I received an unexpected email from a friend which referred me to a book of poetry by Rumi (one of my top favorite poets) that was illustrated with artwork which shared a familiar tone with my own work.
As a scientist and writer, my friend has a certain way with words. After some discussion of the book itself, he wrote the following:
“I love reading a poem that says something I have said or felt. I hope you enjoy seeing art that is similar to what you have created. It makes me question our connectedness. How powerful is the universal unconscious? Is there some “wavelength” we sometimes vibrate on that no one sees or understands but produces a similar creativity is completely removed people? Does the universe talk on this frequency? Can we become more sensitive to that? Or is it that two separate processes of deterministic actions can converge to form the “same” piece of art?”
He goes on to say that one of his professors told a story in class about a literary critic who was noted for saying that “T.S. Elliot makes perfect sense and is enjoyable to read…If you read everything he [Elliott] read, thought everything he thought, and feel the same way about everything as he felt” and then adds: “The processes are deterministic actions because your entire life of events that lead from one to another coalesce into a single painting. A painting can only be reproduced (perfectly) if the mimicking artist went through the identical steps of formation as the original artist. Since nobody else grew up with my parents, brother, and sister no one will mimic me. Yet someone may simultaneously come to a similar conclusion as I do. In evolution it is called convergent evolution – like wings. Bats moths and birds evolved the same structure in far different ways. Anytime I see art work that is similar but likely unconnected to another piece of art, I cannot help but think these things.”
I was really moved by these words and they made me think a great deal about a great many things that I continuously mull over in my head. After about a week I formulated the following reply:
“It’s funny that your email came at the time that it did because only a few days prior I had an intense conversation with a group of students about what it means to be referential in both good and bad ways, about how important it is to find your own voice. The question was raised that “isn’t everything referential in some degree” and this divergent path seemed awfully familiar to the content of your email.
I think that it’s easy for some (or even at certain times in your life as opposed to others) to loose sight of the things that have led us to where we are and why we are unique to ourselves and unlike anyone else. But there are threads. I love the convergent points that tie me to other people and particularly to nature. […] These pneumatic moments are spiritual to me.
Case in point: Rumi is one of my two favorite poets. I respond to his work and Rilkes so much that it influences and drives my work at times. To see artwork similar to my own in a book of Rumi’s poetry (and that you would see this and think of me and write what you did) was exhilarating because it reminded me of how connected everything can be.”
And of course, this led to a great deal more introspection as great and well-timed conversations often do.
Wow. This is something that I have thought about a lot, and discussed a few times, but to people who usually believed that “originality” was non-existent now, or that everything is artistically referential in a negative way, because it is not of a self-origin/ at its beginning state, simply due to its references. Maybe I am just an optimist but I do believe that it is usually a most wonderful thing to have connections to others work, and when it is consciously realized, seeing the common patterns is something indeed magical.
I have close friends who become disappointed immediately if I recognize a melody in a piece of new music they’ve written from an older piece, for example. But it IS something to embrace, and to be reckoned.
I also come from the Jim Jarmusch school of thought, where anything is “authentic” if whatever you have connections or references to is from a sincere and pure sense..you can even steal another’s idea on purpose, but if its because you sincerely love it, then it becomes your own, as well. And like your friend said, because of the experiences, people, and minutia of various instances within each person’s life, we can not help but be simultaneously connected AND unique, no matter what.
Beautifully said Liz. Tim McDonald summed this up perfectly in four little words “Things rise as themselves.” He also called the recognition of similar elements in the work of others as “affirmations” rather than “influences” because he felt that this was more reflective of the true relationship he personally has with other artists and their work. I love the idea of affirmations but it wasn’t always that way for me. I used to be very much like your friends who bristle at the suggestions that they might even been referencing themselves! It took a lot of time (and excellent grad school teachers) to help me discover that the truth of these moments is not outside, but rather inside. Things do rise as themselves.
I love Rumi, and I will be looking for this book!
There is also a second book done by the same illustrator and translator that was recently released – the translator (Coleman Barks) is one of the best, personally, because his translations go beyond the literal to encapsulate the essence of the ideas Rumi presents in the English language.