A Reckoning in Humility

If I am to boast, then let me boast of my feebleness.

Second letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, 11:30

This period of lockdown isolation , which seems to be lifting, has been a gift  of reflection. Previously, romantically , I had pined for the hermitage, this last year or so has provided it, albeit without the verdure of the forest or the harsh nobility of the desert . But in this virtual hermitage I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting upon what I spend a great deal of time doing, studio work.

The question that arises is why?, for what purpose?  

I put in many, many studio hours, in part because I am a slow painter, given to fastidiousness , I have a fascination with early Renaissance panel paintings and that lapidary finish and attention to detail takes time. But also, I just enjoy painting, hours fly by, we arrive to the studio in the morning and before I know it, David is finishing up with his last patient (we share a suite),telling me its time to go home.

This of course is a gift, one I am very grateful for, many artists  balance children, conventional work and studio time; I have the great privilege to focus solely on my work (in between walking Miss Viola). But increasingly I feel alone in this pursuit. I make thousands of marks, pencil scratches, oily brushstrokes, fussing over lines and shading that most likely will be seen by no other eyes than my own. I do post my work on social media and I have a warm if limited circle of supportive friends cheering me on, but realistically, given the sheer volume of work being produced in the universe, the likelihood of my work, the fruit of much labor and  contemplation , will be seen by a very few. 

The humbling truth is my work is very personal, difficult to “read”, unabashedly Eurocentric and  out of sync with contemporary taste. It hasn’t the popular accessibility so desired, so “liked”; it isn’t timely ; it isn’t “identity” based, I actively avoid contemporary issues ; it doesn’t play well with other more agreeable works; and as I have often been told, it is  just “odd”.  I frequently wonder if it is even good. I don’t know , I am too close to the subject to make that judgment and I am of the belief that making that decision isn’t an artist’s  job. My job is to make, and making is all I care about.

Although I frequently feel a sense of isolation and being misunderstood (or worse yet, simply irrelevant)  I am compelled, obsessively so (for I have no other significant pastimes ) to create work that most likely interests very few.  I feel I must come to the reality that this obsession may be self indulgent. I admit I feel especially down of late, I feel out of sync with a world moving rapidly forward towards some “progressive” utopia while I cling to medieval lays, British folklore, Victorian poetry  and my Catholicism.

 Not exactly a winning strategy for popularity in a society enraptured with identity strife, social discord and twerking. My reaction is to retreat into my tower, tiny brushes in hand and pretend I don’t know who Cardi B is.

My thoughtful husband, knowing what I funk I have been in, sent me a podcast link concerning my beloved William Blake. Though my work has little recognizable similarities with the master, I believe there is spiritual kinship. And while I do not have Blake’s  great gift in seeing angels in trees I do paint them.

Detail of a work in progress.

This podcast which is quite good, from the Getty so the standards are high, explored Blake’s frequently willful disconnect from his society and the isolation and despair he suffered  consequent from both his decisions and his society’s indifference. One shouldn’t benefit from another’s suffering, but I did find solace in this shared pain. The link below is well worth a listen:

PODCAST: William Blake’s Eccentric Arts

In the end I must reckon with my own insignificance, for if even if I were to feel more broadly understood , time marches on, we live, make, regenerate, die, then the eternal cycle starts anew. I just finished listening to an Audible recording of Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund. Quite incredible, and just the themes I find so fascinating , life, art, logic ,lust,  faith, death, all fully and passionately examined. While the reading was very good I now must read the novel myself, so many passages worth contemplating.

But for now, I am calling it a night.