Saturday, 18 December 2010

disappointing yourself

As I was looking at some books on painting on the internet yesterday, I began to see how restricted I am within my own vision. It's partly a reaction to a succession of bad art teachers in my early adult life, and some equally off-putting experiences when I tried again years later. It's partly a personality trait, a tendency to feel oppressed by what I see as the interference of others in 'my business'; a strange kind of independence that makes me feel crowded by other people's agendas. Sometimes that urge towards independence results in some interesting ideas, but I'm not sure it works like that in painting. What I could see yesterday was how, if you don't get input and fresh stimulus from outside, you become self-referential, tame, circular.

Partly, you just can't see how to do it differently. You can't usually come up with something that new - even the new emerges out of the 'well-worn channels' of your historical trajectory, and is constrained by the emerging styles and habits of your recent activity. Partly, in my case, I suspect it's also a fear of disappointing myself. Not disappointing other people, not  a fear of being ridiculed, or written off by those in the know. Avoidance of breaking out, of taking risks in new directions, seems to be an unconscious attempt to avoid the hollow resonance of yet another set of marks coming out in a disappointing way. Which is quite ridiculous. What kind of risk is it to make a wild line over a soft colour, to scratch roughly on something smooth? I suppose the risk is to that fragile sense that the shape already in the stone is quietly beginning to show its outline; that the outward flow of colour and form that has just occasionally not offended in recent months will be stopped in its tracks by the emergence of the unsubtle, the ugly, the brutal.

David Reilly talks about people orienting and running their lives in relation to personal maps. These maps come from society and culture, from parents, from experience. Unfortunately, we mostly can't see such maps; we run our lives in relation to their layout and instructions without even being aware of it. These cartographies are partly aural; we listen (as if our lives depended on it) to that chatty little critic on our shoulder who tells us what we can't do, or where we shouldn't go. And they're also partly verbal (though in our heads); we talk them into being, half-consciously, unconsciously ('I can't possibly give this job which is crushing the life out of me, I must be sensible and think about my pension'....).

Unseen maps constrain, block, constrict. They lock you into endless circularity, at least until you're able to see that they're there. I'm running some kind of map about the marks I make, or, more particularly, about the marks I don't make. What is that map? How can I learn to see it? The only hint I  have at this stage is what Reilly suggests in terms of checking out the existence of your maps. The place to start, he says,  is any place of suffering. Where there is suffering, there is a map. Where there is frustration, stuckness, limitation, safeness, pointless repetition, there must surely also be a map.


  1. That reminds me of Sartre’s idea of “Bad Faith” where we fool ourselves that we’re not radically free by defining (and therefore constraining) ourselves within self imposed roles.


  3. I guess we must do this all the time, without knowing it.

    Thanks for the link - great blog. You got any more like that (stop me from whirling down my own little plughole...)?

  4. Good eh!? I was really chuffed when I stumbled across it too. It's been kinda quiet lately but apparently it's due to pick up again. You might like this too:
    Ah, whirling down the plughole eh! - that'll be because you're trying to go in a straight line! -

  5. God, no, no straight lines I hope. It does feel like trying to hack down the walls of a cave though...

    Thanks for the links, you connect me with some great stuff. I'm on a blog holiday for the next few weeks (probably - the last time I tried that, you turned up!), but look forward to more inspiration in the New Year. I've really enjoyed reading your blog this year.



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