Monday, November 30, 2009

The Face of the World

Yesterday, this milkweed plant captured the austere beauty of late November. I love the shape of the pods as they dry and twist, having released most of their silk-haired seeds. The forms grow simpler, the colors muted. The eye exalts in the stark new patterns that reveal themselves at the end of fall.

Ralph Waldo Emerson comments on this in Nature:

All men are in some degree impressed by the face of the world; some men even to delight. This love of beauty is Taste. Others have the same love in such excess, that, not content with admiring, they seek to embody it in new forms. The creation of beauty is Art.

The production of a work of art throws a light upon the mystery of humanity. A work of art is an abstract or epitome of the world. It is the result or expression of nature, in miniature. For, although the works of nature are innumerable and all different, the result or the expression of them all is similar and single. Nature is a sea of forms radically alike and even unique. A leaf, a sun-beam, a landscape, the ocean, make an analogous impression on the mind. What is common to them all, -- that perfectness and harmony, is beauty. The standard of beauty is the entire circuit of natural forms, -- the totality of nature; which the Italians expressed by defining beauty, "il piu nell' uno." Nothing is quite beautiful alone: nothing but is beautiful in the whole. A single object is only so far beautiful as it suggests this universal grace. The poet, the painter, the sculptor, the musician, the architect, seek each to concentrate this radiance of the world on one point, and each in his several work to satisfy the love of beauty which stimulates him to produce. Thus is Art, a nature passed through the alembic of man. Thus in art, does nature work through the will of a man filled with the beauty of her first works.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Liberman's Castle

"Castle," a painted steel sculpture by Alexander Liberman, graces the grounds of Ward Pound Ridge Reservation as part of Art in the Parks. I love the Picasso-esque composition this section creates with its bold orange curves, crisp shadows, and black cables in beautiful contrast to the sky. It's huge: 42' x 30' x 40'. Part of the fun was watching its construction by crane. One afternoon, while I sat on a bench in the sun, I looked on with delight as a small boy leaped from a van and raced toward the sculpture, arms raised, awestruck.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Milkweed Bugs

In "The Ninth Elegy" from The Essential Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote these powerful lines:

Here is the time for the sayable, here its home.
Speak and avow it. More than ever
things that can be experienced fall away,
shunted aside and superseded by unseeable acts,
acts under crusts that readily shatter
when the inner workings outgrow them and seek new
Between the hammers
our heart endures, like the tongue
between the teeth, which yet
continues to praise.

--Rainer Maria Rilke, tr. by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann

I praise these milkweed bugs (yes, that's really what they're called), observed in all their orange-red glory at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, New York. The photo was taken on 10/11/09. To see the milkweed bugs more clearly, simply click on the image.

The above excerpt was found on p. 133 of The Essential Rilke, translated in 1999 by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann, The Ecco Press. Rilke lived from 1875-1926.