Small Wonders

Faith and humility.

When you are small, she said, you can move around and between what the big ones cannot. You will never carry much you call your own and can be easily lifted. Whatever comes your way will only be found, and you will not confuse it with something earned.

No hope is real comfort when you will often have to go without it. Same for inspiration, same for confidence. What you want to keep, she said, is what is left when hope and confidence and self-respect are gone. When all the rest collapses, notice: what is here, still breathing?

Accept its life and protect its breath. It is not distinct from your own, only infinitely more vast.

Cups

Notes on these hands.

Eventually, talk turned to having and spending; to getting and maintaining, as it often did, and you could feel the way we became coiled springs ready to fire and everyone was excited and no one could sleep, it was so much.

Another time, there was nothing and no talk anymore of what could be got. Even our resistance to loss had gone out of us, and it made us porous. There was no more talk of keeping, except when it came to someone at the hearth and the babies fed.

A vessel, once emptied, can only carry what comes into it. A hand, outstretched toward another holds the world in its emptiness. The fist is what you get when the cold is too much for too long and the hand forgets itself. 

In warmth, it remembers its radius, star-like. Then cupped with another, it cradles what is delicate and brings it to the lips, an offering in earnest––or to another, saying here.

Altar

At the crossroads.

On the day of the dead, among this cloud of witnesses, someone here whispers, help me find it again, that joy I once had in looking. Instead of an answer, this space, and the hum of a motor nearby. 

We love the old trees of our myths for the spaces they hold inside themselves, but also for the way they know to keep it around them, this cushion of shade made soft by the absence of another tree.

In the eruption of any given birth, a core could easily splinter, and yet here we are, faces dappled by the light and noise of becoming, learning to make room for what would breathe.

Expanded Expansion

The artist makes room.

Your aim was an art that would not behave as art. While dying, you made your untitled rope piece, layering industrial latex like paint over string and wire suspended from the ceiling. It resembled a decimated fishing net after a storm, or the work of an overworked spider gone mad. You welcomed unseen others into a shadowy space, inviting us to attend to what crawled, flickered, and flashed. You did not specify how long to look, or where. How is it possible, we wondered, to feel so in the way in a mostly empty room? 

Touch, you said, and meant it. Who could do that now, with all the insurance? Come in, you said. But try another door. You left it to us to find it. There are other openings, you said, and more hollow spaces than we were accustomed to noticing. 

What do you know? One skeptic asked and you said Nothing.

***

Inspired by the art of Eva Hesse, and by Mignon Nixon’s article “Eva Hesse Retrospective: A Note on Milieu,” (Spring 2003 in October).

Celebration of Emptiness

Ad Reinhardt on art as its own end.

Any friend of Thomas Merton is a friend of mine, and when I learned that artist Ad Reinhardt was one (they studied together and became close friends at Colombia College of Colombia University), I paid attention. This morning, I learned that it was Reinhardt’s birthday (1913-1967). I spent my coffee hour over Reinhardt’s Art as Art, and today’s post is a collection of notes from reading. It includes many phrases from Reinhardt’s text.

Art as art is nothing but art, and art is not what is not art.

More and more, what is becomes more pure, more empty, more absolute.

More exclusive? Yes, that too, but not in the way art people imagine. Think

camel through the eye of a needle, the way. This “anything goes”

degradation is contemptible, trifling, a suicide-vaudeville. 

The point is to reveal, to make the one thing no secret. This one thing

changes everything. They want to separate fine from intellectual, manual

from craft, but all that matters is art as art. The fine art museum is the

place for this, so long as it doesn’t imagine itself a church or a museum

of history or geology, ethnology, or archaeology. It can’t be a club or

a success school, either; it can’t be a rest home or “foster love of life.”

It can’t “promote understanding . . . among men” or any such thing.

This is crazy talk. Art is art; life is life. Art is not life, nor is life art. No

one should burden one with the other, and above all, don’t make 

it a means to some other end, some so-called higher value. There is

none. There is one fight only, between art and non-art, true and false.

Art is free, but it is not a free-for-all.

The one struggle in art is the struggle of artists against artists. Save

your “mirrors of the soul,” your “reflections of condition,” your “new 

image of man” delusions, your diatribes about being a “creature of

circumstance.” No one ever forces an artist to be pure. Art comes from

art working, and the more an artist works, the more there is to do. It’s

a long, lonely routine: preparation, attention, repetition.

The end? No end but this. From a variety of ideas, to one. From many

styles, to none. Pure evanescence. From hot air to breathlessness, 

neither life nor death; outside content, outside form; outside space, 

beyond time. Nothing to grasp, nothing to use, and nothing to sell.