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Pearls from artists* # 540

“Wise One,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38,” in progress

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

The Wise Old Man or Woman is a figure found throughout folklore and mythology. They possess superior understanding and also often a more developed spiritual or moral character. Frequently, such characters provide the information or learning that the Hero needs to move forward in their quest. In “Star Wars,” Ben Kenobi plays the teacher to Luke, introducing purpose and knowledge into the young Hero’s life. Where the Hero brings a drive, courage, and direct action, the Wise Old One introduces the importance of the opposing values of thought and questioning. Jung describes it thus: ‘Often the old man in fairytales asks questions like who? Why? Whence? Wither? For the purpose of inducing self-reflection and mobilizing the moral force.’

The Wise One may appear in disguise to test the character of others. In the second “Star Wars” film, “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), Luke’s mentor Yoda does not reveal himself as such when they first meet. He waits, asking questions that test Luke’s motivation for being there. Jung associated the Trickster archetype with the Wise One, and the use of disguise emphasizes this correlation.

Gary Bobroff in Carl Jung: Knowledge in a Nutshell

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Pearls from artists* # 481

Dawoud Bey at the Whitney Museum of American Art

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Artists, because they spend such prolonged periods in isolation, frequently fall behind the times. They may gain great self-knowledge, spiritual insight, and understanding of their media as they work in private, but at the price of a lack of vital knowledge of the world around them.

Because solitude provides artists with a safe haven, fits their personality, and offers them a kind of communal contact with other human beings through their work, it can also serve as a breeding ground for stagnation. Without ever realizing it, artists can grow flacid in isolation and begin to experience their solitude as deadening. The studio can become too easy and unchallenging a place.

The world outside the studio offers unmatched opportunities for growth and for the expression of authentic and courageous behavior. Artists often miss these opportunities and, remaining relatively untested, handle themselves poorly when they do venture out.

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts: Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists

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Pearls from artists* # 108

At work on a pastel painting

At work on a pastel painting

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Artists generally need privacy in order to create, and as I’ve noted, what constitutes adequate privacy varies by person and time.  Solitude quickly becomes isolation when it oversteps one’s desires.  But most artists need to feel that they and their work won’t be examined prematurely and, certainly, won’t be ambushed unfinished by ridiculing eyes.  You might go out and invite various people to critique a piece in progress, even knowing they’re unlikely to view it with sympathy, exactly because you feel there’s necessary information in their opinion.  But, if you’ve invited them, however unpleasant the response, your experience is likely preferable to what you would feel if they impulsively offered up the same critiques unsolicited.

Someone making art needs privacy in part because the process of creation makes many people feel vulnerable, sometimes exquisitely so, particularly since the work frequently emerges in a jumble of  mixed-up small parts that you can only assemble gradually, or in a wet lumpy mound that requires patient sculpting.  When people feel prematurely revealed or exposed, they often experience great discomfort and find themselves babbling apologetically, seeking to reassure by laying out the distance they have yet to travel.  It is in part this babble-as-smoke-screen to cover exposure resulting, distracting, unhappy self-consciousness that privacy seeks to shelter.

But even more significantly, privacy grants us permission to turn our attention inward without interruption.  As I described earlier, in order to concentrate, think, and fantasize, we need to feel we’re in a safe enough space that we can lower our vigilance, stop monitoring our environment, and allow ourselves to refocus on the happenings within our own minds.  There are times interruptions feel merciful, but many more when they disrupt our effort to flesh out an inchoate notion.

Janna Malamud Smith in an absorbing errand:  How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery 

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