Creating artwork is a language that expresses an inner life for which there are no words, a “thing” inside which needs to speak! No single piece of work seems to be able to say all that one wants to say because the saying of something in a piece of artwork gives rise to the realization of more that one wants to say. So the artwork is not really so much a summation of anything as it is a provocation leading to more beyond itself.
And yet for all that the process of creating a piece of artwork, like life itself, is a road littered with frustrations as one encounters an unknown mystery hidden deep within the work which one senses is there and yet for which one has no words or clear sense of direction. To be an artist is to be willing to live in the confusing presence of that mystery, to be willing to let it reveal itself in its own time. I suspect that being an artist and being involved in spiritual growth call for some of the same skills: The willingness to inconvenience oneself, the willingness to live with a mystery, or the Divine, while it slowly reveals itself, the willingness to proceed to the next mystery once the present one has revealed itself. In both artwork and one’s spiritual life it is the searching to understand which gives that work and that life meaning; the journey is the point and not the arrival at a goal.
I have heard some artists complain “I can’t do my art because life keeps getting in the way!” Many of us, artists or not, tend to think of daily obligations as getting in the way of our pursuing what we really want… but do they, really? Is it not possible that they are a form of asceticism which sharpens our awareness of what we want, of what gives us life, without which we would only know that we want, but not “what”?
Some of us envy artists in one field or another who are able to devote all of their time to their craft. For the rest us who are artistically inclined, however, life demands that we juggle what we love with what reality says must be done, like making a living so that we can pay the bills. And yet, we cannot put what we love completely on hold while we address bills and food, or some essential flame within us will go out, at which point we will cease to be ourselves. So how do we keep that flame lit?
We may rarely have a whole day available for our artwork, but if we use our time carefully we can often discover that there is an hour in each day available for what we love… if we use the other 23 hours a bit more wisely. How late do we stay up, and why? If we went to bed early we could rise early and have time for art before trudging off to earn a living. About 20 years ago I got into my head the idea that I wanted to write a novel, and yet I had many responsibilities in the monastery which would not simply go away because I wanted to write. What to do about this conflict? For around 3 years I got up around 3am, which gave me approximately 3 hours to lose myself in the writing before the day’s obligations demanded my participation. The point is that if one needs to create one simply can’t wait for the perfect studio, the perfect schedule, or for all of the planets to be in alignment before one pursues that love.
What makes a dancer? It is when one dances! What makes a writer? It is when one writes! What makes an artist? It is when one creates! Being an art theorist does not make one an artist any more than being a theologian makes one a saint. Life is meant to be lived: What is preventing you from living yours?