Sunday, 14 June 2015

Why bother?

Retirement is what? Leisure? Time to regret? Time to count the hours before death (they are sometimes and fortunately much longer than they use to be)?

I was cheered this morning by a quote in Brain Pickings:
 (by tapping the link you should reach the newsletter)

"Something is always born of excess...Great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them."

These words were written by Anaïs Nin in her diary in June of 1945 as she contemplated the value of emotional excess. She argues that our compulsive pursuit of balance ... is predicated on eradicating "excess," pitting it as a counterpoint rather than a complement to equilibrium and inner wholeness.

I can't deny the relevance of these lines for me, given that I have a cellar full of (excess?) paintings done in the last 15 years and I really don't know what to do with them. Sell them? Some are OK, some are more meaningful to me. I would not know what they are worth even if I found someone to buy one, so they languish mainly unseen. Sometimes I remember a special one and bring it up into my flat for display.

The point here is that having a surfeit of opuses does not stop me making more!

So why bother? Because the paintings are more than marks on canvas; they heal and sooth me, being therapeutic when I am distraught. They keep me on an even keel. They have taken over from my many years on the stage, where I felt more at home than in my own skin. Unpainted canvases are blank stages on which to direct an action, an observation, or a feeling. But unpainted canvases are also soul-less. The painter gives them soul just as the sculptor breathes soul to the stone or wood he is carving, or the musician projects soul into the music he or she is playing or singing (although the composer has already projected his or her spirit into the composition); and I should not forget poetry because writing poetry is another of my consolations. You can read a few if you visit my poetry blog HERE. I have written many more but not had time to publish them. More are available HERE.

Next question: What is soul? I am not religious, so I see soul as the psychic strength and energy produced in doing something that reflects the strength and energy of the maker. If I were religious, I might want to say that some spirit or other has entered into me as I work and is reflected in what I do. In fact that is of course what many, many artists say and have said through the centuries. They may be right. The spirit they call "God" or "Allah" (and the words are used as general terms not referring to one idea of religion) is the real maker of art. I don't believe in man-made spirits, but often wish I did. My strength and energy are thus author-less except for me.

Language came before the ability to express ideas in words, and religion and surely has its origins in the primitive fears of ancient man, who was terrified of storms and other loud noises, unpredictable waves and earthquakes, and simply afraid of the dark. We are still afraid of the dark if we do not know where we are or who is watching us... There was some kind of primitive consolation in believing that all those phenomena were organized. "God" was and still is a label (and a being that was constructed) as a retreat from fear. I have no personal retreat except for the creative energy I possess, however little or great that is. If I were out in a storm in the dark, no god of any denomination could protect me from being struck by lightning if I happened to be in the wrong spot.

What has triggered this post? Well, those words of Anaïs Nin, but also directing my chorus at at wedding yesterday. I had to ask myself if anyone really believed in the twaddle the pastor delivered. His talk was bast on the words "Habet Acht" (Watch out!) and I thought of Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde, in which I, playing Isolde's nanny Brangäne and sang a whole aria based on those words, in the second act, when Tristan and Isolde meet clandestinely. There's nothing Godly about that! Words can be instruments, I reflected. The pastor's words had a totally different meaning for me than for the congregation.  


  1. What an excellent post! It didn't just speak to me, it SANG!

    1. Thanks Kat. I hope you are still singing!