The magic of words
The stories that take root

Life, art, and surrender

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If I had to chose a single quote to encapsulate my view of life and art, this line from Jeanette Winterson's 1995 essay "Art Objects" would be a strong contender:

"I had better come clean now and say that I do not believe that art (all art) and beauty are ever separate, nor do I believe that either art or beauty are optional in a sane society."

Yes. That's it exactly.

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"That puts me on the side of what Harold Bloom calls 'the ecstasy of the privileged moment,' " Winterson continues. "Art, all art, as insight, as transformation, as joy. Unlike Harold Bloom, I really believe that human beings can be taught to love what they do not love already and that the privileged moment exists for all of us, if we let it. Letting art is the paradox of active surrender. I have to work for art if I want art to work on me."

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Later in this luminous essay she writes: "We know that the universe is infinite, expanding and strangely complete, that it lacks nothing we need, but in spite of that knowledge, the tragic paradigm of human life is lack, loss, finality, a primitive doomsaying that has not been repealed by technology or medical science. The arts stand in the way of this doomsaying. Art objects. The nouns become an active force not a collector's item. Art objects.

"The cave wall paintings at Lascaux, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the huge truth of a Picasso, the quieter truth of Vanessa Bell, are part of the art that objects to the lie against life, against the spirit, that is pointless and mean. The message colored through time is not lack, but abundance. Not silence but many voices. Art, all art, is the communication cord that cannot be snapped by indifference or disaster. Against the daily death it does not die."

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"Naked I came into the world, but brush strokes cover me, language raises me, music rhythms me. Art is my rod and my staff, my resting place and shield, and not mine only, for art leaves nobody out. Even those from whom art has been stolen away by tyranny, by poverty, begin to make it again. If the arts did not exist, at every moment, someone would begin to create them, in song, out of dust and mud, and although the artifacts might be destroyed, the energy that creates them is not destroyed. If, in the comfortable West, we have chosen to treat such energies with scepticism and contempt, then so much the worse for us.

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"Art is not a little bit of evolution that late-twentieth-century city dwellers can safely do without. Strictly, art does not belong to our evolutionary pattern at all. It has no biological necessity. Time taken up with it was time lost to hunting, gathering, mating, exploring, building, surviving, thriving. Odd then, that when routine physical threats to ourselves and our kind are no longer a reality, we say we have no time for art.

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"If we say that art, all art is no longer relevant to our lives, then we might at least risk the question 'What has happened to our lives?' "

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Comments

I suppose the power of art can be seen in the fact that iconoclasts destroy it in the hope that destruction of the object will negate the spirit that made it. How naive: The conqueror who tries to eradicate unsanctioned expression in an attempt to rob a defeated people of a sense of themselves; the gun-wielding terrorists who destroy the images they revile in the belief they have the right to do so; the austerity obsessed government who starves creativity of support and all due respect in the name of good fiscal practice. All of these will justify their acts in the name of a Higher Truth and a Greater Good, while seemingly unaware of the fact that Truth and Goodness would condemn their actions. All we can do is continue to travel hopefully and reply to all such acts of destruction that "This too shall pass"

THE STATUE IS BROKEN.

The statue is broken beneath the hammer,
The painting is sliced by the sweep of the blade
And the book is blackened and burned
By the dominion of fire.

But the very dust of destruction
Echoes the Buddha’s calm smile;
The painting is viewed
In the memory’s eye
And the book sits safely
On the shelf
In the library of defiance.

Art has its home
In the spirit and mind.
You break only stone,
You erase only ink,
You tear only paint.
The art and all artists
Live on.

I love Stuart's response to Terri's post - both are so passionate. I think I learned today part of why I have always been in love with the cave paintings. "Not silence but many voices." I know this is only a small response to the hugeness of what's being thought of here, but I just wanted to express a little gratitude.

YES and yes and yes.

Jane

Art Objects

Art objects to the ugly response,
not the ugly itself
in which it finds singularity.

Art objects to final solutions
because there is no finality
but the color blue.

Art objects to the cowering child
because the cowardice of adults
is the power of the hand.

Art objects to the veneration
of money, of fame, of honors,
asking only for the green rill.

Art objects to hard dualities,
understanding instead gradiations,
under-painting, erasures, revisions.

Art objects to art objects
preferring those moments
of revelation, stillness,

the sudden understanding
that lasts a lifetime
and carries us into the beyond,

©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

You nailed it! Beautiful and true. Thank you.

I LOVE these words from Jeanette Winterson, I LOVE the old-fashioned-looking sepia photographs, I LOVE the poems from Stuart and Jane. So grateful to you all.

Thank you -- I've been searching for a more spiritual approach to art and art-making of late, and this helps, as does your site overall, a welcome respite from the consumerist culture I live in, which is also a kind of threat to genuine art-making. I've encountered an attitude over and over again, when I talk about my art, that emphasizes selling and marketing and "branding" yourself, a response from people that is heavily focused on "how are you going to make money from it?" While what I *want* them to see is the beauty and the joy. That creating art is a spiritual act, not a commercial activity.

And Tilly looks just lovely in sepia!

Stuart! "Art has its home
In the spirit and mind."

Jane! Art objects. Brilliant.

Terri! Your Sepia life with dog in the wonder of woods, Oh.

The Reality of the Imagination

As I read these words, I am
Listening to a Greek singer
Her strong voice, imaginary
Of golden times, The steps
Of Greek dance, in my heart.

I imagine like this every day,
And night. Where I am, I am not,
For this small cafe, it's warmth
From sun, two lovers dancing
As the singer reaches out,
Heart in her hand, given away
And returned, smoke in the air,
I am invisible, as a shadow.

I have never been to Greece
By plane, ticket paid, the suitcase
On the rug in my small room,
Inviting goddesses and gods,
Whispering concoctions of
Secrets so close to me,
The fringe of their clothing
Brushes at my dancing ankles.

This is everyday with my lack
Of turning away from magic.

From earth to the stars,
From sleep to daylight dreams,
To a castle and back to the kitchen,
All the everything about it.

A big hearty yes! I waited to write the poem that swirled around me, to read all of what
flashed down to where I wrote it. So not I can savor this....This paean to the strength of art.
"You only break stone,
You erase only ink,
You tear only paint.
The art and all artists
Live on."

This is rich. I can imagine (smile), this also set to strong music and many striding on
the pathways and golden streets, shouting it out.

Art impels us to rise and create, to strive in our imaginative capacity to shape an experience memory, ideal or dream through words, paints or musical notes. We crave to emulate those literary and gallery masters who came before us and hungered our tongues for more. For our own
application of the craft, the skill. And yet, when we take up the task, there is that terrible presence of uncertainty, invisible and spreading its shadow over our minds and confidence. Though we dare to commence a project, envision a narrative or painting in our heads, we might stop suddenly asking if its worth the effort, the let down of dislike, the depletion of energy and
joy. The rise and fall of self (in that moment) may have the beauty of being vulnerable, fragile enough to know we are delicate instruments that need tuning and care. Creativity is, itself, a rare, fluid object we must refine and polish, not live without.

Today's gorgeous blog and yesterday's focus not only on poetry but the character/essence of Virginia Woolf led to this poem. I read in her diaries how the art of writing buoyed her for hours and then the doubts would set in, prompting her to confess --- she would totally hate it days or weeks later. Almost hate it enough to discard the entire work, contemplate abandoning her craft.

An Invisible Presence

As usual, doubts rush in. I get it all too quick, too thin, too surface bright?
Virginia Woolf
In the moonlit comfort of morning,
she hears birdsong. Their full chorus
impels her to rise and write
of some place. Beauty with hills and harbor,
spires and passageway to a garden
where a female shadow
wavers in its fountain beneath
a snood of vine leaves. Where the woman
is barely seen but sensed, convalescing
from sorrow, anger -- a love affair that flew
too near the sun. The faint light of it
shimmering on water, the shedding
of its moments, dandelion dust....

and there, the idea breaks. A cup of mint
tea in hand, she turns toward the typewriter.
The tarnished keys shine with a sheet
rolled over the bar like a blank cast
wanting her signature. And what if she signs
her soul to resetting this scene
on paper, plotting to the end? In just weeks
it could languish in the waste basket. A corsage
of crumpled prose she never wore
long enough to dance or drink champagne. And what then?
What then? What then? The birdsong
will sound different.
______________________________
Again thank you!
Best
Wendy

Hi Jane

Amen this this!

Art objects to art objects
preferring those moments
of revelation, stillness,

the sudden understanding
that lasts a lifetime
and carries us into the beyond,

Perfect description of the power, sacredness of those art objects.

Thank you for sharing this poem,
so beautifully crafted and pleasure to read!

My Best
Wendy

Hi Stuart

I really like the way you approach the immortality of art in this poem. The tools of the process can be ruined along with the finished products, but the spirit of the thing lives on and both enhances and enriches those who see and experience it --

Art has its home
In the spirit and mind.
You break only stone,
You erase only ink,
You tear only paint.
The art and all artists

Wonderful poem!
Best
Wendy

Hi Phyllis

I love the way you say "where I am, I am not". And that is the gist of imagination. It lets take flight from the moment, like that Greek singer, and absorb the magic of another time and place. You capture this idea so beautifully with your words and scene. The last stanza sums it up wonderfully --

From earth to the stars,
From sleep to daylight dreams,
To a castle and back to the kitchen,
All the everything about it.

Thank you for sharing this!
My Best
wendy

Wonderful. You bring Virginia Woolf to life. Have you ever seen Julia Cameron's photographs of her and family? i have books with those and others who Cameron knew and photoed
magically.

So much thanks. What a grand open place to find ourself writing what we never knew
we could.

This is just stunning, Stuart. And I couldn't agree more.

Good heavens, this is stunning too. You and Stuart are on fine form today!

Alexandra, I've just been writing a post about this -- the re-labeling of creative work as "content" and the push for writers and artists to view themselves as "brands." But it's still a little rough so probably won't finish and post it until next week. In the meantime, I'll say I agree with you entirely...and we'll continue this conversation!

Thank you for your kind words about Myth & Moor.

Phyllis, those last four lines really, really got to me. Thank you!

Wendy, you are fast becoming one of my favorite poets and I very much want a published book with your work.

And to all the poets here today: Thank you so, so, so much for these treasures, these blessings.

Thank you, dear lady.

Turning photographs to sepia feels like time-travelling!

I am grateful, too, for the community here at Myth & Moor.

I love Cameron's photographs! And her pictures of Virginia Woolf are especially lovely.

It's odd that people who know little about Woolf today have the impression that she was homely (remember Nicole Kidman wearing that ridiculous nose in the film "The Hours"?), when in fact she and her sister Vanessa were famed for being great beauties. They did tend to dress in a kind of bohemian shabbiness, but that was partly to downplay that distracting beauty and to rebel against the expected proper dress of women of their class, focusing on making books and art and not on being perfect ladies.

I think Cameron managed to capture both their beauty and their intelligence, even within the confines of her own very romantic aesthetic.

Hi Terri

I am so delighted you enjoy my poems and deeply, deeply appreciate your gracious comments and enthusiasm toward them!! A book of my poems is a major goal I have yet to bring to fruition. Hopefully, sometime this year. I have been making notes, re-editing a collection I want to put in this book and getting started. Last year was really filled up with personal health issues, my mom's dementia and selling her homestead back in New York State. Much has calmed down and I do have the time now to focus. And when I do complete/publish my first book poetry, I would be honored to send you a copy. Again, thank you so much. Your blog has provided me with much inspiration and continues to do so!

My Best
Wendy

Hi Phyllis,

Yes, and I think they are wondrous!! I also have seen other work by Julia Cameron. She is a master photographer in my opinion. Her work is haunting, luminous! And thank you so much for taking the time read my thoughts and poem. I deeply appreciate your lovely comment and thoughtfulness.

Best
Wendy

Sorry to hear about the health and family delays. I don't understand writing block, but I
know a lot about life turmoil block. It's all about conserving time. Writing comes first. The
business of getting out a book is like being another person, who is available when the
time is given again. I too will want to publish your first poetry book.

And yes, we are blessed with Myth and Moor, a place where magic dwells and we can
brave it out in the world, a little better.

Oops. I meant I want to see and read you first published poetry book. I am writing this
in a sort of mental fog, today.

On the other hand, (which I have always wondered about; a third hand?) Maybe I was
just wishing I could publish your work. And others, too.

This poem, along with Jane's (below), is now my studio Door Poem* for the next few weeks. Thank you for the passion, insight, and inspiration contained within it, Stuart.

(* I regularly write a poem in gold ink on the inside panel of the green door into my studio, where it catches my eye every time I enter or exit. The ink I use can be wiped off with turps, so I change the poem every few weeks. It's often a poem posted here by Jane, but other favorite poems sneak in too.)

Yes, I too understand delays imposed by health issues and family turmoil all too well -- so I wish you a calm period of time, improved health, good energy, and all the resources you need for your work in the year ahead.

If, when you get to the publishing stage, your publisher is looking for quotes, and if my name would help at all, do have them contact me.

Terri

Thank you so very much for your kind words, empathy and offering of your name to underscore my work. I so deeply appreciate that and am touched by your kindness! I also wish you in return the best of health, happiness and serenity during the months ahead.

Many thanks
Wendy

Terri, I am deeply honoured by this. I must admit that when I first heard of your Door Poems, I immediately developed a new ambition to have one of my pieces in that place of recognition, and at last I've achieved it. Many thanks.

Thank you also to everyone else who has commented on my poem. I'm sorry I haven't replied individually but I've been so busy of late. I've been doing author visits and talks tying in with the Richard III re-internment that's about to take place here in Leicester tomorrow. I did a signing session at the University today which was great, but I also had some replica pieces of armour with me (made by a very talented metal-working friend of mine) and you wouldn't believe how tiring it is lugging along boxes stuffed to the gunnels with steel helmets and gauntlets!!!

Hi Phyllis

Your kind and lovely words, good wishes and wonderful poetry of yours is deeply appreciated! Thank you so much for the understanding and encouragement!!

My Best
Wendy

Wendy, your poem brought me to tears. Thank you.
"A corsage
of crumpled prose she never wore
long enough to dance or drink champagne."

I don't know what to say except bravo.

Terri,
Life, children, and travel call me away from my computer for a few days at a time and I'm always sorry to fall behind at Myth & Moor. It's been less than a week since this post, but already it feels like the conversation has moved on to new and bright places. Ah well, my perfectionism wants me to always be caught up, always on time, always thorough and thoughtful in my comments. My perfectionism will have to step aside. (She's learning to do that more often lately, thank goodness.)

Here is my small offering of thanks (to you, Tilly, and Jeanette):

For Virginia

Art falls from the shelf,
Cracks here on the floor
A thing unmade and broken.
Trash, tragedy, or both.

Let’s eat instead,
Chewing paint and clay,
Sweeping fingertips across the floorboards
To catch the crumbs.
You’ll swallow song,
While I lick words from dust.
What’s lost may nourish
What’s left to say.

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Hi Edith

Your kind thoughts and liking of this phrase/poem is so dearly appreciated!!! Thank you for stopping by to read my work and share your thoughts!

My Best
Wendy

Hi Edith

I agree with Terry, This is beautiful writing and what a fine way to look at art. The material aspect of it may break, but the memory of it, the ghost of its inspiration lingers and we must dine on the remnants knowing there is still much to intake. Love this and those ending lines are perfect --

You’ll swallow song,
While I lick words from dust.
What’s lost may nourish
What’s left to say

Thank you for sharing this,
My Best
Wendy

Terri kindly mentioned your poem in a later pose, so I am so glad I came back. Indeed,
lovely. I also looked at your site. I am all up and down the west. A few trips to Seattle,
which I loved. Blue porcelain sky and the wonderful Native American masks I saw in a
small room, and have have haunted me forever. Glad you found northern California. It is
so beautiful, and some of it reminds me of Western Oregon, green hills and lovely trees.

Looking forward for more of your poems.

Thanks so much Terri. I didn't expect anyone to see it. I'm quite touched by these responses.

Thank you so much, Phyllis! I fell deeply in love with Northern CA and hope to go back again soon. I've never been to Terri's part of the UK, but I felt a strange kinship between CA and the wilds I see here on Myth & Moor. Perhaps that's why I loved it so much.

Oh Wendy, thank you. I'm quite moved by your response and encouragement. I often find inspiration and beauty in the lines you post on Myth & Moor, even when I don't have the time I'd like to comment and express my admiration. Your poem, along with Terri's posts, certainly prompted this one.

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