In the Midst
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
Recent skype chat with artist friend --
Me: 'Honestly, sometimes I wonder why I paint. I don't feel very good at it, and then I wonder if perhaps I ought to quit and do something else. But then I think, what would I do?… So the moment I consider quitting, I immediately think 'I can't do that!’ Stupid really. I should be more straight forward and professional about it.'
Fellow Painter Friend: 'Ach Monique! You are a painter! Whether you like it or not. :) I don't know if this helps, but I have the exact same doubts at least once a week….’
[That does help somehow.]
Our minds and emotions are a funny thing - the way they can steer us one way or another. They cannot always be trusted... but they may also be a precious resource.
Last week's studio time felt rather slow-going. Various ‘interruptions’ took my attention and energy, emotionally and mentally, distracting me from the work. I wonder if the stuff of life takes too much attention away from the studio, when perhaps it ought to find it’s way into the studio, and into the work. Perhaps the emotional energy is much fresher when feelings, however disturbing or in conflict with the task in hand, are very close to the surface. There's a hidden power which can become available.
However, some artists cannot paint when too ‘riled up’ and need to come to a place of peace and relaxation inside - to settle so they can paint. My fellow painter friend says he needs to be in that settled frame of mind and cannot work when he is angry or upset about something, which I so understand.
The British artist, Howard Hodgkin, felt things intensely, and that feeling bleeds into his very emotional landscapes - colourful paintings which evoke the memories and impressions of his own vivid and sometimes painful experiences.
“He is one of those truly distinctive artists who redefined the way you look at the world. He also changed how artists represent their experiences … He understood that we don’t just interact with the world visually, we interact in terms of emotions and memory and he brought those into the language of painting.” (Moorhouse - Guardian article)
Art, when done with authenticity and integrity, allows the grittiness and reality of life come into the work. It’s a case of letting oneself go to all areas and then to ask, ‘Does it resonate with what is deep down’? Is it true? The colours, the lines, the shapes… and maybe sometimes even the subject matter. Is it done with truth and gut? Sometimes it exposes uncomfortable truths.
And Hodgkin stayed with the loneliness that is inevitable in being an artist. “It’s incredibly lonely,” he says. “You can’t make up for it by – and don’t misunderstand this – by the interest of you. It’s still very lonely.... It’s a very lonely occupation being a painter; I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.”
I think that sometimes I distract myself rather than face the loneliness of the studio. That is where I realise the importance of having other artists to talk shop with. Thankfully I have a few people like that in my life.
The other night I watched a film about the Bronte sisters: ‘To Walk Invisible: The Lives of the Brontë Sisters’. What struck me was their pure dedication to writing, and how they were able to write together in the same room. In the midst of struggles with their brother, Branwell, and in their poverty, they stuck with it. No doubt the struggles found themselves into the writing. They wrote in spite of the struggle - in the midst of life - not separating things out, but in honesty including things. Perhaps the process even helped them to flush things out of their system.
At one point in the film Anne asks her sister ‘Do you think it’s wrong?… To write about something that is very close to home?’ Emily responds, ‘No, I don’t think it’s wrong. I’d never have invented Hindley if I hadn’t been set such a fine example at home.’ (Hindley Earnshaw is a fictional character in Emily Brontë's novel Wuthering Heights.) And the next scene in the film shows a poem being read by their suffering brother, processing the recent death of their grandmother.
The tides of emotion in daily life should influence and benefit our art, ultimately at least. But it's certainly only human to find some situations a little too challenging.
A contemporary poet, Steve Turner, wrote one of his shortest poems on this dilemma:
'Came here to write a poem on depression
Got fed up
I love the honesty of that!
I guess I'll just have to keep riding the rollercoaster of life's emotions and artistic output. Here's hoping for a creative harmony between the two!