The Cultivation

Chiang Huang's "Brass Kettle"

Chiang Huang’s “Brass Kettle”

Cultivate. Harvest. Slow things both, the former taking precedence over the latter almost always. Several years ago I started following an artist from Austin whose precision with the brush is abruptly offset by a curiously thick brush stroke. I’m not well-versed in art, and I’d be hard pressed to explain what draws me to a style that transforms the round objects in a still life (fruit, tea cups, flowers) into more angular, block like images. But Qiang Huang’s style — that thick brush stroke — makes even the most sedate still life something more interesting, almost always.

Qiang holds a PhD in Physics, and until a few years ago he worked in that capacity while he pursued art in his off time. And then he took the leap — he quit work in favor of art, which he shares online along with a few paragraphs about what he’s going through artistically and emotionally.

Qiang’s writing is beautiful and simple, and he rarely holds back. Highly personalized, it often verges on a kind of artistic despondence. He wants to make an impact, but it’s clearly a struggle. He writes, I think, to remind himself that he has doubts and fears, that striving to maintain personal priorities can be difficult. I can empathize with that struggle.

These days, Qiang conducts workshops across America, and has gained a substantial following. He’s been featured in national art magazines. His leap from scientist to artist was clearly successful. And yet just this week he shared this tiny gem on his art blog:

I will keep on cultivating. Cultivating persistently, and do not think [sic] about harvesting too much.

It’s a reminder, a “note to self,” a personal diary entry shared with the world: stick to the cultivation, worry less about the harvest that certainly comes when you do.

A fairly poetic notion. We all struggle, but mostly in private. The artist struggles publicly, laying bare parts of an inner core that can sometimes be a little raw. The emotional risk is tremendous, but that’s what the artist does. He or she doesn’t see any option, and so the artist quits his work in science and turns to the only thing he really wants to do: in this case, he paints, and he goes public while his inner core warns him of all the potential dangers associated with doing so.

But the message is, I think, twofold. Yes, keep learning your craft, keep the harvest at bay as much as possible and concentrate on the cultivation. But harvest can equate to ego as well. Being too certain of ability and craft — bolstered by public appreciation — allows ruts to form. The ego’s satisfied, and that’s all that matters. The cultivation turns stale.

Most often I gain little appreciation when I go public with a poem or collection. At first this was a bit of a surprise, but after the initial elation of receiving an acceptance letter from a journal editor I almost always regret that I submitted. Maybe the poem’s too weak, perhaps I didn’t consider craft enough. I like that I feel this way — it makes me want to learn more, read more, to tighten every element of craft that goes into good poetry. I write poems in a vacuum, as alone with words as Qiang is with a brush. So I appreciate this reminder: cultivate with care, worry less about harvest.

I’ve never had much of a green thumb, but I’m not to shy to keep planting. So thank you, Qiang, for the simple grounding. I’m much obliged.

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One thought on “The Cultivation

  1. I’m writing to give you at least a little appreciation that your writing is being read and appreciated. I look forward to new posts, and feel my day has been enhanced by you sharing your thoughts. Thank you.

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