Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pain & Joy

"Pain travels side by side with joy and darkness is followed by dawn and another chance" (Judy Collins). 

It is true. The most joyful, blissful moments follow a rather painful experience. A great example is labour - followed by the greatest joy of all: the new life of your child. Likewise, the creative process can be a lengthy and agonizing one, not infrequently compared to giving birth - and ending in a creation that gives joy and healing to those who create it - as well as those who enjoy or experience the art, the audience.

Many of the greatest artists have suffered chronic pain (Frida Kahlo is a prime example, as she clearly focused her art on the subject of pain, both physical and emotional), mental illness (Vincent van Goh, Ludwig van Beethoven, and the list is loooong),  at times also followed by addictions (Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse), or some other kind of childhood illness or chronic disease that shaped their personality (Joni Mitchell, Hayyim Nahman Bialik) or a tragedy that made a mark on their life (Eric Clapton, Rudyard Kipling - both artists have lost their child) - and Judy Collins seems to have a taste of all... 

It is often debated - is perfume truly art? Is it a commodity? Considering that some of the greatest perfumes were created in response to the perfumer's own experience of pain, loss or unrequited love; or were inspired by such experiences of the designer that has commissioned them - I would argue that perhaps, after all, perfume is one of the greatest joys we can have - created through alchemical transformation.

Frida Kahlo - Self-portrait as wounded deer (1946) by petrus.agricola
Frida Kahlo - Self-portrait as wounded deer (1946), a photo by petrus.agricola on Flickr.

And what about ethics? Would the suffering of animals that were sacrificed in the process (i.e.: tortured civet cats, Canadian beavers hunted for their fur, sperm whales slaughtered for their blubber and ambergris, bees robbed from their honey and wax, and the extinct, massacred musk deer) be a contributing factor to the great beauty of perfume? This is perhaps digressing from the question, but from my experience, although the animal essences on their own reek of violence, fear and death - the result of adding a minute amount of this torture or death-extracts to a botanical perfume transforms it beyond imagination. 

This cycle of pain and joy is essential to our existence. Like breathing and sleeping, we need to learn to live with that and accept it, as we must accept the cycle of life and death, rejoice in every fleeting moment while we still live and breath, and cease the day to do what truly brings joy to us - because pain might strike at any moment. And we'll need to stock up on beautiful energy to go through it with dignity and compassion.

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