"Meaning doesn't lie in things. meaning lies in us. When we attach value to things that aren't love - the money, the car, the house, the prestige - we are loving things that can't love us back. We are searching for meaning in the meaningless. Money, of itself, means nothing. Material things, of themselves, mean nothing. It's not that they're bad. It's that they're nothing." - Marianne Williamson
I've been thinking a lot about "things" lately. This summer a not-to-far-from-us community lost over one hundred homes to California fires. More recently a lovely blogger I read, Gypsy Mermaid Life, lost everything to Hurricane Ike. One minute she's showing photos of her remodeled crafting room, the next she's showing photos of the flooded devastation that used to be their home.
And here I sit, dealing with TOO MUCH STUFF in my life, struggling to find a balance between holding on tight to everything like the Raven I am and the zen nonattachment to physical belongings that I could never realistically attain, even if I wanted to, which I do not.
In particular, I'm thinking of "things" as they relate to art and creativity. I know that art isn't only about the end result, the "thing" that is born from the process. It isn't the same kind of "thing" as a toaster or a pair of underwear or a car or a refrigerator. We don't make or own art out of practical necessity, we create it and we surround ourselves with it out of emotional and spiritual necessity. Art isn't only a "thing". It is an "experience" and in the making of art, it is also a "process".
"Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail." - Theodore Dreiser
I'm thinking of all my beloved books. A book isn't valuable in and of itself. It's a small object, paper and ink. The value is in the magical transfer of the story from the author's mind into the reader's mind. That magic can transform a night. Sometimes it transforms a life. It can even, on rare occasion, transform an entire culture. The physical book itself could be gone and the art, the experience, would not be lost. But there is something comforting to me about knowing that the pages of the story are safely bound and stored on my bookshelf.
I think of the museums I've visited, filled with Van Gogh or O'Keefe or Da Vinci or Picasso, the "honey" of generations of humanity. The loss of those paintings and sculptures would be an indescribable pain. I remember feeling an aching hole, sadness and anger watching the news a few years ago when the Taliban destroyed the two ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan. Clearly art is worth protecting even if the art itself is only the medium and not the message.
"Art is not a thing; it is a way." - Elbert Hubbard
Years ago when we lived in San Diego, I stumbled into an unexpected artistic experience. Through a homeschool group we were offered the opportunity to visit the home and studio of a well known artist and architect, James Hubbell. (Since that time it has become a father/son architect/artist duo.) Recently I was reminded of that magical day we spent in their artistic compound, surrounded by fantastical and inspiring buildings, sculptures, gardens, and art, and I thought to search online for more information about them. I easily found their website but was shocked to hear that their property, and all the art and buildings on it, had been destroyed in one of the large southern California fires several years back.
The story, which you can find on their website, of the fire and their decision to rebuild an artist's community on the site, like a phoenix from the ashes, is beyond inspiring. I wonder if I would have the strength and the vision to start from scratch, to put in all the work required, after learning viscerally in a way many never learn, that our creations are always only masquerading as solid and permanent, that the "thing" we create is a creature of time, like ourselves. We may live to one hundred, we may live for only moments. Our creations might survive centuries, or turn to dust and slip from memories before we ourselves are gone. We work on faith that the process in and of itself is worth something. I don't think I have that kind of faith as it relates to my own process.
"Artists don't make objects. Artists make mythologies." - Anish Kapoor
Not all art is even made to be permanent, not all art is a "thing". I'm thinking of Christo and Jean-Claude's temporal work, created, displayed, and then dismantled again. It exists for a brief period and then it does not, but the experience, both individual and collective, lives on. They work under the premise that art does not have to permanent to be worth doing, or to have value. I don't question the value of growing a garden, or baking bread. A garden will be harvested and die at the end of a summer. Bread dissappears, all but a few crumbs left on the counter. If I don't question the need for art, why do I question the value of time spent creating it?
I'm also thinking of the ephemeral art of Sally J. Smith's fairy houses. Her creations last so briefly that they are truly fae by nature. They might exist for weeks or only days. Some last only hours or even moments. She captures these moments in photos. The photos take my breath away but the magic for me, what makes my heart ache and my lips smile, lies in knowing that they did exist, if only briefly, in the mundane world. That she, and artists everywhere, take the time and effort to pull an idea out of the world of possibilities and imagination and anchor it here in the physical world we all are trapped inside.
My mind pulls in these bigger questions but I don't have any epiphanies about the greater purpose of art or what is more important, process or result. It's been debated as long as art itself and will no doubt be debated as long as art continues to be made. My personal quandary is how to balance my need to create art with my very real time and space limitations. I'm drawn to the idea of creating art but then, spending time and energy on making some "thing", where do I put it? Do I want it? Do I need it? I have lots of beautiful art already, made by my hands or the hands of others. If I make art, do I want to commit to finding a home for it, either by gifting or selling it?
Too, my desire to create art exists within my life as a greater whole, with desires to weed my garden, make cookies, dance with my grandchildren, debate a topic with my husband over a good dinner, cheer on my son at his football game, read a gripping whodunit, or just cuddle on the couch with my cats and one very spoiled chihuahua. How much value do I place on those experiences, those processes? Are some of them more valuable because they serve others or are interactive? Are they less valuable because, with perhaps the exception of a fresh plate of warm cookies, they produce nothing? Or does that make them even more valuable, as they are experiential and create no new "thing" to dust or care for or take up space?
If everything a person owns could disappear in the flare of a fire or the sweep of a wave, do I want to invest time and effort into things instead of people? And yet caring for people, including myself, means creating a beautiful and sacred place in which to reside. Does it all boil down to worrying that creating art feels like a selfish process, the "thing" just a rationale for being allowed to spend my time in the creation of it? Is a day in the studio worth an unmade bed? A dinner made by opening a jar and pushing a button on the microwave? A son or hubby watching television alone in the other room? A few hours less sleep? A friend's phone call unanswered? How much time creating equals how many of the other compromises?
So, that's what I'm thinking about. I'm struggling to find balance between doing and being, experiencing, creating, owning, having, knowing, relating. Can I make art for art's sake alone? And what does that mean, really? I guess what I mean is, can I make art for my own sake alone? Do I need a reason to make art other than that I want to make it? Or should I make art for others? For money? For gratification from others? My family finds it difficult to understand how and why I can give away their favorite pieces of my work. I find it interesting to observe that doing so often gives me so much pleasure than the "things" that I hold on to in my life . Clearly, for me, ending up with another "thing" wasn't the most valuable part of creating it.
Do you feel you need a reason for your time creating art? Do you know what it is? What do you do with the "things" that are created? If you release your work into the world at large, how does it affect your feelings about creating them? Is the process more valuable to you than the outcome? If art creates "things", how do you balance that with creating "space"?