Duntrune Castle (A3, charcoal, compressed charcoal)
Patsy123 emailed me last night to say:
When you talk about your art your writing really speaks. I have never quite considered the anguish that goes with trying to portray who you are in your paintings.
It's true that painting is an anxiety-ridden occupation. When people say to me, "Oh, you're a painter, that must be so relaxing!" I can only counter with, "Only if I'm not doing it properly."
But this business of trying to find a way into a kind of painting that's not yet part of my vocabulary is one that I return to over and over again. It causes me a great deal of grief and discomfort. So why do I do it?
Luckily, I found my way back to the writings of Eric Maisel yesterday. Last year, when I was working my way out of the Long Dark, his book The Van Gogh Blues was a revelation. It genuinely turned me around. So it came as no surprise to me to find that only a short way into his Fearless Creating, I came across what I needed.
You're out walking and you see a shadow in a doorway. Something occurs to you; not in so many words, but as a vibration, a vision, a something. Because .... you have this anxiety to see the world and to solve its riddles, something happens. It is nothing but a shadow in a doorway, but you have a violent experience. At the same time, nothing is there. Just a shadow in a doorway.
Out of that experience, in the instant of its happening, comes the elusive ghost of an idea. An idea, in my case, for a painting or a drawing. Somehow it seems to be an idea in its entirety, but so ..... Indefinable; ungraspable; a miasma. There does seem to be something there, but what? Can I take it forward? Can it be taken forward?
As Eric Maisel has it, this is the anxiety of the hungry mind:
This is the painter Willem de Kooning explaining, "If I'm confronted with a small Mesopotamian figure, I get into a state of anxiety. I know there is a terrific idea there somewhere, but whenever I want to get into it, I get a feeling of apathy and want to lie down and go to sleep."
This is the wish confronted by the work, the wish uncertain if it has been confronted by the right work. Should this shadow in the doorway consume you? Yes? No? Why? Why not?
I feel my thoughts whirling round in my head, trying to make contact, one thought with another, to see the idea fully formed. I want it to be there so badly. I need it to exist so that I'll finally know a little more of the world.
Eric Maisel again:
But still you end up on the sofa, depressed and inert. What were you supposed to do with that shadow? And how dare you let it get away! In pain on the sofa, confused, failing yourself, you feel the vision evaporate, the moment pass. Gone! What was it about that shadow, that doorway? Who knows? Who cares? Where is the bottle?
All of which correctly identifies the feelings I go through. But how is it helpful?
Maisel points out that it's at this moment that so many art careers founder. People at this moment of shocking failure make the mistake of seeing it as tragic, a sign of emptiness. But he insists that it is by no means a tragedy:
This is no tragedy, this is hungry-mind anxiety! This is what must be tolerated if you are to be alive: data taken in, deep connections made out of conscious awareness, projects begun in a split second and abandoned in the next split second. This is pain, but not tragedy.
To be a fully-functioning artist I must come to terms with this. I need to recognise that the process is something wonderful and terrible. Important and uncontrollable. It will happen again and again, and though it may be difficult, ultimately it's worthwhile, because it's a sign that I'm fully connected to the world, ready to create.
[My apologies to Eric Maisel for what may well be rather heavy-handed paraphrasing of his often quite poetic prose.]
Today's horoscope tells me:
There's stuff going on that doesn't meet your eye. You want to get to the bottom of it, but you don't even know where to start looking. The only way you'll make progress now is to stop thinking. You're not going to find the solution using logic.
You may think this has been overly melodramatic; pretentious even. Do I care? Not a jot.