An Enduring Childhood

Childhood is a time we all remember. It is a time of play, adventures in the backyard, dear friends and many moments of solitude and dreaming. One dreams about real things but one also was allowed to dream “big” imaginary dreams. And it is these imaginary dreams that have most affected us and have stayed with us. They gave us power, adventure, honor and solace. The world was grand and one had the power to change it at the moment he dreamed. These dreams gave one true moments of illumination- “moments of poetic existence”. When a child dreams he feels that there is no limit to his existence and in such a reverie he finds that he can fly.

“The child’s vision is grand and beautiful… In this happy solitude, the dreaming child experiences cosmic reverie- that reverie that unites us with the world.” (Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, p.96)

It is these first images that remain within the child not only in his youth but become central to his psyche as an adult. In this “cosmic reverie” of the child, ” imagination and memory” are intertwined. There is no separation in these moments of reverie between reality and the imagination. All is one and in this oneness the child becomes a “being for the world.”(Ibid,p.96)

The artist retains more clearly, in their character, this “cosmic reverie”, re-enacting in their work this unity of the imagination and reality. Through this creative activity, the artist solidifies his attachment to the world. And through this “bent” he has toward the world, the artist feels compelled to reveal what Bachelard called, “the glory of the living”- a central emotion felt by the child in his stance toward the world. All is incredibly beautiful and filled with immensity. This childhood experience is at the heart of all artistic activity.

When I am working with a model in the studio or am out in the landscape painting, I experience in that moment the sheer magnitude of existence. It appears undeniable- as if I have returned to a child at that moment. Bachelard states,

“… childhood remains a source of life deep within us, a life that stays in harmony with the possibilities of new beginnings. Everything that originates in us with the clarity of a new beginning is a mad surge of life.” (Ibid, p.97)

Every time I begin a new piece, it is a whole new experience- one I could not have anticipated fully. To begin again and again is an inherent part of the craft. Nothing is ever rote. Looking upon that huge white canvas- where all the possibilities are present, I return to that state of wonder that was such a part of my life as a child. The “newness” felt at that moment must be lived and retained throughout the painting process. This newness must carry the artist to a state where “cosmic reverie” can be embraced and lived. It is only in such a state that images can present themselves- images that touch a deep chord within the human heart. Only such an image can call the viewer back to himself- to take his own ‘voyage’ – to be renewed and to love the world once again. This allows the viewer to find in this experience the freedom of “flight”, that he might be re-invigorated and experience “the glory of the living” once again.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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