For in this land, a man must stand upright, if he would live. – Clyfford Still
Who is Clyfford Still?
He was an artist. More specifically, he was an Abstract Expressionist, one of the early founders of the movement which began in the 1950s and was noted for the use of abstract forms to render the human condition. Unless you’re an art historian or an artist yourself, chances are good you’ve never heard of Clyfford Still, but it’s possible you’ve heard of his contemporaries, guys like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollack.
Here’s what Pollack said about Still: “[He] makes the rest of us look academic.”
Still was an artist whom other artists revered. Whatever fame or notoriety (or the lack thereof) he would acquire in both the art community and the public at large was secondary. He was the embodiment of art for the sake of art—a staunchly lonely, some would say, but immensely free way to live in the world. He allowed himself a full expression and an unfettered evolution. He did not care what others thought, at least when it came to his art. He simply stood up, on his feet and on his ladders, and painted whatever came out of him. And his paintings themselves not only stand on their own…they soar.
(By the way, if you ever find yourself in Denver, go visit the Clyfford Still Museum, which exhibits and houses the archives of his entire life’s work. You will not be disappointed.)
But this post is not about Clyfford Still, the man, the artist.
This post is about the opening quote up there. Go back and read it again.
Substitute “human” for “man,” if you like. (Inclusiveness of the whole of humanity is a given here, not a whim). Whatever you do or don’t substitute, the message remains the same. And who better than an artist—someone living quite close to the divine—to deliver the message.
To deliver it to you, that is.
Because this post is also about you.
And in the spirit of Clyfford Still’s words, I ask:
If you are to live, how will you stand upright?
Will you get up from your couch today and look out the window? Will you notice the winter trees and the chirping birds? If you live in a city, will you hear the helicopters and witness the masses? Will you wonder at the magnitude of nature in all its forms and beauty and turmoil?
And if you wonder, where will you seek your answers? Will any be found within?
Will you get up from your couch today and turn off the television? Will you ease your mind away from the noise and find a corner of silence? Or will you pace or cheer, cry or rejoice, vibrate with imminent change?
Will you get up from your desk or counter and decide the work you do is a means to an end or an end itself? Will you know that the hours you spend in your weeks and your months will be spent in an effort of love, despite hardship or conflict or despair? Will you decide that you cannot know this for sure, and what you suspect instead is that the tossing river inside you carries only weariness and anger?
Will you get up from your place of prayer, your book of philosophy, having offered your most humble self? Will you discover that you and your god are in harmonious collusion, or suffering a whirling discord? Will you be able to recognize harmony or discord at all? Or will you decide that before you can recognize anything, you must first re-acquaint yourself with your own beating heart?
Will you get up and walk down the street? Will you let your legs carry you to a destination unknown, or to a familiar glow of warmth and safety?
And if you walk through the warm, safe door, will you stay? Will you find it is all you need? Or will you seek the far-off ship and its cold, dark passage to worlds unexplored, to ideas long buried?
Will you get up and embrace the person next to you? Will you turn away in fear? Will you plant your feet and ball your fists and hope that the strength of your stance will hide the terrible smallness you feel inside?
And if you are small, will you soften your stance, hold out your hand, and ask to be touched? Will you receive the touch into every cell?
Will you get up and paint the contents of your soul? Will you sing them or write them down? Will you do it for you, or will you do it for them? Will you peer upon the deepest parts of yourself in all their maniacal sounds and colors? Or will you keep them well-hidden, silent, starved of the light of day? Will the light of day sprout them anyway like insistent roots? Will you watch yourself open and let them bloom free?
Will you stand up today and take a deep breath? Will the first filling of your lungs be a ragged burst? Will your breath be caught, constricted, unable? Or will your breath bring the air you’ve needed…the air you’ve needed for a very long time now?
Will you stand up on your own two feet? Will you climb your ladder? Will you reach the heights needed to look upon the full extent of your unstoppable life force?
And if you do, will you ask what you can do with it, and who you are because of it, and how you will let it flow free?
I ask you:
Will you stand up at all?
Will you stand up at all?
Will you decide to live?
Will you soar?