The Artist’s Imagination: Looking for Light

The Artist’s Imagination: Looking for Light

June 11, 2015

“All the good writers and artists saw things in twisted forms. They way they viewed the world was so dark and different than others. I don’t have that.”

I can remember exactly where I was and what I was wearing when I huffed this to a former boyfriend. Though the relationship crumbled, what he responded with has always stuck with me: “You see things in glowing forms, and that’s a twisted way of viewing the world.” 

I have never been able to shake that pronouncement or fully understand what it meant. What does it mean to see the world in glowing forms? How might this be different than other ways of perception for the artist?

There is the oft-repeated mantra that one must go through a series of traumatic events or childhood or be an alcoholic to become a “great” writer. Or, if not that, one must see the abyss, the darkness that surrounds humanity, and write in the face of the void. And, yet, I was (mostly) happy. I saw no (gaping) abyss. I saw the darkness but had not yet plummeted.

I once told a friend that even in a period of darkness, my days were filled with little moments of glowing simplicity, and this is what got me through the doubt/confusion/heartbreak.

Another friend, in a period of grief, reminded me to pay attention to the little things: the sun on my face was a moment of perfection, a sunset would bring me to tears, and a simple gesture of kindness was enough to fill my heart for the week.

In Pablo Neruda’s Memoirs, he prefaces his memory by writing:

“In these memoirs or recollections there are gaps here and there, and sometimes they are also forgetful, because life is like that. Intervals of dreaming help us to stand up under the days of work. Many of the things I remember have blurred as I recalled them, they have crumbled to dust, like irreparably shattered glass.”

A friend once remarked that I’m so caught up in viewing my life as if it were unfolding in cinematography before me that I’m always looking for grandiose moments and actions. Overburdening moments with meaning, I believe is the phrase she used. I disagree.

It’s not that I have strung up these moments of significance and colored in around them to give my journey cohesion and importance. In fact, most of my memory is made up of small and seemingly insignificant moments cobbled together that glow with a simple aura. These were moments where I was paying attention to the wonder that was occurring around me.

One of where my father wakes me from sleep, and I smell coffee.

One of where the fireflies flit around the porch, and my grandmother is bringing in flowers from the backyard.

One where I am in college and my head is peaking out of the tent to the cool, morning light. 

Our memories glow in form and create meaning.

I am an avid fan of Terrence Malik, and a chance encounter with a fellow film lover recently plunged me back into his work. When I think of Tree of Life, this perhaps is the closest to a vision of glowing forms that I can get.

The plot line is opaque at times, trading narrative clarity for cinematography and dramatic action for long, incandescent shots of the light falling on certain objects. Each scene is not just a depiction but also a feeling, an aura of authenticity as Walter Benjamin talks of in his book Illuminations. 

Experience and desire meld together in the hazy, glowing forms of his films, and this vision of the world opens up a new depth beyond realism: a world of potentialities and possibilities, a world where light rules and the edge of the horizon is always being heralded with sunrise.

What could be just around the corner? Perhaps writers get to imagine and create from there. Things glow hazily in the distance, and you follow them. We reconstruct these gauzy moments and try to turn them into a moment, a feeling, or a narrative.

When I really look at it, I don’t think this is a form of naïve idealism, but, rather, a mode of creation. It is not to overburden moments with meaning but to believe that meaning is possible in moments, even the simple way that light flecks across and breeze comes through a window, as in Andrew Wyeth’s well known work Looking Out, Looking In.

I think of the passage that speaks of one having “eyes to see,” and this is what I’d like to think that he meant when he spoke of glowing forms: not the dark lens of realism, but the glowing forms of potential at the edge of the horizon. I write towards this; I stretch my hand out and grasp for it, running my fingers through the shafts of light.

(for more info, on andrew wyeth, visit Artsy’s Andrew Wyeth page.


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