Friday, January 30, 2009
I've been reading "Distraction- a philosopher's guide to being free" by philosopher/blogger Damon Young. Damon talks about how 17th century philosopher and lens maker Spinoza came to define being free. In Spinoza's "Ethics" he says something is free "when it exists solely by the necessity of it's own nature, and of which the action is determined by itself alone"
Spinoza has a lot to teach contemporary artists. He saw his profession of lens grinding as a mainstay of his philosophical practice and refused a position at Heidelberg University for fear of being distracted from his thoughts. He wrote to the professor who offered him the position that "I am not holding back in the hope of getting something better, but through love of quietness...." Spinoza lived in poverty, known for the fine quality of his lenses and for his commitment to being free to pursue his philosophy.... and died at the age of 45 from tuberculosis worsened by glass dust.
I don't suggest the Spinoza's bitter poverty and early demise be an inspiration to contemporary artists (although there is a romantic, and crazy streak amongst some artists that is perversely attracted to poverty and picturesque demise!) I think Spinoza's definition of freedom can also be the definition of what makes a successful work of art that it "exists solely by necessity of it's own nature"
I also take heart from Spinoza's commitment to the humble work of the hand. I really believe in the physical and philosophical value of working hard and I find that working with my hands does indeed create a quiet space in which thoughts form. Sometimes people say to me that I'm lucky because I'm so talented. I'm not lucky...I work really hard to make beautiful pots, there are plenty of ugly failures before the beautiful ones come out. Hard work is the key, not talent.