Everyone is an Artist… A Fable to Find Yourself In…
Once upon a time, a man found a piece of paper tucked into the broad ribbon-band of his red hat. The paper read, “I Am The Artist. He was a little surprised, and pondered what this might mean. Somehow, he felt that this little piece of paper should not be thrown into the trash. He knew there was some significance in that feeling, and decided to explore the issue. Without knowing where to start, he grabbed a pencil, for he had heard that Artists often use them.
The man put a large, blank piece of paper in front of him—and paused to tuck the paper securely into the band of his red hat. He had no idea of the proper way to hold a pencil, and even less of an idea what to do with it. He had never drawn or painted before, but something attracted him to it now. Just like a Fool, he knew no rules, but was willing to play and experiment.
Pencil poised in his hand, he searched for an interesting line or shape, and suddenly, the Magician stood right in front of him. “Let me show you,” he said. Skillfully, the Magician held the pencil and demonstrated some designers’ tricks, which the artist learned very quickly. “First, create in your mind,” were the Magician’s words, “and one day you may have your own solo Art Show.” He disappeared, leaving the new Artist with a Rod, a Cup, a Sword and a Coin—and some extra talent, ready to be used.
The Artist was a bit tired from such unexpected excitement, and decided to take a nap. Soon, he was dreaming. In his dream he saw the High Priestess. “Trust your soul,” she told him. “All you need to know is already inside you. Your intuition will lead you, and your art will be richer if you’ll let spirituality and mystery flow in it.” The Artist then woke up; but he kept his eyes closed for a little while longer. He meditated on the wise woman’s words, and stayed quiet, contemplating his powerful dream.
After a time, he opened his eyes, stretched, and suddenly felt hungry. He looked around and saw the most beautiful woman, looking right back at him. She was holding in offering an intricately woven basket filled with the season’s best fruits; and some fresh-baked bread was in there, too. The Artist was thrilled to meet the Empress, and more than thrilled to fill his empty belly. In her presence, he felt so comfortable and loved. Her beauty and generosity inspired him, and his head started filling up with creative ideas.
The Empress led The Artist to her castle, where he met her husband, the Emperor; a kind man, too, but also very serious-minded. “People who are not artists think that artists have so much fun!” the Emperor said. “But you know better. What you have and what you need are structure, discipline and rules.” The Artist listened well to this lesson. He understood that in order to give form to his ideas, he would need to build his art a solid base. He began to consider budgets for buying paints, and maybe some canvasses, and he thought about the prospect of deadlines.
Eager now to plan his project, The Artist went on his way, and soon met an old man dressed in a most impressive long robe. It was the Hierophant, the traditional Master. He called out to The Artist, saying, “Don’t rush off so quickly, young man! You may have all these ideas, and plans to make them happen, but don’t ignore the ancient teachings and techniques. Innovation and originality can only work well after you’ve learned the basics, and the knowledge of old.” The Artist considered that he might find great comfort in practicing what the Hierophant preached, and resolved that he might try to do it later on. “At least,” he told himself, “if I decide to break the rules, I’ll know what it is I’m breaking.”
With these serious thoughts, The Artist found himself walking down a green meadow. A light breeze caressed his face, and at that moment he saw a pretty, sexy young woman. For just a minute he forgot his plans, his art, his happy projects. He felt willing to give it all up and spend the rest of his days and nights with this woman. He imagined how they could become Lovers. He felt that he would need to choose, and so he approached her and struck up a conversation. He found they had some interests in common. She was also an Artist, and they sat together under a tree and talked for hours and hours about their ideas and visions. Their talents seemed to complement each other’s, and they found each other’s point of view both helpful and useful. Their discussion of working on a joint project was one of the most stimulating experiences The Artist had ever had. By getting to know each other, he and she learned more about themselves.
The Artist passionately kissed his “other half,” feeling stronger and wiser, and sensing her presence inside him. But a wild noise distracted him, and he turned from his lovemaking to see a Chariot draw up, pulled by a team of two dragons. Intuitively, The Artist decided to jump into the driver’s seat. By now he knew: His art would be worthy only if he combined his wild imagination and his passion with professional mastery. He took the reins, the dragons snorted and responded, and the wheels of the Chariot began to roll, fast and then faster. As they spun, they creaked out a caution to The Artist. “Fast as you go, you can only ride on the rutted path,” the Chariot told him, “and on roads well paved for the purpose.” This new limitation made The Artist spin the wheels in his own mind. “That may be,” he thought, “But still I’ll find my own way, without compromise.”
He drove the rushing dragons through the countryside, and a new fire burned within him. Thus fired up, The Artist brought the team to a halt on a country road. He jumped down from the Chariot. Sending the fiery steeds on their way, he took up his pencil and began to sketch again. He sketched wildly, on a huge rock, without a plan in his head, and no refined ideas. He found some mud and dried leaves, and used these too. He felt like the first man on Earth; untamed, full of raw energy and instinct. He saw that his artwork was lacking something—the color red. At once he thought of blood, and wondered where he might get some. He licked his lips, like a fierce carnivore longing for a taste of fresh prey. Shocked at this wild emotion, The Artist knelt down, folded himself over and stretched out his arms. Breathing slowly, he managed to quell his fiery energy. When he was back to himself, he got up, slowly reached for his pencil, and leaned over the stone to draw anew. What he drew this time was a lion; the creature within him that he’d succeeded in taming. With his wildness not gone but now well controlled, he became confident in his art, and was determined to create it. Through calm control, he’d discovered a new side to himself, an amazing sense of Strength.
The sun was now setting, and the countryside growing dark; and The Artist began feeling a bit lonely. He had created, but shown his creations to no one, and nobody was there to give him any feedback. “Well, never mind,” he told himself, “It can’t always be show time. My work isn’t ready yet, anyway. I’d better do more on my own for now, and exhibit it when I’ve accomplished further. I’ll maintain the highest standards, and be highly productive. Some things are easier done alone.” The Artist lit a lantern, wrapped himself in a warm cape, and celebrated his Private Artist—the Hermit in him. After quite a while, things began to seem too quiet. Then, with a roar, the wind picked up and whipped some small objects right into the artwork he’d been creating: some twigs and dust, a few pebbles, more leaves, from a tree of another species—and tiny red insects with iridescent wings. These objects, borne on a changing wind, added quite a spark to his creation. They solved a problem he’d had with composition, falling exactly in the right places, as if he’d planned it that way, only better. The Artist’s mood changed, too; and he decided to take a chance. The rock he’d been using as his “canvas” was rounded on the bottom, and The Artist noticed for the first time that it was rather tippy, resting on its narrow base. He stepped up to it and playfully gave it a push. Rumbling, it wobbled for a moment, and then it began to roll; first slowly and deliberately, and then seemingly with a momentum of its own; like Nature’s own Wheel of Fortune, mixing colors and media, spreading them across the countryside in its path, unwinding a new and dynamic landscape right before his eyes. “So, you never know,” The Artist murmured in awe, “might think you know, but never, ever know what’s going to happen next!”
In a while, the rock had rolled far away and out of sight, and the new composition, which The Artist had created through chance, lay out in front of him, meandering like a river of random thoughts and ideas. He wondered whether such a design would be considered a refined piece of art. “Concept is important,” he thought, “but art should also be pleasing to the eye. I need to do Justice to this work, and to everything I’ve discovered. At this, he left his campsite and went home to compose some new works. “Self-expression is one thing,” he whispered to himself as he painted, “but to be fair to it, I must honor symmetry and balance too.”
The Artist put everything he had acquired so far into his new works; and when he was done, he wanted to learn more and create even more. But he couldn’t figure out how to advance, or what to do next. He needed a fresh point of view, but no one came along to help him. His progress was completely suspended, so he went sat down in his garden to hang out and think. He thought and thought, and finally as he paced his garden path, he thought of a way he could see everything in a new way. There was a tree in his yard, just outside his studio windows. He went at once and climbed it; and curling one leg over a sturdy branch, he swung himself upside-down. The blood rushed to his head and pounded. Looking into his studio, he saw each and every canvas—upside down. What a revelation! “I needed a new angle on things,” he said, “and the perspective of a Hanged Man has given me the hang of it!”
After The Artist looked at his work in this new way, he realized that he had accomplished quite a bit, indeed. There were hundreds of sketches and canvasses in his studio; and some poems, too, written on lined paper and scattered on his studio floor. Clearly, he was a talented and prolific Artist! Now it was time to arrange to show his works—but which to choose, and which to leave behind? How, in fact, was he to categorize so much stuff and make order of it? The Artist strolled across his studio, and his gaze fell upon some unfinished studies, sketches he’d abandoned as his skills and knowledge grew. He picked them up and, on impulse, threw them in the trash. That was easy! Then he began to sort the finished things out, but the more he sorted, the more difficult it was for him. What to show, what to keep in reserve, and what to discard as no longer useful? Every bit of it was his own creation, and he felt attached; even to early attempts of no more real significance. Each decision to part with a piece he’d created was a small Death. The more he resisted and clung to his artistic past, the more his inferior and outdated stuff buried him. But the more he gave up to his trash bin, once and for all, the more he noticed his livelier works. And his best was magnificent! He could see it well now, with the clutter gone and the non-essential laid to rest. Lighthearted and full of new energy, he shouted out, “I’m free!” Free to live and work and create anew.
Now an accomplished creator, The Artist began mixing media and techniques. He dabbled in this and that, not trying too hard to make his work interesting or perfect, letting things simply happen. He put down his pencil and picked up a brush, dipping it in red paint and white, striving for a good mixture and an even flow. He was aiming for that single, fresh stroke that reveals bright truths on the canvas; and as he worked, an unseen hand seemed to guide his hand and steady the flow. He was working with the Ever-changing; fluid colors beyond anyone’s ability to control. And yet he had mastered the mix and the method, and the finished result was just right. This was Temperance.
The Artist was temperate in his approach, and at peace with his work, for quite some time. Then, one day, he got to thinking about his accomplishments, and decided he ought to have more. A bigger studio, more art supplies, and more cabinets to store them in! He began daydreaming about a huge, new loft—it would span the entire top floor of a building! And while he was daydreaming, a Devil of a chap walked into his studio with a contract to do some commercial work that he frankly wasn’t really interested in. “You’re a good Artist, yes,” the Devil said to him, “but the money you can earn with me will take you to another level!” Thinking not of his art, but of a big, new studio well stocked with supplies, The Artist signed. And then, in fulfillment of his dreary contract, he drew and designed soulless work; and his heart wasn’t in it. The money came, but it didn’t add anything; it seemed only to drive out The Artist’s own inner beauty. He stopped longing for a new studio, and desired only to break away from the Devil’s contract and get back to his real work. “More isn’t always more,” he told himself, “Sometimes it’s too much of just the wrong thing.” He tore up his contract and discarded his grandiose and false dreams.
Thus freed, The Artist tried to find his way back to Temperance; but he had lost his bearings. Alone and abroad he roamed, dragging his portfolio from place to place, trying to outdistance his self-doubt and frustration. But whatever he did, he couldn’t seem to find his way. He stood on the street, shaking with anger and then, it seemed all at once that the ground beneath his feet was shaking, as well! It was an earthquake, and before him was a Tower, rocked by the tremors. The tall, stone Tower swayed, cracked, and crumbled, and flames burst out of its roof and windows. The Artist looked at the Tower so shaken and raging, and cried, “Great and devastated Tower, you and I are alike!” At that, he took his portfolio and flung it into the fire. Sweating, hot-cheeked, he seized a fiery timber from the Tower and began brandishing it. Then he saw that he was painting with fire! Making shapes in the air, blazing and beautiful. He painted till the timber went to ash and he could paint no more. The air ate up the fiery paintings and the ground swallowed up the ash, along with the remnants of the burned-out Tower; and The Artist was left on firm, hard ground, to start again from nothing.
With the Past laid to ashes and memory, The Artist went forth, pondering his Future. Coming upon a clear pool, he stopped to cool himself in its waters. As he bathed, he looked down at the sheer skin of the water. Mirrored in its rippling stillness was The Artist’s own image, and above his head, the reflection of his shining Star. At once, The Artist saw the work of his that was still undone, and, crowned with starry brilliance, he had faith that he would be able to accomplish it.
Night had fallen. The Artist left the pool, refreshed, and continued his journey by the light of the Moon. Ideas flitted through his brain like moon shadows, strange and fantastic. He shut his eyes and listened to the stillness, until he could hear both the soft sounds of night, and the quiet Voice inside him. Afar, a dog howled, a plaintive note that The Artist swiftly wove into his sonic tapestry. A vision came to him, an old photograph of his mother, indistinct in the moonlight. He became unsure whether he was sleeping or awake, nor could he tell whether the things he was seeing were real or imaginary. Unperturbed, he let the night and the visions run their course.
The Sun rose, bringing a new day—a day in which The Artist would begin to bring his creations to light. He made new art, full of brightness, without the hidden clues or clouded imagery a less-experienced Artist might have been tempted to include. He showed his work, and the show went well. Inner light and vitality made a lasting impression on the public, and everyone under the Sun was enlightened and inspired by The Artist’s contributions to the community.
The Angel confirmed it: True Success had called, and The Artist, in answering, was changed forever. Like a butterfly sprung from its cocoon, he had taken wing and reached new heights. And now he was free to soar, alighting as he wished onto new ventures.
He has traveled a long way now; learning, listening, trying, failing and succeeding; staying the course.
At home in his studio, The Artist hangs his hat. Checking the broad ribbon-band, he sees that the mystery message is still tucked firmly place:
“I Am The Artist.” For all the World, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
And the World wants to know: “Artist, tell me please, what will you do next, and where will you travel?”
The Artist replies: “Whatever’s in the cards…”
This article is an excerpt from Playing with Symbols
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