The Nature of Artists

It’s been a long while since I’ve read a passage that resonates with my soul as powerfully as this passage does:

But fortunately, artists do not have to be morally admirable people. All that matters is that they create great art. If his own art is to come out of the more contemptible side of himself, so be it. Flowers grow best on dung heaps, as Shakespeare never tires of saying. Even Henry Miller, who presents himself as a straightforward fellow, ready to make love to any woman no matter her shape or size, probably has a dark side which he is prudent enough to conceal.

Normal people find it hard to be bad. Normal people, when they feel badness flare up within them, drink, swear, commit violence. Badness is to them like a fever: they want it out of their system, they want to go back to being normal. But artists have to live with their fever, whatever its nature, good or bad. The fever is what makes them artists; the fever must be kept alive. That is why artist can never be wholly present to the world; one eye has always to be turned inward. As for women who flock after artists, they cannot wholly be trusted. For just as the spirit of the artist is both flame and fever, so the woman who yearns to be licked by tongues of flame will at the same time do her best to quench the fever and bring down the artist to common ground. Therefore women have to be resisted even when they are loved. They cannot be allowed close enough to the flame to nip it out.

—YOUTH, by J. M. Coetzee

Blind Onlookers

“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.”
-John Steinbeck

Be aware of blindness. See the best in people. See them as they really are. Do not place them in the chains that bind you.

Think about your life. Think about how much of your life you wear on your sleeve. That is, think about how much of your experiences that lie open for the world to see. Consider all the experiences that make you up as a person and have contributed to your personality and character and life story. Each person is a book, albeit closed. It is up to us to open these books. Love is the key that conquers all.

I know I certainly don’t waltz around inviting people into my inner chambers, into the intimate reflections of past experience. People must show an earnest interest.

All too often we judge others with nothing more than a handful of encounters, mostly impersonal. Here is a person, composed of years of experience that shaped and molded their being, and we overlook the beautiful opportunity to extend a charity and a benefit of doubt that would allow us into their world, into a realm of experience previously undreampt and unbeknowst to us. All too often we over look people as they are. I was always fond of the quote “We never see people as they are; we see people are we are.”

So yea… we look at people, but we rarely take the time to see them. To appreciate the depth of their experience. One problem is that most people aren’t even aware of the quality of their experience. They don’t value their originality. Instead they lead an inauthentic life and never leverage their unique experience, or they sell out to the collective experience of the masses. As a result, our inquiring eye is mislead to think there is nothing there. How wrong we are. There is always so much more than meets the eye. The surface is nothing compared to the volume.

Take time to see people. Love them. That is the best charity of all.


Temporary Madness

“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”

-St. Augustine.

Never Conform

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character.

R. W. Emerson, Self Reliance from Essays: First Series (1841)

There was a point in my life when I aspired to change my destiny by changing my thoughts. I mediated on certain passages from books that contained uplifting inspiration. That was four years ago and I still have this quote memorized.

This essay is still a favorite that I read regularly.

Also, a soothing song: Foreground by Grizzly Bear.

Isocrates in Antidosis: Rhetoric

We ought… to think of the art of discourse just as we think of the other arts, and not to form opposite judgments about similar things, nor show ourselves intolerant toward that power which, of all the faculties which belong to the nature of man, is the source of most of our blessings. For in the other powers which we possess, … we are in no respect superior to other living creatures; nay, we are inferior to many in swiftness and in strength and in other resources; but, because there has been implanted in us the power to persuade each other and to make clear to each other whatever we desire, not only have we escaped the life of wild beasts, but we have come together and founded cities and made laws and invented arts; and generally speaking, there is no institution devised by man which the power of speech has not helped us to establish. For this it is which has laid down laws concerning things just and unjust, and things honorable and base; and if it were not for these ordinances we should not be able to live with one another. It is by this also that we confute the bad and extol the good. Through this we educate the ignorant and appraise the wise; for the power to speak well is taken as the surest index of a sound understanding, and discourse which is true and lawful and just is the outward image of a good and faithful soul.

– Isocrates in Antidosis