Sometimes life can be discouraging, cause for despair even. Maybe your health is failing, maybe a dear friend committed suicide, maybe an employer screws you over. Nobody listens to you, nobody is paying attention. And the question may arise: why do anything at all?
I have asked it many times before. Why indeed? And the answer is always simple: because it’s possible. It’s still possible that this time something will relieve the pain, something beautiful will come of it, someone will be touched or even moved by what I still had the courage to do.
It’s interesting that the Latin word “posse” (to be able) and its relative “potens” (able, powerful) share “poti-” as a root (or “posis” in Greek, or “patih” in Sanskrit), meaning “lord” or “husband”. That’s just what it does, life: it expresses itself endlessly. And the process is not some superficial affair. It is a dedicated marriage, an ongoing union.
Through my work I meet a lot of thoughtful, successful individuals and I get to visit gorgeous properties in our already beautiful area. To be honest, I’ve often had reservations about ownership and affluence as in my mind it’s closely associated with negative power and control. What I can appreciate is the love and care that these places have been showered with. I’ve realized now that the problem is not one of ownership, but of stewardship.
We’ve become very adept at taming and manipulating everything. Our major political systems are based on and refined around ownership (either as a positive or a negative) – although today none of them seem to totally satisfy. As for stewardship, maybe we haven’t done so well. The earth is burning, what we feed ourselves is making us sick rather than sustaining us, the connections to and between ourselves seem to have loosened.
The attitude of the artist is crucial. She has given up the comfort of worldly possessions and influence, often consciously, in favor of care, a heart connection to things. A real artist might not own many resources, but given the resources he knows how to create beauty. An artist deliberately transcends the power level to enter the heart level.
We all have doubts, too. Don’t ever be fooled that a lack of worldly success is a weakness. Instead, show how to live in the heart, be a steward of the earth, and create beauty regardless of who owns the resources.
The other day at the Crocker Art Museum, I was moved to tears seeing this painting by Stephen Kaltenbach.
An artist appears to have authority while being doubtful inwardly, seeking aimlessly sometimes. He or she is sensitive to subtle, intimate experience yet publicly consistent, impressive even. Then there are the moments when vulnerability and clarity coincide and the personal becomes universal.
So far I have read two chapters in Salman Rushdie’s Luka and the Fire of Life, and I already know the book is going to be brilliant. Like nature, his writing is recursive. However, repetition is never boring or facile; each detail, each turn of phrase advances the story and reveals consistently the form of the whole. This kind of mastery is inspiring.
What is obvious to you might not be obvious to everyone else. In fact, what is obvious to you might not even be true. Some art seeks to battle complacence with newness, pushing the boundaries, shocking the bourgeois; a more effective antidote, available to a real artist, would be to see the familiar with fresh eyes, to find mystery in what is obvious to almost everyone else.
Art is not a luxury. Now, when often we conveniently see people as mere statistics and things as mere commodities, art can’t aim to entertain us only, or even just to be the reflecting mirror for our society. Rather, art is the talisman inside of which true knowledge and understanding are preserved, and artists are nothing less than the guardians of our humanity.