Missing Links

Several people told me that in my last blog I had a missing link: they could see images of the Sylvia Hotel, but not the old photos of Robson Street in 1964. So here it is again:

That got me thinking about “the missing link.” Although the term was originally used to refer to a hypothetical extinct creature halfway in the evolutionary line between modern human beings and their anthropoid progenitors, Wikipedia suggests that anthropologists now tend not to see the evolutionary process as a linear phenomenon and thus prefer the term “last common ancestor.” When I was young, the term was sometimes used as an insult to label a person as being less than human. Simian.

A “missing link” can also refer to an omitted or unknown detail that’s necessary in order to fully comprehend an issue or subject. Or refer to a person whose presence is needed in order for some work to be done. All the current meanings of the term “missing link” seem to suggest that a connection must be made. “Only connect,” E.M. Forster said. “Connect the dots,” people say to emphasize relationships between cause and effect.

But sometimes disconnecting is also good. In my last blog, I wrote about “stillness,” and many people replied that they thought it important to find stillness in their lives, a time to just sit and do nothing. My friend Mark recalled this ditty from the 70”s:

When you’ve got nuthin’ to do about nuthin’

and nuthin’ about nuthin’ to do,

when you run out of stream, sit back and dream

and feel the sun shinin’ on you.

When we disconnect, sometimes dreams emerge from the nothingness and we’re able to get more deeply in touch with our imaginations and creativity.

Silence has much to teach us. Both Mozart said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” Similarly, Miles Davis said “In music, silence is more important than sound. When we pay attention to the spaces in between the notes, we’re quietened by the music. As musician Gita Sarabhai taught John Cage, “The purpose of music is to quiet and sober the mind, making it susceptible to divine influences.” These words became a touchstone for Cage.

“Silence was at the heart of what of Cage’s life and work from 1951 on,” says James Pritchett who wrote an essay about Cage for the catalog of the exhibition “John Cage and Experimental Art: The Anarchy of Silence” at the Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona:

When I visited my friend Ross a few days ago, he proudly showed me the newly released book, Elusive Birds of the Tropical Understory, which features an astonishingly beautiful collection of John Whitelaw’s photographs of rarely-seen birds that are notoriously difficult to photograph. I cannot begin to imagine the deep discipline and stillness that was required for Whitelaw to delve into the Panamanian forest understory to capture these breathtaking images. The purpose of the book is to use photography as a conservation tool, and it will be treasured by ornithologists and bird-lovers everywhere:


Returning to the title of this post. I remember that Marcel Duchamp said, “What art is, in reality, is this missing link, not the links which exist. It’s not what you see that is art, art is the gap.”

I guess that means this missing link can put us in touch with things that have been unseen or not easily seen and that’s where creativity is found. Somehow, in the gap between stillness, silence, and the world around us, there are opportunities to create art and meaning. I don’t think they can be recognized without the discipline of disconnecting.

In Blake’s poem, Pentecost, he writes: “Unless the eye catch fire/ The God will not be seen.” It takes stillness and silence – being quietened — for the eye to catch fire so that we can see beyond the everyday.

Everything is, of course, connected and it’s critical to acknowledge that, but sometimes we also need to disconnect in order to experience the unknown and to ignite our imaginations.

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