Sunday, March 28, 2010

What's It All About?

The last major painting of Paul Gaugin, a leading Post-Impressionist painter of the nineteenth century, is titled, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? It is a painting fraught with symbolism, which he painted while in self-exile in Tahiti. The title itself asks significant questions, three of the big questions that sometimes prod us and other times haunt us, but always probe our inner depths.

It's good to step back and reflect now and then on the big questions. Too often we're buried in the trivial with thoughts like, "What shirt should I wear today?" and "What should I have for lunch?"

Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, wrote a book with the interesting title Because God Is Real: Sixteen Questions, One Answer. I like catchy titles, and thought provoking subject matter, and found the introduction to this book resonating with me.

All our lives, we keep discovering who we are. None of us comes to the end of that road in this life. None of us completely knows who we are, once we stop fooling ourselves.

You are a one-and-only individual that nobody could ever replace. Nobody who ever lived in the past was exactly like you, and no one who will ever live in the future will be exactly like you. You have a special job to do in this world that no one else can ever do. Each day of your life, you find out a little more about what that job is.

But you also share the same human nature with all other human beings. Your task on earth is to be you, the one and only you; but it is also to be a human being, and that task is the same for all of us. You take different courses in school, but we all take a course called Life. Life's greatest tragedy is to pass all your courses but flunk Life.

The title of the introduction is Three Questions Everyone Should Ask Themselves. For Kreeft, the three questions are:
Who am I?
Where did I come from?
Where am I going?

Hear any echoes? Gaugin wrestled with his life, and we wrestle with ours. Sooner or later we all must wonder, "What's it all about?"

Kreeft's essay on the three questions is a good read, even if the intended audience of the book it introduces is only a Catholic catechism class. Anything that smacks of religion sounds terribly boring or even frightening for some. But in point of fact, religion and ethics are more relevant than ever in our post-modern world. And at the end of the day it is important to know who we are, and what we are not.

Since the three questions are "for everyone" it only makes sense that they apply equally well to artists. This is why galleries and art curators seek "an artist's statement" when submitting samples for consideration. What's this artist all about? Where's she coming from? How deeply has she thought it through and where is she going?

These are questions I wrestle with as regard my own work. They're simultaneously challenging and stimulating. The work itself becomes the answer, and like many of the pieces begun initially without aim, it is exciting to see what will happen next. A work of art, like life, can have many happy surprises. Hence, the forward look to what will happen next.


LEWagner said...

>>>>>But in point of fact, religion and ethics are more relevant than ever in our post-modern world.

In point of fact, eh?
Did somebody die and make you Pope?

ENNYMAN said...

You're right. That should have been, "In my opinion..."
My bad.
Thanks for checking in.