Yesterday evening I took some time to visit some of my favorite blogs. And in the November 10 post on Bob Cornelis' art blog (see link on left) there was gorgeous image, very simple, with intriguing layers and colors. And what he had written about was his own reluctance or inability to specialize in one single kind of art; to focus on one single subject matter.
The comments on this post were great, raising lots of interesting questions, and one woman, Miki, actually said that none of her own pieces graced the walls of her home because "I can’t bear to be confronted with my art.... Why is it like that? I don’t know exactly, but ... when I look at my paintings, I have the feeling to look directly into my past, and it is something like “dead” for me. I have no emotional connection to it."
This is, I should add, not how I feel about my own work, but it posed some interesting questions, which lay there, fermenting in my brain. And then in his November 20 post Cornelis offered this quotation:
“The thing made is a work of art made by art, but not itself art. The art remains in the artist and is the knowledge by which things are made.”
- Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy
Reading his thoughts about this, and about Art, it felt like what was being said is that Art is about the creative process: it has life, and movement; it is a verb. And the result of that process is a noun: once complete, it is unchanging, stagnant -- in Miki's words, dead.
But, having seen Miki's work, I don't find it dead at all, and I think perhaps good art, even though it may be unchanging, will continue to evoke life, and thought, and response in those who look at it. So then I thought perhaps the created work, the painting or photograph, is an icon for the creative process as it is lived out in that particular artist.
Which of course took me back into my post from yesterday: the painting is the icon of the creative process in the artist, and yet the artist (in yesterday's language) is an icon of Jesus. But isn't Jesus -- Divine in human form -- an icon of the Divine? And isn't it possible that one way of looking at the Divine is as this intense, creative, compassionate, driving impulse of creation and love that serves as the spark that ignites all living things?
So then, this morning, I was reading about the importance of questions, particularly about the open questions that continue inspiring us to search for answers. And it occurred to me that at its best ART is a question: How do I see this? Or how can I express this? What choices will I make as I create this? It works almost like a zen koan: at some level it is unanswerable, but at another level there can be an answer that may work in that one moment, in that one person. And I think if we see art as a question, we will always be exploring new ways of answering the question; that would be an integral part of the creative process.
And if an answer is like closing a door, then of course, once Miki has finished a painting, it may no longer hold interest for her. Which doesn't mean that her work, as an icon of her creative process for that one piece of time, doesn't pose additional questions for those who view it.
"When we stop questioning," says Freeman, "We die. We only stop asking questions when we have despaired of life or when delusion or pride have mastered us. All the same," he goes on, "we hardly ever give up dreaming that a single definitive formula could solve all of life's problems... But the right questions constantly refresh our awareness that life is not fundamentally a secular problem but a sacred mystery."
Questioning is about openness; about remaining open to the possibility that we do not have all the answers, that there may be something else for us to learn, to experience, or to express. It's about not closing down, even in the midst of intense pain, or anger; frustration or loss... It's about listening, about waiting, and about vulnerability; about keeping the heart and mind open so that we may listen for what each moment has to teach us.
Which is why this image was the one that leaped out at me today: she is a reliquary, of a saint (I don't know which one) and I found her in a gallery in Naples, tucked away with lots of other reliquaries. I love that she is so open, and yet her pen is poised to write, or to draw, the insights she gains as she listens.
She, too, is an icon, and she speaks to the fact that each of us is an artist, creating a life, making choices, engaging in that iconic dance of exploration, listening for the promptings of the divine and expressing that divine light within us.
And what I love is that all of this possibility has been triggered by that one question: who do you say that I am?