The difficulty began with the title of a painting at an exhibition of work by the Spanish artist Joan Miró. The title was Woman Entranced by the Escape of Shooting Stars (1969). I particularly like this title. The painting itself pleases and eludes me at the same time—the woman’s upturned face has a serenity and happiness that comes of no clear aspect; she has stopped doing something to contemplate the heavens. I can’t make out what objects are in her hands and, if I were to read an interpretation, I’d probably find it questionable. There are two stars: one twinkles and the other spirals. Next to the painting was a sculpture I didn’t like, and then another sculpture constructed of found objects I considered meaningless to the point of being irritating. There was a whole room beyond that full of pieces I didn’t look at very closely. It was crowded in the museum that day. People around me shuffled, stopped, and shuffled, deep in their audio tours.
I stood before Woman Entranced by the Escape of Shooting Stars absorbing the elements—woman, star, spiral star not shaped like a star, inscrutable other stuff—then it followed me into daydreams and lodged in a fold of my mind. I am not an artist or critic and lay no claim to any special understanding of Miró’s work or methods. I am not his admirer, countryman or contemporary. I just started liking the guy despite not liking the guy. I couldn’t stop thinking about him so I wanted to write about him, but the more I wrote, the more I came to believe that the key to his fantastic work, to the sheer volume of work—he kept working without pause from age nineteen to ninety—was that he was phenomenally boring. It seemed that only Miró could take the fact of being Miró and make something lustrously reality-bending, inspired, haunting and gorgeous out of it. To be removed by one degree, to write about him or his work, is to risk crafting something tedious to read. My initial essay flamed out so thoroughly that I threw it in the digital garbage on multiple occasions. Each time, I fished it back out again, attached to the gleaming scraps of something resiliently and stubbornly salvageable.
In the first attempt, I had this idea that I was going to work myself in and sort of sidle up to old Miró—drawing winning parallels between his artistic experience and my own. This was rather rich, given that I am some woman in Denver who is tinkering with this essay during elementary-school hours, and he is, well, internationally renowned Spanish surrealist artist Joan Miró. This “me and Joan” concept was not quite what was called for, but I kept thinking it was absurd enough that it might just come off. It had to be sufficiently ridiculous, but tinted with that kind of outrageous audacity that would allow it to transcend itself. It was not.
One light yet sticky observation emerged out of the “me and Joan” draft concept—that Miró was just like an excellent typist (though I suspect he rarely typed anything ever). My daughters are learning touch typing, or keyboarding. The practice drills involve repetitions of sequenced keys, beginning with the home row keys of ASDFG HJKL;. Hardly impressive in clerical terms, my current 64 words per minute awed my kids. When we began household competition in their exercises, however, my prowess fell apart—I was brought low by the combinations jj kk ll dd; and jkjksdsddds. When I type nonsense, as opposed to words, I have to think about fingers and keys. Typing presents a ready and common example of the effect of overlearning. When we practice a skill well beyond basic mastery we reap the ability to focus on the overarching performance or goal instead of concentrating on the steps required to achieve it. This is overlearning and it is the first element of flow—transcending the mechanics of the maneuver at hand.