Friday, September 17, 2010

About Being Engaged

I toyed with writing about “meaning” in art. I think of meaning in art as the use of a visual format or words to raise awareness about injustice or some other nightmare on earth: genocide, hunger, global warming are some of the darker issues. These issues have been dealt with well in all kinds of ways. At best, a call to action is inspired or at the very least awareness is raised.

In this part of the world that we live in it would be hard not to be conscious of these realities. Tell me how to not know for a while and I might opt for an occasional vacation from the real world. Irvin Yalom’s book, Love’s Executioner, speaks of the anxieties caused by the four “givens”: death, isolation, groundlessness, and meaninglessness. He offers a choice of certain stances: to be “resolute” or “engaged”, or courageously defiant, or stoically accepting, or to relinquish rationality and, in awe and mystery to place one’s trust in the providence of the Divine.”

James Sage reviewing the book, says “Existence pain is the kind of pain that is "always there, whirring continuously just beneath the membrane of life”. The choice of the artist is to be engaged which is like taking that vacation from reality that I mentioned above. Giving oneself over to work is how many of us make our lives good. I would like to think I put some of that respite into my paintings and that it remains there for the beholder.

The image above is Red-Blue ©2010,  Giclée Print,  size varies. For information or to purchase any of the paintings on this site, please email Joan.


  1. I wrestle with this quite a bit too. I agree with your perspective, that you are engaged by offering respite through your work. In some sense, creating beauty is remarkable accomplishment in such a world, and I view it as force and power within the role of all healers of this world.

    Mary Oliver's poem, The Summer Day, gets at this, especially the line, What else should I have done?:

    The Summer Day
    Mary Oliver

    Who made the world?
    Who made the swan, and the black bear?
    Who made the grasshopper?
    This grasshopper, I mean-
    the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
    I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
    into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
    which is what I have been doing all day.
    Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?

  2. Thank you, Ruth. What a wonderful poem.

  3. Wonderful post, Joan (what happened to "blessings"?) and thanks, Ruth, for the beautiful poem.

    And I think I want to read Love's Executioner now.

  4. Thanks, Connie. Well, I thought I would write about blessings and will, maybe next week. But sometimes one thought turns to another and once the spark ignites, I stay with it. It's like the brain leads the way, even this old one. I often think that there are few things in our lives that last as long as we do. I am impressed with how long a human body and spirit can endure. I wish my car and washing machine were as well made.