Outside of the glow of a small window, evening air breathes against the glass, leaving an invisible print of its presence. The streetlight comes on early, with the overcast skies, bright as a spark that fell unaware on an uncaring landscape. The sun lays low and flat under low clouds, as out on the street a ragged bus drives towards the setting sun, like an animal being driven to it's death. People are on the way home, the sound of traffic, the admonishment of a horn, the squeal of a tire. Everything is noise and motion, leaves crushed under the tires, birds taking flight from the trees.
Inside there is only peace. For she had already worked a full day, arising when some people were going to bed, getting back to a room where she should sleep, but cannot.
She sits at a narrow table , spread fingers splaying out thoughts while the last of the light straps around the strong beat of her heart. Outside lies a world forgotten as the words fly, sullen leaves and dead ashes swirling, branches stirring like water, drowning in the fading light. She works until the words are freed, then pours a cup of tea to ready herself for a sleep that is but a distant memory.
Miles away, he works late, bent over a shop table, hands scarred and toughened by work, stitching, molding, creating something that will hold a life, even if occasionally the process does draw blood In the corner a fire, warming his hands, driving him to completion, even as his breath quickens with the effort, drawing into his lungs, the searing dark.
They both work, as they are happiest, without witness or judge One, gently and tenderly crafts something with soft rein of thought, the other takes that which was once living and now is not, writing its story, tearing down and rebuilding with the ransacking of innermost fears.
Both of them are artists, and both of what they create is art. What defines art, and what makes an artist?
Creativity for these people, the expression of it, through picture, word or craft, is a way of celebrating, of showing what it means to be alive, there in the unbeatable odds against it. Life, by any reasonable measure, is impossible, a human body that is as strong or frail as just one cell, with random acts of irrationality and loss wearing us down, pulling the color out of our blood. Yet, for some of us, we keep drawing in breath after breath, pulling in precious moments of oxygen with the remnants of our happiness, until our blood darkens with strength, slowly filling up those empty chambers in our hearts.
For the artist, creating is a way of taking that breath, of saying in the face of all that impossibility, or dangers that lurk in the dark streets and minds of man, just how worth celebrating it is to just be here. I am here, I created this, this little piece of me, whether you like it or not, it IS me, and it will be here long after I am gone.
Like breath, it builds on just small intakes of life, of thought of the movement of hands, the cut of a piece of wood, the downward stroke of a pen. It is not done with haste, or without thought. Art can be built from the soul's imperfection, but it can not find breath with the the spirit of impatience, for it is only slowly that you can hear the wind with your eyes or taste the sweetness with your ears.
Behind the house of our Sixties ranch home was open land and a small rural highway. There were no "Coming Soon! Starbucks" signs. There were cows, nothing on the horizon but the shifting of rumps, the clang of metal as they swung their heads, checking to see if you were bringing cow chow. That was years before the escape to the big city, when mornings dawned early and loneliness roosted in the rafters
But as a child, all of that seemed larger than life, just as it was familiar and unchanging. Days dawned slow and time rose and swelled like the curve of a woman's breast. My Dad went to work every day week day, was home every night at the same time. Friday was steak and Westerns, eating on TV trays, Saturday was chores and grilled burgers. During the afternoon we explored, cheered on by the sawmill buzz of a lawn mower, the sound of the ice cream truck. Sunday was church, sports for my Dad, and more outside play for us while Mom curled up with her books or the the ceramics she liked to make and fire.
On those days of play it seemed as if time itself was suspended, hanging in the air like a curtain, waiting to be opened, laying on the ground to be picked up and put in our pockets, with that piece of string and the little bazooka army guy. We'd play hard all afternoon, there in time's motionless shadow. It was only with the call of Mom's voice for dinner, that we realized we'd been outside 7 hours, drinking from the hose, dashing in from the gunpowder dust of August to grab a homemade cookie, in furtive raids.
Now I wake, the city near, waiting for the phone to ring, or the next morning to roll around My body wakes in its own time zone, whatever country or county I'm in. The days are filled with rushed deliberation, deadlines and demands, everyone expecting the answers to come within an hour, the time we've come to expect ANY problem to be solved, thanks to TV. It's food on the run, and conversations stammered like an old type typewriter, noise and air, sweat and motion.
When I am called, I usually don't rush with unsafe haste to get there. The first responders have done their business; what waits me for isn't going anywhere, nothing left but the tragic, unspoken bones that will wait for me forever. But once I'm there, time is a blur of heat and sweat and thought. The sun falls, the night grows cold, lights are brought in and I realize I've not been out here one hour I've been out there for ten.
You can tell much of a person, of even a country, by what they value as art. Art as artifact, art as acquisition. In my Dad's generation in World War II, art was used by the Third Reich as a means to carry a political message with overworked concepts and conformations, as the approved cultural stamp by artists forced to turn their paint brushes against those not "acceptable" in the eyes of the regime, or risk death. Political aims and artistic expression became one and millions of innocent people died.
That is not art; that is manipulation. Even today, when I see art form used to depict some product or politician as a healing element, as a savior, when they are anything but, I feel not joy, but the coppery taste of something else.
That is why I get great joy in seeing people create for themselves, not to mold others, to manipulate, but to refine their own spirit as they open others eyes up to their vision of beauty or truth. Their vision, not a politically correct determination of what should be considered "art".
Certainly, We all have our own taste, I prefer older pieces, more than modern or abstract. I like to look at it and see something I have seen or experienced. Artists of the 17th and 18th century could depict in layers of paint hundreds of years old, a drop of blood on a singe fox whisker It's that tiny drop that draws your eye, that you can't help but stare at, waiting for that moment when it will drop to the ground, to be consumed by the earth.
But I am not immune to the power of modern pieces, where the artist's vision of heaven and hell, earth and order, passion and prayer might be revealed in pieces of forged metals, depicting in it's hammered burden, the secret bridge between religious and sensual ecstasy, a cry out into the night. I am not unmoved by operas that do not calm the waters, but rather, strike up against the rocks, as if the sea were howling for the moon, the depths wishing their darkness to be heard.
And so this evening, I will create, as the words flow from my fingertips. It may be ignored, it may simply be consumed later, without taste But as I close my words and prepare my bed, the gilded evening light, a sieve for the moon;,pours down like molten silver and I am content. As I breathe in the oxygen, formed from the earth out of the chaos of gasses, I am alive and that's something I would not give up, even if what I create, becomes only dust.
I look outside to a world stilled with time and darkness, people home to their lives where they build and create that which makes them happy--food, craftsmanship, words, a home. We are all the artists of our own lives, and our audience is simply our own happiness.
Because the true artist would create even if they had no audience. Yet they regard their work as a means of talking with mankind, not with their lips, but with their mind. Creativity is not a question of pay. It is not a question of willing acceptance on the part of the public. If they are recognized and earn something for their creativity, to further it, that is good. But even if not, they would still have spoken.
And we are all the better for it.