During my absence from my blog I did continue writing. I’m a fanatical journal writer — so much so that I’ve begun to think of my journals as my “brain,” and I’d be hard pressed to even think if I couldn’t write a lot of my ideas down. Writing seems like the only way of making thoughts become real. Perhaps that’s because I’m otherwise rather badly organized and prone to forgetfulness.
Anyway, writing is so habitual for me that I’ve wondered sometimes if writing isn’t really what I should be doing instead of painting. Then it hit me. One reason I don’t do art when I’m “between places,” as I’ve been for over a month now, is that I always seem to need something to actually look at when I work. I’ve never been one of those artists who doodles, or who dreams things up in imagination. I like to have a subject of some kind sitting right in front of me. I’m an observer. I draw what I see. It might be a combination of things. It might be sometimes a real object, sometimes a photograph, sometimes a drawing that I look at and record. But it’s always something. I want vision to be rich, immediate, a real-time sensation from eye to brain.
So, maybe it’s time I branched out a little. I often advise others to try new skills and get out of the comfort zone. Here’s an instance where maybe I should take some of my own advice.
The image at the top of this post is one of a series of large paintings by American artist Jennifer Bartlett. Given that it’s a painting of little pieces of paper with notes jotted on them, it illustrates my theme of the tug-a-war between words and images. She attacked it pretty directly. She did paintings of writing. It’s from her series 24 Hours Air.
The difficult thing about writing a blog is that if something comes up that prevents you from working, there’s no one else to take over temporarily. I’ve got no staff. The interruption in my life that prevented me from blogging has also kept me from painting. And whenever I go a long spell without working, I find myself wondering if I should continue as a painter. After all, most people in their jobs have regular pay and routine expectations about what they’re supposed to do. But as an artist (so far at least) my pay is most irregular and my work routine — which often offers great expanses, oh yes, of delicious freedom — is definitely not routine. The boredom of the routine is absent, but so are the comforts. It takes discipline to keep plugging along powered by one’s own will alone, and given that the direction is often unclear — well, it can be daunting sometimes.
I got a comment from a reader that blended with my morning thoughts as I resume this blog. His comment made me realize again that whenever a diligent artist gives up, it leaves the field wild open for all the poseurs (and the art world’s got tons of those). So, it becomes almost a duty to keep going if at all possible — not for one’s own sake alone but for the dignity of one’s profession.
I haven’t even been near my studio in a month. Looking at this photo of one of my paintings on the wall, seeing it “in progress,” reminds me of periods spent painting. I have no idea yet what this “tree” is about, this tree that doesn’t quite look like a tree. It’s big. It’s sloppy. I’ve repainted huge areas without solving the puzzle of what it ought to look like. It’s structured and ill-defined all at once. That’s a lot of “almost” to have to deal with. Yet you get a hunch sometimes, so you follow it. It’s a very private and tentative adventure. Yet it’s genuine.
Yet the feelings that accompany seeing this image are wonderfully nostalgic. Sometimes you begin something and have no idea where it will lead, whether it will ever make any sense, and you have no guarantee at all that the whole thing isn’t just a waste of time. Sometimes you’re tempted to just give it away. But you don’t. You keep working. And one reason you keep working is that it’s fun.
I am back at my “post,” a word that I now find has many connotations. I’m returning to duty. Art is a fine calling. And so one soldiers on because that’s just what you have to do. “Soldiering” might seem like a big metaphor for my humble calling. But I remember a particular soldier as I write, and the memory recalls me to my duty. And sometimes it’s the small duties that we particularly need to keep.