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Okanagan Arts

Culture and Community

Fall 2007


An Ongoing Series of Lectures and Presentations that Celebrate the Creative Okanagan

Okanagan Institute
4:30pm Thursdays
at the Bohemian Cafe

Click here for schedule
and information.


Arts Council of the Central Okanagan
Arts Council of the
Central Okanagan

8-1304 Ellis Street
Kelowna BC Canada V1Y 1Z8
Email: Click Here.
Elke Lange, Executive Director
Wendy McCracken, Coordinator

Produced in association with
Okanagan Bookworks


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Okanagan Arts: Fall 2007

Dona Sturmanis: The Art of Aesthetics

My ex-husband travelled all the way up to the Okanagan from the Ozarks to help me renovate my townhouse recently. In addition to making my space more functional, I wanted it to reflect more of who I am and give me more pleasure. That meant major decluttering, paint, new flooring and fixtures, and furniture rearrangement.

It was surprisingly easy to get the job done, and we had no disagreements about anything. We still believe in the same aesthetics about pleasing interior décor as when we were married ­ kind of southwestern Zen. The place now puts a smile on my face every time I sweep my eyes over a room; in a place where I used to feel like a ghost in a Gothic movie, I now feel light, bright and just happy being here.

The ex and I ate together three times a day for two weeks while the reno was being completed. It had been four years since I had cooked for him. My taste in cuisine can be quite ethnic at times, whether it's Szechwan, Indian or Lebanese; which means, naturally, lots of strong spices ­ chilis, curries, garlic. The preparation of such dishes is as much the journey as the result, and I get lots of opportunity to put my culinary aesthetic sense to work ­ a little bit of this, a little bit of that, lots of tasting until perfect harmony for the palate is achieved.

I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to create some of these favourite dishes because the last partner was more of a meat and starch man ­ pepper being the most daring spice. The ex ate everything I put in front of him and told me how much he enjoyed it. As I enjoyed its making. Not surprising, because during our marriage, we had the same ideas about what constitutes the exemplary food experience.

Well, perhaps similar taste in décor and food are not enough to keep a marriage together. We are worlds apart in other areas. They start with minor things like music (he likes bluegrass and folk; I like world music and trip hop) and progress to aesthetics in lifestyle (he likes being on the road; I like being stationary) and choice of place to live (he chose the Midwest US; I decided to stay in the Okanagan). His idea of a perfect day is to tinker and putter with geezer stuff, which of course came in handy for this fix-it trip; while mine is to read yet another book about Frank Lloyd Wright, write some tanka or make some jewellery.

One official meaning of aesthetics is the philosophy of what constitutes beauty as related to art. However, a broader definition is what it is in something that provokes a feeling of appreciation or pleasure in you ­ which could be sensual, emotional, intellectual or a combination of all. And of course it doesn't have to be just visual art. It can be décor, architecture, food, music, environment, landscape, climate, lifestyle, physicality, entertaining, all types of experiences, social values ­ whatever it is that blows your hair back and why.

Very few people enjoy the very same things, which is good for all of us, because as we intermingle, we can mix and match our philosophies of what gives us pleasure. Of said ex-husband, I introduced him to the pure happiness invoked while immersed in the flow of writing; he actually inspired me to enjoy and appreciate the aesthetics of beautifully built motorcycles and the inarticulate sense of pleasure while sailing in a high wind. I turned another friend on to the perfection of the BC realist painter E. J. Hughes and the time-stopping satisfaction of travelling blue highways. He introduced me to the meditation involved in baking fresh bread from scratch and the pure exhilaration of spending an afternoon on the ultimate golf course ­ which, of course, has its own sense of aesthetics. In fact the whole activity that we know as golf ­ whether playing the game or the actual etiquette of interacting with other players, right down to what you wear ­ has a whole set of principles that when correctly practised, add up to a peak experience for many.

And while striving to look 25 in middle age is not my main goal in life, I certainly appreciate physically beautiful and fit-looking people. I like being around them, and, inspired by their obviously strong sense of personal aesthetics, at least aspire to keep up my idea of an attractive and healthy appearance to please myself and others.

Herein lies an exemplary paradigm of aesthetic politics ­ the widely diverse notions of what is considered a physically attractive person, especially a female. While ample tatas may be some men's idea of carnal bliss, such humps actually repel others who prefer the underdeveloped anorexic look.

There are of course no guarantees on this last point ­ that what you think of as maahh-vellous will set fire to someone else's belly or vice versa. It's in the understanding of this that makes for acceptance of others on their opinion, not judgment. Even when another's preference shows, in your opinion, bad taste or no taste at all, it's still not necessary to call the idea or the person a dog.

Let's Start with Art

In my misspent youth, I used to judge people by the art, or lack of, that hung on their walls.

If they had none, it meant they had no interest in it, and were more into function not form. Perhaps if they had to resell their house down the road, even if it was years, they didn't want to bother patching up holes left by the hanger nails.

If the art up was kitschy or in bad taste, it meant, wellthey had bad taste. If it consisted of mostly numbered and signed wildlife prints, it meant they had been watching too many TV commercials and thought they were making an investment; not really caring about the aesthetic value.

And then there were those folks who would spend as much on a designer print or reproduction from a furniture store ("it goes with the décor") as they would on an original painting. There were people who still did not understand art ­ valuing "pictures" over paintings.

It's amazing the number of people who are still afraid of purchasing original art, I thought. Perhaps it's because they don't care, don't value it, or think it's a worthless investment. Maybe they are afraid of expressing and admitting their own taste to the world, because they might be criticized by the folks next door or those who know more.

I don't judge people this way anymore, and am far more open to other personal qualities in people that I can appreciate because I don't have them. Perhaps there is something I can learn to love from them.

Being someone who does collect original art, however, I am delighted when I meet someone who buys it and appreciates it as much as I do. There is like-mindedness here; avenues to mutually explore and learn, visual points for discussion and interchange.

Original art is also one of my private pleasures. My pieces always give me a sense of personal meditation and satisfaction that no words can express. The private gallery ­ much of which consists of Peachland artist Robyn Lake's floral paintings and Kelowna photographer Gary Nylander's black and white landscape photographs ­ has perhaps the last possessions I will part with, even if I have to sell all my furniture to pay the mortgage.

The point I'm making is that a strong, personal sense of aesthetics has powerful value. It provides us with private pleasure and a sense of identity. It helps us to learn about each other, have multi-layered interchange, and perhaps bring some new stimuli into our personal joy boxes. Culturally, the expression of preferential aesthetics can enter into the collective conscience, spark a movement, even inspire social changebut that's for another inquiry.

Have you taken a personal aesthetics inventory lately? You might just reconnect with yourself, learn how you've changed in the last few years, make a commitment to add some new peak experiences and pleasures to your life, learn something new, connect with some like-minded or stimulating people. Maybe you'll find a simple alpine flower does it for you as much as an elaborate garden. You'll learn to savour turmeric in your cooking. Or perhaps you will write something that will start a revolution.

Dona Sturmanis has written thousands of published articles, poems and short stories; edited numerous periodicals and books; and placed in or won 18 writing awards.

Wild Blue Yonder at Thursday Express