I have become pensive, you may say, lately. Painting is taking over my mind. Frankly I am a little surprised by the urgency and encompassing force by which it has gripped me lately. At times I wonder if I'm letting work overshadow more important things. I find myself pausing in midday to catch up on the daily readings. I haven't said a rosary in a long while.
In a way, Lent, the season partially dedicated to meditation, has forced me to re-think about priorities in my life. In the center of all this is the vocation of being an artist. I ask myself what that exactly means, and how different it is from having a simple hobby. The demands of a vocation weigh on one's soul, it asks for more than what I have been giving it. There's no doubt that I have been given the talent, facility, and material means, not to mention a doting husband who would do anything to see me happy. There's simply nothing holding me back from advancing this vocation.
What I don't have, it has become ever clear to me, is devotion.
Devotion isn't something bitter, dour, to swallow and to occasionally choke on. Too often people look at a disciplined, structured approach to life as a negative thing. I don't remember who it was (Pope John Paul II?) that challenged the Catholic youths to strive for excellence. Why settle for mediocrity, when you can be excellent? He asked. Excellence is impossible without devotion. It so happened that art is given me as vocation, an indispensable thread of my being. It follows that I cannot run away from the excellence to which I'm called. The reason I find Flannery O'Connor such an inspiration is how she lived her vocation as an artist, and how utterly devotedly and fearlessly she went about serving the good of her work.
And just to make one thing clear, I've never seen the need to make my artwork religious. I don't, and never will, see myself becoming a "religious artist." I don't want to dwell on the subject because it's just too complicated to be made clear by a few words, at least not by someone like me. You'll have to consult theologians, or aestheticians like Jacques Maritain, whose theories on the subject was crucial to validate O'Connor own thoughts on her vocation as an artist (see also Maritain's book Art and Scholasticism). I, in turn, have found validation to my own feelings in both Maritain, and O'Connor.
Now back to my current re-thinking of being an artist. In the past, my work has been guided by a mechanical production, and by, I'm ashamed to say, deadlines. Needless to say, there was deeply embedded passivity of that type of routine. What's now I see clearly, is the need to break through the comfort zone. I've been in it too long. No artist who sees his work as part of his being is content with repeating himself. The analogy in spiritual life would be the advancement through the chambers of Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle.
Again, art as vocation is not the same as art as hobby. If my work does not mirror what I am, and how essentially I relate to the world, to Creation specifically, then it isn't a vocation. Although I have not treated my work as a hobbyist might have, but I'm far from tapping into the soul of and source of the wellspring of it. Art is utterly unique in that it lays lofty demands on both the intellect and nitty-gritty routines of the artist. Inspiration alone makes nothing. An artist is at once a thinker and blue-collar mechanic or he isn't one. As a fallen creature, my natural inclination is to take the easy way out, or not to get "out" at all. If you look at the dynamics of living one's vocation as constant pruning and cutting away a jungle, the easy-way-out, or staying in the same spot, is no way of survival. In a letter in which Flannery gives advice to an aspiring writer, she plainly calls routine as the means of survival for an artist. I put it in another word: devotion.
So there you have it, the bits of fruits of my latest navel-gazing. It also explains the slow-coming of posts on this blog. I have in effect suspended all other activities (excepting laundry and getting tax done!) for fear of dissipation of mental energies. I have succeeded in painting several crappy pictures in a row, but I'm refraining from pulling out my stealthily graying hair and sinking into moodiness. I'm not even repainting the crappy pictures, like I used to do so as not to face the embarrassment of failure and inadequacy. I'm keeping them. I want to see my own inadequacy and be sober about what lies ahead. It helps also to know that these crappy pictures serve their own parts in the bigger scheme of things, and one day I will have something to thank them for.
As my pal Jan likes to say, over and out.