Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Arrogance Makes Us Strong

Not long after college graduation, I was visiting the home of one of my painting professors and ran across a series of annual group art faculty images produced 25-30 years earlier. I can still vividly see one of the photographs that had been staged to look like the first season cast photo of Saturday Night Live and the Prime Time Players. It was a snapshot moment in the seventies that placed my professors closer to my current age, a time when they were sure the world would change at their bidding; because they each had a bit of early tramp Willem de Kooning inside of themselves ready to explode forth.

This morning, as I drink my London Cuppa from a classic style diner mug with “Europa’s Gourmet Market” written on the side, I recall a story retold to me of my old college art department, roughly ten years after their photo of youthful ambivalence. They were competitive and mostly bitter, much like they were when I studied at their feet thirteen years later. Exhibitions were far and few between for the group, tenure was the most pressing subject, retirement and healthcare was the new motivation. The ritual of joining together for a morning coffee before classes had not yet ended, though its life was certainly closing. Everyone was beginning to settle into their seats the craziest of the professors, Rick Proctor, looked over to notice the lone fundamentalist Christian art history professor dipping a teabag into a boiling cup of water and loudly proclaimed, “Anyone that drinks tea before 10am, must screw sheep!” It seems that all their earlier creative energy had turned into antagonism or dare I say simplistic politics.

I often mention my search through travel and paint for the factors that unite our societies, but what exactly divides us? How many of my readers were turned-off by the snapshot image I presented of my painting process in yesterday’s blog? Was it a confession of true motivation or singular moment within the progress of my career? How many thought the story “fit the bill” pretty well for what they imagine as the life of a working artist?

I’ve read reviews for the film “Pollock” that reprimanded Ed Harris for feeding the stereotype; but the reality is Jackson Pollock was not a nice character. On that same note, I dare say Vincent Van Gogh was not a barrel of laughs either. They did what they did because they were selfish and that inevitably led to self-destruction. Somehow recognizing that “nature”, I’m still alright with it. I’ve mentioned, before, that making good art is an act of complete self-absorption. SELF-CONSUMPTION may be a better description. Which is a greater loss: the exceedingly hot flame that burns out early or the pile of papers that were never lit?

It’s not an issue of crossing some set of pre-described barriers to become a stereotype within the elusive transformation stage of making art. Instead it has more to do with getting high from the act of creation. As an action painter, the process is the lead-up, sometimes (as Monday night) it drags on for hours and one has to help the natural high continue or the ending is muddled by the process. You have to maintain confidence, or the ending is spoiled. This arrogance is part of the euphoria. It’s not unlike the self-realization of pride when you stand-up for yourself in the face of bullying. Arrogance is the key that opens the floodgate of creative ideas. The entire point of making art is to get to the ending; that moment when the endorphins peak and your system is flushed with the newness of store-bought air. An artist needs the confidence in the process to maintain the work through completion. Pollock’s famous answer when asked: “How do you know when a painting is finished?”

“How do you know when you’re done making love?”

Why does the world need another painting? I’m just getting lost and subsequently ripped within the process of painting. I’m just glad they always turn-out or I’d never be able to afford this lifestyle. Yeah, I’m an addict. I’m hooked on the moment. I refuse to acknowledge tomorrow. It feels amazing. – DN

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'll have to admit that when I read yesterday's blog I wanted to ask you two things: a) did you just watch some movie that romanticised the stereotype of the passion driven artist? and b) are you trying to kill yourself? Then I remembered myself on similar occasions when I hadn't bathed or changed clothes or talked to people for days at a time--because I was working and I know how the momentum can change as soon as the phone rings. I think any artist knows the urgency of completing a painting once it's underway (especially when the ideas are constantly flooding your mind) it's like delivering a baby --you've got to get it out! I try to balance my life for the sake of my health. When I read about the smoking I got jealous because I've been an on again off again smoker myself and for the last several years I've been off. I thought about your kids and then thought about them without you in their lives. As you know D, my dad died of cancer (four packs a day guy who would set up long nights consumed with his thoughts, smoking pack after pack). That's what keeps me off of them. Then my husband called me that night at nearly 10 and I was painting. I asked him what he would think if I picked it up again and he was surprisingly ok with it. So I'm toying with the idea and my mouth is watering. I constantly struggle with the temptation to slip into self destructive habits-- caring only about the work. Then I work hard and wake up with a body clock hangover and it jolts me back into reality. I crave relationships as well as cleanliness and order yet I am naturally self absorbed and messy. It's almost like there's two seperate parts of me. Weird. There's no real point to this blog other than to say....I can relate. However, now that I'm in my 30's I'm doing my darnest not to look hagered and weathered. ha ha