Thursday, October 20, 2005

Drawing Without an Eraser

Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.
-- John W. Gardner

The object of art is to give life a shape.
-- William Shakespeare

In our life there is a single color, as on an artist's palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.
-- Marc Chagall

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

I think there is wisdom in each of these quotes. Gardner sees life as a risky sort of enterprise, in which our expression of ourselves is an art form not unlike free jazz -- purposeful but improvised, and at its essence a creation that cannot be amended or revised. If art imitates life, then I suspect many of us eraserless wanderers have produced a sorry form of art indeed. But sometimes, in the right light, we do have our sublime moments. The trick is to make more of them -- but how?

Shakespeare has an answer to that question.

He speaks to the purpose and power of art in our lives -- the way in which the experience of art in our lives inevitably forms who we are as human beings. He is of course one of our great artists of literature, and the self-expression and creation of beautiful and insightful art must have shaped his life in ways that were obvious and remarkable to him. Though it may be beyond the limits of our gifts to equal a Shakespeare, we can each of us explore the art of others, and seek the grace that is found in its contemplation.

We can invest ourselves in our own art and allow the spirit of that practice to influence our lives as well. Why shouldn't we seek to be shaped by beauty, and by the free creative expression of our spirit? What is the art that moves us? What music touches our hearts? We need to embrace the possibilities of art in our lives if we would make our lives into beautiful imitations of the finest art.

Finally, Chagall speaks to the implicit question -- what is the essence of the finest art? He talks to us of the power of love in art and in life. The presence of love in our art, and in our lives is the golden strand of meaning that holds together all the many aspects of our lives -- the noblest influence on the shape of our lives.

I think Chagall is right, and yet I feel he missed something out -- time. I think time is part of this equation. Mindfulness of this moment. Memories of moments past. Hope in a future moment. Love that is nurtured over time. Patience. Devotion to one's friends and family and art. Love is not a color splashed suddenly on life's canvas.

When I try to make sense of my life, and I do this more often than it is comfortable to acknowledge, I find that love is the only attachment to meaning, and the only portal onto whatever plane of artistic expression I may ever hope that my life would attain. And I do want to make a work of art of my life. I want it to mean something. I want it to be imbued with some small touch of beauty and harmony and coherence.

But I know myself. Coherence is elusive, and chaos seems too vital and alluring. The spontaneous and potentially dangerous impulses tug at me, and hold the promise of insight and brilliant clarity. I am afraid to plod along like some plow-horse with blinders. I have found the sharp edge of reality and do not wish to see it dulled or rusted. I wonder if I have what it takes to give birth to my own dancing star. I wonder if a man can hold onto the chaos and still find coherence. Is this the creative tension in my life, or a fatal flaw? Is it the key to unlock my own art, or a distraction?

I have no eraser, few gifts and very little time. But I can seek to bring more art into my life, and to make art of my own. I will not live forever, but in the time I have, I can choose my own palette, write my own words, and play my own theme.

For years now, the path has been unclear and I have been stalling for time, hoping for a revelation. At last, it is clear that no revelation is to be expected. We are on our own.

Our life-art is like a Tibetan butter sculpture. It is art to be enjoyed in the making, but not for the lasting appreciation of others. If it is a true and courageous expression of my love, then this art will satisfy, and I will have my own dancing star, if only for one sublime moment.

-- Neil