Keith Haring on Our Resistance to Change, the Dangers of Certainty, and the Root of Creativity


“To be a victim of change is to ignore its existence.”


Keith Haring on Our Resistance to Change, the Dangers of Certainty, and the Root of Creativity

“It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis,” Henry Miller wrote as he contemplated humanity’s future. And yet it does need to be stressed continually, because coursing through us is the fundamental paradox of our humanity: our longing for permanence amid a universe governed by entropy — the great source of our existential restlessness and our creative fury, to which all of our sorrow and all of our art can be traced.

The oracular Octavia Butler captured this in her reckoning with the meaning of God: “the only lasting truth is Change.” The rest of nature is constantly attesting to this inconstancy. And yet with every fiber of our being, we resist its fundamental reality — even though our very fibers, each and every cell composing us, have been replaced since we first came into being. Life changes through us; our physical and social environments change. Our opinions and views about life also change if we are brave and alive enough. And yet we cling to the comforting illusion that we remain, in some unmappable region of being, fundamentally ourselves — our immutable selves.

Keith Haring, Art

Keith Haring (May 4, 1958–February 16, 1990) was only twenty and already colliding with his own impermanence when he turned his soulful intellect to these perennial paradoxes in Keith Haring Journals (public library) — the posthumous gem of a book that gave us his largehearted wisdom on creativity, empathy, and what makes us who we are.

Haring marvels over our strategies for harnessing the fundamental effervescence and being, two millennia later than the Ship of Theseus.

It is motion that defines the physical world. Motion is movement. Change. It is possible to have repetitions that are not the same as before, but it does not mean they will be identical because time has passed. Therefore there is still some element of change.

There are no two people who experience the same sensations, emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Everything changes. Everything is constantly changing. All of these variables merging, interacting, destroying each other, building new forms, ideas, “realities,” mean that the human experience is one of constant change and, as we label it, “growth” [and yet] most living human beings build their lives around the belief that these differences, changes, don’t exist. Instead of ignoring these issues, they try to plan or control their existence. They create schedules and long-term commitments. Then they control their lives through their systems of controls.

Keith Haring working. Illustration by Josh Cochran in Drawing on Walls – A Story about Keith Haring, Matthew Burgess

A century and a half after Emerson lamented that “people wish to be settled [but] only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them,” Haring considers the underlying unease that leads us to these coping mechanisms, these artificial hedges against this most natural manifestation of nature:

People don’t want to know that they change.

Unless they feel it is an improvement, and then they are all for “change,” and will go to great lengths to “make changes” or contrive situations or force a change that is unnatural… Some attitudes I see all around me are:

As long as the change is manageable, it’s acceptable.

It is possible to predict change.

It is possible to make modifications and/or change plans.

Part of our willful blindness to change in the grand scheme, Haring intimates, is our unease about change in the small scheme of the self — the multitudes we each contain, discontinuous and contradictory, a flickering of emotional and mental states that never still to a permanent constellation across the sweep of time. He says:

Most often, the truth that reality changes is the fact that people are always changing and finding themselves in new situations and experiencing different realities, states of mind, and other realities, is what we need to remember.

Not taken into consideration

or misunderstood

or misinterpreted

Confronted.

Everyone knows that different people are different. However, few people try to find out why or how it is happening.

In a sentiment evocative of Iris Murdoch’s meditation on the beautiful, maddening blind spots of our self-knowledge, he adds:

You cannot be the victim of your own ignorance if you don’t understand your knowledge and how it has led to this knowledge.

It is easy to be the victim of changes.

To be a victim of “living by what you think” is to ignore the possibilities of “another way to live” or the possibility of “being wrong about the way it is” or ignoring the possibility of “not knowing what you think.”

As dangerous is thinking you have the right answer.

Creativity, Haring suggests, is a form of candor, a kind of fidelity to reality — a way of responding to change genuinely rather than artificially:

Only pure art can exist at the instant level of response to pure living.

[…]

Art should be accessible to as many people as possible. You create the reality, meaning and conception of the piece. My role is to facilitate ideas.

This fragment of Keith Haring Journals is complemented by the lost prodigy William James Sidis, who discusses the controversial science and technology of change. Finally, revisit Haring’s love for life in spite of death.


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