Writing is hard. I think primarily because it forces clarity. Or shines a light on the uncomfortable fact that your mind is a disorganized stew. I find writing about my work to be incredibly difficult, and my own lazy brain can only sustain critical focus for a few thoughts or sentences before sliding away to some kind of distraction. Oh, I’ll come back to that in the editing process, I’ll think, postponing the struggle of actually wrestling my own meaning out of the thicket of words. I think this is probably the case for many artists, who, unsurprisingly, make images in order to “say” something they can’t quite communicate with words, quotidian, demanding, relentless words. Who would deny the torment of writing an “artist’s statement”? But as hard as it is, in the end I do find it extremely valuable to try and clarify my thinking about what it is I’m doing or trying to do (or think I’m doing.) And that’s the fundamental motivation behind starting this blog.
If writing were easier (and images less seductive), perhaps we’d all be novelists and poets and short story writers instead of painters and video artists and what-have-you. Thinking about the tortured relationship between the word and image reminds me of an essay I wrote in grad school, trying to get into Mel Bochner’s seminar, “Language Enters the Studio,” a class to which admittance was an infallible barometer of coolness. My final paragraph:
In the end, all visual art is silent. We talk about it, around it, at it. We describe and debate, we ascribe and deny meaning; but despite all the words we append to it the work remains defiantly mute. Language attempts a translation between the visual experience and a hyper-verbal world, yet ultimately is on another, parallel and therefore non-intersecting plane of existence than the picture plane. At its best, language can serve as a metaphor for the visual experience. But they are not equivalents.
Is it needless to say that I didn’t get into the class?
I don’t want this blog to just be ‘good for me’ in some calculable or incalculable way, though. I think everyone knows the fallacy of trying to pursue any end with that kind of righteous motivation. You manage to go to the gym for a while but soon it isn’t enough to offset how much it sucks to get up in the dark, drive to the gym in a cold car, and sweat in the company of strangers. Even though you do feel good afterwards, energized, virtuous. But eventually inertia, coziness – not to say sloth – creep in and take back over.
However. Writing about painting feels different right now, I don’t know why. Easier. Less like pulling teeth. I’m actually sort of . . . enjoying it. In that same essay, I also wrote:
Having to explain too much takes the romance out of it. It’s like turning the lights on in the middle of a love scene; too much information. In the studio, I find myself generally reluctant to spoil my own mood. . . [l]anguage enters my studio, but only as a visitor, and it is often a dissatisfying guest: a halting, inexact, recalcitrant conversationalist. I should entertain language more often, probably; to invest in a more fluent relationship.
I guess like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets.