"Art" by Herman Melville / by Chris Hall

Paul Gauguin, The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), 1888.

Paul Gauguin, The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), 1888.

Art

by Herman Melville

In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt—a wind to freeze;
Sad patience—joyous energies;
Humility—yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity—reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel—Art.


Melville is, of course, referencing the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel, a strange story found in Genesis 32: 22-32.  I’ve always loved Herman Melville’s writing.  Perhaps best known for his novel, Moby Dick, his writing is peppered with scatological and dark humor, only to suddenly shift to something highly philosophical or spiritually transcendent.  How right he is about art requiring the use of opposites . . .  humility and pride, instinct and study, love and hate, audacity and reverence.  The process of making art can be quite a struggle.  In the visual arts it can be reflected in physical technique (use of warm and cool colors, for example), studio practice thought and attitude, philosophy, and subject matter.  It might not be a full contact sport, but making art is definitely a form of wrestling.  Incidentally, did you know that Art was an Olympic sport for the seven games between 1912 and 1948?