Be Still and Know That I am Art

My friend, Andi Cumbo-Floyd, recently wrote something in her blog, Andilit (www.andilit.com), that struck me. She was writing about the necessity of letting go of all the doings in our lives and allowing ourselves simply to be for a time. It reminded me of something that e. e. Cummings said in the second of his famous i   six nonlectures:

“But (as it happens) poetry is being, not doing. If you wish to follow, even at a distance, the poet’s calling…you’ve got to come out of the measurable doing universe into the immeasureable house of being.”

As usual, cummings packs a lot into a small space. I take him to be talking about art and using poetry as his case in point. One does not do art; one is art. The act of creation is not a doing something, but a being within something.

This is not to deny the importance of all the technical aspects of creation. The painter mixes colors; the poet counts beats or syllables or both; the dancer moves across the stage, joining movement to music; and so on. This is not what I am talking about.

What I am talking about is the creative act, what happens when the artist, whatever the art, lets herself go and allows the techniques to move naturally and fully within the constraints set by her art. When one creates this way, one does not do anything. One simply is, getting out of the way of something deeper to flow though one’s body and into the art.

I sometimes ask myself, “But Ken! When you write, were do those words come from?” And I answer, “I haven’t the slightest idea. But they come, and they come only when I am still with them. Quiet. Trusting. Doing my best to keep up with them.”

How does one get to that place? As cummings says, one has to give up doing and simply be. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just be. But as a friend once said to me, “You try it!” And that brings me back to Andi’s blog. She celebrates taking time every day to stop and be present with whatever surrounds you. That is how you begin to create art. You have to practice. You have stop, often and daily, stop doing, frantically doing, and be. Be present, Be still. Be who you are, noticing, seeing, hearing. And allowing that stillness and presence to move into you and then though you.

It reminds me of a passage in the “Burnt Norton” section of Eliot’s Four Quartets. He writes

“…Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only dance.”

If you would dance, you must be still. It’s like looking at a faintly lit object at night. To see it better, you have to look not directly at it but slightly to the side of it. And if you think that this sounds like Zen, Dogen insisting that to find the Self is to loose the self, you’d be right. To create art is to allow the art to move through you, not from you. Rilke writes

“When all I wanted was to sing,

I was granted the honor of living.”

And so when Andi is being still, I say that she is writing.

And so when Andi is being still, I say that she is writing.

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2 thoughts on “Be Still and Know That I am Art

  1. uurevken Post author

    Some would say so, and that is certainly a thread within art. I think it all depends on what is coming through you. I’d hate to make it a prescription, like “I went There so you have to”. It’s more of an invitation: “I went There”. Would you like to come along?”

    Reply

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