Rising Up

How can art inspire us to care for our oceans? One way is when it reminds us of experiences that touched us deeply. The thrill of watching a humpback breach in front of me on a trip to Hawaii is what I remember when I made the encaustic and stitched painting above.

I would hope the piece gives you a bit of that feeling. There is nothing to match the lift of the heart when a large ocean creature rises up out of the water. And then, ker-plash, back down. Stunning.

Art can help you connect to this huge burst of sea life without any further explanation. And if it makes you more open to helping our ocean critters so much the better.

The Idea of Awe

But of course with my psychology background, it’s hard for me to leave it there. I looked into the 10-year old field of positive psychology, to see what’s known about experiences that have such a strong effect on us. The closest I came was the work of Keltner and his colleagues who studied awe.

Art, music, natural wonders, panoramic views, and other things of beauty can evoke many feelings, but the response common to all of these may best be labeled “awe”.
— Shiota, M.N. & Keltner, D. 2007

They suspected awe might occur when we meet a perceptual vastness that expands our usual frame of reference and a decreases focusing on ourselves.

In a series of studies they confirmed that

1. awe is more about perceptual richness rather than a social event,

2. it’s related to an outward focus, compared to pride which is more about one’s self, and

3. people who are open-minded and don’t need quick closure are more prone to awe, but not  pride or joy.

We were so overcome by the emotion of the moment that we became unaware of ourselves.
— Fabrice Schnoller

In concluding that awe directs attention away from the self and toward the environment, they mention "Oceanic" statements made about being part of something greater than the self. Just that word, Oceanic, reminds me to go to my nearest beach for a taste of that feeling. Schnoller has made a touching film, Encounter, that may give you a taste of the same. (More about his freediving work in future posts.)

Awesome Music

For another take on art touching us with the vastness of the ocean, check out the symphonic music of John Luther Adams. This past year, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his work, “Become Ocean”. Being from the Northwest I’m proud that it was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony. Through the generosity of Youtube you can sample it or go ahead get your own copy. As Ludovic Morlot, the conductor said “It’s really ultimately about you becoming an element of nature, yourself, you know, and kind of disappearing into the whole landscape of things.”

Here’s to keeping an eye and ear out for art that takes you out of yourself and connects you to the ocean!