Insights

....

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, 

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, 

but because it never forgot what it could do.

 

— Naomi Shihab Nye

from Famous on www.poemhunter.com

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Jalal ad-Din Rumi was a 13th century Sufi mystic and is currently the most popular poet in the United States. These poem excerpts are all from the wonderful The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks

 

In your light I learn how to love.

In your beauty, how to make poems.

 

You dance inside my chest,

where no one sees you,

 

but sometimes I do,

and that sight becomes this art.

 

———

 

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty

and frightened. Don't open the door to the study

and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

 

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

 

———

 

A road might end at a single house,

but it's not love's road.

Love is a river.

Drink from it.

 

———

 

Do you think I know what I'm doing?

That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?

As much as a pen knows what it's writing,

or the ball can guess where it's going next?

 

———

When the ocean surges,
don’t let me just hear it.
Let it splash inside my chest!

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The Swiss/German painter Paul Klee is known primarily for his visual art but he was also an accomplished musician and an excellent writer. He died in 1940. His son Felix authorized the translation into English of four of Klee’s diaries. The Diaries of Paul Klee 1898-1918 reveals the soul and intellect of the man as well as his progression as an artist. 

 

"All the things an artist must be: poet, explorer of nature, philosopher!"

 

"The main thing now is not to paint precociously but to be, or at least become, an individual. The art of mastering life is the prerequisite for all further forms of expression, whether they are paintings, sculptures, tragedies, or musical compositions."

 

"To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers."

 

"As of now, there are three things: a Greco-roman antiquity (physis) with an objective attitude, worldly orientation, and architectonic center of gravity; and a Christianity (psyche) with a subjective attitude, other-worldly orientation, and musical center of gravity. The third is the state of the modest, ignorant, self-taught man, a tiny ego."

 

"The time element must be eliminated. Yesterday and tomorrow are simultaneous. In music, polyphony helped to some extent to satisfy this need."

 

"Polyphonic painting is superior to music in that there, the time element becomes a spatial element. The notion of simultaneity stands out even more richly."

 

— Statement of 1917, as quoted in Abstract Art (1990) by Anna Moszynska, 

 

"Art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible."

 

— Creative Credo (1920)

 

"Formerly we used to represent things visible on earth, things we either liked to look at or would have liked to see. Today we reveal the reality that is behind visible things, thus expressing the belief that the visible world is merely an isolated case in relation to the universe and that there are many more other, latent realities. Things appear to assume a broader and more diversified meaning, often seemingly contradicting the rational experience of yesterday. There is a striving to emphasize the essential character of the accidental."

 

— Creative Credo (1920)

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a renowned Scottish architect, illustrator and painter. In The Poetics of Workmanship, David Brett traces the subjective evolution of Mackintosh’s creative architectural designs (from exterior to interior) back to his early and enduring interest in botanical art. (Please see the bibliographical references at the end of this blog for a wonderful book on Mackintosh’s flower paintings.) An excerpt from the Brett book:

 

"It is not necessary to like the designs to feel the presence of this organizing power. Indeed, the all-encompassing quality of a Mackintosh interior, in which spaces and surfaces all lead into one another and are integrated into the very structure of the building, can be an unnerving experience; it is hard to resist becoming acutely self-conscious. But the power is undeniable."

 

Quoted in the same book is the following from a Mackintosh lecture:

 

"Art is the flower - life is the green leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful living thing.”

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"There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named...It is never twice the same, because it always takes its shape from the particular place in which it occurs...The word we most often use to talk about the quality without a name is the word 'alive'...All things and people and places which have the quality without a name, reach into the realm of the eternal."

 

— Christopher Alexander

The Timeless Way of Building

 

(Please see the bibliographical references that list two important books by Alexander.) 

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The quotation below is from an article by Bro. David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B. entitled 

A Basic Human Approach to Happiness from the website gratefulness.org (http://www.gratefulness.org/resource/human-approach-happiness/).

 

“We are born; we want to be happy; we must die. Is there room in this universal scenario for lasting, let alone ‘eternal’ happiness? It would hardly seem so - until we begin to examine ‘eternity’ experientially. All of us think that we know what we mean by ‘now’, but - surprising as it may sound - this now is eternity. We tend to imagine the now as the short stretch of time between past and future. But as long as it is a stretch, we can cut it in half. When we do, half is not, because it is no more, and the other half is not, because it is not yet. Where, then, is the now? The surprising answer is: The now is not in time.

 

We can even go one step further. ‘All is always now’, says T. S. Eliot. This statement implies a profound insight: Not only is the now not in time; time is in the now. When the future comes, it will be now, and any past event becomes now as we remember it. There is only one now. It cannot be multiplied; it simply is. The now is the opposite of time. In fact, this is Augustine’s definition: ‘Eternity is the now that does not pass away.’ A happiness anchored in the now is eternal. This precisely is the happiness our heart desires -- eternal, and unassailable, because it is beyond the reach of ‘time the destroyer’ (as T. S. Eliot calls time).”

 

For Brother Dave’s biography:

 

http://www.gratefulness.org/brother-david/about-brother-david/

 

For a penetrating insight into the meaning of art:

 

http://www.gratefulness.org/resource/art-and-the-sacred/

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For a deeper understanding of the human condition, this quote from Hermann Hesse: 

 

"Obedient to no man, dependent only on weather and season, without a goal before them or a roof over them, owning nothing, open to every whim of fate, the homeless wanderers lead their childlike, brave, shabby existence.  They are the sons of Adam, driven out of Paradise; the brothers of animal, of innocence.  Out of heaven’s hand they accept what is given them from moment to moment: sun, rain, fog, snow, warmth, cold, comfort, and hardship; time does not exist for them and neither does history, or ambition, or that bizarre idol called progress and evolution, in which houseowners believe so desperately. A wayfarer may be delicate or crude, artful or awkward, brave or cowardly-he is always a child at heart, living in the first day of creation, before the beginning of the history of the world, his life always guided by a few instincts and needs. He may be intelligent or stupid; he may be deeply aware of the fleeting fragility of all living things, of how pettily and fearfully each living creature carries its bit of warm blood through the glaciers of cosmic space, or he may merely follow the commands of his poor stomach with childlike greed - he is always the opponent, the deadly enemy of the established proprietor, who hates him, despises him, or fears him, because he does not wish to be reminded that all existence is transitory, that life is constantly wilting, that merciless icy death fills the cosmos all around."

 

— Hermann Hesse

Narcissus and Goldmund

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Archaic Torso of Apollo

 

We never knew his stupendous head

in which the eye-apples ripened. But

his torso still glows, like a lamp,

in which his gaze, screwed back to low,

 

holds steady and gleams. Otherwise the curve

of his chest couldn't dazzle you, nor a smile

run through the slight twist of the loins

toward the center that held procreation.

 

Otherwise the stone would stand mutilated and too short

below the translucent fall-off of the shoulders,

and wouldn't shimmer like a predator's fur;

 

nor shine out past all its edges

like a star: for in it is no place

that doesn't see you. You must change your life.

 

— Rainer Maria Rilke

from The Essential Rilke, trans. Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann

 

“...for beauty is nothing but the onset of terror we're still just able to bear,

and we admire it so, because it calmly disdains to destroy us.

Every angel is terrifying.” 

 

— Rainer Maria Rilke

from The Essential Rilke, trans. Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann

 

“If no one else, the dying must notice how unreal, how full of pretense, is all that we accomplish here, where nothing is allowed to be itself.”

 

― Rainer Maria Rilke, The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

 

“Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.” 

 

― Rainer Maria Rilke 

Sunbeams: A Book of Quotations (1990) by Sy Safransky

 

“There are no classes in life for beginners: right away you are always asked to deal with what is most difficult.” 

 

― Rainer Maria Rilke

Retrieved March 8, 2015, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/rainermari387609.html

 

“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” 

 

― Rainer Maria Rilke

Retrieved March 8, 2015, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/citation/quotes/quotes/r/rainermari147753.html

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Bibliographical References

 

I recommend these books for anyone interested in the heart and soul of art:

 

Mark C.Taylor Transfiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy, Columbia University Press, New York, 2012

 

Mark C.Taylor Speed Limits, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2014 

 

 

Charles Simic Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, The New York Review of Books, New York, 1992

 

Christopher Alexander The Timeless Way of Building, Oxford University Press, New York, 1979

 

Christopher Alexander, et al. A Pattern Language, Oxford University Press, New York, 1977

 

Pamela Robertson Flowers: Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Henry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995

 

Thomas Merton The Way of Chuang Tzu, New Directions Publishing Corporation, New York, 1969

 

Rainer Maria Rilke Letters on Cezanne, trans. Joel Agee, North Point Press, 2002

 

T. S. Eliot Four Quartets, Harcourt, Inc.

 

James Hillman The Soul’s Code, Random House, 1996

 

The Portable Jung trans. R.F.C. Hull, ed. Joseph Campbell, Penguin Books, Ltd. 1976

 

Carl G. Jung Man and His Symbols, Aldus Books, 1964