A Wordless Shock

Agnes Martin, "Falling Blue," 1969
Agnes Martin, Falling Blue, 1969

Author and painter, Agnes Martin wrote “When I think of art, I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in the mind.” She devoted her life to living by inspiration. By contrast she described the life as the intellect as living “by comparisons, calculations, schemes, concepts, ideas – is all a structure of pride in which there is not beauty or happiness – no life. The intellectual is in fact death.”

What is beauty?

Is it possible that beauty can contain a quality of energy that creates a small shock, a moment of hesitation, a soft space in which we remark aloud, “Wow.” Can it crack us wide open through a song, a poem, or a person that stretches our perceived notions, fixed ideas and limitations? Can it remind us to be more present to the unfolding of the mystery of life, both in and around us as author Don DeLillo describes in his book Underworld:

“Sometimes I see something so moving I know I’m not supposed to linger. See it and leave. If you stay too long, you wear out the wordless shock. Love it and trust it and leave.”

Maybe beauty encourages us to embrace our lives more fully, through all of its savage beauty, and to not take anything that is given for granted? Author and spiritual seeker, William Segal once wrote:

“Both the advantage and the privilege of an artist is that he is forced to look. To see. People rarely see the beauty and the greatness around them. They live their lives in half sleep.”

What if we approach the living of our lives as an art?

Of the genesis of her paintings, Martin said: “When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then this grid came into my mind and I thought it represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied. I thought, this is my vision.”

Martin rendered fine vertical lines and lightly shaded horizontal bands in oil and pencil, softening the geometric grid, which in this case seems to expand beyond the confines of the canvas. For Martin the grid evoked not a human measure but an ethereal one—the boundless order or transcendent reality associated with Eastern philosophies.” –from The MoMA Collection

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