On July 5, 2011, the great American painter, Cy Twombly, who had lived in Italy since the 1950’s, died at the age of eighty-three. As an artist he was difficult to categorize, something that added to his mystique and freed him from the expectations that come with belonging to a recognized art movement. His New York Times obituary mentioned something he had written in 1957 about his work and then elaborated on in an interview with the paper: Each line he made, he said, was “the actual experience” of making the line, adding; “It does not illustrate. It is the sensation of its own realization. It’s more like I’m having an experience than making a picture.”
Reading this I was intrigued and excited. I knew this statement was profound, but wasn’t quite sure what it meant. It took much contemplation to realize the theological implications of it and how it could apply to one’s life. “It does not illustrate” implies that everything we do—every action we take, all our activities—have meaning and are in and of themselves something and not just a means to something else. Some tasks are considered mundane, dreary, or tedious; things to be endured until that which we are hoping will be the outcome of the performance of them—the prize—is achieved or realized, thus diminishing our experience of these activities.
What a loss! It is by being emotionally present while performing even the most repetitive or ordinary of tasks, and through the visceral and emotional experience of them and the materials utilized, that we become open to revelation—of being shown or experiencing God. Those things that we often hurry through in order to get to the next thing might hold the secret to the universe, the answer to a prayer, or even our reason for being. Twombly experienced the creation of his work with such intensity that the line between him as the creator and that which was created became blurred; he became his art.
As we rush impatiently through life weighted down with expectations of what the fruits of our actions should look like and what we feel we deserve, we become anxious and un-centered. However, the experience of living is more important than the result of living. We, like the artist, should become our own creation; we should become our lives rather than being a facilitator of them. When we lose awareness of ourselves as our own creations we become distracted by the busyness of the world and focus on things outside of ourselves rather than cultivating our talents and virtues, those things that make us uniquely and divinely who we are. We don’t want the things we do to be, as Twombly would have said, an illustration of our lives, but rather, the actual experience of our lives.
Let us, our actions, and lives be one!