Enrichment and Inspiration for Beta Sigma Phi Sisters from Marilyn Ross
By Lynn Terry
Note: The Living Masterpiece is available for you in book form from the Gift Department. It is indeed a Masterpiece for every Beta Sigma Phi and her bookshelf. I believe members should have access to it and am, therefore, taking the liberty to bring it to you via The Strawberry Patch. Permission to share it with you in its entirety has been given by Walter W. Ross, III, Chairman of Board, International Executive Council of Beta Sigma Phi, March 2003.
In a sense this book was never planned. It sort of happened. It took its form first in the hearts of a group of young women banded together for personal development. It found its first expression in single phrase: "The Art of Living."
It was fostered by the rituals and programs of these same young women under the organization name of Beta Sigma Phi.
Eventually it became desirable to acquaint communities where the organization was established, with a fuller understanding of its aims and purposes. A lecture was prepared and given on the subject, "The Art of Living."
Requests for copies of that lecture lead to a revision and reorganization of the material and message into printed form under the present title.
So -- in the beginning was the word, yes, even an unspoken word in the hearts of the members of Beta sigma Phi, and that word became a phrase, and that phrase became a message in the form of a lecture, and the lecture became a book -- a little book, but carrying, we trust, the germ of life which has quickened the hearts and minds of those who now pass it on to you.
It is a little book, and the subject with which it deals is very big. It attempts -- not to paint the great canvas which the name implies, but to make a sketch from which the larger picture might emerge.
It is an honest attempt to think in terms of art principles applied to living.
If you love life and believe in the moving beauty of its essence, if you carry in your heart a dream as the most valuable of all your possessions, if you would school yourself to seek in all experience for the good, the true and the beautiful, then for you this book was intended, not alone by the author who penned it but by the spirit which caused it to evolve.
Correggio, standing for the first time before Raphael's "St. Cecelia" exclaimed in discovery, "I, too, am a painter."
It is our hope that somewhere in this book the reader will catch a glimpse of the compelling reality of ideals when applied to living and exclaim: "I, too, am an artist."
You would like to make of your life "A thing of beauty" and "A joy forever."
This is the motive for Art.
You are the Artist.
Will you make a Masterpiece or weave a waste of shreds and patches?
The Masterpiece requires:
It is the perfect expression of a spiritual reality; the vision made manifest by one who sees and enjoys.
The brush is in your hand. The colors flow with the common moments of the common day.
What do you paint?
Your ideals are your life portrait seen in advance.
What will your picture be?
A FAMOUS art critic once remarked that, after visiting the museums of the world, he was struck by the thought that one Great Artist had painted all the perfect pictures, modeled the sublime forms, and composed the supreme scores. Not the lesser painting, or sculpture, or music, but the Masterpieces.
It is some such thought as this which writers in aesthetics have in mind when they approach the arts as one. And it is some such thought as this we must keep in mind in attempting to think of living as Art.
There are those who question that life is or can be an Art.
No less an authority than John Erskine in defining the term (art) writes: "I should like to use the word to cover all the ideal-making and ideal-expressing functions of our nature."
Ideal-making and ideal-expressing.
Apply these to life.
Ideal-making. It is the first step of an artist. He sees a vision. He dreams a dream.
And it is so with Life.
THE brightest hours of our childhood found us dreaming by a quiet stream, or sitting on a hill, our knees encircled in our arms, our eyes outshining the stars they looked upon while fashioning an inner vision.
It was then we promised our early God to have the courage to keep amid the tempests of the coming years that light which glowed within.
What have you done with those dreams, and what have they done with you?
In those first dreams what courage there was! What faith! What visions!
We dared to dream of ourselves as Joan of Arc, as Bernhardt, as Galli Curci, or Queen Marie, or Princess Mary -- only -- a little better, a little brighter, a little more glamorous than she who inspired the dream. And our faith was perfect.
We had not yet been told there was anything too good to be true.
Such were the shining visions of our childhood. But the years passed and they grew dim.
THEN came the dreams of adolescence and of youth.
These took more generally the forms of power: Money, Fame, Love. Not so defined nor so pictorial as the earlier dreams, but filled with the surge and tremulous beauty of a new awakening, a maturer life.
There is a powerful urge in these, and they do not ever pass completely.
They remain to the end, either as living images by which we shape our destiny, or as pathetic memories to remind us of what we might have been.
There is in all this world no inspiration stronger and no dream more perfect than the dream of youth.
"One man with a dream, at pleasure
BUT there is that great wasteland youth must cross in passing to maturity.
Amid the shadows of that wasteland sometimes the dreams of youth are blurred.
And sometimes, unfortunately, lost forever or for long years there.
And sometimes, tragically, youth is robbed of them by others looting to destroy because their own dreams have been lost.
For he who loses his dreams in the wasteland is lost henceforth himself. Being unable to find his own way out he believes there is no way, and becomes a despoiler (strips, robs, plunders).
We all know that wasteland. Either we have crossed it or are still in it.
It is there we learn how dreams can test our courage -- for there we see every obstacle raised by Fate to keep us from achieving the desires of the heart.
It is there we wander feverishly amid multiplicity of occupations, wasting precious years in a delusion of progress.
It is there we commit the big blunders of bad temper, excessive amusement, cruelty, intolerance, impatience, emotional extremes.
It is there we meet Cynicism and Skepticism, often wearing the badge of education. Cynicism discourages our faith, suggesting that by inheritance or training or both we are "no good" or "second-rate" or "just like other people." Skepticism tempts us toward mediocrity and inertia, questioning "What is the good of trying?" or "Why not leave well enough alone?"
Our moral platitudes pale in the light of history and psychology.
Developed reasoning power discloses what we had called religion to be mere theology.
Our dreams become idle day dreams in which we have little faith and for whose fulfillment we lack the courage.
Life loses joy and direction.
We forget that in each human being, in our own self as in others, there is a great mystery, a potential miracle for which we must create an individuality through our own expression.
And those who are lost and would destroy our dreams say,
"Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
And each of us wandering in the wasteland reaches a signboard on which is written the word "Disillusion."
Those who have known the wasteland in the past few years met there another Monster. His name was Depression.
Not only were the ideal values of life hazarded and deflated, but those supposedly sterner values representing such actualities as houses and lands, stocks and bonds, pay-rolls and the very necessities of physical life melted before our eyes like snow on a desert.
So -- we were stripped of all.
All, except the ideal-making and ideal-expressing functions of our own nature.
You build your dream,
NO ONE had told us this was the equipment for an art. But it was the only equipment we had and we must make a life.
We returned to the dreams we had brought with us into the wasteland -- those products of the ideal-making functions of our nature.
Youth's dreams of Money, Fame, Love.
But we had learned that money takes itself wings. We had learned that poverty and wealth are of the spirit, not the purse. We knew that our hearts' desire was no longer to invest in stocks and bonds, but to invest in life.
So this dream dimmed.
We thought again of Fame, but time had taught its lesson, and we knew that fame, like money, was a temporal thing, fortunate if it came, but not a supreme good, not an eternal value.
There was but one dream left.
Our dream of Love.
The ideal-making functions of our nature again took hold of this and we found it synonymous with Beauty, Goodness, Truth.
We had rejected youth's dream of Money, which would have made of our life a business, for of a business one asks money.
We had rejected youth's dream of Fame, which would have made of our life a profession, for of a profession one expects honor.
We had retained youth's dream of Love, finding it could most fully serve and be served by all the ideal-making and ideal-expressing functions of our nature; finding it would give to our life "Significant form and expressive quality;" finding it meant wealth and honor beyond the paltry reach of time.
We had, unwittingly but certainly, elected to make an Art of Life.
THE brush is in your hand. The colors flow with the common moments of the common day.
Where then are your tools, and what your material? Where else than in speech, in action and thought need you look for a medium?
Where else than in Beauty, in Goodness and Truth need you seek for an essence?
Are you willing to work to master your tools?
Are you willing to search out the principles of art and apply these to living?
Are you willing to become an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature?
When the artist is alive in one it disturbs, upsets, enlightens and opens the way for understanding.
Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book he opens it and shows there are more pages possible.
Are you willing to be a part of such direct purpose?
The work of the art student is no light matter. Have you courage and stamina to see it through?
It is no undertaking for a quibbling or uncertain person.
Like a hunter one hits or misses. You are looking for what you love and you try to capture it.
Yet you are not alone, but a part of a great kind. Those who are of it know each other and time and space do not separate them.
To these, mysterious avenues of understanding open.
One learns that when body and soul unite in desire for a certain expression and cannot be distracted, that expression will come.
So ask yourself frankly what it is you really want. Where, in the last resort, does your treasure lie?
That picture, no less, you may paint if you will.
In your effort to attain the artistic conception of life you may achieve what Tennyson tells of his friend Arthur Hallam:
"One I knew
Life is greater than Beauty and yet Beauty is its test, its judge.
With patience and humility will you "imagine that which you know" and "with courage at that which you imagine?"
Your sole contribution to the sum of things is yourself.
Will you live your dream?
"So he died for his dream? That is fine.
THE first problem with which a painter is faced is not what to put into his picture, but what to leave out. The principle of Elimination.
In our picture of life let us leave out not only ugliness, but all things unlovely.
A young woman once told me a story that illustrates this well. Her husband's brother and his wife were having domestic difficulty. The wife came to Betty and poured out her troubled thoughts. Betty was silent, finding little she could say. The sister-in-law, feverish with anger, reproached her, "Why do you say nothing? You know you would not endure this condition in your own marriage, yet you sit silent as if you have no sympathy. What would you do if you were in my place?"
Betty then proved by her answer a love and understanding deeper than casual sympathy as she said slowly,
"I do not know what I would do. But I know one thing -- whatever he does, or has done -- if I were you -- I would not, myself, do anything unlovely."
We cannot control outer circumstances, but we can control what they do with and in our consciousness -- and what they become in our picture depends upon the way we "see" them.
Next, we have Composition. Unity in variety. Many things put together to make one thing of them. For this is a theme, a center of interest is needed and all other parts related harmoniously.
Life is like a jig saw puzzle. Only when the pieces are fitted together properly is the puzzle solved -- the composition effected.
A busy father when his little girl wanted to play with him, took a map of the world and cut it into puzzle pieces, for her to put together. He was surprised when she came back with the puzzle put together correctly. Knowing her knowledge of geography to be slight, he asked her how she did it. The little one said: "Daddy, there was a picture of a man on the other side. I put the man together and then the world came out right."
We are each of us like that child -- trying to put our world together -- and finding that only as we put the man or the woman together will our world come out right.
Composition is a study of the relative value of things. In one sense all art is composition. It is knowing how to build with things without destroying them.
Nothing is for itself, but each partaking of the other is living its greatest possibility, surpassing itself in utility and meaning through its relation in the unity.
Let us practice composition of one hour. Then a day. Then a year. These compose a life. But be sure you are composing to express yourself, not composing to compose.
The theme of your picture is your philosophy of life. Every one has a philosophy, even the man who cannot write his own name. No one can get through a day without some working philosophy of life.
Love, Truth, Goodness, Beauty are great themes, ultimate values; and the greatness of an artist is established by the greatness of his ideas adequately expressed.
Composition includes symmetry, balance. Phillips Brooks well said of the symmetry of life that it was three-dimensional -- its breadth comprised of sympathy, understanding, tolerance, and fellowship; its depth consisting of courage, humility, sincerity and perseverance; its height composed of vision, faith aspiration and joy.
There is, also, the principle of Perspective. To see things as they are. The craftsman in life learns, like the painter, to step aside and view his canvas in order to keep "perspective."
Sometimes our viewpoint is deceived by pride -- by our own mental stature.
Even physical stature can distort the view of an artist. Sir Christopher Wren, the great English architect, was very small and somewhat frail. An anecdote of this and of his friendly intimacy with Charles the Second relates that the king walking through his newly erected palace at Newmarket, said:
"These rooms are too low."
Wren answered, "And it please your Majesty, I think them high enough," whereupon Charles, stooping down to Sir Christopher's height rejoined:
"On second thought, I think so, too."
Color there must be, prismatic moments, rose and gold and grey. Color composition is a study in itself. Will your colors run pastel or happy, brilliant or toned?
Again, use color, not for color's sake, but for expression. If all colors are bright, there is no brightness. At times in a single tone there is a gamut of color, alive, illusive and creating depth.
There must be light and shadow, too. The artist has a word for these as one. He calls them "chiaroscuro" and knows them as inseparable. Let us understand them so in life and they contribute to its beauty. The poet tells us --
"We have two lives,
Then there is Brushwork.
The brush is in your hand. The brush stroke of itself also speaks. It is halting or sure, timid or strong.
There are up-strokes, down-strokes, full strokes, miserly strokes, dull strokes and confused strokes.
The stroke is just the artist at the time he makes it. Are yours strong and sure like Velasquez or Franz Hals, who, with a dozen strokes could express more than some artists with a thousand?
Or are they miserly -- one of the worst of all?
The smallest part in the making of a canvas, yet almost every adjective may be applied to them -- icy, brittle, forceful, fearsome, negative, puritanical, smart, evasive, glib, etc.
Does your brush stroke, your manner of the moment, as it were, correlate with your theme? Does it move in unisons, in rhythms?
These principles each must apply to suit his own design, his own desire. The same scene painted by a Twachtman and a Winslow Homer would represent not an identical spot in geography but a totally different expression of personality. One saw the sea bathed in mists, the rocks softened with vapor. The other looked straight to the hard rock, and found in its leaden heaviness the tremendous force in nature.
Some try to paint two pictures on one canvas. In life the psychologist knows these as cases of split personality, lacking perspective, lacking composition or unity.
The object back of every true work of art is the attainment of a state of being -- a state of high functioning -- a more than ordinary experience of existence. The living is the thing.
WHAT will your picture be?
Is it not fine to see the development of one's self? The final selection of a favorite theme, the concentration of all forces on that theme, its development and constant effort toward clearest expression? Its continuation through the years, new elements entering as life goes on, each stroke differing yet eventually unified? A greater power of revealing oneself. A clear theme on which a life is strung.
If we see life as beauty, we must to some extent then wish to shape it into a work of art.
Each must take the material at hand, see in it the big truths of life, the fundamental forces and give these an expression.
Only through utmost independence will we dare depict complete goodness, ultimate truth.
The artist walks bravely in great experience seeing the common moments mysteriously wonderful.
Whitman made poetry of the prostitute, Rembrandt portrayed beauty in the beggar, Velasquez disclosed dignity in a dwarf.
This is a revelation.
It is the symbol of the man who paints, the vision of one who sees and enjoys.
Perhaps you have symbol now, a magic formula to make your dream come true.
In the North I met a girl who as a child read a story about a Blue Bowl which intrigued the ideal-making functions of her nature. She looked about her for a Blue Bowl to fulfill the picture in her mind. The quest led her into acquaintance with many beautiful things.
In college it determined her choice of a career as an interior decorator. After graduation it became a philosophy of living. I asked her, as you would have, if she had ever found it -- ever expected to find it. She said, "I have found so many Blue Bowls, almost as lovely as my vision, and so many other beautiful things as I searched for it -- by my own Blue Bowl -- no, I cannot say that I have found it. But I know I will, and when I do -- it many not be a blue bowl at all."
So, the artist in life knows that the faculty to dream was not given to mock us.
Like the lover he longs for complete identification with the object of adoration; like the God -- intoxicated he longs for the tongues of men and of angels to win the world to share his revelation; like the philosopher he hopes for his vision finality and permanence; like all men he desires, not momentarily, but throughout all his days articulate expression of the perfection he perceives in his vision.
The artist in life knows there is a reality back of the dream, a divinity in our deepest desires.
The artist in life knows the longing in our soul for complete expression is a promise that we may paint the pattern revealed in our moments of highest transfiguration.
The artist in life knows -- with Emerson, that "Sooner or later that which is now our life will be poetry and every fair and manly trait shall add a richer strain to the song."
The artist in life knows, with Hans Christian Andersen, that "Every man's life is fairy tale written by God's fingers."
THE brush is in your hand. The colors flow with the common moments of the common day. Look well therefore to this day. Life is to be lived.
The work of art has"finish," but no work of art is ever really finished. They only stop at good places. Every day well lived makes any day a good place to stop should life cease while the picture is only a sketch.
Neither does age destroy beauty if age means expansion, development, growth.
Mysterious depths are attained, gentleness and integrity become visible.
There are moments in life, there are moments in every day -- when we see beyond the usual. We reach into reality. If we capture these and do not let the calculating intellect interfere, we have the vision of the artist.
Sorrows may fall. Troubles may thicken. Every material aid may fail. Yet, if our life have Beauty of Idea, Beauty of Form, Beauty of Execution, and Beauty of Finish, it will become a Masterpiece.
The great, the significant, the splendid impulse for beauty can force its way through every limitation, just as nature, greatest of all artists, lifts a lily from the slime. It was of the lotus that Edward Sill asked:
And in its answer the lotus gives the secret of all beauty and evolution:
We may scrape and re-scrape in our effort to establish the truth of our own design, the clear color of our own soul.
It is not our desire to paint cleverly and pleasantly the appearance of things, but to paint honestly and fearlessly the undercurrent from which we are sprung, the reality in which we are rooted.
The depth as well as the height shall be portrayed. The shade and the gloom as well as the sun and the smiles.
If we see the facts of our own life as sordid unloveliness we must look more deeply into these facts until we can see there the hidden beauty, and this we must bring to light.
Critics may say of the picture of our life as they did of the Mona Lisa,"She is older than the rocks among which she sits: like the vampire she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas and keeps their fallen day about her." All this they may say and more if they must also say, as of Mona Lisa,"The presence that thus rose strangely beside the waters was what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which 'all the ends of the world are come'. It is a beauty wrought out from within, upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries, and exquisite passions."
Let us bring to the canvas all the ideal-making and ideal-expressing functions of our nature, to the very end believing as we paint that ours is a picture worthy to be entitled"The Life Beautiful." Working thus, the joy of the true Artist will be ours.
"And only the Master shall praise us,