The Smile at the Heart of Things

I don’t know of another book quite like it. Brian Peterson’s The Smile at the Heart of Things brings together memoir, essays on artists and prose portraits of friends and family, all in an exceptionally beautifully produced book. These seemingly disparate materials circle around certain keywords: nourishment, honesty, beauty, depth, and hunger – above all, hunger. Brian writes:

When you have found your true hunger, and are living it out every day, life has a deep sense of resonance. You smile at the universe and it smiles back. This is the smile at the heart of things.

Besides being a superb writer, Brian Petersen is a photographer of exceptional gifts, and his day job is as Chief Curator at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, where he has worked for many years. The book springs from both of those occupations as well as offering revealing reflections on Brian’s own deep struggles while on the search for spiritual healing and nourishment. In a series of essays on such visual artists as Randall Evans, Celia Reisman, and Emmet Godwin, he discusses the nourishment that is to be found in their work, going beyond the bounds of conventional curatorial reserve to engage issues of the spirit. Musicians will be particularly interested in Brian’s prose sketches of composer friends George Rochberg, Michael Rose and Stephen Jaffe.

I’m grateful for this book – for its wry humor, for its poetic evocations of spiritual insight, for a chance to learn about important visual artists whose work I did not know, for being itself a source of nourishment on my own artistic and spiritual journey.

The book is gorgeously produced, with heavy paper stock and superb reproductions of both art works discussed in the text and many of Brian’s own haunting photographs. I wish I could offer a larger-scale image of the book’s cover – the thumbnail at left doesn’t do the book justice.

Here’s a link to an Artful Blogger post about Brian and the book.