Solace and Solitude

where the sand meets the sea

where the sand meets the sea

There is only one way and that is your way; there is only one salvation and that is your salvation.  Why are you looking around for help? Do you believe that help will come from the outside? What is to come is created in you and from you.  Hence look into yourself. Do not compare, do not measure.  No other way is like yours.  All other ways deceive and tempt you.  You must fulfill the way that is in you. ….

But what weakness? What doubt! What fear!  You will not bear going your way.  You will always want to have at least one foot on the paths not your own to avoid the great solitude! So that that maternal comfort is always with you! So that someone acknowledges you, recognizes you, bestows trust in you, comforts you, encourages you. So that someone pulls you over onto their path, where you stray from yourself, and where it is easier for you to set yourself aside.

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, p. 308.

I read once that artists should throw an event in recognition or celebration of each body of completed work. The celebrated work could be something completely finished or a first draft, a completed chapter of a book, one act, an entire play, a series of paintings, sculptures or photographs, or one movement in a piece of music. At the time that I stumbled on this idea I was attending a staged reading of a new musical written by a close friend. She speculated that it could be 10 years before it would be mounted as a full production. After I returned from that trip I had a new respect for the solitary journey that is part of the creative life. I began to throw an annual party for my artwork and myself as an artist. Each year around my birthday I invite a few other artists to join me and we put up our work and open the doors for one afternoon.

On this afternoon every year, I honor, recognize and express my gratitude for my creative voice by framing my work and hanging it so that the pieces can talk to one another. While I am sorting it or once it is all up, I always see something I hadn’t while the work was being created. This year the surprise was finding a painting in my files from 5 years ago that was almost identical to one I had just finished. I do not love these paintings and yet I created this image twice. I am curious about what was happening 5 years ago that is happening again now. I want to know what parts of myself this work is expressing. Neither painting looks anything like my other work, yet they look exactly like each other. Are they a new direction that has been trying to come through for 5 years or a fluke? Is there something here I have been ignoring because the colors feel “wrong” and they do not look like the work that I want to be doing? Five years ago I saw no value in the first piece and put the painting away but now I wonder if there is something in it that I need to look at more closely. This experience of being with my work is the gift that this annual show gives to me.

As I prepare for the show before anyone arrives my house is already crowded. As I sort and frame and hang the work I slip through and past a throng of inner voices. A grumpy uninvited guest keeps asking me who I think I am having a show this year when I have done nothing new or interesting to warrant all of this fuss and attention?  Another jumps in and asks what I think I am doing as I arrange flowers and food for a party. As I move around the room I ignore and avoid a steady stream of questions, doubts, and negative thoughts. Finally the loudest of them, seeing that the others have been ignored demands that I consider why anyone would care about what I have done or what I am doing?

I have to stop and respond to the last voice.  Why anyone would care is a good question. An old friend spoke about this last week on his video Blog. He is aware that at every stage of his career he has been doing his artwork for someone else – his parents, his teachers, his mentors. Now in his 60’s and a mentor himself, he wonders who his audience is. I wonder, as artists, do we need an audience?  Do we need anyone outside of ourselves to care? Is the point of showing our work, my work, to be appreciated or to see the work appreciated?  If it is not appreciated than should I change my work?  If as Jung and so many spiritual teachers write, our task is to be our true and authentic selves on our own unique path, then where is the value and what is our purpose in being seen appreciated and admired? Is our desire for that simply a desire for solace?  Is it our need for a little relief from the solitude that is inherent in our work? What if I threw a party for my work and I was the only guest?  What if I alone sat in my empty living room, the only guest at my party, and admired all that I had done and accomplished?  Would it be enough?

It is a curious experience having an art show. I walk around welcoming friends and listening to their comments and reactions. I yearn, as does every artist for that moment of deep understanding and connection that comes when someone feels what I have put into the work and we share a flicker of attunement.  For that instant my work, my dialogue with myself, becomes a larger conversation. I and another have each put one foot on each other’s path. It is a second of solace. Jung suggests that the need for encouragement, recognition, and acknowledgement, can actually takes us off of our unique path and facilitate our losing ourselves for a moment.  He suggests that we trade ourselves for this moment of comfort. How lonely it must be to keep ones feet firmly in the center of ones own path without ever straying for a moment to accompany another on their journey.

1 comment to Solace and Solitude

  • valerie wolf

    And what if Jung is wrong? What if he writes from the distorted masculine myth of the hero, the one who needs no one and finds others a distraction? What if one part of art is to create community, dialogue, understanding between people of our deeper souls? Or what if things are just a bit more balanced, we need some solitude and some connection to create our best work, and a different emphasis at different times. Is there an approach to art that is distinctly feminine? Or grows from our female connectedness, our interrelatedness?

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