Senses and Sensibilities

Painting, painting, painting—deadlines, mind whirling– is it any good? Can I be done with this batch? This is not the way to do it– always painting for a deadline, a goal. It should be exploring, experimenting.

I’ve had a rich week or so where time in my studio was paramount. It turns out that not fully reading mail makes deadlines a surprise.  No time to think about it, just go.  So “go” I did and oh the things I remember.

Mostly I now recall how concentrating on painting day in and day out means that I live in a never ending state of attentiveness and curiosity. Nerve endings seem to sizzle.  I startle when suddenly someone is in the room. My focus is so intense that I don’t hear anything outside of the background music and my thoughts scattering from one influence, one painting to another and another.

I dream the paintings and fight the urge to run downstairs after I’ve gone to bed to turn that passage into blue or this other one red, or what if I rub it with bronze?  I take photos with my phone and look at them before falling asleep with eyes squinting almost shut.  I edit them with the filters making them black and white, or “noir” whatever that is, and I analyze the balance. I am consumed.  I want to read more, see more, mix more color!

Then I question. What are they about?  Do they have any meaning?  Do they resonate?  What’s the point? The last piece that I liked very much that came so easily last night now, the next morning,  seems cheap and tawdry.  Maybe I shouldn’t have varnished? I think they’re too shiny. OMG, WHY BOTHER?!?

The photographer came and as I prepared for his arrival looking at all of the work on the wall I felt a mystifying mix of pride and interest— which one looks best next to which? Do they relate?  How fascinating that they change when simply arranged in a different order.  When I lead photo-genius, Aaron, into the room my stomach suddenly flips and what pride I felt is quickly lost.  It all looks SO childish!!!  I feel embarrassed.

Yet at the end of the day, after dinner and a little break, I find myself with an online color mixer seeing what happens with magenta and teal in different quantities. I resist the urge to go and try it with the actual paint. Stop already and take a shower!

I have two upcoming exhibitions with locally renowned artists. I look at their work online. For an instant–Ohhh, mine’s better than that!!  Then quickly, Oh no, mine is awful.  It’s insipid and without mastery of any kind.  Who am I kidding?  Then I remember that Cezanne or Cervantes or Shakespeare said “Comparisons are odious”(actually, Dogberry in Much Ado…says “comparisons are odorous”)—urrggh, how do I fit into this world?  But wait— look at how that cad yellow-light and the ochre play with each other on the TV autumn leaves. And those pumpkins!! What is that orange anyway?  I’m hooked again.

I’m not sure if this is what creating is like for most people, but I suspect that it is at some level. Perhaps it’s the flickering back and forth that gives the work its force? Despite any self-doubt, the level of engagement in life itself that art-making offers me is so intense that to live without it would seem stifling. There is little I experience that can offer me this level of passion.

I still wonder, however, how you know that the work has meaning, content and resonance—authenticity– the thing that elevates it above wallpaper or greeting cards. I honestly don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that if I have 3 or 4 paintings on the wall, despite occasional differing opinions, most people gravitate toward the same piece.  One rises to the top.  I’m convinced it takes doing all of the others to get one to float off the table as they don’t all have magic. I keep thinking that perhaps I will figure out how to make the magic more reliable.  And maybe more time in the studio will do that. But if not, at least I will know this incredible feeling of heighten sensibilities is available next time I let painting be a priority.

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