Going Into the Depths with Art

Going Into the Depths with Art


The other day a person posted in one of my art groups that I belong to an interview of Maggi Hambling, an expressionistic artist of high talent and who is very renowned. Her work got me thinking about the role of art and where beauty fits in. The three pillars of my life are seeking truth, finding beauty, and doing good. In any of the mediums or roles in life, I would like to think that my work expresses the three. I think Hambling, like many other expressionistic artists, seeks the truth of the human condition to reveal the distortions, the wounds, the shadows that afflict us individually and collectively. Such work is not pretty to gaze upon. It is not supposed to be. However, it does not go deep enough in the drilling into the human condition. For if you go deep enough, to the profoundness of depths, there is a beauty that can hold the ugliness and transforms into work that inspires in its revelations.

The following poem is from my book, Beyond the Beyond: Poems to My Beloved Self. In this poem, you will find this journey that is asked of all of us to find the courage to go into the depths past the surface niceties, to become resurrected, if you will.


The Beloved's Cake

You want to know what the world is, friend?

Don't go to scientists;
they just make up answers as they go.

Nor to priests;
they just rely on others' words to know.

Nor to those who wallow in the wealth;
they see as far as they can grab.

But I will tell you.

The world is a cake.

That's right.

A cake given to all of us by the Beloved,
to stuff our faces.

The Beloved has baked it lovingly,
and three layers does it have:

The top is piled high with frosting.
A great coating of sugar.

Most feast only on this sugar coating
that quickly pleases the taste.

Yet it is only sugar
and soon stomach aches follow.

This frosting never fills the belly
and strength fades swiftly away.

The second layer is not so sweet.

Only those tired with the emptiness of the frosting
will begin to taste the layer beneath the sugar.

You might not want to know, dear friend,
what this layer is made out of,
but I will tell you anyway;
for one day all must taste it.

It is made out of dung.

Not too tasty, I know.

And no matter how much frosting
you may eat with this dung
you will taste only sorrow.

No matter how high you pile it on,
no matter how thick,
your tongue will be covered with sugared shit.

However, do not despair
and shout to the Beloved:
"Don’t you know how to bake!

What kind of cake is this!”

Do not ask the Beloved to bake a new cake.

It is perfect as it is.

Instead, take the knife, friend,
the knife of discrimination
that the Beloved holds out to you,
which has been sharpened
upon the whetstone of all your disappointments.

Do not rant and spit out all that you have tasted
and say you will eat no more.

Take the knife
and cut.

Down through the final layer.

And make it a big piece.

Janaka took a piece.

At first just a sliver,
not wanting to appear too greedy.

But the Beloved is from the old country
And sees the guest as God,
and shoved the whole cake onto his plate.

And when Janaka shoved the whole thing
into his fat mouth
he could not even utter a word.

He could only smile.

What was the third layer made out of?

The heart of the Beloved—

Dripping with sweet love!

And what a treat it was!


What I appreciate about Hamling’s work and other artists who do not dwell in the sugary part of the world is their courage not to make decorative or pleasing art

. Their work makes you think and feel. Unfortunately for many of these artists, their lives get wrecked because they dwell in the shadows and become caricatures. The same happens to actors and writers who plummet into the underworld—their lingering in that shadowy land destroys many. Adding to their tragedy is the suffering they inflict upon those around them.

Practicing meditation for over 30 years, I can explore my depths and see all the nasty little devils poking around. But I don’t linger there. I smile and wave to them and move on, where there is a Unity, a Wholeness that does not exclude such dark thoughts but cannot be touched by them. No more than a murder of crows affect the sun.


Much of my artwork shows the lone traveler, or at least a road of sorts, going through a landscape with strange features. Even though we are with people, we must travel alone into our psyche's inner recesses, where we will find true Peace and an all-encompassing Love waiting.


Anyway, that is just something I have been mulling over. What do you think?    


Happy adventures,

Janaka Stagnaro