The Voyage of the Artist

Philip Koch, Moorings, oil on panel, 15 x 20", 1985

I've mentioned before that sailboats have an unusual significance for me. It's an image that always has the promise of embarking on a voyage. All of us go on journeys- some of our making and others that come over us and sweep us along for the ride.

I was wondering about what is it that an artist does for the society. Surely we are among the least well understood members of community. Jokes and stereotypes about us abound. Last night I had a dream. Upon waking I realized it spoke to this question.

I'm living somewhere in a deep forest as one of a tribe - perhaps we're Native American. Among the tribe's children is one girl who doesn't make friends easily with the others and frequently has to play by herself. She's sometimes made fun of by the others. In the dream I confess I don't show her any special attention or kindness. One day she disappears for many hours and only returns near dusk, carrying with her three small stones. They have subtle beautiful colors but appear otherwise unremarkable. But an old woman from the tribe who is considered something of a healer spies them and her eyes open wide. Wordlessly she takes the stones from the girl and places them on a man she has been tending who lies gravely ill. As she does his sickly color turns to a healthy red and he turns to us and says "I'm coming back." And indeed he seems to recover before our eyes. We are all dumbfounded.

Thinking about the dream the first question I want to ask the girl who went off by herself into the wood is "Where'd you get those stones?"

How like the story of any artist this is. We too have to leave the group and go off by ourselves to find something unknown or overlooked. We search for it though our repeated efforts in the studio or painting out in isolated fields. It often is lonely and frequently frustrating. But with perseverance and luck, we find our own "magic stones" and bring them back to share with the tribe. And when we do our work right, it touches at least some people in deep and mysterious ways. Like the girl's stones, we give back to the group something that has been missing.

Art when it's good restores a human's spirit.


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