Don Dahlke and a Life Between

He ne'er is crowned with immortality
Who fears to follow where airy voices lead.

John Keats

Back when I started this blog, I wrote a bit about this painting that speaks so eloquently to me every time I look at it. To see more of Don Dahlke's work, click on this one - called, "Between Green and Orange" - and you'll go to his site. All the paintings are like this. They're all paintings of windows that open into interiors that open onto the sea. It doesn't look on my computer monitor like it looks in person - this is the one I saw the original of, and it is the only painting that ever made me begin to weep so unexpectedly.

I decided at the time that the reason this painting drew me in was because of its sense of being "between." The other paintings follow the same elusively haunting and beckoning format, but the one I loved - "Between Green and Orange" - it has the word between in the name it got from its creator. He thought it was about being "between" too. It wasn't just me. It was the artist's intent.

Keats lived "between" too, if that ethereal and romantic quote above is anything to go by. Poets and artists and musicians of all kinds - fascinating photographers who are able to see more with a camera than we can see with our eyes - I even know a couple such people. One of them is Douglas Bienert. This is what true artists do. They follow where the airy voices lead, and they enter the place between green and orange, where the yellow light is blinding and obscuring until the eyes adjust. The artist is the person whose eyes (eventually) adjust, so that he can bring some bit of what he's seen back to the other people - the ones who had the sense to get dinner on the table while the artist was off being blinded by the light.

But what is it good for? It almost never puts dinner on the table. Not in the "real world" where there is a clear difference between green and orange, and dinner is served at six and is made with groceries someone thought to buy ahead of time (and this highly sensible person also remembered to take money to the store to do this buying - and had that money they remembered to take) - but not too far ahead of time - or else the groceries will have become science experiments while waiting to be turned into dinner. (An aside: I read a great turn of phrase the other day. Healthy eating is to "eat foods that spoil - and eat them before they do.")

Artists with words or paint or film or clay -- they nearly never get food on the table by way of their time in the land between. Such sojourns are not usually good for financial advancement. Sometimes, but not usually.

Today I ask myself the question, "What is it good for?" Is it just self-indulgence? Or - worse - self-deception? The making of an imaginary world as personal as a child's imaginary "friend" world, and as much a reflection of the artist as the child's friend is a reflection of the child? That's nice and all ... but it just seems ... well ... futile. It seems futile and fruitless and therefore kind of pointless. Sad, even.

And so I realize that to my mind, Art is not about expression. It's about communication. It's about taking something from that place Between, and bringing it back to the table with the corporeal food and drink.

This, then, is the question I am trying to answer for myself. I do not know if, when I follow where airy voices lead, when I go to the place Between Green and Orange and then wait for my eyes to adjust, and finally, after a great deal of work (I no longer kid myself about that -- it's really hard work), finally bring something back with me ... am I one of the people - can I be? - who returns with a friend anyone else can see?

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