Walter Isaacson on Leonardo’s “sharpness of eye”

His curiosity was aided by the sharpness of his eye, which focused
on things that the rest of us glance over.   One night he saw lightning
flash behind some buildings, and for that instant they looked smaller,
so he launched a series of experiments and controlled observations to
verify that objects look smaller when surrounded by light and look
larger in the mist or dark.”  When he looked at things with one eye
closed, he noticed that they appeared less round than when seen with
both eyes, so he went on to explore the reasons why.

Kenneth Clark referred to Leonardo’s “inhumanly sharp eye.” It’s
a nice phrase, but misleading.  Leonardo was human.  The acuteness
of his observational skill was not some superpower he possessed. In-
stead, it was a product of his own effort.  That’s important, because it
means that we can, if we wish, not just marvel at him but try to learn
from him by pushing ourselves to look at things more curiously and
intensely.

In his notebook, he described his method almost like a trick
for closely observing a scene or object: look carefully and separately at
each detail.  He compared it to looking at the page of a book, which is
meaningless when taken in as a whole and instead needs to be looked
at word by word. Deep observation must be done in steps: “If you
wish to have a sound knowledge of the forms of objects, begin with
the details of them, and do not go on to the second step until you
have the first well Fixed in memory.”

Another gambit he recommended for “giving your eye good practice” at observations was to play this game with friends: one person draws a line on a wall, and the others stand a distance away and try to cut a blade of straw to the exact length of the line. “He who has come nearest with his measure to the length of the pattern is the winner.” 

Leonardo’s eye was especially sharp when it came to observing motion. “‘the dragonfly flies with four wings, and when those in front are raised those behind are lowered,” he found. Imagine the effort it took to watch a dragonfly carefully enough to notice this.

–    Walter Isaacson. Leonardo DaVinci. Simon and Schuster, 2017. Page 179.

****************************************************************

Spend a few hours trying to draw something accurately from life and Leonardo’s comments about seeing the details will ring true to you.   Sketching used to be one of the practices of a well-rounded education.  That seems a century ago; it isn’t any longer.   So when you walk by someone in the park who is sitting with a sketchbook, looking intently at a tree or a stream, your modern sensibility interprets that as an effort to render an exact likeness…your thoughts might be “oh, I could never do that, to get something on the page to look like something in life, I so admire that effort.”  Then you pass by.

But the sketcher knows that a realistic image is not the point.  (Though accuracy matters.)  The point, what is actually happening when a sketcher is working in his book, is he is trying to see.   Drawing is a mode of seeing.  You actually see more because of the need to reproduce what you see, and the experience of seeing more and more and more feels like an awakening.

“More and more and more…” – again, the modern sensibility, reading these words, interprets them as an experience of finer and finer analysis.   ‘More” means more granular, more information about smaller and smaller parts.   This is partly true (and no doubt some of what Leonardo was saying), but the experience we have while sketching is an awakening vision in multiple directions at once, not just toward the smaller detail, but also color, angles, large shapes of light and dark (“value”), and the unique gesture of the object as a whole.   And more.  It is an experience of analytical honing and of wholistic expansion, together.

All this is what I mean by:  “Drawing is a mode of seeing.”

Omit Needless Words?

We’re all told to omit needless words, that this is the key to good writing.  Simple, we’re told.  Just cut those extra or latinate words and you’ll find under the fluff the sinews of virile prose.   And the connotation is that this is almost a scientific exercise, one which yields objective truth which multiple observers would be able to reproduce after starting with the same raw material.   Occam’s Razor amputates opinions and incises down to reality, and all rational people agree when the results are right.  We’re told.  

But “needless” means different things to different editors.   Of course, it means “words that add nothing to the meaning or clarity”, but the individual editor’s worldview will define “meaning” and “clarity”, perhaps unconsciously.   Since each sentence emanates undertones and overtones of flavor as each word brings ancient seasons to the stew, no editor escapes value judgements about the validity of the slight tones in the ear or after-flavors on the tongue.  No editor escapes his own internalized set of meanings as he judges whether a word works.   

As you write or try to make writing better, yours or others, you talk metaphysics.

******************************************************************************************************  

I knew a man who had heard “omit needless words” and he wielded it.  He was a bit of a reductionist in his daily life, I thought.   He seemed to have little use for any of what I would call the intangibles.   He was an orthopedic surgeon, so had something of a scientific background  (though surgeons, in my experience, are surprisingly anecdotal thinkers).   Befitting his surgeon’s task-oriented temperament, he had little use for not only religion but art and humanities.  He liked astronomy.   You might think my calling him “reductionist” is just my bias against his apparent agnosticism,  but we never talked about religion and yet I still saw in him the reductionist tone.     

He liked to reduce prose to only the needed words.  In his work he would have occasion to approve documents such as hospital policies and patient education handouts.   He would cut ruthlessly till the sentences were short as Hemingway’s, and smile a satisfied smile.  He wanted everyone to learn this skill from him.   English teachers were his secret admirers, he was sure.  

I fancied myself a wordsmith and understood the principle, and generally agreed with it.  We’ve all felt the relief of reading the shaped-up paragraph, half as long as it was, and now both lighter and stronger.  But there was something about this surgeon’s scalpel on prose that bothered me.  I wanted to be loyal to Strunk and White and couldn’t imagine contradicting the hallowed Occam, so I thought it might just be me.   His product seemed skeletal.  It took me years to figure it out, but finally it dawned:  he cuts the overtones, nuance, and patina of language as if any letter added to subject and object is “fluff”.   He is an editor in search of the mathematical equation which is the reality beneath the smokescreen of words.   He sees the world as a substructure of impersonal logic draped in a fog of rhetoric.   i did not see the world the same way, so our conflict of visions was triggered, for me, in the simple act of killing an adjective.  

Nothing is not metaphysics.    

         

 

As If For The First Time

I’ve wanted to name the connection between drawing and composing poetry.

Drawing is a mode of seeing.  We don’t see, then draw; we don’t draw what we see; we see by drawing.   And we see, truly, only what we love.   So as we draw we fall in love with what we are seeing, and the movement of my hand, feeling inside my loving gaze, strengthens my love.

Love is always for the first time.   This is not just a hallmark saying, it is a literal truth.   As love escalates, the distinction between subject and object closes.  Vision becomes heightened until it is supernatural.   The lover sees but is no longer conscious of seeing; the lover and the beloved person or thing are one in vision.   As the distance between lover and beloved closes, it is not possible to retain any memory of previous moments, because memory is cognitive distance.  Love is always for the first time.

In the end each drawing is a new unique object:  the love of this artist for this thing in this instant.

In the same way, poetry is loving by words.   The poem is not about anything, it is a thing in and of itself.  This new thing is the love of this writer for this thing or person at this moment; it is their love reified from ethereal  into words, shaking their manes.   No distance remains between the vision, the thought, the feeling, and the emitted words.   When the poet reads back over last evening’s work, he does not remember how he wrote it.

We love by drawing, and we love by poetry.   As if, every time, for the first time.

The Second Moment of the Artist

Have you noticed it is exciting to start a painting, but you lose interest in the middle?  I argue that we never lose interest in a sound composition, whether we are the artist or just the spectator.   It is the geometric arrangement of lights and darks and lines of motion that capture our eye time after time as we walk through the gallery, even if we’ve seen the picture a thousand times before.   It never gets old.

If this is true, then when you lose interest in something you are working on, it can only be that the composition is not really the one you believe in.  Your compositional choices at the very beginning were a lapse into a second-hand, or borrowed,  aesthetic.  You are painting someone else’s picture.

The watercolorist Mary Whyte points out that it isn’t enough for the artist to simply feel something, even something forcefully, about the scene or the composition.  She must understand her reaction in a highly detailed way:  what, precisely, do I like about this specific sunset?  If the colors, what about the colors?  Haven’t I seen them before?  Why is this sunset different from every other sunset I’ve loved?

If I know myself deeply enough, I’ll be able to name (for a writer) or frame (a painter) the utterly unique quality of each aesthetic shiver.  “Thisness.”  This sunset, this flower, this smile on a child is different from all others.  But the truth is that the inner clarity to articulate Thisness to yourself is rare, even among hard-working artists.

I feel the first moment of delight from the inside, standing too close to the sensation to circumscribe it with intellect.  I feel  beauty wherever it is inside me that beauty feels, and my mind and heart are engaged in a unified feeling intellect.  But, caution:  in the second moment, distinct from the first, I will start making compositional choices, and it is likely that the precise element that delights me is ambiguously buried within the larger visual field in front of me.  It may be one shape in the clouds, one color bumping against another, or even a color that I’ve never seen before.  Whatever it is that caught my eye about this specific sunset is what the painting should be about.  It often is not.  It is surprisingly hard to know the precise, granular, unique object of delight in the second moment, the cognitive moment where I capture something useful about the sensation, as the first moment rapidly fades.   It is hard to know because, among other distractions, the subconscious offers memories of previous artists’ compositions.   Those subconscious templates will offer themselves as frames for your picture, and actually get in between you and the…Thisness.

This second moment might be only a nano-time from the first, the time of electrons between neurons, but it is so artistically distinct as to be a world apart.  We are fooled by how much fades in that split instant of time.   The mind immediately begins to work, and it is beginning in this second moment that I believe the entire inherited store of images comes rushing in to supply conventional templates for ordering the feeling and the memory of the image.   Most compositions actually belong to someone else that the artist doesn’t know.   So: boredom, halfway through the painting.  The good news is that you are not bored by your own creativity (impossible); you are bored by the ghost images obscuring your own creative vision.

I don’t want to sound too Zen a note here.  I believe many are bewitched at this point by the tone of Zen which has tinctured the literature of artistic practice, and head in the exact wrong direction.  The mind is not the enemy.  Nor does it it necessarily falsify the original vision.  It is a dead end to get this first flash of insight and move into the second moment  at all suppressing or subverting the mind, or in any way treat the compositional impulse as some corrupted addition to the initial vision.  The mind is not the enemy, the compositional impulse is not the enemy; the enemy is to not know your own subconscious store.  The enemy is alienation; alienation is when we are moved or affected by internal factors that we do not know.   The enemy is not that the mind is too active; it is that it is not active enough, not rigorous, clear, and disciplined enough.

The First Moment is very “zen”; every moment after is the opposite.  These two distinct moments with their distinct movements each have their own set of practices, and they feel – this is crucial – opposite.      To confuse the two is to hopelessly confuse your own self.  The key to the First Moment is to know nothing.  The key to the Second Moment is to know yourself.

This First Moment / Second Moment pattern has been recognized in widely disparate bodies of literature.   For example,  Wordsworth famously described poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility.”  I’m using different words – “delight” and “composition”, and so on,  to translate into the language of the visual artist, but I think this is the same double movement of the soul.  Wordsworth’s “emotion” is the First Moment, the instant of “inspiration” (how I hate that word.)  Wordsworth’s “recollected in tranquility” is the poet’s hard work in the study, in the Second Moment, and beyond.

Writers have developed their insights into the differences between these distinct internal operations, and the “How to write” books are full of un-alienation wisdom.    I can’t rehearse all that they know here, except to observe that what works in one stage of artistic response is the opposite of what works in the next.

Back to painting.   I believe as artists grow in their knowledge of themselves they prune non-essentials from the compositional frame.   As they come to see more clearly their own eyes they zoom in, and throw more and more out of the frame.  Now this not new advice.  “Simplify”, we are told in a hundred different ways.  But few realize the advice to “simplify” is not just a technique of composition, a matter of craft; it is a matter of soulcraft.  Know nothing, then know yourself, then, and only then  – forgive me for this – be the painting.   Workshop instructors would do well to consider that the key to composition is not “the golden mean” or “movement through the picture plane” or even “blocks of value”, but… moral courage.   When the artist loses interest before the work is done it is a sign he is working on someone else’s painting.

Every painter experiences how mysteriously hard it is to hear the counsel to “simplify” and then to do it.  There is a resistance.  There’s a stubborn resistance from within that puzzles most of us for years.

Practical advice:  if you can, sit perfectly still for 5 minutes and look at what caught your attention, doing nothing else.  Notice the track of your own eyes around the visual field.   Your own eye movements will draw the center of attention for you.   Wherever your gaze wanders, that and that alone is what interests you.   So draw or put the brush only on the one thing you like the most – it will amaze you how small it is – and then blow that up to fill your entire picture frame.  90% of what you see can be thrown away.   If you do this right, it will give you cold sweaty palms, like working without a net.  And that’s you that you finally feel.

I’m giving advice to artists, as if I actually know something.  I’m talking to myself.

Shape Of Wind In Lilac

The lilac leaf is not interesting aside from the wind, nor is the wind visible aside from the leaf, but the shape of the wind in the lilac will hold me here for hours.  It is the dance of the parts with each other, frozen in a moment, that we have the privilege to feel with our pencil.

We only feel it, darkly, like Helen Keller felt the hands of her teacher, groping with the pencil or the brush inside the swishing swirling world.

On Art Supplies

Great artists don’t talk much about their tools. The rest of us do, because we’re still discovering what our hands can do. Most of us never get to the end of this exploration of means – and that’s ok, because to create is its own reward, no matter what stage of development we find ourselves at.

But I think I see a shift in the biographies of great artists, a shift where they have found what their hands can do with the equipment that is available to them. Their attention is absorbed, then, not by means and tools but by creating an image truly conversant with the given images in the universe.

They finally, after a long brutal apprenticeship, lift their eyes.

Every sketch is a question about what God sees.

If you treat your sketchbook as a book of answers you’ll suffocate from the presence of the inner judge, who will demand a certain finished quality to those sketched answers.  No, see your pencil as a questioning stick.  It is a divining rod, doodling among the surface textures of what you see in front of you, stopping to drop deeper into the picture when it passes over the pixel that really pulls at your attention.

So your drawing is questioning and answering all at once and you are utterly given up to the process.  Whatever the page looks like at the end of the day is the right answer.

It might be that what God sees in the treeline at dusk is not what you see.  We are not pantheists.  But we are also not docetists; it is certain that your path to seeing what God sees runs through your own vision, and not around it.

Why we write memoirs

It’s not just that I want you to hear my memories.   We’ve all had that experience when we were young, that boredom as the old ones tell us the same stories for the hundredth time.   I felt it with my father.   At some point you will cross the tipping point, where you will realize one day you are actually interested in the old stories.   You may be decades from that moment.   That’s ok.

It’s not exactly a need to transmit memories.  It’s not a cognitive or didactic task the old one feels, though most of them interpret it that way.  No;  I don’t want to teach you any lessons from my childhood; there are none.   I don’t want you to appreciate how much easier you have things than I did, or my father did.   That’s actually seldom true; most people have great struggles.   You are, you will.

It’s not dying memories, it’s a dying vision.   When I slow the car down on Miller’s Fork road to peer back under the sumac, I really do see less than my father saw.

Why write?

Why do writers write? The answers to this question have already become cliched, but I’m not so much interested in why they say they write, as in why they apparently write, which is a very different matter.

By the way, none of these categories cut along the same seam as the “fiction / nonfiction” distinction.

1. A love of words, phrases, and sentence-crafting. This is the person who enjoys working on one sentence for an hour. Many of these are drawn toward poetry, but not enough are. These do not need to get from A to B – in fact, they need to sit on A as long as possible.

2. A need to complain, or debunk the world. Father was not there, and the crap that is the world must be called “crap” over and over forever, in revenge. This is the essence of modernity,

3. A desire to see deeper — either deeper into the self or into the world, and this self/world distinction breaks down, at depths.

4. The didacts. All the arguers and explainers. This is not the same as #2 — these folks just have something to say, and try to say it well.

5. Joy in a good plot. The storytellers, who love to pose a situation, make some trouble, then solve it.

6. A need to say something — anything — intelligent. Not the same as #4; these people have nothing in particular they think needs saying except that they say things well. Many 1,000 page novels have been labeled “experimental” or “avant-garde”, when they were just under-employed IQ ohms arcing at random into the public air.

7. A need to exist. These are the coffeehouse writers, who emit 20 longhand pages a day, and who have 50 words for “sad”.

8. A need to capture a story that will disappear unless it is memorialized. The historians of all kinds, whether personal or academic.

Alienation and the feeling of time

Activity slows the sense of time; passivity speeds it up. Spend a day making anything you love and you enter a state described by artists as a contemplative state. This state is hyper-aware, and the rush of passing time is suspended. It feels good, and afterwards you desire it again, like a longing for home.  But spend a day watching television and you’ll look up at dusk and wonder what happened.

A talk with a new love can last 12 hours, and seem like nothing. It is unfortunate that we use similar language to describe both the active and passive experiences – “it seemed like no time” when they are really very different.

Slowed time is addicting. Writers are literally addicted to writing, and painters are literally addicted to painting. Woodworkers are addicted to the lathe. They discover over time — some discover it earlier than others — than it matters little where you start, or what you are working on, as long as it matters to you. It is the activity of the will to create that suspends time and orders the faculties in a way that feels like a return to some Eden.

The common lament of getting older — that time passes too fast — is from the slow descent into passivity.

“Active” and “passive”, as I’m using them, does not correspond to the traditional distinction between Martha and Mary, the active life of service and the contemplative life of prayer. These two terms were actually unfortunate, since the contemplative life is as active as the active life, just in different ways. Contemplation is another form of activity; the contemplative is quite active at the level of the engagement of mind, emotion, and volition.  No, “active” and “passive”, here, mean something like “work” and “entertainment”.

Earlier generations’ protests about the theatre and novels and recreation are now interpreted as puritan reactions. Some doubtlessly were, but for the most part the modern is simply explaining those old critiques in the superficial terms he can understand.  We err to think those old ones were just horrified by song or skin.  No, they were horrified by how the slack senses of the watchers were deteriorating.  Actually, the ancients were protesting the mode of those pasttimes as much as the content.  They were protesting the passivity.

Work, when at something you love, slows time, and in the slowing makes the moments thicker.  There is more there.  Being simply entertained speeds time up and thins it out.

Tolkien: Eucatastrophe

“…the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary ‘truth’ on the second plane (….) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.”

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, # 89 (7-8 November 1944).

(bold mine)

Hollywood’s artistic problem

There is no plot without a protagonist, and the protagonist is not interesting unless he is a hero. He cannot be a hero if he is not good.

Hollywood long ago rejected the idea of objective moral law, and severed its own artistic nerve when it did so.

The corpse twitched awhile and so moguls thought it lived.

The expose of normalcy is a favorite device of wretched Hollywood types who’ve only ever known dysfunctional homes. So they can’t stand the thought that somewhere, somebody is normal.   They love to paint a picture of the heartland and then expose the seamy underside – “see, we’re all seamy.”

But the truth is, many, many people really did have a “Norman Rockwell” childhood. There really are loving families on quiet streets where the fireflies sparkle in the July twilight.   These streets just do not produce screenwriters.

Minimalism versus simplicity

“But I notice that the minimalist mood — wherever it appears — eventually kills all joy.”

I made this statement here and then spent some time defending it in an internal debate, because I like some aesthetics that are often called “minimalistic”.   They seem, well, artistic.   Traditional Japanese aesthetic is often called minimalist, for example, and I love the look of a tea room, with its natural materials and its discipline of excluding unnecessary implements.

Seems to me there is a nuance of a difference between the modern mood that wants to strip the physical world down to its skeleton, and the traditional love of simplicity.   The first is a joyless cynicism: this mind has been betrayed by objects and people and wants as few of them as possible.   The second contains a pleasure in the individual object, so much so that it wants to contemplate and savor a few, free from the distraction of clutter.   The first — the “contemporary” mind — has no joy in any particular thing.  The second – the “traditional” mind — finds great joy in the rough wooden bowl for the tea, and wants to really see the grain of the wood, and this vision is so deep and full it requires an empty room to contain.

“Minimalist” and “simple” seem to be perfectly appropriate terms for these two distinct and opposite moods.   Though they seem similar at a superficial glance, the “minimalist” is the diseased cousin of the “simple”.

Form Follows Function?

One day I noticed that the ugliest buildings in town are at the art gallery, so I began pondering modern design.  How could the people most aware of the Beautiful veer so forcefully into making things ugly?   Since modernism is all about shifting blame to root causes,  I wanted to be fair to the artist community by blaming a root cause.     So I’ve decided that the poverty of modern plastic design is rooted in a failure of poetic vocabulary.

“Form follows function” seems to be a guiding epigram of the modern aesthetic.  And this produces minimalism.  It produces what we now call “contemporary style”.   But no art can survive long in minimalism, since the most fundamental function is simple survival.    Art is always an extraneous object from the point of view of mere survival; it is the very opposite of minimalism.   So the post-modern artist, in order to overcome the inevitable ennui that comes attached to modernism in all disciplines,  resorts to what some call “whimsy” — although, as I say the word, I want to restate it, since “whimsy” is a positive word, with an element of joy, and it is useful.  But I notice that the minimalist mood — wherever it appears — eventually kills all joy.  (more on Minimalism versus Simplicity)

So, what does the artist and critic mean by “whimsy”, really?   They mean “random”.   What the post-modern artist actually cultivates is randomnity of form.   Yet, the true random event has, by definition, no designer, so this path logically ends either in abandoning art entirely or in suicide.    Or spend your life designing forms that go against other forms — avoidance of pattern,  anti-form. (I know, I know, the lack of insight is breathtaking, but I’m just reporting here.)

But this stance is not new; we’ve seen it somewhere before…let’s see…let’s see…ah, it is old as adolescence.   The definition of oneself by adopting anything random that is new and is not what your elders did — to define yourself in contrast to others — is the adolescent pose.  What a sad spectacle is this: high intelligence, such as God gave an artist, harnessed to the end of intentionally avoiding order or value.  Unspeakable tragedy.

So that doesn’t work.   It produces the ultimate absurdity: the ugly art gallery.    What makes more sense?    Well, in the real world, form and function are intertwined inseparably, of course, but we do need to express their relationship in a verb, or we have no guide whatsoever for formal (design) decisions. The problem is in the verb “follows”, which connotes passivity.  It relegates “form” to a passive role, which is eventually always a death.   The minute we choose the verb “follows” in the epigram, and let that relationship be the way we think about form and function, we start down a road to random form.   Bad poetic vocabulary locks us in bad thought, and bad work.

Better: “Form REJOICES in function”. This gives both nouns something to do.  Within the building this architect is drawing, real people work.  Let the form rejoice in that work, not just accomodate it.  If Form rejoices in the function it facilitates,  then it  will be something worthy of beholding in its own right.  Art.   And the artist — the architect’s job is to rejoice.

A poet would know that if the wrong word sneaks into the communal mind, it can kill for generations an entire discipline.

We Know the Garden In the Act Of Drawing It

The first proper object of our knowledge is the Creator.  He made it all, including my organ of knowing, and this “all” that He made is the Garden.   The entire world here below is the Garden, seen from from far away, in exile.

Normally, we observe the world via reason but we do not know it in the fullest sense, because reason is observing from an objective distance, a spatial point where any other reason (any other at all)  can stand and repeat the same observation.   This detached, repeatable observation we call science.  It is the spectatorship of exile.   It yields useful information, through which we master and improve the world.

By definition, science excludes all cognition that others cannot share.  The observation is repeatable or it is not valid.  So if I hold my epistemological position always on this detached, objective vantage point – which allows my reason to see – I cannot have unique knowledge.   I can validate the results of experiments.

If we hold that the deepest knowledge is what happens between two people, then science, for all its utilitarian glory, yields no knowledge of this sort.  (I do want to stipulate that science, the gift or reason, is an adornment on the human race.  What science has given us is…magnificent.  I write nothing to devalue it, in method or in substance.  But I want to talk about love.)

None of this makes sense to you unless you were raised listening to bible stories, which imprinted us with the true cliché that to “know”, biblically, is a wholistic experience between persons, often used of the intimacy between husband and wife.  Biblical writers don’t think of us looking out on the natural world and “knowing” nature.  We behold nature.  But we know a lover.

Full knowledge is participatory love.   Our knowledge of God is in the act of love, but is often called “mysticism” when a writer is trying to catch in words what, of love,  impinges the knowing faculty.

Our knowledge of The Garden, then, is not an act of analytical reason, but can be as we love The Garden, in an artistic work.   An exercise of loving the warm light as it kisses the molecules.   What we discover in art is never a means to any end, even though we might be able to capture in words.   Knowledge is useful, but the lover is indifferent to its usefulness.

So knowledge, in this biblical sense, is interpenetration; or participation in “the inner essences of created things” (I believe this is an expression from the Philokalia.  Think also of the poet Hopkins’ “inscape”.)

So, the artist seeks to befriend The Garden.  I love prose and poetry infused with the love of something – a landscape (Bronte), a country (Pasternak), a countryside (Cather).  Please, please, love something.  In words, or pictures.

Flannery O’Connor: “…the devil has been the unwilling instrument of grace.”

From my own experience in trying to make stories “work”, I have discovered that what is needed is an action that is totally unexpected, yet totally believable, and I have found that, for me, this is always an action which indicates that grace has been offered.  And frequently it is an action in which the devil has been the unwilling instrument of grace.”

Flannery O’Connor, On Her Own Work

Drawing, by John Berger: “how has… [the face]… become the face it is”

All creation is in the art of seeing – Times Online

But now, because you asked me what drawing was to me . . . when you are drawing, anyway when you are drawing something which is alive, you are drawing the traces of what has happened to it until that moment at which you are looking at it. I mean, the traces of how it has physically become itself. 

For example, if it’s a face, how it has, by its experience or the soul behind it, become the face it is. So the drawing is, it seems to me, an observation of how the thing that you’re looking at has become itself. And that of course does have a lot to do with what we’re talking about — and storytelling.

Sabi

What Is Wabi-Sabi?

Sabi by itself means “the bloom of time.” It connotes natural progression-tarnish, hoariness, rust-the extinguished gloss of that which once sparkled. It’s the understanding that beauty is fleeting. The word’s meaning has changed over time, from its ancient definition, “to be desolate,” to the more neutral “to grow old.” By the thirteenth century, sabi’s meaning had evolved into taking pleasure in things that were old and faded. A proverb emerged: “Time is kind to things, but unkind to man.”

Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace: the chilly mottled surface of an oxidized silver bowl, the yielding gray of weathered wood, the elegant withering of a bereft autumn bough. An old car left in a field to rust, as it transforms from an eyesore into a part of the landscape, could be considered America’s contribution to the evolution of sabi. An abandoned barn, as it collapses in on itself, holds this mystique.

There’s an aching poetry in things that carry this patina, and it transcends the Japanese. We Americans are ineffably drawn to old European towns with their crooked cobblestone streets and chipping plaster, to places battle scarred with history much deeper than our own. We seek sabi in antiques and even try to manufacture it in distressed furnishings. True sabi cannot be acquired, however. It is a gift of time.

So it takes a long time to learn ______ ? Listen to Katsushika Hokusai:

From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.