Mirrored Mosaic Magic


India 2542


“Are dreams the limpid discourse between the facets of a crystal block?”…

 “The world is of glass. You know it by its brilliance, night or day. 
 The earth turns in a mirror. The earth turns in a scarf….”       

— Edmond Jabes


Nothing captures the ephemeral present as does ancient mirrored mosaic.

Three shimmering glass peacocks perch in bas relief in the Peacock Courtyard of City Palace in Udaipur. Assembled from thousands of fragments, they have been in place for hundreds of years.

One stands in for each season: winter, summer, and monsoon.

No in-person appraisal of such works will ever be the same as another, not even for a repeat viewer.  A forever facet of mirrored art is its incorporation of the viewer into every glimpse.  If you step back your presence will multiply, reflected in hundreds of silver diamonds.  Stand close and your scarlet kurta and bright scarf may startle you, fractured amid royal blue, lime, and rust.

An instant’s reflected light–or the absence of sun–also will change each snapshot in time. A courtyard crowd on a sunny day will add dazzling fragments of color and light; a monsoon may yield a scene muted by steam, inhabited by solitary sodden selfies.

The Earth keeps turning.



Any Art at All

Detail, oil painting by Emma Glennon (c)2009

I had an especially peculiar seventh grade Social Studies class.   On many occasions, my (single) teacher would wander off with another section’s (married) teacher in objectively suspicious circumstances (involving exaggerated body language and eye contact)–even to eleven and twelve year-olds.

The two of them would leave all of us behind in the classroom with a bizarre assortment of unconnected tasks to occupy our time: mimeographed sheets to be filled in, based on appalling films of igloo-building and seal-skinning; completely unrelated mapping exercises; and the infamous group projects.

One of these was to assemble in gangs of six and decide whether, with a nuclear holocaust coming and only a few safe slots to fill, our group could agree on whose survival was most important.

We were given nuance-bereft categories from which to sort the dispensable from the valuable and allocate our golden tickets.  Doctor?  Lawyer?  Scientist?  Teacher? Chef? Philosopher? Musician? Historian?  Writer? Artist? Dancer?  (It was assumed that no one multi-tasked or possessed more than one skill, although perhaps whoever designed this exercise didn’t even give it that much thought.)

Even then, I animatedly argued.  Because I could.

I began with what I considered (and still consider) the obvious choices.  Then I very deliberately persuaded my group members to discard them, one by one, and trade out the wisely chosen for what I considered increasingly dumb–approaching asinine–picks.

I couldn’t believe they were going along with this.  Seriously, people, you’re letting me talk you into trading the only trained physician left on Earth for an artist who could well be on the verge of madness from licking lead paint-tipped brushes into tiny points?  

Showing glimmers of a prosecutor-to-be, I probably could have persuaded my group to give up the doctor for a circus clown.

Of course I thought Plan A would be to preserve a vast body of useful, concrete knowledge and logic.  (Personally, a mathematician would have been one of my first-draft picks if available.)

As much as I regretted tossing the hypothetical artists and musicians and writers overboard (some of my family and best friends fall into one or more of those categories), I would have done it in a heartbeat because I viewed their skills as so personal, so non-transferrable, so other-worldly–so unessential to societal survival itself, our given goal.

And, to be fair, I was a kid. Continue reading “Any Art at All”

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