The Role of an Artist

I was having dinner with an old and dear friend early this past summer.  He was a person who had a deep and meaningful impact on my life as a young adult.  I had worked for him while in college, and Jason and I had the privilege of getting to know he and his wife as we babysat for their children, often staying long after their return home talking with them, soaking up their example of a married couple and a young family.  Jason and I were only a couple years away from marriage ourselves and appreciated their example and soaked up their wisdom.

I always felt seen and know by Jeff.  I think most people who know him probably feel that way.  He is that kind of person.  A fantastic extrovert, full of compassion, passion and a heart and mind cloaked by grace.  Kind  & happy eyes, strong vision, and a mind both sharp and keen yet open and aware.  I grew to love him and his family the short time our paths crossed and I’ve always been grateful that we have kept in touch through the years.

We sat over dinner, catching up on the several years of family news.  Hearing how the children whose diapers we changed were now grown men and young women.  The pride leaping unabashedly from his chest.  I always get caught off guard by the passage of time…..He started talking about his daughter, he said “she’s an artist too!”  I probably didn’t flinch but I was taken aback by the assumption that I was an artist.  Sure I make pots, but ART…well that is an entirely different thing all together….or is it?

Tonight as I was sitting at home, contemplating some recent transitions in my life, that comment came back to my mind, as it has several times since that day in June.  Who can be called an artist?  At what level can your work be classified as art?  Who makes that decision anyway and does it cheapen the concept to call anyone who creates something out of a prescribed medium an artist?

I came across this video tonight.  It moved me like nothing else has before on the topic of “art” and the role of “artists”.  In Rupert Spira’s mind there are two requirements of an artist.

  1. To know and or be in love with the nature of reality… be a lover of truth.
  2. To have trained your body or mind in a particular form so as to be able to capture a feeling and understanding of the medium.  This is to enable the artist to manifest the truth the artist is in love with.

He goes on to quote the great painter Paul Cezanne

“Everything we see falls apart, vanishes. Nature is always the same, but nothing in her that appears to us, lasts. Our art must render the thrill of her permanence along with her elements, the appearance of all her changes. It must give us the taste of her eternity.”

His interpretation of what Cezanne was saying is that if a person working in their chosen medium can arrange their raw materials in such a way as to render the very intimate “taste” of that which is pure knowing, that which is ever present and non-fleeting, then their object will have a potency to it.  That potency signals something recognizable at a soul level and therefore holds in time (so to speak) the universal truth of what the artist is expressing and what in nature is always the same.


That rings so very true for me.

I think that is what so many of us are trying to do.  To say something……to convey something……to make others feel something that we are profoundly and deeply in love and knowing with.

For me it has always been transformation.

Transformation is the theme, concept, the brutal and brilliant understanding coursing through my very existence this incarnation.  I find it remarkable that he would  use the words love & knowing  interchangeably.  Is to know something to love something?

Even more importantly I find myself prostrate at the altar of all that is begging to have come here pursuing a theme less vicious and violent in nature.  I mean really?  Revolution, metamorphosis, transmutation, refitting…adoption?  And then I consider the opposite….stagnation.  Which I will admit, doesn’t sound too bad right now;)

And then I consider this….

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

And I come back to the habit/passion/obsession I have with clay.  Why it is the touchstone of practice and why I found my way to it 10 years ago.  In the training of my mind and body to make pots pleasing to the eye, functional and useful to the hands, and stirring to the soul I get to hopefully create a form that when the observer gazes upon it and holds it in their hands, perhaps even bringing it to their lips; the awareness and sensitivity of all that vessel represents in its journey from mud to finished pot is taken in and transmuted.  Soul to soul.  And the promise of renewal and the hope of rebirth come alive even in a subtle way those who take it in.

I hope…..

That when you see this pot, you see


the fire and flames

the bellowing out of the belly almost in protest

the ultimate rise into beautiful form

proving the rightness of the stretch

the brilliance of color

validating the prudence of the fire

the remembrance of the hands of friendship that held you along the way