Art, an underground stream flowing through life / by Jeannine Cook

In a wonderful PBS American Masters piece on Philip Glass, the composer talks of music being an underground river always flowing, into which one needs to tap by listening carefully and attentively. (

In the same way, I think that visual art is part and parcel of many people, another underground stream flowing through their life. The more you learn to see, the more you can tap into the underground stream - whether that seeing leads to the creation of art or the active enjoyment and collection of art. The stream usually starts flowing early on in life, even if one is unconscious of it at the time. Many artists draw on early visual memories in the creation of later work, even if the memories are transformed. One of my fellow Visiting Artists at Spring Island, SC, is the perfect example of this transposition - Brian Rutenberg, from the Charleston area, uses his "underground stream" of visual experiences to paint wonderfully abstract evocations of those remembered places ( Even though he does not live in Charleston now, those childhood memories flow on for him into his art. In the same way, I find that my memories of East Africa will periodically become part of my art.

This alchemy of the subterranean presence of art being transformed, often almost in spite of oneself, into art is so important that one needs to learn to trust that inner voice, that inner eye. It is part of the experience that is built up over time in the creation of art. Educating one's eye to see potential drawings and paintings, honing one's skills, studying and appreciating other people's art, from all periods, particularly in museums, are all part of tending that underground stream flowing inside each of us.

In a strange way, it makes me think of a description of a French winegrower about the way wines are created. He talked of the slow and noble evolution of the wines, "carrying with them hopes for a prolonged life." With vineyards that have existed for generations, surviving all manner of calamities from disease to war to revolution, there is always the promise of a fresh harvest, a continuing wine making cycle. Indeed, these cycles of wine cultivation and creation represent "a taste of eternity". (War and Wine, a wonderful book by Don and Petie Kladstrup, published in 2002 by Broadway Books). The winegrower was perhaps, in his own way, talking of the same sense of a continuum, an underground stream into which to tap as he created his wines.