The ‘Muse’ of Art
Some years ago, while attending university, I became enamored with studying art and art history. I poured over a myriad of artistic expressions, both classical and modern. European art was, of course my initial focus. However, my gaze quickly shifted to the examination of aboriginal art from across the globe, but especially Native North American expressions. A careful rumination of their oral traditions through books like “Touch the Earth” by T.C. McLuhan helped immensely. It was both rich, and fascinating. But in digging into the various artistic motifs, it soon became evident that how we perceive ‘art’, and how primal/traditional societies view it, are somewhat different. Both views, it seems, need to be held in a kind of didactic tension. They need each other.
In our modern-day society, ‘art’ (and by extension the ‘artist’) is sometimes seen as an alternative, and even reactionary, response to the world around us. In some cases, this is true, and much needed. As a result, successful artisans are sometimes heralded as avant-garde, or some form of the cultural elite. In contrast to this, traditional/primal art – be it music, poetry, painting etc. – seeks to maintain societal links with its past. The central question then becomes ‘What is art’? As best I can tell, ‘art’ is anything that lifts us up out of our ordinary/mundane human existence. It (re)humanizes us and, in some cases, has a magnanimous effect on our spirit. It literally enlargens our souls.
“Wind On Sea” by Anuna
The Irish Muse
I would be a foolish man indeed if I tried to encapsulate the entire spectrum of the Irish artistic milieu. Books and entire libraries are chocked full of the stuff! It is vast and truly wonder-full. But I’m certainly no expert. However, I’ve known some who were (or are). All of these Irish men and women point to the large corpus of poetic works that span the ages, from Amergain to Seamus Heaney. Personally, I’ve always been attracted to the earliest nature/hermetic works. But prose too is equally important. Also, as early Irish society was largely oral, there remains a beautiful heritage of story-telling here in Ireland that is unsurpassed in most western societies. There’s just something about the turn-of-speech and vocal inflections that captivates the mind and fills it with wonder. Not surprisingly, the Irish have such a love for (and mastery of) things half-said. It thus goes without saying that trad(itional) music is key to animating the human spirit. In Gaelic-speaking regions (Gaeltacht) in Ireland, such as here on Inishmore, there is also the tradition of Sean Nos, as popularized by Iarla O’Lionard. There’s just something in his words and tunes that rings with authenticity. So, for the Irish, traditions are important, and they must be respected and honored.
“The Three Mary’s” by Iarla O Lionaird)
The Writing (Wordweaving) Vocation
Important as the artist is, being one these days can be a challenge. Irrespective of the medium used, artists are both special, and different. This is especially true of the writer and poet. We are often misunderstood. The truth is, writers/poets are always working; trying to manifest something visible out of the invisible can thus be very difficult. It is hidden, unseen work. One quickly learns the limitations of words used to describe the wide variations in human emotion. Trying to manifest words (or in some cases even one word) can often be thought of as a sublime/artistic madness. And therein lay the problem: balancing the head with the heart. It’s a paradox: on the one hand, words can build community and bridge relationships. On the other hand, they can also hurt, wound, and even kill. But they’re all we have. It’s a difficult praxis, with few if any instructors in word-combat. It can be a solitary, even isolating experience, and it can often be lonely. But that’s the price we pay.
So the writing/poetic vocation is not really something one picks. On the contrary, it picks you! Becoming a weaver-of-words takes time and patience. One must have immense storehouses of self-trust and, hopefully, a patient editor and/or target audience. Like a mountain, it can often be a hard climb at times. There are many pitfalls and cliffs to circumnavigate around or through. Writing can be damned hard work.
Some years ago, I read Steven Pressfield’s book “The War of Art”. Pressfield, being a former member of the US Marine Corps, brilliantly used a title that was the inverse of Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ to illustrate his point. Pressfield’s book enunciates most of the challenges facing writers. Chief among these is procrastination. I confess I have often been guilty of this myself. And while I admire the proscription that other writers have provided me – to get up each day, sort yourself, then write about anything for at least 3-4 hours – I’ve come to realize that this just doesn’t work for me. In my case, I wrestle with idea-concepts and endless thoughts until, finally, my soul cannot withstand it anymore, and the cathartic breakers simply wash over me. Then it all comes out. My detractors call it over-thinking, but I disagree. It may not be the healthiest approach, but it’s mine, and it works. Sometimes it takes days, weeks, months, and even years. But in the end, word-weavers like us attempt to achieve a semiosis, if you will, between prose and poetry. This has to be both real and honest. It cannot be contrived and must come from your very soul. Otherwise, the hearers of one’s words will see right through them and soundly proclaim your fraudulence. There is no other way. So… when we writers/poets, on occasion, get it right, it really sings. And that is what makes this word-weaving vocation so immensely gratifying.
Encouragement For Other Writers, Poets & Artists
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention those who are lurking on the margins, or in the ‘borderlands’. Many of these writers and poets have not yet emerged. Writers and poets tend to be rather private, sensitive people. We all know (or have known) ‘closet poets’ or ghost-writers who, for one reason or another, have not stepped into the neon-light, or who choose to retain their anonymity. And that’s fine. But for those who are on the cusp of doing so, I say, go for it! There will always be naysayers and the odd sniper who take some form of perverse delight in ‘taking you down a notch’. But in my limited experience, I have found that people are generally good and kind toward those who step out. After all, fortune favors the brave. So, give us what you’ve got. Belly up to the bar, speak your truth, and enjoy the feel of the wind as you turn, face-on, to meet it. Ye may never know what the world thinks of your word-creations – until you get them down – whether gradually or suddenly. And finally, a quiet/gentle word to those gardeners, herbalists, and others – women mostly – who spend their days looking down at the created order of the natural world: you are not alone. I have seen ye staring at the universe in a single flower, plant or blade of grass – humbly and inexorably making your very lives into art. I find such feminine integrity and humility to be astonishingly beautiful.
So let me close my ramblings here with a brief piece, aptly titled for writers, poets, and any would-be life-making artist: ‘The Lost Words Blessing’ by Karine Polwart.
“The Lost Words Blessing” by Karine Polwart
In my next post (Part III), I’ll be writing about that most difficult, and elusive, of all animals – Love.
But it’s not the kind of love story you might normally consider. It’s something…. other.
So ye best wear your hiking boots! ¬ S.O.