A field trip out into the real world of the imagined. A trip to the art museum, a place I am quite at home. The place where although everything you see is actually there, the reality of it is often quite unreal. Everything there, no matter the museum is different every time I go. There is never really a moment where I see a painting again and see it the exact way that I saw it before, or feel the exact same way I did the first time I saw it. My feelings about a piece will change if I’m in a great mood, because of the company I am with or whether or not I had a mimosa first, but it is always a little different every time. I am no formally trained art historian, but I have grown up in front of paintings and museums around the country. My favorite painting for much of my life used to hang in the Albright Knox in Buffalo, NY. I would ditch school to go see it. I’ve always been a rebel nerd. I wonder if it is still there.
I love the emotional reactions that I have surrounded by works that are accepted to be beautiful. I am an emoter there. I feel things, and it’s almost always visible. It really isn’t unusual to find a tear in my eye in front of a painting, overwhelmed with something I can’t articulate in the moment. When I was lucky enough to see the Monet exhibit, I teared up remembering the poster of water Lillies that has been in my life for as long as I can remember. The poster is from an exhibit in San Francisco the year I was born. As a gift to myself years ago, I framed it, finally. Sometimes, for me, a piece of art is comforting or infuriating, but I always have an emotional reaction. I mean isn’t that the point of art after all? But what I find an odd comfort in, especially lately, is the sense of belonging. I find comfort in understanding that there is a cultural collective that accepts that this abstract thing is worthy of some form of adoration even if I don’t like it. I don’t have to like it to appreciate it. Unlike people, some works of art get to just be. Just be.
After visiting the Still Museum, I ponder two painters who went big. No, bigger. I do love that. Pollack and Still. Just the mention of their names conjures the dramatic style difference between the two for me. The definite difference in the finished painting even to a completely untrained eye. Still, to me feels seemingly still and there is an ack* in Pollack suggesting an aggression transfixed onto giant canvas. In particular, no I don’t love their works. To be practical about it, I don’t have a gallery sized wall in my house to display one of the pieces without it looking like cliche wallpaper of some sort or being even totally overwhelming. Besides, it would be like the first row of the theater, you can’t actually appreciate the whole thing when you’re too close. But I do love that they both went big, really big. To be brutally honest, sometimes I’m jealous, no envious…of the time and space they had to do works so big with so much paint. I mean who the hell can afford that shit? Today though in thinking how different they are, they remind me to art my own way. Who cares, just do it. Do the thing.
They went big and I love the power move there and remember we can all go big in our own ways. We all have our own ways of doing things that bring us relief or joy. I kinda think that is the point of arting.
I love the use of the paint and the hours upon hours I imagine them staring at a canvas the way I often stare at a computer screen waiting for the words to come. I love the process. I appreciate the process. I appreciate the work even more because I understand the absolute need for a process. Who else sits and stares at a painting and thinks of Kingpen and his art collection? When weird nerd worlds collide. Thanks Monkey.
I sat that day, in front of a painting frustrated visibly of course because I’m an emoter, for more than a moment. I was annoyed at the lack of paint on the giant canvas. Pores of cotton and linen thirsty for pigment. The conceit of not using it all, I felt like it was in many ways insultingly wasteful and cocky. The one lick of the whole ice cream cone or bite taken from a steak to be thrown away, like your eyes are bigger than your stomach. I felt almost cheated, but I didn’t appreciate the process. I didn’t understand the restraint.
Monkey brain grabs a paint brush and splatters me in the face to wonder who the artist was that painted the snow painting that Kingpen missed so desperately. Focus a bit, come on now. But it’s splatter, just like Pollack. There was no restraint there. Or if there was, it is a restraint I just don’t understand and sure as hell can’t see. The aggressive spilling of paint, no inch of canvas uncovered. Canvas when approached looks an inch think with paint. What’s another color one more brush stroke, one more, a little bit more…that process seemingly the polar opposite of restraint.
Process is what intrigues me today. The process that includes knowing when to stop. The process of moving forward one moment at a time until the knowing happens, the knowing that it whatever it is, is enough. Waiting for the confidence, that bold beautiful confidence that comes with restraint that is seen, or the elusive restraint that we can’t see but wasn’t ignored. What was that process? How did these two big artists of such different styles know when it was enough, what did they actually restrain? Or did they?
Having recently watched Amadeus for the like tenth time, I’m reminded of when he is told…but there are just too many notes. His reply to the Emperor is that there are just the right amount of notes. That’s confidence and maybe a bit crazy. Maybe that’s why I love him so much.
The tiny sketch on a napkin that would later become a famous Picasso. The Rembrandt carving he used 42 times before the light source finally appeared the way he wanted it. The one note from the Oboe. The clay Thinker? Oh I could get lost in the idea of the clay thinker… molding and shaping new and old thoughts. The masters must have had a process, right? It can’t just be luck, that would be extra unfair. I am as intrigued by their restraint and their process in even more ways than their competed work because I want to understand their how.
Every artist has a process, their how. I decided. Write drunk, edit sober. Hemingway. Manically scratching note after note days without sleep. Thank you, Mozart. Sketching in notebooks to be looked at later. Picasso. The chosen soundtrack softly playing in the background or blaring through headphones. The isolation. The countless unseen hours imagining the next thing, or the whimsical idea of just taking the first step. Whether we call ourselves an artist or not, we all have a how to everything we do. Sometimes I think the important thing to consider is the how something is made is what makes it.
I love the art and artistry of the forgery. This is my love of documentaries coming to bear yet again. Without choice, because Monkey, I think of the very different types of masters. These masters knew it was all in the process. The canvas aged right, set in front of a fireplace for years. The paint made with goat milk that flakes just right when it finally dries. The brush that was too expensive to replace that is frayed on the ends denoting just the right stroke. The entirety of the process, not just the skill, of the forged works of art so good it took science and a confession to finally learn the truth. The letter writer who wrote drafts of nonsense to check for the proper keys and specific typewriters to match tone and style so she could sell them as long-lost correspondences. The wine maker bottling the forged greats with the chemical compositions written in marker on the kitchen wall. They learned their process but threw caution to a different type of restraint… Maybe that’s why they all got caught? Who haven’t we learned about yet who has mastered a process and holds on to restraint and is hiding in plain sight?
The idea of restraint being a necessary piece of the process, that it has to be included gives me a strange since of comfort. The idea that there must be a part of the artist that holds something back. What is held back might actually be the spark that allows for the next one, we don’t have to do it all right now. Letting the work be, that it is in fact ready, restraining the desire for whatever it is to be perfect. Restraining the notion that it is too much or too little. Restraining the thought that the artist somehow isn’t enough but knowing the art is.
It seems like a bad plan to sit with restraint and hold yourself back. YOLO right? I see now that we do it every day. Just like a giant splattered painting, we don’t always see it. But restraint is in many ways part of our very nature. Hold off on that extra pinch of salt, slow down in that curve, put down the third cupcake, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t open another bottle of wine, have a rest day and skip the gym, don’t put on more glitter. Who am I kidding, the world could use some more glitter these days. We live in and with restraint, the trick is to know when to use it, to find balance and enjoy our process.
Life is art is life after all.