Man 1: This podcast is a project of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a State agency committed to building creative communities and inspiring creative minds.
Sally Taylor: The imagining of one thing as it relates to another, as it relates to another, as it relates to another, and seeing through these different artists’ windows into each other’s art, and it, you know, becomes art as a journey, rather than as a destination.
Anita Walker: Hello. I’m Anita Walker at the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud, and we have one of the most creative minds that I know with us today, Sally Taylor. Welcome to our podcast, Sally.
Sally Taylor: Anita, it is such a pleasure to be here.
Anita Walker: Now, I want to spend most of our time talking about CONSENSES, which is– I wanted to call it a project, but it’s more than a project. It’s more of a way of being, a way of thinking, a way of connecting, and a way to really take the arts and make it the powerful thing that it is. But before we talk about that, you are somebody who grew up immersed in creativity, and I know a lot of that experience growing up really brought you to CONSENSES. Talk a little bit about that.
Sally Taylor: You know, I felt as though this creative family that I came from, all of a sudden…
Anita Walker: And tell us, for those who don’t know…
Sally Taylor: Oh, of course…
Anita Walker: …your creative family.
Sally Taylor: …right. So my mother is Carly Simon and my father is James Taylor, both singer-songwriters. And my mom immediately started teaching me a new language to communicate through, and that language was art, and she gave me all these amazing tools, these different games and challenges, to see the world through metaphor. And that was really the door for me. The key, rather, in the door to my being able to decode the world that was around me, and the universe in general and the people that I met along the way. So yeah, growing up in an artistic family was– you know, I have no reference for anything else, but it was juicy, I guess. If I had to pick one word to sum it up, juicy.
Anita Walker: Talk more about metaphor. What do you mean by that?
Sally Taylor: So let’s see, I can explain it especially in terms of this game that I used to play with my mom, called essences, in which one person would think of an individual and challenge the rest of the players to guess the identity of that person based on asking metaphoric questions about their identity or about their essence. And so questions might be, you know, if this person were a color, what color would they be? Or if this person were a time of day, or if they were a beverage, or if they were a fabric or a body of water or a tree. And the challenge was really to, sort of, extract the essence of that person, imagine them in a full other context. You know, “Who would they be if they were a blade of grass?” “Who would they be if they were, you know, a time of day?” “Who would they be if they were a season?” And it just gave me access to seeing artistically, seeing through the language of art.
Anita Walker: And it feels like it sort of takes judgment away?
Sally Taylor: I definitely experienced that. Because it became clear to me, especially even in this game of essences, whereby, you know, my mom might have somebody in her mind and she might describe them as a floral pattern with the flavor of licorice, and a tree with foliage that was like, you know, some sort of sandpapery-collaged bouquet. And then, I would say, “Oh, it’s got to be Cyndi Lauper,” and my mom would say, “No, absolutely not.” You know, “It’s Joan Armatrading.” And then, we’d have this interesting conversation about why I would’ve said Cyndi Lauper and why she’d actually chose Joan Armatrading. It became apparent that there’s a number of ways of seeing different things, and especially if you use metaphor as an alternative to language to see the world, that there is this opportunity to see the deeper essence of things and to see the variations of perspective, and that really does take judgment out of the conversation. It takes out this is good or bad, which is what we automatically want to do when we use language, and actually inserts this is one possibility; this is another possibility, instead of right, wrong, good, bad.
Anita Walker: So this is obvious, sort of, what was the inspiration for CONSENSES. So now tell us what that is and we should spell it, first. CON C-O-N SENSES S-E-N-S-E-S.
Sally Taylor: That’s right.
Anita Walker: CONSENSES.
Sally Taylor: That’s right. So the idea of CONSENSES came out of a fable about these blind men who stumble upon an elephant in their travels, and each of these blind men feels a different part of this elephant’s body before concluding that they obviously know best what an elephant is. And this wise king came along sometime into their argument and says, “You’ve got to stop fighting. Each of you are holding but a tiny slice of something much, much bigger and you can’t access it all by yourselves. You need to find a way to communicate so that each of you can express your different experiences and also, listen to the diversity of what each of you is perceiving. And so the fable to me was really a metaphor for the nature of the human condition, whereby we each, on our journey through this lifetime, get to feel just a tiny, tiny, tiny sliver of space and time. And with that, we decide that we understand much more of the whole and that everybody must be feeling the same sliver as we are and having the same experience, so why are they disagreeing with me about anything? I felt like I wanted to create something that incorporated more than just my perspective. I couldn’t stand the idea that– as a musician that I was getting up on stage and holding on to one part of this elephant, this elephant that is reality and expressing my tiny, tiny, limited perspective and imagining that that could be of any service to the masses. You know, I really felt like so much more could be understood and perceived and explored if we had the capacity to use a language that wasn’t judgmental, that wasn’t black and white, that wasn’t good or bad, that was about this is my version; what’s yours?
Anita Walker: I have to say– if we could just pause right there. You’re a musician on stage and you don’t think that you own the stage and you are revealing all for all of us? I mean, that feels like what– it had to go back to sort of this whole growing up and experience you had immersed in a creative environment about without judgment. Because we all want to stand up on stage and tell everybody how it is.
Sally Taylor: Yeah. Well, I didn’t mind doing that. But I did see the limitation of it, and I did see that there was a possibility that there might be more to express, and so that’s when CONSENSES was born, really. You know, I decided I needed to create my own elephant and to use artists as the blind men that would be exploring it. So I selected 22 images to represent different angles of one thing, and then I gave each photograph to a different musician, and I said, “What does this photograph mean to you? There’s no right or wrong answer. I just need to understand what it is for you, and I want you to express your understanding of the essence of this photograph as a song.” And then, they returned to me these songs, which were different than I could have possibly imagined because I only have my blind perspective. And then, I took those songs and I gave each one of them, detached from the original photograph, to different painters, and those painters interpreted those songs and extracted the essence of what the songs meant to them, and expressed them on canvasses. And then, I took the paintings and I gave them to perfumers, and the perfumes to sculptors, the sculptures to poets, and the poems to dancers, until all of the senses had been created and represented, and then I gave each of those chain reactions to a set designer to interpret and to express as a physical space. And when I was done, 150 artists from around the planet had participated in this sort of global game of telephone through the senses, and none of them knew who else was participating. None of them had access to any of the other art, rather– you know, beside the one piece that I gave them, and it was really this incredible blind experiment, you know, of all these artists participating as blind men, feeling the bigger reality, the bigger nature of something that they didn’t know the name of, but had access to the essence of.
Anita Walker: So what came out the other end? What…
Sally Taylor: Oh, my gosh.
Anita Walker: …surprised you?
Sally Taylor: Well, everything. I mean, oftentimes, I would get something back and I’d be like, “How does this fit in? I just don’t understand this. It doesn’t make sense to me.” And I would realize, you know, this person was feeling a part of the elephant that I had no access to, and suddenly, somebody would come along and say, “Oh, that’s the thing that makes the whole chain make sense.” You know, and they would have a complete other perspective on it. So it really was this mind-expanding tool to show each– you know, to show different versions of truth. And what I realized is that each of us takes in the sunlight of inspiration and like different facets of the same prism, we cast our own versions of that inspiration against the wall, and they show up as something different and beautiful and something that none of us have access to otherwise. You know, we paint these glorious worldview masterpieces inside of our heads on a daily basis with, you know, these really simplistic paints. You know, photons and the chemicals and the sound waves and the pressure, which are really the only things we have access to with our five senses, and then we take that and we paint this amazing worldview in the back of our minds that nobody else gets to see, if we don’t find a way to express it artistically. And that’s what CONSENSES is for is a way of expressing those worldview masterpieces that we spend all day within and no– and at no time, realize that anybody else has a different masterpiece inside their head.
Anita Walker: So you have put some of these sets, some of these collections, on display on Martha’s Vineyard, and I have had the opportunity to experience them.
Sally Taylor: Yeah, it was so great.
Anita Walker: Talk a little bit about what happens when people come and they see them. And you also give people an opportunity to paint their own contribution.
Sally Taylor: Absolutely. So when people come into the exhibit, they are– you know, walk into one of these sets and they’re immediately sort of presented with the original photograph, and they have whatever reaction they’re going to in relationship with it, whatever they’re going to have. And then, suddenly the music comes on that was created in reaction to it and suddenly people are transported to the musician’s perspective to see it completely differently. And then, the dance begins and people are transported to the dancer’s perspective, and then the painting is there and they get to smell the perfume or they get to taste the tea or they get to feel the fabric of the dress that was created in reaction to the perfume, and so on and so forth. And so they’re really enveloped and saturated in their senses, which brings them really clearly and firmly into the present moment. I mean, nothing does that like a cognitive bottom-up experience. But they’re fully, fully embracing the moment and then, there are these creative stations, whereby they can express their own reaction to the artwork on display and post it, basically, becoming a part of the larger conversation about the nature of the elephant, as it were. And to be able to see what other people have been saying in reaction, as well, and just become part of a bigger conversation than they would’ve been having, had they just stood in front of it and said, “I get it. I like it.” Move on. You know, this is really about seeing things from other people’s perspectives and seeing the equality of each person’s point of view.
Anita Walker: So you have ambitions for CONSENSES. You’ve done your initial experiment, so to speak, with a hundred plus artists, and with phenomenal results. But where does it go now?
Sally Taylor: We have two big goals for 2016. One of which is to bring it, as a curriculum, into schools of all different sort of ages. We plan to bring it into a pre-k through eighth, a high school, and also pilot in a college by the end of 2016 and then, we also plan to show the exhibit again on Martha’s Vineyard through the end of 2017. And to try to create the next CONSENSES with a like-minded, like-missioned, organization or institution that wants to really delve into the essence of something in a deeper way, to build community and unity and peace and understanding by starting a new CONSENSES. So those are our goals for 2016. Nothing…
Anita Walker: <inaudible>
Sally Taylor: Nothing much, yeah, nothing much.
Anita Walker: I think, though, one of the things that is so amazing about this is that you really have tapped– we all know– we in the art world, we in the…
Sally Taylor: We.
Anita Walker: …in the culture club.
Sally Taylor: Yes.
Anita Walker: We know the power of the arts. We believe in the power of the arts. But how do we really demonstrate it? I mean, how do you really put words to it? Where’s the vocabulary for it? And it feels like– I’m not sure that the words beyond CONSENSES have been added to our vocabulary. But there’s certainly something that has been informed by what you’ve done.
Sally Taylor: Well, thank you. I don’t know how to respond to that. Is that a question?
Anita Walker: <laughs> Not necessarily…
Sally Taylor: Give it to me again.
Anita Walker: I don’t believe there was a question mark on the end. It was…
Sally Taylor: Okay. <inaudible>
Anita Walker: No. Actually, it was an observation. I mean, I really do, having had a chance when you describe it, and I heard you describe it before I actually experienced it. There was sort of an interesting concept there that I thought, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing. That really sounds interesting.” But you do experience it in a different way when you actually stand amongst the art and the work of the artists, and even just seeing how like the game of telephone, what the original inspiring piece was. And then, it goes through dance and sculpture and tea and perfume and so forth, but then, when it comes out of the back end, you see such a direct relation to the original work. It’s like how did they get that out of tea?
Sally Taylor: Right. Yeah, I know. I don’t really understand it. And, you know, I come from an anthropological background and so that was really sort of the hypothesis, the question that I had, was does art have a will of its own, separate from the artist that insists on using the medium of human creativity to manifest itself, to realize itself. Is that something that is sort of irrelevant, you know, that whatever the spirit of art brushes up against gets manifested in similar ways. I wanted to understand that. But then, you know, the secondary question was, is, you know, is who we are as humans so terrified of the mystery that we perpetually have to make up meaning where there is none or connection where there is none. So that’s the ongoing, you know, larger conversation. That’s the 100-dollar a head seat. You know, sort of a question, what is the nature of inspiration and who we are– who are we as humans to interpret that and translate it? And that’s really the sort of larger CONSENSES question.
Anita Walker: To me, the power of it really is, aside from the sort of metaphysical question of who’s in charge here, the art or the artist? But that when you remove judgment and you really seek understanding, which each successive artist had to do, imagine if we all did that in real life, what our world would be like?
Sally Taylor: Yes.
Anita Walker: Sally Taylor, amazing project. Thank you very much for sharing your…
Sally Taylor: Oh, thank you, Anita.
Anita Walker: …creative mind out loud.
Sally Taylor: My pleasure. Thank you for asking me.
Man 1: To learn more about this episode and to subscribe, visit CreativeMindsOutLoud.org.
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