The Artist’s Life

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“Leave to your opinions their own quiet undisturbed development from deep within and cannot be pressed or hurried by anything. Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life; in understanding as in creating.” — Rilke


To take an in-breath, to smile, and to touch the conditions of happiness that are available, is something that all of us can do. Because of that we can stop and establish ourselves in the present moment. That is the teaching of living happily in the present moment. Please train yourself to make the present moment, the here and the now, into your true home. That is the only home that we have. That is the only place where we can touch life. Everything we are looking for must be found in the here and the now.

- Thich Nhat Hanh


“We’re so often told that art can’t really change anything. But I think it can. It shapes our ethical landscapes; it opens us to the interior lives of others. It is a training ground for possibility.”
— Olivia Laing — Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency.

Life outside the ego involves a mental landscape we barely know. We spend our youth building up a sense of ego-identity but if we’re going to be any kind of artist we have to learn to navigate non egoic states. The intelligence that produces art is not the same one that appears in society. Our “true home, as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it, runs at deeper levels of the mind. It’s akin to spiritual awareness. It’s listening to the “grand mystery’’ and attempting to relate back to the world what it sees.

As one ages the concerns of the ego naturally become less important, but when you’re young they loom large. If the project of building your self image is damaged or unfinished, it will become an unconscious preoccupation. It’s hard to live with ego wounds sustained as a child. Artists need enough confidence to dispense with the criticisms bound to come their way.

Even worse is a feeling of being invisible. You need a pretty solid ego to live as an artist in our society, because you’re going to be going your own eccentric way in life. It helps to have a sense of community, however you create that.

Entering the deeper mind and its flows of energy is the work of creativity. Quotidian worries have to be put aside for that work. Artists will be criticised for being impractical but in the creative mind the world recedes when something is being created.

The challenge to survive can twist you into weird shapes. Being an artist intensifies that because so few people sympathize with your concerns. Yet, if you’re a creative person you have to make beauty or wilt on the vine. You have a choice to make, live as yourself or as an imitation of the accepted social model.

Fortunately we have inspirational avatars to refer to from our cultural history. We have signposts and the voices of creative people speaking to us if we’re paying attention. If we tune ourselves to that alternative culture, we can survive. Creators are people who look and listen to life as it flows both in the world and inside us. They enter those energy flows and learn not only how to navigate them but how to tell the world about them.

Without these people we would be stranded in a world without meaning. Let us celebrate all the creative souls who cultivate consciousness of the deeper values of living on earth.

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