My friend Bob mentioned the spark of creativity in his comment on last week’s post. Some see it as the muse. Some have described it as a gift from god. There have been many efforts to analyze and study what allows an artist to bring something out… sometimes from the depth of his soul… that at times, is greater than the artist himself. The illustration that I like of dipping one’s toes in the water, is the image of a person talking on the phone, or some such thing, and starting to doodle on a piece of paper. Sometimes that innocent doodle can become intricate and deep. I had a dear friend who sometimes started drawing on a piece of paper, and as the picture would grow, he would attach his first drawing to the wall with masking tape and then add a sheet of paper or more, and the drawing would grow far outside the original frame.
There are two major stages in the life of an artist. In the first, as a student, it is beneficial to him or her to receive feedback and critique. He can learn from the comments of others. He or she can discover what reaches others; what is understood of his work; what works. But in the second stage, when he or she has matured as a creative artist, there is a need to discount many of the influences outside of himself. He has to dig deep into his soul, and find content that is an expression of his unique personality and awareness. It goes without saying, that the deepest understandings are often engraved as scars on the heart, forgotten memories in the subconscious, of great pain, embarrassment, guilt, and loss. But there is a process of elevating these primal experiences from the heartbroken depths to an enlightened awareness, and this process is called sublimation. It can be a deliverance, a great release, and a source of joy to the same person who once suffered inestimable pain and distress.
There are many ways to deal with these primal wounds and scars. One can go to a psychologist and do the work of excavating the memories that have been buried or put away. The artist does the same work that a person might do with the help of a psychologist. But his work is not to resolve issues… but to take the raw bleeding truth in his arms and bear it as a mother would a new born child, bare to the world. You may ask, what does this have to do with a painter painting a landscape seen on the steps of a mountain, or a poet writing of the rain under dark clouds in autumn? It doesn’t really matter what the painter paints, or the poet sings. An artist has to be a human being too. The greater he is as a human being, the more sensitive he is… the more empathetic… the more he identifies with the world around him, and is aware of the subtleties of life… the more he distills the essence of what was once drowned in noise and conflicting emotions, and pain and misery, and then puts the rags and the torn bits of life in order, the more he grows and matures as an artist, the better he is able to whistle in the crisp air of the mountain top, and see to the horizon, and the air around him transparent, and the expression pure.
For as we said earlier, each person is different… both the artist and the art appreciator. But the artist, in order to express himself with the clarity of art must eliminate the noise, the distractions, the defenses, and the rationalizations which so many of us use to survive what is too painful to think about or to remember. The lies we’ve invented to help us forgive ourselves, and the rationalizations, just get in the way. Those stories may win the compassion of a dear friend, but they aren’t really unique. They are tainted by sickly motivations. It is only when the expression is clean of all foreign influences, and true to the soul of the artist, having the reverberations of a string or a reed on a musical instrument, that the artistic voice can transcend the context of personal experience and join the tree and the wildflower in drinking from the roots and bathing in sunlight, releasing oxygen to the air around us.
The secret of the artist’s fruitfulness is the immense pleasure he receives from the work itself. That is the antidote to writer’s block and the desolation of not knowing what to do. It is the sheer pleasure of work that motivates the artist. He, she, awakes and is stimulated at every step, by every sight and sound. The very experience of life is heard in the reverberations of his soul. He is happiest when he is in conversation with the world and all that surrounds him. And he brings to the conversation his bare soul. He can relate to good and bad. There are times when he confronts the terrible. But it is no longer as a frightened child or victim. He is as strong as a tree or as delicate as a wildflower, but he is secure in his presence as part of the entirety.
The illustrations accompanying this post are the works of a dear friend of mine, Stefano Spinelli http://www.stefanospinelli.ch/welcome.php . These are photographs of Jerusalem, taken when he was living in our city. He is not Jewish, and came to our city not knowing any Hebrew. He had fallen in love with a woman who came from here. He photographed using a little single-use plastic camera. You usually would shoot one film with the camera, and then it would be thrown away. But he would reload it each time, and he developed the film and printed the pictures by himself. He is a true artist, and his photos are among my favorites of Jerusalem, my home town. I am moved and awestruck by the way he reveals the most intimate aspects of this city that I know as well as my mother’s face.