Having just come off a very acknowledging opening and show, I have been thinking a great deal about that last part of the arc of art making: connecting with others. Like many of my artist friends, I spend most of my time alone in my studio. My process is so private, and the envisioning that brings a body of work into existence isn’t something I can discuss or confer with other people. It happens outside of language, in solitude. It is very similar to my body’s adventure in childbirth where you have a visceral understanding that no one else can help you out. Gestation is your gig and yours alone. As my mother used to say, it’s too bad nine women can’t each be pregnant for a month to bring a baby into life.
But then there is that moment when the work takes on a life of its own. It is that occasion when you first view a piece outside the context of your familiar womb/studio. When it has to stand for you with other work and hold your vision in tact. When it will be experienced and examined by people who may have no idea what your intentions were when you made it, or do not subscribe to any notions that art comes from and speaks to a mysterious place deep inside.
Completing the arc of the whole process—from the first mark you make on a surface through others participating and connecting with your completed work—offers a final chord sense of the journey. And that feeling can be a glorious one. Little in life can compare with the sense of deep gratitude I feel when someone else has an authentic experience with one of my pieces. I can’t and won’t paint for others. But when someone other than me connects, I am euphoric.
What about those times when the connection doesn’t happen? All of us know that feeling too, and mediating the pain of not being seen, understood or acknowledged is a skill set every artist needs to develop. Call it thick skin training, autonomy or willed obliviousness, it comes with the territory and always will.
One of my most thoughtful blogger friends, writer and artist David Marshall, wrote a post recently that addresses the pain from not being seen. From his blog Signals to Attend:
I recently passed the 200th post on this blog and must confess—sometimes my peevishness builds up like the buzz of an amplifier feeding back its own distortion. I begin to feel attention ought to be paid and wish I felt as valued as I ought to be valued…
Try as I might to believe in the intrinsic, the essential, the genuine value of pursuits and their independent, autonomous, anarchic pleasure, it’s not enough. Private accomplishments aren’t real. If no one reads me, I haven’t written…
Which is why Buddhism appeals to me. Striving, experience tells me, is the source of unhappiness, and the person who knows how to put it aside has found enlightenment well beyond most of us. I’m no one’s Buddha, though I affect that stance. My humility and calm hide a riotous soul shouting for notice.
How does one get from here to contentment? I don’t know.
So far, my desire to overcome desire hasn’t worked.
Whatever tools we use to get through those feelings—whether Buddhism, selective neglect, denial or various forms of emotional immunity—it IS part of the creator’s paradox: We have to create/we are too fragile to create. That edge is one of being both obsessive and vulnerable, expressive and withdrawn. David ended his post with this thoughtful question: “And what do you do with a heart that wants and wants and cannot say so?”