Diving back in after 4 months away from posting on my blog and two months out of the studio. The year of painting the pond almost every day is now well behind me and I plunge ahead to the next thing. I am faced with initiating new directions after completing a large body of work.
This is the private part of the process. It always has been for me; it may be for most artists…the still place, the place when the wind stops filling your sails, the place of huge questions and feeling small, and doubt.
Alone again in the studio and ready to paint, I find myself in what I’d call the place of unknowing. This is a place in which I have spent time before. I’m not comfortable when I don’t know what to do: what I want to do, what I should do, what I must do.
Adding to my discomfort is the heartbeat of the world, which is especially loud and insistent to me these days and seems to amplify everything. Heat waves and fires, violence, injustice and war, hurricanes, Donald Trump! It is all enraging, distracting, heartbreaking and confusing.
This is an erratic place to be. I swing from frantically starting new work to deciding to try to finish or re-work old work, to staring out the window or at the wall. Inspiration could strike at any moment, could come from any direction. I am energized and edgy, stimulated, frustrated, fascinated.
In this place of unknowing I find myself looking back, as if searching for clues. Yes, I’ve been here before, and I can remember this part of the cycle. In my creative process there is a breathing in and out from clarity to muddle, in and out from knowing to unknowing. Although I have lived with this cycle for decades still the unknowing is always private and hard.
In an effort to better understand the work of art, I am trying to make this opaque part of the process transparent, especially to myself. As I write about this, I find myself searching for the right metaphors. How can I describe this journey of moving from knowing to unknowing and back again?
- A door that opens up and then closes again;
- A visitation that materializes and then vanishes before my eyes;
- A light that clearly illuminates everything and then turns off again, leaving me in the darkness;
- Falling in and out of love.
I’m not sure which fits best but there is a little truth in each. Even though I have experienced this before, I am still feeling lost and in a sense it feels like the first time. What do I do in the dark? Wait for the lights to come on or walk with my hands out? How can I get that door to open again? How long will it remain shut?
I remember Chekhov said: The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.
After many years of moving through this part of the cycle, at least I have come to understand that a few things are called for: trust in the process, heightened awareness, a willingness to experiment, and a lot of patient practice. But perhaps what I need most is what I seem to have the least of, faith.