March 2023: Project Beginning
Looking for Arete is my deeply personal way of delving into my understanding of beauty—what it is, what it once was, and what it can be. It is also my way of discerning why visual beauty, in and of itself, is so important—to me, to others, to the world. The project explores what arete, or excellence, looks like—through my eyes, my mind, my body, my being—a self that is alive right now, in this place, this time. It is my response to an intense desire to use my creativity with potency—to seek, bear witness, and convey what I discover in a way I feel is truly beautiful.
Taking on this project is also my way of reconnecting to the part of myself that is wise beyond my words, perceptive beyond my eyes, powerful beyond my body. All of that, I believe, is what is needed for me to perceive the arete found around me, both far and near. (And I wonder, what does my perception of this true beauty sound and look and feel like?)
Looking for Arete began because I found myself grappling with an existential question related to self-knowledge: what does it mean to fully live to your potential? Do we even know our own capacities, really? How much of our understanding of our personal capabilities is influenced, fostered, developed, directed, swayed, inhibited, restricted, stunted—by others, by experience, by place, time and circumstances? And how much is simply determined by an inner self?
Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about big questions like those of late. Death, grief, loss will do that: make you reflect on life and death and everything in-between. But so will raising a kid. Especially one who is like the one I have.
When my son was still fairly young, my mom told me it wasn’t until she became a mother that she felt like she was sure of herself and her purpose. She asked me if I felt that way too. I agreed with her. Becoming a mother had changed me, for the better, in all areas of my life. I was more organized, less selfish, more patient…things like that. Yes! Caring for this little person was definitely purposeful. For sure, Mom.
At the time, I thought I understood what she was saying. Now that she is gone, however, I realize that maybe I misunderstood her. Maybe I didn’t really know what she meant. Maybe I should have asked her questions instead of responding to her with statements of such surety. Although I doubt she would have answered any of them fully. But that is something I recognize now, not then.
Watching my son change and grow and live—and my mother change and grow and die—has been a catalyst for what I am thinking about. Much of my pondering seems to relate to autonomy—about how one develops it, understands it, preserves it, protects it. And if self-rule is ever lost—how, exactly, does one go about reclaiming it?
The question of regaining a lost autonomy, especially, has led me into some very deep, unknown territory. Which is a very scary place to be. I thought I knew where I was and why I was there. But it turns out…I don’t—apparently because I lost something urgently vital to my being, quite some time ago. And I didn’t even recognize it was gone.
Admitting a part of yourself is missing is…terrifying. I know this because it’s happened to me several times before. But this time, for once, I don’t feel afraid about having to search for it, even if it takes me to unfamiliar places. I do wonder what my mother would say about that. She’d probably say—with a smile—she was very proud of me. And then she would probably ask if I had learned anything yet.
Yes, for sure, Mom. Being human, living in this world—it can be difficult and lonely. And yes, sometimes this life, this world…it is absolutely, utterly, entirely, devastatingly not pretty. But even then, if you let it, something can be created. And if you have the courage and audacity to get out of the way—remembering that beautiful doesn’t necessarily mean pretty—the essence of arete can also be brought forth in a way that is truly beautiful, awesome, divine.
What Looking for Arete is—what it actually entails—currently is rather nebulous. Right now, I am thinking of it as a trajectory of inquiries moving me forward through time into places and spaces and moments which exist outside of my present sphere of understanding. The project is the means through which I am seeking and questioning and researching and learning. It is how I am trying to connect to ideas, people, places, moments and beings—how I am trying to understand life in a world that is so much bigger than me.
I think the project is made of words and objects, of images and performances, of relationships and connections, of giving and receiving…yes, all of that is rather vague. But there is one thing I absolutely know, with complete surety. I want Looking for Arete to be beautiful—in the way I see and feel and experience arete. I want it to be truly beautiful and I want to share its beauty with others, with the world.
Yes…for sure, Mom!
The word ‘arete’ is a Greek word, usually translated to mean ‘excellence’ in English. But ‘arete’ is most accurately defined as a concept rather than as a single word. Some of the clearer (and shorter) definitions include ‘the striving to reach one’s potential’ or ‘the state of something at its highest quality.’ As a concept, arete can be applied to an action of physical prowess as well as to objects, beings, places, and qualities of intelligence or character.