“Beauty is truth, truth beauty . . .”

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Joseph Raffael
(Haiku Fish, Color Lithograph)

The lithograph, “Haiku Fish,” featured on this blog hangs now in my son’s home. It was a gift to me, many years ago, from the artist.

It is Friday the 3rd of February 2017, just past 1:00, and I am home from some time with good friends, looking at an afternoon that includes a couple of phone calls then a few hours’ reading.  I have two books in hand and a commitment to have read the first thirty pages of one and the last 100 pages of the other, both by Wednesday.

Yesterday I had a whole day in front of me for reading, and I found myself nearly paralyzed by the old familiar depression.  I couldn’t sit still; I couldn’t concentrate. I was sleepy enough that I actually couldn’t hold my head up.  Eventually, early in the afternoon, I gave up and crawled into bed, fully clothed.  I slept away the rest of the day.

I have days like this, but they are days rather than weeks or months.

Today I woke up, climbed into a hot shower, dressed, and went out.

Yesterday, I made a change in my morning routine. The home page on my web browser is The New York Times, and it is an incredible bargain.  For $15/month, I have the Times in front of me, with its mostly even-handed coverage of events and its always thoughtful, varied, and wonderfully well-written opinions and editorials.  I have had it for several years and wouldn’t consider giving it up.

Nor am I giving it up now.  But yesterday it came into my mind that reading about what’s happening in the world, and in the country, may or may not be causing my flirtation with depression, but it certainly can’t be helping, and so I traded information, ideas, and opinions for beauty. My home page is now the website of a friend from many years ago, Joseph Raffael, whose paintings are so exquisite that I have no words for them except “Go, and look.”  As of this morning, the first thing I see in the pre-dawn hours, when I succumb to the seductive voice of technology, is beauty.

We have lost our direction, misplaced our compasses, turned ourselves around, faces backward.  What to do with it all?

At the top of Joseph Raffael’s website is this quote, something I recall his saying in one way or another back in the 1970’s when I first knew him:

“My painting is and has been a kind of conversation with Mystery.”

Below that is this new painting:

(Dawn Rose
watercolor on paper
 17.50 x 19.50 in.

In the time since November 8,  I have been carving out a way through the wilderness that doesn’t involve sitting at home, determined not to miss one detail of the bad news.  On November 9, I raged and wept and talked all day to friends who were also weeping and raging.  On January 20th, I came home at 1:00, found Leonard Cohen on YouTube, and cooked.  Today, I look at paintings. Today I will be at home in my silent house. Today I will read.

It is still Friday and I am just ending over an hour on the telephone with my cousin, Jane, to whom I introduced Joseph’s paintings over a year ago.  Today, we both went to his website and looked at every link, every canvas, every photograph. We read a long interview.  We remembered looking at paintings with prayer flags and we searched until we found them.

(Turning Point
Watercolor, 550 x 441″)

I kept discovering paintings I remembered from decades ago and pointing them out. It was a lovely hour, an hour well-spent.  I remarked at one point that “I could do this all day,” and then realized that I could also read the Times or get stuck on Facebook all day–and what a difference this time with beauty makes.  At the end of reading the Times, I feel depleted and discouraged.  At the end of the incredible, and incredibly addictive, waste of time that is Facebook, I feel exhausted, disgusted with myself, and most of all sad for the time lost.  At nearly seventy-one, I don’t have time to waste.

But today, it is 5:30. I got some reading done and then, without planning, I was handed this time with my cousin, sharing something beautiful.  And I do feel tired out from so much time on the telephone, but what I most feel is exhilarated, encouraged, enriched, and just plain happy.

I think suddenly of the title of one of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

And I remember the words John Keats wrote in “Ode on a Grecian Urn,”

“‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Joseph Raffael: Moving Toward the Light


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10 Responses to "“Beauty is truth, truth beauty . . .”"
  1. Mitzy says:

    Dave Brubeck “Take five”, “the other son” film or “ixcanul” film will have you surprised by joy also.

  2. Kasey Brady says:

    Hello my friend. As always, I seem to read your blog at the precise time I need a spiritual lift. Thanks for being there for me again. ~Kasey

  3. Alison Daniels says:

    Thank you for introducing me to this author’s beautiful work. They have such vibrancy and tranquility and remind me that there are so many special people in the world with a higher purpose. Your blogs are always such a treat to read.

  4. Thank you for this and for your wisdom to look for beauty. As you know I too spend too much time on Facebook, especially when the day is foggy and I’m tired. I should just give in and open a book, which is so much more centering. That painting of the rose is exquisite. Thank you for sharing it. Hugs to you…

  5. It is SO hard not to become discouraged in these times. (There is evidence that pessimists are more realistic than optimists.) Still, we also need to sustain hope for the future and for our children and grandchildren. We can do whatever our limited bodies and time allow us to do to try to reverse, or at least moderate, the coming disaster. You and I can’t do a lot more than sign petitions, maybe participate in local marches, and write out our anxieties and hopes about the future.
    And then we will have to pick up the pieces. Women have always had to clean up the messes made by children as well as by “those in charge.”

  6. Ellen Bunton says:

    Your article reminded me of a quote I read one time. I wish I could remember exactly what it said, and therefore give credit, but alas my mind forgets easily these days. It went something like this- Generals and dictators come and go, but the thing that lasts is the culture’s art.

  7. Lisa Wayman says:

    Thank you for reminding me of the power of art. I did my post doctoral work at the VA where I used creating art as an intervention for chronic pain. I love looking at art and find it very healing. You might also try creating art of your own. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, but interacting with the color and texture and being creative is incredibly rejuvenating.

  8. One of my friends started posting artwork (others’ and her own) on Facebook every day as a kind of relief from all the political posts we are finding ourselves making. Just the process of searching around on the internet for a fitting, public domain piece in the morning is uplifting for me.

    And then I still post the political stuff later.

  9. Melanie Marshall says:

    I was touched by your words and the Litho. I have the same Litho that I got when Joseph was printing them in San Francisco. It warmed my heart to see it and hear your words. Thank you!

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