Put simply, “Work”

October 31, 2011

In preparation of a bus load of kindergarten kids coming to Windgrove tomorrow, two of us worked at the Peace Garden earlier in the week clearing algae off the pond (Steve) and raking up wallaby turds (me). Was the work mundane, a tedious chore, a distraction from the serious work that “I”, as a serious artist, should be undertaking elsewhere?

Hell, no. Because on this day, something in the way the sun shone soft, the wind blew gentle, the ground comforted and our banter was amiable, our sweat was made meaningful because the day became exquisitely alive with beauty, colour, texture and intensity. Eros was fully present and easily evident. Scooping up wallaby turds into a wheelbarrow seemed as important and worthy of my time as sitting in the studio carving or, perhaps, sitting on a cushion listening attentively to the Dalai Lama.

Even if the day had been sodden, it wouldn’t have mattered because we’re talking about Work — wherever, whatever, with whomever — and its serious importance to the well being of our lives.

Throw Yourself Like Seed

Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit;
sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate
that brushes your heel as it turns going by,
The person who wants to live is the person in whom life is abundant.

Now you are only giving food to that final pain
which is slowly winding you in the nets of death,
but to live is to work, and the only thing which lasts
is the work; start then, turn to the work.

Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field,
don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death,
and do not let the past weigh down your motion.

Leave what’s alive in the furrow, what’s dead in yourself,
for life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;
from your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.

Miguel de Unamuna

This painting by Jean Leon Gerome holds the key to how we, as individuals and as society, will survive the struggles of “blessed unrest” as 7 billion people make their peace with global economic and climate upheavals by adapting artful strategies to their changing world.

There are many interpretations and re-interpretations of the story of Pygmalion and his carving of Galatea (or in other versions, Aphrodite), but to me the simplest and more profound aspect of the story speaks about what happens when one brings skill, intensity, passion and commitment to one’s work.

When viewing the painting, sure, go ahead and allow the first impressions of firm buttocks and erotic embrace to waft over and give pleasure. But then, appreciate the deeper message conveyed: that passion in one’s work makes love visible and brings Eros out of the cracks, into full view penetrating and permeating all.

When work is imagined different from love, work becomes a punishing, and, what I would say, “de-mortalizing” job as well as demoralizing.

(In order to give another visual perspective to the story, there are three photos of the construction of the Peace Garden from eleven years ago.)

(Black and white photos have been included as sort of an analogy to Wim Wenders’ movie ‘Wings of Desire’ where angels can only see in b&w, but one angel decides to become a mortal human just to experience fleshy earthy sensuality and where even seeing his own “red” blood is a moment of wonderment.)

From a psychological point of view, we can say that Pygmalion never found the divine feminine either within himself or within the world at large; hence, he remained single (read steadfastly macho). Eventually, though, through his art, he makes a heart connection to the cold, hard marble of his sculpture and, lo and behold, he falls in love “with his work” and this work becomes a marriage: alive, meaningful and fulfilling (if not difficult).

Rilke reminds us that the winged energy of puer flights of imagination might have been helpful in one’s youth, but as a mature adult, hubris is an unwillingness to pick up wallaby poo. Besides, he states, it is the work of humans that allows the sacred, divine presence of earth, of God, to learn.

Just as the Winged Energy of Delight

Just as the winged energy of delight
carried you over many chasms early on,
now raise the daringly imagined arch
holding up the astounding bridges.

Miracle doesn’t lie only in the amazing
living through and defeat of danger;
miracles become miracles in the clear
achievement that is earned.

To work with things is not hubris
when building the association beyond words;
denser and denser the pattern becomes —
being carried along is not enough.

Take your well-disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two
opposing poles. Because inside human beings
is where God learns.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Transformations of landscape by the thoughtful work of humans blesses the Earth. By being blessed, the Earth in return will bless us all.

Click here for larger image

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