Rumi‘s famous poem advises that “There are thousands of ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” a line which follows directly upon another wise admonishment: “Let the beauty we love be what we do.”
And how many ways there are for those of us who are called to plumb the visual! On a recent visit to see two friends who are studying classical painting, I was suddenly pulled back into the world of a 19th century atelier—still life set ups with fruit and flowers, shelves of plaster casts, carefully modulated northern exposure, students working painstakingly on each detail with a master teacher. The passion is evidenced everywhere among these cotravelers, all of them having chosen a path that requires commitment, patience, a understated asceticism and comfort with the counterposition in the 21st century universe of art and art making.
I operate from a counterposition too, but I am perched at a very different end of the vast landscape that is visual expression. I also honor the beauty of what I love, but the tools are different as is the outcome.
I resonate with the words of Christian Wiman, a poet I quote frequently:
I am a poet. To be a poet in contemporary America is to be accustomed to, let us say, muted reactions to one’s work. It is also—and this, I suspect, is not limited to America—to learn to write without much concern for audeince, not because you don’t want your poems to be read, but because in order for poems to honor the voice that creates them, a voice that, as even the most secular poets acknowledge, seems to come from “somewhere else”—in order, that is for the poems to be poems—you have to acquire a monkish devotion to their source, and to the silence within you that enables that source to speak.
While I am not a Julian Schnabel fan, I did like what he said in a recent interview that dovetails with Wiman’s words as well:
Q: Are you in a way proud of all these different careers?
Schnabel: I don’t have a career as a photographer and I don’t want a career as a movie director, and I don’t have a career as a painter.
Q: You don’t have a career?
Schnabel: No, I never thought of art as a career. I thought it was more like a monastic practice. It is something that you do – you can’t not do it. If I made money doing it, I would do it; if I didn’t make any money, I would do it.
The monastic practice of art, regardless of what accoutrements are employed, is what binds me to other artists, poets, musicians. That meme has little traction in our fast paced world, but I come back to that metaphor continually during my day in the studio. There are a thousand ways to be silent, a thousand ways to connect with your source.