Wednesday, August 13, 2014

the artist talks

 I gave an "artist talk" last Friday at the opening of the art show "Consider the Lilies". I keep putting "artist talk" in quotes because I can't help but feel that an artist can't really talk about what she does. It is too metaphysical, mystical, there are no categories in language to describe what is going on. The viewer must walk into the painting, the painting doesn't just stand there on its' own.

To open my talk I read this passage from Soren Keirkegaard, a Danish philosopher, who I might not know about except that I married a philosophy professor. Although actually I found this quote in the writings of another very eloquent artist Makoto Fujimura. (And he would be the subject of another post, I admire him so).

"When a woman makes an altar cloth, so far as she is able, she makes every flower as lovely as the graceful flowers of the field, as far as she is able, every star as sparkling as the glistening stars of the night. She withholds nothing, but uses the most precious things she possesses. She sells off every other claim upon her life that she may purchase the most uninterrupted and favorable time of day and night for her one and only, for her beloved work. But when the cloth is finished and put to its sacred use: then she is deeply distressed if someone should make the mistake of looking at her art, instead of at the meaning of the cloth; or make the mistake of looking at a defect instead of at the meaning of the cloth. For she could not work the sacred meaning into the cloth itself, nor could she sew it on the cloth as though it were one more ornament. This meaning really lies in the eye of the beholder and in the beholder’s understanding, if he, in the endless distance of the separation above himself and above his own self, has completely forgotten the needlewoman and what was hers to do. It was allowable, it was proper, it was duty, it was a precious duty, it was the highest happiness of all for the needlewoman to do everything in order to accomplish what was hers to do; but it was a trespass against God, an insulting misunderstanding of the poor needlewoman when someone looked wrongly and saw what was only there, not to attract attention to itself, but rather so that its omission would not distract by drawing attention to itself.  (27-28). "
(Keirkegaard, Soren. Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing: Spiritual Preparation for the Office of Confession. Harper: New York, 1938.)

“The artist or writer fades into the background and the art must become the subject for meaning”.