We Need Tears

“Tears streamed down Guston’s cheeks as he spoke about the painting.” – David Reed, Soul-Beating

This is where I live, where I want to live, where I wish I was all of the time, where I hope to be when I’m not there, the place I seek when I’m distracted by maintenance and administration and logistics. The place of hopeful devastation. The place of eucaristic, sacramental meaning. The place of alchemical negotiation. When Guston wept over Piero della Francesca’s painting, he knew the work more truly than any of our theories or proliferating words could hope for. Those manifestos and ideologies and conceits so often deaden us to the transformative power of good work, so often distract us from sensing the potency there.

This week I’ve been weeping over Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. In particular, his Great Gate of Kiev is so full and so amazing that it transcends analysis. I could go on and on with words – context, philosophy, history, theory – but the reality is that the wrenching torque created by that string of notes is MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE than any of that! My face is contorted and tears stream because of an intense inner hope/fear/joy/sadness brought to the fore by Mussorgsky’s music.

I don’t know why I’m writing this other than to say that this paradoxical emotional state is why I am an artist. The razor edge between enforced humility and exultant pride, between tragic fear and triumphant happiness, between deep sadness and rich, confident hope – these are the things great art gives us. The paradox is the liminal zone, the threshold between true feeling and mere conjecture.

We need tears in the face of these things, not jokes or theory or attempts at certainty.

Above: Viktor Hartmann’s design for the Great Gate of Kiev. Click the image to listen to a great performance of the piece.

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