Last week, I attended a conversation between Krista Tippett (many know her from NPR’s On Being) and poet David Whyte which centered around the theme of vulnerability. With Tippett’s recent Civil Conversations project, vulnerability was approached more as an experience of engaging in political discussions with those whose choice we don’t understand, but the word itself casts a wide net. I don’t know that they had planned to keep coming back around to it (it wasn’t advertised as such), but that theme just kept circling and landing, which says a lot about where we are as people who long to understand. Perhaps those who don’t wish to understand don’t experience such vulnerability. Or just refuse to expose themselves to it.
Artists don’t necessarily have any special claim on vulnerability; we all know it well. But artists must repeatedly expose ourselves to it, as we pull things from our own subconscious to create something unique and then put it out there for all to see. And judge. Not only are we revealing our soft white underbelly, but talent is such an objective concept. Some will see our work and, regardless of its quality, cock their heads, scrunch their noses, and think Oh. Well, that’s… interesting.
I’ve always been a hypersensitive sort, but oddly not so about my work. Wait. Let’s make that “but oddly not so about my finished work.” Some of the in-process stuff is enough to make your eyes water, and you would forever think me a crude artist. More specifically, once I get the black / darks done and start mapping out color placement, it’s not well-crafted, by any stretch of the imagination.
I’ve had some classical training in painting with oils, and so I was taught the process of applying the opaque underpainting, putting in the darks, and building layer upon layer over that until you get to the highlights, balancing solvents carefully so as not to allow a layer to dry more quickly than one below it. But rules are for schmucks, and so I just do what I want to do (which changes with each painting). I have a decades-old clipped quote from a Boston Globe, yellowed and taped to the top of my oldest easel, which reads “Paint as you like and die happy.” Words of wisdom from Henry Miller and that, I obey.
Doing commissions, I text progress pics to the client, and at this stage, where I’ve just mapped out colors but haven’t gotten to any real brush work, yet, I’m just apologetic, promising that it will get better. Certainly, this stage is best contained to a private text than exposing my soft white underbelly to public nose-scrunching. But, my optimist self started this blog to allow the viewer/ client / future buyer a window on my process, and so I need to be true to that. Here is what I have accomplished, this week:
It will get better. I promise.