Once, Picasso was asked what his paintings meant. He said, ‘Do you ever know what the birds are singing? You don’t. But you listen to them anyway.’ So, sometimes with art, it is important just to look.
When the earthquake shook the central California coast on October 17, 1989, I was surprised to find that the person I was angry at no longer mattered. The anger had evaporated along with everything else abstracting remote, and I was thrown into an intensely absorbing present. I was more surprised to realize that most of the people I knew and met in the Bay Area were also enjoying immensely the disaster that shut down much of the region for several days, the Bay Bridge for months, and certain unloved elevated freeways forever– if enjoying it is right word for the sense of immersion in the moment and solidarity with others caused by the rupture in everyday life, an emotion graver than happiness but deeply positive. We don’t even have a language for this emotion, in which the wonderful comes wrapped in the terrible, joy and sorrow, courage in fear. We cannot welcome disaster, but we can value the responses, both practical and psychological.