Yesterday, I was being curious again about one of my little habits — a habit that some artists might relate to. I like to start a painting off in a mess and then try to harness and control the thing. It’s appealing to me to make something unruly into something ordered. Please don’t mention this to anyone — right now I’m compulsive about it.
Others, too, have told me about a mode such as this — something we’ve named “commit and correct.” This mode, enacted somewhat unconsciously, permits a worker to see her work holistically. This means an all-at-once focusing that allows a work to “materialize” rather than develop out of areas of calculated rendering. The brush becomes rather like a bee going to flowers, here, there, everywhere. More than anything, it’s a matter of looking at and asking what something — any part, or all of it — looks like, then defining it better. Further, it’s often a matter of putting a colour — any colour — on the brush and somehow being guided to where on the painting it is needed.
You might be interested to know there’s a new English TV documentary that suggests Mozart suffered from the obsessive compulsive disorder Tourette’s Syndrome. The claims are made by the British composer James McConnel, who himself has the condition. McConnel says the clues are to be found in letters written by Mozart as well as in his music. McConnel says that Mozart’s fascination with wordplay and obsession with clocks, shoe sizes and gadgets, as well as his documented twitching all pointed to him being a Tourette’s sufferer. “Tourette’s is a constant battle between chaos and control, having a compulsion and trying to control it, and that translates into music,” he said. “Mozart let his music run off in chaotic directions but then always brought it back under control.”
I’m not of course saying that I’m Mozart, and I’m not suggesting that you become him either, although in some ways it would be nice. What’s interesting and perhaps valuable to artists is the process implied in the condition. While natural to some, for others it’s simply a learned habit that can lead to a way of seeing and developing works of art.
PS: “I do not hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them gleich alles zusammen (at the same time all together).” (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) “Art is the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos.” (Saul Bellow)
Esoterica: Tourette’s Syndrome is a rare disorder named after a French neurologist who first described it in 1885. It starts in childhood with repetitive grimaces and tics, usually of the head and neck. Involuntary barks, grunts or other noises may appear as the disease progresses. In about half the cases, the sufferer has episodes of coprolalia (using foul language).
This letter was originally published as “Ordering Chaos” on September 3, 2004.
Yayoi Kusama, 87, has worked professionally since the early 1950s. She continues to create Spaces of Wonder: Infinity Mirrors is touring the US in 2017.
“I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings.” (Yayoi Kusama)