One of my goals in 2013 is to read more books. It’s midway through February and I’m finishing my 4th book. Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East has been on my radar for a long time, and I feel as though I could read it over and over again and continue to find a greater meaning in the work. There was one section that stood out to me in particular as it touched on the creative process and what it meant to bring a piece of art into the world:
Something that I had observed several times during our journey, without having fully considered it, impressed me again during the days at Bremgarten, strangely and rather painfully. There were amongst us many artists, painters, musicians and poets. Ardent Klingsor was there and restless Hugo Wolf, taciturn Lauscher and vivacious Brentano–but however animated and lovable the personalities of these artists were, yet without exception their imaginary characters were more animated, more beautiful, happier and certainly finer and more real than the poets and creators themselves. Pablo sat there with his flute in enchanting innocence and joy, but his poet slipped away like a shadow to the river-bank, half-transparent in the moonlight, seeking solitude. Stumbling and rather drunk, Hoffman ran here and there amongst the guests, talking a great deal, small and elfish, and he also, like all of them, was only half-real, only half there, not quite solid, not quite real. At the same time, the archivist Lindhorst, playing at dragons for a joke, continually breathed fire and discharged energy like an automobile. I asked the servant Leo why it was that artists sometimes appeared to be only half-alive, while their creations seemed so irrefutably alive. Leo looked at me, surprised at my question. Then he released the poodle he was holding in his arms and said: “It is just the same with mothers. When they have borne their children and given them their milk and beauty and strength, they themselves become invisible, and no one asks about them any more.”
“But that is sad,” I said, without really thinking very much about it.
“I do not think it is sadder than all other things,” said Leo. “Perhaps it is sad and yet also beautiful. The law ordains that it shall be so.”
I agree with Leo in that this observation is both sad and beautiful all at once. It also gave me clarity about what it means to be an artist. I want to feed my paintings with this life force that would give them the ability to dance around the room and speak to people. I want to give that part of myself over to my work and have it be more significant than I am on my own. It made me wonder if I hold back in fear of letting go of this life force. This passage also struck me in the way that the artist became analogous to a woman who becomes a mother. I have seen it so often with women in my life that conversations flow around their children and not themselves. I am now making a conscious effort with those beautiful mothers in my life to not forget to ask about them. It is important, though, to see how parenthood (it’s not just women who produce children) is connected to art in this way. The important lesson is to not hesitate and just let the painting come out and be what it needs to be. At some point you have to let your child live outside the grasps of your hands, and hopefully you’ve given it every opportunity to flourish and impress.