Facts and wonder

A Garden in a Grid (A4 collaged painted papers 2014)

What do you do if you feel you’re following the wrong path through life but haven’t the courage or the financial security to retrace your steps to the point where you took the false turning?

If you’re an author or an artist or a musician, how do you react if your writing, paintings or compositions don’t live up to what you see or hear in your mind?

Suppose you were to declare a passion for someone, but that person couldn’t – however much they cared for you – return your feelings to the same extent?

The novelist, Sebastian Barry, asked in The Temporary Gentleman, “Does wonder have any dominion over facts, in the end?” In the context of the novel, these words have a specific meaning. Removed from their context they provide an interesting way to view pedicaments such as the ones described above.

If we take ‘wonder’ to be our ideal – that one-man show at the Gagosian in New York, proud of every piece hanging on those expensive walls, our partner of choice at our side during the private view followed by a quiet dinner for two at Pearl‘s after the event (“Sorry, Larry, we’ve got something lined up for later…”) – what determines the distance between that and the facts of our existence? Is it just talent? Luck, opportunity, chance? Setting aside self-help platitudes, can believing in a desired outcome influence the facts as they stand this morning?

Of all the painters I admire, Cy Twombly is perhaps the one that divides opinion the most. I find much of his work both exciting and moving, yet others see him as a charlatan who fools the gullible into believing they’re looking at something profound. Yet whatever we think, Twombly had faith in his own vision and how it developed over the years; also, influential dealers and collectors – some of whom, you’ll be surprised to hear, are only in it for the money – were prepared to gamble their reputations on a large canvas with two smears of yellow oil paint and a badly-written quote from the Aeneid scrawled across it. Like his work or not, Cy lived the ‘wonder’.

Perhaps the important factor is belief. Had we believed sufficiently in ourselves at that decisive moment we might not have taken an ill-judged turning at the crossroads; perhaps the gap between the music we hear in our heads and the notes on the stave is down to our belief in the piece; perhaps our potential lover turns us down because in our heart of hearts we know that we are unable to provide what he or she needs? Twombly’s teachers, fellow artists and, crucially, he himself believed in what he was doing; he sold those controversial paintings, married the beautiful Luisa Tatiana Franchetti and lived in elegant style in Rome for the rest of his days.

There may always be a distance between the facts and the wonder, between what is and what could be. As I’ve mentioned before, perhaps that’s what drives us on. If we feel we’re on the wrong road the answer may not be to go back, but to find a way forward to where we need to be given where we are now rather than where we were ten years ago. After all, there’s no choice about that: we cannot go back.

I can’t provide answers to the questions posed at the beginning of this post. I’m also aware that this is not the most fully realised piece I’ve posted: I’m still working through it. However I’m fairly certain that belief has a great deal to do with those questions.

What do you think?

A note on the image: As those of you who follow my Instagram feed will already know, the image is made up of pieces cut from a couple of unsuccessful flower paintings and repurposed. I’m grateful to Jacob for the title.

A note on Sebastian Barry: Barry is a beautiful writer, as this will demonstrate: “We are in the great belly of the whale of what happens, we mistook the darkness for a pleasant night-time, and the phosphorescent plankton swimming there for stars.” However, his stories and his plot turns can be desperately sad and I advise caution when reading his novels in public. Last week I found myself on a plane bound for Frankfurt surrounded by international businesspeople. I was approaching the end of The Temporary Gentlemen when something unexpectedly tragic happened to one of the characters. Fighting back my emotions, I became aware of someone standing next to me and I looked up to see a Lufthansa stewardess. “Käse oder Salami?” she asked, a sandwich in each hand.


30 thoughts on “Facts and wonder

  1. I worked in an art gallery that had a wide range of artists, from national treasures to people who had never taken a painted canvas out of their bedroom to show anyone; let alone had any dreams of selling. I met everyone from the grandiose to the humble and between. It was a happy job that gave me a chance to ask artists how they make their art and what motivates them.

    What I learned is that the rules we impose on artists about what works and what doesn’t are an illusion. There is no predictable logic. People who buy art are a fickle and eccentric bunch who will surprise you with their rationale – they liked the ornate frame (which I know was found in a skip and repurposed) they think the landscape reminds them of a beach they visited on their honeymoon, they think the print is awful in a hilariously lovable and collectable way, they want to support the artist, they don’t know why they want to take it home and hang it, they *just* do. They think it’ll be worth a few bob in ten years. It’s a gift. Who knows why?

    The only advice I could give any creative person who wants to sell their work is to create in whatever manner gives you the most pleasure and be prepared to let your work attract the people it is meant for.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Hum, the last time someone asked me what I thought…an invitation to comment…I did and he attacked me with the brutality of an antifa thug! But, I trudge on…unabated. I like the question because my muse often presents me with quantum theories that seem to transcend perceptions. For instance, the “double-slit” experiment that shows events in the future affect the past. I’m not sure I have a deep understanding of the theory, but superficially I think I do….which leads me to your question about belief….and then back to the experiment which was totally dependent on the observer. I do think that if you see yourself as successful you are….standing here, looking at my latest painting, it says exactly what I saw before I painted it. Is it technically deficient? No. It lives up to my technical ability (I know I’m not DaVinci), and my vision (I’m not a philosopher, comedienne, doctor or poet) is clear….because I am the observer. I can’t have made a misstep on my path….it is my path and missteps are part of it- make me who I am.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Now isn’t this *just* the wonder…..found an 1983 HOUSE & GARDEN magazine at the charity shop yesterday. Of course I bought it! Not only did it have a wonderful essay on Manet, titled “The Discreet Rebel of the Bourgeoisie”. Also, inside a commentary by Lee Hall (painter and former president of the Rhode Island School of Design) espousing the beauty of receiving and sending posted letters, which included a quote by Flannery O’Connor (American writer and essayist, 1925-1964). Bear with me, Michael, as I copy quote to quote from the article and “post” this to you….”Art is not anything that goes on ‘amoung people,” wrote Flannery O’Connor “…it is something that one experiences alone and for the purpose of realizing in a fresh way, through the senses, the mystery of existence.” A measure of belief in one’s self. I do believe. Raye

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  4. What a great post Michael, you’ve opened up questions here that could keep everybody going for a very long time!
    Do I regret some decisions I’ve made in the past? Definitely yes, but I can live with it. I didn’t know then what I know now, and despite the couple of wrong turns I’m ok with how things are turning out. Maybe it’s better when you have to make it up as you go along, and make a few mistakes, then the lessons you learn really mean something to you. I know that when I’ve made work to try and appeal to a particular gallery and to sell, the. the work is not my best and it doesn’t do as well as I thought it would! When I make the work I want to make it more often connects with somebody. Well, the post has really got me thinking, and the repurposing of work that didn’t go according to plan is a great idea!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. And now from the other half…first, that grid caught my eye right away. That gold color really pulls it together too. Endless explorations can be had with grids in my opinion
    As to your questions…wow. Perhaps I’m too much of a “realist”, but it seems a waste of time to spend too much time regretting what you did or wishing for what you don’t have. I’ve said this before, but even my worst decisions have had good results come of them. So despite the regrets, would I really go back for a do-over and lose those good things? And very few people are going to make a living from their art, why spend time agonizing over it? Enjoy it, take it as far as you can. If someone else can share that vision for a bit, that’s icing on the cake.

    I enjoy and learn from what you share, anyway. Although I don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on buying art, so I can’t provide you with an elegant lifestyle in Rome….(K)


  6. Thank you for introducing me to Cy Twombly. Not come across him before and really like his work. Will share him with others!


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Michael – thanks for asking and reflecting on such important questions. In my long conversations with 5 visual artists (Sourcing the Self: Kathy Pitt, published by Peter Lang) I was trying to find out why these artists made art despite the challenges they faced. They all said that it was because of an inner need or obligation to create – something they just had to carry on doing – whether they sold their work or not. All of them exhibited work but only one at that time had become a full-time artist. I was trying to work through why we do what we do, and how we think about who we are, and the role of words and other people’s words and beliefs in all of this – and which theories of self are useful.
    As you say here – taking on a creative life is very hard – I would say that it is like sswimming against the social stream. Good luck with what you are doing, and thanks for sharing your experiences here – it helps us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for responding, Kathy. I shall certainly look out for your book. You’re right about the impulse to create which I’ve also been trying to look at in various ways. I do like the idea of following a path even if the ‘facts’ inform against it, something which the five artists in your book clearly did especially the four who couldn’t make a full-time living from art. Once again, many thanks for your contribution.


  8. Woahh man!! Brilliant peace of writing. This blog is 💯💯💯❤.please visit my too it will be my pleasure that gr8 bloggers like you visiting. But still dude you rock. 🙇🙇🙇🔥

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a moving piece, Michael. I wish I had read it for inspiration before I finalized my last post.

    BTW, my youngest daughter is now flying with Lufthansa as a flight attendant. Maybe you will run into her sometime. Her name is Savanna.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I try not to dwell on the negatives of my past. I am the person I am because of all the experiences I have had and that’s cool. I don’t have any choice but to be an artist. Whenever I fought against it, I felt so miserable. I’m skint but happy. The collage is beautiful.


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