To Keep the Feast —

When I first took up painting still lifes, it was Cezanne’s apples and oranges that were my ideal and inspiration.  They were an A-B-C for me: they radiate assurance, boldness, confidence and courage. Wouldn’t you think, looking at Cezanne’s every painting, that here was a man who was absolutely certain of everything? Especially of his art?

So when I came upon this poem by Stephen Dobyns, quoting from Cezanne’s own letters, I was shocked:

Cezanne’s Seclusion

by Stephen Dobyns 

“I have begun to think,” he wrote in a late letter,
“that one cannot help others at all.” This
from a man who once called friendship the highest
virtue. And in another he wrote: “Will I ever
attain the end for which I have striven so long?”
His greatest aspiration was certainty
yet his doubts made him blame himself wrongly,
perceiving each painting a disaster. These swings
between boldness and mistrust, intimacy and isolation
led him to stay at home, keep himself concealed,
becoming a sort of hermit, whose passion for the world
directed every brushstroke, changed each creation
into an expression of tenderness, which he dismissed
writing: “a vague sense of apprehension persists.”

Like Cezanne, I long for certainty. Waiting patiently for the unknown to be revealed is more painful than actual bad news. I often think I’ve lived my life with “a vague sense of apprehension”. And yet! Look at Cezanne’s paintings! The juiciness of thick paint, the energy of slashing strokes, of curving strokes, every stroke a miracle of affirmation! None betraying the fear and apprehension he privately admits. He goes on painting.

So, when assaulted by illness, as the Hub and I have been, I pluck up courage with two hands and think, We go on. Past fear and apprehension —to live life as juicily as possible. We guard our energy for strokes to shape our lives into something as beautiful as possible.  There is a haunting line from the liturgy of the Eucharist: And therefore, let us keep the feast.

And so we go on.

(“Cezanne’s Seclusion” by Stephen Dobyns, from Body Traffic. © Penguin, 1990.)

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26 Responses to To Keep the Feast —

  1. Angelia Sims says:

    Live life juicy. I love your attitude. I love that you found inspiration in his work and words. It’s a gorgeous painting.

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  2. Patti Kuche says:

    Judith, I am so sorry to hear you and Hub have not been well. Whatever fears, anxieties and uncertainties we live with how reassuring to know that inner vitality refuses to be suppressed. Best wishes to you both!

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  3. Claudia Shuster says:

    What a powerful entry! Yes it is so difficult to “keep the feast” when under uncertainty and stress!

    Hoping you both are feeling better each day and we can get together.

    Love,
    . Claudia

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  4. coastalcrone says:

    I love Cezanne too.

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  5. Love your attitude! I hope you guys feel better soon 🙂

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  6. I like that line very much. It reminded me of a line from the Catholic mass – let us proclaim the mystery of faith. I wish for you both a positive outcome and better health very soon xxx

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Thank you, Karen. I love the line too — it sounds perfectly straightforward, and yet to me it reverberates of mystery — as in your recollection, to proclaim the mystery of faith.
      (When it comes to the spirit, I glean wherever I can.)

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  7. pauline says:

    Ah, J, to feast on the small things, the little goodnesses, is so you. Hope everything improves for both you and Frank.

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  8. What a beautiful painting. Next time I will see it I will hear your words reflect through the picture.

    You know, I tried a still life painting class once. The nun who taught it got rather agitated with my -ummmmm, rather inartistic- eye. She scolded me a few times and then finally drew outlines. I just had to color it in. I don’t think I was her best artist or favorite student. 🙂

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Probably not. 🙂 On the other hand, she wouldn’t have been your favorite teacher, or mine.
      A literal-minded teacher would probably hate Cezanne’s oranges and apples and lemons also, they’re lumpy and asymmetrical, and they’d loathe his perspectives, with tiptilted tables, etc.

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  9. janina says:

    An interesting post and perspective. I think it’s a bit of a ‘given’ that all artists have great self-doubt and that fuels their creativity, as well as the extreme negative critiqueing of their own work. Often that is just a criticism of themselves as a person. They want to be liked, just like the rest of us! If you don’t like their work, sometimes they equate that to that you don’t like them! Neurotic of course.
    Sorry to hear you’re both not well, or have been unwell. Reasons? Solved?

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Your comment is perceptive and provocative, and I suspect, very often true.
      And then — there’s Picasso.
      And some others with the same gift for surety and self-confidence.

      (Like Queen Elizabeth some time back, this has been an annus horribilis for us; thank heaven we seem to have turned the corner of the current crisis, and look forward to better health for both and more frequent posting! Thanks for asking –)

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  10. I think we all swing sometimes from “boldness and mistrust, intimacy and isolation,” illness and health. Keep the feast. Keep the FAITH. It’s something we all must remember as we move in and out – just like Cezanne – of life’s ebbs and flows. Will keep you both in my prayers, my friend. xoxo

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  11. Rebekah says:

    Juicy post. Yes, we go on … the alternative is not to think about. His thoughts touches an inner cord with me.

    Just don’t wait too patiently for the unknowable … think about what … what’s his name … Mencken, said.

    Sorry to learn that the Hub, too, has been ill?!

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  12. eof737 says:

    Gorgeous colors and painting… Sending you both healing light and love. 🙂

    Like

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