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Painting by Catrin Welz Stein

THE INVITATION in LONGING

“Longing is the transfiguration of aloneness, the defenseless interior secret core of a person receiving its overdue invitation from the moon, the stars, the night horizon and the great tidal flows of life and love. Longing is divine discontent, the unendurable present finding a physical doorway to awe and discovery that frightens, emboldens, beckons and humiliates; makes us into pilgrim souls and sets us on some road that starts in the center of the body, and then leads out, like an uncaring invitation, like a comet’s tail glimpsed only for a moment, but through its agency and onward tidal draw, giving us the strength to give up an imprisoning work, a confining commitment, even a perfect paid-for home, or our uncounted, accumulated belongings, and to get out on the road again, closing the door as we leave.” — David Whyte

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“But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
— Margaret Atwood

Desire is an interesting thing. There are deep desires and transitory desires. Creation of art involves finding and expressing something essential, something below the surface of daily concerns, something that longs to find a way to the surface. The artist senses that longing and uses whatever means she possesses to bring to light that insight. A creative project is full of learning, full of surprises and growth. Even when we recognize a truth in someone’s art, we delight in seeing it isolated and focused by the artist.

We like to be arrested and reminded of the human experience of life.

Art teaches how to notice what’s happening around us. As the artist teaches, a lifelong learning process informs the artist. The artist oscillates between the poles of meditation and expression. Sometimes what pushes the artist is a volcanic emotion and sometimes it’s poetic and meditative, but for some reason the artist needs to focus on it, handle it, distill it.

Art is alchemy. Raw material is refined into its essence. It’s power is in its essence. Since human beings normally live so superficially, the artist has chosen to court the heart of things. In doing so, suffering may be involved, not just because of social and financial pressures, but because at the center of things lies both beauty and tragedy.

The artist is less protected from veins of grief and death because an artist cultivates sensitivity. It’s impossible to be an artist without openness to what life offers, in all its grace and ugliness. An artist is not someone who has chosen prettiness. A real artist choses truth. Truthful vision doesn’t prettify, it faces the brutal with the sublime.

If we want to be any kind of artist, we have to build a sturdy self. Facing, exploring and expressing the raw material life offers can be shocking. Artists are not ethereal beings skipping daintily from cloud to cloud. They are sturdy souls with their hands in the muck, creating something that has blood in its veins. All the obstacles in their path, like schooling and the need to eat and get known by the public, are part of the package.

Only if you can accept the whole package do you have the wherewithal to live that life. If you sense a longing that won’t leave you in peace until you are creating some kind of art, you can be sure that you have the soul of an artist. It’s a tragedy to refuse to listen to that inner voice.

I have seen that tragedy play out up close, and I don’t recommend it.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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