Work for Pleasure

(Day 2: a pilgrimage of the spirit)

Auguste Rodin said:

True artists are almost the only men who do their work for pleasure.

My first thought was that this is because historically only men of a certain social standing could do their work for pleasure. The rest of us have had to earn a living. So it surprised me to read that Rodin came for a working-class family.

And it surprised me that I read this quote and reacted automatically from a defensive, and angry stance. It seems I have a habit of being less than generous in my consideration before responding.

And I thought I’d given up drama.

Rodin’s John the Baptist. Photo By Maarten from Netherlands – derivation of Musée d’Orsay 10, CC BY 2.0

Dear Di,

It seems I need to slow down. Doctor’s orders. But that is what this long walk of the spirit is about, though, isn’t it?

Last night E. and I celebrated Sankthans (St. John’s Day) with friends at their cabin on the beach. I don’t know if you remember meeting H. and her wife?

After dinner, H. pushed a wheelbarrow full of pies and fruit and wine from the cabin to the edge of the water, where local farmers had lit a bonfire.  But she’d forgotten to put a cork in the wine bottle.  We rolled with it, though – I had a thermos with tea.

I love the smell of a bonfire. The sunset was beautiful, the company soothing, and the heifers curious. Though maybe a bit skeptical.

I find it sad that the summer has just begun and the days are already getting shorter.

E. and I spent the majority of today in the garden. I had to transfer the tomato plants from the greenhouse to their own individual pots, they’ve grown so tall.

When I told a colleague that I’d set up the greenhouses, she said she imagined I had read up in detail on everything to do with gardening. And I see why she’d say that. The odd thing is – I haven’t. I am truly going at it with a beginner’s mind: I put some seeds in the dirt and watered them, and now I have cilantro for the next few months. The strawberry plants have white flowers and funny, green-freckled strawberry-promises. There are wild vines from the sweet potato plants that I have no idea what to do with, but I am excited to see what happens. I’m quite prepared that it may all go to hell.

I’m silently and happily ignoring everyone’s advice. I did however accept a kale plant from H. It seems she planted her bed too tightly.

Running the same old route today, I tried to see it for the first time. It wasn’t difficult. The canopies of the trees have become so lush that the trail is darker than it was just a few weeks ago. The lilypads are budding with little yellow fists everywhere. I was careful to keep an eye out for snakes.

To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature.

I wondered what you made of this quote from Rodin? I don’t know how he was defining “nature”. And I wonder how I define it. This virus is a part of nature. And we are seeing in the news are aspects of human behavior that are undeniably human nature, undeniably ugly.

And then I’m not sure if Rodin was setting out to define an artist by how they see the world, or to describe how an artist sees the world. The cynic in me wonders what he might have been excusing by virtue of “art”. Artists excusing ugly behavior on the basis of their identity as artists is something I still can’t accept. I want to strip all artists of a sense of entitlement and have them focus on obligation.

Maybe I am over-thinking things, and maybe that is not the best way to begin a spiritual journey?

Today – and you cannot hold me to this – I’m thinking there is a wisdom in suspending the act of judging: beautiful/ugly. But that same wisdom would necessarily extend to all judgments: true artist/ …what is the opposite of an artist, anyway?

My students invariably define an artist as someone who says they’re an artist. I, also invariably, point out the meaninglessness of such a statement.

But maybe – just maybe – it is really a kind of koan?

And back to the quote which I began with: maybe Rodin meant that only the people who find a way to do their work for pleasure were able to become true artists?




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