The Artist Inside: the Buddha left no paintings

Been so busy!  Avoiding the Smith Corona… My Sharona… Williams-Sonoma…  er. Corona-virus

Cleaning up my computer, another studio avoidance technique, I found this little … piece of writing.  Looks like I never finished it so filed it.  But I think there’s something here:

Why did the Buddha leave no art?

Maybe his life was the art, and the legacy he left his ‘artwork’?  But still, if he was so perfect and enlightened, why not chisel a couple of groovy enlightening sculptures or something?  Leave some visual art?  As not, tho’, what does this message say to the rest of us lowly Artists, who are compelled to create:  to leave something important, enlightening, beautiful, uplifting for others?

In trying to be conventional (Hah!) I was told to make up a quick and easily understood “Artist’s Statement” (that is, why you do what you do.  Me: “Fell on my head as a child?”).  I can write, right?  So NP.  (lie).  Just makes it extra torturous.  I make pictures because that’s where the words don’t work.

But in working on this ‘Statement’  ideas popped up.

It is my observation that inside all Artists there exist two forces.  Both are dangerous and frightening in their extremes.  Yet both must be present for Art to emerge.

One of these primal forces is not enough.  It is the yin and yang struggle of the two from which the artist’s creations emerge.

There exists inside each artist the impulse to order and its opposite, the impulse to chaos.  A wildness.  These forces in the successful (that is productive) artist are locked in struggle, but it is from these forces that invention and creation occur.

That is, works of art are the successful result of the artist’s struggle with the opposing and often conflicting internal impulses of Wildness and Order.

Inside many artists these elements battle, and battle so fiercely that their lives and nothing else are the expression of their ‘art’.  Little to no work is ever completed.  But this is a life that forever circles around old and unresolved dramas.

It may be that in others a balance is so well achieved (like the Buddha?) there is no impulse to art.

But between these two extremes exist The Artist,  whose successful internal struggle results in a manipulation of the world to create representation.   Here be magic.

So, a person lacking one or the other is no artist.  No Wildness inside, no drive or energy to express to outside world.   No impulse to Order inside, no means of forming coherent expressions to the  outside.

But what of all the people who work in entertainment, advertising, publishing, internet content…on and on?  “The Creative Class”?  Surely their creative output is not the result of all this strife?

Do not confuse the mechanics of productiion with the act of creating.  Ever single truly creative person knows the moment when they switch from performing a mechanical action to a creative action.

Artistry, cleverness, derivation, illustration, imitation, and techniques of all kinds contain no creativity on their own:  these are the tools the artist learns to use to harness the impulse to order.

Neither confuse emotional and physical abandon and inhibition with Art. Emotional complexity, courage, self-awareness, education, introspection, honesty, self-honesty…these are the tools the artist learns to use to harness the Wildness inside.

Neither  the Wild energy nor the impulse to Order alone make art, but in their extremes, each unfettered leads to chaos:  the Wildness a consuming, self destructive power, and Orderliness a behaviourally and emotionally torturous obsession, a strangling psychosis.

For artists the danger in facing the Wildness seems in this age much more threatening than facing the Impulse to Order.  Perhaps we have more training in this in our early formal education. Perhaps it has always been this way.

When representation is devoid of the Wildness the viewer (Us) can feel how the artist is afraid to let the Genie out of the bottle.  (And this is not a gender issue.  We aren’t talking about masculine aggression.)  Or they are aging and there’s not so much Wild left, or they are defective.  Or there is no Wildness at all.  What we see then is mechanical.  Everything is learned and the work lacks originality, not to mention passion.  Illustration, decoration, imitation: Pattern without greater purpose.

“All art is political, Jonson, otherwise it would just be decoration. And all artists have something to say, otherwise they’d make shoes. And you are not a cobbler, are you Jonson?”  Anonymous, 2011.

When representation is devoid of Order the artist feels threatened by the work involved in learning the tools, overwhelmed by the practical, by the time and discipline required.  Afraid that Order will snuff out the energy that drives creativity.  This is especially felt in people with mania.

But if there is no Impulse to Order at all what we see from the Artist will be incoherent to us, if anything is produced at all.

At worst the Wildness consumes the person:  they self-destruct and without intervention they will perish.  At worst the Impulse to Order strangles the person until they emotionally implode and are consumed by their psychosis.

As easily as letting loose an unfettered Wildness  can consume the artist, so too can succumbing to the impulse to Order can cripple the artist through chaos’s opposites: perfectionism, meaningless detail, endless education, needless alteration and invention without completion.

The wild energy of the artist makes the artwork exciting, new-feeling, different, truthful, honest, dangerous, important.  And Order gives work form, representation, comment, relate-ableness.

Here is an example:  There is a kind of ’emotional abstraction’ painting that I call Gestural Art.  In this the artist is applying paint deliberately to say nothing, so that all that is captured is the gesture of the moment, the energy, the ‘Wildness’.  But this is an illusion, because behind each dip of the brush or applicator and each gesture of application to the support there operates, even if unconsciously, all the learned experience from previous sessions, the knowledge of colours, the knowledge of forms, the experience of how the paint was prepared and the tools to apply it, the time and effort needed, the physical stamina.

Every artist feels this Wildness; the Steppenwolf inside; Iron John; the Woman that Runs with the Wolves.  And every artist senses and fears the enormous power inside them, and knows instinctively if unfettered and uncontrolled the Wildness could consume them.

Fewer today, I feel, have initial trouble with the Impulse to Order.  Order is pounded into us mercilessly since childhood, and indeed is our survival mechanism, to make sense of the world.  For most school is something we understand and we are happy to learn new art related tools and techniques.  But then we need to use them.

And while few artists fight outright psychosis, there is still tremendous resistance to harnessing the Impulse, mastering the tools and techniques, and actually doing the work.  The resistance to controlling the Impulse to Order stops just as many Artists from getting work done as the fear of unleashing the Steppenwolf, the Wildness; makes Artists follow easier paths in life.

“Ticking away the hours that make up a dull day; fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way;… And then one day you find ten years have go behind you… ” (Dark Side of the Moon, Time).

This is why one of Art’s Great Secrets is that no work is never done; no piece is ever finished.  You just give it everything you’ve got, and when you stop or can’t make it any better, that’s it.  Because the dance is never done.  Unless you’ve become the Buddha.

Sean, June 2020.