Last week we discussed studying art. But what is art? And what is this creative process that we hear about so often?
Human beings are all different from one another. The less we know about them, the more they might resemble one another (as in ‘all Negroes look alike’). But as we get to know human beings individually, we realize that everyone is different. We’ve already learned that each fingerprint is different… and the finger is a very simple digit. If each finger is different in this great world of ours, try to imagine how much each face is different. And if each face is different, try to imagine how much greater the difference between each mind. There are so many differences between one person and the next. The great rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, known throughout the Jewish world for his deep teachings, once said that he couldn’t teach more than ten people at the same time. This was because he projected himself and his thoughts to each of his students in a way that allowed them to understand him. Yet more than ten at a time was too much for him.
Because we’re all so different, even if we do something relatively simple, like smelling a rose, if we wish to share our personal experience with others… we will be describing a very unique experience. Even if we have experienced this a number of times… even twenty or more times, we know that each time we smelled a rose, it was a little different. Basically, each experience was different. Now if we are describing the experience to another person, that person will appreciate it differently from the way we actually lived the experience. And if we described it to two different people, each of those people will have experienced the vicarious pleasure of identifying with our experience in a slightly different way.
Now imagine that I am about to share the intimacy of falling in love for the first time. Think of the complexity of what I am about to describe, and then imagine how each person will listen or read my words and understand them a little differently. Think of twenty people. Then consider that a hundred different people will read that description… How amazing it is that I can share something so intimate and personal with one other human being… but to share it with a hundred… is that at all possible? Are all those people going to be really listening? Or are they going to be skimming across my words… maybe they’ll have other things on their minds… maybe they’ll be thinking that they have to pay their telephone bill, or put air in their bicycle tires at the same time? How will I reach them all.
Occasionally, someone will tell us a personal story from their life… and will fill it with so many little, inconsequential details, that we find it difficult to follow. We start thinking, when will he or she get to the point. We start guessing where he’s going with this. We lose patience. The objective of the artist is just the opposite. He or she wishes to take his listener by the hand, and enable him or her to experience on his own, something of the power of the artist’s personal experience. He would like to free his audience of all other distractions and thoughts. There is no particular trick to doing such a thing. But what he has to do, is to distill the very experience he had, and all the sensual and emotional reactions that accompanied his own experience, and discover the threads woven through the experience… those threads that are universal in character… and offer them to his audience as hints, by way of which the audience will choose to relive the experience of the artist.
A lot of explanations, exhortations, pleas for specific emotions, will weigh us down. Exclamations, screams, and tears might distract us from the subject at hand. No, all we want are hints. In leading us to the water, the artist doesn’t have to turn on the faucet, and push our heads under the steam. Enough just to let us know where it is. And in order to do that, he has to remove himself, a wee bit from the immediacy of the experience he is recounting. The work of the artist is first to find the essence of what he has to say, and understand it in the most universal way. And then to present that as light as a feather floating through the air.
While reading blogs, I have come across some very moving descriptions of personal experiences. Many times they touched my heart and soul. But often, the same subjects have been even more powerful when described by a poet, or a painter, or a novelist… sometimes despite the fact that the artists did not actually experience himself or herself, the same traumas or sublime exhilaration to the extent that someone else might have experienced them.
The work shown here as illustrations, are paintings of a student of mine, by the name of Dikla, after having heard stories of the abuse and harassment of children.