ESSAY EIGHTEEN – THE EASTER EGG HUNT
When we participate in an Easter egg hunt, the rules are simple. We know beforehand that at a certain time and within a proscribed area there are treasures to be found. Whether they are brightly colored eggs, candy, chocolate bunnies or prizes, they are there, waiting to be spotted, gathered up and put into our baskets. We also understand that some of the “searchers” will collect far more treasures than will others. This will occur every time there is a hunt, and no matter what efforts are made by those planning the event, it becomes obvious that there are good searchers and bad searchers. There is obviously a skill to this, and clearly some do it better than others do.
Your personal search for direction and meaning in art (your Artquest) that you are now participating in, is quite different. The treasure is not hidden (although it is rarely in plain sight), the search area is not physically proscribed, and there are no winners and losers. In the egg hunt, the winners tended to be aggressive, analytical and competitive, they develop a strategy and they then “join the fray.” Those who end up with fewer eggs are usually more random in their approach, and tentative in their actions and less focused upon the prize. They are easily distracted from the goal at hand (or, with a more positive spin, perhaps they are more interested in participating than in “winning”).
Unlike our hypothetical “EggQuest”, in your ArtQuest, your personality type will not give you a particular advantage, and if anything, the people with an aggressive, “want to win” attitude may well end up with the more difficult task. Goal orientation is a good strategy only if you are able to articulate, visualize and to describe (effectively) the prize that is being sought. Because the “prizes” we are seeking are non-specific and are rarely obvious in advance, there is no hierarchy of value. Another way of looking at it might well be that it is the quest itself that is the ultimate reward. In searching for eggs, an excellent technique is to eliminate areas where there are no eggs, thereby narrowing the search parameters, but the visual artist or writer soon discovers that everything examined, rather than narrowing the options, seem to open new avenues of exploration. The non-artist often asks where do you get all of your ideas, while the artist laments the difficulty of trying to decide which path to follow and which to ignore (at least for now).
In many ways, your search has some similarities to the Native American Vision Quest. Before adulthood, the person sets out on his own through the wilderness, not to seek but to receive understanding. During this period, he immerses himself into the experience of being, and allows his questioning, focused and analytical self to relinquish control. He orients himself to be more in tune with nature, life, and the world of dream, spirituality and harmony. It is this feeling of openness that allows the understanding into his soul. In this quest, the reward is not what you set out to acquire, but what you receive in its stead.
Seeking understanding operates on a deeper level than finding answers. The understanding often comes when you are looking elsewhere, and concentrating on something different. One might consider this quest similar to contacting the auto club trip routing service to assist in planning your vacation. They usually want to know if you are interested in taking the scenic route, or are you searching for the fastest, most direct pathway to your destination, while Google Maps always looks for the most direct route. Another way of framing that question is trying to ascertain whether the traveling is the important element, or is it primarily the destination you are after. Obviously flying or taking the Interstate gets you there rapidly, but the inefficient and meandering side roads may offer far more unexpected treasures to entice and tempt you. It is possible that what you discover through a chance encounter could be the highlight of the trip. You will have less time at your destination, but you will have had unexpected diversions and new insights and experiences to savor and enjoy. As the bumper sticker proclaims, “All Who Wander Are Not Lost.”
Please keep in mind, that both ways of traveling are valid, effective and productive. Both are correct. It is your choice to decide which is the best for you at a particular time. Choice is good; it is the doorway to possibility.
Several years ago, a friend and I had visited Joyce Kilmer National Forest, in the Southwestern corner of North Carolina. It is one of the few remaining stands of old growth, virgin forest left in the area, and it was very rewarding to quietly stroll through the groves. When we left, we were ready to return to our home in Atlanta, and the map showed that there was no direct route back across a chain of low mountains. Rather than take the main highway around the range of steep hills, we decided to see if there were any small farm roads that might cross this barrier, and after several trials, we found a fairly well maintained gravel road, heading up to the top. While the road got steeper as we neared the summit, we were able to continue, and then we paused for the view when we reached the top. Off to the side was a small, hand lettered sign, nailed to a tree:
THIS ROAD IS THE ORIGINAL “TRAIL OF TEARS”, AND WILL BE MAINTAINED FOREVER BY THE REMAINING MEMBERS OF THE CHEROKEE NATION IN THIS AREA, IN MEMORY AND HONOR OF THE MANY WHO SUFFERED AND PERISHED DURING THAT TERRIBLE TIME. (For those who are unfamiliar with The Trail of Tears and what it represents to the Cherokee Nation, it is worth reading about.)
It is the unexpected path, leading to unknown destinations, which can often be the most rewarding. As always, comments, personal stories and observations are welcome.