“I started listening to the wolves in the timber at night. I don’t know how they found me, I’ll never know quite how.”
– musician, Josh Ritter
“The shadow proves the sunshine.”– musician, Jon Foreman
Whether one believes in origins as a matter of seven simultaneous 24-hour days carved out of emptiness, as the result of billions of years of settling and seething, as a lone voice speaking the entirety of everything simultaneously into existence, or as mere ornamental accident, the artist’s act of creating—the effort to birth something new, previously unknown or unseen into the world—is inherently the creation story retold in its most primitive, though fallible, form. Any artist worth any grain of salt must, even on their worst, most godless day, admit that the act in which they engage themselves is an effort to replicate origins. The artist fully engaged in his or work knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that nothing he creates did not already previously exist. Worse still, neither the shadow nor the doubt will ever leave him in peace.
Though not present at the original unveiling of time, the artist yearns jealously to participate, to have a hand in emulating beginnings. Though plagued by cavernous insecurity and grave doubt, the artist is, ironically, a hopeful soul by nature. He seeks to eradicate the dark by introducing light, struggling to fight off the bloodthirsty wolves, and contending however feebly to muzzle the odious butcher voices. The artist is a figure in storm, rapt and straining to hear melody amid chaos, not at all aloof or immune to projectile shrapnel, very much aware of and susceptible to the pain. If lucky, in the end the artist is able to walk away, but never without a limp. Even luckier is the soul with friends and an audience who listens, affirms and joins in harmony.
I am a dabbler and a sparer. I paint canvases. I spare and repurpose dilapidated wood. I collect old books. And, the way I see it, I dabble in the art of lawn mowing. None of these acts involve the writing of words, and, for me, that is entirely the point.
Creating is my way of fending off the sadness. When painting a canvas, I am wringing the throat of darkness, forcing its movement, coloring the vacuum of shadows, answering the aching, dull melancholy with color of my own. When working with castoff slabs of old, dingy wood, I am repurposing an atom of origins, and lending it an atom of myself. By reclaiming lost, unwanted, unnoticed debris, and wiping away the grime of plaguing memories, chipping away tormenting layers of paint, I am reintroducing the refashioned work into the living fold. When mowing a lawn, I am laboring over something unkempt, perhaps hideous, and wrestling it—toiling, even—to make it pretty again, albeit temporarily so. By revering the meek, undistinguished objects and scenes of earth, the artist seeks to recapture a grain of the original garden; that place where the soul first felt its worth. The artist sings a song over his subjects’ unrequited lives of possibility, their lifeless carcasses, and, necessarily, dies a little bit himself. Not all death is to be avoided.
The artist wants. In wanting, he must fight a good fight. Under these terms, fighting “good” is not to be confused with fighting fair. I must push back against the darkness, if necessary using darkness itself as a weapon. In proclaiming origin, the artist humbles himself before the blank space and the medium, and asks of them, “What do you wish to be?” By such expression, the engaged artist wittingly or unwittingly pleads, Your will be done, not mine. In submission, I am shredding the darkness, and flinging it back at itself. We are, after all, replicators seeking to help the near-blind see their own origin of color. In engaging his heart and hands the artist stares through the well of life into the implacable sadness and yanks out the light from the dark depths. In the original garden abounded radiant light, bounty, and beauty, and in his heart the artist continues clinging to, and fighting for, his own shimmering origin. And he hopes that light is enough.