This paper was first given as part of "Art Answers the Questions of Your Life"--a series of talks about photography, painting and sculpture presented free to the public at the Terrain Gallery

How Can We Feel Independent and Secure At Once? -Art Shows Us How


By Eve Lustig

I liked this photograph of a mare and her colt as soon as I saw it, and I think what makes it beautiful is something every family can learn from.  I learned from Aesthetic Realism, the education founded by Eli Siegel, that family members need to see that as we are close to each other, we are also related to the world.  The best and most important thing about every family member is their desire to like the world – and the purpose of the family is to encourage that desire.  The means for this is to see how opposites of the world are in our families and in ourselves.
 
 

A Mare and Her Colt by Nancy Starrels
This photograph is by Nancy Starrels.  She taught “The Honoring Eye”, a class in photography based on this Aesthetic Realism principle, “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”  In this photograph there is a drama of sameness and difference, nearness and distance, warm intimacy and mystery in a simple setting of two horses, a barn in the background and hay on the ground.  The mare is mostly dark and her colt is light.  Yet the sunlight they are facing on the left lightens the mare’s head and makes her seem more like her colt.  The dark and light of the mare and colt are mingled in the hay-covered ground.  The colt is posed going towards something we do not see, while the mother is modestly, closely looking after him.  Meanwhile, both mare and colt have the same hoof raised: the left foreleg.  And the horizontal strip of light on the hay accents the relation of baby colt and a world that goes out beyond what we can see.

Eli Siegel lectured on history, art, science, literature and more, and he also spoke to individual people, encouraging them to be in the best relation to the world they can be.  I had the honor and pleasure to study in classes with Mr. Siegel and in one class, when I was in my early 20’s and living away from my family for the first time, he asked me questions about a conflict in myself that people have had for centuries:

Eli Siegel:What is it you miss now?
Eve Lustig:Somebody to take care of me.
Eli Siegel:Do you want to be taken care of inordinately and also be
independent?
Eve Lustig:Yes.
Eli Siegel:Do you think you have two desires?  Do you think there is
any possibility of their being mingled?
Eve Lustig:Yes, I do.

I am so grateful my feelings were described so clearly and with such kindness by 
Mr. Siegel.  I wanted two things in a way that made me feel I would never really be happy and was always missing something.  In this photograph, I think the opposites of being taken care of and being independent are mingled beautifully and this is why I care for it as I do.
The colt is close to his mother, yet we 
see him as related, through light and dark, verticals and horizontals, to the whole 
world.  This is true of every person and 
I think what affected Nancy Starrels as 
she took this photograph.
In his lecture, “The American Family versus American Art”, Mr. Siegel describes the mistake made in the family:  “The family…accents nearness as something opposed inimically to remoteness.”  Family members have given each other a great deal of pain as they have felt the family was the only warm place in the world and they haven’t liked, the way they could, a sister, a father, a son or daughter, caring for other people, or anything outside the family.

Mr. Siegel then describes what every family member, every person hopes for.  “If a member of the family said, ‘I belong to you, family, I am of you; but I am of the whole universe, I am of everything’—that would make sense.”  I had tried to use my family as many people do, as a snug nest against a world I saw as cold, and then felt stuck and angry.  Meanwhile, I was also cold to my parents and brother and regret I felt what they cared for didn’t matter too much, or I was in competition with it.  Now, because my contempt for the world and people was beautifully criticized through my study of Aesthetic Realism, as I speak to people, including the persons in my family, I am more honestly interested in what they feel, what their opinions are, what they care for and why.  My family and I are more friendly than in all the years I lived with them.  I am tremendously grateful to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism for enabling me to be a kinder, wider person.

The universe, as abstract and unknown, is in the dark space of the open window on the left of the barn above the head of the colt, and in the darkness of the top part of the open door on the right.  The sense of a wider world is also in the fact that we do not see what the colt is going towards.

The line of the barn accent horizontality and width, while the mare and her colt are closely joined near the center of the photograph: see how the colt’s light rear leg is right next to his mother’s dark rear leg.  I was especially affected seeing that while the mother forms a protective semi-circle around her colt, she does not touch him, and the colt’s definite interest in something “out there” doesn’t seem against his mother’s concern.

Every family member, every person, can learn from Aesthetic Realism, as I am so grateful to be, how to have a life that is sensible and good, and it is through seeing how the opposites are in ourselves, and other people and relate us to everything in the world.

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