Great Blue Heron
Photograph by Lee van Laer
There can't ever be anything more precious than such a moment; yet they belong to the Lord alone, and the great difficulty is that I labor under this continual illusion that I want all the moments too be mine.
Artists, writers and musicians—frequent readers will know I have been (or at least posed as), at times, all three—all suffer from the desire to make moments their own. I've been noticing this in writing in particular lately; writers who want to call attention to their own skills, rather than practice their craft quietly.
A friend of mine pointed out years ago that if a sound editor is successful, no one knows they were ever there; and so it is not only with all editing, but with all creative skill. The deft artist or musician, the one under the influence of a higher power, ceases to exist: the viewer is effortlessly led into territory where only the presence of God is revealed. Mankind has, in its creative impulse, the potential to serve as such a vehicle for expression: to channel an unmediated impression of divinity. This is, I think, what Gurdjieff actually meant by the term "objective art"—regardless of the somewhat tedious and pretentious descriptions Ouspensky reports to us.
Art is objective, in other words, when there is no artist.
Now, I've struggled for most of a life time to "be" an artist. I've struggled because, for the greater part, I wasn't gifted with a natural and effortless ability to paint and draw. This didn't stop me from trying n(I'm a very stubborn man, to be sure); and an active (though in my own eyes quite limited) imagination compensated in some small part for some of these deficiencies.
As it happens, it turned out rather late in life that I'm a better musician than I am a painter; and that I am, in turn, a better writer than I am a musician. More or less.
Yet in every case, the goodness only comes from my ability to get out of the way so that a higher influence can express itself. It's only when I am not "being Lee" that anything good comes of my creative impulses; and, having learned how thoroughly this is the case (it is 100%) I spend a great deal of my creative time not doing anything.
Not doing anything is what is necessary when the inflow isn't active. This is an impatient time for an artist, because when we wait for the muse (which is what it was called in more old fashioned times) there is little or nothing to do. Best occupy one's self in other things; building a wooden stair case, perchance. Feeding the chickens. Anything but attempting to create.
Those who've read The Idea Factory (if you haven't, do so) will be introduced to a cast of characters whose creative and technical genius was, to be fair, fair in excess of even exceptional men and women. Yet to all appearances they spent a lot of time not doing anything. They were scientists who understood that the great ideas flow from within, from unknown places—inspired by God, although those in the sciences might be offended by the inference—and cannot see the light of day unless one is patient enough to become silent within, to listen, and to hear that single moment in the Lord.
Over the years it has become distressingly evident to me that in my own case, especially in the visual arts, I am far more adept at appreciation than I am at execution. This is no mean thing; to be an aesthetician is not a minor matter, and in this metastasizing age of Philistinism, perhaps appreciators—those who know how to value and, more importantly, what to value—are more important than ever.
I say distressingly evident because, turning on the locus of my pride and egoism, I have always wanted to be a creator: coming only in late age to the realization that even when a person is a creator, one discovers, in supreme irony, that one isn't the one creating at all.
Of course, none of this is quite exactly what I mean by a single moment in the Lord; that is another matter, one for our secret souls to listen for,—
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.