Magnificent Insignificance or what the hell am I doing?

Detail : Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death , 2020

As I spend my time alone in my studio , methodically painting my dainty little paintings , aspiring to some elusive medieval-perfect lapidary finish ; filling day after day with early music, pug snores and cloistered reflections upon obscure seemingly irrelevant themes , I begin to question this existence – after all , is anyone REALLY interested in a third century Hermit and struggles with darkness ? does anyone give a fig about Fairyland, old gods , new gods and the same questions asked century after century, yet always left unanswered; is this “relevant”, to use an increasingly irritating word.

I begin to question all this and how ill-suited, frankly irrelevant I may be , my interests may be and most painfully , my art my be . I follow my heart, as trite as that sounds, led by my interests, waiting to see how the path unfolds; I’m fortunate that my day to day life allows such indulgence, I’m not unaware of that fact . But I think personal exploration to be an essential duty, an imperative in fact , the defining quality of being gifted with a soul .  But my highly personal expression frankly is just that , personal and I think leaves many, if I am lucky, perplexed but more likely just indifferent. I am not sure I blame them ( whoever “them” is ) , for in this frantic attention span challenged universe , where the consumer model is its core influence , just how exactly is my work to be hash-tagged, how best categorized? It isn’t technically proficient enough to be lumped with the MFA realists; it’s too content heavy, too narrative driven to please the non-representational crowd, is it illustration? is it anime ? it isn’t obviously political enough to gratify the identity obsessed awoken claque , it isn’t technically reckless enough to be shelved with the brush-dripped- art brut scrawls so in favor, so well suited, to this rough-and -tumble over shouting world we find ourselves.

I hadn’t thought of which category to select when I first picked up the brush .

I just knew I had to pick up the brush .

Self Portrait of the Artist as a PaperDoll

 As in all things , there is a fashion to the times , a collective defining mood, ours currently seems to be more angry than aesthetic, more retribution oriented than reflective , more inclined to group think than the nuances of individualism , defined by an us-versus-them obsession that frankly rejects the universal humanism I am so inclined towards. A society so collaboration obsessed that from my perspective seems to reject the quiet of A Room of One’s Own and in the end , I believe it to be a society that is just plain old anti-oddball.

I’m also becoming convinced that those who do more readily fit a preferred contemporary narrative and who are able to squawk the loudest about oppression , injustice and their righteousness gets the worm , be it the commission , the residency ,that elusive prize of recognition and relevance. That wiggly golden worm can be anything from an army of devoted social media followers, gallery representation and the ease that seems to embody and most validating, solo shows.

I guess for me , the painful question is , am I good enough , aren’t I good enough ?  Such an adolescent cry, yet in the school yard of contemporary society, seemingly fitting . I see friends audaciously brag about their accomplishments, shamelessly boast of solo shows, commissions and residencies; haughtily letting it be known that their gallery tends to all such mundane business as promotion, representation money gathering etc – mind you, all the while, never ceasing to talk endlessly about themselves and by extension their art.

 Or , perhaps more likely I’m just simply jealous. Just another old white guy (for there is no category of personhood seemingly more open to derision and contempt than the White Guy, preferably the Old White Guy ) dabbling with paint and dabbling not very well . But I’m not willing to accept that fact just yet. I’m going to keep dabbling . For in a dream I was told by that Unknowable Being found in all my dreamscapes that my insignificance is magnificent.

I cling to that contradiction. 

Detail: “Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death” 2020 Oil on panel

Author: babylonbaroque

I am a painter and printmaker working towards creating a body of work that reflects my own developing aesthetic. New work ,first link. The second link is an on-line portfolio.

10 thoughts on “Magnificent Insignificance or what the hell am I doing?”

  1. Your insignificance is magnificent! That’s why I married you and love you and look forward to the rest of life’s short journey with you. Also, your assessment of these chaotic times is quite apposite and illuminating (I’d say brilliant but you’d dismiss that) in it’s poetic imagery and distillation of the contours of our faux outrage induced stagnating narcissistic culture hurling towards environmental catastrophe and wiping out millions of species along the way…

  2. Personally I find your work interesting, intriguing, thought provoking – and, on occasion it’s taken me down a path of further discovery. So just wanted to pass along some possibly insignificant words of appreciation…

  3. What an insightful and eloquent piece of writing Leonard, which speaks to me directly because it comes straight from the heart. You already know that your depictions of ‘The Fool’ are among my favourite paintings of yours, as I see the wise and gentle spirit of the person, who I have had the pleasure of getting to know in recent years, looking out at me. I sense that ‘The Fool’ embodies your struggle between living a reflective inner life, which is the wellspring of your artistic creativity, against giving in to the siren call of social media, and its impact on the art market, which is geared to rewarding the ravenous beast that is the ego. It’s a struggle that anyone wanting to have a career as an artist faces today, so we do have to be a kind of holy fool to go against the grain, which is why it is not difficult for me to identify with what you write here.

    For me, comparison is the most poisonous element in the human heart because it destroys ingenuity and it robs peace and joy. There is no finish line to learning. There is no point where we have finished growing. No one is ever at the top. We are all growing at our own rates, and no matter how terrible or how enlightened we fancy ourselves to be today, the future will be sure to give us a different perspective. There is really no use in comparing ourselves to others. There will always be someone ahead and someone behind, and there will be dozens (if not hundreds) of different scales and gradients to be behind and ahead on. To be number one is never final. It is and always will be a momentary, fleeting instant. But to be a growing version of ourselves? That, we can be. We can be that every single day.

    I sign off by sending you my heartfelt wish that your struggles with your own “magnificient insignificance” will always turn out to be the grit, which creates the pearls in oyster shells.

    1. Much appreciated my friend, envy is probably my greatest of all the seven and comparison, rarely in my favor, a familiar companion. I do work on that issue, but social media is in so many well so well suited in inflaming that sore. I’ve joked, only half heartedly, that FB,IG, Twitter, are tools of the antichrist. I love that sort of language of course, but there is some truth in this tool that has undeniable benefits, also bringing out our, my, worst traits. In the end, that is why Antony is so fascinating, in one telling, he is so envious of fellow anchorite St Paul’s superior holiness he , at 90, tramps about the hostile desert (encountering a satyr and a centaur, which is just incredible) all in order to gratify his envy and meet his competition. I really love that and relate to that.

      1. You have made me smile this evening Leonard, with your fondness for the story of Saint Anthony and his jealousy of his fellow anchorite. I have just done a search on the story and how relatable is a 90 year old man who sets off on a journey to the desert, because of his dream that Saint Paul is a better Hermit than he?! I’m not surprised that this all too human saint is going to be the subject of your next book.

        I’ve also been in Saint Anthony’s place, although I consider it a great shame that there are no more centaurs and satyrs for me to encounter, when my own green-eyed monster comes knocking on the door. It definitely would make my life a lot more interesting than a visit to Instagram to top-up my own modern-day feelings of inadequacy!!!

        Your mention of Saint Anthony’s battle with envy then made me recall that Shakespeare is our earliest authority in print on the notion that jealousy is green-eyed, although it is thought that the link between emotions and colour is much older than this. In “The Merchant of Venice”, Portia refers to “green-eyed jealousy”, whilst in “Othello” the more intense phrase “green-ey’d monster” is spoken by Iago. I find it absolutely intriguing that the idea of monsters and jealousy can be linked over 1,250 years from the ‘Life of Anthony’, which was written by Athanasius of Alexandria in 360, to ‘Othello’, which is believed to have been written in 1603. And it is an idea which is still so easily conjured up in our imaginations, whenever jealousy/envy strikes, that this monster of an emerald hue remains ever-present in our language today.

  4. Dear Leonard, thank you so much for writing this post; I battle with many of the same thoughts every day, day after day. I was talking to a friend the other evening about exactly this kind of thing ; how jealous we felt of how much attention some artists were getting , how much success, but we both agreed we were not prepared to go down the same road just to get a bigger social media following.
    I think it’s precisely your personal vision that makes your art so fascinating and so rewarding. Keep doing what you’re doing, you’re a light in all the ‘relevant’ and ‘contemporary conversation’ dreariness that’s out there, I love your work 😊

    1. Your affirmation made my Monday morning, thank you my friend…and I hope you know how much I admire your work.

      1. I was concerned I struck too negative a note, there seems a call to be forever cheerful and optimistic , but feelings are feelings. I appreciate your sharing similar feelings.

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