An Act of Daring

Cracked Bowl (A4 charcoal and acrylic on a sketchbook page 2017)

“You don’t decide to paint. It’s like getting hungry and going to the kitchen to eat. It’s a need, not a choice.”

These are the words of surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington, and they’ll resonate with many of us. When things are going well, of course, creating something from the depths of your own heart is magical. When not, it’s an ache as painful as unrequited love. Hopefully the former more than makes up for the latter, but even if not, you continue regardless: it’s a need, as Carrington said, not a choice.

If my subject is an apple, I just want to discover my way of looking at it and how I interpret that with paint, charcoal or pastel. I don’t really know if I have anything profound to say about the apple, I’ve simply tried to say something about the apple in the manner I wanted to say it. It would be wonderful if you enjoyed looking at it, but really, so long as I’m happy with my apple that, in the end, is what matters. If it somehow lets me down, no amount of your saying how delightful it looks will make up for my own disappointment.

In a new book, my good friend Bálint Varga mentions ‘the loneliness of creative people in the face of their own creativity. They are solely responsible for their decisions, for the choices they have to make – the act of creation is an act of daring.’ He captures the creative impulse so neatly there, I believe. I would never sail the Atlantic in a small boat, or even go up in a hot air balloon on a calm Sunday afternoon, but several times a week I stare at a blank page and risk my peace of mind assembling marks and colour on that sheet, knowing that if the outcome works I’ll be elated, if not, all manner of doubts and uncertainties will crowd in. Sometimes the difference between ‘success’ and ‘failure’ is one ill-judged line.

Some time ago I wrote to Bálint that I was more often dissatisfied with my work than happy with the final result. His reply, which I printed out and taped above the mirror on my wardrobe door, was:

Insecurity and dissatisfaction with one’s work are part and parcel of being an artist. It would be tragic if you were perfectly happy with what you were doing; you would have no incentive to search and experiment further.

Seen in that light, all those crumpled pieces of paper in the recycling bin are steps on the journey, necessary to advance, to move forward. It’s a comforting thought and one I hold on to when I have a whole evening of crumpled pages behind me.

This week’s image is a fairly quick and loose drawing of a cracked bowl, something fairly symbolic of my life during the first six months of this year. I’m fortunate enough to have kind and supportive friends and this creative urge which propels me forward – speeding out of trouble, so to speak!

Next week I’ll be at Katie Sollohub’s Gestural Drawing workshop at Seawhite Studios: rolling around in charcoal for a couple of days is just what I need. The spirit soars.

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41 thoughts on “An Act of Daring

  1. You have spoken aloud my own whispered words. You have somehow seen the fissure that sees the light and then doesn’t. Just stop it, Michael. There’s an ocean and huge expanse of land that separates us. But….not really.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your quote by Balint is cute and possibly belongs on a Hallmark card. But millions of things are part and parcel of being an artist.
    It would not be tragic to be happy with life. Being happy should be your incentive to search and experiment.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. oooh, nice bowl, love it. Sorry for your troubles, hope the second 6 months of the year is/are better.
    This is a great post, valuable stuff. Gives me courage to continue with my never-ending book on the arts and artists. cheers, Sarah

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  4. Your succinct essay is a good reminder, about needing, and about trying. And as always, it’s such a comfort to think that we are not alone in this experience. Thank you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There’s both simplicity and strength in your drawing.
    I’m never satisfied, but somehow that doesn’t bother me. What I dislike today, I may find interesting tomorrow. And if I fail to find any satisfaction later, there’s always cutting up and reusing in a different form…or stitching can change things considerably. I never throw things out! It’s always recyclable in my opinion. But that’s the junk mail artist in me. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this drawing, so free and uninhibited, but I suspect took quite a while to get it to look like that. I really appreciate your blog today, it is very timely as I constantly struggle with why I am an artist. Thank you 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Your bowl reminded me of a Japanese tea bowl and the art of kintsukuroi, the way of repairing cracked pottery by filling the broken seams with gold lacquer. Each piece is then more beautiful for having been broken.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I enjoyed the Bálint quote. It works for writing poetry, too, I think. As a novice painter I often feel that my work is juvenile. But I have so much fun painting with a group of women once a week that I keep going back. I will take this Bálint quote to heart as I work on a watercolor painting of a reflection in a lake. It is quite a challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Are you familiar with the Leonard Cohen lyrics?
    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.
    If you are not, I’m amazed at how beautifully this post embodies the song. I know I have a lot of light coming in because I’m pretty flawed, but art helps. Keep painting. I know that my praise of your art won’t change your mind about it, but I love it. It is helping my find my “voice” in many ways, too. I hope the rest of the year goes better for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Jeanette. I do know a lot of Leonard Cohen’s music but didn’t have it specifically in mind when I wrote this. Perhaps it was there subconsciously. Thank you too for your kind words about my work and my life – both seem to be on an upward road again, praise be!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I noticed the quotation from Leonard Bernstein before the one from Leonora Carrington that accords with it. In writing this comment now, I noticed the similarity of the names Leonard and Leonora.

    Photographers don’t have to come up with something from nothing the way you do when you face a blank piece of paper, but it can still be a struggle to frame reality in a satisfying way. Sometimes the magic is there, sometimes not.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Facts and wonder | A Certain Line

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