“Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society.”
– William Wordsworth from The Prelude
The push and pull of competing forces continues inside the studio, but my understanding of this ongoing struggle has been sharpened lately by a couple things I’ve been reading. The Wordswoth quote above is an epigraph that appears in Anthony’s Storr’s short but thought provoking book Solitude that was published in 1988—the year after I arrived in California and many years before I had the courage to make art.
I just finished reading the book and enjoyed the way Storr wanders through the worlds of literature, music and psychotherapy for clues and observations about the importance of solitude and its ability to bring the artist or practitioner into deeper connection with a unifying whole. Storr hews closely to a Jungian view of artistic endeavor explaining:
The path of self-development upon which such [middle aged] individuals embarked under Jung’s guidance was named by him ‘the process of individuation”. This process tends toward a goal called ‘wholeness’ or ‘integration’: a condition in which the different elements of the psyche, both conscious and unconscious, become welded together in a new unity.
I continue to wrestle with my own interest in creating a unified whole in the studio. Sometimes the rifts and fault lines are obvious and I create separate bodies of work to hold and extend those powerful forces letting them break cleanly along lines of inquiry that lead right to the surface in a quick and complete succession of paintings. As was the case in launching a series of iceberg paintings earlier this year.
But more often there is a constant push and pull around questions of what I want to say and how to say it. Some days it is the tug of academic training and figuration on the one hand and the long reach of art history and a need to engage in contemporary art dialogues on the other. Some days I feel pulled in one direction by questions about painting’s relevance in a world oversaturated with images and short attention spans coddled by animated screens. But other days I feel painting is the last best refuge, an important if unacknowledged radical act that will continue to take place in the privacy of my studio regardless of what happens outside.
A bit to my surprise, because I do not necessarily agree with all of his political or artistic opinions, many of these questions are raised by art crtic Jed Perl in the most recent issue of The New Republic. Thanks to painter Deborah Barlow of Slow Muse for alerting me to this piece. It is recommended reading for anyone who cares about painting. It doesn’t hurt that Perl, like me, has a deep fondness for Richard Diebenkorn’s work and draws upon his most recent show at the De Young Museum in San Francisco to illustrate his major theme.
To close, here is a quote from Perl ‘s article The Rectangular Canvas Is Dead: Richard Diebenkorn and the problems of modern painting that brought me full circle to the ideas expressed by Wordsworth, Storr, and Jung:
“The great question now is how to preserve and even honor the age old stability of painting without falling into the trap of a frozen academicism. Richard Deibenkorn, in his figure and landscape paintings of the late 1950s and early 1960s, suggests a provocative balance, one worth reinvestigating. The bottom line is that each artist must now begin pretty much from scratch, obliged to develop both a personal conservatism and a personal radicalism. This is the painter’s predicament.”