Brain Pickings

What It Really Takes to Be an Artist: MacArthur Genius Teresita Fernández’s Magnificent Commencement Address

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“Being an artist is not just about what happens when you are in the studio. The way you live, the people you choose to love and the way you love them, the way you vote, the words that come out of your mouth… will also become the raw material for the art you make.”

In 2005, artist Teresita Fernández — one of the most original and visionary sculptors of our time, whose work appears in the bewitching monograph Blind Landscape (public library) — received one of those legendary phone calls from the MacArthur Foundation. The mysterious caller informed her that the foundation’s secret committee had awarded the coveted MacArthur Fellowship — a generous $500,000 grant, with no strings attached, given solely so that the recipient can continue pursuing her or his creative work.

In May of 2013, two years after her appointment to President Barack Obama’s Commission of Fine Arts, Fernández delivered a spectacular keynote address to the graduating class at her alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts. Titled “On Amnesia, Broken Pottery, and the Inside of a Form,” the speech is a fine addition to the greatest commencement addresses of all time and a masterwork of the “connected irrelevance” that characterizes MacArthur “geniuses.” It is also an invaluable trove of hard-earned wisdom on the creative life, with great resonance for all stages of life. Annotated highlights below.

On the usefulness of “useless” knowledge, how we really learn about life, and the true seed of creative work:

For some inexplicable reason, we seem to believe most strongly not in the actual formal lessons, but rather in those details that get into our heads without our knowing exactly how they got there. Those pivotal lessons in our lives continue to work on us in subtle, subterranean ways.

This kind of amnesia is life’s built-in way of making sure you filter out what’s not very important. You graduate today after years of hard work, immersive years of learning, absorbing, processing, accumulating, cramming, finishing, focusing. There are no more reasons, really, to even make art unless you really truly want to. Of all you learned you probably don’t need to remember most of the technical or theoretical information, as that’s all easily accessible with a quick search. And what you will remember will have less to do with the past and more to do with how it triggers reactions for you in the present. Oddly enough, what we involuntarily do retain is meant to help us move forward. This forthcoming amnesia that awaits you is just another kind of graduation, another step in a lifetime of many graduations.

You are about to enter the much more difficult phase of unlearning everything you have learned in college, of questioning it, redefining it, challenging it, and reinventing it to call it your own. More than in any other vocation, being an artist means always starting from nothing. Our work as artists is courageous and scary. There is no brief that comes along with it, no problem solving that’s given as a task… An artist’s work is almost entirely inquiry based and self-regulated. It is a fragile process of teaching oneself to work alone, and focusing on how to hone your quirky creative obsessions so that they eventually become so oddly specific that they can only be your own.

Teresita Fernández: 'Fire,' 2005

She recounts being fascinated by an ancient Greek ostracon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — a piece of broken pottery or stone, engraved with a message, often used as a voting ballot — and how it reveals the fragmentary nature of creativity:

I was enamored with the idea of how what seemed broken, discarded, useless was transformed into a meaningful gesture… We are conditioned to think that what is broken is lost, or useless or a setback, and so when we set out with big ambitions we don’t necessarily recognize what the next graduation is supposed to look like. Unlearning everything you learned in college is just an exercise in learning to recognize how the fragments and small bits lead to something that is much more than the sum of its parts.

Echoing Nietzsche’s magnificent case for the value of difficulty, Fernández offers a wonderfully fresh perspective on failure amid a culture mired in “fail forward” clichés:

In Japan there is a kind of reverence for the art of mending. In the context of the tea ceremony there is no such thing as failure or success in the way we are accustomed to using those words. A broken bowl would be valued precisely because of the exquisite nature of how it was repaired, a distinctly Japanese tradition of kintsugi, meaning to “to patch with gold”. Often, we try to repair broken things in such a way as to conceal the repair and make it “good as new.” But the tea masters understood that by repairing the broken bowl with the distinct beauty of radiant gold, they could create an alternative to “good as new” and instead employ a “better than new” aesthetic. They understood that a conspicuous, artful repair actually adds value. Because after mending, the bowl’s unique fault lines were transformed into little rivers of gold that post repair were even more special because the bowl could then resemble nothing but itself. Here lies that radical physical transformation from useless to priceless, from failure to success. All of the fumbling and awkward moments you will go through, all of the failed attempts, all of the near misses, all of the spontaneous curiosity will eventually start to steer you in exactly the right direction.

Fernández extends gentle assurance that art, like science, is driven by “thoroughly conscious ignorance”:

In those moments when you feel discouraged or lost in the studio, or when you experience rejection, rest completely assured that what you don’t know about something is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to understand. In many ways, making art is like blindly trying to see the shape of what you don’t yet know. Whenever you catch a little a glimpse of that blind spot, of your ignorance, of your vulnerability, of that unknown, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to stare at it. Instead, try to relish in its profound mystery. Art is about taking the risk of engaging in something somewhat ridiculous and irrational simply because you need to get a closer look at it, you simply need to break it open to see what’s inside.

With a bow to Georgia O’Keeffe’s undying wisdom on what it really means to be an artist — “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant—there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.” — Fernández echoes Thoreau and exhorts us to break the tyranny of external definitions of success:

We live in a meritocratic society, where accomplishments are constantly being measured externally, where forms are always read from the outside, where comfort and lifestyle are often mistaken for success, or even happiness. Don’t be fooled. Our ideas regarding success should be our own, and I urge you to pursue it simultaneously from both the inside and the outside… As artists, it will be especially difficult to measure these ideas of what success may be because you have chosen a practice that is entirely dependent on being willing to possibly fail, over and over again regardless of any successes that do come your way.

In a sentiment that calls to mind John Steinbeck’s unforgettable moment of choosing creative integrity over outward success — “I beat poverty for a good many years and I’ll be damned if I’ll go down at the first little whiff of success.” — Fernández adds:

Success is just another form, with both an inside and outside.

For the most part people are aware of what the outside of success looks like… Outside success always seems to look terribly glamorous, and every once in a while it can be. But it still never means all that much, and it still never makes the work of the work any easier — if anything, it makes it a little harder because the stakes get higher; the possible humble failures become less private and more visible and more cruelly judged.

With assuring vulnerability, she reflects on her own experience of befriending that frightening moment after the completion of a major project, which she likens to a kind of creative hangover:

A kind of panic sets in the very next day, an urge to get into the studio because you know you have to start all over again, building something from nothing, seeking the company of those trusted beneficial failures, waiting for those absurd internal dialogues with your own gang of voices. It’s not a very glamorous scenario. But this is precisely what internal success looks like. It is visible only to yourself and while you can trick the rest of the world into thinking you are a good artist, you can never really convince yourself, which is why you keep trying. If you’re lucky and motivated enough to keep making art, life is quiet, you get to work at what you love doing, happily chipping away at something, constructing something, adjusting to a cycle of highs and lows and in betweens, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing it for two years or 50 years, the patterns remain exactly the same. The anxiety continues to set in, the doubts creep in, the baby steps towards mending fragments starts all over again, the cautious urge to peek between the cracks is there. When you find yourself in that place, that’s when you’ll know that the inside is driving the outside.

[…]

That hunger, that desire for success is nothing more than a fear of failure… And the odd thing is that when you are actually succeeding, it tends to be quiet and comes always quite unannounced and without a lot of fanfare. You will, in fact, be the only person who ever really grasps or recognizes the internal successes. The work of the work is visible only to yourself.

Work from Teresita Fernández's 2014 MASS MoCA solo show, 'As Above So Below'

At the end, Fernández offers graduates ten practical tips on being an artist that have been helpful on her own creative journey — but they double as an ennobling moral compass for being a decent human being in any walk of life:

  1. Art requires time — there’s a reason it’s called a studio practice. Contrary to popular belief, moving to Bushwick, Brooklyn, this summer does not make you an artist. If in order to do this you have to share a space with five roommates and wait on tables, you will probably not make much art. What worked for me was spending five years building a body of work in a city where it was cheapest for me to live, and that allowed me the precious time and space I needed after grad school.
  2. Learn to write well and get into the habit of systematically applying for every grant you can find. If you don’t get it, keep applying. I lived from grant money for four years when I first graduated.
  3. Nobody reads artist’s statements. Learn to tell an interesting story about your work that people can relate to on a personal level.
  4. Not every project will survive. Purge regularly, destroying is intimately connected to creating. This will save you time.
  5. Edit privately. As much as I believe in stumbling, I also think nobody else needs to watch you do it.
  6. When people say your work is good do two things. First, don’t believe them. Second, ask them, “Why”? If they can convince you of why they think your work is good, accept the compliment. If they can’t convince you (and most people can’t) dismiss it as superficial and recognize that most bad consensus is made by people simply repeating that they “like” something.
  7. Don’t ever feel like you have to give anything up in order to be an artist. I had babies and made art and traveled and still have a million things I’d like to do.
  8. You don’t need a lot of friends or curators or patrons or a huge following, just a few that really believe in you.
  9. Remind yourself to be gracious to everyone, whether they can help you or not. It will draw people to you over and over again and help build trust in professional relationships.
  10. And lastly, when other things in life get tough, when you’re going through family troubles, when you’re heartbroken, when you’re frustrated with money problems, focus on your work. It has saved me through every single difficult thing I have ever had to do, like a scaffolding that goes far beyond any traditional notions of a career.

Indeed, Fernández’s parting point is also her most poignant — a reminder that being human is the wider circle within which being an artist resides, and that our art is always the combinatorial product of the fragments of who we are, of our combinatorial character:

Being an artist is not just about what happens when you are in the studio. The way you live, the people you choose to love and the way you love them, the way you vote, the words that come out of your mouth, the size of the world you make for yourselves, your ability to influence the things you believe in, your obsessions, your failures — all of these components will also become the raw material for the art you make.

Complement with Debbie Millman’s fantastic commencement address on courage and the creative life and Jeanette Winterson on how art creates a sanctified space for the human spirit.

Thanks, Denise

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In 2014, I poured thousands of hours and tons of love into bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings. But it also took some hefty practical expenses to keep things going. If you found any joy and stimulation here over the year, please consider helping me fuel the former and offset the latter by becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





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Neil deGrasse Tyson Selects the Eight Books Every Intelligent Person on the Planet Should Read

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How to “glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

In December of 2011, Neil deGrasse Tysonchampion of science, celebrator of the cosmic perspective, master of the soundbite — participated in Reddit’s Ask Me Anything series of public questions and answers. One reader posed the following question: “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?” Adding to history’s notable reading lists — including those by Leo Tolstoy, Alan Turing, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Stewart Brand, and Carl Sagan — Tyson offers the following eight essentials, each followed by a short, and sometimes wry, statement about “how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world”:

  1. The Bible (public library; free ebook), to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself
  2. The System of the World (public library; free ebook) by Isaac Newton, to learn that the universe is a knowable place
  3. On the Origin of Species (public library; free ebook) by Charles Darwin, to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth
  4. Gulliver’s Travels (public library; free ebook) by Jonathan Swift, to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos
  5. The Age of Reason (public library; free ebook) by Thomas Paine, to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world
  6. The Wealth of Nations (public library; free ebook) by Adam Smith, to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself
  7. The Art of War (public library; free ebook) by Sun Tzu, to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art
  8. The Prince (public library; free ebook) by Machiavelli, to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it

Tyson adds:

If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.

(What has driven it, evidently, is also the systematic exclusion of the female perspective. The prototypical “intelligent person” would be remiss not to also read, at the very least, Margaret Fuller’s foundational text Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which is even available as a free ebook, and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. But, of course, the question of diversity is an infinite one and any list is bound to be pathologically unrepresentative of all of humanity — a challenge I’ve addressed elsewhere — so Tyson’s selections remain indispensable despite their chromosomal lopsidedness. My hope, meanwhile, is that we’ll begin to see more such reading lists by prominent female scientists, philosophers, artists, or writers of the past and present; to my knowledge, none have been made public as of yet — except perhaps Susan Sontag’s diary, which is essentially a lifelong reading list.)

Complement with Nabokov on the six short stories every writer should read, then revisit Tyson on genius and the most humbling fact about the universe.

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Maurice Sendak’s Weird and Wonderful Nutcracker

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“It is rare and genuine and does justice to the private world of children. One can, after all, count on the instincts of a genius.”

In addition to his beloved children’s books, Maurice Sendak vitalized the popular imagination with his equally innovative contributions to theater. In 1983, four years after he adapted Where the Wild Things Are for the stage, Sendak designed the set for the Pacific Northwestern Ballet’s production of Nutcracker. The iconic two-act ballet had originally premiered on December 18, 1892, with a score by Tchaikovsky and story based on Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 classic The Nutcracker and the Mouse King — but it was neither a critical nor a commercial success. And yet it went on to become one of the most culturally beloved and commercially successful productions of all time, as well as a singular object of secular worship and creative communion at Christmastime.

There has been no staging of the classic more imaginative and creatively daring than Sendak’s collaboration with PNB’s Founding Artistic Directors husband-and-wife duo Kent Stowell and Francia Russell — in large part because Sendak’s vision reclaimed and made even more wonderful Hoffmann’s essential weirdness, which the Dumas translation had cleaned up and tucked away for nearly a century. To Sendak, earlier versions of Nutcracker were invariably “smoothed out, bland, and utterly devoid not only of difficulties but of the weird, dark qualities that make it something of a masterpiece.”

So even though he at first turned down the theatrical project because its “fantastical subject mixed generously with children seemed, paradoxically, too suited” for his sensibility, he was eventually enchanted by it and dreamed up a set design with which audiences fell instantly in love, catapulting the fledgling ballet company into stardom. Sendak’s set emerged as so influential and beloved that it became a classic in its own right — so much so that when he died in 2012, PNB restaged the ballet and dedicated its entire season to the great author and artist.

A few months after the PNB production first premiered, Sendak reversed his usual direction of book-to-theater adaptation and illustrated the special companion volume Nutcracker (public library). Having brought the iconic E.T.A. Hoffmann characters to life on the stage, he now returned to his native medium — the page — which Sendak imbues with his signature gift for crafting a complex and realistic emotional experience within a wholly fantastical world that honors the light and darkness of the human experience in equal measure.

Even though Sendak’s illustrations for the book are beholden to the integrity of the Hoffman story, he is an artist who has built a career of folding his influences into his own wildly original work, beginning with his formative illustrations of William Blake, which remained a creative centerpiece for Sendak up until his final farewell to the world. To the Sendak fan, then, it is at once pleasantly unsurprising and wholly invigorating to spot among his Nutcracker illustrations both fragments of his existing creations and glimpses of his future ones: In one scene, a Wild Thing peeks from behind the turbulent horizon; the depiction of Hoffmann’s Mouse King throughout would return in near-replica a decade later in Sendak’s darkest, most controversial, yet most hopeful children’s book.

In the introduction to the book, Sendak recounts how his initial reservations about the project were resolved:

Most of my doubts and worries were put to rest when Kent and I met for the first time early in 1981 in New York City. I liked him immediately for not wanting me to do the Nutcracker for all the obvious reasons but rather because he wished me to join him in the leap into the unknown. He suggested we abandon the predictable Nutcracker and find a fresh version that did honor to Hoffmann, Tchaikovsky, and ourselves.

Sendak, a tireless champion of children’s ability to handle the dark, considers the chief redeeming quality of this sanitized take on the Hoffmann classic — Tchaikovsky’s defiant, visionary score:

Tchaikovsky … proceeded to compose a score that in overtone and erotic suggestion is happily closer to Hoffmann than Dumas. His music, bristling with implied action, has a subtext alive with wild child cries and belly noises. It is rare and genuine and does justice to the private world of children. One can, after all, count on the instincts of a genius.

Were it not for his lifelong humility, Sendak might well have been talking about himself — for it was his own rare and genuine genius that elevated the Hoffmann classic, and the Tchaikovsky score, to a new dimension of greatness.

Complement Sendak’s Nutcracker with his little-known and lovely vintage posters celebrating books and the joy of reading and his illustrations for Tolstoy.

Illustrations courtesy of Crown Publishing Group / Penguin Random House

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Wole Soyinka, the First African Writer to Win the Nobel Prize in Literature, on Faith, Medicine, and the Healing of the Human Spirit

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What a continent’s “rich tapestry of intuitive forces” can teach us about healing, of body and of soul.

Even though the term “placebo effect” was coined in 1920 and the phenomenon itself has been studied since the 18th century, only recently have scientists begun to understand the full extent to which our minds affect our bodies. Of course, long before Western medicine was able to define and demonstrate it empirically, the world’s ancient practitioners of traditional medicine have been reaping the benefits of this integrative mind-body approach to healing for centuries, if not millennia — under the dismissive, even scornful eye of the Western medical establishment. But in addition to betraying the very basic tenet of science as a discipline propelled not by the arrogance of what we know but by the humility of what we don’t — by the “thoroughly conscious ignorance” that transmutes curiosity into knowledge — such attitudes are mired in more complex sociocultural forces and power dynamics, especially in societies torn between two worlds by the soul-splitting aftermath of colonialism.

That’s precisely what Wole Soyinka — the first African writer awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature — explores in his altogether excellent collection Of Africa (public library).

Wole Soyinka (Photograph: Peter Badge)

Soyinka writes in the introduction:

What does the continent known as Africa possess that the rest — or a greater part — of the globe does not have already in superabundance? These, obviously, cannot be limited to material or inert possessions — such as mineral resources, touristic landscapes, strategic locations— not forgetting the continent’s centuries — old designation as human hatcheries for the supply of cheap labor to other societies, East and West. There also exist dynamic possessions — ways of perceiving, responding, adapting, or simply doing that vary from people to people, including structures of human relationships. These all constitute potential commodities of exchange— not as negotiable as timber, petroleum, or uranium perhaps, but nonetheless recognizable as defining the human worth of any people—and could actually contribute to the resolution of the existential dilemma of distant communities, or indeed to global survival, if only they were known about or permitted their proper valuation.

[…]

It is its humanity, the quality and valuation of its own existence, and modes of managing its environment— both physical and intangible (which includes the spiritual) — that remain the primary, incontestable assets to which any society can lay claim or offer as unique contributions to the attainments of the world.

In an essay titled “Not a ‘Way of Life,’ But a Guide to Existence” — particularly poignant in the wake of the world’s frantic response to the Ebola crisis — Soyinka examines the larger secular structures and functions surrounding traditional religion, focusing on those aspects of society that reside not “within the mysteries of the religion itself, but in those areas of mundane activities in which religion is implicated, however marginally, making our selection among the more pacific and unavoidable human occupation.” He considers the disorienting intersection between traditional African spiritual traditions — traditions that have shaped “social conduct, human relations, and survival strategies” — and their ambivalent disavowal by post-colonial society:

My mother was what we call a petty trader. Next to her shop was a traditional healer, a babalawo, whose clinic was the verandah of his mud house, under a lean-to, thus making it quite visible from the frontage of our own shop, where I often sat. My father was a schoolteacher, and it struck me that his, and the babalawo’s, operations appeared to share the activity of instruction, so I began to take an illicit interest in his methods. Illicit because, to a well-brought-up child from a Christian home, such activities were clearly the work of the devil. Beyond a neighborly good morning, there was hardly any social intercourse between the healer and our own corner of the block.

And yet despite this coolly detached public courtesy was only one half of the great ambivalence with which the community regarded the babalawo; the other half was enacted privately, in secret:

The babalawo’s clinic was the place for a more fascinating array of herbal concoctions dispensed for various illnesses—potions from barks and roots, bitter and astringent, oily and/or gritty, not too dissimilar from those that were dispensed by the bottle and spoon in western hospitals. I was also able to observe that the babalawo’s consulting shack was patronized by practicing Christians and Moslems — a number of them sneaking in after dusk or in the early morning on their way to white-collar duties… My superimposing eyes also remarked that, in our own home, apart from the pills and potions dispensed from the government hospitals, there were also jars, clay pots, and gourds whose contents were suspiciously like the ones I saw being provided by the babalawo.

With an eye toward the broader social and cultural implications of the community’s response to African traditional medicine, Soyinka writes:

One deduction emerged effortlessly from those childhood experiences: a distinction between the passive and the active (participatory) curative methods… The “return to source” with the full collaboration of western-trained doctors, is, however, making strides, perhaps propelled more by commercial stakes than conviction, but that return is on, and with full vengeance.

But perhaps the babalawo’s greatest appeal — to young Soyinka, as well as to us today — was his role as a living reminder that, per Carl Sagan’s memorable admonition, the closer we inch to the assumption that we know everything there is to know and have answered all the questions worth answering, the further we drift from our essential humanity. Soyinka writes:

The babalawo’s clinic intrigued me far more than the starched, white-overall western clinics, where a most impressive looking doctor hung a stethoscope around his neck, listened to heartbeats, took pulses, and wrote down prescriptions in indecipherable script. He looked intimidatingly omniscient, and he clearly was in touch with all the dialects of the human body. The babalawo also exuded knowledge and mystery, but somehow he appeared closer to his patients. For a start, he sat cross-legged on a floormat and appeared to consult his patient as much as they consulted him.

After recounting the babalawo’s process and his various divinations for patients, Soyinka considers the larger value of this practice — one remarkably similar to what Western medicine is only just beginning to discover about the role faith plays in the patient’s physical healing. He writes of the babalawo’s work with one woman from the community:

The therapeutic value of this was to ally the suppliant, psychically, to forces within the entirety of her healing culture — including the history of her own people.

In a sentiment that calls to mind philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s beautiful reflection on the poetics of reverie, Soyinka considers the healing power of poetic form itself — the common thread between the chants of the babalawo’s healing rituals and the liturgies of the world’s organized religions — independent from any religious message it may transmit:

Poetry in liturgy is common to most religions, perhaps the most powerful element, far more powerful than any alleged intrinsic truths of the religions themselves. Poetry, or, sometimes, sheer lyricism and mesmerizing rhetoric, these are tools that are natural to or cultivated by charismatic leaders in any culture, irrespective of the purpose to which such attributes are turned, secular or religious.

In essence, what Soyinka describes is a kind of invaluable social work, and yet its fate in the hands of colonial oppressors has been a dismal one, denying its vitalizing social function and reducing it to useless superstition to be replaced by more convenient but no less damaging dogmas:

This then is the binding network of mortals, deities, and nature that Christians and Moslems pronounced “pagan,” “infidel,” “demonic,” etc., and moved to proscribe and destroy on the African continent, substituting, often through violence, their own faiths, which are based no less on structures of superstition though are perhaps more elegant, architecturally imposing, or seductively packaged. At the heart of it all, however, is nothing more than an article of faith sustained by dogmatism.

Considering such dogmatic “world religions” and their practitioners who “press wafers to the lips of their followers to ingest the body of their sainted god,” Soyinka reflects on Africa’s enduring humanistic values and what it stands to teach all of humanity:

[There are] those who, centuries after the Age of Reason and its underlying spirit of enquiry, still deem a continent backward and satanic, that had proved itself capable of weaving and sustaining such a rich tapestry of intuitive forces. But then, did they know of, or seriously penetrate, such systems of belief? No, their sources remained missionary missives. Despite them all, however, Africa survives to teach the world — even without proselytizing.

Soyinka is careful to acknowledge — “without equivocation” — “the progress that has been made in medicine through scientific research” as he points to the broader cultural and creative importance of making visible the value of traditional African healing traditions:

Our interest here is simply to relate the science of healing to the holism of faiths, of which a most potent aspect is the Word, the lyricism and poetry of healing which acts both therapeutically and homeopathically.

[…]

It is from within such resources that not only the religion but the full richness of Africa’s literary wealth — oral, ancient and contemporary, of the continent and the Diaspora, written and rhetorical — can best be appreciated.

[…]

Insufficiently celebrated remains the fate of this continuity between such traditional resources and contemporary creative minds.

Of Africa is a beautiful read in its entirety. Complement it with Beneath the Rainbow — a collection of ancient stories and poems from Kenya, illustrated by contemporary African artists.

Donating = Loving

In 2014, I poured thousands of hours and tons of love into bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings. But it also took some hefty practical expenses to keep things going. If you found any joy and stimulation here over the year, please consider helping me fuel the former and offset the latter by becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.