For a long time, I’ve been so unhappy in the studio, and with my work. In fact, feeling miserable was the primary motivation for starting this blog a year or so ago. I wanted to do something that made me feel that I was at least a little bit connected to the outside world, that the hours I spent in the studio were not meaningless, uncounted by anyone except myself, and to post updates on my slow daily progress on the internet, so that, even if nobody ever saw them, it was at least a gesture, some small public proof that I existed.
(You know, if a tree falls but no one is there, et cetera et cetera, only my version was, if a painter spends 8 hours a day in the studio, but never finishes a painting, let alone shows it to anyone else . . . is she really an artist? (And how long before she goes completely MAD?))
And the months wore on, and paintings didn’t get finished, and I got more and more fed up with myself and bored by the limits of my own brain, and less and less happy to spend my days within the narrow four walls of the studio. Life was going on outside, without me.
So I kind of just stopped for a while, this past summer. Not completely. But largely. I experimented with acrylic paint, with an eye to having a less-toxic alternative in the event of pregnancy & motherhood. And basically hated it. And got really depressed thinking about having to give up painting when we decide to try and have a baby if I couldn’t find a workable alternative. (Even though I was already depressed and not really painting anyway—there’s nothing like the thought of having something taken away from you to make you desperately cling to it.) I started a collaboration with my friend Jesse, a poet, which got off to a promising start, and then stalled due to my lack of follow-through (although I hope it could potentially enter a new and different phase, maybe less trying to create a specific correlation between a poem and a painting and more of an ongoing conversation between makers of different kinds).
And I thought a lot about happiness, and what Art Means to Me, and whether I could maybe just stop doing it, and what other kind of job I might be able to do without hating it too much and maybe making actual money at, and whether being afraid that if you don’t have children you’ll regret it terribly later on when it’s too late is really a sound enough basis on which to launch a pregnancy attempt or whether really, truly, sincerely wanting to be a parent in the full knowledge of how it will likely lay waste to your life as you know it is the only ethically valid reason for bringing another human being into the world.
I didn’t answered any of those questions, really, but I did come to a few realizations apropos of my studio practice — that is to say, painting — the most important being that no, I cannot give it up. Painting is such a fundamental part of my identity that even if I stopped doing the activity, I would still think of myself as a painter. David pointed out that in my horrible nightmare, I was going to be caught on the evidence of my painting glove, which he thought spoke psychological volumes about my self-identification as an artist.
Another realization, which was not so much of a realization as the compounding reinforcement of a feeling that I’ve had for some time, was that I am happiest, truly happy, when I’m working from life. Looking at something in the world. And conversely, that I am not happy working out of my own head, despite years of trying. I’m just not that imaginative. I end up feeling sterile, and the paintings stunted. I had a conversation with Catherine Murphy as I was about to graduate from Yale about working from life, how I thought that was the direction I was going to go in. So I've had this inkling that it would be the right process for me for a while. I don’t know why I’ve resisted it for three plus years, though. My old friends, fear and doubt, no doubt.
Another snippet of the Fairfield Porter interview with Paul Cummings:
PC: Do you think that painting is more of an emotional thing than an intellectual thing?
FP: No, I don’t think it’s more emotional or more intellectual. I think it’s a way of making the connection between yourself and everything.
PC: How do you mean “and everything”?
FP: Well, I mean “and reality,” which is everything. In other words, you connect yourself to everything, which includes yourself.
PC: Through the painting?
FP: Yes, through the process of painting. And the person who looks at it gets it vicariously. If you follow music you vicariously live the composer’s efforts.
PC: But don’t you think the person who looks at a painting has en entirely different relationship to it than the person who has painted it?
FP: Well, for one thing they see something that is hard for the person who’s painted it to see. I mean they see the person who has painted it and they see his emotions, which he maybe doesn’t see.
Porter’s brief, unsentimental description of painting from life resonated with my own experience very strongly: that it’s about connection, both inward and outward. Restating it in more flowery language won’t improve it, so I won’t try. Only: YES.
I’ve been walking around these days and finding the world to be almost shockingly beautiful. Feeling connected, feeling awake, looking at everything more than I ever have before. Everywhere I look I see paintings, waiting to be made. Forms and shapes and color masses before me coalesce into paintings, group and regroup into new compositions, waiting for someone to translate them into paint. Houses, trees, cars, telephone wires, our television, a wind-up red ladybug, the cord to my laptop, the view from my bathroom window. Nothing too mundane to be beautiful. Where even to start?
I’m in a hurry to finish this painting of our orange living room, because, among other developments, we’re buying our first house and moving in less than two weeks! It’s almost incredibly to me, but true. With gratitude to parents and grandparents for making it possible. So I hope I can pull off this painting, in the midst of the packing and the frenzy. And I’m looking forward to all the new paintings I hope to make in our new home.