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Several years ago, Lily Tomlin came to Seattle performing her one woman play, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, written by Jane Wagner. I attended one of these limited access shows and immediately felt in awe of both the actor and the writer. One reviewer on Amazon called the filmed version  “brilliant” and I agree, although to see the live performance is light years better.

In the play Lily Tomlin portrays a series of twelve characters. What I found amazing was that changes in character occurred on stage with little more than the change of body positioning and the tilt of her head. In the time it took to walk across the stage, or pick up a discarded item of clothing, the transformation from one fully fledged character seamlessly flowed into another.

The primary character, Trudy,  is a bag lady, who ponders the question of what constitutes Art in American society.  Trudy is convinced that she has a special hat that allows her to interact with her “space chums” (friends from outer space) and she’s trying to figure out how to teach them the difference between art and everyday objects. 

In one hand she holds a photograph of Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Tomato Soup can, in the other hand she holds an actual can of soup.  She displays the Warhol image to her space chums and says “art!”

Then she shows them the can of soup, and says “soup!”

Alternating attention between hands.  “Soup. Art.”

“Get it?” she asks.

Then she puts both hands behind her back, does an imaginary switcheroo movement, and says “guess! Is it soup? Or is it art?”

Of course Trudy thought she’d hit on the right criteria, and that art is an obvious choice, and easy to pick out.  The Warhol image was art, because the world (and many of its critics) says it’s art. It is, because it is. How hard is that?

But when you write a piece that feels good enough, or compose a song, or capture a photographic image that feels significant; as a creator how do you know if it’s art, or soup?

I think I create a lot of soup. Soup is good. Soup feeds you. Soup has substance. Soup with the right combination of ingredients is far more than the sum of it’s components. Soup some times becomes art.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that one persons soup is another’s art, and vice versa.

I’ve been trying to discern a trend in the responses to this blog. From what I’ve discovered to date, if I were to try to write for my audience I’d be chasing whispers until I couldn’t stand up, darting off in all kinds of directions and ultimately writing nothing with any sense of integrity.

So is it soup of the day? Maybe. But maybe (if I’m lucky) it’s art too.

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