Two Questions, Two Art Works, One Life to Live

         What’s going on inside you?

         What’s going on because of you?

         Last spring, I attended a leadership conference at Westmont College. The president said he often asks students these two questions.  They struck me as excellent questions to ask ourselves from time to time.

Reflecting on them this week brought to mind two art works I saw in Europe in January 2020.  In Leipzig it was “The Kneeling King,” a wooden sculpture from 1500.  In Vienna, it was “The Large Path” from 1962 by Friedensreich Hundertwasser.  Different eras, different artists, different media, different themes.  But somehow, they help me reflect on how we can view our life through these two questions.  I’m inviting you to look at them with me with the questions in mind.

         Let’s start with the older one, “The Kneeling King.”

Knieender Konig, Michel Erhart, c. 1500, Zentrum Museuem, Leipzig

This is piece of religious art, and the “King” with his opened treasure box is one of the Magi.  He has been on a long journey, led by signs and prophecies to a distant land. He’s come to pay homage to a newborn child who promises to bring peace to the world.  He’s arrived and is kneeling in humility and hope.  But as I look at his facial expression, I sense an inner weariness.  Grateful he got to this point, but not assured his longings will be fulfilled. In my imagination it seems likely he will return home and eventually die without knowing if his hopes will be realized.  But he’s done his best. He’s made the journey and offered something of his own that could be valuable to benefit others.

         What’s going on inside of him?  I sense a desire to help the world become a place of greater compassion and justice. At this late stage in his life, he wants to offer something of personal significance to benefit humanity. 

What is happening because of him?  A poor family is being given a gift to help them raise their child.  His inner journey leads to an outward journey — a giving away rather than just a gathering in.

         Let’s turn to the contemporary piece, “The Large Path” by Hundertwasser.

Der Grosse Weg, Friedensreich Hundterwasser,  1962, Belvedere Palace, Vienna. 

         I don’t know anything about theories of color and design, but this piece made me pause and study it with fascination and curiosity. 

I read the descriptive plaque next to it: Hundertwasser’s art combines Far Eastern philosophy and abstract art, the unconscious and the rational, nature and culture. He discovered Zen Buddhism in the 1950s and traveled subsequently to Japan. He sought to put an end to the lust for money and power and to find inner peace. The spiral represents the long road towards this goal. The center of the picture promises tranquility.

         Our current culture is often described as one in which we are searching for our “authentic self.”  For some, Western spirituality has become dry and dogmatic. Eastern paths offer an opportunity for finding inner peace.  Popular psychology and self-help also reflect this hunger.  Will I ever know who I really am?  Will I ever be able to find peace and tranquility? Like the subject in “The Kneeling King,” the artist went on a long journey.  Looking back, he felt his search had been like a long spiral coming closer and closer to a meaningful center, which he represents as a patch of blue — like a warm and welcoming window to deep inner space. 

What’s going on inside of this him? It seems the answer could be a long search for inner peace. And the painting suggests he found something at one point.

 What’s going because of him? I did not know until I read more about him. 

It turns out Hundertwasser became an early pioneer in environmental activism. He bought land in rural New Zealand and lived self-sufficiently using solar panels, a water wheel, and a biological water purification plant.  He made a trip to Washington, DC, to oppose the growth of nuclear weapons.  It seems his inner search didn’t end with him finding a state of personal illumination but became a path turning outward to make a difference in the world. 

There may have been times in my life when I hoped I’d find some permanent place of inner tranquility within myself. But the older I get, the less I feel a need to find such a place.  I am more curious about what I can offer to the world beyond myself, even if I don’t know how it will turn out.  Maybe the best way to find ourselves is to give ourselves away.

         What’s going on inside you?

         What’s going on because of you?

What do you see in these works of art?

5 Comments

  1. Pretty much have been thinking about the same things most of my life. Going within has kept me alive much longer than others with my medical condition. But for me it’s the journey of the Magi that is most important. It’s been important since I was a little girl wondering what was important to do with my life. The outward and inner journey combined sustains a life well lived.

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  2. Susie says:

    There is no way to happiness happiness is the way

    Like

  3. Leroy Werkhoven says:

    Your best post I have read

    Like

  4. Karen L Stancer says:

    Outstanding, bro!!!

    Like

  5. livelier13 says:

    Hi Steve, I love powerful questions. These two are exquisite and timeless, evocative. Thank you once again. Kj

    Kristen Jacobsen Mobile 831-818-6573 Leadership & Change Inc.

    “It takes courage to be curious”

    Sent from my magic IPad

    >

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