How long will your art, your words, your song, your creations endure?
Nobody asks me this question, but I have heard it as of late. Most recently I read the book “A World Elsewhere” by novelist Wayne Johnston. This delightful book tells the tale of Landish Druken, an author who adopts a young boy named Deacon. We share in their adventures in this fabulous tale. One of the most enduring images associated with the book is the narration of the author writing furiously every day, only to burn his work at day’s end. Nothing is good enough to keep. His art didn’t endure because it was imperfect.
This reminded me of the Tibetan Buddhist practice of creating a Mandala. Over the period of a week or so, a geometric form is created using millions of pieces of colored sand. The Mandala represents the physical world, the path of enlightenment and the mysterious balance of the energies of mind and body. These beautiful works of art are then dismantled and poured into a body of water to symbolize the impermanence of existence. This art doesn’t endure by design.
I am neither Landish Druken nor a Buddhist, but I too know something of the impermanence of my work. It strikes me that this is a fundamental learning for anyone who creates anything. We all want to create something that endures forever, but forever is a long time, and most of us can be fairly certain that what we create will be forgotten in a generation or two, unless we are a Rembrandt, or a Luther, or a Plato, or a Confucius. This can be a hard thing to face up to, but what happens when we realize that our art won’t endure?
I think that knowing our art won’t endure enables us to see that art endures. We see that art is a gift that reshapes us by bringing us face to face with our mortality. With this comes the hope that behind the work of my hands is One whose handiwork I see in even me. I not only make art, but am I made to be art; not perfect, not permanent, but certainly filled with the possibility of rejoicing in creation’s beauty and love’s mystery.