Something for the New Year
‘Every beginning is cheerful’
‘On the tablecloth was a little scroll. “Here is your certificate of apprenticeship,” the Abbé said, “consider it well, its contents are important.” Wilhelm took it up, opened it and read:
Certificate of Apprenticeship
Art is long, life is short, judgement difficult, opportunity fleeting. Acting is easy, thinking difficult, acting according to one’s thoughts uncomfortable. Every beginning is cheerful; the threshold is the place of expectation. The boy is astonished, impressions form him, he learns to play, he is surprised by seriousness. What is excellent is seldom found, more rarely esteemed. It is the height that stimulates us, not the steps; we gladly walk in the plain with our eyes on the peak. Only a part of art can be taught, the artist needs it complete. Whoever half-knows art is always in error and talks a lot; whoever possesses it fully likes only to act and talks rarely or at most late. The former have no secrets or strength, their teaching is tasty like bread that has been baked, and is satiating for one day; but flour cannot be sown, and seed corn should not be ground. Words are good, but they are not what is best. The best is not made clear through words. The spirit in which we act is the highest. Action is only understood and reproduced by the spirit. Nobody knows what he is doing when he acts rightly; but we are always conscious when we are wrong. He who only works with signs is a pedant, a hypocrite or a bungler. There are many of them, and they feel good when they are together. Their chatter holds back the pupil, and their persistent mediocrity brings alarm to those who are outstanding. The teaching of the genuine artist opens up meaning; for where words fail, action speaks. The genuine pupil learns how to unravel what is unknown from what is familiar, and approaches close to the master.’
‘Wilhelm Meister’s Years of Apprenticeship’, Book Seven, Chapter Nine.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Painting, ‘New Light’ 2012 © Gerard F Kennedy