All these works, I think, stand out because we experience in them a special quality of relatedness, relatedness of ourselves to the universe. We feel that there must have existed, in their makers, a special relatedness with all things, which shows through and is reflected in their works. And we, privileged to see these works or visit them, also ourselves feel a special relatedness within ourselves, and to the world, while we are in the presence of these works.
It is this relatedness which holds a clue to the process of creation. It is the relatedness to Self. It is that relatedness between our individual self, and the matter of the universe, which is touched, and illuminated.
Hypothetical interviews with historical craftspeople
I’m exaggerating Alexander’s much more elaborate section here to make it much shorter and more “punchy”. I want to preserve the specific examples; though hypothetical, they are powerful pictures illustrating his point. One could also raise a point about how meta his technique here is.
If we had the opportunity to ask historical craftspeople what they were doing and what they were aiming at, what would they say?
- “For the glory of God.” — early Christian period craftsman
- “To become ‘drunk’ in God, losing ourselves, to become one with God.” — 15th-century Sufi woman weaving a carpet or painting tiles
- “Make it as though you were going to live a thousand years, and as though you were going to die tomorrow.” — Mother Ann, spiritual leader of the Shakers
- “The work itself is what matters.” — Master carpenter of a zen temple like Tofuku-ji in Kyoto
Each one of these views was, in some form, based on an assumption that there exists a ground material of the universe, and that this ground material can somehow be “reached”. But what they meant by this “ground-material” was something simpler, that which I choose to call relatedness. In reaching the ground people felt related to themselves. In reaching the ground they felt related to their fellow human beings. In reaching the ground they felt related, somehow, to all that is.
Most of the artists in these traditions believed that human beings are somehow alienated from this ground material, and that the hard work of becoming an artist, like any other spiritual journey, consists of somehow removing the barriers between one’s self and the ground. That is not greatly different from the view of modern doctors and teachers who believe that we, as a people, are too often alienated from our own true self.
Does this count, too?
- “I bleed in six colors.” — Early Mac user.
Seriously, though, there is some connection here to the strongly felt relatedness that some customers of Apple products clearly experience. I can also attest that there is definitely a strong feeling of relatedness for many of those people building these products. Is this another perspective on an important ingredient to what makes Apple’s culture?
The details of the artistic or spiritual path proposed by different mystical teachings as a method for reaching the ground varied from one religion to another. Muslims emphasized prayer and communication with God; Christians emphasized love; St. Francis emphasized the love of every living creature; some Buddhists emphasizes meditation; others, especially those of the Zen sects, approach life with the greatest matter-of-factness possible, and emphasized the ordinariness of the process, declaring that it is only hard work and the absence of irrelevant thought which leads us in the right direction.
However, though they varied, all these teachings had certain essentials in common. They all emphasized the need to abandon concern with one’s own ego. They all emphasized the importance of hard work and repeated simple, even menial tasks. Above all, they all emphasized the desire to reach God, or the ground of all things, directly, face to face. In all these cases, the task of making, the task of building itself, was to be understood as a spiritual exercise, a direct attempt to come face to face with the ground of the universe.