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Column Beurskens: Creative and original

A journalist told me once he had interviewed a well-known writer, who said to him I never read something from somebody else. Otherwise I might not be creative anymore. In our culture art needs to original. That probably explains such an amazing statement. Jan, a patient with a burnout, sought a hobby in which he could give himself totally. But nothing which requires creativity, because I am not creative. Art wouldn’t be an option therefore. I nevertheless suggested him to try icon-painting. The making of an icon requires utter concentration and also skill. Icon-painting is art but originality is not what it is about. Icons are made according to a rigid and preset pattern. It is almost a ritual. And the artist is not meant to put his ego into it.

This is at odds with the view we in the West nowadays take on art. The artist should be recognized in his art, even if we don’t recognize anything in his art. In the East that is not the case. There also art is made along the lines set out by tradition. Mastery lies in devotion, not in creativity. One frequently is tempted to say do invent some nice, new style, and you can earn gold; you can do it and tourists will love it, but that is like cursing in the church.

In making a icon you have to pray to understand what you are doing and to get something out of it for yourself. An icon is supposed to lay in the drawers of an orthodox altar for some time before you can take it home. In old Russia it was placed then in the corner of the icons, where it remained a whole live long. Always the same icon and the neighbor also had one. The writer Leo Tolstoy had a similar notion about literature. That is why he had his secretary answer anybody who sent him his original poems Leo Tolstoy has read your verses and found them very bad. He advises against occupying yourself with this kind of activity. In his eyes anybody who tried to come up with something new was suspect.

One of the most difficult texts from the gospels is the beginning of the Gospel of John … in the beginning was the word … Before the Second Vatican Council it was read at the end of every mass, for ages already. Nobody understands it off-hand. It cannot be >explained= in the ordinary sense of the word. Probably in olden times the church had had the intention that its secrets would unveil themselves by perpetual repetition of the same. It is the same for icons. Suddenly unexpected moments will come in life which cause you to see the old image with new eyes. In every storm of live that icon will be a fixed point, but you=ll never look at it in the same way. The same image and the same text unveil ever new mysteries.

As Juan Mascaró writes about the Bhagavad Gîtâ, the famous book from the Hindu Mahabharatha: he gauges the mysteries which are hidden in it; he makes every effort to fathom its depths; he learns the language in which it is written, reads all the translations and commentaries he can lay his hands on, is occupied with it daily, he – lives out of it -, an entire life, but still … and suddenly one day we may feel that we are reading the Bhagavad Gîtâ for the first time. And why? Because new wonders have revealed themselves to us and we feel that the words of Arjuna are our own words: speak to me again of thy power and thy glory, for I am never tired, never, of hearing thy words of life. In creative hobbies Jan would soon relapse in the urge for competition, which made him ill in the first place. But on the other hand one cannot put him before an icon hoping that everything will come all right. Therefore it is better he makes them himself. In that way he might also join into that old order, which could lead to a positive turn of his problems.