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Peeks and Piques!

Pushing the Envelope
ART TIMES July/August 2007

SOMEONE ONCE SAID that, after his death, Shakespeare’s best plays went to the grave with him — and this was probably true. Life is far too short for most creative people to attain their full maturity as artists. How many concertos went unwritten by Mozart, how many of Michelangelo’s marble carvings still “in the block”, how many novels unwritten by Herman Melville, how many renditions of botanical studies stillborn in the mind of Maria Sibylla Merian, how many self-portraits unrealized by Rembrandt or van Gogh? Some of these forever-lost masterworks never saw the light of day because of a short life, others because of extended illnesses, still others because a creator’s work was interrupted by outside influences — the demands of the Pope on Michelangelo, for instance, that the sculptor paint the Sistine Chapel rather than allow him to ply his beloved hammer and chisels. Who is to tell whether even a single carving that flowed from the depths of his soul to his hands might not have overshadowed that ceiling for all time? Who is to say what Shakespeare’s greatest play might have been, what Milton’s finest poem might have shared with us, with what musical masterpiece Chopin might have stirred our hearts even more deeply, had they lived past their allotted years? And what of those toilers in the field who have not attained such lofty status? For the last three decades that I have been writing about art and artists, I’ve witnessed the passing of many artists whom I have known and written about. In recent years alone I’ve heard of the passings of several friends and acquaintances whose paths I’ve crossed during my tenure at ART TMES: Chen Chi, Liam Nelson, Sidney Hermel, Andrée Ruellen, Richard Pionk, and Audrey Dick Kessler come quickly to mind, the last an artist whom I’ve never met but whose work I just recently had the good fortune to come across and write about in our last issue — none of them as well known as William Shakespeare or Rembrandt van Rijn, but creators nevertheless, as dedicated to their art as were their more famous predecessors. What essay still lay dormant in Liam’s unconscious? What unformed still life hovering on the edges of Pionk’s mind’s eye? What final burst of creative insight to flow from the brush of Kessler? Death alone now has the answer to such questions — the Grim Reaper, that stealthy visitor who most often comes unannounced, unanticipated, unwanted, — death the final arbiter placing the final and unbreakable seal on our collected oeuvre. Some months back, I urged my readers in this column to “carpe diem” — to seize the day and to strike while the iron was hot. I’d been suddenly faced with the fact of my own mortality at that time and the lesson of death’s finality forcibly brought to the head of my “to-do” list. Had I created my own magnum opus? Or was I — like most of us — following the paths of least resistance, just doing enough to get by? If the greatest of them fell short of the mark, how can you and I — mere struggling mortals — aspire to anything else? Ah, but there’s the rub! As creators we must aspire — and always for the very best that we can do. A wise old man once told me when I was young that I ought to complete any job I undertook (and I’ve tried my hand at a variety over the years) as if I were signing my name to it. Little did I know that that’s precisely what I would be doing in my later years — as, incidentally, all artists do. Thus, the admonition to ‘carpe diem’ and to always “push the envelope” — lest it be said of us after our passing that we took our best to the grave.

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