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?”