Last weekend in the Pacific Northwest, a curtain of cloud lifted to reveal the Olympic Mountains rising over an inscrutably blue Puget Sound. Rhododendrons burst into giddy bloom. By Sunday evening, loveliness had worked its way into my bones.
So in the small hours of Monday morning when I suddenly woke from a bad dream, I felt betrayed. Like seeping ink, sadness swirled in me and spread. As I got out of bed, it rose and followed me into the sunshine of a new morning.
Later, a pot of tea steeping under the cozy, I picked up a slim volume of excerpts from Rilke’s letters, detailing his encounter with a Cezanne exhibition. Cezanne, Rilke believed, exemplified a revolutionary shift away from idealized images to “plainspoken fact.” Cezanne’s paintings do not only change the way we think about art, Rilke contends, they change the way we see. “Something horrible, something that seems no more than disgusting, is,” Rilke writes, “and shares the truth of its being with everything else that exists.”
Rilke, in this beautiful spring, you break my heart. How do I make peace with a reality where beauty and travesty stand shoulder-to-shoulder?
Truthfully, I often long to turn my head from unpleasantness in the world. On a trip to the UK last summer, I found a Tesco reusable shopping bag printed with the merry message, “Fill me up with lovely things again and again!” I hauled that bag all over England, grinning ear to ear. For who doesn’t want to be filled with lovely things?
But to participate honestly in this world and indeed to tell the truth with my life, I must accept, and step right into the middle of, suffering. I must hold space for the sorrows and losses that bloom right among the beauties and joys. For to refuse life its complexity–to deny suffering and ‘ugliness’ – leads to a cheapened, sepia-tinged view of the world. And sentimentality, while easy, is pernicious.
The artist is not “permitted to turn his back on anything,” Rilke writes. To do so, he intimates, is to lose the whole, to relinquish what it means to be human. So today, I will not turn my back on the sadness that plucks at my elbow. As Rilke says, “it shares the truth of being with everything else that exists.” Here, this cup of tea at my side, this dog napping under the maple tree, this lingering sadness, all of it I acknowledge. All of it goes in my Tesco bag, filling me up again and again.
Friends, who are the artists who give you the courage to embrace this complicated world of ours? Please share with us by commenting either at our site, on Facebook, or on Instagram. And thank you for joining us. You all mean so much to us.
Here’s to cultivating wonder,
5 thoughts on “Consider: Making Peace with the Reality of Beauty & Travesty”
The Seattle artist Bridget Beth, known as Flora Forager, creates art from flower petals. I am amazed at the diversity of creation when I see her work. Her love of flowers is contagious and authentic, and her creativity is beautiful to see. Her artwork is cheerful on the bleakest days, and she is honest about her creative journey too. I think it is encouraging to see how there is beauty all around us. Bridget posts on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/flora.forager/ and sells her artwork at https://www.floraforager.com/. She also has published a beautiful journal that’s available on Amazon.
Amber, thanks for your comment. I really enjoyed looking at Bridget Beth’s artwork–it really illustrates this tension between beauty and travesty, lasting and temporal, because her carefully composed pieces will inevitably wilt and pass away. I remember the disappointment I felt as a child when I picked a bouquet, hoping to bring the beauty I loved indoors (to domesticate it?). But it wouldn’t be domesticated–it died in captivity.
That didn’t make the flowers less beautiful–if anything it makes me love them all the more. Flowers. I always have them in the house–they are too me as valuable as food, nourishment for my spirit. Love to see an artist working with the medium of petals!
It put me in mind of Chris Maynard (the link to his feather work is on our page, under ‘Art’)–his incredible exhibit is at Bainbridge Art Museum right now! And it’s free! I highly recommend it. It knocked my socks clear off.
When I was living with Trappist nuns, Sister Veronique told me, “Suffering makes the soul beautiful.” And I’ve never forgotten her words.
Thanks for sharing Sister Veronique’s wisdom, Christen. The old vernacular, “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” comes to mind, but how much lovelier to consider the soul growing in moral beauty through adversity. –LJI
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