#O168: No Outside Council

High city hills! Great marvels of architecture that the steep slopes secure and make even greater, motley chaos of heaped up buildings that the daylight dapples with bright spots and shadows – you are today, you are me, because I see you, you are what you won’t be tomorrow, and I love you from the deck rail as when two ships pass, and there’s a mysterious longing and regret in their passing.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

In my life, weekly waves of doubt and anxiety follow others of confidence and certainty. Contentment and whispers of joy lie in the acceptance of this cycle, and at times I have one certainty only: no one knows anything for certain; no one, nothing on the outside can help – one must feel patiently, silently toward the inside.

This inward questioning applies to clearly delineated questions such as “is my art ‘good enough’?” but also to those other ones which lie dormant when we are confident and energetic. There is the one at the very bottom of existence: “Who am I?”.

Rilke wrote of this in the context of art:

You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

When my eldest son was about four, as he went to bed one night he asked me “Who am I?”. I said you are [name]. He said: “I know my name, but who AM I?”. I was dumbstruck by his insight.

Nisargadatta wrote:

Knowledge is most useful in dealing with things. But it does not tell you how to deal with people and yourself, how to life a life. We are not talking of driving a car, earning money. For this you need experience. But for being a light onto yourself material knowledge will not help you. You need something more intimate and deeper than mediate knowledge, to be your self in the true sense of the word. Your outer life is unimportant – you can become a night-watchman and live happily. It is what you are inwardly that matters. [I am That (66)]

I already quoted the following poem in an earlier post, but cannot resist doing it again today:

Behind Closed Doors
After teaching and preaching
running about for so many years,
Now I've shut my door and retired to the 
hidden forest spring.
Having kicked open heaven and earth
I can now rest my feet.
Alone I sit before the winter window,
the shimmering moon full.

translated by Beata Grant, in
Daughters of Emptiness


Thanks for stopping by!

12 thoughts on “#O168: No Outside Council

  1. “Is your art good enough?” The answer is “yes.” The answer is “no.”

    Your whole post brings together some wonderful things. I reminds me of the ways I felt about art when I first started out. As for feeling, I had the advantage then of adolescent hormones — and I miss that keen sharpness of longing for beauty. Am always striving to get that back (without the hormones). I had feeling in abundance then. I had little experience and everything I did was hit or miss, mostly “miss.”

    Your own wise commentary and the quotes really get to the heart of things. Certainly there are ways of making one’s art “good” or “better” in terms of how it can find greater responsiveness from others. Some art clearly communicates to large audiences more directly in a given time and place. In the 19th century the Salon painters communicated the public sensibility better than the Impressionist artists and their circle. Today, the reverse is true. I don’t have anything against a popular art per se. “Popular” is a relative term. But I always wanted to get from art some sort of contact with the ideas and feelings that are most compelling to me. I’m selfish with it, I suppose.

    And this post reminds me also of what I have loved about Van Gogh in all the wide ranging things that he made. Perhaps because of his mental illness, he wasn’t able to follow the crowd (though clearly at times he wanted to do so). And in his works one gets a keenness about things. He was a man who could look around him at “ordinary life” and see it crisply and clearly, and he could marvel at it, could find mystery in it, and could find something he longed for, and then with great fortitude (sometimes even with more fortitude than was healthy) he sought to make those visions into images of intense particularity.

    Happily, I also think one can make that journey in a temperate and quiet way. (Van Gogh couldn’t because of illness, but others can use their “ordinary” temperaments to pursue a similar search.) These days I have some projects that are more public. And I have some things that I do just for myself. One helps the other. But of the two, I prefer the things that I do for myself. They seem most interesting, seem more real, truer to emotion. Sometimes other people don’t get these images at all, and that’s okay (especially since I have plenty others that are well received). To nurture a visual sensibility, though — to really learn to paint — personally — I think one needs to spend much of one’s energy doing the private journey. That’s where the intensity resides.

    This means that sometimes you have to ignore all the common wisdom, the artistic “rules” about insert-any-art-topic-here (color mixing, perspective, tonality, composition, whatever, etc.) It means that you see something, have an idea, maybe you have no clue how to pursue it, but you just pursue it anyway. It can mean needing some willingness to make a total mess of it. Making drawings, for instance, that look stupid — even to you. To leave things unfinished because you lost the thread. To paint something that’s indecipherable. And so on.

    It can be amazing, though, how much memory can be stored in such items. I know artists who brag about the stuff they throw away because their standards are so high. Me, I have kept all manner of junk because when I looked at it I saw the glimmer of an idea I once had — and I liked the memory. (I need to de-clutter, different topic for another blog!) In time I’ll throw some of the junk away, but I did keep things as “notes” and sometimes later I’m able to make use of the idea that formerly was beyond my ken. Mostly, though, I just get renewed energy from the memory of something.

    Anyway, I would caution you about the lure of “professionalism.” Life is not for professionals! And art is more about life than are many of the other things that we find we must do. In any case, when your art is not good enough, rejoice because in that failure you have found another trail through the meadow. There lies another intriguing territory to explore. “Amateur” and “professional” are Scylla and Charybdis. Beware!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Aletha! At last I put some time aside to write a proper thank you and attempt a response at your kind and thoughtful comment above. The truth is, I have very little to add except to say thank you and I agree with you 100% as far as I think I understand your message.
      It is a paradoxical situation – the artistic instinct, as some artists feel it (perhaps excluded are artists who primarily comment on society through their art), is a very private endeavor and when it “succeeds” the joy it gives is often very private and – except in pretty pictures – not understood by most others. And yet, it feels – and this is perhaps only relevant for someone like myself who never grew up -that completion comes only when someone outside, even a complete stranger, says “beautiful!”.
      I am appalled but at the same time fascinated by this internal needy dynamic and resolving this mystery is at least as much part of my painting journey as is the technical aspect.
      As far as the lure of “professionalism” is concerned – I am most thankful for my day job which liberates me from a need to be constantly “productive” like an assembly plant. I recently saw an image of someone preparing for an exhibition and it reminded me very much of a factory process. I felt shivers down my spine. And yet, to have someone want a painting of my own so bad they would part with $20 for it…what a strange life!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad my comment pleased you. Your post just set so many thoughts in motion that I had to speak. Brought back many memories too. Your art and commentary and the poetry are all very thought provoking.


  2. And your painting, at the top, it is really lovely! I love the different color you found for the sky. The texture is wonderful — like a metaphor for humidity. That place where the sky meets the ground in a bit of warmth is delightful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fritz, I wonder if you would let me use some of your paintings to illustrate the next showcase at ‘the zen space’? [I can’t recall whether I have mentioned my involvement there, but if you want to know more, please search wordpress for ‘thezenspace’.]

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Marie. Many thanks for your kind idea and yes, of course I would be happy to have some of my paintings used to illustrate your showcase. Just let me know what you need in terms of images etc. I have added a “Contact” page on my blog top header. If you get in touch that way I can send what you need via email. Kind Regards.


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