Profiles in Expression

This page will be a curious journey through individual stories of expression. Prepare to be awed and inspired.

On this Page:

Gastronomy

Japanese cuisine, like its culture, has a very unique aesthetic.

For example, even the sample foods, known as “sampuru”, look as real as the actual food. They go on display to give the eater an idea of what they will get beforehand. And it’s an incredible form of artistic expression in itself.

Sushi has become one of the most prominent foods around the world, and by and large the most important food in Japanese culture. It’s simple, yet elegant and expressive. People dedicate their lives to become sushi chefs. The 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono (famous from the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi) lives a simple life that is dedicated to sushi. He rarely takes a day off work. And when he’s not working, he’s dreaming of sushi. Each sushi chef has their own style much like other artists and painters. Yet sushi mastery can only be attained through hard work and dedication. In that way, sushi is, for these folks, a deep lifestyle. Like the samurai or the Zen Buddhist, sushi is yet another avenue of expression that brings masters meaning in life.

There are plenty of gastronomical forms of expression. Here are a few ways to start exploring these avenues.

Read: Food As Therapy
Watch: Dan Barber’s TED Talk, How I fell in love with a fish
Explore: The Chef’s Table

Trailer. Watch on Netflix here.

The Art of Wrestling

If you don’t see professional wrestling as an art form, you’re missing the point.

Wrestling evolved from a sport where two guys fought to pin each other on the mat into one of the largest integrated media companies in the world. What happened? They incorporated  storytelling. The World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Over the years, wrestlers would begin to stage their matches and perform for the audience. It gave it a level of bravado that nobody had seen in sports at the time.

In the 1950’s, a man named Gorgeous George took the stage as one of the most elaborate characters in the ring. He had bleach blonde hair, royal robes, and strutted around the stage before his fights. He even had a butler that sprayed perfume around the ring before he entered. This was certainly not necessary for a wrestling match. But it helped build a story around a character.

Wrestlers that crafted a narrative around their character became the norm come the 1970’s generation of professional wrestling. You would perform on one side of the wrestling spectrum: as a hero or a villain. Wrestlers would have a schtick, so to speak. They were completely immersed in their characters, anywhere from Hulk Hogan to Andre The Giant. Whoever it was, they took a character, and flew with it.

Women in the 1980’s, after decades in wrestling already, began expressing themselves through this sport full of glamour and colorful characters. The Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling (GLOW) would later influence how men and women would be incorporated in entertainment wrestling on the worldwide stage. In the 1990’s, wrestling had fully transformed into a wildly successful entertainment industry. And the art continued to transform by way of wrestlers telling their stories. The entrances give us the context and the build even before the fighting begins. And although wrestling can be considered expressive in and of itself, the fight mostly serves to resolve the storylines created over a season.

A New Kind of Circus

On the shores of the St. Laurent River in Quebec City, you could see dancers and jugglers, fire breathers and stilt walkers. It was the early 1980’s and a circus troupe known as Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul had formed. This spark would ignite a revolution in contemporary circus arts.

The troupe evolved into the very future-present of circus. Guy Laliberté, one of the troupe’s members, wanted to start a show that could offer an audience an animal free, dramatic and story-driven performance with original music and magic. He called it Cirque du Soleil.

It was an international success. With their detailed set designs and playful audience interaction, audiences became enthralled with this unique form of expression. From Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, they sold out shows and eventually traveled to Europe by 1990. Now, Cirque has become a worldwide phenomenon. Cirque’s touring and resident shows offer circus styles from all around the world and are designed with unique storylines for touring and residential shows. The productions have been seen by more than 150 million people in over three hundred cities worldwide. What’s their secret? The allure of this art form came down to an elaborate tent, interactive clowns, and highly-skilled circus artists, such as acrobats, hoop divers, and contortionists.

Their appeal also lies in crafting immersive worlds, like they’ve done in reimagining popular artists like The Beatles and Michael Jackson. Yet the most innovative aspect of Cirque is the way in which they left traditional circus behind, borrowed a few tricks from Broadway, and allowed the audience to step inside their world.

The Olympiad

The ancient Greeks created the Olympics originally as a festival to celebrate Zeus in 776 BC. This tradition continued even under Roman rule. Every four years thereafter, the Olympics became an artistic expression as well as a showcase of athletes as we know them. Painters, artisans, poets and sculptors would be able to display their creative works. Myron’s Diskobolos, or the Discus Thrower, was created to highlight human form and movement. Poets praised the game’s victors.

Even religious expression played a part in the Olympic games. Olympia, the primary location of the ancient games, became a major area of worship as one of the largest Doric temples in Greece. Even one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, a 42-foot tall statue of Zeus made of gold and ivory, was built there in 435 BC. Today, the Olympic Games still hold an extraordinary level of expression based on the host country’s artists and history. And there are various other organizations hosting olympics games, like the Parallel Olympics for disabled athletes, or the Special Olympics for learning-disabled athletes.

Rolling Onward

At around midnight, the DJ starts to spin his records. People lace up their roller skates and start to stretch. Hip hop and house tracks blare over the loudspeakers at places like Branch Brook Park in New Jersey or Bona Venture Skating Rink in Detroit. Suddenly, groups of 10 roller skaters link arms and form a train down the hardwood floor — a classic move dating back to the late 1960’s New York and New Jersey African American roller skating scenes.

Roller skating is a unique niche of expression. During the 60s, this scene mostly consisted of African American skaters, and connected to the country’s terrible history of segregation. Yet there was, even still, a unique style to these late-night skating scenes. And recently, there has been a resurgence in this form of movement and group gatherings across the United States. This is by and large due to mass city-wide gentrification and a reclamation of African American values with deep cultural significance.

Each region and city is different in skating expression. You can see the “fast backwards,” in Philadelphia, the “stride” in Ohio, or the people doing “J.B. Style” to James Brown music in Chicago. The early days of skating also played a huge role to promote hip hop music. Even Dr. Dre started his DJ career at a skate rink in Los Angeles at Skateland U.S.A..

With a history of segregation in skating in the United States, people even staged “skate-in’s”. This mirrored sit-in’s in the 60s, where students expressed their Civil Rights and non-violent protest throughout the United States. Skating allows people to move beyond race, class, sexual orientation and gender. People can lay their worries down on the wood at the skating rink. And when you’re arm-in-arm with a stranger in a roller skating train, you’re reminded that the beat goes back generations and expression, like a form of ceremony, can bring community together.

The Light Writer

Gunpowder exploded and a flaming ladder stretched toward the sky. It blazed for only a few moments, then disappeared in a cloud of black smoke.

A new form of art blasted its way from China’s Cultural Revolution to the contemporary art conversation. Cai Guo-Qiang is one of the most innovative modern artists, where he leverages fear and collective tension into works of beauty.

Destruction and birth. His work often carries a component of our ephemeral existence. He  There is this cyclical nature of Guo-Qiang’s work. Feng Shui. Confucianism. Taoism. Buddhism. Each of these spiritual practices and perspectives have been explored in his work.

The use of gunpowder has a deeper meaning though. The minerals found inside the cannon blasts take thousands of years to form. And it’s an age-old Chinese belief that such medicine can make one immortal.

He creates environments that shock the senses and inspire reflecting, communal healing, political unity and reflection on the nature of our world and the unseen worlds.

Watch Guo-Qiang’s documentary, Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang (only on Netflix). Or peruse his galleries to find where you can see his next installation “ignition event.”

For a Change

“My work is not about paint. It’s about paint at the service of something else. It is not about gooey, chest-beating, macho ’50s abstraction that allows paint to sit up on the surface as subject matter about paint.” – Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley, an contemporary African-American painter, knows that in order to change the perception of American identity politics, he needed to change the way we create portraitures. So Wiley delved into a more vibrant and sensitive portrayal of black folk. He painted elaborate flowers and vines as backgrounds to teenagers he would meet on the streets. He explores Identity Politics, which deals with aspects of Wiley’s identity, such as politics and sexuality. The young men in Wiley’s paintings, often portrayed in violent situations in the media, are instead  depicted in their beauty within the context of their communities in the United States. These images give a striking power to the black community, often incorporating historical images and tropes.

For example, he depicts a scene of a young black man much like Napoleon Bonaparte in one of his paintings with sword and horse. Wiley successfully distorts our idea of historical norms and how white people were often painted in such regal fashions due to their status and hierarchy.

When Barack Obama needed to find an artist who would paint his portrait to sit in the National Portrait Gallery, he contacted Wiley. In 2017, Wiley became the first black artist to paint a portrait of a United States president.

Here, Obama sits in a wooden chair among a exceptionally bright green leaves and vines with jasmine, chrysanthemums and African blue lilies. The foliage represents Obama’s path on the Earth to Wiley. Jasmine for Hawaii, African blue lilies for his African heritage, chrysanthemums for his Chicago home town. Everything in Wiley’s portraits are thought out and intentional. Obama sits beside us, distorting our idea of power. His arms are crossed, engaged, listening. Even his wedding ring is visible on his finger, allowing us to see the importance of his marriage in his presidency.

Wiley, as a gay black man, is intentional in his paintings of black male bodies not in the context of fear and violence. Rather, he paints them as objects of vulnerability and desire often. He uses flowers and a playful queerness to some of his portraits. As a visual master for depicting modern black America, Wiley has become a mainstay in the contemporary art world.

There are Many Ways to Play

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” ― Socrates

Wishful Thinking

What happens when a group of 70,000 artists and individuals gather in the middle of the Nevada desert? Burning Man is a radical artistic community. It’s not so much wishful thinking anymore. The festival started as an idea of how community could be. And now, it’s one that sprouts up all at once at the end of every summer, then vanishes into a plume of dust weeks later.

It’s a radical community that explores various mediums of self-expression. It’s about showcasing each other’s unique talents for the enthrallment of all. Sculptors, painters, performers, the list is limitless of how people choose to express and offer an experience to participants. They practice “radical inclusion,” which they describe in this way:

“Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”

Burning Man is about art, community and individual acts of self-expression. And to many who have gone to the festival for years, it’s a way of life.

You can see a long list of other festivals on our Resources for Expression page.

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Wonderful Life

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

It has always been in our nature to to venture beyond what was possible. We’ve expressed ourselves in the world by creating tools, cultivating knowledge and learning skills to help us move beyond the bounds of what we know. Awe and wonder give us a sense of significance in order to flourish and survive.

Aristotle expressed a sense of wonder in The Metaphysics that led to philosophy. In order to escape our ignorance, man had to have a sense of awe. By extension, art, philosophy, religion and all other forms of expression can help us to transcend our daily existence and cultivate wonder.

Awe-Inspiring Expression

Surprise Yourself

SoulPancake offers viewers some of the most inspiring and uplifting media content out there today. Kid President, and Kitten Therapy are a few personal favorites. But the idea behind this form of expression is key: make surprising, heartfelt, meaningful content.

They’ve made kids dreams come true, experimented with bias and happiness. And their book, SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions, offers readers a rich and meaningful gateway to expression.

Did you know that a surprise causes humans to freeze for 1/25th of a second? It triggers extreme curiosity in the moments thereafter. Our emotions intensify more than 400 percent after a surprising moment. Did you also know there is such a thing as a Surpriseologist?!? It’s true. Surprise Industries is a community of people dedicated to surprising one another. They’re on a quest to interrupt patterned behaviors in our lives. This form of expression is founded in the belief that “life is richest when we shake up routine and embrace surprise.”

Creating Surprise

See more resources on our Expression Resources page.