There was an article this week in the NY Times on Stephen Colbert's new role as the host of "The Late Show". In spite of the fact that he has been preparing all summer, he said: You can't discover the product until you're making it. This is the one of the characteristics of art, whether it is music, painting, teaching or theatre– if you already know what you are going to do, it loses vitality, and the delight of surprise. It is the paradox of being immersed in preparedness and open to the moment. This is both terrifying and a relief– for when we can forget about ourselves and the thing we are making, we become a vessel for creation– which is always more than we could imagine.
Everyone I talk to wants to be creative– doctors, engineers, everyone. When someone says to me I am not creative, there is a feeling of apology or regret. Something is missing. Feeling creative enlivens us– it is being close to the unknown, to the mystery of where dreams come from, where we come from and where we are going. There is a quality of magic, of something that does not obey the rules of cause and effect, that comes unbidden. As Jorge Luis Borges said: Magic is a unique causality. It is the belief that besides the causal relations we know, there is another causal relation. That relationship may be due to accidents, to a ring, to a lamp.*
"The man in the winged hat and the shy sister in the forest– that's the kind of time I want." Nancy Willard
Perhaps this is why I return to the cave paintings– the combination of immediacy and timelessness that still speaks to us, that spawns over 40,000 years! That is what I strive for in my painting: timelessess and immediacy– it is a long stretch. Immediacy can be discovered through gesture, and timelessness can be felt in something that develops by allowing an image to take hold, to rise to the surface from our inner world. Uncovering an image with power happens through vertical, not virtual, movement.
Uncovering an image with power happens through vertical, not virtual, movement.
Consider the mystery of the Giza pyramids– which remain a dazzling puzzle, even if they did have lots of slaves. The ancient Egyptians respect for the laws of cause and effect is demonstrated in their engineering– but they understood that this is not the only set of laws by which the world operates. There were connections between objects and beings. Words and images in themselves were invested with creative power, were filled with presences.
As a teacher, I operate from the premise that all of us, each student, has a particular seed or gift that is unlike anyone else’s. Finding that voice, that image, that aha inside oneself is where the power is, those presences, in a piece of work. The key to finding our own internal images is to have an atmosphere that cultivates uninterrupted time– a chance to listen inwardly. This is one of the most important things I can offer as a teacher– creating a temenos, a sacred place that brings out each person’s best work.
This is one of the most important things I can offer as a teacher– creating a temenos, a sacred place that brings out each person’s best work.
What has surprised or delighted you? What risks have you taken?
I'd love to hear your story.
*Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights