Joan Miró’s paintings and sculptures distill a certain stillness, a serenity. Curiously, this quality is a counterpoint to the anguish the artist experienced at the time of their creation, and that this same counterpoint always accompanied him during his creative process. He knew that the stillness (the sister of patience) present in his work would also permeate his creative process. He once referred to this process as a garden of which he himself was the gardener.

In late November 1958, the critic and artist, Yvon Taillandier, held a conversation with the then 65-year-old Miró. During their meeting, the artist spoke of his creative processes and his philosophy of art, and the result is a kind of manifesto, a book entitled Je travaille comme un jardinier / I Work Like a Gardener (1964), a bilingual edition of which only 75 copies were printed. It’s one of the clearest windows into the artist’s thinking.

In the interview, Miró describes himself as a taciturn man, tending toward sadness and tragedy. He talks about the spiritual tension needed to create and which, according to Miró, should not be born of any kind of chemical, like alcohol or drugs, but from the things that feed the artist’s soul. Architecture —Gaudí was Miró’s preferred example— would work, but music, or a simple walk through the city could do as well. Urban atmospheres were among his several sources of inspiration.

 Miró’s thought tended to give a human quality to inanimate objects:

For me an object is alive; this cigarette, this matchbox, contain a secret life much more intense than certain humans. I see a tree, I get a shock, as if it were something breathing, talking. A tree too is something human.

This notion is very evident in his work. Elements which, at first glance, may feel inanimate, are filled with a strange and moving life.

One thing Miró always considered central to his artistic philosophy was the stillness which, in the end, triggers inner movement.

[Stillness] strikes me. This bottle, this glass, a big stone on a deserted beach — these are motionless things, but they set loose great movements in my mind… People who go bathing on a beach and who move about, touch me much less than the [stillness] of a pebble. (Motionless things become grand, much grander than moving things.) [Stillness] makes me think of great spaces in which movements take place which do not stop at a given moment, movements which have no end. It is, as Kant said, the immediate irruption of the infinite in the finite.

The paradox is clear and radiant: for Miró the secret to his art is born in a motionless movement.

Equally contradictory, his creative process involves moments of anguish when a work did not satisfy him, a sense of suffocation, of shock, which forced him to re-work until it was finished. He worked until the anguish disappeared. This meant that an unfinished work might spend years in his studio… and he was fine with it. Such unfinished works were plants that grew at their own paces, in that garden that his studio was.

I consider my studio as a kitchen garden. Here, there are artichokes. There, potatoes. Leaves must be cut so that the fruit can grow. At the right moment, I must prune.

I work like a gardener… Things come slowly… Things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. I must graft. I must water… Ripening goes on in my mind. So, I’m always working at a great many things at the same time.

In today’s world, in our haste and immediacy, we’re accustomed to a distorted, accelerated pace. Art works on a different plane, with its own time. Like a garden, it requires patience and a gardener in charge. Miró’s reflection is especially valuable today, an eloquent reminder that nearly everything of any real value in the world takes time to come to be.

Image: Carl Van Vechten – Library of Congress

 

Joan Miró’s paintings and sculptures distill a certain stillness, a serenity. Curiously, this quality is a counterpoint to the anguish the artist experienced at the time of their creation, and that this same counterpoint always accompanied him during his creative process. He knew that the stillness (the sister of patience) present in his work would also permeate his creative process. He once referred to this process as a garden of which he himself was the gardener.

In late November 1958, the critic and artist, Yvon Taillandier, held a conversation with the then 65-year-old Miró. During their meeting, the artist spoke of his creative processes and his philosophy of art, and the result is a kind of manifesto, a book entitled Je travaille comme un jardinier / I Work Like a Gardener (1964), a bilingual edition of which only 75 copies were printed. It’s one of the clearest windows into the artist’s thinking.

In the interview, Miró describes himself as a taciturn man, tending toward sadness and tragedy. He talks about the spiritual tension needed to create and which, according to Miró, should not be born of any kind of chemical, like alcohol or drugs, but from the things that feed the artist’s soul. Architecture —Gaudí was Miró’s preferred example— would work, but music, or a simple walk through the city could do as well. Urban atmospheres were among his several sources of inspiration.

 Miró’s thought tended to give a human quality to inanimate objects:

For me an object is alive; this cigarette, this matchbox, contain a secret life much more intense than certain humans. I see a tree, I get a shock, as if it were something breathing, talking. A tree too is something human.

This notion is very evident in his work. Elements which, at first glance, may feel inanimate, are filled with a strange and moving life.

One thing Miró always considered central to his artistic philosophy was the stillness which, in the end, triggers inner movement.

[Stillness] strikes me. This bottle, this glass, a big stone on a deserted beach — these are motionless things, but they set loose great movements in my mind… People who go bathing on a beach and who move about, touch me much less than the [stillness] of a pebble. (Motionless things become grand, much grander than moving things.) [Stillness] makes me think of great spaces in which movements take place which do not stop at a given moment, movements which have no end. It is, as Kant said, the immediate irruption of the infinite in the finite.

The paradox is clear and radiant: for Miró the secret to his art is born in a motionless movement.

Equally contradictory, his creative process involves moments of anguish when a work did not satisfy him, a sense of suffocation, of shock, which forced him to re-work until it was finished. He worked until the anguish disappeared. This meant that an unfinished work might spend years in his studio… and he was fine with it. Such unfinished works were plants that grew at their own paces, in that garden that his studio was.

I consider my studio as a kitchen garden. Here, there are artichokes. There, potatoes. Leaves must be cut so that the fruit can grow. At the right moment, I must prune.

I work like a gardener… Things come slowly… Things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. I must graft. I must water… Ripening goes on in my mind. So, I’m always working at a great many things at the same time.

In today’s world, in our haste and immediacy, we’re accustomed to a distorted, accelerated pace. Art works on a different plane, with its own time. Like a garden, it requires patience and a gardener in charge. Miró’s reflection is especially valuable today, an eloquent reminder that nearly everything of any real value in the world takes time to come to be.

Image: Carl Van Vechten – Library of Congress