Yesterday I (and some more than delightful company) went to see Optimism at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. It's an exhibition of contemporary Australian artists and is generally viewed as being timely in these economic climes.
The exhibition certainly lives up to its mandate, with a majority of pieces that are big and bright. Indeed, the overwhelming feeling for me as I walked around was one of colour and size and the pieces are easily consumed and appreciated. They are challenging in their own ways, but on the whole they were easy to connect with and showed an outlook that was delightful to be a part of.
Despite this, I left feeling a little hollow and unsure of what this exhibition actually had to say. The use of colour seemed trite and repetitive and I thought that there were few pieces that explored the way we can be optimistic even when we are unhappy. Optimism should not be associated only with progression and development and positive outcomes. Optimism can in fact exist where it shouldn't necessarily and in colours, ideas and feelings that could rarely be called 'happy'. Perhaps optimism is a process or a tactic or something that is in fact difficult and requires strength. And perhaps it can be less positive than general association would have us believe, instead residing deep in the minds and hearts of political realists and the way that they understand and see the world in their specifically scary way.
Could I be any more rambling?
The point is that I think optimism doesn't have to be fragile or sneaky, or bright and loud with colour. Or big. It can exist in the tiniest corners where there is nothing but depression, sadness, and anger. For me, optimism is the complete and unshakable belief that I can take care of myself and that I am loved. But those two things are not about colour or sparkiness - often they're hard and dark.
Perhaps these feelings are better expressed by the film I then saw last night, Slumdog Millionaire (website and review). I don't want to harp on about it being the 'feelgood film of the decade', or whatever the propaganda would call it because neither I nor my companion would necessarily have agreed with that moniker. However, I do feel that it had a lot to say in relation to the themes I'm going on about above.
*I'm going to talk about the film here so if you don't want to know anything these please avert your eyes... NOW!*
The interesting thing was that the person who always ends up coming through for Jamal, is the same person who creates so many of his problems - Salim. It threw Salim's character into such chaos and perhaps made him more believable than if he had been 'good' or 'bad', the way that Jamal - as sweetly delightful as he is - comes across. But Jamal had optimism I believe, not in the power of good or evil, just simply in himself and his ability to make things turn out differently. I don't know that he aspired to fame and glory, and I don't know that his outlook stretched to thinking that things would ever turn around for him, but he certainly had an unwavering belief in his destiny (whatever that actually means). And that was founded on very little.
So, yes. Optimism is tricky and can be dark as well as being pixelated into primary colours and jumping on a trampoline. In the end I find that it has a lot less to do with happiness and progression than it does with a general sense of self-belief and a feeling of movement.
And that ain't so bad.