Artists and Their Gardens

My Garden with wildflowers

There is nothing quite so pleasurable as lounging in a beautiful garden on a summer’s evening. The colors of the flowers are vibrant again after the heat of the day. The scents are alive and intoxicating and the birds seem to catch their breath and chant in renewed and festive song. My garden has become a space that holds my imagination. A place of rest in which I can contemplate. It is a place of creative reverie where my imagination can impose its place in my world.

When I reflect on the gardens and intimate places created by artists for themselves, I can see how the care of their gardens becomes analogous to the cultivation of the imaginal place that exists within themselves- the energy and source of their work. Gardens need care and cultivation. One must plant and weed and nurture one’s garden spaces. One makes plans for a certain type of garden, formal or cottage style, but in all cases one must allow for the spontaneous to enter in upon one’s plans and cultivate that as well. This adds an element of surprise and query and calls one to be attentive to this new creature.

If I reflect on the most famous of artists’ gardens, Monet’s Giverny,  I see how Monet, the observer of the landscape his whole life, comes to understand that what exists without also finds its place within. Monet’s garden becomes a mirror of his own understanding of the greater world. It also manifests the power and scope of his imagination. Late in life, Monet no longer felt the need to seek out his images in the greater landscape, but painted mostly within his own garden. Monet’s life contains a unity of experience that few of us will come to know. All that had lain hidden in his inner world becomes manifest in a way for all to see through his garden. His vision, late in life, is one of an entirely unified experience of the world. There is no demarcation between his inner life and outward experience. His unique vision is one of wholeness. Monet’s garden is his vision of himself and of the world- beautiful, joyful, full of life and vitality. Monet ‘wandered’ (and wondered) in this space. It became a place of profound reverie freeing him to experience the unity of the imaginal world without division.

Artists’ gardens act as a bridge to a place that calls forth images and ideas that are seeking form. These imaginal reveries cannot find us in the noise and chaos of our daily activity. They can only approach one by an obtuse path in quiet and solitude. If the artist is attentive he will recognize these elusive figures and images. The more he resides in such a space the more receptive he will become to the call of the imagination.

“But at the heart of everything is the imagination and I think that we cannot free the soul from fear or learn to open ourselves to the world in all its glory, complexity and beauty unless we free ourselves for the imagination. It is the heart, after all, that is the “organ” of the imagination. And it is that pulsing, hot and muscular star within us that creation and discovery merge. It is in the heart that the inner and the outer become one.” [Tom Cheetham, Imaginal Love, The Meaning of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman, p.137]

Peonies, Lamb’s Ear and Wildflowers

Ars Memoria

Many times we relegate those things that we hold in our memory as artifacts of a past time. We rarely give those images their due. The literalism that is such a part of the American culture, hinders one’s ability to allow the imagination the freedom and spontaneity that it yearns for. This part of our own personal history, we do not take seriously. But as artist, shouldn’t we?

Henry Corbin always insisted history is in the soul, “History making is a musing, poetic process…proceeding as an autonomous, archetypal activity, presenting us with tales as if they were facts. And we cannot transcend history not because we cannot get out of time or escape the past, but because we are always in the soul and subject to its musings.” (As quoted in, Noel Cobb’s, Archetypal Imagination, p.204)

There was a time prior to the twentieth century when imagination and memory were seen as one and the same thing, Ars Memoria. Memoria was the old term for both. It included the idea of memory, imagination, the unconscious and reverie. James Hillman writes, “Memoria was described as a great hall, a storehouse, a theatre packed with images. And the only difference between remembering and imagining was the memory images were those to which a sense of time had been added, that curious conviction that they had once happened.”(Hillman, Healing Fiction, p.41)

My favorite poet, Baudelaire, built his theory of “correspondence” on ars memoria. The imagination is activated by nature provoking the memory and drawing forth correspondences between our own latent memories or the unconscious and images presented before the mind of the poet/artist. Baudelaire’s poem “Correspondences”,

Nature is but a temple whose living colonnades

Breath forth a mystic speech in fitful sighs;

Man wanders among symbols in those glades

Where all things watch him with familiar eyes.


Like dwindling echoes gathered far away

Into a deep and thronging unison

Huge as night or as the light of day,

All scents and sounds and colors meet as one…

Dream and reverie (a conscious dream) also invokes the ars memoria, allowing the musing mind, “sudden wellings up, epiphanies of images, incursions of things undreamt of, sources of hidden insight and exhilarating inspiration.” (Ibid.,p.208) In Ancient Greek mythology, the figure of Mnemosyne, mother of the muses, is identified with memory and the imagination, the basis of all creative endeavors. Carl Kerenyi says of her, “She is memory as the cosmic ground of self-recalling which, like an eternal spring, never ceases flowing.” Reverie connects one to that storehouse of images just as nature can aid in this process of “self-recalling”.

The Irish poet, W.B. Yeats found that symbols had a similar effect on connecting the imagination to memory. In an essay on magic, Yeats describes three doctrines which he believed were handed down from ancient times and are the foundation of nearly all magical practices. “First, that the borders of our mind are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another and create or reveal a single mind. Secondly, That the borders of our memories are shifting, and that our memories are a part of one great memory, the memory of nature herself. Thirdly, that this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols.” (Cobb,p.220) Symbols touch a part of ourselves that is hidden and draws forth from that dark and hidden place memories, unconscious emotions and images that activate the imagination. In such a state the artist finds that there are latent memories and images that are constantly residing right below the surface of consciousness and are archetypal, in that their significance can be felt by all. This storehouse of images- scents and sounds is accessed through nature, reverie and symbols and through this  “self-recalling,” the mother of the muses becomes our guide. As an artist, she is the one I desire most to accompany me.