Signs of the master's work

Flecks of light; flashes of white paper behind the ink. A pouring of sun, achieved by the absence of ink. Knowing when to stop. Those are the signs of the master's work.
(From NPR's story about the Rembrandt exhibit currently at the Getty. You can go to the story to see examples of the difference between stopping and not stopping.)

Those are always the signs. Do you know why in certain schools the kindergarten teachers give their students large pencils that have no erasers? Large pencil because that size is easier to manipulate and practice with in the proper hand position ... lack of eraser because budding writers will not write a whole row of A's if there is an eraser handy. Instead, the child will scrub a hole in his paper, in a vain attempt to make every A completely perfect.

It's the indicator of the artist everywhere - the master in any craft knows when to stop. When enough is enough. Every novice is learning which parts are the essential parts and which are optional. As C. S. Lewis's Screwtape says, "It is always the novice who exaggerates. The man who has risen in society is overrefined; the young scholar is pedantic." Children fuss over the details of things when they love them very much, and teens can be thrown into paroxysms of grief if a pimple is discovered because young humans are practicing being adult humans, and they are still in the novice stage. But what does a master adult look like?

That question is what I am going to design a research project to answer. This may become my senior project. For now it will be the prospectus I design as my project for HS400: Qualitative Inquiry. Between a series we saw on PBS called This Emotional Life, Gretchen Rubin's new book chronicling her Happiness Project, and the StrengthsFinder I found while writing a paper for another course, I know there is plenty of recent research on the topic of emotional resilience.

Grownups are the people who are supposed to know that the world has not ended when the balloon gets loose and gets lost in the clouds ... but they are also supposed to understand the grief of the child. Grownups are supposed to know which parts of life are worth lamenting and when to stop picking and fussing and wanting things to be different. It's not that happiness denies reality. Rather, happiness - maturity - being a master at being a human - includes enough reality to admit to both grief and joy. It's not one or the other. That glass? Both half full and half empty. And that is why Abraham Lincoln said that
Most folks are about as happy
as they make up their minds to be.
And Tennyson said,
The happiness of a man in this life
does not consist in the absence
but in the mastery
of his passions.
If your life is big enough, you can see far enough to know that here in your hand is joy enough for your peace. That's what I think. That's what I'll write about next. And thank goodness there's a due date! Without it, I'd scrub any number of holes in my paper.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Beutifully said.