“As an artist, you are a representative human being — you have to believe that in order to give your life over to that effort to create something of value. You are not doing it only to satisfy your own impulses or needs; there is a social imperative. If you solve your own problems and speak of them truly, then you are a help to others, that’s all. And it becomes a moral obligation.”
“The garden communicates what it shows to you but you also contribute to the garden some of what you are seeking in terms of your own life, your own state of being. One reason a garden can speak to you is that it is both its own reality and a manifestation of the interior life of the mind that imagined it in the beginning.”
“Art conceals and reveals at the same time. Part of the concept of the garden is that you never see it all at once.”
“I’ve been grounded all my life to believe in the mystery of existence itself. Can there be any possibility of completely understanding who we are and why we’re here and where we’re going? These are questions that can never be answered completely so you have to keep on asking”
“We have no other world we can actually invade with all our being and at the same time be invaded by, so whatever we create is made of the materials of life.”
“There isn’t only one kind of artist in the world. There is, above all, a need to articulate your own source of being so that you will recognize that source and know who you are.”
“The creative gift has very complex origins; you’re accumulating and digesting experience, trying to discover it’s meanings, instead of stuffing it into a closet and moving on to whatever happens to you next.”
“Creativity gives form to what in nature is ambiguous, suggestive.”
What the garden does
Gives us an awakened sense of wonder. Makes us come to terms with mystery and what we do not know and cannot entirely control. Pulls us into the earth as we contemplate the unseen world underground. Helps us come to terms with cycles of life, death, transformation and renewal. Fills us with anticipation, leads us into contemplation, spurs the imagination. Slows us down and helps us to experience the concept of time in a different way. Brings us back to ourselves. Fills us with hope, but challenges us with factors beyond our control. Helps us deal with loss and move on. Develops in us a confidence in the unconscious as we loose ourselves in the beauty and mystery of the garden. Teaches us patience and to have faith.
“In a sense, all creativity is a process of giving meaning to what is on a universal scale meaningless. The plant and the poet and the gardener collect these disparate, disorganized raindrops, sun rays, passing birds, and make something formal.”
– Stanley Kunitz The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden
As a boy, I had a dream in which I dig in the dirt by the sidewalk with a spoon and unearth treasure after treasure: baseball cards, arrowheads, coins, jackknives, fireworks, and other artifacts. It was all free-so I kept digging with my little spoon in a frenzy of excitement. This dream made me feel lucky, filled me with hope, and gave me the sense that if I dig I will find. I feel the same sense of ecstatic discovery now, both when I work in my garden and in my studio. There is a lot in common between the two.
For fifteen years I have grown a garden and worked in my studio in the Sequatchie Valley. Each activity informs the other. Working in the garden helps me to realize that we are on this earth, connected, rooted to the soil and that everything we need is here, now, before us. A confidence in my skills, knowledge and experience gained over time in the garden carries over into the studio, where a certain amount of doubt about the work is always present. Both the garden and the studio demand a tremendous amount of faith and hope in addition to a drive to work hard in order to create something of beauty. The garden inspires an awakened sense of wonder, plunging me into the mystery and complexity of the workings of plant life and making me think about human biology. It spurs the imagination, fills me with anticipation, fosters contemplation, teaches me patience, and helps me come to terms with cycles of life, death, and transformation. Making art and gardening lead to the same sorts of questions: Can we ever understand who we are, why we are here, and where we are going? These questions can never be fully answered. You just have to keep asking.
An artist is a keen observer of the world, accumulating and digesting experience, trying to discover it’s meaning and then distilling these experiences into objects. This summer, when I found myself becoming overwhelmed and saddened by the world’s workings, I decided to spend more time in the garden. Having my hands in the earth, doing physical labor, and watching the growth process of plants gave me hope and optimism. I decided to honor the garden by doing a series of twenty watercolors. I put down very colorful abstract backgrounds and took three at a time into the garden and did line drawings of the plants. I then took them back into the studio while the image was fresh in my mind and painted them. In each, I tried to include a mature fruit, a baby fruit, the stem and leaf forms, and a flower in order to comment on the cycles of life so tangible in the garden. Carefully looking at the plants in order to draw them gave me an even deeper connection to the garden and it’s mysteries. As I sat still drawing one morning I watched a hummingbird feed on orange morning glories inches from my head. Summer’s Bounty.