The Oyster and the Pearl

A pearl always begins as an irritant, a parasite wedging itself inside the folds of the mollusk’s mantle.  In scientific terms, it is a by-product of the immune system’s defensive reaction in response to invasion.  I find it strange and so true that something so perfect, so exquisitely beautiful, the very image the mind immediately procures when we use the word “iridescent” in descriptive terms, can be produced as the primary result of a threat to something’s very existence, a kind of penetration of the membrane, if you will.

When I think of pearls I envision Mary Queen of Scotts with her strand of black pearls, Vermeer’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring,” Ann Boleyn’s famous tear drops, Mr. Plant’s wife, Mae, Cleopatra’s bet with Antony—the image of her pearl earring as it sinks to the bottom of her wine goblet—and the way La Peregrina rested around the ghostly neck of Elizabeth Taylor, America’s Hollywood Queen.  I think of Mark Doty’s book Still Life with Oysters and Lemon.  And then there is the old custom dating back to back to ancient Greece and Rome: to wear pearl jewelry on your wedding day promises a marriage with few tears.   The pearl has come symbolize perfection, a metaphor for the sought after ideal.

To be an artist is to be an oyster, who under threat of invasion and possible repression, actively seeks to produce the perfect pearl; sensitive to his or her surroundings, an artist is a being who does not shy away from his or her own fears, but embraces them, tries to understand them, and molds them into art.  To be measured by the intensity of one’s iridescence, that is what this life means.

-Dana Livermore