Years ago, I had the privilege of rubbing eyeballs with royalty. Flanked by an impressive retinue of distinguished figure heads, the curly-haired king stood before a hushed audience at my university and delivered a cultural manifesto on the artist’s role in creating the juxtaposition of political and religious imagery to benefit and protect society.
But I was more interested in that king’s shoes.
Because they didn’t appear to touch the ground. They hovered like flattened, almost cartoonish, alligator heads, and they obliged me to reevaluate my sense of space and time.
Indeed, my first meeting with King Justinian during an art history course served as a befuddling introduction into the realm of Byzantine abstraction. Why did his feet hang down like a dead man’s? Why did his legs take up so much space, creating a royal disturbance of proportion? And why had someone chosen to gift-wrap someone’s head with a golden halo? Seriously. What happened to the taut, rippling muscles of the classical tradition?
Had art really allowed itself to atrophy into a two-dimensional space? Why? Was something wrong in the kingdom?
And yet, Justinian has managed to stand there, for 2,500 years, as a brilliant mosaic, reflecting the medieval light of a larger culture inside the sacred space of San Vitale. Each tesserae was hammered into place, with purpose, and each angle still points toward some deeper definition, which can only be fully pondered within the mysterious glow of the cathedral.
Using millions of pieces of glass, the artists made sure each one mattered and belonged to a larger idea.
This Smarthistory video about “Justinian and His Attendants” provides a brief overview of how a mosaic of thought can change the way we see the world. It adds some proof that some of the world’s most intriguing and breathtaking visions can be arranged, piece by piece, by a culture of artists who work together to explore the juxtaposition of our disparate perspectives.
Let’s Build July Mosaics!
All month long we’re arranging poems at Tweetspeak. We call it July Mosaics. We write found poems and share them on Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs, though we always link back to here. Last week we wrote poems by using words from “Democracy” by Todd Davis. In the poem, we watch as “more than five hundred juncos” form a shifting mosaic of thought, inviting us to
“wonder at the way everything
changes, on account of one bird’s decision,
all of us avoiding what we thought
was a certain end.”
Maureen Doallas couldn’t avoid playing with the pattern. She wrote,
The Awful Avoiding
This is about more
than the motion
of the hand itself,
the way it comes
winging at everything,
gathering the storm
in our direction. One
of us changes
the other. The way
the light tips and shifts
would have no meaning
without the awful avoiding.
Rosanne Osborne watched the pattern move from another point of view. She wrote,
Flocks of juncos in flight
like synchronized swimmers
account for space, wing tips
and beaks in perfect symmetry.
Connected but not connected,
invisible threads bring meaning
to motion, avoidance without thought.
Cooperation beyond decision,
decision beyond wonder,
the awful reality that certainty
hangs on meaning that heads
cannot comprehend. When
Robert Penn Warren’s Jack Burden
bit into a persimmon, on a hot day
in Louisiana, a Tibetan tinker’s teeth
were set on edge a world away.
How Do I Build July Mosaics?
If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to Every Day Poems.
1. On Mondays, the Every Day Poem in your inbox becomes a pile of raw material. Sort through the words and find a few gems. Rearrange as many as you want into a new found poem. You’re free to mix in your own words.
2. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #tsmosaics hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.
3. Or leave your found poem here in the comment box.
We’ll read your tweets and share some of your weekly play each week. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a winning poem and ask the playful poet to record his or her poem to be featured in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.
Here’s today’s Every Day Poem. Now go play with some juxtaposition.
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $2.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In July we’re exploring the theme The Cento.