Only Connect

Only Connect

That's tattooed on the forearm of an actor I admire. It's as true in art as it is in acting -- good acting anyway.

James Cagney, the actor from the mid-20th century, put it even better: You hit your mark, you look the other guy in the eye, and you tell the truth.

Good art communicates truth. In this case, truth means honest thoughts deeply felt. Art is more than matching fashionable colors to the sofa in your sitting room. It's more than the prettiness of natural environments and seashores.

Nature is a place where things bloom, yes. But it's also where things are chased and eaten. Those things seem to be opposites, but they're not. They're part of a process that takes place every moment of every day, in the wilderness as well as in the concrete canyons of the city.

Facing the realities of nature, including human nature, requires courage. Courage to see nature -- life, let's just say -- as it is. It begins in individual forms, if it's lucky it grows old, and it dies.

My deep desire is to communicate that truth and another one even more fundamental: that courage is the doorway to all the other virtues, including love.

I cared for my mother in the last two and a half years of her life. It wasn't easy. I found myself impatient with her loss of memory and hampered by my own bristling nest of grievances. What I was doing in those early months was trying to see her as she once was. It wasn't until I accepted what was in front of my eyes that the love in me found room to grow. I made a couple of sketches of her before I she died. I found in her shrunken, slowly breathing, sleeping state the person who was, more than anyone else, responsible for the man I became.

It was a step of bravery for me. As I look back on all of the periods of growth in my life, I can see there was a decision at some point: a choice to see what is there, not what I wish was there. 

The beautiful thing about art, any art, is that the artist can use his or her imagination to make deeper statements than just, "This is pretty."