Friday, May 02, 2008

The Library of the Mind


The repository that is the human mind is an amazing thing.


”Invention, strictly speaking, is little more than a new combination of those images, that have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory: nothing can come of nothing: he who has laid up no materials can produce no combinations” Reynolds, Discourse II


Our house is full of books. My studio is full of knickknacks. Both overflow so much that many of these things have been packed up into boxes in the attic, for lack of shelf space. Currently I am re-reading The Divine Comedy (Great Books series, Britannica), and reading for the first time Philosophy and Civilization of the Middle Ages (Maurice DeWulf, Dover Publishing) and Against the Idols of the Age (David Stove, Transaction Publishers, Edited by Roger Kimball). Among the books that I continually reference, just for the joy of the images, are The Prisons (Le Carceri) by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (out of print), Great Medieval Churches and Cathedrals of Europe (Jules Gailhabaud), Medieval Ornament (Karl Alexander von Heideloff) Sturgis’ Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture and Building (Sturgis et al. in three volumes, all these previously by Dover Publications), The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration (J.G. Heck, Park Lane publishing, out of print) and various atlases, current, historical or antique.


A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. Luke 6:45


Please don’t get me wrong, I am neither a gifted scholar, nor even a particularly swift reader. Just given a choice between reading a book, and just about anything else, you will find me reading the book. In only the last couple of years I have read about church history, Winston Churchill, the expansion of European maritime empires, the Black Plague, the history of superstition, hieroglyphs, numerous artists, Africa, colonial era tools, the history of church vestments, the symbolic origins of the maze, theories on the inequalities in technology and material wealth between continents, the Black Plague, the condition of the environment, the Lord of the Rings and the life of its author, illuminated manuscripts, the Black Plague, pirates, oh… and did I mention the Black Plaque?

On top of all this, I spend inordinate amounts of time searching the Internet for images and information as references for my art, or simply for the joy of reading about one more thing.


”I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there.” Confucius


Every artist I have ever known has their own fascinating history of exploration, reading, scholarship, apprenticeship, collaborations, in short, their own personal library of experience that they can then draw on as they create. Of course, the same principle holds true for any profession. The CPA and the plumber, the mechanic and business manager all must train and thoroughly understand their work. As an artist I have a freedom of exploration that I didn’t have when I worked in the corporate world, as I am unfettered by the necessities of keeping up with a single area of expertise. However, I have to say that I can’t hold a candle to the more brilliant people of my acquaintance, attorneys, psychologists, teachers, salesmen and others, in the scope and breadth of their intellectual seeking. Add to that the experience and wisdom of years (which I can’t yet lay claim to, if I will ever be so able) and the collected memories of an individual become a one-of-a-kind museum, never to be duplicated.


”From the age of six I could draw forms and objects. By 50 I had turned out an infinite number of drawings. But I am not happy about anything I did before 70. Only at 73 did I begin to understand the true form and nature of birds, fish and plants. By 80 I had made a lot of progress. At 90 I will begin to get to the root of it all. By 100 I will have reached a Superior State in art, undefinable, and by 110, every dot and line will be living.” Hokusai, (the 19th century originator of Japanese landscape painting, at age 83)


And so, we have here the joy of knowledge, the adventure of seeking, the amazement of the arcane an unusual, and it all becomes wrapped up and stored inside our own heads. Go to the museum, and dwell upon that painting. Sit back and close your eyes as you escape into that symphony. Seek out and dwell in the stories of your ancestors. Open a book and sit at the feet of the wisest who have walked the world. Build up the Cabinet of Curiosities that is within you.


"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind." Winston Churchill

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