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Kintsukuroi-photo

Last year, I came across this picture – or I guess I came across this idea. I thought about it a lot, and I still do, which is why there’s a copy in my office now. I don’t have very many conversations about what to do when life is going really well, people don’t pop in to chat quite as often when their relationships are new and exciting  and wonderful. People know what to do with that – admire it, hold it, love it, keep it safe. We work tremendously hard to do that. But the world is not perfect, and we are not perfect, and sometimes our very best intentions are not enough to prevent the occasional chip or crack.

In my experience, very few of us ever intend the damage we cause to others. The bowl wasn’t hurled deliberately at a wall, it just slipped through our fingers faster than we could close them. Careless actions and thoughtless words that got away in the heat of the moment. Even when our tempers flare, and we know our words will hurt, very rarely do we intend the harm they cause.

That gold, though, that precious line of repair – it is very deliberate. When we are suddenly faced with the reality of pieces that we never meant to break, we gather them up and begin the work of carefully and gently repairing them. Those gold lines are the attentive, thoughtful acts, the kind and gracious words, the gentle and patient touch that we invest into restoring what matters to us, because it is far too valuable to let go. They are a far more honest reflection of our love than the unbroken or the breaking ever was.

Is it more beautiful than it was in the first instance? I think so. Is it stronger? I’d say so. Would it have been better not to break it? Yes, probably, but treasured things shouldn’t be locked away so they can never get hurt – they should be looked at everyday, and enjoyed, and repaired lovingly along the way. Without the gold, it’s just another bowl. Valuable yes, but not so precious, and certainly not unique.

Perhaps the same is true for us personally – most of us don’t learn our most important lessons from our glorious, shining moments. We learn them from our heartbreaking ones, from our failures, from our missed opportunities. Some of my flaws still run very deep and wide, and there is nowhere near enough gold in them yet. But they are mine, and they make me who I am.

A few months ago, I was given quite a remarkable gift – by far the most generous gift I have ever been given by someone I’m not related to, and even then, it may well still be at the top of the list. A friend of mine is an extremely talented artist, and after five happy months of working in the same location, she gave me a matching set of two paintings as a farewell gift. They are stunningly beautiful – like I said, she’s very clever. But the reason I love them so much is not because they are so excellent (they really are), it’s because the content is so significant. They overflow with good memories of important moments, with painstaking care and attention, with steadily devoted attention to imagining for the sake of someone else. They are not the result of overnight effort, but days and weeks. They are incredibly impressive to look at, but perhaps more importantly, deeply moving to feel. I’m pretty lucky to know this girl. Those paintings are hanging on my wall – I see them everyday – and everyday they make me smile. And sometimes I really need that.

In fact, I am only now beginning how much I actually depend on moments like those. I used to think that watching and listening and experiencing the artistic expression of others was an optional extra in life – a luxury to be indulged in when one wished to get cultured and all. It isn’t. It’s life-saving. Sometimes, when all the practical, necessary business of living gets too much, it’s urgent. Breathing in city smog everyday will kill you fairly quickly – every now and then, you need a bit of wide open landscape and some fresh air, or you’ll choke to death. Too much working and being responsible is much the same – suffocating. I forget that sometimes, and find myself needing to correct it, desperately. Late last year, when the candle had been burning too long at both ends, I found myself needing to see something beautiful, like sick people need medicine. So I found myself at the local markets – good food, good coffee, the precious work of gifted artists, set up around the buildings of a school. I remember lying on the oval in the sun, and realising it was the first time I had truly relaxed in about a year. But I know that the gift of that space came at a cost. As I wandered, and chatted with stallholders, I noticed a tension… Their eyes and their words would animate as they explained the story behind their work, and the quirks and particularities that made it theirs. But there was also hesitation in that careful explanation – a modest self-deprecation, in case that labour and love wasn’t recognised or appreciated. Because what if this, the product of my hard work, all I can show on the outside of who I am on the inside, isn’t significant to anyone else? It never occurred to me how costly it must be make good art.

I was reminded of this overwhelmingly again last night, when I saw Missy Higgins in concert at the Enmore. She is a national treasure, in my opinion, and I have made a point of seeing her perform live whenever I can, because she is breathtaking to watch in person. Those few concerts have also uncannily intersected with curious junctions in my own life. These days, mine intersects with all sorts of people in all sorts of places, and mostly we are left with more questions, and less answers. Those things that are bubbling away beneath the surface of my world at the moment – how costly love can be, how physically painful remorse can be, how disorienting and dark uncertainty can be – I don’t have words for them. But you, Missy, you do. And you didn’t find those words living an easy, unreflected life – don’t I know that. Your willingness to share that in the borderlands of private and public life is incredibly generous. Thank you for giving me someone my own age to be in awe of, for being so wise, so cheeky, so honest. You are a master poet, who speaks with words like molten silver that fall from you with such power and such truth. It helped me to hear them. In the middle of those ‘more questions, less answers’ is perhaps the simpler question of ‘What can I not live without?’ Right now, I cannot live without the things that make the world more beautiful.

Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner

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