I Don’t Have the Gift

The artist hears the compliment “you have a gift”.  As if the hours and days and decades the artist has invested in the self-taught study and development of his craft are somehow received by him in some manner which he cannot possibly apprehend.  Whatever struggle, whatever time, whatever his life-long devotion—none of this is in any way a measure of his ability if it’s nothing but a gift. But such concerns are not his to reason why.  None of this can be laid at his command, as his own achievement at all.  All of it is just an unasked-for gift.  The sentiment is well meaning, but God forgive those who offer that compliment, for they know not what they say.

The most beautiful way it’s ever been presented to me is that “you have been a tremendously good steward of His gifts.” Whatsoever things are of good report, this is one that weighs that “gift” against my own real achievement.  It brings the gift down to earth where I actually live and work, giving me some control over it all—at least for the duration of my lifetime, albeit as God’s property, not my own.

What if the artist rejects that “gift”?  What if, instead of saying “oh, it isn’t my achievement, it’s just my job.  I was just doing my duty”, he says “I’m damn proud of my achievement!”  Wouldn’t that be a refreshing admission that one never hears.

Leonard Peikoff shows the proper way to look at the artist, in his book “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand”:

“The artist is the closest man comes to being God.  We can validly speak of the world of Michelangelo, of Van Gogh, of Dostoyevsky, not because they create a world ex nihilo, but because they do re-create one.”

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, “Art”, p. 417 (HC)

Ayn Rand writes,

“Style is the most complex element of art, the most revealing and, often, the most baffling psychologically.  The terrible inner conflicts from which artists suffer as much as (or, perhaps, more than) other men are magnified in their work.”

The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand, “Art and Sense of Life, p. 41 (SC)

One might suppose that Michelangelo, perhaps the greatest artist in history, thought of his talent as a gift from God.  After all, he was under the thumb of Popes as employers, even though payment from the Church was often slow and minimal. The style of his unfinished “St. Matthew” shows his struggle, his melancholy triumph.

Michelangelo St. Matthew

St. Matthew
Michelangelo
Sculpture
107 x 29′

I accept the compliments, albeit misguided, of “you have a gift” as earnest heart-felt admiration for my work.  But the accumulation of them over the years compels me to qualify my acceptance with a bit of admonition to those who so lightly offer them:

It is not in any way a gift that I unwrap around myself that enables me to create a work of art.  I would never accept such an unasked-for gift for I am responsible for whatsoever things might be true, might be lovely in my artworks.

I don’t say that my work is new or great.  I do not compare my talent to the great master, Michelangelo.  I offer here only a caution.  To those who believe my Art is a gift, I plead they give it a second thought.

“Have you heard the moralists and the art lovers of the centuries talk about the artist’s intransigent devotion to the pursuit of truth? Name me a greater example of such devotion than the act of a man who says that the earth does turn, or the act of a man who says that an alloy of steel and copper has certain properties which enable it to do certain things, and it is and does—and let the world rack him or ruin him, he will not bear false witness to the evidence of his mind! This, Miss Taggart, this sort of spirit, courage and love for truth—as against a sloppy bum who goes around proudly assuring you that he has almost reached the perfection of a lunatic, because he’s an artist who hasn’t the faintest idea what his art work is or means, he’s not restrained by such crude concepts as ‘being’ or ‘meaning,’ he’s the vehicle of higher mysteries, he doesn’t know how he created his work or why, it just came out of him spontaneously, like vomit out of a drunkard, he did not think, he wouldn’t stoop to thinking, he just felt it, all he has to do is feel—he feels, the flabby, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, uncongealed bastard! I, who know what discipline, what effort, what tension of mind, what unrelenting strain upon one’s power of clarity are needed to produce a work of an—I, who know that it requires a labor which makes a chain gang look like rest and a severity no army-drilling sadist could impose—I’ll take the operator of a coal mine over any walking vehicle of higher mysteries.  The operator knows that it’s not his feelings that keep the coal carts moving under the earth—and he knows what does keep them moving. Feelings? Oh yes, we do feel, he, you and I—we are, in fact, the only people capable of feeling—and we know where our feelings come from.”

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, p. 783 (HC)

Neither my art nor my feelings nor my life is a gift.  My life?  My Catholic parents made babies out of a sense of duty; mine was practically accidental.  My feelings?  These are expressed for all the world to see—in my art.  All of this has been kept alive by me over a period of some sixty years of hard labor.

Christian Thought As Artistic Inspiration

The fables of Christianity offer the imaginative artist marvelous subjects! I have found the subject of Christian theology of so high a grade of interest that I did feel compelled to create an artwork based on one of it’s major themes. But more on that in a later post….

The Pietà by Michelangelo is one of my favorite sculptures. The faces of the subjects are sublime. Mary’s is ideal perfection in form and features showing her acceptance of death, and in that acceptance, her worship of it. Christ’s face is other-worldly peaceful.

Mary

Christ

That sculpture is all the more fantastic in its portrayal of the theme of the virgin birth. Here the Pietà shows the love of the mother for the son she bore while she was a virgin. Again, only in art can one appreciate so exquisite a science fiction as this.

Pietà Michelangelo Buonarroti (1498–1499)

The Pietà must have been Michelangelo’s personal favorite too, for it’s the only one he signed. (See it carved into the sash the Virgin wears on her breast.)

Pieta Signed

Michelangelo shows an immaculate harmony of the mystical mind and a corresponding perpetual youth in the Pietà.

In literature I find this Christian fable of the virgin birth addressed most wonderfully in Mark Twain’s “Fables of Man”.

It’s fabulous that in his chapters on “Little Bessie” he makes Bessie “nearly three years old” and later “only three and a half years old”. Yet Little Bessie grasps the absurdity of the concept of Christianity’s virgin birth better than most adults. This is because Little Bessie, too young even for a modern mind destroying pre-school, gets her education from the mysterious—almost mystical—Mr. Hollister, the village atheist.

Meet Little Bessie in a discussion with her mother:

Mamma, is Christ God?

Yes, my child.

Mamma, how can He be Himself and Somebody Else at the same time?

He isn’t, my darling. It is like the Siamese twins—two persons, one born ahead of the other, but equal in authority, equal in power.

I understand it, now, mamma, and it is quite simple. One twin has sexual intercourse with his mother, and begets himself and his brother; and next he has sexual intercourse with his grandmother and begets his mother. I should think it would be difficult, mamma, though interesting. Oh, ever so difficult. I should think that the Corespondent—

All things are possible with God, my child.

Yes, I suppose so. But not with any other Siamese twin, I suppose. You don’t think any ordinary Siamese twin could beget himself and his brother on his mother, do you, mamma, and then go on back while his hand is in and beget her, too, on his grandmother?

Certainly not, my child. None but God can do these wonderful and holy miracles.

And enjoy them. For of course He enjoys them, or He wouldn’t go foraging around among the family like that, would He, mamma?—injuring their reputations in the village and causing talk, Mr. Hollister says it was wonderful and awe-inspiring in those days, but wouldn’t work now. He says that if the Virgin lived in Chicago now, and got in the family way and explained to the newspaper fellows that God was the Corespondent, she couldn’t get two in ten of them to believe it. He says they are a hell of a lot!

My child!

Well, that is what he says, anyway.

Oh, I do wish you would keep away from that wicked, wicked man!

He doesn’t mean to be wicked, mamma, and he doesn’t blame God. No, he doesn’t blame Him; he says they all do it—gods do. It’s their habit, they’ve always been that way.

What way, dear?

Going around unvirgining the virgins. He says our God did not invent the idea—it was old and mouldy before He happened on it. Says He hasn’t invented anything, but got His Bible and His Flood and His morals and all His ideas from earlier gods, and they got them from still earlier gods. He says there never was a god yet that wasn’t born of a Virgin. Mr. Hollister says no virgin is safe where a god is. He says he wishes he was a god; he says he would make virgins so scarce that—

Peace, peace! Don’t run on so, my child. If you—

—and he advised me to lock my door nights, because—

Hush, hush, will you!

—because although I am only three and a half years old and quite safe from men

Mary Ann, come and get this child! There, now, go along with you, and don’t come near me again until you can interest yourself in some subject of a lower grade and less awful than theology.

Bessie, (disappearing.) Mr. Hollister says there ain’t any.

—Mark Twain, “Fables of Man”, “The Myth of Providence”, “Little Bessie”, Chapter 6 (1908 – 1909)

“Raphaella di Piero”

You’ve captured the experience of the interrelationship of the arts in various art works.  Haven’t you?  You hear a piece of music that brings to mind visual arts, or in a literary work, you hear a piece of music, or see a favorite painting.  Looking at a painting you might hear some music and a quote from a book. Here’s my experience in reading Bill Bucko’s new novel “Raphaella di Piero”. I read it first a couple of years ago in manuscript form and loved it.  Now published, it’s always good to hold a book as a physical object.  And to love the story even more. Not to give anything away in terms of plot, I will say simply that I love and treasure this book.  Its theme is the great one:  VALUING, about valuers … and those who fail to value.  That is to say, Bucko has presented an appealing character, (the title name) showing, in her, the importance of independent thinking and acting according to one’s rational judgment. There’s a scene on page 19 that always brings to mind, for this reader, a work of art that he’s profoundly aware of.

Girls
Robert Tracy
Pastel
13½ x 10½”
2001

In Bucko’s book “Girls” fits nicely into his serious theme.  Does a serious theme, and a character of a rebellious nature, preclude an element of the light hearted?  Bucko’s answer is “No!”  The theme in “Raphaella di Piero” belongs, musically, to Liszt’s Legende “ St. Francis of Paola Walking on the Water” that Ayn Rand says “conveys…a passionately dedicated struggle and triumph.”

“The Romantic Manifesto”, Art and Cognition, p. 52

Yet on page 19 one can hear the benevolent universe premise of Chopin’s “Butterfly Etude”. Read this grand novel for yourself.  See if it corresponds to your own sense of life. By recommending “Raphaella di Piero” I hereby expose my own soul in my love of this book, and challenge anyone to have the courage to delve into the world of Bill Bucko.  You will come away with an experience showing that “Animus vinci non potest, nisi voluntarie”. With that last enigmatic quote I say buy the book—you’ll find the answer therein.

Marine Corps Graphics

I’ve made hundreds of these graphics starting around 2000 through 2005. I learned a lot in Photoshop with these. The “Three Soldiers” graphics were done from photos taken for me by an old friend, Gonzalo E. Mon, who knew that the sculpture by Frederick Hart is one of my favorite sculptures. (See my page The Wall vs Three Soldiers.) The Eagle, Globe and Anchor variations were done with a single photograph I took of a wooden plaque and scanned.