sunday musings & the role of the artist

“perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone.  that all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality – a banality because it is very frequently stated but very rarely, on the evidence, believed.  most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge that can paralyze all action in this world.  there are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed.  none of these things can be done alone.  but the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty.  he is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. the precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

james baldwin, the creative process

. . . 

i came across this passage when studying for a recent exam, and it touched my very soul.  now i am not inferring that i am an artist in any way, shape, or form, but baldwin’s words speak to me.  i get what he is saying.  i feel what he is saying.  i am blessed to live in a home virtually surrounded by beautiful art and to have visited famous museums throughout the world.  art is an incredible thing to me.  the idea that so infrequently we are touched by a certain genius, and the physical manifestation of that genius.  and then there is that other side to the genius, the side that is almost always unstable, alone, dark.  this is not true for all artists, of course, but often these incredible individuals struggle with a madness that, in the end, allows them to produce such unspeakable beauties.  and baldwin puts this into words in a way that i could never imagine – in showing that the artist manifests his own darkness and, perhaps unintentionally, brightens the world not for himself, but for others.

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sunday musings & the role of the artist

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