In Praise of Winter

Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads. - Stefan Zweig

Claude Monet,  The Magpie

Claude Monet, The Magpie

 In Seattle, the winter season can be long and gloomy, we wake up in dark and return home from work in the dark. During the winter, all of nature seems to withdraw and it can take an act of faith to believe that anything will ever grow again. This year I couldn’t wait for daylight savings time, the extra hour of sunlight, signaling the end of winter.

Sometimes the dormant landscape outside my window mirrors my own heart. Early in my career I shipped a body of work to NY for an art opening. I came up my steps one day and found the entire collection of paintings returned to me by the gallery – with no note (not that it would have helped). When the first instincts of anger and shame faded, I no longer knew what was supposed to come next.

For me, these periods of profound loss and disappointment can last a long time. I dislike the feeling of diminishment, preferring growth and achievement. So, what, if anything, is the value of this dormancy?

 In Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury speaks against the belief that great things can be created out of endless productivity and good times. ‘We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. …. Yet somehow, we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality.’  By avoiding disappointment, sorrow, and periods of inactivity we miss a depth of experience necessary to create a great art. When we avoid the sadness and pessimism of winter we lose a driving source of vision and power.

I would avoid dark times if I could, yet I have come to deeply trust the hard lessons of winter.  I am most teachable in these periods because I have no answers. I gain the energy and will to change and break things that need to be broken. When the dark passes, and I am left standing, I know things in my bones that before only existed in my head. It is a trial by fire and what remains is worth preserving.

When our artistic goals fade, our creativity evaporates, the rejections pile up and the failures multiply, think of it as a necessary part of the artistic process.  Follow the loss and see where it leads.. If you find yourself in a dormant time, you don’t need to enjoy it, but take solace from the fact that there is more that is going on under the surface than you can imagine, that black loam and rain will, in time, produce flowers.

Sweet Darkness
by: David Whyte

When your eyes are tired, the world is tired also

When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own.

The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.

Fredric Church

Fredric Church