Why do we go everywhere searching out works of art and why do we make works of art. The answer is that we are inspired to do so.
When we wake up in the morning we are inspired to do some certain thing and we do do it. The difficulty lies in the fact that it may turn out well or it may not turn out well. If it turns out well we have a tendency to think that we have successfully followed our inspiration and if it does not turn out well we have a tendency to think that we have lost our inspiration. But that is not true. There is successful work and work that fails but all of it is inspired. I will speak later about successful works of art but here I want to speak of failures. Failures that should be discarded and completely cut off.
I have come especially to talk to those among you who recognize these failures. I want particularly to talk to those who recognize all of their failures and feel inadequate and defeated, to those who feel insufficient – short of what is expected or needed. I would like somehow to explain that these feelings are the natural state of mind of the artist, that a sense of disappointment and defeat is the essential state of mind for creative work.
In order to do this I would like to consider further those moments in which we feel joy in living. To some these moments are very clear and to others of a vagueness that can only be described as below the level of consciousness. Whether conscious or unconscious they do their work and they are the incentive to life. A stockpile of these moments gives us an awareness of perfection in our minds and this awareness of perfection in our minds makes all the difference in what we do.
Moments of perfection are indescribable but a few things can be said about them. At such times we are suddenly very happy and we wonder why life ever seemed troublesome. In an instant we can see the road ahead free from all difficulties, and we think that we will never lose it again. All this and a great deal more in barely a moment, and then it is gone. But all such moments are stored in the mind. They are called sensibility or awareness of perfection in the mind.
We must surrender the idea that this perfection that we see in the mind or before our eyes is obtainable or attainable. It is really far from us. We are no more capable of having it than the infant that tries to eat it. But our happiness lies in our moments of awareness of it.
The function of art work is the stimulation of sensibilities, the renewal of memories of moments of perfection.
There is only one way in which artists can serve this function of art. There is only one way in which successful works of art can be made. To make works of art that stimulate sensibilities and renew moments of perfection an artist must recognize the works that illustrate his own moments of perfection.
Perfection, of course, cannot be represented. The slightest indication of it is eagerly grasped by observers. The work is so far from perfection because we ourselves are so far from perfection. The oftener we glimpse perfection or the more conscious we are in our awareness of it the farther away it seems to be. Or perhaps I should say the more we are aware of perfection the more we realize how very far away from us it is. That is why art work is so very hard. It is a working through disappointments to greater disappointment and a growing recognition of failure to the point of defeat. But still one wakes in the morning and there is the inspiration and one goes on.
I want to emphasize the fact that increase in disappointment does not mean going backward in the work. There is no such thing as backward in anything. There is increased and decreased awareness that is all and increased awareness means increased disappointments. If any perfection is indicated in the work it is recognized by the artist as truly miraculous so he feels that he can take no credit for its sudden appearance.
What does it mean to be defeated. It means that we cannot go on. We cannot make another move. Everything that we thought we could do we have done without result. We even give up all hope of getting the work and perhaps even the desire to have it.
But we still go on without hope or desire or dreams or anything. Just going on with almost no memory of having done anything.
Then it is not us.
Then it is not I.
Then it is not conditioned response.
Then there is some hope of a hint of perfection.
Without hope there is hope.
And without desire there is hope.
We do not ever stop because there is no way to stop. No matter what you do you will not escape. There is no way out. You may as well go ahead with as little resistance as possible – and eat everything on your plate. Going on without resistance or notions is called discipline. Going on when hope and desire have been left behind is discipline. Going on in an impersonal way without personal considerations is called discipline.
Not thinking, planning, scheming is a discipline. Not caring or striving is a discipline.
Defeated you will rise to your feet as is said of Dry Bones
These bones will rise again.
Undefeated you will have nothing to say but more of the same.
Defeated you will stand at the door of your house to welcome the unknown, putting behind you all that is known.
Defeated having no place to go you will perhaps wait and be overtaken.
As in the night. To penetrate the night is one thing. But to be penetrated by the night. That is to be overtaken.
Defeated, exhausted, and helpless you will perhaps go a little bit further.
Helplessness, even a mild state of helplessness is extremely hard to bear. Moments of helplessness are moments of blindness. One feels as tho something terrible has happened without knowing what it is. One feels as tho one is in the outer darkness or as tho one has made some terrible error a fatal error. Our great help that we leaned on in the dark has deserted us and we are in a complete panic and we feel that we have got to have help.
The panic of complete helplessness drives us to fantastic extremes and feelings of mild helplessness drives us to ridiculousness. We go from reading religious doctrine and occult practices to changing our diet. Or from absolute self abasement or abandonment to ever known and unknown fetish.
It is so hard to realize at the time of helplessness that that is the time to be awake and aware. The feeling of calamity and loss covers everything. We imagine that we are completely cut off and tremble with fear and dread. The more we are aware of perfection the more we will suffer when we are blind to it in helplessness.
But helplessness when fear and dread have run their course, as all passions do, is the most rewarding state of all. It is a time when our most tenacious prejudices are overcome. Our most tightly gripped resistances come under the knife, and we are made more free. Our lack of independence in helplessness is our most detrimental weakness from the standpoint of art work. Stated positively, independence is the most essential character trait in an artist.