Sunday, April 24, 2022

Art Lessons: Part 7 (last)

On Christmas Eve, 1513, Fra Giovanni Giocondo wrote this in a letter to a friend: I salute you. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, that while I cannot give, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! 

Joy is what I want from my work these days. Now that I feel that I have found my instruments of joy, I want to sound them with all my heart. In tune and in harmony is how I want to spend my hours.

My mother once said to me, “You don’t have a guilty bone in your body.” This was in the early ‘70s. She was troubled by my embrace of the changing times and my rejection of the Catholic definitions of sin she had carried with her from childhood. I felt like I had guilt aplenty, but perhaps she was right. What has stayed with and motivated me for all these years has not been guilt, but the sense that for something to be good, it must be hard.

When I began in the arts, it was hard work gaining the skills I needed to express myself. As I tried to take all I learned and make it mine, the emotional part of the equation was hard work as well. I am now in a position that it does not have to be. I have reached a level of comfort with the technical aspects of my art. I feel more creative now than I ever have in my life. I am full of ideas and possibilities. Yet, after so many years of striving, it feels too simple, too lazy, selfish even. As compelled by an inner need to do my work as I am, I have never gotten completely past the idea that it is an exercise in self-indulgence. How can it be that the rest of the world is going to a job, commuting, putting in hours that are often difficult or boring or unsatisfying or all of the above and I am playing in my studio?

At sixty-one, I am determined to give myself permission to be as selfish as I need to be to do the work I love. I have a strong sense that it’s now or never. Here’s a frequent metaphor: life is a road, a journey, a path. I’ve used it often and taken comfort in the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. Now I want a new word, a new metaphor, or better yet, no metaphor at all. Journey implies destination and I see now there is no destination, no place to get to, in the artist’s life. Saying or doing anything that implies that there is only gets in the way. We need to stop seeking the “there.” We need to live and work in the “here,” to be present and alive in every moment, and to allow ourselves to “Take joy!”

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