Painting Saved Me A Little Today: The Studio As Sanctuary
Our old, huge, 1800 sq. foot barn-turned-studio, surrounded by big trees in Virginia, circa 2000
Virginia Studio ↓
What do people do if they don't create? I am not even trying to be facetious. How do they figure things and make sense of things and let go of things? Art-making has been so fused with my life that in addition to my devotion to the formal aspects of creativity, the process sometimes doubles as friend, lover and therapist. I have always recognized the power of being in the studio. The way I can rely on it as sure as the dawn to carry me to a world of my own making. This assurance is helpful when the 'real' world feels less than friendly or safe.
Artists are often characterized by angst. Broody, impractical, distracted and absent-minded have also been used to describe some of us. (Guilty)
Today was a day where I could claim all of those adjectives and more. There is no need to elaborate on why but suffice to say, I was fragile, like a string of pearls (Thank you, Bonnie Raitt) Sometimes we only need to experience the beauty and brokenness of the world to feel so exposed. We are walking around without our skin, as unprotected as a petal in the wind. And so, like a shelter in the proverbial storm, the studio is a sanctuary. The place where I not only recharge but also where feeling fragile has the best chance of being productive and having the healthiest outcome.
Painting has always been a way to reclaim my sense of balance and power. Making art feels like meditation to me, so instead of focusing on my thoughts, I can focus on each subtle stroke in a rhythm-like mantra that in essence, returns my breath, and returns me to myself.
When we feel the fragility of our everyday lives, our inclination is to hide or retreat, both from the world and the actual feeling. It is the age old question of how to handle pain. For creative types, this is a no-brainer. Bring it into the sanctuary.
Can fragility be a source of inspiration? Plato thought that inspiration was a kind of madness. He also believed in the idea of divine inspiration where the artist is suddenly aided by an outside source, or given a gift of some sort. Similarly, the Greeks believed in the muse. A phenomenon where artists had to concede that they had help with their creation. They were not entirely responsible for better or worse. I have found that, much like the idea of the muse, fragility can be viewed as a thing outside of myself. I can objectify it, separate from it, pick it apart, and find the sliver of truth and beauty lurking beneath the refuse of emotion: in other words, a gift.
Inspiration in this form which leads to creation, is a kind of respite FROM the madness, in fact. Art has taught me that it is OK for the world to affect me. As an artist, I purposely walk around without my skin. I have to. I welcome whatever arises, because I know that when I bring it back to the studio, it will be transformed.
Studio in Mexico
Every studio I have ever occupied provided its own special vibe. What I currently call my studio is a very small room where I also live, although despite the lack of actual space, the metaphorical space remains sacred. Here, I can translate confusion into color, line and form. Maybe it is the solitude of the process that brings about the transformation in part. All I know is, being in the studio calms my monkey mind and gives it one essential task: to make the unknown known.