The Great Arab-American Painter, Poet, and Philosopher Kahlil Gibran on Why Artists Make Art
“There is no deeper desire than the desire of being revealed. We all want that little light in us to be taken from under the bushel.”
By Maria Popova
The questions of why we humans create — why we paint caves and canvases, why we write novels and symphonies, why we make art at all — is so perennial that it might indeed fall within the scope of what Hannah Arendt considered the “unanswerable questions” central to the human experience. And yet some memorable answers have been given — answers like Pablo Neruda’s stirring childhood allegory of the hand through the fence.
Another exquisite answer comes from the great Arab-American artist, poet, and philosopher Kahlil Gibran (January 6, 1883–April 10, 1931) in Beloved Prophet (public library) — the collection of his almost unbearably beautiful love letters to and from Mary Haskell.
In a letter to Haskell penned on November 10, 1911, Gibran writes:
There is an old Arabic song which begins “Only God and I know what is in my heart” — and today, after rereading your last three letters, I said out loud “Only God and Mary and I know what is in my heart.” I would open my heart and carry it in my hand so that others may know also; for there is no deeper desire than the desire of being revealed. We all want that little light in us to be taken from under the bushel. The first poet must have suffered much when the cave-dwellers laughed at his mad words. He would have given his bow and arrows and lion skin, everything he possessed, just to have his fellow-men know the delight and the passion which the sunset had created in his soul. And yet, is it not this mystic pain — the pain of not being known — that gives birth to art and artists?
Beloved Prophet is a gorgeous read in its totality. Complement this particular portion with Virginia Woolf on the epiphany in which she understood what it means to be an artist, then revisit Gibran on the seeming self vs. the authentic self and the difficult balance of intimacy and independence in love.
Published January 31, 2017