Hello, I’m trying something new: Because Brain Pickings is in its twelfth year and because I write primarily about ideas of a timeless character, I have decided to plunge into my vast archive every Wednesday and choose from the thousands of essays one worth resurfacing and resavoring as a midweek pick-me-up for heart, mind, and spirit. If you don’t wish to receive these archival infusions of inspiration, you can unsubscribe from them – if you subscribe to the standard Sunday digest of the current week’s highlights, this wouldn’t affect its delivery. If you missed last week’s archival piece – Susan Sontag on storytelling, what it means to be a decent human being, and her advice to writers – you can read it here. And if you find any value and joy in my labor of love, please consider supporting it with a donation – over these twelve years, I have spent tens of thousands of hours and tremendous resources on Brain Pickings, and every little bit of support helps keep it going. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
“Words belong to each other,” Virginia Woolf asserted in the only surviving recording of her voice. But words also belong to us, as much as we belong to them — and out of that mutual belonging arises our most fundamental understanding of the world, as well as the inescapable misunderstandings that bedevil the grand sensemaking experiment we call life.
This constant dialogue between reality and illusion, moderated by our use of language, is what poet and philosopher David Whyte explores in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words (public library) — a most remarkable book “dedicated to WORDS and their beautiful hidden and beckoning uncertainty.” Whyte — who has previously enveloped in his wisdom such intricacies of existence as what happens when love leaves and how to break the tyranny of work-life balance — constructs an alternative dictionary inviting us to befriend words in their most dimensional sense by reawakening to the deeper and often counterintuitive meanings beneath semantic superficialities and grab-bag terms like pain, beauty, and solace. And he does it all with a sensibility of style and spirit partway between Aristotle and Anne Lamott, Montaigne and Mary Oliver.
David Whyte (Nicol Ragland Photography)
Whyte chooses 52 such ordinary words, the same number as the playing cards in a standard deck — perhaps a subtle suggestion that words, like cards, are as capable of illusion as they are of magic: two sides of the same coin, chosen by what we ourselves bring to the duality. Indeed, dualities and counterpoints dominate the book — Whyte’s short essays examine ambition and disappointment, vulnerability and courage, anger and forgiveness.
FRIENDSHIP is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.
Illustration by Maurice Sendak from ‘Let’s Be Enemies’ by Janice May Udry. Click image for more.
Echoing Anne Lamott’s beautifully articulated conviction that friendship is above all the art of allowing the soft light of love to fall upon even our darkest sides, Whyte adds:
In the course of the years a close friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other as much as ourselves, to remain friends we must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them, not through critique but through addressing the better part of them, the leading creative edge of their incarnation, thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves.
And yet friendship is a merited grace, one that requires of us the unrelenting commitment of showing up for and bearing witness to one another, over and over:
The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence.
But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.
Whyte argues that friendship helps us “make sense of heartbreak and unrequited love” — two concepts to which he dedicates entire separate word-meditations. He writes of the former:
HEARTBREAK is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control…
Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot, in other words, it colors and inhabits and magnifies each and every day; heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow through even the most average life. Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in a love relationship, in a life’s work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. Heartbreak is the beautifully helpless side of love and affection and is [an] essence and emblem of care… Heartbreak has its own way of inhabiting time and its own beautiful and trying patience in coming and going.
And yet while heartbreak has this immense spiritual value, and even an evolutionarily adaptive one, we still treat it like a problem to be solved rather than like the psychoemotional growth-spurt that it is. Whyte writes:
Heartbreak is how we mature; yet we use the word heartbreak as if it only occurs when things have gone wrong: an unrequited love, a shattered dream… But heartbreak may be the very essence of being human, of being on the journey from here to there, and of coming to care deeply for what we find along the way.
There is almost no path a human being can follow that does not lead to heartbreak.
Illustration by Roger Duvoisin from ‘Petunia, I Love You.’ Click image for more.
Stripped of the unnecessary negative judgments we impose upon it, heartbreak is simply a fathometer for the depth of our desire — for a person, for an accomplishment, for belonging to the world and its various strata of satisfaction. Whyte captures this elegantly:
Realizing its inescapable nature, we can see heartbreak not as the end of the road or the cessation of hope but as the close embrace of the essence of what we have wanted or are about to lose.
Heartbreak asks us not to look for an alternative path, because there is no alternative path. It is an introduction to what we love and have loved, an inescapable and often beautiful question, something and someone that has been with us all along, asking us to be ready for the ultimate letting go.
One of the most common sources of heartbreak, of course, is unrequited love. But, once again, Whyte shines a sidewise gleam on the obscured essence of another experience we mistake for a failure rather than a triumph of our humanity — for unrequited love is the only kind of love there is, in any real sense:
UNREQUITED love is the love human beings experience most of the time. The very need to be fully requited may be to turn from the possibilities of love itself. Men and women have always had difficulty with the way a love returned hardly ever resembles a love given, but unrequited love may be the form that love mostly takes; for what affection is ever returned over time in the same measure or quality with which it is given? … And whom could we know so well and so intimately through all the twists and turns of a given life that we could show them exactly, the continuous and appropriate form of affection they need?
The great discipline seems to be to give up wanting to control the manner in which we are requited, and to forgo the natural disappointment that flows from expecting an exact and measured reciprocation.
Illustration by Isabelle Arsenault from ‘Jane, the Fox and Me,’ a graphic novel inspired by Jane Eyre. Click image for more.
Indeed, most of our dissatisfaction with life stems from wishing for the present moment to be somehow different, somehow better-conforming to the rigid expectation we set for it at some point in the past. And yet nowhere is this rigidity of requirement more stifling than in love — that glorious “dynamic interaction” of souls responsive to one another, which requires a constant learning and relearning of a common language. Whyte considers what it is we really fear when we hide behind the merciless moniker of “unrequited” love:
We seem to have been born into a world where love, except for brilliant, exceptional moments, seems to exist from one side only, ours — and that may be the difficulty and the revelation and the gift — to see love as the ultimate letting go and through the doorway of that affection, make the most difficult sacrifice of all, giving away the very thing we want to hold forever.
Norwegian for ‘the inescapable euphoria experienced as you begin to fall in love,’ from ‘Lost in Translation’ by Ella Frances Sanders. Click image for more.
Paradoxically, our notion of “unconditional love” is beset by the same self-defeating absolutism of expectation. Arguing that the very concept of it is a “beautiful hoped for impossibility,” Whyte writes:
Love may be sanctified and ennobled by its commitment to the unconditional horizon of perfection, but what makes love real in the human world seems to be our moving, struggling conversation with that wanted horizon rather than any possibility of arrival. The hope for, or the declaration of a purely spiritual, unconditional love is more often a coded desire for immunity and safety, an attempt to forgo the trials of vulnerability, powerlessness and the exquisite pain to which we apprentice ourselves in a relationship, a marriage, in raising children, in a work we love and desire.
The hope for unconditional love is the hope for a different life than the one we have been given. Love is the conversation between possible, searing disappointment and a profoundly imagined sense of arrival and fulfillment; how we shape that conversation is the touchstone of our ability to love in the real inhabited world. The true signature and perhaps even the miracle of human love is helplessness, and all the more miraculous because it is a helplessness which we wittingly or unwittingly choose; in our love of a child, a partner, a work, or a road we have to take against the odds.
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Short story that inspired me to write a Quick Poem below
Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls — family, health, friends, integrity — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered. And once you truly understand the lesson of the five balls, you will have the beginnings of balance in your life.
The Sharp And Grand Rock
A Poem by Jay Parkhe
Whose rock is that? I think I know.
Its owner is quite angry though.
He was cross like a dark potato.
I watch him pace. I cry A’llo.
He gives his rock a shake,
And screams you’ve made a bad mistake.
The only other sound’s the break,
Of distant glasses and bars awake.
The Rock is sharp, Grand and deep,
But he has promises to keep,
Tormented with nightbirds he never sleeps.
Revenge is a promise a man must keep.
He rises from his flat bed,
With thoughts of violence in his head,
A flash of rage and he sees red.
Without a men-O-pause you turned and fled.
With thanks to the poet, Robert Frost, for the underlying structure
Ameya Healthcare in association with Rashtrotthana Blood Bank, conducted Blood Donation camp on 21/06/2018 at Ameya Healthcare. MANY THANKS to all the people who made time to come and donate blood. You have helped us in saving many lives🙏🙏🙏
I pay my gratitude to Nirant for nominating me for the Liebster Award. I appreciate the trust that you have on me. He is indeed a unique writer. Thanks a ton. Buddies, it is time you take a glance at his blogs. You will not get back unsatisfied! PS: I take on awards, not for […]
I would not generalise, and would not attribute any of the three above. Tolerance in India has come to mean – Tolerating+Nonsense right politicians to some members of thof even the general public . So does that make the two negatives i.e. adding IN as a prefix – POSITIVE. No. I am afraid not.
But, I came across this great quote which I like as a Drawing and Painting Artist amateur and Art Critic.
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” -Vincent van Gogh
See if you can agree and appreciate the Great Artist.
In 2010, the Modigliani oil painting Nu Assis Sur Un Divan (La Belle Romaine) also of 1917 sold at Sotheby’s New York for $69 million. In 2014 his 1911–12 sculpture Tête achieved $70.7 million at Sotheby’s New York, which was the second highest price for the artist at auction prior to this evening’s sale.
Painted a century ago, Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) is the greatest work from the iconic series in which Amedeo Modigliani reinvented the nude for the Modern era. Upon their debut exhibition in 1917, these striking and sensual images quite literally stopped traffic and prompted the police to close the show. Today, the series is recognized as one of the seminal achievements in Modern painting. The shock and awe that Modigliani’s nudes continue to elicit was evident during Tate Modern’s recent celebrated retrospective of the artist’s work that included Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) as its cover star.
Of all the 20th-century Surrealists, few were as idiosyncratic and willful as Pavel Tchelitchew, the Russian-born painter, stage designer and costume designer. The Chagall of noir, he was celebrated for his eerie geometric studies of heads and sexualized anamorphic landscapes.
A group of 17 works by Tchelitchew from the collection of Seymour Stein, co-founder of the pioneering label Sire Records which signed Madonna, features in our Russian Pictures sale in London on 5 June, works that provide links to figures close to the artist: his longtime partner, the poet Charles Henri Ford; Tchelitchew’s biographer Parker Tyler; and friend and fellow Surrealist, Edward James. Below are seven facts to help illuminate this most mercurial of artists.
1. He had a nomadic sensibility
Born in Kaluga Province – into an aristocratic family of landowners – Tchelitchew left Russia following the 1917 revolution, moving first to Berlin then Paris, later taking American citizenship while living in New York. He also spent periods in Kiev, Sofia, Istanbul and London. He died, however, in Rome and his ashes were interred in Paris. His oeuvre was equally restless, shifting between abstraction, eroticism, Futurism, Neo-Romanticism and outrageous Surrealist fantasies.
Tchelitchew and Beaton met in 1931 and for several decades enjoyed/endured an on-again, off-again, friendship. “Tchelitchew at first intimidated me (he could be devastating in his disapproval) but soon cast an almost hypnotic influence over me,” recalled Beaton. As a pot calls a kettle black, Beaton said that Pavel was “apt to be touchy and fractious”.
3. He made muses out of literate ladies
His formative period in Paris during the 1920s was spent in the salons of the poet Dame Edith Sitwell and the American playwright and art collector Gertrude Stein – he produced unflattering portraits of both. And towards the end of his life he befriended Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa.
His most famous painting, Hide and Seek (1942), is a nightmarish fantasy of figures entwined in branches inspired by a tree he saw while walking in Edward James’ Sussex estate. It has had an unlucky history: a hole was accidentally punched in the canvas during an exhibition tour and in 1958 a fire at New York’s Museum of Modern Art left its surface baked and covered in soot. The work was later restored.
5. He was a frustrated dancer
His career as a ballet designer, from 1919 to the mid-1940s, found him working for theatres as far afield as Istanbul and Buenos Aires and with talents such as the Ballet Russes, Orson Welles, Sergei Diaghilev and George Balanchine. “Re-create a forgotten world,” he declared, “a world you have never seen, so that the audience will gasp with surprise.” He liked to imitate the illustrious ballerinas featured on the stage, performances that one friend described as looking like a bluebottle in flight.
Tchelitchew was convinced that most visitors to museums will fondle the private parts of statues if they are left alone in the galleries. As a result, he claimed, curators have to regularly wash the fiddled bits.
The cultural calendar in London comes alive in the summer months, with fascinating exhibitions opening at galleries, museums and parks across the capital. Permanent fixtures such as the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the Serpentine Pavilion are this year joined in the line-up by appearances by some of fashion and music’s most iconic figures and muses; from Michael Jackson and Azzedine Alaïa to Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe. With so much to see, we’ve put together a handy guide to the very best shows and experiences on offer, so you needn’t miss a thing…
The V&A is well-known as the go-to destination for all things fashion, but this exhibition goes a little deeper than merely a look at Frida Kahlo’s clothes. Featuring items from the artist’s personal archive, many that have never been seen since her death in 1954, Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Upis an intimate journey through the life of the Mexican icon. Kahlo herself was often the subject of her own artwork, and her image, art and troubled personal life were entirely intertwined in the careful construction of her outward appearance. The importance of dress as part costume, and part protection are just some of the themes explored in this powerful exhibition, including clothing, prosthetics and cosmetics.
Whilst more widely known for his expressive paintings of the natural world, flowers and trees were not the only subject matter that fascinated Monet, who remains one of the most revered figures in the history of art. This comprehensive exhibition explores his interest in man-made structures and the famous landmark buildings in London, Paris, Venice and beyond.
Nearly a decade after the death of Michael Jackson, and coinciding with what would have been Jackson’s 60th birthday, this ambitious display surveys the life and distinctive style of the superstar – from his Motown days in the Jackson 5, though to his later military-inspired dress, on and off stage. Works by more than 40 artists including Andy Warhol, Grayson Perry, Isa Genzken and David LaChapelle celebrate Jackson as a cultural icon and master of reinvention.
Since the inaugural Serpentine Pavilion commission in 2000, this oasis in the park has become a must-see destination on the London art trail. Designed by a different architect every year, this year’s commission is conceived by Mexico City-based Frida Escobedo. The pavilion will be a secluded courtyard with a central pool of water, offering a tranquil place for visitors to sit and reflect and to escape the crowded streets of London. Escobedo is the youngest architect to have undertaken the project, and the first solo woman to design the pavilion since the late Zaha Hadid in 2000.
Beginning on 8 June, Sotheby’s opens it doors for the summer sale season in the New Bond Street Galleries, with five weeks of exhibitions, exclusive events, talks and sales – presenting an array of artworks by the world’s leading artists from Picasso and Jean Arp to Damien Hirst and Barbara Hepworth.
As trends come and go in the fashion world, there are several figures whose designs truly stand the test of time. In a career spanning nearly 40 years, Alaïa’s handmade creations have graced the pages of magazines and red carpets the world over, and devoted fans include Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and Nicole Kidman. By displaying the exquisite dresses against specially designed architectural screens, the couture creations take on a sculptural quality. With the addition of archival photography, the exhibition goes inside the mind of the man and the brand – the legacy of which plays a starring role in the history of fashion. Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier was co-curated by the designer himself, before his death in November 2017.
LINDA EVANGELISTA AND AZZEDINE ALAÏA PHOTOGRAPHED IN 1990 BY SANTE D’ORAZIO.
250 Years of the Royal Academy of Arts
After a major three-year renovation, the Royal Academy of Arts is reopening, and reinforcing it’s dedication to new art and ideas, as it has done since it first opened in 1768. With a host of events, exhibitions and artist projects, the new RA will be unveiled on 19th May. The aptly named The Great Spectacle, exploring the history of the institution’s exhibitions, and the Festival of Ideas will kick off the new programme, alongside the 250th instalment of the Summer Exhibition – showcasing works by one thousand artists, and this year curated by Turner Prize-winning academician Grayson Perry.
ARTIST BOB AND ROBERTA SMITH AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS.
Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern
Tate Modern does blockbuster exhibitions well, and manages to toe the lie between crowd-pleaser and educational seamlessly; moving the art-historical conversation forward whilst allowing viewers access to works by the most significant artists of our times. From the early experimental photography of Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz through to contemporary practitioners such as Thomas Ruff and Antony Cairns, Shape of Lightpresents an under-explored history of the relationship between photography and abstract art. Whilst visiting, you can also pop in to Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy on the 3rd floor of the Boiler House, which devotes ten rooms to Picasso’s ‘Year of Wonders’.
This exhibition brings together works by perhaps the most famous sculptor in history, and exquisite examples of the Greek artefacts that inspired his practice. On visits to the British Museum in the 1800s, Auguste Rodin was deeply inspired by objects in the museum’s collection, and these works are now displayed side-by-side in this major exhibition, including his most revered works –The Thinker and The Kiss.
The work of some of America’s most important artists are brought together in this bold exhibition, with many works being shown in Britain for the first time. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, many artists of the period were recording the changing world around them, whilst simultaneously experimenting with abstraction. The large-scale industrialisation of the country provided artists such as Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and George Ault with plentiful subject matter, allowing them to produce images of an America on the on the cusp of wealth, prosperity and expansion.
Held in galleries, museums and public spaces all over Liverpool including the Bluecoat, Tate Liverpool and FACT, the art world will once again descend on the city for a four month festival of international contemporary art. Commissions and residencies by the most exciting talents working in visual arts and culture are accompanied by programme of talks, films and interactive installations – with a carefully curated online element, allowing people from around the world the opportunity to take part in the Biennial from any location.
As one of the founding figures of the St Ives School, Patrick Heron’s paintings are beautifully expressive studies of colour and form. Inspired by the light and landscape in his adopted Cornwall, Heron’s abstract canvasses will be exhibited in the town that nurtured the creative experimentation of many of British Modernism’s most significant figures.
Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art Highlights
Sotheby’s presents a global tour of highlights from the upcoming Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art sales in London this June. The exhibition will be on view in Hong Kong and Zurich.