The artist of Kouroo
The artist of Kouroo personifies the idea of “do what you resolve.” In addition, through his actions, the artist and his character provide insight into life, art, time, and the author of Walden himself, Henry David Thoreau, as well as Thoreau’s decision to include this passage from Hindu scripture in his book. In many ways, in fact, Thoreau is the artist of Kouroo, following, or at least trying to follow his beliefs and attaining his goals with full effort. To him, and to the artist, life itself is only meaningful when you “resolve to do what you ought, and do what you resolve.” This concept, written down by Benjamin Franklin, parallels in certain ways what each sentence of the artist of Kouroo passage in Walden represents.
This passage, in addition to maintaining such a general theme, makes specific remarks about life and existence itself. Speaking figuratively, life as described in this passage must a purpose. It is then up to the individual who is living that life to discover and act on that purpose: “One day it came into his mind to make a staff” (632). In addition, it is that sole driving purpose then, that should lead the individual through the ages, where if he is true to that cause, no other event of life will matter—not the dynasty of the Candahars nor the change of the pole star nor time itself.
In another view, the stick may be symbolic for life as well. The stick must be made perfect in order to be artful, meaningful. In this way, it is the imperfections of the stick that are the imperfections in a life; life itself, however, is perfection. And so, it is then up to the individual to maintain the flawlessness of life through his actions and the way in which he follows his purpose, whether half-heartedly or with gallant effort. As the artist perfects his stick, it is up to each individual to perfect his life:
It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life. (632)
If then, life is artful, a definition must be given to art. This passage from Walden offers some answer by implying that art is also perfection as it comes from life. Literally, along those lines life must be art and art must be life for “when the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest off all creations of Brahma” (632). In this case, this fairest of all creations can be interpreted as either of the two—life or art. When the finishing stroke is put on life, it too expands into the fairest, most perfect of all creations, as does the artists stick, a work of absolute perfection.
From within this thought the obstacle of Time springs forth. In the conventional sense, the amount that can be accomplished by an individual is limited by the span of life, mathematically calculated to nearly 78 years on average. In this passage, however, the artist is not limited by time in the slightest. In fact, he overcomes it through the power of his resolution and his search for perfection in both life and art:
As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him. (632)
In the same way, according to the passage, time should not become an obstacle. The greatest man will never achieve his fullest potential if daunted by concerns of society, money, time, or the waking and slumber of Brahma. The individual, like the artist, should devote his life to Life’s purpose and to nothing else.
From these observations it is then possible to draw conclusions about the person who included this passage in his lecture—Henry David Thoreau. In many ways, Thoreau believes and follows these principles to the best of his ability. He strives not to be restrained by society or materialism or the superfluities of life, but instead he reaches for the core of existence. He, presently, is searching, like every other man should, for the purpose of Life. After his experiment at Walden, he will move on, once again searching, doing that which interests him for as long as he is interested by it. But in fact no common man is able to find what he is looking for.
It is possible then to apply these values to society now as it approaches a new century, a new chapter of future historical accounts. This principle will never change. Whether more men will act on it in this future is questionable. Little progress has been made toward the life led by the artist in the city of Kouroo since Thoreau’s own Time, and nothing guarantees any progress in the future. Will humanity then be able to overcome its attachment to itself—to society? Perhaps a period of Enlightenment will dawn upon man sometime soon allowing them to realize their full potential, or, perhaps not.