When I learned on Tuesday that Maurice Sendak had passed away I soon found myself watching a short interview with the great author/illustrator. It was a beautiful piece in which Sendak discusses his life, his work, and his coming death. He was particularly eloquent when describing the joy he derives from his work. “It’s transcendent,” he concluded. There was a time I might have flinched at the use of such a word, as one might when surprised by a powerfully bright light. When an artist describes his work this way, I believed, the fall that follows hubris is likely close behind. This was before I understood the humility necessary to see the transcendent, before I understood that transcendence is in fact the ultimate expression of humility.
No artist truly chooses his or her art. The art form calls to the artist, and the artist chooses to follow or not. The calling speaks in the artist’s capacity to recognize the potential to translate the divine into words or pictures or dance or song. The clarity of the translation determines the ease with which this divinity can be perceived by and shared with others. This is the artist’s job.
Do not think, however, that divinity is such a rare thing. Do not mistake it for some buried treasure you alone have unearthed. Divinity is the most common substance, if you will, in life. It is everywhere all the time. What’s more, you, the artist, cannot create the divine for it already exists. Humility allows you to see what is already there, what exists without you, and then to do the job you were meant to do, which is to translate it for yourself and for others.
Sendak’s work is done now, but yours continues. You may make art or you may not; it really doesn’t matter. As Sendak observed, “Your life is your work.” Because what calls to be translated is with you at all times, the opportunity and means to do so are everlasting and infinitely varied. You can translate it at the bank, in the bedroom, at the dinner table, or even where the wild things are.
Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!