In dark light, a dozen musicians mysteriously appear wearing long black cloaks and tall, earthen-coloured hats. They begin an undulating, repetitious, trance-like melody. After some considerable time, five more similarly-attired characters arrive and slowly circle in formalized steps, bowing to one another. Awhile later, like the blossoming of a flower, they drop their black capes and step forward in full-length white skirts. One by one, at random, they begin to turn. With one arm toward the sky and one to the earth they whirl, skirts flying, their heads bent to one side. The music heightens and the dervishes keep pace with the beat.
After awhile the five slow down, pause, contain themselves and slowly regroup. Bowing once more, in their own time they begin again. Faster and even more frenetic this time, they whirl in dream-like sublimity. Eventually, the whirling and insistent music diminishes. As the characters return to their black cloaks, a lone male voice sadly and lovingly sings in praise of God and gives thanks for life, the seasons, and the eternal turning of the universe.
The Sufis are a mystical brotherhood of Islam. An early founder of the Sufi sect was Rumi, born in present-day Afghanistan in 1207. His religious breakthrough came when he decided he had to be a “lover” to become a chosen one. This, he found, was a way of removing ego and joining with God, to become a living example of limitless being, and not to be contained by this world. Unlike some other religions and contrary to orthodox Islam, Sufism maintains that the universe is under man’s command. At the core of Sufism is the desire for sublimity, morality, knowledge, wisdom, love, intelligence. Some Sufis are helped into those states by whirling.
Naturally, I wondered whether some of these ideas might parallel the making of art. The music is both rhythmic and repetitious, almost like the sort of music that some artists use to provide a trance-like, creative “zone.” The dizzying whirl, actively taught by Sufis, requires concentration and personal containment. Each dervish, while respectful of others, maintains his own inner world. It’s the activity itself, with all its discipline and rigor, that provides the transcendent state. Sufi practice, like making art, brings the practitioner closer to an understanding of who he is and what he’s good for. Control and self-control are at the center of the dervish cult.
PS: “Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about.” (Rumi)
Esoterica: Sufism invites a personal and direct understanding of self and the greater world. It claims to offer solutions to daily living including the control over self and renewed respect for human relationships. “Proper” attitudes and actions have the effect of raising one to an exalted and noble state.
“In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest where no one sees you,
But sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” (Rumi)
by Charles Peck, Punta Gorda, Florida, USA
Once again an inspiring interlude in my day is your letter and this time it seems you’ve traveled to Turkey and off the beaten path to find those intriguing elements of Turkish culture. For those of us pacing about in our studios these episodes are great … thanks and now let’s see … hmmmm … ya know that surface over there has been waiting on me — I’ll just have a go at this “whirling dervish” as a painting style and see where it ends up — splish, splash, off to take a paint bath…
Dervishes whirl through paintings
by Rose van Staden
I am so happy and amazed to see the letter about the whirling dervishes! I was there last year and went especially to see the whirling dervishes. It was the year of RUMI last year, (2007) and I had just had an exhibition, the theme of which was, Mystic Love Poems, based on the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz (there are some lovely poems of Hafiz translated by Daniel Ladinski, really worth buying!, The Gift, I heard God Laughing, and The Subject tonight is Love). I had whirling dervishes dancing through my paintings! The museum at Konya where Rumi lived was amazing. Reading your letter brought vivid pictures to mind of that memorable visit!
Whirling into a new life
by Jenifer Crowell, Beaufort, NC, USA
I am very thankful for your twice-weekly letters, and particularly in these challenging times. Of course for the world, and on a personal note, my companion, Steve is home after having broken his lower spine, his wrist, rib and lost teeth, after a 12 foot ladder fall while at work. We have no insurance and our lives have been forced, WHIRLING into a new life that neither one of us expected or desired. Everything has been altered into another realm. I can be Nurse Ratchett, or I can find moments of kindness. Overall, I am looking out for his healing, but also for my own sanity, which seems questionable at times. I’ve produced only one painting since this event, and I still haven’t decided if it’s finished or not. But I do see some WHIRLING of sorts in it. We are in over our heads with a mortgage we can’t afford, we live in a tourist town and my livelihood is dwindling, he can’t work, and I am now a full time nurse. Our love has never been easy. We are both creative souls, yet our ability to show and accept love has not been the brightest of lights. I am not sure where this road is going. I know that somewhere inside I will handle it.
There is 1 comment for Whirling into a new life by Jenifer Crowell
Serious illness and creativity
by Susan Terracina Adler, Santa Rosa, CA, USA
Recently I had to cancel an exhibit because I had ruptured a disc in my spine. For two months I could not paint, not even sit up for very long at all. Maybe it was the effects of the pain medications I was on, but I thought I had lost my ability to create. For me, painting kept me emotionally strong and excited. I sunk into a depression, and once I could get around without crutches and make my way to my studio, I found I was lacking the spark I had once felt. As I prepared for my next showing, it seemed like a chore to complete each piece.
Can you comment on serious illness and creativity? Especially an illness that hampers a person’s ability to get to the easel, or sit at a desk, or even sit up in bed. I’m sure this has happened to others.
(RG note) Thanks, Susan. It’s difficult for me to comment on something I’ve not personally experienced. Who knows what juices might be sucked out of one when faced with a debilitating condition. I do know, however, of many highly creative and evolved artists who have accomplished much in the face of great adversity and persistent pain.
There are 3 comments for Serious illness and creativity by Susan Terracina Adler
Visions of a Mexican painter
by Pepper Hume, Spring, TX, USA
A friend just sent me this Power Point presentation of Octavio Ocampo paintings. Each started postage stamp size in the center of the screen so you could see the “larger picture” and then zoomed slowly to fill the screen to reveal the smaller detailed images. Of course this harkens back to the Renaissance paintings by ??? who painted faces made up of vegetables and what not. Ocampo’s drawing is, for the most part, quite accurate. He doesn’t cheat and distort the small figures to achieve the larger ones.
Is there a word for this type of work? It is quite different from Escher’s illusions. My favorite Ocampo, which I have seen before, exploits the famous figure/ground illustration — is it a goblet or two faces in profile?
There is 1 comment for Visions of a Mexican painter by Pepper Hume
Theroux on Painters
by Nelles Hamilton, Vancouver, BC, Canada
The other day stumbled upon this unexpected and doubtless disputable reference to painters, in Paul Theroux’s The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain :
“Writers are painful friends, and they are seldom friendly with others. They are insecure in the presence of other writers. Composers of certain kinds of music are the same — tormented and intolerant. Yet some arts not only make the artist social but make him depend upon sociability in order to succeed. Painting is one. Painters strike me as having warm uncomplicated friendships and probably more natural generosity than the practitioners of any other art. Perhaps this is because painting is such a portable, flexible thing. Painters paint outdoors, or in rooms full of people; they paint their lovers, alone, naked; they paint and eat; they paint and listen to the radio. It is a soothing way of doing your job.”
There are 2 comments for Theroux on Painters by Nelles Hamilton
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
I think much can be said in favor of this idea of mentoring painters. I have mentored my share. It’s good as long as we are not pushing an agenda or using people to sell our knowledge. A good mentor will be careful not to push their ideas on others but to instead make suggestions. A good mentor will be wise enough to know when their help is no longer needed, even if the recipient doesn’t. A good mentor will realize that the recipient may have more potential and needs a more gifted mentor than himself.
Mind of the critic
by Ion Danu, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada
Bob Cornelis, an interesting and refined Californian artist, recently cited on his art blog Andre Malraux the writer and Culture Minister who said we strive to “conquer” our medium… I would say Malraux knew as much about painting and creating art as his countryman Emile Zola, in his famous novel L’Oeuvre. Zola ended his novel with the suicide of the artist, who hanged himself because he couldn’t paint the ultimate masterpiece he had in mind. That’s a good novel ending, maybe, but man, it’s stupid! No wonder Cezanne ended his friendship with Zola!
If creating art, painting, doesn’t give you joy (or at least a moment of joy), why do it in the first place? There are plenty other methods of getting money and fame!
There is 1 comment for Mind of the critic by Ion Danu
Con artists at shows
by Carla Maskall
Recently, I have noticed the changing face of the art world. As an acrylic painter, I regularly attend local shows, community events and have gotten to know a great group of artists. But a new thing has started to occur when I attend these events. Sales people have also started to show up for these events. They first approach you and flatter your art then state they would really like to “scan” or represent your art (all for a small fee of course). This past weekend show one fellow was even waiting for me in the underground parking lot to once again throw his pitch even though I had already said politely, “No thank you.”
Now, artists as a bunch are not the most business savvy people. And furthermore a great percentage of them where I live are single retired older ladies who have little family to ask for advice on these financial transactions. I just truly believe some are being taken advantage of.
Fear of future embarrassment
by Desiree Bond, Victoria, BC, Canada
I recently received an email from a man who said he purchased a watercolour painting of mine from a Calgary art gallery. He bought the painting unframed for $200 in 1992. The gentleman was going to donate the painting to a charity auction and was asking for an assessment of the value. My response was basically that I was still not famous and my old watercolours were not up to current standards. I would have to say the value was very low, especially because the style that I painted the painting in was quite dated. I offered, no I pleaded to have a chance to trade him for something new. I was very young when I painted that painting and I have improved (I hope) in the last 16 years.
The truth is I knew this day would come. It actually happens every time I go to my mother’s house. I see my old paintings and I want to cringe. I really liked some of them when I did them. I can’t understand how I could be so wrong. I now hate to sell my paintings, I feel very guilty about people spending their money on my future embarrassments. It has been a real struggle for me. I enter my paintings into the odd show and I have a web site but I still feel guilty selling my work. Every time I think wow that’s good, I am then struck buy the fear that time may not agree. Not all of my old paintings are bad but I had no idea then, which ones would stand the test of time.
I am still trying to convince this man to trade me paintings. I actually feel a little desperate, and I keep thinking if I get this old one back, will I be doing this in another 16 years.
There is 1 comment for Fear of future embarrassment by Desiree Bond
Problematic experiences become necessities
by Lisa Fricker
I’ve been perusing your archives at my own pace and just came upon the old letter about one’s inner Art Director. Something about the combination of your and your readers’ insights has allowed me to make a new connection. It was about making errors… Recently I’ve begun to consider style as a unique set of personal errors, or deviations. One example is El Greco. No need to know exactly why he obviously stretched his saints. Many other examples spring to mind. The way one person sees the world is the thing we most want to experience through his work. This dovetails with your point about process: using errors as stepping stones. It makes these painful and problematic experiences into necessities, so that the mud on our hiking boots is somehow the very thing that allowed us to reach the summit. Now I can look forward to making ever more “erroneous” discoveries and accreting a bit of mistaken mud on my way up!
Why artists make the worst students
by Gerry Conley, Seattle, WA, USA
I discovered this article today and think it would be very good fodder for your grist mill! It is a not-formally educated professor at Harvard discussing the problems of teaching Art at Harvard. My source was Paradigm Shift International “OtherWise” but I found the same article on this site.
There are a number of zingers in the discussion, but the one that really speaks to me is:
“I tell them I am not interested in educating their minds. I’m interested in sophisticating them, which is different. Sophistication is knowledge that’s acquired in the course of having a purpose. You know why you want the information at the moment that you put your hand on it. You are not just storing it up for a rainy day.”
Which brings me back to a comment I wanted to make on your saying you told one student to do 100 paintings and then come back to see you. I was reminded of a story I heard, which given the source, I believe to be true. There was a man who wanted to study with Carl Rungius. He went to Carl and asked to study with him and Carl’s response was “Do 1000 paintings and then come back. Until you have done 1000 paintings we have nothing to talk about.” The story went on to say the fellow did 1000 paintings and did go back and was allowed to study with Carl. I understand that story because when I had done 100 paintings I didn’t have a clue as to my capability but thought I might be ready for a gallery. I arranged introductions to two galleries and took in samples of my work. One was run by a woman who only showed people with MFA’s. I had two master’s degrees but not a MFA. She argued that unless I got one I could not know how to paint and could not be successful. The other gallery, Davidson’s Gallery, run by Sam Davidson had a different view. Sam asked how many paintings I had done and I said 100. He said, “Do 300 and then come back to me.” I have now done 650 and do not believe I am yet ready to go back to him, but I am getting closer. I know the capability I am looking for and what I want to be capable of doing and I can now see where I fall short. And I have specific steps I am taking to close the gap. Which is to say that I am ready to be sophisticated!
Enjoy the past comments below for Among the whirling dervishes…
watercolour painting, 21 x 25 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.