Thursday, April 27, 2017

I do not regret no longer saying what I do not wish to say

I happened to be looking recently at quite an old drawing - from 2005. This is already a long time ago! Here is the drawing:

Daniel Maidman, Toni Seated 
2B pencil and white Prismacolor pencil on 
Rives BFK Tan Heavyweight Printmaking Paper, 22”x15”, 2005

By my standards at the time, it was a very good drawing. I am accustomed to thinking of my older work as not being as good as my newer work, but I think I am a little bit unfair to it. Some of it was good then, and remains good, and I shouldn’t be dismissive of it simply because I made it a long time ago and have spent all the time since then working on getting better.

Now here is a drawing I just made yesterday:

Daniel Maidman, Erica’s Back 
3B pencil and white Prismacolor pencil on 
Rives BFK Tan Heavyweight Printmaking Paper, 15”x11”, 2017

I like this drawing quite a lot. But look how much softer it is, how much less assertive about where things are and what they are like.

Leading up to that 2005 period, I spent so much time and energy learning exactly what things were in the world: each part of the body, in and of itself. Since then, I have worked hard to follow how the eye sees, how the mind understands, how much can be said with how little.

I worked so hard to learn to say everything. I remember my fear, in 2005, that the art of saying little would be like a self-imposed muteness, that letting the viewer fill things in for himself would leave me with a raging thirst to speak. But now I see that it does not make one parched. It involves the more subtle and profound ability to suggest things to the viewer without saying them word by word. One imagined but could hardly believe this ability to be real. And yet it is. I don’t want to say every little thing anymore, and I do not regret no longer saying what I do not wish to say.

There is a related phenomenon which I regret surprisingly much. I used to see things in terms of their surfaces. Let me give you a particularly embarrassing and primeval example so you understand how severely I had this problem. One evening in the fall of 1992 or 1993, I was walking along with some friends on Franklin Street, the main strip in Chapel Hill. There was a homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk in front of Nationsbank, playing a musical instrument, I forget which one. This homeless guy was not a young Byronic street musician. He was a ragged, stocky drunk in his fifties. But he played pretty well and some people had gathered around to listen. The musician finished his piece, and somebody threw some coins to his open case on the sidewalk, and missed, and I thought this was pretty funny. I was maybe 17. My friends shushed me. They were all caught up in a sentimental Moment, because they noticed something I hadn’t: that the guy who threw the coins was just as much a bum as the musician. So they were savoring the poignance of one guy with nothing being so moved by music as to give what little of the something he had to another guy with nothing.

My friends were being a little overwrought about it, but I also had a quite radical inability to look beyond the outright surfaces of things. A less extreme form of this persisted in me for many years, particularly as regards the still mysterious link between beauty and virtue.

Anyhow, I don’t seem to have much left of this problem. I have so little of it left that I hardly credit what things look like with conveying their meaning at all. I regret this. There is a fine sense of a complex and dynamic rightness, a spectacular and beautiful rightness, to be gotten from an innocent confusion of sunlight sparkling off of forms, with truth. And I have no more assurance that I understand things now than I did then. I certainly understand other things. But I miss understanding as I understood. Of course I can still access that mode of sight, but the passion has mostly gone out of it, and one does not do things one is not passionate about, or at least I don’t.