The Youness of You: Receiving the Witness of Jimmy Abegg
By David Dark
Recalling his childhood in Alliance, Nebraska, Jimmy Abegg describes the early tug of a visionary life thusly: “I’ve had an empathy ever since I was a little boy. From early on, I knew I was going to be seeing visions so I better write them down and paint them.”
This determination to say what he sees whether visually, or in verse, or in collaboration with other artists, has characterized Jimmy’s decades-long career as an inspiration, a prod, and something of a standard of living legitimacy at the core of Nashville’s creative community. In a sometimes mercilessly mercantile culture prone to overpromise and over-polish, Jimmy’s way of being in the world is, by example, a constant appeal to the groundedness of being one more enchanted human being among other enchanted human beings: “In my creative expression, I go for the broken over the well put-together.”
His insistence on following through on his own singular visions on a daily basis reflects an ethic he imagines might be rightly understood as common to everyone, an ethic that involves realizing some very high stakes: “There’s only one you. Each of us has the challenge to pronounce the youness of you. If you don’t, no one will ever know.” As the lone steward of his own awareness, he answers the summons, “When I see it, I paint it.” In a world of endless distraction, and with so many ways to avoid and become estranged from our own intuition, Jimmy’s path is clear, “I’m better off being me.”
In this sense, obscured by clouds, as an exhibit, is both a deeply personal answer to the summons of imagination and an extension of it. These works invite us to bring our own powers of concentration to bear on what’s before us. We get to try to contemplate these images as if from within. By so doing, we open ourselves to the possibility of experiencing kinship with a wider, not-quite-visible, not-yet formulated world and moving our consciousness towards empathy.
The everyday call to empathy Jimmy has sought to answer throughout his life has only deepened with the gradual loss of his eyesight: “As my world has become increasingly interior … I’ve had to learn to be careful and kinder … I recognize now more than ever that the measurement this world uses for beauty is out of sync with reality.” With this in mind, the good work to be done remains before him, and he hopes it might serve to enable others to access their best creative selves: “The things that we do drop in the pond and the ripples begin. With these offerings, my hope is that the most uneasy but inspired artist might take heart. Grab quill, grab brush, grab guitar … Get it done. It could be magnificent.”
David Dark is an American writer, the author of Life’s Too Short To Pretend You’re Not Religious and The Sacredness of Questioning Everything and teaches at the Tennessee Prison for Women, Charles Bass Correctional Facility, and Belmont University where he is assistant professor in the College of Theology. A resident of Nashville, Tennessee, he is married to singer/songwriter Sarah Masen.