"Si Hortum et Bibliotheca habes, deerit nihil"
To Varro, in Ad Familiares IX, 4
This quote from Roman philosopher and consul Cicero, has often been translated as: If you have a library and a garden, you have everything. But the literal translation would actually be: If you have a garden and a library, you'll lack nothing. In this fast age of I-phones and consumerism, think about it for a moment. What do we really need? As an artist I could easily add in an art studio as well. But why is a library and a garden so important to have these days, no matter how small they are?
Enjoying a beautiful garden in Apaneca, El Salvador.
Growing up in a farm in Puerto Rico left a deep impression in my soul. Now that I look back, spending the days surrounded by trees, animals and such a fertile land you could throw about any seed and it would grow unattended, this was key to a fertile imagination. Not only was I blessed by my natural surroundings but also by the family book collection we had. Perhaps it wasn't the best and it was lacking some important books, it was more than enough to inspire me to read and make a habit of it from an early age. We didn't have computers or smartphones growing up in the 80's. There were other toys to play with and the huge mango tree by the house was the best playground of all. At night I always went to bed reading a children's book. Sometimes my brother or sister would read these to me. I will never forget the nights there were blackouts and all we had were candles and lamps, a perfect time to play with shadows and tell stories. At night you could see so many stars and even a UFO flying by if you were lucky. We had chicken, geese, cows, dogs and many cats but I also remember insects that have either gone extinct or rarely seen these days.
Part of the remaining land where I grew up. Not a farm anymore, but still a place full of memories. The signs on the trees are quotes my mom wrote with her calligraphy.
Sadly that farm is now gone and replaced by an empty strip mall. They destroyed almost every beautiful thing there was in that land. But our house remains with a small lot of land I planted with many new trees nearly 14 years ago. And now I live in a big city in Texas, in a relatively small apartment with a decent balcony. I enjoy all the amenities of living in a big city but I keep my personal library. The improvised garden is still a work in progress but it'll get there. Once you move from the countryside to the city, you begin to fully appreciate the value of certain things in life. The city has much to offer, don't get me wrong, but I can see how much of a positive impact my early upbringing surrounded by nature and books had on my creativity. And yes, I know, we can all go to a park and play, or to the public library, but its not the same. I keep a small collection of books and plants to remind me of who I am and where I come from. These things define my sensibility, my mind, my humanity.
Emblema XLII from the alchemical text Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Myers.
The Alchemist follows Nature, with his lamp (knowledge by reading) and cane (experience).
By having a small library and garden, we nurture our mind and soul. Having a digital library in the cloud or a screen saver image of a forest is no substitute for the real thing. In an age of traffic rush hour, overwhelming information technology and mindless consumerism, we need more than ever to slow down a bit. We need time to enjoy the simple things in life. Not only a garden provides a nice opportunity to be responsible and take care of beautiful living beings, it can also provide food for our bodies and souls. A garden attracts insects and other animals bringing a little piece of nature into our enclosed artificial vessels we call homes. A library on the other hand opens up a world of human ideas. Depending on our books, of course, it can define our character and the way we think of the world around us. For instance, my library is primarily composed of art books, philosophy, history, mythology and mysticism. This is one of the things I enjoy most after painting. Life is short, the Romans knew this, and Cicero was right, the best sources of inspiration in life come to us from nature and knowledge. As an artist I of course add in the art studio. The studio, home for the heart, the garden, home for the body and soul and the library, home for the mind. In our times, these are urgently needed.
Hope you enjoyed this article. If you wish to see my artwork, please visit my new artist website at: www.patrickmcgrath-art.com. Stay tuned for more related articles that I'll be posting once a month on this blog. Take care and as always, thank you very much for your support!