A work of art… is not a living thing… that walks or runs. But the making of a life. That which gives you a reaction. To some it is the wonder of human fingers. To some it is the wonder of the mind. To some it is the wonder of technique. And to some it is how real it is. To some, how transcendent it is. Like the 5th Symphony, it presents itself with a feeling that you know it, if you have heard it once. And you look for it, and though you know it you must hear it again. Though you know it you must see it again. Truly, a work of art is one that tells us that Nature cannot make what human’s can make.Louis Kahn
I first heard the above quote in the movie, My Architect: A Son’s Journey. It’s a documentary by Nathaniel Kahn, an illegitimate son of the deceased architect, Louis Kahn. There’s many reasons I recommend watching the movie. But there’s one compelling aspect I want to touch on here: how the movie illustrates the complexities of life as an artist.
There’s failure. The need to make something out of nothing. To find beauty in chaos. More failure and the push to keep going. And yes, achievement. But one of the more complex topics the movie covers is sacrifice. What is the cost to throwing one’s life into creating art?
From the artist’s perspective, what is the cost to not throwing one’s life into creating art? Yet, the artist has to live in the world with everyone else, and to some of those people, the artist has responsibility. So, how does an artist find balance in life, with so many day-to-day factors to consider?
A Work of Art
I don’t have the answer for how to find balance as a working artist. Just like everyone else, artists need to traverse those decisions themselves, based on their personal lives and artistic goals. (If you want strategies, there’s plenty of resources and I am happy to share my own in future posts. Let me know if this appeals to you. For a couple examples on my process and struggle for balance, go here and here.)
What I do know, is that artists need to make things. Whether those things are as small as poems or as large as buildings.
When taking what Kahn says, “A work of art…[is] the making of a life,” it is easy to see how sacrifices are necessary and important. To make a life is no easy feat. What is sacrificed is the hard part. But this is what artists do in the process of making, decide what to keep and what to let go, all for the sake of the work. So how can that skill translate in life?
Again, there is no easy answer to that question. Perhaps the one thing to remember is that the work of art needs space made for it, just like bringing home a newborn baby or puppy. It’s a household affair. Routines will be adjusted, expectations changed. And since artists are the primary caregivers of their work, the capacity to extend themselves will be challenged, until maybe some of them won’t see what’s fallen out of reach.
Louis Kahn died in 1974, and therefore, used the accepted terminology of “man” to represent humankind. I’ve taken the liberty to change “man” to “human” in his quote to reflect updated terminology, without changing his sentiment.
Quote and photo by author. All rights reserved.