“Philosophy begins in wonder,” Plato said. I love that, because it implies we’re wasting time and energy wringing our hands over what’s true and what isn’t.
Great works of art don’t make us think; they return us to a place where thinking and feeling are the same.
For wonder is the feeling of a child, and art begins in wonder.
Wonder shows us life isn’t finished delighting us. We need to pay attention when something announces to us that life still holds surprises. Clouds still assume the shapes of fantasy. There’s still mystery in the deep end of the pond and joy in the fall of a leaf. The neighborhood stills looks magical from the top of the roof.
Color is a psychological language. Rembrandt’s self portraits (or those of English painter Jenny Saville for that matter) say this is me and this is not me and there are things you will never know about me and things you will never know about you and that has to be okay. Painting is about feeling. The materials of painting are expressive in themselves and awe-inspiring in combination, and every color, line, and shape should resonate as in a poem, where every line break, word, sound, and image contributes to the meaning of the whole.
Does art have to mean something? I think it does. We generally don’t want to talk about that because it’s easier to talk about composition, color and value, but I think “something meaningful” is what we all want and why we go to art in the first place.
Remember what Albert Pinkham Ryder said about himself — he described his artistic self as a caterpillar atop a leaf reaching out into the beyond.
We’re backing away from joy when we’re fretting about getting it right. Both are important – being careful and being daring, knowing what you’re doing AND obeying spontaneity and imagination, leaning into the unknown. Art comes from a life lived consciously and fully, and not necessarily one in which everything is known, safe, and easy to master.
“For the birth of wonder is a marvelous, sweet thing, but the recognition of it is sweeter and more marvelous still. Its growth, perhaps, shall measure the growth and increase of the soul to whom it is as eyes and hands and feet, searching the world for signs of hiding Reality. But its persistence—through the heavier years that would obliterate it—this persistence shall offer hints of something coming that is more than marvelous. The beginning of wisdom is surely — Wonder.”
– Excerpt From The Extra Day by Algernon Blackwood