Mar. 18 Global Wisdom Circle

Mar. 18 OWL Global Wisdom Circle:
Richard Whittaker

Sharing wisdom, experience and support
among global citizens everywhere.

Art as a Gift of the Spirit

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works and conversations, an arts magazine published in Berkeley, CA that features interviews with artists from all walks of life.

It all started in the early 1990s, when Richard set out to explore artists’ experiences and reflections about their own art making. What came from that was a series of deeply thoughtful interviews with a wide range of artists. And a magazine.

Although modest in its subscription base, the magazine has attracted a growing number of readers touched by a quality of content missing in other artworld publications. Institutional subscribers, ranging from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, SFMOMA and the Kandinsky Library at the Pompidou Center in Paris to Harvard, Stanford and Columbia Universities and RISD, The Art Institute of Chicago, CCA, SVA and SFAI, subscribe and have archived all of the back issues in their libraries.

In early 2007, Richard met with two friends at a local Taqueria for a conversation that resulted in a radical change, turning a 15-year-old subscription model into a gift-economy experiment. Now the magazine is offered as a gift; in turn, the subscribers are invited to pay-forward a subscription to another reader. It’s an experiment in generosity, and to this day, the magazine costs are covered entirely by unsolicited donations from grateful readers and supporters.

Richard opens doors to the inner worlds of artists, and the mystery of how the spirit becomes art, through his conversations with them. In a 2006 interview with Robin Henderson, he said,

It’s not unusual when I talk with an artist and ask probing, possibly “stupid” questions, the artist tells me “no one ever asks me things like that! My artist friends and I never talk about these things!” There’s something paradoxical about that. I think that in order to have a real exchange people actually have to cross a line, even a little bit, into sincerity.

When Richard was asked for the best bio of himself for people who want to learn more about him, he said, characteristically, “Use this interview.”

Richard Whittaker is also West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.


Part 1 — Opening check-ins

Part 2 — Initial interview: Richard Whittaker

Part 3 — Group interview: Richard Whittaker

Part 4 — Circle of reflection: Libby Traubman, Len Traubman, James Offuh, Rabbi Diane Elliot, Wendy Berk, Sophie Wu, Usman Inuwa, Julie Durkheimer

Part 5 — Closing reflections from Richard



4 thoughts on “Mar. 18 Global Wisdom Circle

  1. Thank you Richard and Diane for your comments. I believe that truth has to be a given in any form of art. But if it is just limited to truth, then I may just admire
    the piece. If love/compassion is at its core, then my spirit is uplifted, and I feel connected with the artist and with humanity as a whole.

    Also beauty can take different forms. I was blown away by the discordant harmonies of Eastern European harmonies such as Bulgarian singers. That form changed how I perceive of beauty.

  2. Thank you, Diane, for this. How lovely to be part of the exchange this morning in which such matters were brought up into resonance. Thank you for naming the unsaid – Love. I’m moved to quote one of my favorite artists, Enrique Martinez Celaya here: “The qualities that distinguish great art from the rest are, directly or indirectly, related to ethics. At the heart of great art you will find love and compassion….A great work of art cannot come from hatred or cynicism.” Perhaps there will be some way to continue an exchange on such things…

    • Yes, this rings so true, Richard. Thank you for your many years of work to open the “connecting doors” between art and heart and spirit, and to foster substantial and nourishing conversations.

  3. Dear friends,

    How wonderful to be on the videoconference with Richard and with all of you this morning. Soon after we spoke, I opened my daily blog message from Fr. Richard Rohr (of the Center for Action and Contemplation) and found it so relevant to what Richard shared with us this morning, that I thought I’d post it here for you all.

    What struck me is that, while we spoke this morning about the philosopher’s description of God as “goodness, beauty, and truth,” what we didn’t name, but was certainly implicit in our conversation, is the aspect of love. I feel that the kind of “beginner’s mind,” or “open listening” that Richard and others bring to their interviewees in “Works and Conversations” partake of a flow of attention that I can only describe as “loving”–that is, present, accepting of, open to, encouraging, connected “subject to subject” (i.e. “I-Thou”). This in itself is, or can be, a kind of embodied practice.

    It seems to me that, in terms of the spirit, all creative acts both spring from and bear witness to a “love-process,” which, like the “beauty-process,” is often defined too narrowly in our usual conceptions. My sense when I functioned for many years in the dance and theatre worlds (in NYC and Minneapolis), was that this loving aspect, along with the sense of beauty, was often squeezed out, neglected, or relegated to the background, which turned the atmosphere dry and brittle.

    Here are Fr. Rohr’s words, and I welcome your responses:

    Irreplaceable “Thisness”
    Sunday, March 18, 2018

    Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;
    Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
    Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
    Crying what I do is me: for that I came.
    —Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”

    Franciscan philosopher-theologian Blessed John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) taught extensively on the absolute uniqueness of each act of creation. His doctrine of haecceity is derived from haec, the Latin word for “this.” Duns Scotus said the absolute freedom of God allows God to create, or not to create, each creature. Its existence means God has positively chosen to create that creature, precisely as it is.

    Each creature is thus not merely one member of a genus and species, but a unique aspect of the infinite Mystery of God. God is continuously choosing each created thing specifically to exist, moment by moment. This teaching alone made Duns Scotus a favorite of mystics and poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Merton, who both considered themselves “Scotists”—as do I. I studied this largely unknown genius for four years in college, which is why I quote him so often.
    Duns Scotus taught that you cannot know something spiritually by saying it is a not-that, by negation or distinguishing it from something else. You can only know anything by meeting it in its precise and irreplaceable thisness and honoring it there. Each individual act of creation is a once-in-eternity choice on God’s part. The direct implication of this truth is that love must precede all true knowledge, which was at the heart of all Franciscan-based philosophy.

    In a word, this is contemplation: to look at reality with a primary gaze of love. Contemplation has been described as “a long, loving look at the Real.” [2] Nondual consciousness is learning how to be present to what is right in front of me, to the Now, exactly as it is, without splitting or dividing it, without judgment, analysis, or resistance. We must say yes before we offer any no!

    In other words, our mind, heart, soul, and senses are open and receptive to the moment, just as it is. This allows us to say, “Just this,” and love things in themselves, as themselves, and by themselves, regardless of how they benefit or make demands on us. Is there any other way to truly love anything?
    Spiritual knowledge is to know things subject to subject (I-Thou), whereas rational knowing is to know things subject to object (I-it). There is, of course, a place for both; but most people have never been taught how to see in this deeper, nondual way, center to center and subject to subject—and that is the seeing that changes our lives.

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