A Whole Art

On artistic integrity.

Many poets aren’t poets, Merton says, for the same reason so many religious are not saints: they never get to becoming the version they are meant to be, as created by the circumstances of their own lives.

It always seems more attractive, somehow, to be some other artist––the point being, one you can point to, already formed, as opposed to––what is this, but so much blurred confusion and dissonant noise?

The work of the artist comes from staying with the mess even as the dust settles, even as more debris accumulates, to rescue a faint but still-living music from the wreck.

***

Inspired by this morning’s reading, Thomas Merton’s short essay “Integrity” in New Seeds of Contemplation.

Stranger Still

Through a glass darkly.

In love with an unknown intimate briefly glimpsed, the stranger moved so steadily towards the source of longing that he became transparent with time. Suspended in its liquid, the desert salts of his waking form dissolved in her waters until he knew himself at once known in the shadow of the apocalyptic cherub.

I am surveyed, he admitted, but it was good to be untethered from the demand to be any sort of self in any of the atomic cities, to join the games with no winners, to keep company instead with a chorus of loss, its abundant ache seeded in the silence of this elsewhere when the voices that will be heard choose themselves

***

Inspired by various morning readings, including Thomas Merton by way of Richard Rohr. Italicized phrases above come from Thomas Merton’s “Day of the Stranger,” first published in The Hudson Review, summer 1967.

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.