“Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist-a master-and that is what Auguste Rodin was-can look at an old woman, protray her exactly as she is…and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be…and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart…no matter what the merciless hours have done to her. Look at her, Ben. Growing old doesn’t matter to you and me; we were never meant to be admired-but it does to them.” ― Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
We might never achieve the mastery of a Rodin in our art, but surely it’s something to aspire to. We might also aspire to it in this bold act of living. For living with and for others is itself an art, mastered by some, clumsily attempted by most. Everyone wants to be seen and heard and appreciated in the moment they encounter another person. How many disappoint in that moment of truth?
I aspire to craft a sentence like Heinlein’s in each post. Maybe I will attain that level of craftsmanship on the next one, or the one after that. Time will inform the reader of such things, but making a go of it day-after-day is what matters most on our journey to becoming. Art isn’t the same as aging, for aging subtracts some vitality from the physical self, while days are accretive in art.
At a party recently, I was reminiscing with a woman about her mother, who passed away a couple of years ago, shattering my belief that she would live forever. When she was alive she and I had a thing for each other, she being 40 years my senior, but young at heart. From the day I first met her I treated her as the vibrant woman I saw in her eyes, and she treated me as her would-be suitor, doomed to fail but welcome to try. This performance went on for almost three decades before she passed, and still makes me smile today.
We may not become a Rodin or Heinlein in our art. But living offers other opportunities for mastery. Life is about the connections we make with people along the way, one after the other, in our time here. To master that is truly a gift.