Art is long, time is fleeting

Life is short,
and art long,
opportunity fleeting,
experimentations perilous,
and judgment difficult.

Prologue: Life is Short

I wrote this post on the day of the riots on Capitol Hill.  It was nearly ready to publish when the news started coming through. I read the news. Finished writing. Read more news. Distraught, I spent the day in my studio, coming up occasionally for breaks and to get news updates. And to pray. Followed by returning to the studio.

In the days that have followed, the themes in this post have repeatedly returned to me.  Hippocrates’ words, as well as Longfellow’s, are applicable to these times we live in. We need courage to keep going, and keep living life fully and authentically.

In addition, Art matters. Creativity matters. It matters on a personal level and it matters on a societal level. On a personal level, practicing art – when entered into with your whole self – has a power to calm the mind and restore equanimity.  On a societal level, it is not an accident that during times of social unrest music and the arts flourish. Or that dictatorial regimes become fixated on controlling the arts.

Even if the message in an art form is not explicit, there is value in the human spirit pouring its whole self into an instrumental, a pot or a landscape.

For me, clay work is both an end in itself, and an allegory for human formation. It is a metaphor for the things that matter. What follows is what I wrote on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.

Art is Long

I came across the Longfellow quote many years ago in one of his poems. I read A Psalm of Life so many times that I unintentionally memorized all nine stanzas. Years later I would find out that Longfellow was quoting Hippocrates. In the 3 years since setting up my studio (after 20 years without a studio home), this concept of long art has been my continual companion.

The pictures above represent just snapshots of a long process:

  • the newly thrown pot sitting on boxes of clay yet to be thrown,
  • a leather hard pot being carved,
  • a carved dried pot yet to be fired,
  • weighing out chemicals for glaze tests for creating new colors and surfaces,
  • and finally the finished pot.

So much more could go into this gallery:

  • sketches of forms that interest me and of carving designs,
  • actually working at the potters wheel,
  • hours and hours of practice
  • trimming the pot,
  • hours and hours of practice
  • hours and hours of glaze testing before I’m ready to put the glaze on a finished pot,
  • 2 different kiln firings each taking days from loading to unloading,
  • and finally a finished pot.

And even this doesn’t count the many failed experiments, the grinding of kiln shelves because a glaze dripped off a pot, the recycling of clay, countless studio chores… shall I go on?

Art is long.

The quote from Hippocrates was the opening passage of a medical text. The Greek word translated as Art meant “craft, technique,” so applied to all craft that one can spend a lifetime learning and still have more to learn. For Hippocrates that art was medicine, but his words are encouragement to any who learn a skilled craft. The phrase “Life is short” often conjures up pictures of partying college kids, fast cars, living the high life, but for Hippocrates it meant quite the opposite. Time is short, so give this life all you got. Years of study and still more to learn, so never stop learning.

Life is short. So, friends, grab the moment, seize the day, or as Longfellow put it “learn [both] to labor and to wait.”

Living an authentic life takes courage, tenacity and love. I close with another favorite quote of mine that describes that creative tenacity so well:

“Miracles are to come. With you I leave a remembrance of miracles: they are by somebody who can love and who shall be continually reborn, a human being;somebody who said to those near him, when his fingers would not hold a brush ‘tie it to my hand'” — E. E. Cummings