Returning from hiatus


Jan 15th 2012


Since I last wrote my mother slipped and cracked her pelvis and the doctors discovered she had advanced ovarian cancer. She only lived for three months after that, months that bore many challenges and some surprising sweetness. Since her death we have been swamped by the need to dismantle and move the material contents of her life. Over the same months I have entered the final year of my long sojourn in the academy. Only six months to go. I don’t feel ready to write about the impact of my mother’s death, but recently, I was back at Pelican House; at the beach where I wrote my previous post last May and realized that I would like to write again and to share a few of my thoughts. The following is a piece that I rediscovered and worked on there. I am back to thinking about art, language and knowing:


Groping experimentation: trying to learn that which cannot be conveyed in language. Even when part of the curriculum is contained in books it still needs to go down into the furnace for processing. My painting teacher is trying to teach me about seeing. I am trying to learn. That is why the paintings must go up on the walls so that I can look at them every day and try to grasp what they have to tell me. This is a slow, unpredictable, and often frustrating process. I can look for days without knowing any better what a painting needs. What I have learned is that it can’t be forced. This lesson rests on much experience. I think, “Oh, last time it helped to add a bit of red in the corner, or black lines or circles, so let’s try that now.” I have learned that it is helpful to have these tools in my repertoire, to notice and remember the impact that they can have in an image, but unless the image has requested them they are not likely to move it where it wants to go. When no messages come, though, at least I am beginning to have a few things to try, a growing body of gestures and techniques. And I have learned that no mistakes are fatal, one of the wonderful gifts of acrylics.

When the messages do come, they are very quiet. They are easy to miss. I’m sure I have already missed a lifetime’s worth, but I am hoping that the more I learn to pay attention, the more I learn to respond, the louder and more assertive they will become. They tend to arrive like a faint pulse of air in the body, as if someone has nudged me and then disappeared. I haven’t yet learned what to do with them unless they transmutate into language, which often happens in the middle of the night or in the dreamy half-life of early morning. I am learning to write them down. But I also wonder about my dependence on language. Is it possible for me to hear and act on these messages without having to wait for them speak to me in the language that dominates my waking life, the language that many scholars tout as the hallmark of our humanity? An artist friend asks “what happens if the words never come?” I hesitate. It would be ok, I say tentatively. But when they do come – words that help me to understand the image I have created – I feel a deep relaxation, the release of a tension that I did not even feel.