By Raymond J. Steiner
ART TIMES April 2009
Emerson once wrote: The soul allows no limits, and I can’t help wondering if he had artists as well as would-be philosophers in mind. To be sure, the ‘Delian Delvers’ of the Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville triumvirate were expected to go beyond the parameters of societal mores, but it seems to me that artists — true artists — always knew that “staying within the lines” could only lead to creative stagnation. Equally true is the gnawing fact that humankind’s creative source — that “divine spark” that makes them artists — is as much a mystery today as it has ever been. Perennially, books come out attempting to ‘define’ — even locate — the creative urge, but there has yet to be a definitive explanation as to why we have become — to some, simultaneously to having attained ‘sapience’ — homo aestheticus. Surely, the inner prompting to create has brought us a long way into civilization — I would argue more important than, say, religion or politics or philosophy. The path from ancient, pre-historic scratchings on rock faces to the Sistine Chapel may be a long one — but it is still easily traceable, still recognizable as a related arc of activity that man has pursued since the dawn of time. Just as certain is the fact that the creative journey has always broken the boundaries of the past — in other words, it has “allowed no limits” on its progress through time. Whether you care to equate “soul” with the human propensity to create, to make art, is moot. The salient point is, the true artist delves within to scale the next barrier. Sometimes, I think artists forget this — or perhaps just find it easier to follow “the tried and true”. I don’t mean that we ought to shut out the past — anyone familiar with my writing knows just how conservative I am in my tastes in art. I draw a wide line between craft and innovation for its own sake — with excesses of innovation largely left to its own narrow path, a path that is often not “creative” or “artistic” but simply a passing fad deserving, perhaps, of its fifteen minutes of “fame” — but not much more — and certainly not a lot of my attention or thought. On the other hand, there are as many ‘artists’ who have simply accepted limitations, settled comfortably into formulas that “sell”. Finding one’s way into such formulas may exact some exertion in the beginning, some “wall scaling” into terra icognito — but thinking that your job is over is merely another way of saying that you are no longer an artist but a manufacturer of saleable artifacts. By definition the true artist “allows no limits” and every artist worthy of the title knows that. Allowing no limits might be daunting — might even be a bit nutty — but you have no choice. The alternative — and many of you know it in the bottom of your heart — is to be only posing as an artist. No class, no course, no certificate, no diploma or degree — not even an enviable list of paying patrons — will ever change the fact that you simply cannot embrace limits.