Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It was so strange I could scarcely credit the truth of it.

So - it turns out my drawing is different without nicotine in my system. In hindsight, I suppose it should have been obvious. Drugs change how you think; the continuous presence of a drug encysts your personality and cognitive machinery, preventing some or all changes from taking root in the dormant, non-drugged core.

For instance, when did I start smoking? January, 1997. When my nicotine concentration dropped, my personality immediately reverted to its state in early 1997: freshly post-Texas. It could be reasonably argued that if you met me after 1997, you've never met me at all. This argument isn't actually correct, but it's reasonable.

Thank fucking christ my drawing skills didn't revert to what they were like in 1997 as well. They could have - I started life-drawing seriously in 1998. I could have found my entire drawing apparatus detaching from me. I could have had to start from the beginning.

This is 2001, the earliest scan I have handy. I'd been working hard for three years by this point.

I didn't regress that far, but I did regress. My fine motor control appears to be shot. I can't make precise little lines right now. I can make crude, strong lines:

Daniel Maidman, Leah, Standing Torso, 7-24-2012, 15"x11"

And I can make soft indistinct lines:

Daniel Maidman, Leah, Soft Portrait, 7-24-2012, 15"x11"

This is a bit of a shock, but it's not entirely unwelcome. Consider the case of Lovis Corinth. Here's a painting of his from 1895:

Portrait of the Painter Karl Strathmann

And here's one from 1912:

Samson Blinded (Stephen Wright first showed this to me)

What happened to him in between?


Stroke, 1911. The stroke seems not to have hindered his productivity, but rather, to have thrown him off one track - a highly accomplished but ultimately uncommitted aestheticism - and onto another - certainly cruder, but more vigorous, and to my eye, more essential. That second painting, coming as it does hard on the heels of the stroke and the physical therapy, seems to me to be a kind of emotional self-portrait: who, in Corinth's opinion, was mightier than Corinth? And who was blinded but Corinth? This is a picture of real torment, and real power.

What I'm saying is, when you lose the things that made you comfortable, you gain the opportunity to start fresh. And what I would add, as always, is that I would rather be a better artist than a happier one. I quail at the thought of having my visual apparatus totally fried the way Corinth did. But I do not mind particularly the challenge I am facing - a challenge which I suspect is actually fairly temporary - as certain skills peel off my brain along with their chemical undergirding.

This thing I am going through - it is allowing me to see things a little differently. For instance, at Spring Street on Monday, while suffering from an almost absurd amount of pain and, of course, a homicidal rage, I drew this:

Daniel Maidman, Burr: Cranium, 7-23-2012, 15"x11"

This is the part of the head nobody gives a shit about. But I was sitting there, reckoning with the diminution in my ability to draw complex forms. And I thought, "Why don't I pay attention to the thingness of the head, the subtle variation of the parts people ignore?" And, looking at it differently, and drawing differently, I think I came up with a drawing that was worth making.

Why do I suspect this phase is temporary? Well, it feels like I am undergoing a shock to the system, not a failure of the system. Consider this, from the same drawing session with Leah yesterday as the drawings above:

Daniel Maidman, Leah: Knee, Arm, Neck, 7-24-2012, 15"x11"

This reflects nearly as much dexterity as anything else I've ever drawn. I can switch off this impulse to crudity, to indecisiveness, if I want to revert to my ordinary habits of high precision and high rendering. I'm just choosing not to switch off these impulses. Rather, I'm going through them. We all need to be renewed. Brain chemistry issues are as good a route as any other route. And, jesus, I am in love with this drawing:

It's not very graceful, or very accurate. But it is very soft, and very simple. Any drawing of a face involves both the physical features, and a feeling. It can be your feeling, or the model's feeling, or some feeling floating in the air in the room; whatever. Your drawing answers to the physical and the emotional criteria which combine to produce it. A distinctive weakness of the high precision, high rendering paradigm is that it neglects the emotional criteria. And my current exile from my comfort zone seems to be deeding over to me a heightened ability to experience and express the emotional criteria. That's a huge big benefit, y'all.

Two benefits, actually. First, I can say, "I am not what I was before; I am new; I am not done growing." And second, "This new thing that I am, cannot do what I did before, but it can do other things which I wanted to do before, and could not."

This is so bizarre, so abnormal, so disconcerting an experience, that I could scarcely credit the truth of it, even as I sat there at Spring Street undergoing it. I felt like I had slipped into one of those tales where a djinn magically transports the caliph, in his sleep, from Baghdad to the distant shores of the Wu-Tang Archipelago; and the caliph seems to himself to spend several seasons there, his grueling training overseen by Ghostface Killah, his evenings lost in scholarly conversation with RZA; and one morning, he awakens not on a hard tatami mat, but in his sumptuous bed back home in the Golden Gate Palace, and but a single night has passed; yet he retains his new knowledge, of shaolin kung-fu, and the secret language of bees, and how to find the cosine, and so forth.

I felt like that, except the knowledge I mysteriously acquired on that far shore had to do with drawing.

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