Friday, March 23, 2012

Too Much Writin', Not Enough Paintin'

One of my favorite fakey ancient-eastern-wisdom stories goes like this. A man, unhappy with his life, is wandering around, seeking a guru who can tell him about enlightenment. One day, this unhappy man is on a muddy road up a mountain, no doubt in Tibet. Peasants are trudging up and down the road, going about their business. Our protagonist spots this one peasant, an older guy, windburned face, crow's feet around the eyes, and so forth, bent under an incredibly heavy load. The unhappy man has a flash of insight and realizes this peasant is actually enlightened, a bodhisattva. He runs up to him and says, "Master, what is enlightenment?" The peasant sets down his load, straightens his back, and smiles. The unhappy man is dazzled by this explanation. Then another question occurs to him.

"Master," he says, "what comes after enlightenment?"

The peasant bends down, picks his load back up, and keeps trudging up the mountain.

I like this story. I have no idea where it comes from. It seems just a liiiiitle too palatable to my western mind to be real. That's OK.

My father had a professor, a wry Jewish pan-educated polyglot, of a generation and character most of whom Hitler made short work of. One time, my father was severely bummed about something, and he went to this professor for advice about what to do. The professor advised a glass of wine, and study.

I believe these two stories are really the same story. The story is this: after a significant disruption - a traumatic experience like enlightenment or severe bummage - it is by means of our productive habits we can find ourselves again.

Obviously, this is not always the solution, and we oughtn't always to revert to prior patterns. But if those patterns were pretty good - why not?

I have had occasion to contemplate these stories over the course of the past couple weeks, which as you can image were rather disruptive. Apart from the intense emotions and unusual events I've described, I've had both a great deal of work to do for my paying job, and a lot of writing to do as a result of my bewilderingly proliferating blogging commitments.

I've been worried I would lose the character of my voice when speaking from atop a taller platform. I've been worried that if too many of my art world ambitions were realized, my narration of art and art-making would leave the realm of the useful and enter the realm of the fantastical. And above all, I've been worried that I was spending too much goddamn time writing, dredging up ideas for writing, and navel-gazing, and not enough time doing the important thing - making artwork.

So it's been with considerable relief that I have had a chance to return, after too long away, to Spring St. lately, and draw some drawings.

the tao of wang

It is good to grapple with the difficulties of anatomy, and of the qualities of light in the skin.

The irreplaceable Claudia, who presents her version of the session here.

And it was with a different kind of relief that I returned to work on the remaining Blue Leah paintings. My schedule had kept me out of the studio for a couple of weeks, which makes my fingers itch for the paint brush. Plunging back into the struggle between idea and paint felt like this:

illustration by the splendid Mark Summers

It actually looked liked this:

But what I wrested from a marathon painting session was this:

Blue Leah 8 (in progress), oil on canvas, 24"x24"

These are all variants on picking the load back up, drinking a glass of wine, and resuming study. They help to restore balance after the tempest of events.

This is not much of an insight, but I hope you'll forgive the format temporarily devolving from a discussion of ideas into an account of events. I remain

Faithfully yours,



  1. Does the Tao of Wang tie in to the enlightenment story?

    Either that, or it's the Wang of Tao. Does Tao model at Spring Studio often?

  2. I'm very glad to have found your blog, Daniel. You write well about finding time to make art while also needing to make a living, something I see too rarely. I don't think a very large percentage of artists pay all their bills by painting whatever they feel like and then selling it to eager collectors, but that's not addressed often enough in the prevalent image of the art life. Most artists make a living doing something else entirely.
    I haven't been to Spring Street in quite some time, but I went on and off for some years, and quite a few drawings from there are transcribed and incorporated in my old fantasy paintings. I'm glad Minerva's still at it.

  3. Andrew - I renew my desperate plea: don't make me come over there.

    Richard - I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. And I do think that interference between survival and art-making is an important topic. For my part, I don't have any money. But I muddle along as best I can anyway.

    Spring is still awesome (I've been going since 2006)(Minerva just renewed the lease).