Post #1551 • May 2, 2012, 4:21 PM • 9 Comments
I would like to be able to report that my residency at the Morris Graves Foundation followed the typical happy narrative: the setting was beautiful, I made lots of work, I had breakthroughs and insights and learning experiences. In a way, that's precisely what happened. But like Yoda told Luke right before he failed the test of the tree on Dagobah, what's there is only what you take with you. I spoke to no one for the whole two weeks, excepting the caretakers of the residency, whom I saw twice a day. I came out with the following realizations:
1. The artistic problem that I've been concerned with for the last six years isn't worth solving.
The discovery that I made in Taiwan in late 2005, a personal take on Asian brush drawing that resulted in some decent pieces, barely translates into color on paper and fails as opaque painting. Maybe "fails" is too strong, but it's not the stuff of masterpieces and never will be, at least coming out of my hand. As illustration it's not bad. It doesn't fly as art. While I stand by those 2005 drawings as drawings, I saw something in them that was less fruitful than it really was.
It's good, in a way, to be realizing this now as opposed to ten or twenty years from now. But at the moment of realization, meh.
2. Instead, I may be some kind of realist.
After painting eighteen pieces in the aforementioned mode, I looked over at the still life I had set up and thought, I am going to get my crow quill and draw the shit out of that flower.
I hung it up next to the others on the wall. Painful as it was to admit it, it was much better than any of them. Hence realization #1.
This is bad news. I'm happy working like this, but this style, and the oil painting style it implies, are so labor-intensive as to all but preclude my doing anything else. Writing, for one. Comics. Maybe sleeping, if I want to get a body of work together anytime soon. I'm going to have to turn into a time-management ninja.
It's good, in a way, to have an artistic prompt to use my time better. But at the moment of realization, meh.
3. I'm a clinical introvert.
I've suspected this for some time. I've known that I'm a pretty typical case, in that I can comfortably manage and even enjoy conservations and large gatherings as long as I can "recharge" by myself later. It disturbed me, though, how little I was craving conversation after two weeks of no contact with the outside world. Mostly, I wanted to get back on the Internet.
4. Nevertheless, I need to get out more.
Into nature, anyway. The residency was covered with great hiking trails, and the studio overlooks a lake a quarter-mile across with its own microclimate. On one day, I saw a bald eagle, a varied thrush, a Stellar's jay, several red-winged blackbirds, two Belted kingfishers in a fight, and a Rufous hummingbird. Those Rufouses are amazing—a ruby patch on their throats, when full sun hits it, shines red like a bicycle reflector. They'll fly around you faster than you can turn your head to glimpse them. You know they're there by their beating wings, which sounds (with apologies for a second Star Wars reference) like a light saber being swung.
Different stuff, but stuff just as good, lies within a three-hour drive of Boston and it's ridiculous not to be getting into it on a regular basis.
Also, I saw a couple of deer. One of them stomped and snorted at me from an elevated position. I went from admiring the deer to talking smack to the deer. It was all just posturing, though. On my part, not the deer's. That deer would have knocked me into a ravine without the least trouble.
5. I'm political.
This is bad news. Don't become political if you have any choice about it. Politics is a giant waste of time and an infinite wellspring of bad feelings. Political people, regardless of affiliation, feel almost constantly that the world is going to hell. What's worse is that I'm pretty solidly libertarian, thus straining relationships with my artist friends and fellow Massachusettsers who are liberals nearly to a one.
I'll probably be writing about politics more often on this blog in the coming months.
6. I'm an atheist.
Most mornings at the residency started with my setting up a meditation cushion next to the wood stove and sitting for a while. As a result of this, I had an anti-mystical experience. Everything was revealed to me as an accident of biology. There is no meaning to life except that which we attribute to it. There is no almighty, guiding intelligence in the universe. There is just us, with our limited consciousness and febrile imaginations about what might be going on behind the existential scenes. When you die you become food for something else.
I felt closer to unlocking the secrets of the universe by working through 200 pages of a precalculus textbook that I had brought with me so I'd have something left-brained to do.
This is probably not what Morris Graves had in mind for visitors to his residency. Oh well.
7. I am not Morris Graves.
Most artists have heroes, or at least guiding lights, to whom they're drawn in some way. Usually it's through the work itself. Sometimes it's through biography. Rarely, such as in this case, it's the opportunity to spend time in the artist's environs. One hopes of getting a piece of whatever made the artist special. Undeniably, the artist's presence is preserved in the landscaping and interior design choices, which are not inconsequential. One might further be inclined to believe that the artist's spirit still hangs over the premises.
If you're lucky, you will be deprived of this and uncover aspects of yourself instead, which are ultimately more true and useful to you. This brings me to my last item:
8. Disappointment, seen rightly, is revelation.
But in the moment of realization, meh.