09 December 2022

Henry James on the Madness of Art and that darn G word!


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 20 November 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

It's a somewhat rare occurrence, but sometimes when I am finishing a study I can see that it's just perfect in every simple kind of way I could have wished. It's particular because it doesn't happen so often, and it always seems to come as a surprise. This quality of the moment,  this moment of 'suchness', as I've heard it described by so many Buddhists and other wise guys from the East. It pinpoints the perfectly to that extraordinarily mundane moment

But that doesn't mean that the picture came easily or that it lacked all those pernicious little choices that make up the creation of a painting. And yet, sometimes a painting surprises its author and comes out un-expectantly better than one could have hoped. I imagine young mothers might feel this after a long and hard labor.

I am not even sure I know what I mean by all that except that I am touching upon 'the inexpressible act of creation', a place where ones's personal willpower or ego has been left at the bench over on the sidelines, where the artist has been kidnapped, seized even by the capricious but benevolent hand of a drunken thief sent by God.

This above study was not laboured at all despite my confusions, it came quickly and it was done in about fifteen minutes. The sky had been an uncertain one, painfully ambiguous, meaning that I really wasn't guided easily into it or out of it. I would even say that it was a leap of faith, as it so often is with creativity. Somehow, I knew I would be lucky enough to find a pathway through it by sheer habit of routine. And I did, for the picture came out as a surprise. 

Ofttimes in this Painting life, the sky can lead me astray and distracted like little Red Riding Hood but I do eventually find my way to Gramma's home. But this night was a little different and the sky felt like the diffident girl at a dance, standoffish and aloof as I approached her. She gave no sign of approval but I asked her to dance anyway. This sky was like her. 

At the beach, feeling a little uncertain I mixed a palette anyway and proceeded because that's what I have learned to do. And what with so many recent rainy days I had really wanted to have painting session at the beach. I was randy and some might say. But at the beginning of the picture I felt like an intruder, locked outside the front door as I had felt in front of the girl at the dance so many years ago. But then the painting came, and I did finally get to dance.

For me, and others I'm sure, it seems that I am present when I'm most absent because when I am most completely engaged in something I really love doing I seem to be elsewhere. It happens while playing tennis, piano and and while painting these days, the rest of the time I am an anxious rabbit.

Everyone in front of any creative task has confirmed this curious space; writers, musicians, athletes, car mechanics, neurosurgeons and even stone masons in Venice, for the empty space of absentminded-focus is the place where magic happens. Why did it take me so long to figure this out?

But this marvellous state of quiet being cannot happen all the time as we all know. In between, we must fail lots, over and over it seems. In fact, that is the entry fee one has pay in order to become an artist, craftsman, or anybody of worth in this lifetime. 

The Zen wise guys call this space the 'Beginner Mind', the 'in between thought' before one acts while the Ancient Greeks called it 'The Muses'. the invisible angels who guides us, push us, allowing us to accomplish the task at hand despite our human selves. The 'Muses' drive the motorcycles, we just get on for the ride. 

I know that everyone has felt this from time to time, Thank God, we do feel it at times. (There! you see, I have used the G word after all,,,, after I had promised myself I wouldn't go near it!)

“We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have, our doubt is our passion, and passion is our task — the rest is the madness of art.”

Henry James


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