Monday, July 6, 2009


Sometimes painting feels like sex: the buildup, the quickening of the pulse, the complete investiture, the climax.  These are the peak moments in the creation of art.  The other day I heard a talk by a fellow artist who said in essence that she is addicted to these highs, and I can completely understand that sentiment.  

I think that that addiction is a huge part of why artists do what they do.  I suppose a scientist would look into the brain and chart the flow of endorphins, the triggering of the pleasure centers, the wash of chemical stimuli.  I suppose it is perfectly possible that I am "just" a collection of molecules and systems geared to respond to the universe in special ways.  And I guess that would be fine.

My friend's belief is that we artists are just channelers for the creative potential of the universe, that it really isn't "about us."  We were talking about art and the ego.  Both of us have had the experience of really putting aside the ego in our art - we find in fact that making makes us less ego-driven, less concerned at self-aggrandizement and winning than we "normally" are.  I have this experience when I look at paintings I made a long time ago that I like.  I say, "wow, that's really good.  Who made that?"

Who made that?  In painting this side-portrait of Demetra, I had one of these ego-killing "artgasms" (which, by the way, I can just as easily have when I'm painting landscapes or chocolate chip cookies).  To be frank, it felt like great sex: that feeling you have when the river of life rushes fully through you, carrying you away in passion and delight.  In art as in sex, that river can be dammed, diverted, constrained, blocked, or otherwise dried up.  On this day, however, after quite a long effort of trying to understand Demetra and trying to get in tune with the paints, the floodgates opened.


Summer Blues

I have about ten pictures I want to paint, mostly from photo-graphs: some beautiful nude studies, a half of a lemon, some portraits.  But as often happens to me during the summer, I find myself listless and unenergized - not able to get a lot of work done.  This is the life of an academic in the summer.

You'd think that summer would be purely play time (apart from all the time we spend prepping for next term or doing research, of course).  I am very grateful for the down time - don't get me wrong.  But the truth is that I get depressed during the summer.  I don't know why.

It's quite some time since I got seriously down on myself for this listlessness, though.  I have come to accept it as what David Whyte calls the "fading moon" part of myself.  During the regular term I have to be so on - always up, engaged, verbal, social, and focused.  It only makes sense to me that when the summer comes I would shut down.  It's OK.

However, it is also the case that painting lifts me up - like this session with Stefanie.  I like this painting OK, even though it's not that accurate.

Painting reminds me what a precious gift just plain old living is.  What does it is appreciating someone else's beautiful and precious body through the medium of my artistic contemplation.  Stefanie's body is precious; my body is precious.  That's enough.