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The banal, the unfathomable

August 26, 2008

"Ernst"

Though a work of art must stand up for itself and find its way alone in the world, I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words in its defense.

Contemporary artistic efforts are often directed externally at a transient knowledge and, to me at least, tend to feel like an incredible distraction from the issue at hand. This makes me appreciate (and want to emulate) those brush and ink painters and poets of ancient China – taking it down to the most basic elements and focusing on the approach, the attention and, yes, openness and vastness of life.

I have noticed that often people seem to seek special moments of intense feeling, but perhaps the secret lies instead in the most banal of instants, those unnoticed parcels of time which slip quietly past leaving only a world in their wake.

Not that the world holds an answer, but rather stands at the threshold to the state of wonder. To put it crudely: the world holds only the unfathomable, and it is the unfathomable that holds the answer.

Many years ago, in an attempt to get me to exhibit my paintings, an artist friend of mine said, “Exhibiting one’s work is an act of gratitude.” I’m not sure what exactly prevented me from stepping out into the world then, partially it was my own self-criticism, but most likely it was simply that I was too selfish and full of myself. Fortunately, however, over the years our high opinion of ourselves gets beaten down and with age comes the wisdom that even the smallest of gestures can have a profound effect.

So I would like to share a little secret with you. One day in a poorer section of Toronto, I was standing outside a store waiting for a friend to complete his purchase. There was an old dog tied to a post, looking quite lost and abandoned; as it lay down its eyes never stopped searching for a glimpse of its owner through the store windows. A shabby homeless man came staggering up the sidewalk. The dog looked sadly up at him and, as it sat up, gave a small wag of its tail. Already bent by alcohol and untold tragedies, the man bent over a little further and gently patted the dog, who leaned warmly against his leg. That moment, that small unheralded moment, seemed to contain all of life: all the broken and suffering, as well as all the joy and grace of which we are capable. And it is that moment which has become the seed of my art.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2009 11:56 am

    One of the most thought-provoking and beautiful blogs I’ve been privileged to find and read — I would greatly appreciate your permission to occasionally quote from your blogs (including photos) on my blog; of course, with proper credit.

    Best,
    Jerelyn C Gilstrap
    theatre director

  2. July 25, 2009 12:14 pm

    Thank-you so much for your kind words Jerelyn. Certainly you may quote from any of my online projects (including photos).

    a very grateful
    pensum

  3. August 13, 2011 12:48 pm

    That moment, that small unheralded moment, seemed to contain all of life: all the broken and suffering, as well as all the joy and grace of which we are capable. And it is that moment which has become the seed of my art

    a wonderful text – a tribute to the “unheralded moments of life” …

  4. pensum permalink
    August 13, 2011 8:47 pm

    glad you found it inspiring flâneur. and thanks for digging so deep to find this post.

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