Enduring Art

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.

8 thoughts on “Enduring Art

  1. I’ve certainly felt the same way….this profound post echoes what you’ve written elsewhere about the scriptures. We don’t find art in ourselves, but we are found in it, and so it goes on even while our expressions of it are temporary. Thank-you for your thoughts.

  2. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks Matt. Yes, both are really riffs on the first commandment I think.

  3. diannegray says:

    I often think of this and also the thought that one day (long into the future, I hope) there will be nothing left of this earth and its people and its art. It will merely be a memory of the cosmos. Sounds depressing, I know, but it puts a lot of things into perspective (particularly when people fuss and worry over inconsequential ‘now’ things)…

  4. agjorgenson says:

    Yes, I agree. At its worst this can be depressing, but at its best I find it somehow humbling, and even freeing. I completely agree that it undermines our tendency to fuss over the inconsequential, which can only be good in the end!

  5. Even within our Western tradition, so much has been lost over centuries and millennia. We have ancient documents that refer to So-and-So’s book on a certain subject, but the book hasn’t come down to us. Sometimes I’m surprised that we have as many ancient documents as we do, given the inherent impermanence of parchment and paper. How well the digital storage media of our own times will hold up is unknown.

  6. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks for commenting Steve. Yes, the future of all of this is a big unknown. I was surprised to hear someone tell me the other day that information on CDs (or maybe it was DVDs?) deteriorates over time. I always assumed that e-texts were forever! Of course, another way that texts get lost is by being buried in a plethora of information.

  7. This is so well expressed (for me) especially in a world of desire for fame, permanent celebrityhood which puts focus to physical world. The conclusion is profound reminder we are made to be art. Amazing post. Thank-you.

  8. agjorgenson says:

    Thank you for your very kind words. I agree with your assessment that we become obsessed with fame to the detriment of delight. Impermanence can shake us free from that, I think.

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