June 8, 2008

Our Best Selves

In The Art Spirit, Robert Henri relays an experience of reading a book and feeling "intimately acquainted" with the writer. He says that he isn't left with curiosity about the writer's ability to dance or paint. His best, the writer's, has been captured in his writing. It is his best way to give his self.

It is true, no doubt, that if my writer is deflected from writing to
dancing or painting, somewhat of his genius will appear in these arts. But
why should he be deflected, since it is the man's self we want, and he has found
and developed his best way of giving it.

This has left me wondering about my best self. I know it's writing. I just took up painting, ironically, which is why I'm reading this book, but almost everything I read in it about painting I find myself applying to the craft of writing as well.

I'm also wondering why I never studied writing. In college I had to take a couple composition courses. One was a technical writing course and I did really well in it. It was probably the class in which I excelled the most in all four years. One day my teacher called me over as I left class and asked, "Have you ever thought of going into writing, instead of nutrition?" I have no idea what my response was. I just remember her looking at me like she believed I was a writer. I scampered away, rejecting it.

I remember reading something once, years ago, about readiness. How some people are what they are and do what they do from birth. Like my son Luke. He has been an artist since birth and he embraces it naturally. It just flows. The first little drawings he drew as a little guy show his little genius even then. My son Seth has always been a musician and he has expressed himself through music forever. There was a flip side, though. That some people reject what they are for years, absolutely refusing to do their thing until one day - boom. They blossom overnight into a singer or a cook. It was as if they knew they couldn't convey the fullness of their gift or talent or ability until they reached a certain age or maturity, so something inside them never let them attempt it, for fear of failure or frustration. Henri said, "First there must be the man, then the technique."

This also makes me think about childhood sports or lessons. Even school itself. I wonder what genius or hidden talent is being smothered in the kid out there for hours a week on the ball field trying to be a center fielder for his dad. Or the one slaving away at the piano when she should be up on her bed reading the classics, becoming the novelist she was meant to be. Or the one jumping through the hoops at school for 13 years when he should be a full time apprentice to the cabinet maker in town.

I'm inspired to ask my kids:
How can I help you find and develop your best self and the best way for you to give it?

The ole 'what color is your parachute' thing....It would be great for them to give the question some consideration before the age of 43. Or...who knows...I suppose we all consider it whenever we consider it.

What is your best self?

There is the heart and the mind, the Puritan idea is that the mind must be the master. I think the heart should be master and the mind should be the tool and servant of the heart. As it is, we give too much attention to laws and not enough to principles. The man who wants to produce art must have the emotional side first, and this must be reinforced by the practical.

Where is your heart?

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