Monday, January 03, 2011

Tenth Day of Christmas: Mumming

This piece, combining lettering and imagery created on the photocopier with rugosa rose flowers and leaves, was published in The Artful Letter: The Calligrapher's Engagement Calendar for 1991. The quote is from All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming by Henry Glassie. Mr. Glassie is a folklorist who spent time in Ballymenone in Northern Ireland researching the tradition and practice of the mummer's play at Christmas. Here's how he introduces it in the preface:

Winter nights in Ireland are black and long. A sharp wet wind often rises through them. Midwinter is a time to sit by the fire, safe in the family's circle, waiting for the days to lengthen and warm. It is no time for venturing out into the cold darkness. The ground is hard, the winds bitter. But for two and a half centuries, and possibly for many years beyond them, young men braved the chilly lanes, rambling as mummers from house to house, brightening the country kitchens at Christmas with a comical drama. Their play, compact, poetical, and musical, introduced an antic crew and carried one character through death and resurrection.

When I received notice that my piece would be included in the calendar, I was very pleased, but if my work had been accepted at an earlier time, I would have been beside myself with joy. By 1991 calligraphy was a lesser part of my creative life. I was spending much more time making books, and the books I was making had become wordless and meditative.

I find that that's often the way things go. When an honor or an acceptance would have been just about the greatest thing that ever happened to me, it didn't come. When it was no longer as important to me, it would happen. It makes me think of the words from Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki about encouragement.

Of course some encouragement is necessary, but that encouragement is just encouragement. It is not the true purpose of practice. It is just medicine. When we become discouraged we want some medicine. When we are in good spirits we do not need any medicine. You should not mistake medicine for food. Sometimes medicine is necessary, but it should not become our food.

I have learned to live, not necessarily without any encouragement, but without the level of encouragement that I would have preferred. My motivation for making has always been, and had to be, to a certain degree from within. As the years have passed, I have come to appreciate the importance of that inner drive in my growth as an artist.

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