The Love of Life in the Face of Death: Keith Haring on Self-Doubt, the Fragility of Being, and Creativity as the Antidote to Our Mortal Anxiety

“Life enjoys the liver of it,” Maya Angelou observed as she pondered the meaning of life in 1977, exhorting: “You should live and life will be great to you.”

That spring, the teenage Keith Haring (May 4, 1958– February 16, 1990)– who would mature to change not only art and advocacy, but the spirit of a generation and the soul of a city– come to grips with the significance of his own life and what it truly indicates to live it on the pages of his journal, posthumously published as the quiet, symphonic marvel Keith Haring Journals (town library).

Art by Josh Cochran from Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring by Matthew BurgessFive days prior to his 19th birthday and shortly before he left his hometown of Pittsburgh for a netless leap of faith toward New York City, he confronts the difficulty of knowing what we really want and writes:

This is a blue moment … its blue because Im puzzled, again; or should I say “still”? I dont understand what I desire or how to get it. I act like I know what I want, and I appear to be pursuing it– quickly, but I do not, when it comes down to it, even understand.

In a passage of amazing precocity, he echoes the young Van Goghs reflection on worry, taking threats, and how inspired errors move us forward, and thinks about how the trap of self-comparison is keeping him from developing his own artistic and human capacity:

I think its because Im scared. Scared Im incorrect. And I think Im afraid Im incorrect, since I continuously relate myself to other individuals, other experiences, other ideas. I need to be taking a look at both in viewpoint, not comparing. I relate my life to an idea or an example that is some totally various life. I must be relating it to my life just in the sense that each has good and bad aspects. Each is different. The only method the other attained enough merit, making it worthy of my appreciation, or long to copy it is by taking possibilities, taking it in its own method. It has actually grown with different circumstances and has found different heights of joy and equal sorrows. Mine is being lost re-doing things for my own empty acceptance if I constantly look for to pattern my life after another. But, if I live my life my way and only let the other [ artists] influence me as a reference, a beginning point, I can develop an even greater awareness instead of staying inactive … I only wish that I could have more confidence and try to forget all my silly preconceptions, misunderstandings, and simply live. Just live. Simply. Live. Simply live till I pass away.

And after that– in a testimony to my resolute conviction, in addition to Blake, that all excellent natures are fans of trees– he includes:

I found a tree in this park that Im gon na return to, at some point. It stretches sideways out over the St. Croix river and I can rest on it and balance lying on it perfectly.

” Perspective” by Maria PopovaWithin a decade, Harings willpower to “simply live” up until he dies hit the sudden proximity of a highly probable death– the spacious up until contracted into a period unpredictable however likely short as the AIDS epidemic started slaying his generation. A century after the poetic and uncommonly observant diarist Alice James– William and Henry Jamess brilliant and sidelined sister– composed upon receiving a terminal diagnosis that the remaining stretch of life prior to her is “the most very intriguing moment in life, the only one in reality when living seems life,” Haring, having actually taken a long break from his own journal, returns to the mirror of the blank page and faces the powerful, paradoxical method which the distance of death charges coping with life:

I keep believing that the primary factor I am composing is worry of death. He states he has actually been checked and cleared of having AIDS, but when I looked at him I saw death. Life is so delicate.

In a belief evocative of neurologist Oliver Sackss memorable observation in his poetic and brave exit from life that when individuals pass away, “they leave holes that can not be filled, for it is the fate– the genetic and neural fate– of every human being to be a special individual, to discover his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death,” Haring includes:

It is a really great line between life and death. Living in New York City and also flying on aircrafts so much, I face the possibility of death every day.

But even as he shudders with the fragility of life, Haring continues to shimmer with the largehearted love of life that offers his art its ageless spirit:

Touching peoples lives in a positive way is as close as I can get to a concept of religious beliefs.
Belief in ones self is just a mirror of belief in other individuals and every individual.

Art by Josh Cochran from Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring by Matthew BurgessHe returns to the love of life that charged his days with significance and his art with magnetism– a love both substantial and humble, at the center of which is our everlasting dance with secret:

Once again and again, Haring declares on the pages of his journal that he lives for work, for art– the function of which, of course, if there is any purpose to art, is to make other lives more livable. As the specter of AIDS hovers closer and closer to him, this creative vigor pulses a growing number of vigorously through him, reverberating with Albert Camuss persistence that “there is no love of life without despair of life.”

I believe it is extremely essential to be in love with life. I have actually fulfilled individuals who are in their 80s and 70s who like life so much that, behind their aged bodies, the numbers vanish. Life is really delicate and constantly evasive.

In early 1988, weeks before his thirtieth birthday and shortly prior to he finally received the medical diagnosis perching on the occasion horizon of his every day life, Haring makes up a seething cauldron of a journal entry, ready to boil with the overwhelming totality of his love of life:

I love paintings too much, love color excessive, enjoy seeing excessive, love sensation too much, enjoy art too much, love excessive.

By the following month, he has metabolized the scary too-muchness into a calm approval radiating a lot more love:

I accept my fate, I accept my life. I accept death and I accept life.

After the abrupt death of among his closest buddies in a crash– a friend so close that Haring was the godfather of his kid– he copies among his pals newly poignant poems about life and death into his journal, then composes beneath it:

Creativity, biological or otherwise, is my only link with a relative death.

Maybe his most poignant and prophetic entry came a years previously– a short verse-like reflection nested in a sprawling meditation on art, life, uniqueness, and kinship, penned on Election Day:

Couple with Drawing on Walls– a terrific picture-book biography of Haring inspired by his journals– then revisit a young neurosurgeons poignant meditation on the meaning of life as he faces his own death, a senior comedian-philosopher on how to live fully while passing away, and an astronomer-poets superb “Antidotes to Fear of Death.”

I am not a beginning.I am not an end.I am a link in a chain.

I relate my life to a concept or an example that is some completely different life. It is a really great line between life and death. I believe it is extremely essential to be in love with life. I have satisfied people who are in their 80s and 70s who love life so much that, behind their aged bodies, the numbers vanish. I accept death and I accept life.

Keith Haring passed away on February 16, 1990, hardly into his thirties, leaving us his exuberant love of life encoded in mirthful lines and lively colors that have made millions of other lives– mine included– immensely more habitable.