Monday, March 7, 2011

Work and Routine: Survival in the Studio

Today is the first Monday since my teaching work ended for the school year, and I have been in the studio painting. Taking a break because my eyes were beginning to see double of everything outside the still life during the intense staring sessions (that's really what it is when you paint from observation, you stare, long and hard, sometimes, you even drool while staring).

Having a routine is absolutely necessary when you're on your own: there's no class time to make, no supervisor to report to, no deadline to meet. When you work from your own house, there are always other things to do, the things that are better-defined than a painting you haven't met. Laundry is the most familiar, no-brainer, even comforting activity. Sweeping the floor or dusting lamp shades requires little to none brain power. Even putting on mud-caked boots to help farmer husband work and feed cattle can be light entertainment, not to mention sitting in front of the computer, or crouching in a double recliner with a book called The Story of Art, or One Hundred Years of Solitude (speaking of which, my for-the-moment one-word response to the latter book is extravagant).

Painting is none of that. I don't have time to go through the agonies and boons of the creation of a painting. Suffices it to say that unless you paint to get your mind off things, which is why a lot of people paint, you find yourself enclosed in endless decision making. It's from what to paint, the rationale of painting something, inclusion of technical issues such view points or composition, to whether to use soft or hard edges, yellow or violet drapery, etc., etc... Very seldom do I have clear vision of any of these at the time when I start the work. The result is either spontaneous success or defeat half-way due to the lack of clear purpose. Other less intangibles crop up right during the work, those questions artists deal with near-existential anxiety but hardly conscious of at the time of their ambush: Why am I doing this? Am I painting things or relationships? Is the picture an object or a lesson? Are brush strokes natural or affected? Am I falling into a detestable mannerism? Do I hope to express or to charm? Of the lengthy history of art, East and West, where do I belong? What about, and who is, my audience? Will I ever be successful? Or, is success even in the equation?

No technical manual, fancy art theories, not even biographies of your favorite artists, can answer these questions for you. As sure as death and tax, neither will they ever go away. And if I may add, ninety percent of the time, you are in this all alone. There's just no way around this alone business in what you do in the studio. In fact, if you can be perfectly alone (which isn't that easy), you might even get somewhere.

The only light (albeit dimly) I have in getting myself out of the dark hole of arty existentialism, is to meet it half-way and drop myself loose in a counter attack. By accepting the unknown, I get a chance of turning it into the rabbit hole Alice finds herself falling into, and to have a time of adventure.

In other words, when in doubt, work.

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