I visited the American Visionary Arts Museum (AVAM) yesterday. My neurons are still firing. I spent a lot of time at their current exhibition "What Makes Us Smile" that featured an examination of the "architecture of joy." I read about "primitive" cultures that apparently begin arguments by laughing together so everyone is reminded of their shared bonds and common cause. Of course, "advanced" societies would never do something silly like that. Imagine a UN resolution that required all the factions in Libya to laugh with each other. Dropping bombs and firing cruise missiles is so much more effective.
While walking about the exhibition, I heard Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, which seemed an odd choice. I discovered it is the soundtrack for a short film called "Where the Smiling Ends" by Andi Olsen. I was spellbound. Olsen's film captures the moments after people stop smiling while posing for photographs at Trevi Fountain in Rome. People from all over the planet. The vast majority of people stop smiling, lower their head, withdraw, or even look sad. There are exceptions of people who manage to maintain their smile and joy but most people seem to fade after the photograph of their smile has been captured.
I've heard it so many times: "Smile for the camera." Why? Will the camera be offended if I don't smile? Will you be offended if I don't smile? Will it ruin the photograph? Or the moment? What if I don't feel like smiling?
I found this post at eHow: How to Smile for the Camera.
While I find this post odd, I agree wholeheartedly with these two statements:
The secret is to be relaxed, honest and genuine.
Laugh with sincerity.
Which makes me wonder. How am I supposed to be relaxed, honest, genuine and sincere on demand? In fact, how am I supposed to be relaxed, honest, genuine and sincere at all?
I've had the great fortune and pleasure to visit Trevi Fountain. I don't know if I took any photographs in front of the fountain. What I do remember is sharing a gelato with my wife by the side of the fountain and hearing "In My Place" by Coldplay for the first time. Those are good memories, ones that bring a smile to my face even now. The smile relates to a person, a moment, not the place itself.
Joy is a feeling. A smile is a reflection of joy. I don't know how to describe an architecture of joy but Olsen's film reminds me that people from all cultures want to feel joy but struggle to hold onto it. But we need to understand this architecture and build from it. Instead of smiling for the camera, let's smile for each other. Because I believe a feeling of joy, a genuine smile and a laugh with sincerity are key ingredients to a relaxed interaction between people regardless of culture, language, or even religion.
As one of the signs at the exhibition stated:
"Our fifteen years of thematic exhibitions here at the American Visionary Art Museum can be distilled into one effort: To destroy the illusion that we are somehow over here, and the rest of the world over there."