I'm rereading Sara Maitland's A Book of Silence. After challenging herself to spend 40 days alone and in silence in a remote cabin on the Isle of Skye, Maitland, described the experience and went on to explore many levels and kinds of silence.
"I began to realise", Maitland wrote "that it was not peace and contentment that I craved, but that awed response to certain phenomena of the 'natural' world in which words, and even normal emotional reactions fail". She goes on to say, "I discovered in myself a longing for the sublime, for an environment that, rather than soothing me, offered some raw, challenging demands in exchange for grandeur and ineffability." Like Maitland, I'm also searching for these sorts of places.
Places of deep silence share a kinship with art, from painting to writing to music. I wrote about this in an earlier blog post you can read here.
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Shortlisted for the Griffin Prize in Poetry in 2014, Canadian Sue Goyette wrote about the importance of silence in writing. "When it comes to writing, she says “it’s a masterful thing to not spell everything out” for the reader. She explains that when something is too specific it becomes inhospitable. The job of a writer is to take something ordinary and bring it into a state of grace. Adding silence to your writing does just this because the space you leave creates something bigger. A story without silence has no space or depth, nowhere for the reader to enter and create meaning".
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There is a post on the website All About Jazz, on the role of silence in music. As well there is another on Classic FM blog about the importance of silence in classical music, where the author discusses Mahler's Symphony No. 9, among others. "The final passage of the final movement, Mahler's farewell to the world (he was diagnosed with terminal heart disease as he composed it), also contains some of the most poignant silence imaginable. The final notes are marked 'esterbend' (dying away), so it's almost impossible to tell when the silence actually begins but it's loaded with such incredible thematic weight that it becomes weirdly deafening. You strain so hard to hear something that, ultimately, you just can't."
While silence is essential in writing and music, it doesn't seem important in much contemporary visual art, where paintings often shout. To achieve silence in painting, the keyword is restraint: limiting the number of shapes, the amount of texture and number of lines, allowing some areas of colour to be strong and others grey or neutral. What is it that wants to sing in a painting?
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There is a close relationship between the awe experienced in wild and silent landscapes and the expression of that in abstract paintings. The silence and the pace of nature help us slow down, to find a quiet inner space. And it's from that quiet inner space that creativity can happen and silence can be expressed. These are places my soul wants to go.