Memo from Balzac
On a visit to the Clark Institute I encountered a sculpture, Study for a Monument to Balzac, by Auguste Rodin. It was a figure with arms folded, about three feet high, and roughly sculpted in an expressionist style; I had recently read Stefan Zweig’s biography of Balzac, and I was intrigued by the writer’s gregarious personality, and the eclectic way he led the artist’s life.
I stared at the plaster sculpture, which stood on a pedestal, facing me at eye level. I felt that Rodin had captured some of Balzac’s essence; this statue seemed to have a presence beyond its size and exuded a sense of aliveness. The tranquility of the museum had put me in an inward mood and as I looked at the statue of Balzac, and it seemed he was looking back at me. His glance was amiable, and I wondered; if I could ask the great novelist one question - what would it be?
I had been thinking about the artist’s life, with all of its complexities, like figuring out how to make a living and still keep creating your art. Intuitively a question arose, and on a lark, I looked into Balzac’s eyes and asked in a low voice, “What’s the most important advice you would have for an artist?”
I didn’t really expect a reply.
Yet in an instant, “Be Complete Within Your Self,” popped into my mind.
The words were stated like a pronouncement, with a firm clarity that took me off guard; it was as if the statue had actually answered back! I copied down the phrase in my notebook like a dutiful stenographer of the collective unknown.
Later, I reflected on my experience and I realized that my short Q & A with Balzac was a spontaneous instance of what Carl Jung calls active imagination. Active imagination usually entails having a conversation with your inner self, or the inner figures that reside in your psyche. Through this conversation with these inner figures you may garner insight and advice. Here, at the Clark Institute I had engaged in a short chat with a statue.
Balzac’s pronouncement at the museum resonated strongly with me in the following days as I tried to discern its meaning. I made a watercolour mandala, and around the top rim of the circle I painted, “Be Complete Within Yourself,” in bold letters in order to remind myself, and to further etch the phrase into my memory.
I’m looking at that mandala as I write this. And I recall Balzac standing there, expressively carved in plaster, advising me. In present times, we are at a moment when the media has become overwhelming, and it seems to constantly be crying out for our attention at every turn. It seems important for us artists to stay in contact with the deeper waters that flow through our being. The values and the sustenance we find there are then imbedded in our work, which we send out into the world like a prayer.
Anthony Rubino is a writer, and a sculptor. His work has appeared in Heart and Humanity Magazine, The Offbeat, (the print journal of Michigan State University), The Moon Magazine, The Young Ravens Literary Review, riverbabble literary journal, and October Hill Magazine (Fall, 2017). His travel story, When Serendipity Touches a Journey was republished in The Little Rose Magazine (3/4). Anthony lives in New York City with his wife, and their trusty pooches.
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