Art, Chopin, Mazurkas, and Your One Wild and Precious Life



“Your one wild and precious life”
©2019, Molly Larson Cook
18″ x 24″, Acrylic and ink on canvas


When my old friends whom I’ve never met, David Bayles and Ted Orland write about finding your work in their Art & Fear, they raise the spirit of Chopin to talk about useful forms on which to hang our art aprons or berets.  (Do some artists still wear berets?)

While many of us want to create fresh paintings every time and not get into a rut or simply hit on something good and produce one imitation of ourselves after another, there’s also something to be said, according to Bales & Orland, about Chopin and, specifically, his Mazurkas.

Dave and Ted suggest that once Chopin landed on the Mazurka form, it might have been the happiest of discoveries for him and that we artists can learn, too, about hanging onto some of the forms we find that work well for us. About Chopin, they write:

“It’s easy to imagine that he could sit at the piano most any time and begin to vamp in that oddly syncopated three-quarter time, gradually building it into a small-scale piece…Working within the self-imposed discipline of a particular form eases the prospect of having to reinvent yourself with each new piece.  The discovery of useful forms is precious. Once found, they should never be abandoned for trivial reasons.”

And voila!  A key to laughing in the face of those daunting moments when we face the blank canvas (or the page or even the “what’s for dinner?” question).  Permission from Chopin and the Art & Fear guys to start with something familiar and let the creativity flow from there – a painting, a story, mac and cheese with peanut butter on top! Okay, I have not tried that and probably won’t, but you get the idea.

Bayles & Orland suggest that an art teacher might have told Chopin “…the Mazurka thing is getting a little repetitive…the work is not progressing…” but they go on to point out that progressing is not the issue.  The issue is having a vehicle to get us back into the work.

“Any device that carries the first brushstroke to the next blank canvas has tangible, practical value.”

I write about this today because the Chopin lesson became particularly relevant to me with this newest painting, “Your one wild and precious life.”  As I continue to explore the means and methods of painting, drawing on one thing and another, my tendency has been to search for new ways, new media, new points of view.  It’s been a kind of “been there, done that,” attitude, preferring to explore and hesitant about incorporating some of what’s worked for me in the past.

I was a little confused about creativity, I think, and felt it always, always had to be new.  There’s nothing wrong with exploring, but constant exploring can be tiring.  And it’s drained away the happy energy I had months ago when I was eagerly moving quickly from one piece to another using color and a couple of other devices I liked.  They worked.  I had my shows.  I sold some art.

More recently I began to search for new ways, all new all the time.  I did pick up on the gloss layering I’d done with collages, but I was quick to avoid the other devices.  It felt like cheating or being a slacker. Kind of as if Chopin had said, “No more Mazurkas.  They’re too easy for me.  Mazurkas, begone!”

Let us give thanks he did not do this.  And let us, as artists, remember that we don’t have to go to extremes to create the work we’re trying to create.  The familiar is not our enemy.  It’s the key.  No pun intended.

With “Your one wild and precious life” (the title a snippet from Mary Oliver’s “Summer Day” – I recommend it), I combined the old with the new and I’m pretty happy with it.

I leave you, just for fun and a little creative juice, with Chopin’s Mazurka Op. 7.


7 thoughts on “Art, Chopin, Mazurkas, and Your One Wild and Precious Life

  1. Thank you so much, dear Bev! I wish you a happy summer with soft Whidbey breezes. Love, Molly

  2. Ain’t it the truth? Thank you for the words about the painting…It’s a lifelong pursuit. And a happy one. Love you…

  3. I like the new piece a lot. Sometimes the exploration is within rather than out there someplace.

  4. Dear Molly. The piece is beautiful and so is Chopin’s Mazurka! Thank you for sharing both. Warmly bev

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s