Contemplating Art

Acrylic on Paper, 1999, 24×18

This west wind brings autumn

To the waves, to my soul
I think too much about the future
And what tomorrow’s winds may bring.
  • A new book details the fights among various folks who made money revising and publishing Emily Dickenson’s poems after her death.  Of course, she herself, by intent, never profited monetarily.  As a person who once enjoyed and practiced visual art, I recall some of my own confused grappling with action versus artifact.
  • One of the painful realizations of becoming old is to recognize that tangible traces of my time on Earth will soon be buried or burned.  Paintings, poems, old software programs, changes to the house and yard, all become one with the snows of yesteryear, forgotten even more quickly.  They join that which I knew was ephemeral at the time, from enjoyment of a vacation to interactions with other people to solitary momentary moods and experiences.
  • When art was an attraction, why was it an attraction?  What captured my almost obsessive interest?  Why are there still large museums, books, fairs, and _ yes _ artists still working and creating what is _ from a practical standpoint _ mere useless decoration?  Professional artists respond that they are working for a living, some amateurs respond that they are hoping for a lottery payoff, but I suspect most folks _ like me back in the day _ do it simply because art enhances life.
Acrylic on paper, 2003, 22×30
Who knows where
She’s been.  Or why.
No one
  • Some science now indicates that toolmaking and control of fire by Homo Erectus, our predecessor species, led to rapid enlargement of brains.  But there is little understanding of what suddenly happened to Homo Sapiens less than a hundred thousand years ago that led to our frighteningly rapid, and possibly disastrous, mastery of the planet. 
  • One primary suspect is either cultural or neurological mutation that allowed people to imagine what will be, what might be, why something is as it is.  To add narrative to the instantaneous impressions of life.  In other words, in one way or another, to become artists.   
  • Perhaps we are too quick to seek one “silver bullet.”  What makes us different in quality from animals is not a single trait, but a conglomerate which art encapsulates.  Thinking is basically all that is unnecessary in an immediate moment.  Dance, paint, music _ yes those are art _ but so are any of our imaginings of why leaves turn color, or smiling at unexpected actions of children, or anything at all fleeting and floating in mind.  Consciousness itself is our most glorious form of high art.
Acrylic on canvas, 1999, 30 x 40
High seas never, actually,
Reach the harbor
Waves may chop, like my life
But disaster happens elsewhere
  • Even as I crafted art, I was conflicted about professional or personal aims.  I realized that most artists I admired had led miserable lives _ and I was never willing to sacrifice that much.  Nor did I much enjoy what I fantasized about becoming famous in the art world _ well, maybe the wealth, once in a while.  I tried to think of myself as an ancient Chinese literati, even though I realized that even they were a mixture of professional artisan families and true amateurs.
  • Eventually I understood that permanence was hardly what I sought.  Even fine dinners and impromptu dances have their place in the infinite and eternal “museum without walls.”  Even stone temples and magnificent marble statues eventually wear away, most art is dust almost instantaneously.  So what I created was done for the sake of creation, for what creation did for me, and that was and is enough.
  • Finally, I accepted that I could also be other than an artist or artisan for part of my life.  We can fully enjoy phases of being, then move on.  I look back on my paintings and my thoughts and my journals with pleasure, but with no desire to reenter those corridors of being.  One of the most wonderful gifts of my life has been that I need not always be what I have been. 
  • Sadness.   Nostalgia.  New different joys this morning.

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