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Henry Miller's Advice for the Artist

Coastline at Big Sur, CA
Coastline at Big Sur, CA
Rachel Rodgers

Last summer I was living in Monterey, California for a few months and so I began reading books on northern and central California. This included the region on an incredible string of coastline called Big Sur. It’s not a surprise that the plummeting coast, massive waves and sequoia national parks in this beautiful place has made Big Sur a well-known retreat for artists and writers for decades.

One resident was Henry Miller, who lived there while writing Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. The book is not necessarily a novel—it’s a monologue, character study and sort of journal. In it, Miller talks of his daily life, friends, the region… but also it’s an exploration of identity and advice for people who see the system, see the split, and can create better. It’s for the artist, writer, painter, thinker, child, the apprehensive, frustrated, or the traveling soul.
With sardonic wit, philosophy and sometimes-soaring truth: some quotes.

Everything is begging to be discovered, not accidentally, but intuitively.

One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. Which is to say there are no limits to vision.

And always it was the same story: “You don’t belong.” Well, nobody belongs who isn’t trying to make money, or trying to make money make money. Nobody belongs who is fool enough to believe that he is…or wants nothing more than to be an artist, an artist from tip to toe.

Writers are funny animals: They have to learn things backwards sometimes.
The writer who wants to communicate with his fellow man, and thereby establish communion with him, has only to speak with sincerity and directness.

The most important thing I have witnessed since coming to Big Sur, is the transformation people have wrought in their own being.

Make believe. Make believe you’re happy. Make believe you’re free. Make believe you’re God. Make believe it’s all Mind.

The one thing about this universe of ours, which intrigues me…is that it lends itself so easily to any and all interpretations. Everything we formulate about it is correct and incorrect at the same time. It includes our truths and our errors. And, whatever we think about the universe in no way alters it…
Let me go back to where I started. We all have different lives to lead. Must we know so much—and so little!—to take the path?

I am not interested in the potential man. I am interested in what a man actualizes—or realizes—of his potential being. I’m for reality. More and more reality. I’m a fanatic about it, if you like.

Almost invariably a visitor will confess that he lacks the courage—imagination would be nearer to the mark—to make the necessary break.
“You’re lucky,” he will say.
Surely everyone realizes, at some point along the way, that he is capable of living a far better life than the one has chosen.

If you can’t give the is-ness of a thing, give the not-ness of it! When your brakes jam, start going in reverse. It often works.

We talk about fate as if it were something visited upon us; we forget that we create our fate every day.

When do we begin to know that we know? When have we ceased to believe that we can ever know. Truth comes with surrender. And it’s wordless.

[all quotes from Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, Miller, Henry, New Directions Paperback, 1957]

Further Links on Henry Miller:

Henry Miller Memorial Library

Henry Miller’s 11 commandments

Henry Miller’s Gallery

Video: Henry Miller on The Artist and individuality, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche

Smithsonian Folkways: An Interview with Henry Miller


Tropic of Cancer

Tropic of Capricorn

Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

Henry Miller on Writing

Genius and Lust: A Journey Through the Major Writings of Henry Miller

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