“Art remains the one way possible of speaking truth.” — Robert Browning
I don’t think I ever took the Rolling Stones’s Jagger-Richards duo very seriously as songwriters until I read Keith Richards’ autobiography Life a couple years ago. When I read the following quote by Borges it expressed a way of looking at the world that I have seemingly forever identified with. And it was a bit of a surprise — though I should not have been — to read Keith Richards’ expressing the very same thing.
A writer— and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.
— Jorge Luis Borges. Twenty Conversations with Borges, Including a Selection of Poems : Interviews by Roberto Alifano, 1981–1983 (1984).
Artists, whether their medium is words or paint or cameras or music, discover at some point in time that they are themselves a medium, a vessel through which observation and experience is transmuted and shared.
It’s interesting how when we see or experience things our minds connect them to other observations, ideas or experiences. For example, when I was seeking an image to illustrate this blog post, the abstract painting in blue (above) looked very much like an echo of the cover of my book Unremembered Histories. Ironically, the book cover is a photo, not a painting.
I found the Borges quote while seeking something to open my Art For Earth Day blog post at Ennyman’s Territory. The Winston Churchill that I ultimately used there was selected because of a connection between Churchill and my brother-in-law who now lives on the other side of the world. One of the reasons I have enjoyed sharing ideas on Medium is also because of the global nature of our community.
The Borges quote is indeed rich. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely.
I myself have certainly felt this, and intensely at times. This might explain why people with artist temperaments can find factory work or corporate life so emotionally challenging. Beneath the Wheel by Herman Hesse, who himself had a nervous breakdown at one point in his career, expresses this sentiment.
As artists and writers, let’s not lose sight of why we are here. Let’s use our experiences as a resource to create work that helps lift up our fellow life travellers. In a broken world such as ours, hope is a vital life force that we can share through our art.