Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Maze of Thoughts

[Again, John Howe has proven himself unequalled (in my opinion) on the matter of making art and how that translates in the human experience and vice versa. I never tire of reading his words, though they are typically cryptic and winding in their attenpt to reach a point. Which is fine, because I tend to think critically, finding pleasure in connecting philosophical dots and cross-referencing (I love reading books with LOTS of footnotes. I flip back and forth feverishly). So far, Mr. Howe's method is as close to my own that I have been able to find since seriously starting my artistic journey. Not as intuitive as Brian Froud, yet not as technical as Michael Whelan. He lands somewhere in the middle, I think, a sign that the times are a changin'. Like Delazroix, Rembrandt, Sargent, and countless others before him, Mr. Howe bridges the gap between the subjective and objective realities of the artist. He refrains from setting boundaries for himself, instead allowing each aspect to inform the other for a seamless and fluid process. In either case I wanted to preface Howe's last newsletter with thoughts of my own. I feel it is important for artists to be able to identify and interpret their feelings and experiences before sharing their thoughts with peers and those willing to listen.]

So, without further ado:

DISCURSIVE: Or Thoughts and Words in Some Semblance of Order.
(After a Fashion.)

After having given a couple of evening talks to art and design students recently, I have once again realized how ardently I desire NOT to know what I will say, that the unrehearsed articulation of thoughts and convictions must always remain a quest for the right word, seizing the brief clarity inspired by those same serendipitous combinations.

Have also realized that it cannot come out of thin air, that like any picture, it requires a hook to hang it from, even crookedly. Rather than choose my own subjects, I far prefer walking open-eyed into the pleasant ambush of the unexpected question. (Admittedly, the really unexpected ones do throw me off for a moment, but there are few questions for which answers cannot be found.)

It may be a little trite, but I still find the voiced interrogation mark to be quite an incredible exercise: a modest and often demure reaching out that can prompt such a deep raising of waters from thought’s wells. There is something so simply and unabashedly solemn about the well-voiced question that may sum up a lifetime of experience (or inexperience) to which it is impossible to reply superficially, as if a tacit complicity of circumstance demands to be considered with the utmost seriousness.

It’s quite possibly because I never think of these things. The whats, the whys and the wherefors… they are all things which are answered, after a fashion, and certainly never completely, through the act of drawing and painting. To be obliged to articulate those acts as thoughts is an exercise I desire never to be good at, above all if that ease has for result a palette of standard responses from which one can simply pluck the most apt. This is not about rhetoric.

It would be terrible to have a clever answer for anything. It would be disappointing to say the same things twice, although admittedly, I do repeat much, but try not to let it become formulaic, which would be just like always starting a drawing with an oval or a block, or even worse, taking a drawing and trying to break it down into ovals and blocks in order to explain it. (Conversely, I am also increasingly allergic and impatient with creators who claim they need to place themselves in “danger” each time they create. What does that mean? In danger? They don’t look each way before crossing? They disregard best-by dates? Come on. Enough drama. Creators are a self-centered bunch, but ultimately endearing.)

In the end, what interests me most is what I might find out, whether it be through a drawing made or a talk given. The thought framed by the right words is exactly the equivalent to the drawing that captures something. Neither is meant to be repeated, but only as steps on the way to understanding more, or simply the pleasure of finding a few words that can communicate a thought as yet not entirely formed. A thought truly forms only as it is said.

It makes for a rambling discourse, with parentheses opening and closing like so many verandah doors on a windy day, (and it may be hard to follow; fortunately I am spared the ordeal of seeing and hearing myself speak) circuitous and not in the remotest linear or logical, but at very least, remaining unrehearsed and sincere. Rather like a verbal sketch. Words crosshatched and shaded. Rubbed out and said again. Perhaps more fluently, perhaps not, but differently at very least. Would you do exactly the same picture many times? Then why would you repeat the same words?

In a way, it is about gathering words, in the same way that images are gathered and patiently put away in the cluttered attic of my memory, where they can be fetched and dusted off and perhaps one day may serve. Ever gone to the attic looking for something and spent an hour poking through things you’d forgotten? That’s how words work; look for one, find a dozen others. The same goes for lines drawn on a page; draw one, then the others appear unbidden and often not at all as you might have imagined. Maintaining that readiness of unpreparedness is the goal.

Painting and public speaking have a lot in common.


[This will not appeal to some, but I hope it touches those who read it in some way. Enjoy!



  1. My head hurts!

    Good for you Justin. You have a great mind for deciphering information. My mind tends to glaze over if writings get too cryptic or wordy.

    This is why I stick with Henry comic strips.

  2. lol. I figured no one would read this, but I posted it on the off chance someone would. I like the philosophical side and psychological side of why people make art. I sometimes think I'm a glutton for punishment. That's also why I keep a collection of Garfield books in my library. All I have to do when things get too heavy is crack one open and I'm rolling, like instantly. I'm not a fan of Garfield much anymore, it's not Jim Davis, just a bunch of dudes copying his style. And they're not as funny. But I own a few collections that span several years of strip history that I can read again and again and again without getting tired of them.