Since last open studios I have been staggering about in very familiar mists of doubt and frustration. My work has taken a turn away from acrylic painting, toward something I don’t understand, yet. It is very uncomfortable being in this foggy nowhere-land, and it drains my energy. There is much clasping of the forehead, staring blankly at the wall, sighing loudly (to the annoyance of my studio pals no doubt), and a general bad attitude. It affects every aspect of my life, as I seem to carry this feeling around in various tensions throughout my body. It also colors my self-image, my ego being particularly agitated by the possibility that I may not be as talented as I’d like to be. After all, don’t Really Great Artists know why they’re doing what they’re doing? Don’t they use their super-powers to navigate skillfully from one body of work to the next, always cognizant of what they’re doing, where they’ve been, and what it all means? Don’t they possess that special sense of clarity that allows them to connect the dots and then drag the dots to a whole new place where they acquire new meaning?
I’m not saying any of this to win pity or sympathy. I suppose I’m stating it because it is a part of my creative process, and my intention in writing this blog was to document that process; and my process involves a lot of this huffing and shuffling of feet and losing of confidence.
So I’ve done some reading. Agnes Martin said :
What does it mean to be defeated. It means that we cannot go on. We cannot make another move. Everything that we thought we could do we have done without result. We even give up all hope of getting the work and perhaps even the desire to have it. But we still go on without hope or desire or dreams or anything. Just going on with almost no memory of having done anything.
Then it is not us.
Then it is not I.
Then it is not conditioned response.
Then there is some hope of a hint of perfection.
Without hope there is hope.
And without desire there is hope.
We do not ever stop because there is no way to stop. No matter what you do you will not escape. There is no way out. You may as well go ahead with as little resistance as possible – and eat everything on your plate.
Going on without resistance is called discipline.
Going on where hope and desire have been left behind is discipline.
Going on in an impersonal way without personal considerations is called a discipline.
Not thinking, planning, scheming is a discipline.
Not caring or striving is a discipline.
I’ve been trying to remember this advice. Just keep going. Let go of the desire to succeed and get to a point where my ego is lost. Keep showing up at my studio and keep moving the brush across the paper. And maybe, eventually, the work will find itself without me interfering.
Another interesting book I’m reading is by physicist F. David Peat. He’s of the opinion that many artists and scientists go through periods of nothingness – of unproductivity. Not to be mistaken for a creative “block”, these periods are actually part of the process. An empty space in which the work can become manifest before it is expressed in the physical world. And he describes both himself and others as experiencing a similar physical sense of tensions being held in the body during this time. I’m not sure my stumbling around in uncertainty and doubt is quite the same, but I do have a feeling that something is trying to manifest itself. It just hasn’t made it far enough through the fog for me to be able to define or understand it yet.
One unusual development that has occurred with my most recent work is that I suddenly started drawing/painting the major internal organs of the body, albeit in my usual abstract manner. I had been mindlessly adding lines of movement to a shape I’d made and realized that it was beginning to look like a heart. Not a chocolate box heart, but an actual pumping blood-soaked heart. Sounds a bit gory right? But it wasn’t. So I started drawing other organs. Here’s an example of a stomach:
And here’s something resembling a kidney (though obviously the comparison is very loose). I haven’t added the lines of movement yet, and I’m not certain if the “bubble” shapes will stay, but you can at least see how the process starts with a loose and somewhat “accidental” shape:
I think the physical and visceral aspects of these drawings/paintings is what appeals to me. At a time when I feel doubtful and lost, there is something comforting about big slabs of meat and blood and the knowledge that they know what to do even if I don’t. Somehow my body keeps working, every organ doing it’s job without me having to direct it or understand it. I know one day they’ll fail and disintegrate, but for now, in the moments when I’m making the work my organs keep me grounded in the physical world and stop me floating off into the miasmal mists of doubt, as I am wont to do.