On Art. On Life
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
This passage from Kent Nerburn's "Dancing With The Gods, Reflections on Life and Art" practically moves me to tears: The artist The world will not understand you. It will praise you too much and respect you too little. It will see the grace that you have struggled so hard to achieve in your work and assume that it came easily or is the result of God-given talent. It will assume that you are indifferent to the worldly concerns of finances and economic survival and think that the satisfaction of living a creative life is compensation enough. It will look upon you with envy because you get to live the life of the creator and regard you with jealousy because you appear to avoid the dross of an ordinary life. It will distort you in ways you cannot imagine. Though these difficulties will weigh on you, they are a small price to pay for the gifts you have been given. You have learned to see the world with mindfulness because in the life of an artist no moment is insignificant. You have been kept from cynicism because you know that work based on cynicism is heartless and callow. You have known the gift of conversing with people from different times and different lands because art is a language of the heart and the heart is universal. Most of all, you have been given the gift of endless youth because your life is based upon curiosity, and the curious never get old. These are no small gifts and you should embrace them with pride. For even if your work seems small and your accomplishments insignificant, you are a part of the tribe of endless dreamers, the bearers of the cultural imagination, the shapers of the vision of what life could be. Who else can go to the farthest reaches of the imagination to bring back new meaning and put it into physical form? Who else can bring a mindfulness to life that is celebratory, not clinical. Who else can show us that nothing is insignificant, no one is without a story, and can call us to look at the everyday with a compassionate heart? Who else can make us pause in our headlong rush through time to look closely at a moment, hallowing it with our attention. Who else can re-envision the ordinary? We artists are among the few who can bring these gifts. And we all own this legacy, no matter how great or small the works that come from our hand. Embrace this role. You have trained your eye to see beauty, your ear to hear music. You have learned to shape meaning from chaos, to see pattern and order where others see nothing. You spin gold from straw and create life where none existed before. I often think of the words of Martha Graham, the American dancer and choreographer."There is only one of you in all of time," she said "and there is a vitality, a life force, and energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, if you block it the world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions....you do not even have to believe in yourself, or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. "