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  • J Putnam

Life Artistry

I first came across the concept of Life Artistry a few years ago when I was going through a phase of reading some really weird books and struggling to find my footing in terms of my own existence. You could say that I hit my existential crisis earlier than most people do. In essence, Life Artistry is the skill of molding, shaping, attracting, and creating within oneself, others, and the Universe. It's a pretty out-there concept, but as I said, I was reading some pretty weird stuff.

One of the words that I often came across during my research was manifest, which led me down yet another rabbit hole. I had heard of the law of attraction before, and it sounded as ridiculous to me then as it does now. No one can wish for something to happen and then have it appear as if by magic. If you want something, you have to work to create it, and it must be a labor of love.

Still, the idea of life artistry is one that I kept coming back to,and like most words and phrases today, I adopted it and made it into something that works for me as a personal philosophy. Fight Club author, Chuck Palahnuik once said that once you realize that your life is only a story and if you don't like it, you can tear it up and start a new one.

That has stuck with me for a few years, and I have tried my best to write the story that I want. The only problem that I kept running into was that with life, the story that I've written so far couldn't be erased. For better or worse, you're stuck with it. You can change the direction it's heading and even its ending, but the ink on the page is permanent.

When I started thinking about life, more specifically, my own life, as more of a painting than a story, I thought back to how the old masters would create their works of art. Back then, you couldn't pop down to the local art supply shop and pick up a new canvas every time you made a mistake. If you screwed up, you had to get your Bob Ross on and turn those "happy little accidents" into trees or birds., but the original lines were still there just under the surface of the fresh paint.

The fact is you can cover up all of the mistakes you've ever made, but they're still there even if you can't see them. They add texture and depth to the final piece, and when you examine them close enough, you can still see them. Beneath every great work of art, there are layers upon layers of strokes made in error and used as guide-lines that were later covered with what would seem like perfection.

With every stroke of the brush, new layers get added upon the others, the canvas becoming thicker and heavier. Even if the viewer doesn't notice them, the artist knows they're there and remembers them well. The new lines that get drawn with every new breath point both inward as well as outward of the man.

Those lines indicating the latitude and longitude of where he's been or like those winding roads that don't show up on the GPS because no one takes those roads anyway. No one but those who dare to create themselves and the world around them, anyway. Chuck was right when he said that life is just one big story. But a man's story isn't told on the page. It's in the layers laid on top of the canvas. It's told in the experiences of his life and the impressions that he makes on the lives of others.

To create a beautiful life, a masterpiece, men must push their brush over the old lines in an effort to evolve themselves into something greater. This is where the modern man has failed. Like modern art, the idea that he is good enough has removed the necessity to paint over the lines that don't add beauty to the final piece. Instead, he has leaned into the fallacy that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder as if he is the only one that will ever cast eyes over himself.

That phrase was first used by Plato, but he meant it much differently than the way it's interpreted by most people. Later on, 19th-century author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford included the phrase in her book "Molly Bawn," which was the first use of the phrase as we recognize it today as well as the first time it was used in the English language.

When Plato spoke of beauty, he said that beauty was an idea or form that beautiful things were consequence. Forms, in this case, are abstract, perfect, unchanging concepts or ideals that transcend time and space. In his Theory of Forms, Plato maintains that there are two distinct realms of reality that exist with the world around us. The first being the physical world made up of sights and sound, the tangible things that we inhabit. The second realm being the intelligible world of forms that rests above the visible world and gives it being. This is the realm of forms and, as Plato called it, the ultimate reality.

Beauty lies within both of these realms. We can recognize beauty in a person or in a painting because we also have a generalized concept of the form of beauty in its abstract. This means that the things we see as beautiful are in active participation with the more general form of beauty. The form of beauty is unchanging and eternal rather than the things of the visible world, which can decay and lose their beauty over time. Time is the only thing that makes beauty subjective.

Like beauty, the form of man is also an abstract, unchanging, perfect ideal transcending the visible and tangible realm. Yet, when we ask about what a man is, the answers are subjective to the one being asked. The lived experiences of an individual make narrowing it down to one universally accepted answer impossible. The answers are as unique as one's perspective of beauty because the form of man is never taken into consideration.

As modern culture "progressed," moving further away from abstract idealism as a means to define the undefinable, the intelligible realm of the form has been all but forgotten. For all of the technological advancements made, we have regressed where it matters most. Sure, it's great not having to worry about dying from the common cold, but our incessant need to fit the world into a neat little box has robbed us of access to the ultimate reality.

Idealism and perfection are both unobtainable, and because of our inclinations to deny the existence of all that we cannot comprehend, we have abandoned the pursuit of them. I have a few friends that are what I call "true artists," and a couple of them are painters. Their consensus is all the same when it comes to their critique of the work of modern artists.

For the most part, modern painters have all but forgotten how to work with layers. They try to finish their work with heavy brushstrokes, which results in the finished piece looking flat and less lively. There is a sense of urgency that's felt, a sort of one-and-done passing over of the canvas, never adding more to the piece.

This is the way of the modern man. To be as advanced as he is, he is incomplete and lacking in depth. A good example of this is what I described earlier. Men are not born masculine. They are born human, and it is the achievement of that humanity where all development stops in a rush to exit the womb and put on his work boots to join the ranks of the producers. There are no layers being added to him. He is now reduced to a product of mass manufacturing in a reemergence of the constructivist age.

The concept of life artistry as I see it is to add as many layers as possible to one's own life. To overcome the urge to cross the finish line, as it were. Adding more depth and feeling in the pursuit of emulating the perfect and eternal form of man. We are not meant to be one-dimensional, flat pieces of creation. True art is never completed; the artist runs out of time.

We must be that way with our own lives, adding as much as we can with the time that we have until the final grain of sand slips through the hourglass. It's only when that day comes will the final work be revealed to the world. It's only then will the eye of the beholder fall upon the man.

Great works of art can invoke feelings of inspiration, joy, melancholy, and even fear by looking at them. It is the same with great men. We hear stories about them, and through those stories, we get inspired. But it is only when we take a closer look; when we gaze onto the canvas of their lives, are we able to see those layers. It is then that we can see their form, their properties, and attributes all working together in a cosmic symphony to create a masterpiece.

That is the purpose of life artistry. To become more than human and glance, if only for a moment, at the invisible realm of the unobtainable perfection of what men should strive to become.


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