“The Life of Art is an Endless Labor,” rolls off the tongue as a syrupy treacle of dreamy musings that need a breakdown into something more substantive. Significant danger lies in flirtatiously courting the literary sense of the Romantic, where easily we might slip into the insufferably pretentious.
“The Life of Art” is an artifice, a construct, that would seem to propose that life and art are separate beasts. That the artist keeps a tidy distance from the messy grubbiness of real life. In reality, the artist lives life so full that the art is more of a combination of a womb and a birth than a separate entity from the rest of the body of life. We carry art in order to somehow give ourselves a life that selects experiences that will replicate our need for creation, for care, for insight. Care, creation, insight, inspiration only come from some source that is in the thick of life; that simultaneously inseminates and carries to term.
Anais Nin, perhaps the world’s most famous diarist, Parisian, then American confidant and peer to so many writers and artists said this: “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”
Art requires commitment; a good example is Nin’s own commitment to her art. As a woman, as a surrealist novelist in the 1940’s no one would publish her work. Frustration after frustration. At last, she bought a printing press and published her works herself. Though distribution was limited, it got to the people that were important to her. It inspired them, both the process of her bold self-acclamation and trueness to her artistic self. The content of her work led them further into their own work; via the alchemical verbal spells she wove, she and they were guided beyond conventional fictional forms.
This is a beginning. The danger here is to see only the privileged few being gifted with the capacity for this sublime recreation of our faculties: the groundbreakers and earthshakers, the geniuses, the celebrities, the much acclaimed, the dark-ish outliers; those who are novel, mysterious, inscrutable, outlandish; the comical; the shockingly bold. Those who find great fames and fortunes in a niche: whether it be macrame or bit coin.
The reality is, every human has the opportunity to make their life an artful endeavor, a full-on embrace of creation, every day. One of the persons who said this the best is Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Master and peace activist. To paraphrase, he tells us to make every moment a pinnacle of awareness by seeing its freshness, to ground the moment in appreciation. We alone can experience this, because we alone are interpenetrated by all the influences that have created us, and though they in part determine our experience, we have the tremendous power to reimagine that experience into something fresh and unexpected. We are the artist of our lives.
Hahn’s classical example is that of washing dishes. Can I look deeply, he might ask and see the beauty of this porcelain bowl, all the earth that was fired to create it, the beauty of the form of the kiln, the work of the laborer who created it, so as to have food on the table for his family, the transportation infrastructure that made it possible for this miraculous bowl to make it to my door and into a sink full of precious warm water?
Not to mention the sunshine glinting off the bowl as we wash, giving us shards of ineffable light to contemplate. Can I feel the warm slipperiness of the miracle called soap slide against my firm and confidently grasping fingers? Isn’t soap a marvel? Can you imagine a world without soap? And so fragrant, giving rise to revery of all the pleasures the olfactory sense can bring. And the fingers? We could just watch our fingers and all that they do, in a choreographed and determined display of efficacy and grace and nimble purpose, every waking hour, every waking moment? As they gainfully caress each dish into cleanliness, rinse, dry, and give the dish the dignity of its place upon its well-worn shelf in the cupboard made of wood that is harvested from a temperate rain forest, where leaves and needles carry the prism-like structures of raindrops until the lumberjacks with sinewy muscles, hack and carry away these miracle bones of a tree for our good benefit?
“The life of art is an endless labor.” Yes, let this labor unceasingly be born. Yes, let it be endless.