It seems natural that visual artists, painters, film makers and photographers, would be most interested in painting or photographing what they can see. In other words, revealing what’s “real.
However, many artists are intrigued by what we can’t see, by what is hidden from our sight. We’re aware of the presence of something– in ourselves or out-there somewhere– but we can’t see it. How do we then give it a form; how do we reveal it so that other people can be as aware of its presence as we are?
Here’s a poem by the Nobel prize-winning Spanaird, Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958) that points to the heart of the matter (translated by Robert Bly):
I am not I.
I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
who remains calm and silent while I talk,
and forgives, gently, when I hate,
who walks where I am not,
who will remain standing when I die.
The first response of many of us is to demand answers: what in the world is he talking about? The spirit? Life after death? The soul? Reincarnation? Where do Jesus, or Buddha fit into all of this?
Here’s a thought: What if we simply didn’t ask questions and didn’t look for solutions? What if there is no answer to Juan Ramón’s poem? What if we just repeated the poem a few times to ourselves without thinking about what the poem “means” and without requiring answers?
Another thought: What would happen if we looked at the world around us, the world of things and events we encounter in our lives, but saw them through our imaginations, not as defined, opaque objects, like trees, for example, but as a world full of openings, in which a tree could be a kind of transparent door, which we could open just by imagining?
In this image, Body of Fate, there’s a cluster of trees and the sun rising behind clouds on an ordinary summer morning. Except that, instead of rising in space behind the trees, as we would expect from our everyday experience, the sun rises inside the trees as if the trees had become windows that opened into a new world. In this new world, the limbs of the trees must be red. Like the veins of the earth, they pump the blood of life out into darkness. Just as we can do with our imaginations.