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Bouguereau, The Youth of Bacchus, 1884

“Beauty feeds the soul, wakens it, and brings it to life as nothing else can. Beauty is a deep-seated reaction to some meaningful and stunning presentation of life. It stops you and gives you an instant promise of pleasure. But if you have no soul, you won’t even see the beautiful in the thick layers of your practicality and in the density of your own ego. All your senses and your full imagination have to be alert when beauty makes its appearance. If you miss it, it is like going without food. — Thomas Moore

“It takes so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment or the courage to pay the price… One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.”

~Morris West

We tell ourselves stories about the world and our place in it. We live our lives guided and misguided by ideas, myths and fables. We mythologize The Artist, Nature, God and what creativity is, to name just a few. The painting illustrated here is by a French artist named Bouguereau.

We can be pretty sure that he never witnessed anything remotely like this scene, that he drew on an ancient story for inspiration.

The story we tell ourselves about who we are forms who we become. The myth of the artist has changed radically since Bouguereau’s time. The artist now has permission to focus on anything of interest, including the creative instinct itself.

The artist has evolved from craftsman to shaman.

It’s impossible to keep mythmaking out of the process but discoveries are made. The artist finds lost, suppressed and discarded pieces of herself in the work as it appears. It’s an endless process of plumbing the depths.

Nature asserts itself through the creative mind of the artist, whether the style is representative or not. Every work is a kind of self portrait whether intended or not.

The artist discovers both the world and the self, simultaneously. Art is a mirror of the soul if it is art.

Bougereou’s wild and crazy bacchanale spoke to nineteenth denizens of France in a language that assumed a classical education. We no longer speak that language. Art communicates differently now. Anything goes. Only time will tell if what we produce now will be regarded as art in 2080.

I admire all kinds of art but when it comes to creating it, I follow and trust my love of form and color. Something good happens often enough following that path that I haven’t abandoned it in fifty years.

Everyone must find and follow their own natural inclinations, though. There is no one-size-fits-all style. My path is somewhere between meditation, dance and visual creativity. It’s both kinetic and visual. I’m lucky that I live in an age that permits such art.

We live at a time when anybody can do anything and call it art. That’s good in a sense, but it means that we are presented with a lot of underwhelming products.

That’s possibly better than having rigid rules that everyone has to try to conform to. We do know, though, that the mind becomes bored with chaotic and superficial stuff that doesn’t deserve the name “art.”

Coming from visual art to writing, I notice the same rules apply. The human mind needs to consume its information in combinations of surprise and predictability. It wants a certain depth. It wants to learn and be entertained at the same time. The writer has to learn how to do that. It’s interesting to me how much courage is mixed with craft in writing, just as it is in painting.

We have a growing and mutating community of creative people here, people who are concerned with more than turning a buck. We are trying to find our most meaningful and creative selves.

That may be my little myth, but that’s who I think I am talking to as I put words on the screen.

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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