I hear a faint voice deep inside me singing joyfully: “See. It can be done!”
On August 6, 1974, Philippe Petit, the acclaimed French multidisciplinary artist and high-wire poet, rose above the bottom line of our lives and made his way up to the empty space between the two towers of the World Trade Center, making the sky his impermanent stage. Startling New York City and the rest of the world, Petit walked, danced, and lay down on a wire, looking at the sky, in a state of grace, for about forty-five minutes. Everyone who noticed watched spellbound. His only safety was his balancing pole. His feat, which he called the coup and the perfect crime, has inspired films, books, and, I’m sure, countless artists and creators.2
Quintessentially not playing it safe, Philippe Petit, who had dreamed of accomplishing this since he was fourteen years old, created a performance at the intersection of an art installation, a provocative public stunt, and poetry in movement. He put his life at great risk, but he wasn’t sponsored, and he wasn’t paid. Instagram and the other social media platforms didn’t even exist then. So why did he do it? When asked by a journalist, shortly after his arrest, he famously said: “The beauty of it is, there is no ‘why.’” The energy from his work still resonates today.
Another Frenchmen I admire, the painter Henri Matisse, suggested that our most creative moments are found in the in-between ...