After painting steadily for six months while doing a minimum of socializing, I gathered my accumulated works and destroyed them. Oh, maybe I kept a few of the better ones. I had made up my mind that this six months was going to be strictly about learning and experimentation. There were piles of half-finished paintings showing every touch of goofballitis that hit me. Stuff was dripped, rollered, squeegeed and scraped. Paint was on discarded doors, chunks of Styrofoam, linoleum panels and hand towels. Some paintings attempted materials and techniques that found me incompetent. Other works had occasional modest glimmerings of goodness. That happened some time ago — I was in my twenties. In those days, the stuff went up in smoke. With a used Kleenex and a dead teabag I whistled my way down Broadway. I was broke, and I was running on empty.
It was a new, more spiritual me that borrowed a few bucks from a friend and started again. I had reunited with the natural world — the outdoors and the wisdom of rustic solitude. I was an “Art Spirit” convert and more than ever I was convinced of the value of craft and craftsmanship. Workmanlike in my habits, I would now try for even more joy in my workmanlike hours. I made a sign for the wall of that tiny barren studio: “Quality is always in style.” It’s still somewhere around this one.
A similar and more brilliant cathartic story is told in Jerry Wennstrom’s book The Inspired Heart. He tells how, in 1979, he destroyed all his work and set out on a spiritual journey to find and to rejoin his own soul. It seems to me that Jerry’s book is to become one of the classics of creativity literature. Along the way he dumps his personal identity and begins to trust the Universe. It’s a surrender to a greater power and a metaphorical rebirth into a more evolved person and a better artist. He lives a life receptive to intuition and intelligent self-guidance. He studies under the guru who is himself. His life and his art merge into one sensible whole, and he begins a journey to his full potential.
Every artist has such a story. Some hit down harder than others. Most are less dramatic than Jerry’s. The more I study our business — the more I meet with and enter into the lives of others — the more I’m convinced that for us there has to be something that might be called “character.” It’s not all just drawing and painting.
PS: “Your work is to discover your work — and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” (Buddha)
Esoterica: Like a small play reenacted, you can give yourself these cathartic moments. Artists are often capable of ranges of emotions and flights of drama. Untapped, you miss out on the refreshment they give. If you are aware of your mood swings, you can utilize for profit their ups and downs. After a while you get more control of their intensity and your ability to recycle the process. The artist teaches himself the skills needed to heal himself. The artist reinvents himself. Constantly.
This letter was originally published as “Catharsis” on October 7, 2005.
Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.
“There are creative seeds buried in people, no matter how oppressed they have been, and you can find these seeds in their stories.” (Jerry Wennstrom)
In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom — DVD
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, Darla Bostick, (June and October) workshops
Relax, enjoy, create!
Photography/watercolors/acrylics/mixed media. Group activity room (floor to ceiling vista). Ghost Ranch Lodging/meals provided. See why Georgia O’Keeffe loved Ghost Ranch. Each workshop/retreat is different. The June workshop leans heavier on all kinds of materials –textiles and dye, printing, painting, pouring and more! The October workshop combines the media of photography, watercolor, ink, acrylic and more — using watercolor paper, clayboard, etc!
Daily demos, slide presentations, door prizes and optional happy hour. The website shows how I work from Ghost Ranch scenes to finished paintings. www.darlabostick.com
Monique Jarry is a Canadian and a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Montreal.