“ascetic” (adj.) derives from the ancient Greek term askēsis (practice, training or exercise).
Originally associated with any form of disciplined practice, the term ascetic has come to mean anyone who practices a renunciation of worldly pursuits to achieve higher intellectual and spiritual goals for himself or herself.
Lecture at Cornell University – Agnes Martin
I want to talk to you about “the work”, art work.
I will speak of inspiration, the studio, viewing art work, friends of art, and artists’ temperaments.
But your interest and mine is really “the work” – works of art.
Art work is very important in the way that I will try to show when I speak about inspiration.
I have sometimes put myself ahead of my work in my mind and have suffered in consequence.
I thought me, me; and I suffered.
I thought I was important. I was taught to think that. I was taught: “You are important; people are important beyond anything else.”
But thinking that I suffered very much.
I thought that I was big and “the work” was small. It is not possible to go on that way. To think I am big is the work is big.
The position of pride is not possible either.
And to think I am small and the work is small, the position of modesty, is not possible.
I will go on to inspiration and perhaps you will see what is possible.
As I describe inspiration I do not want you to think I am speaking of religion.
That which takes us by surprise – moments of happiness – that is inspiration. Inspiration which is different from daily care.
Many people as adults are so startled by inspiration which is different from daily care that they think they are unique in having had it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Inspiration is there all the time.
For everyone whose mind is not clouded over with thoughts whether they realize it or not.
Most people have no realization whatever of the moments in which they are inspired.
It’s a peaceful thing.
It is a consolation even to plants and animals.
Do not think that it is unique.
If it were unique no one would be able to respond to your work.
Do not think it is reserved for a few or anything like that.
It is an untroubled mind.
Of course we know that an untroubled state of mind cannot last. So we say that inspiration comes and goes but really it is there all the time waiting for us to be untroubled again. We can therefore say that it is pervasive. Young children are more untroubled than adults and have many more inspirations. All the moments of inspiration added together make what we call sensibility. The development of sensibility is the most important thing for children and adults but is much more possible in children. In adults it would be more accurate to say that the awakening to their sensibility is the most important thing. Some parents put the development of social mores ahead of aesthetic development. Small children are taken to the park for social play; sent to nursery school and headstart. But the little child sitting alone, perhaps even neglected and forgotten, is the one open to inspiration and the development of sensibility.