Monday, September 10, 2012

Art and Doubt

Another day struggling to sort things out on canvas and in sketchbook. It may be hard to explain an artist's struggle because people who aren't in the "trade" sometimes think we're over-strung and given to melancholia. Although there's truth enough in that assessment, there's also real reason for our occasional despair.

As we grow in our chosen "trade," (I still dare not to call mine "vocation"),  our ideal for where we want our work to go keeps getting re-difined as we become more critical and demanding of ourselves. When that ideal eludes us in the physical battle with our material, it can be brutally demoralizing. The doom of defeat, even a sense of futility, pervades our air.

In order that people understand our seemingly esoteric trouble, it is important they recognize that the ideals we chase are more than technical excellence.

I recently read an essay regarding artist's doubts, the concept famously associated with early twentieth-century artists such as Paul Cezanne and Alberto Giacometti. Cezanne wrestled with optical uncertainty and his desire to make Impressionism "something solid and durable." Giacometti was so anxious about his work that he declared that painting is "impossible," while his sculpture of tenuous human figures ever threatens to disappear all together. If someone has difficulty understanding Existentialism, all he needs is look at Giacometti's art and get it. Yet these two "doubters" each left us a body of soul-stirring works and enduring legacy of art of high seriousness.

sculpture by Alberto Giacometti

Painting by Alberto Giacometti 

Giacometti's work is often linked to the ethos of Existentialism, expressing the immobility and raising the question of human freedom. Yet looking back at these works as a post-Modernist, I'm profoundly touched by their relentless quest for meaning. I suspect Cezanne ever considered himself a pagan. A crucifix hangs on the wall in his studio to this day. I do not know Giacometti had any sort of spiritual conversion towards the end of his life, but that ignorance doesn't prevent me from sympathizing with his search. The very fact that these works got made at all negates any belief that he is a believer of nothing.

When art is nothing but a trade, it's possible to separate the work from the artist; when it DOES become a vocation, however, the artist's battle is never simply technical. His work is the stage where he grapples with who he is. Where he is awarded clarity in his search, he makes an interpretation; but even when that sense is vague or downright lost he still doesn't stop. If he is Christian he sees potential in his crisis, or, poverty. If he loves his work he goes on despite the absence of consolation. He becomes a willing traveller in desolation.

I had to write all that down in persuasion to myself. I'm the first one to admit how weak I am sometimes.


  1. I felt the depths of your communication in this post. Well done. These same heart-felt expressions may describe our common endeavors of life, no matter how insignificant they are...

  2. Jane, thanks for the comment. Writing things down helps clearing my mind. I felt better right away after I posted this. Cheers from here:)


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