Art is that which despite all gives hope. – Frederick Franck, Art As A Way
In the midst of uncertainty we have a culture that insists on everyone becoming an "artist". In the art world, as well as politics, it is disconcerting to see the confusion between what is false and what is true. It is difficult to distinguish between show-offs, pretenders and authenticity. Even being an artist often seems more about the openings, exhibits, galleries and critics than the work itself.
What happens to the artist when the goal becomes how to make a splash? For this aspect of the art world my husband coined the word celebritrocity.
The pilgrimage of the maker is not about how you appear to the crowd, about fame or fortune, but rather the process of finding your place in the family of things. As Mary Oliver in Wild Geese said:
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
What happens if you act as if this is true, that the world is calling you to show up with the gift you have been given? You have heard that you don't need to believe this idea to try it on– simply wear it for awhile– like putting on a shirt with a new grasp of how you belong. Watch what happens.
This is why the word pilgrimage matters. If you see this path as part of your process of becoming, finding your place, offering your gift– then you must be whole–hearted with each small step. When your fidelity is to your inner compass, a lot is required of you, as well as provided. It is humbling to realize one's smallness, as well as a relief. You understand that it is not about the size of what you have to offer, or the notoriety or cost– it is the genuineness of what arises from you, that is so powerful.
There is a profound difference between feeling "on course", in harmony with your inner world and values, and knowing when you are off-course– careening with some goal that was established outside of you. When making art becomes a status symbol or an investment, it is a burden. You are not free to create in an authentic way. You get lost in the confusion of competition, of establishing an "identity".
Being "on course" is a pilgrimage. We are not always centered, and often don't know– this is the practice, to return again and again to a place of stillness, and trust in something we cannot see. This is the key to liberation from style, trend or genre. An attitude of openness, of knowing you are part of something larger, of aiming for a destination, gives the kind of direction that has stability. Your destination is in tune with what you value. It takes work to do this kind of listening, to shut out the incessant demands of duty, to be still. There is the knowledge too, that the place you are headed will recede and change before you. One of my favorite metaphors for this is the horizon: as you walk toward it, it always eludes your grasp.
This is the mystery, the darkness from which all creation springs. The mystery, like the horizon, refuses our attempts to capture it. Even though the place where the earth touches the sky is a universally recognized feature of our landscape, it cannot be found on any map or reached by any foot. We can only imagine our future. Leaving room for this mystery, for the Unknown, is the ground. It is knowing you don't know, and nonetheless trusting your ability to put one foot in front of the other, paying attention to each step.
It helps me to remember this. It is so easy to forget. I have been enjoying returning to my old water damaged copies of Frederick Franck's timeless books, Art As A Way and The Zen of Seeing. In the former, Franck describes the making of art as a pilgrimage:
(A pilgrimage is) walking toward a place of great sanctity in the hope of returning from it renewed, enriched and sanctified.
Over and again, these are the bliss moments, the aha's, both in my studio, and in the classroom. I see a student's face light up when the distinction between subject and object vanishes, when the boundary between her, and what it is that she is drawing, disappears. Or when the mind editing and judging ceases, and as the brush touches the paper, it is pure movement.
You are no longer looking at an "object", but rather, beholding and being beheld at the same time. The heart blossoms.
The split between me and not-me is healed, suspended. – Frederick Franck
It reminds me of this lovely poem from Galway Kinnell, St Francis And The Sow:
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
What are your stories of pilgrimage? I'd love to hear from you.
To see more of Maya Huber's work: http://www.calligraphics.de/