"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's All in the Details

I’ve been on the road for three weeks, and one of the things I miss about home is the quiet time for writing. Right or wrong, it’s hard to choose writing alone in a hotel room over seeing the Alps or strolling the streets of Paris, especially on a first visit. Maybe one answer to the no writing time arrived in the form of Quicktime Pro – a download that will allow me to post short film clips of the amazing street actors I’ve witnessed everywhere. I’ll work on those posts next week.

In the meantime, a quiet afternoon to myself on a sunny balcony in Bad Sackingen, Germany, just a few miles from Basel, Switzerland. What am I learning? What observations are carrying me into the last weeks of my itinerary and beyond?

One is the importance of looking small. At details. You can walk into a cathedral in any town in Europe and be blown away by the width and breadth and gloriousness of the space. And by the heavy weight of history. But it’s the play of light on the wall above the altar I’ll remember. And the worn center of each step leading up the hill to the Basilica of Sacre Coeur – smoothed by an endless stream of pilgrim feet.

My details range from the ridiculous to the sublime. The young trickster in Georges de La Tour’s painting – which I teach from, but had never seen! The perfection of a single white braid. A life-sized rhinoceros statue with the horn duct taped in place. Every detail catalogued into the internal filing cabinet otherwise known as my brain.

How will this load of disparate visual stuff mix and eventually manifest? Hard to know, but my presence will be known by the details, because that’s what makes each of us unique. Maybe we all have eyes and hands and feet, but it’s the blueness or brownness, the curve of the toes, or the strength of the grip, that sets us apart. Maybe artists share dye recipes and paintbrushes, fabrics and format. But it’s the details that make an artist’s work unmistakably her own.

I think that’s why eventually we have to get away from other people and focus on working alone. How can you discover your voice if you are always singing with a choir? Your timing, the phrasing, that lilt at the end of a line – you need the courage to go solo in order to unfold.

So enjoy my details and then go find some of your own. Details are one place where it’s healthy to make the exploration all about you.


  1. I love your paragraph on working alone sooooo much. Thank you for that gift this morning.

  2. I always appreciate your photographs, thank you! Just returned from a short trip myself, didn't take many photos but I noticed things, certainly, and shared them with my dear husband, who listened and commented on the ideas when they cropped up in a landscape later. I'm always thinking about how to re-create elements of landscapes---ah! silk would capture that soft sheen of the still river, stitching would be enough to make furrows in the hills, I need lots of stripes to produce this or that old building--what joy in these details! And I know too the feeling of being unable to write in some places; the eyes are lapping it up--and the heart is breathless! Thank you for passing along that feeling of delight!

  3. Yes, yes, and yes. Yes to those small details that touch the soul, that deepen an appreciation and understanding of our place in time and space. Yes to the need for courage to create the space we need in order to recognize, allow and nurture our own voice. And yes to the photos you posted. Thanks for your thoughtful and thought-provoking posts.