.  But fire?  I felt stuck and overwhelmed until I realized that the pieces already written are about specific manifestations of the elements – earth as “Clay,” water as “Rain,” air as “Breath.”  Eureka!  Fire as “Light” – the essential element for growth and life.  It made me reflect that I made the classic mistake of creative folk – I picked a subject too big, too broad.  A point worth remembering for my self, for my students. Pick a particular manifestation of a concept that seems unapproachable and focus on your experience of it.  Discover the power and meaning it holds for you personally – there is less chance of being trapped by pre-conceived notions  and more chance of translating your particular experience into something universal that resonates with others.

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When I made the connection between the big idea and the microcosm of my own life, I had something to explore and everything changed. Fire – too big for me to handle, even after exploring videos of of everything from molten lava flows to forest fires. The sudden realization of “fire equals light” gave me the personal, the particular.  As a photographer and a gardener, light is everything, defines everything.  While it may still seem a big idea, it is very specific for me: the light sifting between trees, light breaking through clouds, that peculiar moment of diffused light at the end of the day when the garden takes on an otherworldly glow.  The light I try to capture with my camera, the reflected light of the moon that keeps me awake at night, the odd non-directional light in my dreams when I do fall asleep.

Now, ironically, I am “on fire” with the idea of light.  Lyrics and sound flood my imagination, photos and video present themselves for the performance media. The gate is open; I can’t wait to begin.

All photos and text of “Fire and Light: When the Idea is Too BIg” ©2011 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved

8 thoughts on “Fire and Light: when the idea is too big

  1. Pingback: The Four Elements: Light | composerinthegarden

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  4. “…Pick a particular manifestation of a concept that seems unapproachable and focus on your experience of it…”

    I can remember being so overwhelmed by the vastness of music (history, theory, composition, etc.) as a student. Well (who am I kidding?), I still am! But what I try to continually remind myself of is this: Every composer throughout history, no matter what their contribution (and as genius as it may have been), has used music to express something from their own point of reference. Actually, now that I think about it, this same idea can be applied all across the board when it comes to the arts.

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