Nietzsche, Ultra Music Festival, and Self-Transcendence in Art

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Photo Credit:

In the Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche creates a dichotomy in art between the Apollonian and Dionysian that he believes allows us to see the interaction between two artistic schools of thought that has persisted throughout history. The Greek god Apollo represents what Nietzsche considers the forms of art associated with dreams – painting, sculpture, form, beauty. This, he believes, has persisted as the dominant form of artistic expression for its relatively docile and uninspiring nature over the dark side of artistic expression – the Dionysian. The Greek god Dionysus, associated with music and wine, represents the forms of art associated with the feeling of intoxication, primarily music. This distinction is made both in how the works in each category are created, as well as how they are received by their audiences.

When an audience is viewing pieces of visual art like paintings or sculptures, they quietly and slowly observe the nuances of the work in a primarily intellectual interaction between the artist and the audience. In stark contrast, when an audience is experiencing an expression of the Dionysian like music, they feel the art, they dance and sing and become wild in a primarily physical interaction between the audience and the artist. This physical interaction has been repressed, Nietzsche argues, because it has the capacity to incite; it profoundly alters the behavior of those who it touches – allowing listeners to lose their inhibition, to connect with others at a deep level, to celebrate life in the universal language. These are not behaviors that a ruling establishment wishes to create in its population; these are behaviors that can upset the balance of power, that can cause violence and sex and destroy precious societal order.

Nietzsche’s categories are accurate in their distinction and highly important for the understanding and study of art. The difference becomes quite obvious when viewed in authentic contexts – compare the patrons of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art with the audience at the annual Ultra Music Festival in Miami, Florida, and one quickly understands the distinction between the Dionysian and the Apollonian. The distinction allows us to properly judge art on its merits in either category – one should not criticize a landscape sketch for not inspiring dance in the viewer nor should lyric-less electronic dance music be berated for its absence of intellectual interaction. The latter exists primarily in an emotional context where the user doesn’t see or analyze but instead feels the rhythm and melody while the first resides in the realm of the analytical and the visual and how its elements work synergistically to create a representation of beauty.

Although this distinction is useful, it is by no means absolute. In many instances art forms traditionally considered Apollonian or Dionysian can escape their categorical consideration to form a highly complex and layered assault on both the mind and the body that can elude explanation from all but the most skilled audience. This capacity is surely known by any exposed audience, but its true importance is for the artist, the creator. They must not foolishly restrain themselves to the Apollonian or the Dionysian and instead must exist in the overlapping space between that cradles many of humanity’s best artistic works, those that pass easily through the barriers of sense perception and deconstructive analysis and touch us at the deepest levels and manifest themselves through absolutely compulsive physical expression and intellectual satisfaction that satiates an oft-forgotten primal hunger for self-transcendence.


Shoshin: The Mastery Mindset


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Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could retrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Learning how to learn is an essential skill. If you’re still in school, it can help you take advantage of a broken educational system enough to make that degree worth more than a piece of paper. After school, knowing how to learn becomes even more important as it separates those destined for the dead-end of middle management from the ambitious individuals who rise to the top.

We are living in an age of revival, when the once archaic idea of the jack-of-all-trades Renaissance man has returned to a status that exceeds its former glory. It’s no longer enough to learn a specialized skill set, get hired, and retire 40 years later having worked for one company your entire life. The average employee stays at each job for only 4.4 years, which means that adaptability and a broad skill set are the most valuable assets to possess. If you’re looking to find freedom in self-employment, this point is only emphasized further because the modern entrepreneur is a master of multitasking. They’re the C.E.O, the marketer, the customer service rep, the artist, the social media expert, and the accountant. An ability to learn quickly and deeply is the only way to thrive in this dynamic environment.

Luckily, there is a wealth of tools and resources to facilitate ‘aftermarket education’. Youtube, TED talks, Wikipedia, Massively Open Online Courses, and blogs weave a robust network to fuel your growth. Without the right attitude, though, all this wonderful content becomes useless.

In Zen Buddhism, there is a concept called Shoshin (初心), which translates to “Beginner’s Mind.” It suggests that the best way to learn is to take the perspective of an absolute novice, by understanding and accepting that you know nothing. This confession of ignorance stimulates an intense curiosity; by knowing nothing we feel driven to learn anything and everything. It also leaves us open to the teachings of others because our ego no longer gets in the way of communication. Even as an expert in a subject, adopting the beginner’s mind refreshes your perspective, and allows you to see the same challenges without the associations and expectations that typically define your approach.

In trying to live this practice myself, I have found massive impacts not only on my academic life but also in my social experience. Instead of spending conversations trying to share my opinion and prove my point right, I dedicate more time to listening and understanding those around me. By admitting that I know nothing, I’m eager to learn what people have to say. Shoshin is the mastery mindset, one simple change that will help you to flourish in a fluid world where information is the most valuable commodity.

Acknowledging that we know nothing is the first step to knowing everything.

Recommended Reading: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shinryu Suzuki


The Key To Being Happy is to Stop Trying

Photo by Bogdan Teodorescu

Photo by Bogdan Teodorescu

“Happiness is a choice.” This simple product of new age thought and the positive psychology movement is absolutely profound. It suggests that we humans are not simply the manufactured products of some environmental assembly line, but that we play an active role in our own well-being. It’s incredibly empowering to realize that one doesn’t have to watch helplessly while the people around us and the circumstances we face decide our fate.

The idea that we are in control of our own happiness at first feels absolutely liberating – this control seems to unlock the possibility that we can hypothetically be happy all of the time. However, this freedom brings with it the immense responsibility of securing our own well-being. The upside to the idea that you’re at least partially dependent on others for joy was that it meant that you didn’t have to worry so much, satisfaction was out of your control. So now, having been suddenly handed the reins, all we do is worry.

The cleverest among us are preying on the epidemic fear of sadness, holding the promise of happiness in front of us like a carrot on a stick. Wear these clothes and then you’ll be happy, read this book or blog post and then you’ll be happy (sorry), work harder and make more money and then you’ll be happy. These predators have created a culture of viewing satisfaction as a goal, as something you have to work towards and earn, because it motivates you towards their goals. Working to achieve happiness disgraces the original idea of choosing happiness, it’s absolutely antithetical to its message. Choosing happiness is simply an attitude change. It’s not something we do in a span of years, or months, or days, but rather a choice we make in this very moment. Stop trying to be happy and just be happy – right here, right now.

Why You Should Never, Ever, Ever Get A Tattoo (but Having a Baby is Fine)

The Ugly Volvo

I’m not super pro-tattoo or anti-tattoo.  I’ve debated getting one in the past but never that seriously.  But my mother is vehemently anti-tattoo.  Listed below are the reasons my mother has always given me for why I shouldn’t get a tattoo.

And I understand that she’s from a different generation.  And I love my mother very much.  She’s a really wonderful person and I’m not saying none of them is a legitimate reason, but I’m saying that after having a child, I find it really hard to take any of them seriously.

And so in case you were headed out to the tattoo parlor as we speak, here are:


1.  “A Tattoo is Forever”

Yes, a tattoo is forever.  Totally forever!  Except that a tattoo can, if needed, be erased with a laser.

 *Some of you read that and immediately thought, "I am so exhausted, please I need a laser that can temporarily erase a three year-old," but sorry, that is not a thing that exists.  

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